Love Potions

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Recently, my friend, Dr. Michael LaBossiere, wrote a series of articles concerning determinism. In these articles he examines the possibility that all animal behavior, including human behavior, is essentially determined by hormones–impulses generated on the physical plane that are easily identified, their effects on the body leading to behaviors, such as in the realm of sex.

In two articles he uses the Vole, a gerbil-like creature, as his subject.  Voles are monogamous animals, a rarity in the mammalian world. Their monogamous behavior correlates with the secretion of oxytocin and vasopressin. And so, Dr. LaBossiere argues that the monogamous behavior of Voles is purely mechanistic, based on the addictive qualities of oxytocin and other pleasure-inducing hormones.  And so, if this behavior is mechanistic in nature, so are the human romantic ideals, such as love, honor, and loyalty.  The same argument can and is made for homosexuality, that it is not a choice, but an urge induced by a heretofore undiscovered  biological mechanism. Dr. Labossiere states that he believes in free will, but in his articles he seems to mostly argue for a deterministic world.

Before I endeavor to deconstruct and ultimately destroy the mechanistic view of human behavior (and it must be destroyed because, besides the fact that I believe it untrue, it is a danger to human life and happiness), let me reveal a bit of my history as a teenager and a young man.

I ran away from home 4 times before I was 16. Looking back, I consider that I was surrounded by adults that were dysfunctional and in some cases border-line insane.  I felt no love from the adults that I spent the most time with at that time. I did feel anger, hatred, enmity, and even an odd sort of competition and jealousy from them.  Their insanity was evidenced by their deep unhappiness.

An adept cut-purse, I stole voraciously, from book stores especially, and constantly conspired with other kids my age to relieve adults of the cash in their wallets. I lied constantly, skipped school regularly to the point where I had no idea what was going on in my classes. I began to fail and fail badly in school.  I enjoyed throwing rocks through windows and destroying others’ property in general and was arrested for burglary. Eventually, I dropped out of high school, and became involved with a woman who was 10 years older than I eventually siring a child out of wedlock.  My life was a disaster.  Mind you, that I was brought up Catholic, was an alter boy and a Boy Scout.  But the pain from home tore me apart, and before I was 14, I thought often of suicide.  I’ll be the first to admit that luck has a great impact on each and every one of us. Heck, as Kurt Vonnegut once observed, none of us even asked to be born so far as we know.  I don’t want to say there were no good times as a kid, but there weren’t many.  Even today when I think of my teenage years, I get nauseous.  But regardless of my circumstances, I am without excuse; I was an evil person. And don’t underestimate the age at which kids know good from evil.

Now that you know why I can never run for political office, let me indulge myself for a moment. Fast forward a decade and move further along in time after that. I graduated from college, became a police officer, and eventually joined the Army. I’m currently a staff sergeant in the US Army. My last NCO Evaluation report, written by a lieutenant, captain and major, states the following about my performance: “the most competent Senior Intelligence Sergeant in the Brigade; continuously remained well-versed on the evolution of conventional and asymetric threats…intellectual prowess and continuous mentorship developed Soldiers in analytical skills….promote to Sergeant First Class now…a top 1% NCO that always accomplishes the mission to the highest standard”.  

What changed in the last 25 years of my life? Did my hormones or brain chemicals shift to such a degree that my life did a 180 degree turn? And if they did, why?

Don’t get me wrong. All animals are influenced by hormones. Wild animals’ behavioral changes during hormonal shifts  are well documented. But it is humans’ self-awareness, reason and morality that sets us apart.  Even the much vaunted humaness of dogs seems to be overrated; dogs feel no shame, despite the sheepish look after Spot defecates in the hall.  In fact, humans seem to be the only animal that will behave in ways that spite hormonal tides.  Before I make the crux of my argument, let’s look at a couple of Dr. LaBossiere’s arguments. He writes that if fidelity is mechanistic, than humans are merely reacting to the pleasure provided them via chemical actions on the brain.

He states:

While fidelity is praised, one important question is whether or not is worthy of praise as a virtue. If humans are like voles and the mechanistic theory of human bonding is correct, then fidelity of the sort that ground pair-bonding would essentially be a form of addiction, as discussed in the previous essay. On the face of it, this would seem to show that such fidelity is not worthy of praise. After all, one does not praise crack heads for their loyalty to crack. Likewise, being addicted to love would hardly make a person worthy of praise.

