Seth Roberts and the Shangri-La Diet

Even as I have not tried SLD, it is a fascinating idea and it seems that anyone who is serious about better understanding why we gain weight and what regulates hunger and adiposity must take it seriously enough to figure out how it fits into the big picture of human health. Barring that gargantuan task, it’s at a minimum another way to try and hack weight loss if your current regiment isn’t cutting it for you.

I cite Seth Roberts’ blog a great deal over at Linked Down. Seth is a Psychology Professor at Berkeley and an avid self-experimenter. I’ve learned a great deal from subscribing to his blog.

For those who don’t know, Seth Roberts created the Shangri-La Diet, which is a diet centered around reducing the association between flavor and caloric load. I haven’t read the book, so this is an approximation of how it works, but the gist is that the more correlated taste is to caloric load, the greater hunger can be, the harder it will be to cut calories, and the higher your body’s set point for weight will be. “SLD” hacks this relationship via ingesting flavorless calories within certain windows of time. These flavorless calories reduce the brain’s association of high energy density and high flavor. Interestingly enough, the macronutrient source of the calories may be unimportant: you can do SLD with oil, sugar water (so long as it is flavorless), or nose-clipping while eating protein. If you’re skeptical about this diet, I suggest taking a trip over to the SLD Forums and be prepared to see plenty of evidence that SLD works.

Even as I have not tried SLD, it is a fascinating idea and it seems that anyone who is serious about better understanding why we gain weight and what regulates hunger and adiposity must take it seriously enough to figure out how it fits into the big picture of human health. Barring that gargantuan task, it’s at a minimum another way to try and hack weight loss if your current regiment isn’t cutting it for you.

I mention all of this because I stumbled on a 2008 interview between Roberts and Gary Taubes, author of Good Calories, Bad Calories, which I’ve blogged about exhaustively. What a great thing to find that two people I admire had a thoughtful discussion and, even better, said discussion has been made available to me?

Blogging, science and the internet FTW.

Back to trying to understand how SLD fits into the grand scheme of human physiology. An interesting comment was made at the bottom of Part 13 of Roberts’ Interview of Gary Taubes:

I’ve thought a lot about how consuming tasteless food could supress hunger. My favorite theory is that it is similar to what happens when an animal is hibernating. The “magical” appearance of calories fools your body into thinking it is living off its fat and then it actually does so.

This comment reminded me of how the metabolic pathways while fasted are the same as when we consume a diet of only fat and protein. One effect of low-carb diets is appetite suppression. Could the common theme here simply be that both SLD and low-carbohydrate diets and/or fasting act to “trick” our bodies into switching to a non-hungry state?

Obviously that can’t be the entire picture because insulin is the storage hormone that is unleashed by carbohydrate consumption (though less so with fructose).

This issue is worthy of further thought.

Keys’ Lipid Hypothesis “Made Out of Whole Cloth”

http://high-fat-nutrition…on-between.html

Gary Taubes (Good Calories Bad Calories) and Tom Naughton (Fat Head) both pointed it out, as have others I’m sure, but Peter’s charts add a nice crescendo to the chorus. What am I talking about? Nothing less than the biased, incompletely used data upon which Ancel Keys built his infamous, notorious, and utterly bogus lipid hypothesis. It’s a solid example of confirmation bias and scientific chicanery reigning supreme.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, just imagine how many people have been sick or gone to an early grave because they were following the resultant bogus advice that comes out of the lipid hypothesis, which is to say nothing of the wealth that has been utterly wasted trying to support both research into a bad hypothesis and the healthcare of an increasingly sick population paranoid about eating fat (While getting fatter every day eating more and more “whole grains”)!

Rant over.

The gist is that Ancel Keys ignored the entirety of a study and handpicked the data that would support his lipid hypothesis. You can read about it in Taubes’ book. You can watch a great, animated snippet illustrating the legerdemain compliments of Tom Naughton (youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v8WA5wcaHp4 ) or you can dive into the charts from Peter.

Here’s a snip from the latter:

OK, this is the graph of heart deaths plotted against fat intake, produced by Ancel Keys in 1953. It’s a beautiful curve, utterly convincing to any Congressperson looking to find fame by funding a cure for heart disease:

. . . Slightly less convincing is when the choice of different countries from the same data bases suggests that dietary fat has nothing to do with heart disease and that heart disease is very rare anyway . . .

