Monday, 25 May 2009

Gain Half a Stone in 48 Hours... and Lose it in 10 Days

One of the advantages of twittering your meals, blogging your workouts and obsessively recording your weight is that you can backtrack through a period of time and see exactly what you were doing and how it affected your weight.

You can usually tell when I have strayed from the path of nutritional righteousness because I don't twitter what I am eating. This is invariably a combination of being too drunk to remember / be capable of taking a photograph - and in any case too ashamed to post it.

A couple of weeks back I went out on a celebration that was always doomed to result in excess. The day after excessive drinking, for me, usually engenders comfort eating, so it's often a 48 hour deal. Day 1 - too much alcohol and bad food while I'm drunk. Day 2 - comfort food to mitigate the hangover.

I have highlighted those days in red in the food/exercise chart at the bottom. On the graph they are blank because I didn't weigh myself for pretty much the same reason my Twittering stops.

Weight change over 2 weeks - note, y-axis is a decimal stones value, not stones and pounds

I wanted to post this as an illustration of how weight can fluctuate wildly without any significant change to body composition. If you look at my own chart for the last few years, you can see it is littered with spikes in weight that quickly decline.

In this case, it took 48 hours to gain 7 pounds, then 10 days to lose them. To gain a pound of fat it takes about 3500 calories. Did I over consume by about 25,000 calories in 48 hours? Clearly not. Nor did I manage to under consume by 2,500 calories per day in the days that followed.

I suspect a big chunk of the extra weight was water retention from increased sodium intake. Another big chunk would be sheer volume of food in my intestines. The 3-day conveyor belt of end-to-end digestion simply had more stacked on it thanks to my celebratory gluttony. And yes, maybe I did manage to eat and drink 3,500 - 5,000 extra calories, a lot of which would have been stored as fat.

As I've mentioned before, it's this transition from poor food to good food that is often responsible for the initial weight loss people report at the start of some kind of diet. This is quickly followed by disillusionment when the pace of change does not continue.

You can probably tell from the chart that I was pretty rigorous about my recovery effort, so for others this might have taken longer.

My advice would to avoid these binges - but if you are unable to, these 3 things can help speed the return to normal over a couple of weeks.

1. Regular fasts
2. Strictly Paleo/Primal
3. Regular short, intense workouts

DayMorningAfternoonEveningWeight (stone-lbs)
8th May
Herring, mackerel, steamed vegetables and coconut11-2.0
9th May
'Super Big Breakfast' - 3 bacon, 3 sausages, 3 eggs, tomatoes and black pudding. 100g bag of salted cashew nuts.
10 x double vodka and apple juice
5 x double vodka and apple juice. Tandoori chicken starter. Tandoori chicken main course.
10th May
Crab, salad, walnuts and nut butter and fruit with coconut creamfastBottle of red wine, tandoori salmon starter, tandoori vegetables side dish, whole tandoori chicken, cheesecake, fresh cream.
11th May

5-Minute High Intensity Top-Up
fastRoast chicken and steamed vegetables11-9.0
12th Mayfast pilchards prawns avocado tomato pepper beetroot nutstrout, broccoli, red pepper, courgette, onion, evoo11-8.0
13th Mayfast
Chest and Shoulders workout with tabata finisher
fastVenison liver fried in coconut oil, coconut cream, red wine, tom puree, venison blood; mixed veg evoo11-5.5
14th Mayfastsardines, avocado, tomato, spinach, little evooHerring, Ling, Broccoli, Courgette, Green Pepper, Leek, evoo. handful pumpkin seeds11-3.5
15th MayCompressed Volume Back Routine + Tabata Squat/Swing FinisherTinned salmon, tinned sardines, walnuts, tomato, green pepper, spinach
tandoori chicken, lamb and prawn platter with salad & a glass of red
16th Mayfastfast
roast organic chicken with lots of crispy skin, red wine, chicken fat & garlic sauce, mixed veg11-6.5
17th Mayfast
fresh crab, chicken fat from last night's roast, spinach & lemon juicecrab and beetroot stalk soup w coconut cream....

chicken curry w coconut cream, wine, onion, yellow pepper, tomato, garlic, broccoli
18th MaySwimming Sprints and Underwater Challenges

Egg, apple, kiwi
canned tuna, sardines + beetroot leaves, yellow pep, walnuts, tom, celery. Mixed nuts finisherbaked trout, kale, broccoli, carrot, onion, asparagus, red pepper, evoo11-5.0
19th Mayfast
ling in c'nut cream & evoo sauce, broccoli, parsnip, carrot, yellow pep, onion, kale, asparagus11-3.5
20th May'Body by Science' Workout and Rowing Tabata Finisher

