Gauging Insulin Sensitivity

I originally read Lyle McDonald’s article on Insulin Sensitivity and Fat Loss a number of weeks ago, but I just stumbled upon it again and wanted to jot down, for my own record, his comments on gauging your own insulin sensitivity:

However, in practice, there are signs as to whether you have good insulin sensitivity or not and possibly whether you oversecrete insulin. Here?s two very simple questions to ask yourself regarding your response to diet.

  1. On high-carbohydrate intakes, do you find yourself getting pumped and full or sloppy and bloated? If the former, you have good insulin sensitivity; if the latter, you don?t.
  2. When you eat a large carbohydrate meal, do you find that you have steady and stable energy levels or do you get an energy crash/sleep and get hungry about an hour later? If the former, you probably have normal/low levels of insulin secretion; if the latter, you probably tend to oversecrete insulin which is causing blood glucose to crash which is making you sleepy and hungry.

I’m not sure where I fall on his second test (other than saying that I don’t get sleepy though I do get hungry), but I know where I fall on the latter, which is that I feel bloated. I didn’t realize this until I quit most heavy carbs. Now, when I backslide and load up on carbs, I actually feel my belly distend! Not fun.

This all reminds me of how I’ve thought about where to put my carbohydrates in my meal. For awhile, I thought I should stick them at the end of the meal. I was reasoning that, at the end, they’d take longer to digest, which would further slow the glycemic load.

I don’t think it works that way, however. I recall reading somewhere (I think on Eades’ that there could is a significant delay between when you eat carbohydrates and when your brain gets the fullness signal, which is why you can pound a dessert even after you couldn’t eat another bite of steak. Thus, if you put your carbohydrates at the end of your meal, you may feel hungry even after eating a full meal. As a result, I’ve started putting my carbohydrates at the beginning of the meal — and for the record, by “my carbohydrates”, I mainly just mean any fruits or vegetables I am going to eat.

It’s an experiment, so your mileage may vary.

Standing can improve sleep?

Stumbled on a strange idea just weird enough to warrant self-experimentation: standing to improve sleep. I found it thanks to a shared Google reader item from Patri Friedman. It was part of some notes taken from a meetup meeting:

Change in breakfast caused early awakening to get worse. This was the first thing that had made a difference. Led to discovery that any breakfast hurts; supported by rat research. Later found that standing a lot improved sleep. Had to stand at least 8 hr to get effect; no effect of 6 hr of standing. Great sleep when stood 10 hr but really hard to do. More recently discovered that standing on one leg to exhaustion helps. Do twice in one day. Same effect …

Told you it was a bit different. I’m working on hacking sleep a bit, and am immensely curious as to if this experiment would prove out for me. I sit at a desk and start at three computer screens all day, so the one-legged standing to exhaustion will be the method I try.

Stay tuned.

Sidenote: I already skip breakfast most days, preferring to wait until lunch before I break my nighttime fast.

Update: Seth kindly responded to my request for additional information on what he means by standing to exhaustion:

Justin, what I mean by “standing on one leg to exhaustion” has nothing to do with balance ? I usually touch something to make it easy to balance. I mean I stand on one leg until it becomes difficult due to muscles getting tired. I never actually endure pain or even discomfort but I go right up to the point where I would start to if I continued. In the beginning I could only do this for 2-3 minutes; now it’s up to about 11 minutes. At the moment the “whole regimen” is what you call one set: standing on each leg to exhaustion once. In other words, left leg once, right leg once.

Got it – and so the experiment can start!

Update 2: Finally got around to trying this out this evening. I still had some standing stamina at 10 minutes, so I just stopped there (per leg). We’ll see how the sleep goes tonight.

Chicago (or Austin)

Any readers out there live in (or previously lived in) Chicago? Chicago is on the short list of where the wife and I might be heading after we leave in Augusta. We are looking to leave Augusta as soon as November (upon our return from India), depending primarily on a certain job hunt.

I’ve done some blogsearches on “moving to Chicago” or “moved to Chicago” (and even “Chicago noob“), but they haven’t turned up much in the way of helpful information.

Things I’d like to know include (but are not limited to):

  1. Where are the happening places to live?
  2. Given 1., which of these places are more affordable?
  3. Do you need a car or not?
  4. What’s the general political environment in Chicago? (Just curious)
  5. Is there much, if any, of a presence of web entrepreneurs in Chicago?
  6. How do Chicago-folks manage the bitterly cold winters? What do you do when you are compelled to stay inside?
  7. If you were a Chicago newbie when you got there, how’d you get to know folks?
  8. What are the central spots in Chicago? (This is similar to 1., I know)
  9. What’s the current economic feel in Chi-town? Is it full-on recession there yet?