So let’s stop playing and look at the whole database from which Keys carefully selected his six countries:

OK, there IS a correlation. It’s pathetic, especially compared to the original line swept in by Keys. Of course things get worse if you add in the Masai, the Inuit, the Rendile, the Tokelau and a few others, shown as red dots:

At this point you would have thought that the name Keys would have become a joke and people would simply have ignored him as a self publicising evangelist with scant respect for the truth. But Keys was nothing if not determined.

There’s even more chart-making sleight-of-hand if you’re curious. Sad “science.” We can only hope that one day the verdict of “guilty” on fat is overturned.

Why You Got Fat (Fat Head Review)

http://www.freetheanimal….ou-got-fat.html

Richard Nikoley recently received, watched and reviewed Tom Naughton’s documentary (mockumentary?) Fat Head. I had a very similar general take on the movie to Richard’s, so I’m going to echo his comments by way of blockquote:

It’s really two movies in one. In the first part, he thoroughly discredits that lying, opportunist bastard, Morgan Spurlock. Tom Naughton also goes on a fast food diet for a month, but a sensible one, keeping total calories to about 2,000, and total carbs to 100 grams (400 calories, so 20% of total kcals). He loses about 8-10 pounds, as I recall, and most of his blood work is improved.

The second half (the best) is about the awful state of nutrition science and dietary advice in America. Naughton even employs an evolutionary basis, as seen here.

Just to expound on this review, I found the second half of Fat Head to be much more interesting and compelling than the first half (even though Naughton does a plenty thorough job debunking Spurlock, I just didn’t really care — I never saw Super Size Me!).

The particular clip from Fat Head Richard posted in his review was one of the best parts of the movie as it humorously explains the relationship between blood sugar, fat cells and insulin. Check it out:
[video:youtube:mNYlIcXynwE]

One other clip from the movie that isn’t available for preview online talked about the glycemic index and visually displayed how certain foods digest into whatever equivalent amount of sugar.

Richard gives an example of this conversion with regard to a soda:

Consider this: for the average person with normal blood glucose levels, you have about the equivalent of one single teaspoon of sugar circulating in your entire body. One. Single. Teaspoon. So, what that means is that when you drink a regular Coca Cola at 27 grams of carbohydrate . . . you are ingesting . . . over 5 times the amount of sugar as is contained in your entire body. How about an 8 oz. glass or orange juice? Same thing (26 grams). Now, consider that as you go throughout your day. Look at food labels, and divide the amount of carbohydrate by 5 to see how many times your total blood sugar you’re ingesting all at once.

Richard’s rule of thumb for conversion is great because I can visualize a teaspoonful of sugar. Take a bowl of Raisin Bran. A serving has 45 grams of carbohydrates, 7 of which are fiber, so net 38 grams plus the 12 grams from a cup of milk. 50 grams of carbohydrates converts to 10 teaspoons of sugar in your bloodstream. That’d be a nice pile of sugar.

This mental picture conversion of carb-heavy foods to teaspoons of sugar is a powerful way to help people connect the dots between “ingesting lots of sugar is bad for you” to “ingesting lots of carbohydrates is bad for you.” Even as this is an oversimplification of a more complex macro-nutrient problem, it’s still a better way to guide your eating behavior as compared with our current, asinine low-fat-equals-health insanity.

A better way to die?

http://www.proteinpower.c…ter-way-to-die/

Michael Eades talks about the implications of humans eating animals with regards to:

  • The symbiotic relationship created therein (i.e. there are more cows because humans like eating them – similar to trees and paper)
  • Relativistic comparisons between the humane harvesting of animals via slaughterhouses and the normal way millions of animals die every day in the wild — i.e. natural causes like a hawk tearing the lung of a crow and the crow dying of asphyxiation or lions causing an elephant to suffocate, etc.
  • Cortisol’s (stress hormone) meat-ruining impact incentivizing slaughterhouses to be humane, not stressing out the animals.

It’s a thought-provoking, well-written piece. The book referenced is one I should probably add to my wish list.

Here’s a snippet:

When animals (ourselves included) are stressed, they release cortisol, a hormone that looms large in the fight or flight response. This cortisol can be measured and used as an indicator of stress. Cattle are minimally tamed animals. They are by nature skittish. They don’t take well to being handled and, in fact, don’t really like to have people around. Dr. Grandin has taken cortisol samples from animals just standing around the farm with people within view and discovered that they have a slightly elevated cortisol levels. When she tests animals in properly designed slaughterhouses right as they reach the final station, she finds that they have similar cortisol levels as animals standing in the barnyard with humans present. In other words, a little stress, but not a lot.