6 eggs, kiwi
sardines, avocado, beetroot+ its leavesVenison Liver fried in olive oil with coconut cream, wine, steamed veg and evoo
21th Mayfast
trout with steamed broccoli, onion and kale11-2.0
... Read more

Thursday, 21 May 2009

Paleo/Primal in a Nutshell Spanish

Part 1: Food
Part 2: Exercise

When I first posted the first Paleo/Primal in a Nutshell video, a lady emailed me to say how she would love to be able to show the video to some friends who speak Spanish and offering to help me translate them. I am pleased to say that she very kindly followed through on that promise and even suggested some alternative soundtracks.

So - if you know any Spanish-speakers who'd appreciate the videos, here they are...
Part 1: Food
Part 2: Exercise

Translated by: Autumn Brookmire and Ekel Verce.
... Read more

Saturday, 16 May 2009

My Vitamin D Deficiency - a Salutary Lesson

I received the results of my Vitamin D test this week. I have a level of 29 ng/mL. The healthy level, according to Grassroots Health, the organisation who did the test, is 40-60 ng/mL. Others say 50-80 ng/mL.

Either way, this makes me significantly deficient. When you consider the effort I had been making to in the months leading up to the test, this is a salutary lesson to anyone living in a climate similar to the UK or who avoids the sun.

If you look at the top food sources of vitamin D, you'll see Liver, Beef, Salmon, Herring, Mackerel, Sardines and Eggs amongst the few rich dietary sources.

If you follow my meal updates on Twitter you'll know just how much of these foods I eat on a weekly basis. I would estimate 1-3 tins of wild salmon, 6-10 tins of sardines, 1-2 whole mackerel, 1-2 whole herring and 20-30 organic eggs. Liver and beef are also regulars.

Not only that, but in the 2 weeks leading up to the test I had spent 3 or 4 lunchtimes sunbathing in a field near my office in just my underwear, at no small cost, I might add, to my already shaky status as a sane employee.

When I started reading about Vitamin D I could tell it was important - but it seemed complicated. So for the benefit of those of you who are in the same position, here are the basics, along with references to other bloggers and Web sites where I found the information.
The Basics on Vitamin D
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin. This means the body stores it. Good, because it means we can build up reserves; bad, because if we have too much, there is the possibility of toxicity. Other vitamins, like vitamin C, are water soluble and not stored. Good, because less toxicity risk; bad, because daily consumption is necessary for good health.

There are two forms of vitamin D. These are D2 and D3. This confused me. But all you really need to know is that both of them are vitamin D.

You can get vitamin D from the sun. The D3 form is produced in the body when sunlight falls on your skin. This process is thought to be self-regulating so that it is not possible to cause vitamin D toxicity from sun exposure (I read that here.)

You can get vitamin D from food. Various foods contain vitamin D2 - this page lists some. I can tell you it must be pretty hard to reach toxic levels through D-rich foods, based on my own experience. I practically turned into a sardine one week, yet, as we have seen, turned out to be deficient.

You can get vitamin D from supplements. Apparently the type to go for is vitamin D3. Not sure why this is the best form to use, but apparently it is (I read it on Free the Animal). You CAN reach toxic levels through supplementation.

You can get tested for vitamin D levels. I read on the Vitamin D Council website that the correct test to get is what's called the 25-hydroxy vitamin D test, or 25-OH Vitamin D test. Your doctor may authorise it and medical insurance might cover it - but I took neither route. I sent off for a test with Grassroots Health having seen them recommended in this Life Spotlight article. It cost about $30 / £20.

Vitamin D levels may affect athletic performance, which I also read on the Vitamin D Council website, here.

Vitamin D deficiency is linked to a number of illnesses. I am not sure where to start with this one - here are a few: multiple sclerosis, cancer, depression, autism. Put, another way, a number of conditions have been found to respond well to vitamin D supplementation. To find out more, do some Googling - there is a wealth of information about vitamin D and various conditions. Or you could start with the various posts on the topic from Free the Animal, here.
Why am I deficient When I am Apparently Living as we Evolved to Live?
The theory is that even in a climate like the UK we would have been exposed to a lot of sun when we were hunter gatherers. We would have spent most of the time outside. Stored reserves from the spring, summer and autumn and a diet rich in meat, fish and eggs, would have got us through the winter.

But now, most of us spend most days, even in summer, in the office or some other indoor venue; and even those who do spend time outdoors tend to avoid the sun or use suncream for fear of cancer.