One obvious counter is that while crack addiction is regarded as bad because of the harms of crack, the addiction that composes pair bonding should be generally regarded as good because of its good consequences. These consequences would be the usual sort of things people praise about pair bonding, such as the benefits to health.  However, this counter misses the point: the question is not whether pair bonding is good (it generally is in terms of consequences) but whether fidelity should be praised.

I feel these two paragraphs miss the mark, primarily because fidelity between man and woman seems anything other than an addiction–it seems like work.  People struggle to remain faithful.  Why do most people at least try to resist the urge to be unfaithful in marriage? Because they know very bad things can happen if they follow their immediate instincts.  Fidelity involves a crusade against our hormones (though there’s a lot more to sex drive than hormones).

JRR Tolkien wrote a series of letters to his oldest son, Christopher, warning him of the dangers of untamed sexual desire.

Faithfulness in Christian marriage entails that: great mortification. For a Christian man there is no escape. Marriage may help to sanctify and direct to its proper object his sexual desires; its grace may help him in the struggle; but the struggle remains. It will not satisfy him–as hunger may be kept off by regular meals. It will offer as many difficulties to the purity proper to that state, as it provides easements. No man, however truly he loved his betrothed and bride as a young man, has lived faithful to her as a wife in mind and body without deliberate conscious exercise of the will, without self-denial.

Tolkien’s view is precisely the opposite of LaBossiere’s; people struggle with fidelity, they are not addicted to it.

Before going further, let me state explicitly my thesis: the things that provide pleasure to people via increases in dopamine, seratonomin, and oxytocin can change over time, and they change primarily because thinking changes.  I used to gain pleasure from stealing and breaking windows. Now I gain pleasure from working hard, learning, writing, playing with my kids and physical training. The chemical reactions that cause me to feel pleasure remain the same, but the little understood mind changed greatly.  And I know why my mind changed: I experienced true Christianity.  I struggled for years after first experiencing it, but slowly changed over the years, like a metal refined by fire.  Consider a man who is overweight and out of shape. He does not exercise but knows he must for health reasons.  At some point his thinking on the matter changed and the seed was planted for future action. When he first starts exercising, he only feels pain. His body is telling him to stop. He is not deriving much pleasure from it at all. But he pushes through, and eventually morning runs start to feel good, his mind seems to work better, fat begins to melt off him. And so it is with almost all good habits. There is an initial period of discomfort. But as beings above mere wild animals, we can push through that pain using reason to form a vision of our goal.  After a while, we have formed a habit, and there is no longer pain, but probably quite a bit of pleasure to be gained from accomplishing what was once very difficult.

The French Renaissance philosopher Michel de Montaigne, a famous skeptic, disliked passionate feelings of love because he felt they interfered with freedom.  Many people are critical of the Christian views on sex and passion, they view (improperly) Christians as prudes whom dislike others feeling any type of sexual pleasure. This is not the case of course.  As its root, the Christian values concerning sex is about keeping one’s mind. W.B. Yeats once observed that he had witnessed more men destroyed by chasing after women then he had seen destroyed by alcohol. This from an Irishman.  Yeats and Montaigne understood that for man to act like Man, (big M intended), and not destroy himself, he must not follow every fleeting hormonal impulse.

Michel de Montaigne
Michel de Montaigne

As a man thinketh, so is he~Proverbs 23:7. And so as a person’s thinking changes, so do his habits. The ancients knew the power of habit. In fact, I believe it is the most powerful tool in existence when it comes to effecting human behavior. The first thing that I myself do when I want to accomplish something, is figure out how I can make aspects of the task a habit. This usually involves setting aside a time and place in which I always practice part of the task. I always write in the morning. I even learned a way of getting things done that aren’t pleasing: Just do one thing a day that you don’t want to do, but needs doing at some point. Just one thing. You’ll be surprised at how effective it is. And this is what I think of homosexuality: it is a habit, not something hardwired from the beginning in a homosexual’s genome.

Almost anything can become a habit, good and evil. Vince Lombardi said quitting can become a habit, Dale Carnegie said the habit of feeling sorry for yourself is the worst habit of all.

Aristotle said of habit:

Moral excellence comes about as a result of habit. We become just by doing just acts, temperate by doing temperate acts, brave by doing brave acts.