Anything I’m not asking that should be asked?

Update 09/11/08:

The above questions — applied to Austin. Anyone live in Austin?

On Cortisol

Cortisol has been a bit of a mystery to me. Things I’ve gathered about cortisol include:

  • Cortisol is a hormone
  • Cortisol is elevated by exercising
  • Cortisol is elevated by drinking alcohol
  • The presence of cortisol spurs weight gain, and specifically, fat accumulation in the gut for men
  • Cortisol can impair the immune system
  • Vitamin C before bed (And getting plenty of sleep) can reduce cortisol (See Robb Wolf’s comments on this post)

Some reading on cortisol from the usual suspects:

There’s a lot of information out there on the subject of cortisol. As someone who is exercising and periodically imbibing alcohol, how should I deal with cortisol to mitigate its detrimental effects on my goals?

And what is overexercising anyway? What is over-training? If you tack on some low to medium intensity cardiovascular exercise to weight lifting / high-intensity exercise, do you cross the line between “just right” and “too much”? I have no doubt that the answers to these questions are case-specific.

What is a good mix of exercise for a relatively sedentary web entrepreneur?

“Insulin Control” – what it’s all about!

I subscribed to Mike OD’s The IF Life1 awhile back. Mike is a personal trainer with years of experience who is a big advocate of incorporating intermittent fasting into your life. However, his site isn’t merely about IF. From what I can tell, the IF Life aims to be a holistic resource on living a healthy and happy life. Mike’s site is a great resource — check it out.

In two recent posts on The IF Life, Mike used the phrase “insulin control” to sum up one of the key tenets of effective diets (See here and here).

In the first post, Mike alludes to the fact that insulin control is the chief goal of all effective diets, whether the diets know it or not (I.e. diets that advocate six meals a day are aiming to control insulin spikes, even if they don’t say so explicitly).

In the second linked post, titled Diet Book Insanity. When did Eating become this Complicated?, Mike states:

Now I know what many may say, but diets can work right? Sure … at the heart of all diets you see 2 main things that will get people results: Insulin control (see the carbs are not the enemy post and insulin and sugar post) and Calorie Deficit Intake (so the body burns from internal fuel sources, which is what you need if you want to burn that stubborn body fat).

Mike smartly tacks on caloric restriction to insulin control as the two overarching diet-advice mantras that tend to get results (Almost certainly so when used together). And though this wasn’t really the point of his diet insanity post (and I know I didn’t coin the phrase), I’m still going to take some credit for distilling the diet madness down to two simple words:

They’re all about insulin control!

Update 09/10/08: Robb Wolf, another blogger I’m subscribing to these days, happened to use the phrase “insulin control” back in October of 2007:

Super simple: Our nutritional recommendations are focused at insulin control. You could also say that our nutritional recommendations are what we are designed to eat and thrive on …

The post is about CrossFit, overexercising, and dialing in nutrition in order to see body composition changes. In my (limited) experience, his post rings absolutely true for me: exercise did little in the way to improve my body composition until I reigned in insulin.

1 “IF” stands for “Intermittent Fasting”, of course, and you gotta love the play on words the acronym creates!

Foreign governments own America.

I won’t go much into the Freddie/Fannie bailout (Which is just the latest in a long string of bailouts by the Federal Government) — it’s too depressing and so well covered elsewhere. For that matter, I’m just going to quote a salient point by an internet friend, Rolfe Winkler, who blogs under the ml-implode umbrella at Option Armageddon:

Folks, we don?t have the money. America needs to wake up and realize that we?re already bankrupt. The proximate reason for today?s bailout was that foreigners threatened to stop buying Fannie and Freddie debt. We?ve allowed ourselves to fall so deeply in debt to foreign nations that they are now driving U.S. economic policy. The deeper into debt we go, the more power foreigners will have.

That the U.S. is at the mercy of foreign governments is covered in more detail by Brad Setser here.

There’s little more to know than this: the leaders of this country have sold you out.