I don't want to go into the cancer from sun exposure vs. cancer from vitamin D deficiency issue here. If you want a great summary of why it might not be an issue provided you follow certain rules, read Mike and Mary Eades' Protein Power Life Plan. There's also a good post on the subject on Free the Animal.
How Can I Navigate the Deficiency vs. Supplementation vs. Toxicity Minefield?
This is the plan I am following:
  1. Get tested and find out your level.
  2. If deficient, take steps to get your level in the healthy range. This might be getting more sun, supplementing, or a combination of both.
  3. Get tested again.
  4. Adjust your regime if necessary, otherwise, just carry on as you are.
  5. Keep getting tested just in case.
Grassroots Health gave me some guidelines. They said that taking 1000 ui of vitamin D3 per day would raise the levels in my body by 10 ng/mL.

How much you can raise the levels with sun are much more complicated and they offered no advice. It depends on so many factors - time of year, pollution, proximity to the equator, skin colour. So I figure you just have to play this one by ear - and it is one good reason to get regularly tested.

So I am now on step 2. I have some 1000 iu D3 supplements on their way. I will take 3 per day. This should take my levels up to 59. Since it is the summer in the UK, I will be also be getting more sun. So it's possible I will go higher - but since up to 80 is seen as healthy, I feel I have a safety zone. My planned retest in October will tell me whether the amount of sun I got meant I did not need 3000 iu per day.
Things I will be Watching Out for
  1. Better performance with my training.
  2. Any changes to general well-being
  3. A change in my neutrophil count - in an unrelated matter, I have been having blood tests to monitor this and other readings. If you are interested, see my conversation with Dave in the comments on this post. By coincidence I have just had another of these other tests (there was no change,) so I have a pre-supplementation baseline level.
My Recommendation for Testing
If you do decide to get tested, I can certainly vouch for Grassroots Health. They sent the kit overseas to the UK promptly, and even sent me a second one when I complained that the first one didn't work - even though it was probably my own fault. You are supposed to wash your hands in hot water to ensure blood flow. My water was only warm. The second test worked fine.

I should add that the 'pre-paid' envelope they provided for returning the sample was not suitable for use outside the USA - so non-US folk like me need to add an airmail sticker and additional postage.

See Also:
My Wheat Experiment
My Wheat Experiment Blood Test Update
How I Got My Vitamin D into the Sweet Spot
... Read more

Thursday, 14 May 2009

First 2 Weeks of Transitioning to Paleo Diet: A Case Study

This is a guest post by Straight to the Bar's Scott Bird.

Scott Bird. Artwork by Vince Palko.
Yes, I love the deadlift.
Although my diet's been gradually getting cleaner for about 5 years now, it wasn't until Methuselah wrote the superb Transitioning to a Paleo Diet that I decided to investigate the Paleo approach. And following a weekend of intensive research, I decided to make the switch two weeks ago.

Here's a look at the result of my first two weeks of Paleo eating, and the many benefits I'm already experiencing. Fantastic.
Making the Decision
When it comes to making major, life-changing decisions like this, I typically fall into the 'obsessive and single-minded' group that Methuselah mentioned. Aside from anything else, it's much easier to go 'cold turkey' than to make small changes over a long period of time. In my case, anyway.

Following the abovementioned weekend of intensive research, on Monday morning I decided to banish three major elements from my diet. These were :
  • grains (all bread, cereals & pasta),
  • dairy products, and
  • legumes (including peanuts, which are - strictly speaking - in this category)
The first two of these were fairly obvious and simple to avoid; the third took a little thought on a a few occasions.
What do I Have in Place Of ...?
The first few days were filled with 'I usually eat this, what should I have instead?' moments. The most notable of these came with breakfast, as I've been eating cereal+milk & toast for years now. What could I eat instead?

This bothered me for a while, until I remembered two occasions when the 'cereal+milk' thing was not an option. These were :
  • breakfast in an Edinburgh cafe, which consisted of scrambled eggs and slices of salmon
  • breakfast in an Amsterdam hotel, which consisted of herrings, fruits, juice and coffee
These meals were both elegantly simple, and both rank high on my 'great breakfasts' list. Problem solved.
Grocery Shopping
I found myself shopping for groceries almost a week later, and wondering what to get. In the end, the changes were fairly minor.

The first difference was the fact that I instinctively selected a much great variety of foods. In addition to staples such as chicken and beef were various organ and game meats, my usual purchase of 5-6 pieces of fruit became 5-6 varieties, and the cans of sardines became bags of fresh mussels.