I can pretty much assure anyone that these animals meet their deaths in today’s slaughterhouses with orders of magnitude less stress than they would were they living in the wild and being preyed upon by large carnivores. In fact, had they been living in the wild, they wouldn’t exist today. They would have been relegated to the long list of animals that have become extinct.

Let’s consider cattle. Cows are large, fairly placid, relatively slow, and exceptionally stupid. They are also uncommonly good to eat. All these facts taken together make it clear why cattle are still with us. (It also reminds me of a great and very true statement I heard once but can’t remember where: ‘If you want to preserve the American bald eagle, all you’ve got to do is make ‘em good to eat, and before long, you’ll be overrun with them.’) And not just a few specimens in zoos, but by the millions roaming pastures the world over. Cattle, unlike other wild animals, allowed themselves to be domesticated. Humans complied and domesticated them. A covenant arose between humans and cattle in which we provided for them and they for us. We kept them safe and allowed them to breed and survive as a species; they provided us with meat in return. It’s been a great bargain for all sides. Although any individual steer trudging off to slaughter may not see it this way, the covenant has been a godsend for the breed, which has grown and prospered. There is a wonderful book titled The Covenant of the Wild detailing this animal-man symbiotic relationship that should be on everyone’s bookshelf, especially anyone’s who doesn’t feel right about eating meat or who is being relentlessly hounded by vegetarian friends or family. Although it’s never pleasant to think of animals being put to death so that we can eat them, it is reassuring to know that it is done as stresslessly as possible. If done right, with almost no stress at all. If, however, the PETA folks had their way, these animals would be turned away from the slaughterhouse doors and sent to live out their days peacefully on lush pastures somewhere.

If this vegan fantasy came to pass, what would happen to these cattle? Would their deaths be more or less stressful than at the hands of their human handlers? You probably know the answer, but let’s take a look. And, remember, not for the squeamish.

Understanding Bodyweight and Glycogen Depletion

Quick take — If you diet or are planning to start a diet, understanding the relationship between bodyweight and glycogen (Glycogen is carbohydrates as stored by your body) depletion is paramount.

Your body stores energy as fat and glycogen. Whereas fat stores can vary dramatically from person to person, your body can only store so much energy as glycogen.

Glycogen requires water to be stored. In the initial stages of diet/caloric restriction and exercise, your body depletes these glycogen stores, reducing your bodyweight from the elimination of both the weight of the stored glycogen and the weight of the water. Note that nowhere in this process is the much-desired loss of fat!

Thus, even as it will feel good to shed 5 – 10 lbs. simply from a few days of exercise mixed with a caloric-restricted diet, the weight loss will be primarily from a reduction in glycogen stores and water. In other words, what you’ll have lost in the beginning is really little more than water weight.

Take heart in understanding the relationship between glycogen stores and bodyweight as an improved understanding will help you set realistic expectations on whatever diet or exercise regiment you are undertaking in 2009.

A deeper dive:

I first learned about the relationship between stored carbohydrates and water retention from Gary Taubes’ Good Calories, Bad Calories. The gist is that for every gram of stored carbohydrate (Stored as glycogen) in your body, there is a set amount of additional water storage that is required.

Taubes had pinned the carb/water storage ratio at two grams of water per one gram of carbohydrate. A random Googled source (Vitanet) pins it at 2.7 gram water per gram of glycogen. I found a research paper titled, Glycogen storage: illusions of easy weight loss, excessive weight regain, and distortions in estimates of body composition, which offers the following data on the ratio:

Glycogen is stored in the liver, muscles, and fat cells in hydrated form (three to four parts water) associated with potassium (0.45 mmol K/g glycogen). . . .

Glycogen losses or gains are reported to be associated with an additional three to four parts water, so that as much as 5 kg weight change might not be associated with any fat loss.

Lyle McDonald of Body Recomposition has also weighed in on this subject:

Carbohydrate (stored in your muscles and liver as glycogen) is accompanied by a good bit of water. For every gram of glycogen stored, you store anywhere from 3-4 grams of water with it.

How does this relationship affect bodyweight? In short, diet and exercise will deplete glycogen stores. If your diet is working, the depletion will occur early and have a significant impact on your bodyweight without impacting a permanent change in your body composition.