In this article, I am primarily writing about physiological determinism, not cosmological determinism. That is, the idea that man does not have free will at all.  That is for another time. But it must be said here that determinism, is a major theme in leftist politics.  The belief, nay, the focal point, of this political system being that the determining factor in a man’s life is summed in the advantageous or disadvantageous situation into which he was born. That rich men are rich because they were born to lucky circumstances, and the poor people are poor because they were born to poor people.   But my interpretation of conservative politics, as I practice them, is to ask each person: What can you do right now to improve your lot and the lot of others? I see leftist politics as one giant antithesis of Carnegie’s admonition,  the leftist declares: The best habit is to feel sorry for yourself. And he hopes that men who don’t feel sorry for themselves, ie the men who make the world work, will give him some free stuff.  In other words, the view is self-serving, not “sympathetic.”

Finally, we must ask: How is the deterministic view helpful? If I truly am moved about like a puppet by hormones and impulses randomly bursting in my brain, what changes if I believe otherwise? But now ask yourself, what if we are not absolutely controlled by a domino effect of physiological input, but I believe and act as if I  am, what changes then? A great deal. A very great deal.

I’m an omnivore

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As much as I’ve always harped on controlling carbohydrates, I am in fact an omnivore. However, in the back of my mind, I’m aware of carbohydrates, and the only liquids I drink besides water is beer, wine and a little bit of milk. My refined carbohydrate intake is low as I don’t snack on any refined carbohydrate products. When I do snack it’s on a small handful of nuts or baby carrots. The chewing and crunching are satisfying. I find that most times I want to snack, I’m not really that hungry.

Some days I have a very low intake of carbohydrates, under 100 grams, and on rare occasions under 50. My wife does not cook low carb, but it’s still easy to get by. Some days meals are low in carbohydrates just as she cooks them. Just as God has provided a Natural Law to guide our conscience in the moral world, so is there a Natural Law of eating. We mostly know what is good or bad for us. Mountain Dew or Pizza? Potato Chips or a sweet potato? All these are carbohydrates but not all are equal. But most adults know which is better. A good general guide for food consumption is that if you see the food advertised on TV, don’t eat it. This would eliminate the consumption of most chips and sodas.

I instinctively cycle my diet and exercise. Some days I ride my mountain bike to work. Some days I walk the two miles home. On days following relatively high carbohydrate consumption, I may have a really tough workout, or I may skip breakfast, or I may restrict carbohydrates. You see the pattern. Carbohydrates have their place. They give us a powerful fuel, but like a car burning nitrous oxide, their over utilization can damage our engine. Another trick I use is avoiding pure carbohydrate meals. For instance, on pasta I almost always have meat sauce and olive oil. With pizza, I’ll put a little olive oil on it, and maybe some slices of avocado. Studies show that mixing a little protein or fat with carbohydrates prevents damaging insulin spikes.

And just as in the moral world, dogmatism is not needed unless there is a virtual emergency of failing health. An extremely obese person would be wise to be slightly more strict in controlling what they eat. As they reach their goals, there’s a lot more room for small errors. Chronic abuse of our bodies for years or decades will of course require more strict and longstanding adherence to diet and exercise dogma. We must all pay the Piper, but it’s important for overweight or out of shape people to remember that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. There are laws in effect that everyone’s bodies must obey. While diets like the Atkins Diet are a great way to attack obesity, I do not think they are sustainable. But remember, extreme times require extreme measures. We call in SEAL Team 6 to capture or kill deadly terrorists, not arrest the 19 year old shoplifter at the mall. Most times the local constabulary is enough.

Some have it, some don’t

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In his seminal book, “Good Calories, Bad Calories”, science journalist Gary Taubes recounts several studies which showed that starvation dieting did not work very well in helping people to lose weight, and that exercise, in his opinion, is unlikely the main factor in people losing pounds. One aspect of weight control that these studies doesn’t delve into is the roll that human will plays in diet. One area that I am at odds with Taubes is that people are relatively helpless victims in the obesity epidemic, swept away by a river of fate and bad science. I am also at odds with him on the role the exercise plays in weight loss.