Napoleon Hill’s The Law of Success in Sixteen Lessons

I’ve been doing a bit more biking lately and wanted to see if I couldn’t put my hands on a decent mp3 audiobook that I could listen to while riding. Enter Napoleon Hill’s The Law of Success in Sixteen Lessons, which is apparently one of the original self-improvement/self-help books ever created.

The audiobook consists of over twenty hours of audio, so it is going to take some time to work through it; however, based on all the accolades Hill has received (Heard of Think and Grow Rich?), there must be a few solid concepts in this book. I’ll let you know once I slug through it all!

These days, I’m keenly interested in improving the quality of my life — facets including relationships, work, physical and mental health, et cetera. To that end, there is much waste and inefficiency in the way I currently manage my life, so I’m looking for ways to “hack” my processes and improve them. I’m also optimistic that in engaging in self-evaluation/self-hacking I might advance my life-goals, perhaps coming closer to finding an area on which to focus my energy.

If anyone has pointers in this regard, please let me know!

Weight Lifting: Slow or Fast?

Rusty, founder of Fitness Black Book, tells us that when it comes to lifting weights and building strength, the key is “slow and steady” (See his most recent post, Strength Training Rep). In short, rather than lifting heavy weights in a jerky fashion, which is best exemplified by the near chest bounce on the bench press, you’re better off going through the weight lifting motions in a slow, controlled fashion.

The benefits of slowness in weight lifting include reducing the chance of injury and, according to Rusty, more lasting strength creation. Actually, in reading through the aforelinked post, I’m reminded of Rusty’s post on “Mastering the Weight“, which I particularly found interesting.

Both are good reads with some solid food for thought. For me, the jury is out on this subject and there are all sorts of conflicting opinions. Arthur De Vany seems to be an advocate of more explosive lifting. Unfortunately, I can’t seem to track down the posts where Art advocates as much as it seems Google’s indexing of his site is broken ( recently underwent a sitewide “upgrade”, and it seems that some posts were lost in the change). Art’s argument, if I recall correctly, is that explosive movements are more in keeping with function — i.e. we don’t sprint in slow motion. On the flipside, dead lifting in real life is hardly explosive.

Isn’t there room for both? Methinks yes.

Back to Rusty’s Strength Training Rep post — he had a great explanation on using irradiation to boost muscular definition and strength. Check it out:

The Skill of Generating Tension in the Muscle

Strength is largely determined by your ability to generate tension in a muscle. The harder you can contract a muscle the better strength you can demonstrate in that muscle. Did you know that you can contract a muscle much harder if you also contract the muscles surrounding it? I learned about this principle called “Irradiation” from Soviet Special Forces Trainer, Pavel Tsatsouline. Here is how he explains it.

  1. Try flexing your bicep as hard as possible without making a fist.
  2. Now try and flex your bicep as hard as possible while making as tight as fist as possible and squeezing.
  3. You should be able to contract your bicep much harder when making a tight fist.
  4. This is called “irradiation”?what is happening is that the nerve impulses of surrounding muscles can amplify the effect of that muscle.

How to Become a Master at Generating Tension

Here is the craziest thing about the principle of Irradiation. You can actually create stronger contractions in a muscle by flexing a bigger chain of surrounding muscles. Take that bicep example above. Try contracting you bicep as hard as possible but this time don’t only squeeze your fist, but contract your pecs and abs as hard as possible as well. Did you notice a difference? After a while you will become a master at irradiation to reach high levels of strength.

Anyway, some food for thought on this fine Friday. I like Rusty’s site and you should check it out. I’ve been particularly interested in his (and Lyle McDonald’s) approach to stubborn fat loss. You can check Rusty’s mini-book on it here (it is free!).

Vacationing and diet setbacks

I’m back from my two-week hiatus whereby I partied with old college buddies at my best friend’s wedding in Olympia, Washington, and then took a week-long vacation with my wife — we drove around Mount Rainier and toured Seattle and Vancouver. The vacation was much-needed, and I took the opportunity to disconnect entirely from work for most of it.

Of course, the five days in Olympia were spent consuming untold amounts of junk food and drinking immense amounts of alcohol, day after day, all on reduced sleep and fighting jet lag. Said differently, I lost control of my insulin and fell off the health wagon! And of course, once off the wagon, I took full advantage, eating every cinnamon roll and chip in sight.

It happens, I guess. Setbacks happen.