Let’s take me as an example. I estimate that I have around 155 – 160 pounds of lean tissue. Tack on another 12 – 17 pounds of fat. After a week or two of being on a low-carbohydrate diet that involves intermittent fasting and plenty of exercise (see here), my liver and muscle glycogen stores will be completely depleted. I’ll weigh about 172.

If I go on to eat a bunch of carbohydrates — cookies, pretzels, breads, fruits and other starchy foods (by eating a bunch, I mean consuming something on the order of 1000 grams of carbohydrates over the course of 24 hours, which is about 4000 calories), I will fully replenish my glycogen stores. In the process of replenishment, the 1000 grams of carbohydrates will require anywhere from 3000 to 4000 grams of water for storage! Converting from grams to pounds, the impact on my bodyweight should be an increase of 9 to 11 pounds, taking my weight up to 183*! Of course, the same change would happen in reverse: re-depleting glycogen stores would drop my weigh back to the low 170s.

Mike over at the IF life alluded to this fact in three bullets back on his Trainer Tells All post:

Muscle size is mostly glycogen and water . . . I can go up and down 10lbs in a week easily depending on glycogen and water balance . . . The first big amount of lbs you lose in the first week dieting is mostly water

Mike’s anecdotal experience is explained by the storage ratio between glycogen and water. What it means is that in the early stages of a diet, the magical drop in bodyweight will be mostly water weight.

Another implication of the water/glycogen relationship on bodyweight is that whereas the first 4000 calorie deficit you create will reduce your weight some ten pounds, the next 4000 calorie deficit is likely only going to reduce your bodyweight a paltry two pounds! This is because a pound of fat stores 3500 calories and requires about a pound of water for storage. Thus, the initial weight-loss will seem easy compared to the drudging continued weight-loss when you’re actually burning stored fat.

Failing to understand what is going on with glycogen stores and water retention will set yourself up for a shock when you inevitably “fall off the wagon” — even if the “fall” is only for a day or two of heavy-carb or more “normal” eating.

Understanding the impact of glycogen depletion/repletion on bodyweight is just one more reason why merely weighing yourself on a scale provides a poor indication of your body composition. You’re better served by taking some physical measurements (waist size, for example). Or even better, take some periodic camera phone self-portraits — over time, you should be able to compare them and get a great feel for your progress (or lack thereof).

* I’ve witnessed this fluctuation on numerous occasions over the past year, but I didn’t quite fully understand it until today. You see, I was fully glycogen depleted going into New Year’s Eve. I proceeded to go on a pre-planned “refeed” (that just happpened to coincide with NYE, of course!). The refeed involved eating plenty of pretzels, chips, breads, fruits, cookies, cereal, donuts, etc. Some incredibly unhealthy, albeit tasty, foods. I also drank a good bit of Pinot Noir NYE, which is the opposite of what you should do if you are re-feeding in that your body will be needing water and alcohol will dehydrate you past certain levels of intake. Anyway, after a 24 hour refeed, my bodyweight went from 172 to 184. Hard to believe unless you understand what is going on. And this kind of fluctuation would be entirely disheartening to the ignorant dieter who might feel they just blew their diet in one day! As it is, I expect I’ll be back in the low 170s within five days after I do a fast and get two or three workouts in.

Further reading:

Sugar on the brain

Is sugar another addictive white powder?

A recent study suggests sugar may be addictive. Below are parts of the U.S. News article summarizing the experiment and interpretation of the findings. I suggest reading them all:

“Our evidence from an animal model suggests that bingeing on sugar can act in the brain in ways very similar to drugs of abuse,” [said] lead researcher Bart Hoebel . . .

“Drinking large amounts of sugar water when hungry can cause behavioral changes and even neurochemical changes in the brain which resemble changes that are produced when animals or people take substances of abuse. These animals show signs of withdrawal and even long-lasting effects that might resemble craving,” . . .

A “sugar addiction” may even act as a “gateway” to later abuse of drugs such as alcohol . . .

For the new research, rats were denied food for 12 hours a day, then were given access to food and sugar (25 percent glucose and 10 percent sucrose, similar to a soft drink) for 12 hours a day, for three to four weeks.

The bingeing released a surge of the neurotransmitter dopamine each time in the part of the brain involved in reward, the nucleus accumbens. “It’s been known that drugs of abuse release or increase the levels of dopamine in that part of the brain,” Hoebel said.

But it wasn’t only the sugar that caused this effect, Hoebel explained — it was the sugar combined with the alternating schedule of deprivation and largesse. . . .