Taubes recounts studies in which obese people were placed on diet of between 1500 and 1800 calories, and lost a paltry 8 pounds or so in 6 months or more. Yet the soldier I trained in Afghanistan lost 47 lbs. We did not count calories. He trained every other day, for about an hour. How was this possible? One of the faults I see in the studies that Taubes sites is an obvious one, at least to someone familiar with physical fitness. These studies, at least from what Taubes says, only monitored the weight of the subjects, and apparently not the body composition of the client. Muscle could have been increasing and fat decreasing, which is what most people want. He cites several studies which showed some people gaining weight while exercising, and some losing weight. This is actually consistent with what I saw in army basic training. Some people lost weight, one fellow gained over 20 lbs of good muscle. My weight stayed exactly the same throughout. I believe the body has a weight it desires to be at when exercise and diet are mostly correct. Thus the Russian studies involving kettlebell training that show some people lost weight and some people gained weight after training with kettlebells for some time. Some people needed more muscles, while others needed to lose fat. Kettlebell training set them right. Taubes believes that exercise increases appetite, thus causing people to eat more and gain weight. He quotes one scientists observation that a person has to climb 20 flights of stairs to burn off one piece of bread. Here, Taubes is again arguing against his own hypothesis, that obesity is primarily a hormonal problem in which excess insulin forces energy into fat cells for storage. Instead, he is making an excess energy argument in which he believes that exercise is insufficient in burning off consumed calories in most people. The problem is, Taubes’ insulin hypothesis could be right, and exercise could still help people lose weight, because exercise impacts blood glucose, insulin and the impact of insulin very significantly. Moreover, secondary hormones, which Taubes admits impact weight gain and loss (such as Human Growth Hormone and testosterone) though they play subordinate rolls to insulin, are greatly increased during and after exercise, even more so during intense exercise. I am not sure what kinds of exercise the people in the studies were doing, but not all exercises are created equal. Modern exercise science is pointing in a different direction from the decades of long and slow movements.

I see Taubes’ view that exercise is ineffective as fatalistic and also as part of a society that wishes to avoid any hint of personal responsibility or control. Taubes repeatedly points out that in the past, obesity was considered a moral failure, when it may only be an endocrine problem. However, humans, as intelligent moral creatures have the ability to seek better ways. When Adam and Eve ate of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, they they became burdened with their sins. And so it is with obesity. While I do not judge overweight people, I do find it reprehensible when people want to blame everything but themselves for their weight condition. After all, it may be true that they do not know the current science of diet and exercise, and it may be true that what they have been eating is making it nearly impossible to lose weight. But the overriding and glaring truth that should be evident is that what they have been doing is not working. I am particularly unsympathetic to people in the US Army whom are chronically overweight. I see and hear the differences in these people when compared to the fit soldiers. Gary Taubes seems to say that willpower has little or no part in weight control. I beg to differ. Certainly, cutting out refined carbohydrates will drastically reduce appetite and thus reduce the need for will in controlling weight, but it takes willpower to make the first step, and it takes willpower, and force of habit forged through the daily application of willpower, to eat and exercise in a beneficial way. After a while, habit trumps willpower. Doing things the right way, over and over, we find ourselves unsaddled with the pain we felt in the past. As we get more fit, exercise is no longer painful, as we reach our weight goal, defending that weight is much easier than having to send our bodies into deficit in order to lose weight.

I’m not a big fan of most reality shows, but I do appreciate The Biggest Loser. The trainers don’t allow the participants to wallow in self-serving whimper parties and excuses, tactics which have served them well in an enabling society. I see this behavior in the chronically overweight and under-fit people in my office. When we do Army physical training in the morning, one fellow in particular will almost invariably start whimpering about this or that hurting. He gained about 20 pounds of fat while I was deployed (he stayed at Ft. Drum), mostly by drinking liquid sucrose multiple times per day (that health drink known as Gatorade) and because he simply can’t push himself hard in physical training unless someone else is there to make him push himself. My experience with soldiers such as this helped me to notice two common characteristics: 1) They have very low pain thresholds, 2) They are relatively immune to shame.

The longer I am an NCO in the Army, the less patience I have for these types. I’m not talking about the person whom is merely slow or fat, but the person whom makes drama out of his discomfort in hopes of gaining an advantage over the people that are suffering right along with him, the person who expects the world to do all the work for him. Some of these people are irredeemable. They lack introspection and dignity. Some people have it, some don’t elite military units figure out if you have “it” before they hire you. They don’t train you to have it. Last week while leading physical training with two of my troops, the overweight NCO I spoke of above said he had a headache after we got done doing sprints. It was the usual drivel fro this guy, and the more he does it, the more I want to run him until he vomits (which he did, three times, several days prior). I’m 13 years older than he is, and wouldn’t dream of crying in front of my troops after a hard workout. The more he cries, the more I will run him, and make him swing kettlebells until his eyes bleed. When he began complaining, I exercised my right as an NCO is the US Army: I used shame and salty language to motivate. I said:

I have no fucking sympathy. None. Unless you have an arterial bleed I have no sympathy.

