weight loss

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.

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.

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.