Best of all: although I'd been bracing myself for a massive increase in cost, the difference was actually quite reasonable.
Take-Away Food & Restaurants
The day after shopping was Mothers' Day, and I ended up going on a 600km journey with my parents. Not only was this an ideal opportunity to explore a small rural town, it also forced me to rapidly adapt Paleo eating to both take-away and restaurant menus.

First up was a franchise of the ubiquitous McDonalds. Although I rarely eat there (perhaps one meal every 2-3 years), it was early Sunday morning in a country town. There was nothing else open.

After staring at the menu for several minutes and wondering why the Big Breakfast is no longer on it (in that store, at least), I elected to start with an Egg & Bacon Roll, and simply remove the roll. Not bad, considering the options.

In fact, I'd probably stick with this 'remove the roll' mentality for a number of things on the menu. That applies to any fast-food restaurant of this type.

Lunch was a little easier. Take-away food in Australian country towns focuses on a mix of hamburgers, pizzas and seafood. I opted for grilled fish and fish cakes, which avoided the 'remove the roll' thing entirely.
For the first month or so of the transition, I'm putting my usual collection of supplements to one side. This is simply as my nutritional needs are likely to change considerably with this style of eating (particularly my intake of Vitamin C and Omega 3), and I'll find out exactly what my requirements are at the end of the first four weeks.

One thing to note though, my intake of Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin) has obviously increased dramatically. As the excess comes out in the urine (turning it a brilliant, pale yellow in the process), it's extremely easy to spot.
Unexpected Benefits
Sleep, Glorious Sleep
Sleep, Glorious Sleep.
Better Sleep: since I changed over to Biphasic Sleep in 2006, the quality of my slumber has been fantastic. In fact, before switching to Paleo I was doubtful whether I could improve it much.

However, after only a few days of Paleo eating, I noted that I was getting markedly better sleep. Factors such as a constant loud noise or a particularly hectic day were having less of an impact, and I awoke feeling refreshed regardless of the starting point.

This change alone has major carry-over benefits to other activities throughout the day.

The Disappearing Cough: for the past five years I've had a regular, yet minor, cough. After this length of time I'd forgotten all about it, as I'd long ago put it in the 'mildly annoying, yet easily ignored' basket.

It was only after a week of eating Paleo that I noticed it was changing - becoming far less frequent. After only two weeks it has almost disappeared entirely.

Perhaps the cough was due to a mild intolerance to gluten, or possibly casein. Whatever the case, it's fantastic to be finally getting rid of it.

Craving for Fruit & Veg: perhaps the most unexpected - and wonderful - change was in my desire to eat fruits and vegetables. Previously I ate fruit only occasionally, and a small amount of mixed veg with meals; now I have an undeniable craving to eat every piece of fruit in sight.

I suspect that a large part of this is simply my body looking for carbs & sugars (now that other sources have been taken away); whatever the cause, I welcome the change.
Final Thoughts on the First Two Weeks of Paleo
Overall, I cannot recommended it highly enough. I certainly have no plans to change anytime soon.

Given that my starting point was a reasonably simple, healthy diet; I'm amazed at just how big a difference the Paleo approach makes. If better sleep, greater nutrient intake and faster recovery (from training) are things you'd love to have, give it a go. Superb.

Scott is the editor of strength-training site Straight to the Bar, and all-around fitness enthusiast. When he's not in the kitchen stuffing his face, he can generally be found engaging in cruel and unusual punishment in the backyard.
... Read more

Friday, 8 May 2009

Fat Head the Movie: Flawed but Ultimately Heroic

I watched Fat Head for the first time this week.

For those who don’t know, Fat Head is a film made by Tom Naughton, a former stand-up comedian. He funded it entirely from his own pocket.

Naughton was also the maker of this video which I posted a while back - it's a great 3-minute intro on why the western diet is so wrong. In fact the short was part of the film too.

The film’s central theme is that we have all been fed a load of bologna where diet is concerned. Naughton aims the dual weaponry of his biting sarcasm and thorough background research at a number of targets.

He starts with Morgan Spurlock, whose documentary, Supersize Me, he savages. Then it’s onto the CSPI, the government and finally researchers like Ancel Keys, exposing the conflicts of interest, professional vanity and other human failings behind the maintenance of a bogus framework of food production and nutritional recommendation.

The trouble with the film is that not all the points Naughton makes are clear cut. In particular, his attack on Spurlock’s documentary swings the pendulum of credibility too far in the other direction.