For those not in the military, this attitude seems brutal. But this is the problem with Taubes’ thesis: He tries to remove willpower from the equation. Just as the creators of counterinsurgency doctrine have tried to remove willpower from warfare and assume that we just need to tweek our “inputs” a little more and the enemy will fall in line, Taubes thinks that people just aren’t eating the exactly correct proportions of macro-nutrients (proportions which no one can agree on). Willpower is one thing that sets us apart from other animals. We can see our wrongs and make adjustments. The idea that things are supposed to be easy every time, all the time is killing our nation. From the Occupy Wall Street proto-Marxists, to the softies recruited by our military, we think we should start at the top, and never suffer a moment of discomfort. To modern Americans, something is wrong when there is discomfort. We could be climbing Mt. Everest and wonder why we’re uncomfortable and what politician we can appeal to for help.

Part of the problem begins with the femininization of America. We are increasingly matriarchal. This partly due to the fact that people simply cannot stay married for long anymore. They can’t tolerate each other. Lower class couple abandon each other at an alarming rate; when you have no job skills and neither does your partner, and no faith in God, you find your husband or wife as intolerable as any other person. Fathers are abandoning the family, and are generally not respected the way they used to be. Studies show that men and women have different parenting styles. Neither is better than the other, but both are required in order to make children into fully functioning adults. Women tend to be more nurturing and protective, while fathers tend to encourage reasonable risk taking. Two days ago I was at the bus stop waiting for my 6 year old’s school bus. One mother scolded her 7 (?) year old boy for jogging on the grass around the bus stop, warning him that the grass was wet from dew and she didn’t want him to fall and hurt himself. I wanted to vomit, and probably would have had I eaten breakfast. This boy will probably grow to be an Army general officer of the current strain, claiming that fighting is dangerous and doesn’t win wars. The obsession with safety in the Army is indicative of the military’s feminization.

We are dying from the inside, growing softer. We, the whining child who wants dessert before supper. And this is how I see most civilizations dying, not a concrete edifice demolished by the enemy’s cannon fire, but a rotting decomposition, the infinitesimal linkages between our cells that the wise of the world could never completely grasp, slowly disintegrating, becoming a liquefied gelatinous mass which no longer resembles a living entity.

Carbohydrates matter–a lot. Will matters even more. Almost every person at FOB Warrior in Afghanistan where I was deployed, lost weight. Why? Not because they were watching their carbs, but because they ate less because there was less food available. Sure, as a result they ate fewer carbohydrates. But we can control our destiny. We can make adjustments. Willpower needs to be exercised like any other human aspect, in order to strengthen it. Sometimes we need to really push ourselves through painful workouts, just to build our will. Allowing ourselves to be hungrier than normal is an ancient way of exercising the will. I’ve always promoted intermittent fasting, not only for its health benefits, but because it changes our essence.

Seize your destiny. You are not a victim of fate, whatever that fate it. Understand that pain is momentary, it is a threshold through which all strong people must pass. The only way to be strong is to pass through the portal of discomfort, which it transitory. On the other side of that door is strength and freedom.

Does exercise help you lose weight?

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I really like Gary Taubes. For those of you who don’t know who Taubes is, he wrote two books that really brought to light the problems with epidemiological studies in regards to diet and disease. He is the author of two ground breaking books, “Good Calories, Bad Calories” and “Why we get Fat“. Both of the books brought Doctor Atkins premise from suspected quackery to hard science.

The premise is that sugar is very harmful to us, and that modern processed foods are loaded with it. Making the situation all the worse, is the war against fat and meat. Taubes shows that the evidence is scant that fat and meat are linked to heart disease, but that the evidence is strong for the insulin connection; chronically high insulin levels not only make us gain fat, but are linked to cancer, heart disease, and even Alzheimer’s.

The paradigm constructed over the last 30 years is very difficult to break down. People are still terrified of meat and fat. They also believe they can eat mostly what they want as long as they exercise enough. Taubes argues that exercise is not a great way to attack the obesity problem, that some studies show exercise merely makes us hungrier, while doing little to make us lose fat. But the worm is beginning to turn. Even the left-leaning mainstream media, brought up on Upton’s, The Jungle, are starting to come around.

This month’s issue of Scientific American has an article by Taubes. Eventually, I believe, the evidence will be overwhelming to anyone in any way familiar with Francis Bacon. But many will still refuse to believe, mostly because the idea that humans are meant to eat dead animals bothers them. I’ll live longer and better than those ideologues, unless I get shot in combat or run over by a truck. As we see in the video I’ve posted, many accuse the meat industry of pushing an agenda that keeps them going. Isn’t the sugar industry doing the same thing? The question is not which industry is corrupt, but what is the healthier diet. It is a scientific question.