But longer periods of abstinence didn’t “cure” the rats. Instead, there were long-lasting effects with the animals: They ingested more sugar than before, as if they were craving the substance and, without sugar, they drank more alcohol.

My anecdotal experience confirms the above findings. For one, the more I have abstained from sugar and refined carbohydrates (the latter of which are one tiny step away from being sugar), the easier it has become to strictly avoid sugar/carbohydrate-dense foods. This suggests to me that the addiction can be controlled by almost completely abstaining from the “drug,” sugar in this case.

Of note, however, is that in those instances when I have fallen off the wagon* and started eating sugar/refined carbs, I tend to overeat/binge. Is this the behavior of an addict? Or is it the psychological response to the forbidden fruit? Or is it a predictable response of treating a diet like a binary system? I.e. going from strict adherence to the diet to “Well I already ate that candy, might as well have some ice cream, too!” Any of these are plausible explanations for my behavior.

The alcohol angle is fascinating: I’ve experienced a clear connection between alcohol and carbohydrate-binge-eating. As before, I am unclear how the alcohol is catalyzing my reaction — is it that alcohol impairs my judgment, handicapping my will power? Or could it be more fundamentally metabolic — the alcohol spurs a chemical reaction resulting in craving sugar/refined carbohydrates? Why do I go from having little-to-no craving for French fries and tator tots to no-holds-barred “pass the ketchup now!” after downing three or four beers.

I have previously blogged on how hard liquor has zero carbohydrates. I’ve since learned that hard liquor (i.e. whiskey) will cause an insulin response even though there are no carbohydrates in the alcohol. Could insulin have something to do with this#?

This study, rather than confirming something I’ve suspected about the addictive nature of sugar, leaves me with more questions than answers. Is modern man doomed to be addicted to sugar? Is sugar addiction similar to alcoholism in that the only successful means to control the addiction is to avoid entirely the addictive substance? Can abstaining from sugar/refined carbohydrates make the addiction worse? Is sugar a poison that should be taken in small doses to control its ill-affects (A particularly strange notion)?

It seems there are more questions than answers. However, I maintain that sugar in any close-to-raw form is unnatural, which means that our evolutionarily designed bodies are inept at handling it. And it seems reasonable to conclude that, even if I tend to overeat refined carbohydrates when I do consume them, over the long-term, I’m still drastically reducing my intake of sugar and refined carbohydrates by maintaining a lifestyle focused on a low-carbohydrate, natural diet mixed with intermittent fasting.

* How often have you heard the phrase “fallen off the wagon” to describe failure at dieting? I hear it all the time (and use it). Probably just a coincidence, this phrase originates in alcoholism. Here we have a study that paints sugar as being similar to alcohol in its addictive characteristics.

# I can’t help but wonder if insulin is the culprit behind addiction to both alcohol and sugar. Has anyone looked into this?

Ketones and Alzheimer’s

Via Peter at Hyperlipid, an article about how a wife treated her husband’s Alzheimer’s by introducing coconut oil to his diet. Why coconut oil? The wife, who happens to be a physician, had been trying to get her husband involved in a clinical trial that used a drug primarily composed of medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs). MCTs, which make up most of the fat in coconut oil, are sent straight to the liver from the stomach to be digested. This digestion process produces ketone bodies, which are used as energy by the brain (as well as other organs, like the heart).

The results of this experiment? Look at this picture from the article:

Those drawings are three attempts to draw a clock:

After two weeks of taking coconut oil, Steve Newport’s results in an early onset Alzheimer’s test gradually improved says his wife, Dr. Mary Newport. Before treatment, Steve could barely remember how to draw a clock. Two weeks after adding coconut oil to his diet, his drawing improved. After 37 days, Steve’s drawing gained even more clarity. The oil seemed to “lift the fog,” his wife says

Note how the first drawing looks like random numbers on a page. The second clock still gets the numbers wrong. The last clock, though not pretty, nails it.

Think about this: in less than two months, this man went from being unable to draw a clock to drawing one correctly simply by adding coconut oil to his diet!

Remarkable! Any scientists looking for a good experiment? Please look into this!

Final note: I don’t take this as any reason to start downing coconut oil (Though I cook with it all the time), rather I see it as more evidence of the correlation between health and diet. And of course, score one for eating saturated fat since MCTs are nothing but shorter length saturated fats!

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’ proteinpower.com) 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.

“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!

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.