Posts Tagged ‘health’

Remaking the Body

November 10, 2009

Wow. I’ve been doing a lot of reading and making changes these past few weeks. I’ve falling far behind on what I planned for this site, but it is time to take a breather and try to catch up, and set the stage for what is coming next.

The “Good Calories, Bad Calories” book set off a tidal wave of change, along with the book “Born to Run”, which has been a recent bestseller. Both my diet and my exercise habits have changed in the process – and more than once! Born to Run got me running for the first time in 15 years, but a different book has since made me question the wisdom of doing so. Still, its the journey, not the destination, right? And so I will try to share the journey so far.

In this post I’ll summarize the last few weeks activity, and in subsequent posts I’ll expand on various themes I visited along the way.

Some time back I bought the book “The New Rules of Lifting”. I don’t remember why exactly I decided on this book, but I had seen some recommendations and I bought and read it. It advocated against aerobic exercise in favor of weight lifting. I’ve always believed both are good and necessary, although I’ve always done a poor job of aerobic exercise and been utterly useless at getting to the gym to do weights. I bought a Total Trainer at some point to redress this, and used it for a couple of months quite regularly, but it too gathers dust now, along with the treadmill in the garage.

I should mention that I am reasonably fit as I cycle regularly during the warmer 8 months of the year, but I am overweight. A month ago I was at about 28% body fat, and by my estimation about 15% heavier than I should be.

Anyway, “The New Rules of Lifting” prompted me to purchase a workout tracking app for my iPhone but I never actually went to the gym! I’m great at theory but awful at practice!

Going back even further, about six months ago I read about Total Immersion swimming on Tim Ferris’ blog.  This was fascinating to me; I used to scuba dive in my twenties and thirties (too cold where I live now) but was never a good swimmer. I’ve always wanted to be a better swimmer so I started teaching myself the technique in the book. It definitely works and my swimming started improving – however I got frustrated by never being able to get a lane to myself at the gym and eventually gave up trying. But around the same time I heard people talk about Chi Running. Again this sounded interesting; I used to do Tai Chi in my twenties and thirties (yeah, I seem to have given up a lot since coming to the USA and becoming a parent), and used to run (badly) when a grad student until I got unrelenting shin splints, so an injury free approach to running seemed appealing. I mentioned this to a friend who was a runner, and he told me to read “Born to Run”, which I’d seen around but hadn’t looked at closely. In the end I devoured it; it was a great book, and I liked the idea of running barefoot. I had heard of the Vibram Five Fingers shoes before; inspired, I bought myself a pair and started to run. By the 5th run I had reached 5km and was quite pleased with myself. I had no shin splint pain either!

At the same time I started exploring low carb diets after reading Good Calories Bad Calories. I first latched on to Atkins and did about 4 days of Atkins style “induction”, before I decided it was too extreme for me. I liked the Protein Power diet better, and read the book by the Eades’. Then I found and read the “Living the Low Carb Life” book, and am currently interested in the Go! diet. Regardless, I have cut my carbs back considerably, although not nearly enough to be in a serious “induction” phase anymore – despite this, in the past twenty days I’ve lost about 5 pounds and my body fat percentage has dropped to 25%.

About the time of the 5km run, I read the book “Body by Science”, which like “The New Rules of Lifting” argued against aerobic exercise and in favor of weights. I liked the program it suggested – here it seemed was a gym based program that I could actually handle in terms of frequency (once a week) and I did the first session. I found it very effective, but have since injured my hand and gym is out for me for about a week. But I’m actually looking forward to going! I expect I will still run, but very moderately; 5km is probably about as far as I need to take it. And so the journey continues; I will continue reporting on my results and actions, and what I have learned about low-carb dieting and food along the way (the “low-carb” label is not FDA regulated and subject to a lot of abuse I have discovered).

So that is the big picture of the past month; in the next few posts I will go into more detail on each of the books I mentioned and what I learned from each one.


Good Calories, Bad Calories

October 17, 2009

A few days ago I came across a reference to this book and it sounded interesting and I picked up a copy. Well, I can now say that this book may well change my life.

I’m about 40 pounds overweight. I do overeat occasionally, and don’t get as much exercise as I should, plus I have hypothyroidism, so there are several reasons for my weight problem. Nonetheless I mostly eat what I thought was healthy – breakfast is usually coffee and a bowl of granola, lunch is typically a whole grain vegetarian wrap (usually some kind of Indian lentil curry with rice), and with dinner being my main mean – a first course of salad, followed by a varied main course – pasta with pesto, salmon, or pizza are perennial favorites. Finally I tend to have a desert – typically ice cream of frozen yoghurt.  Between meals I usually have one or two energy bars (usually Bora bars) and tea or coffee.

Sounds pretty healthy, doesn’t it? Apart from the pizza and ice cream, I usually keep my saturated fat intake low (I take a statin to control cholesterol too). I favor whole grains, avoid high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), and have recently been using Agave syrup as a sweetener. I’ve thought that diets like Atkins could work but believed that while they could result in weight loss they were otherwise unhealthy. So I’ve come to accept that I’m overweight and that it would be a challenge for me to lose weight, and attributed that to genetics and my thyroid primarily.

This book gives an awful lot of credibility to Atkins and other low carb diets. In particular, it singles out fructose (and HFCS) as particularly bad. Something I did not know is that fructose actually has a low glycemic index. I dug out my copy of the wonderful On Food and Cooking and looked up Agave syrup, which I had been using because it was a “low glycemic sweetener”. And guess what – it is basically worse than sugar, as it is a mix of glucose and fructose (just like regular sugar is) but with about a 70% fructose content instead of 50%!

Good Calories Bad Calories is not a book with an agenda. It is not trying to sell you on a particular diet. It is an extremely detailed analysis of the research on nutrition, diabetes, etc, that has been done in the past 50+ years (as well as pointing out much that should have been done but hasn’t). It shows how the standard dietary advice that has been fed to US citizens since the 1970’s is wrong, and how that advice is really the misinformation that comes from a small clique of east coast academics who have dominated the journals and conferences and ridiculed all those who question their rather dubious wisdom. After reading this book you will wish some of these academics were charged with crimes against humanity, for that is what they have committed.

I can’t begin to do justice to the depth and detail of this book, but here are some of the conclusions reached:

  • neither dietary fat nor excess calories are the cause of “diseases of civilization” like obesity; instead it is carbohydrates to blame for heart disease, diabetes and possibly Alzheimer’s, via their effect on insulin secretion (insulin is the primary regulator for fat storage);
  • sugars are particularly harmful, especially glucose and fructose together;
  • exercising to burn more calories than you consume does not result in weight loss – it results in hunger – while eating excess calories doe not result in weight gain any more than it does height gain;

This is enough to make me want to go on an Atkins or similar diet, although I can’t see how I will pull that off with my wife; she considers herself vastly more knowledgeable than me in these areas (she has formal training in sports medicine and nutrition) and has railed against Atkins before – she doesn’t disagree that Atkins can result in weight loss but she believes it is very unhealthy and I would get immense resistance. But that is a different challenge. Anyone who has weight issues or suffers from diabetes should read this book and draw their own conclusions.