So can exercise help us lose weight? I believe it can. First, Taubes’ theorem is that obesity is essentially a a hormonal issue. That insulin, driven by rising blood sugar, is the root of the problem, it’s not about calories. If this is true, even in part, the logical question would be: How does exercise effect blood sugar and insulin? We know the answer. High intensity interval training reduces blood sugar levels. Here, HIIT improves insulin action, meaning it takes less insulin secreted to rid the blood of the same amount of sugar. Thus, when performing (and for a time after it’s performed) high intensity exercise, insulin is likely lower, because it requires less of it to perform its function. Taubes forgets his own argument, that it’s about insulin, not calories, when he talks about exercise. With exercise, he starts arguing calories. It takes a 175 lb male, 30 minutes of running at 6 mph to burn two pop tarts (400 calories). However, using Taubes’ reasoning, our bodies would present a different hormonal profile after the run; calories would be shuttled for different uses. High intensity intervals seems to suck the sugar out of your blood, and move it into your muscles, in the form of glycogen. This makes, sense; muscles run off glycogen during high intensity intervals. This glycogen is replaced by sugar from the blood.

Just as in a shooting war, we do not attack the enemy (fat) in only one way. We attack from every conceivable angle and every conceivable manner. We do not cede the enemy the air battle while fighting on the ground; we try to dominate both. So, it is true that diet is hugely important. But exercise changes hormones, just as does diet. When I train someone, I use high intensity exercises at least twice a week, while introducing them to moderate carbohydrate diets. No soda, ever. High intensity means intervals training on a stationary bike (tabata method is one protocol that works great), or sprinting or kettlebells swings and circuits. There are many variations. High intensity can also mean weight training. Squats work best,as they force the largest muscle group (quadriceps) into action, converting large amounts of blood sugar into glycogen.

In a nutshell: At least two session of high intensity exercise a week, no juice or soda; eat meat, eggs, nuts; no snacks during the week. It’s never failed to work with my clients.

No S Diet: Ultimate Common Sense Diet?

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In a previous post, I provided an outline for a diet and exercise routine I used to help a soldier lose almost 50 pounds.  In the title I mentioned that carbohydrate moderate along with calorie moderation was part of the dietary plan.

To be more specific, we employed a form of the “No S Diet”.  That means avoiding the “S” everyday of the week except Saturdays, Sundays, and Special Days, like holidays or parties.  The S is seconds, snacks, and sweets. So a person using this method gets one plate of anything he wants, three meals a day. Yup, you can pile it as high as you please.

I was astounded at the simplicity and effectiveness of this diet. I did it myself as I trained the soldier.  The diet combines a lot of things that make sense and even draws on current science. For one, the purpose of the diet is to create a habit that works without a ton of pain. The power of sustainable habit is incredible. Great writers, scientists and athletes are mostly made through the power of good habits.

As Aristotle stated:

We are what we do repeatedly.

This diet does a more than adequate job in controlling carbohydrates. As a person who works out intensely, I need carbohydrates. I have no doubt that reducing carbohydrates fights fat gain. But several studies have shown that peak power output and endurance suffer on very low carb diets and that testosterone is reduced in men on long-term low carb diets.  If you are really overweight, I suggest cutting back more carbs and then adjusting up as you near your goal or as training days require.

Since the No S Diet allows carbohydrates, athletic power is not diminished. But it allows no snacking on weekdays, which is a natural way to control carbohydrates–most modern snacks are carb heavy.

The diet’s creator, Reinhard Engels, talks about allowing things like bread in the diet. He makes a very astute observation, stating that he refuses to believe that a substance (bread) that’s been a nutritional staple for human civilization for 5000 years is bad for us. I agree.

In any case, the diet worked great, and didn’t leave the soldier drained, or feeling cheated. The weekend was coming and he could eat as he pleased on those days.  There is something intuitively correct about this diet. Highly recommended.

Obesity and McDonald’s

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Yesterday for lunch, I sat at my desk at work eating a Quarter Pounder with cheese and a ten piece Chicken McNugget from Mcdonalds.  Several people in the office commented with amazement that I was consuming such an atrocious meal, since I’m known for being knowledgeable and conscientious about food and exercise.  I even made a rule for my Soldiers that everytime I see them drinking a soda at work, they have to do one burpee for every gram of sugar in the bottle.  The burpee tax began when one Soldier had a 12 oz. bottle of Coca Cola on his desk.  I picked it up and read the label: 65 grams of sugar.