The downside to this admittedly enjoyable carbfest is that I gained probably eight pounds of non-lean tissue. I’m ballparking that a bit as my weight went up about that much and based on some skinfold calipers, my body fat percentage went up maybe 2 – 3%. Using pre-vacation figures and comparing lean tissue to post-vacation figures, my lean tissue stayed virtually constant, thus the reasonably accurate guess that I put on about seven pounds.

Amazing what a couple weeks of bad-eating can do, right?

We got back this past Sunday and I’ve since embarked on getting back on track. This has involved some mini-fasts, exercising, et cetera. I can already tell some improvement from just a few days ago in my torso adipose tissue.

Thus, maybe there’s a bright side to this diet setback. I’m learning about my body — or at least, formulating various conjectures as to what is going on. Here are some thoughts:

  • Caloric restriction and eating a low-carbohydrate diet will key your body in certain helpful ways. Insulin sensitivity will rise, for example. The body will cycle through waste-proteins and move to cell maintenance and repair. I liken this process to battening down the hatches, throwing overboard unnecessary baggage and running lean.
  • The flip side of caloric restriction and low-carbing is that heightened insulin sensitivity means both a more acute reaction to carbohydrates when consumed and, well, your body has been running lean and is all about replenishing lost resources. So in a period of abundant carbohydrates and the utter lack of exercise, your body is going to go into full storage mode.
  • All of the above demonstrates how dynamic our bodies are. Flip a few variables and you will get an entirely different result. Fat stores are incredibly dynamic.
  • The first two or three nights after consuming immense amounts of alcohol and carbohydrates, I had to sleep above the covers as I could not get cool. Pure speculation, but I’m guessing that my body simply wasn’t ready to produce enough insulin to reduce my blood sugar to appropriate levels, so it was heat cycling away the excess calories (Adaptive thermogenesis?).

What I’m really curious about is how long it will take me to get back to my pre-vacation weight. Is two weeks too much to hope for? A month?

In the coming days, I’m going to experiment with different concoctions of fasting and exercising. I’m curious to try out Lyle McDonald‘s Stubborn Fat Protocol, which is essentially:

  • Drink 100 – 200mg of caffeine an hour prior to working out
  • Do ten minutes of high intensity interval training
  • Rest five minutes
  • Do 30 – 40 minutes of low-intensity cardio
  • Eat some protein an hour or two after working out, and then back to a meal a few hours after that

What I’m finding difficult in implementing the above is that I’m still fighting the reverse jet lag, which makes going to sleep at a decent time very difficult. In turn, I wake up late, and the SFP is almost certainly best implemented in the morning fresh off a fast.

Ideally, I can combine SFP with CrossFit to get a nice training regiment going. Regarding CrossFit specifically, I’m leaning to implementing a 3x week CrossFit training schedule whereby the days are not back to back. That level of high-intensity, in my opinion, puts too much stress on my body: I’d rather integrate CrossFitting with some SFP and/or low-intensity “activity”. Any suggestions?

Apologies for the brain-dump here, just been working through some ideas and brainstorming them out here on the blog. Whether they make for good reading is moot!

Feedback is welcome.

Update 09/05/08

Seems a week’s worth of dieting and exercise has already made some impact on getting me back on track. Of course, to echo my real interest — I want to see how long it takes me to get back to pre-vacation definition. I’m hoping it will be “easy come, easy go” while fully realizing that its a lot easier to gain weight than it is to lose it, particularly when that weight is fat.

On the road: Olympia

Just an update. I’m on the road for the next ten days for a wedding out here in Olympia, Washington this Saturday and then an extra week of vacation in Seattle and Vancouver (Hey, gotta make use of the 5.5 hour flight out here from Atlanta). For some (or most) of that time, I’ll still be plugged in for work, though I’m assured to get a few days in there where I’m disconnected. I’ll also be taking a stab at slipping in some workouts.

It’s damn near impossible to stay healthy on the road, but I’m doing my best. I find that my Achille’s heel is alcohol as it seems to lower my inhibitions just enough to snack on nearby junk food. I don’t know if this goes on to spike my insulin (And I’m guessing, I’m fairly insulin sensitive these days) which cascades to carb-binging, but I’ve seen a carb-cascade occur and I don’t like it.

In other eating news, I feasted on fresh Dungeness crab last night harvested yesterday morning from Puget Sound. It was delicious.

Here’s a view out from the top of where the groomsmen are staying for the wedding. Porches on every level of this house, this is the topmost, third floor porch view:

I’ll have to take some “real” photos of this place. It is awesome.