As I sat munching my delicious burger, one of the officers asked me how many burpees I was incurring from the McDonalds meal.  I told him, none, that sugar is the killer, especially liquid sugar.  An NCO chimed in with his negative comments, too.  I reminded them to look at my Physical Fitness test scores, and they conceded they couldn’t argue with my results.healthy?

I didn’t bother going in to any more detailed explanation of why it was ok for me to eat the meal, but I’ll touch on a few things here.  First, calories are the big thing.  Calories in, calories out matter, and they matter a lot.  There’s are other important issues, but mostly it comes down to energy balance.  To give you an idea of my energy expenditure energy yesterday, First, our section did an hour of physical training which entailed the following:  20 minutes of continuous exercise, 5 pullups, 10 parallel bar dips and 20 lunges, rotating through as many sets as possible in those 20 minututes.  At the end, we all did a minute of situps.  For me that ended up being 47 situps.  I lost count of how many sets I did, but I’ll estimate around 20.  So that’s 100 pullups, 200 dips, 400 lunges.  Next, after lunch I went for a two mile walk.  This in addition to walking quite a bit during my normal daily duties.  We also spent about 2 hours moving big rolls of razor wire and moving some moderately heavy boxes around.  So as you can see, I’m fairly active.

My food intake for the day, my energy intake, comprised the following:

Breakfast: 3 egg cheese omelet; two pieces whole wheat toast with butter

Lunch: Quarterpounder with cheese; 10 piece Chicken McNugget

Supper: One 6oz filet mignon wrapped in bacon; one ear of corn on the cob; 2 16oz cans of beer; and handful of mixed nuts

Some quick online research on calorie content, and using Fitness Magazine’s calorie requirement calculator (male, 41 years old, heavy exercise, 173 pounds), tells me that my calorie intake yesterday was 2859 and my daily average calorie requirement to sustain my current body weight is 2960 calories.  Almost exactly on, but just a little under.  My appetite yesterday tells me that this is correct: I felt very slight hunger pangs before going to bed, but nothing serious.  The net result is no weight gain.  Period.

Many people are familiar with Super Size Me, a documentary directed by film maker Morgan Spurlock.  In the film, Spurlock ate only meals from McDonalds for 30 continuous days and “Super Sized” his meals whenever the cashier asked him if he wanted it so.  The result was a measurable deterioration in Spurlock’s health and well being.  He gained over 23 pounds.  Many people attributed this to the evils of fast food.  Ignored was the fact that Spurlock consumed over 5000 calories per day, and did no regular exercise during this period.  Well, at least his nutritionist in the movie tells him he’s eating that many calories per day, though it’s been pointed out that in order to reach that many calories per day, Spurlock had to have broken his own eating rules, that is, he simply ate more than he stated.  And, he has never released a food log showing what he actually ate, only stating that he Super Sized 9 times total in 30 days.  The following video explains:

The following video shows Spurlock for what he really is:  A Vegan zealot, out to prove to the world the evils of meat, and the healthfulness of celery:

So Spurlock did what every bad scientist does: Set out to prove what he already knew.  If Spurlock ate 5000 calories of bananas he would have gained weight and felt awful.  If he’d eaten 2500 calories a day of McDonalds and cut out the soda and fries, he would have been fine.

In fact, several people have lost weight on diets of “bad” food from McDonalds.

And… this man. 

Tim Naughton did an experiment and showed he could lose weight over the same period that Spurlock gained weight, eating only fast food.

Eating fewer calories makes people healthier in almost all measurable ways.  Haughton’s blood lipids all improved while eating only at fast food restaurants.

The nutrition professor below ate about 1800 calories a day for 10 weeks, consuming twinkies and snack cakes.  He lost 27 pounds and his colesterol went down by 20 points.  This is real science.  And frankly it drives people nuts.  Many people who say they “trust in science, not religion” are lying: They simply believe what they want to believe.

Here’s the Twinkie Diet:

So, my diet strongly focuses on these factors: calories, effects on blood sugar, intermittent fasting.  My calories remain reasonable, I stay away from foods that spike blood sugar–especially chronic use of sugary drinks and sugary foods low in fiber,  and finally, skipping about two meals a weak leading to a 16-18 hour fast.  Pretty simple.  I don’t count calories, except when I’m making a point to unbelievers.

Here are two monkies, studied by real scientists.  One monkey (there were lots of them, not just these two) who ate fewer calories had fewer diseases, acted younger, and looked better.

Think about it.  A Quarter Pounder with cheese has about 510 calories.  If someone ate only 3 Quarter Pounders a day, they’d take in only 1530 calories a day.  But many Americans are taking in 4000-5000 a day–and that’s why they’re fat and sick.

Is exercise making people fat?

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I love exercise. I encourage all people to take up some form of physical fitness, because the benefits are remarkable and documented.

But is weight loss one of those benefits?

I work for an organization–the US Army–that mandates physical exercise. It doesn’t just say: do pushups and run whenever you can. It makes its supervisors, NCOs, make sure that soldiers are exercising and then it tests those soldiers bi-annually to make sure they are making the grade. It also has weight and bodyfat standards. Yet there are tons of what I would call, skinny-fat people in the Army. Their legs and arms look skinny, but their guts and butts tell a different story. They look doughy and soft. Rather weak.

Most of these people, I think, have come under the illusion that if you work out on most days, you can plow however much food you wish into your mouth and still lose weight. And actually, thinking like that, combined with excercise, may actually be making us fatter than no exercise at all. Exercise makes you hungry–hungrier than not exercising.

I just read an article in Time Magazine, written by John Cloud. Cloud talks about various studies that conclude people, working out, typically ingest more calories than when they were sedentary.  He also shows that normal movement throughout the day, in addition to eating a spare amount of calories, may be more effective than regular trips to the gym at helping people lose weight. To my surprise, I agreed with most of what Cloud said.

There is a light at the end of the dark tunnel, however. In the article, Cloud laments that he’s 163 lbs, and that he was only able to reach that weight by cutting out dessert.

I’ll step aside for a moment, and let the an expert–perhaps the foremost on body mass control–do some talking: Clarence Bass.

Bass wrote a retort to Cloud’s article, here. 

I think Bass’ best point is that Cloud doesn’t seem to enjoy his exercise. Whatever someone decides to do, they’d best enjoy it if they wish to have long-term results. He also shows that short, intense bursts are much more efficient than steady-state aerobics in building fitness. I’m not saying stop running for distance if you enjoy it. I’m only saying that if you don’t like it, there are options.  

Like Bass, I prefer intervals and weight lifting or calisthenics. Sometimes I do like a long run, but before I came in the Army, I almost never ran more than a mile or so. I did interval sprints and lifted kettlebells. I was lean and strong. I’d skip breakfast sometimes. I’d allow myself to get hungry once in a while, but not always. In the Army, I run more, but most of that is only to prepare for an upcoming physical test, then I tend to move back to my old training ways. But I like to change it up. This past weekend, I ran in my first 10k race, placed second in my age group despite not having run in three weeks. It hurt, I admit, but the change and the challenge are good. Competition gives a reason to stay fit.

Keeping with Bass’ point about choosing exercise you like, let’s look at my deadlift training. While I’m deadlifting, I get a surge of energy. Low rep, high intensity (weight) gives your nervous system a charge. I get so jacked up from doing the deadlift, that I have to purposely put the breaks on to keep myself from doing too much. Three sets of five reps can build incredible strength over time, provided you follow the progressive overload principle and don’t allow yourself to burn out. Point is, I love this training and want to do it. I run for distance because I have to, therefore I slack on running when I don’t have to.

Pick stuff you like, do that the most, and add a touch of other things that you need for health. Do what you like 75% of the time. The rest, do what doesn’t come so naturally. You’ll find that the change of pace keeps you motivated, but doesn’t grind you down by becoming punishment.

As far as diet goes, I agree with Cloud that exercise can make you hungry, especially lots of aerobic exercise. As I’ve said in other articles, my weight has been steady for over a decade. My bodyfat % is around 8. I shifted to a diet very similar to Clarence Bass’ plus some intermittent fasting and fairly quickly dropped about 10lbs. Bass says low fat, moderate protein and heavy on the veggies is the way to go. I didn’t worry about fat (chicken skin and all), didn’t eat as much bread as Bass does (he eats it every day, the heavy, whole grain type) and went very heavy on the salad. I’m not talking lots of lettuce in the salad. I’m talking heavy stuff that made me full. It’s important that people realize the volume effect of water-laden vegies with fibre. They make you feel full and they digest slowly, so you stay satiated longer. Also, I rarely ate dessert. On the other hand, I wasn’t shy about beer–usually one or two cans every single day. That was my dessert I guess.

So, while Cloud writes an excellent article,  I would guess that his exercise isn’t very intense–it’s just long and painful. I can guarantee (almost) that if I were to work with him, put him on a program of deadlifting and work in some intervals and lactic acid producing (and thus growth hormone producing) calisthenics and kettlebells, he’s lose his gut–and even be able to slip in a piece of pie once in a while.