Yes, there is amusing parody to be derived from this – I enjoyed seeing
Naughton ask perplexed interviewees whether they are forced to eat McDonalds by anyone. Likewise his witty vox pops, establishing that most people realise fast food has high calories; and when he asks McDonalds staff over the intercom whether he will be forced to eat fries with his food, it’s hard not to chuckle.

However, as many people realise, it’s more complicated than that. Yes, Spurlock tried to blame McDonalds for everything, and I am certainly not an apologist for his film; but demand and supply have a complex dynamic dictated by myriad factors, many of which are clearly exploited by fast food companies. To assume consumers can make choices that are best for them and for society strikes me as a little naive, and I am sure Naughton is far to savvy to genuinely believe it is this simple.

The question of addiction is also raised, with Naughton implying that Spurlock’s ability to stop eating junk food the moment his experiment ended renders the issue irrelevant. Yet I have read research suggesting that carbohydrates may indeed be addictive due to their association with opiate-like substances; and there are also indications they disrupt the ability to regulate appetite – i.e. stop eating at a given meal.

When the film really shines is when Naughton is not looking to score comedic points with his parody of Supersize Me, but making the case for the diet we should be eating, not the one we are being recommended.

Here he employs the same comic devices that are so effective in the short I mentioned above, so it remains as entertaining as the earlier parts of the film in spite of the increased emphasis on science and fact. In fact I enjoyed these sections more because I no longer had the uncomfortable feeling that complicated issues were being unduly simplified. On the nutrition issue, it really is that simple – and Naughton does a fantastic job showing us why, using
excellent interviews with, amongst others, Drs Mike and Mary Eades and drawing upon Gary Taubes’ Good Calories Bad Calories.

No review would be complete without mentioning the experiment – Naughton’s low carb version of Spurlock’s 30-day fast food diet. Naughton shows that by keeping carbs low, he not only improves the health metrics Spurlock’s experiment made worse, but actually improves his body composition – all on a fast food diet, mainly McDonalds.

His doctor, naturally, is baffled.

To be fair, Naughton does make it clear he does not believe McDonalds food is a healthy way to eat, with or without the buns, sodas and desserts. Yet I can imagine people tuning out this caveat. We have a habit, after all, of hearing what we want to hear.

The film did present one completely new angle for me - the bologna we may have been fed about the obesity epidemic. In the opening scenes the film exposes the familiar shoulders-down footage of grotesquely overweight people walking the streets as not necessarily representative of the reality. Apparently this has been overstated, fuelled by the familiar mix of blind media hype and organisational self interest.

In spite of my misgivings, I believe Naughton is a hero, and with hindsight am sure his original short was the inspiration for my own modest effort, Paleo in a Nutshell - you can certainly see that subconsciously or otherwise, I borrowed from his style and tone.

I do understand that without the film being billed as the antidote to Supersize Me it might have lacked marketability - so part of me is glad he took that stance, or the message might not have spread so far.

Fat Head was released in February this year and can be bought on DVD.

Further reading:
Mike Eades interviews Tom Naughton on his blog
Tom Naughton's blog
Fat Head movie web site
... Read more

Monday, 4 May 2009

Transitioning to a Paleo Diet - Guest Post on 'Straight to the Bar'

Scott Bird over at Straight to the Bar asked me to pull together a guest post on how to transition to the Paleo diet - here is the article.

It was actually an excellent opportunity to think through the steps I have seen Mrs M take and the advice I have given to others. There are likely to be future posts exploring how well this advice has worked for people and perhaps refining it according to feedback.

If you haven't checked out Scott's site and you are into strength and fitness, you should definitely take a look around - it's a well-designed site and there are some great articles on conventional and some less conventional exercises and routines.... Read more

Friday, 1 May 2009

Nuts - Best Friend or Worst Enemy? Body Composition Update

Last time I updated this chart was Feb 10th, when I was just coming out of the Christmas carb fests and gradually working my way back to leanness and health.
March Setback
As you can see from the chart, and will know if you are a regular reader, I had a setback at the start of March when I went on an alcohol-fuelled cake rampage through Birmingham city centre and packed on about 5 lbs of water retention, fat and intestinal baggage in a single night.
Keys to Success
However, since then, I have been pretty much on the straight and narrow. For me this means two things.

1. Almost no alcohol.
As I discussed in the post about the March setback, the only thing I can't resist after a glass of wine, is another. So if I am feeling weak, which after the Christmas binges I still was, it's a recipe for trouble.

2. No post-dinner nuts.
I love nuts. I am convinced I could live on them. I could eat them all day. The trouble is, they are so nice, I gorge; and despite research suggesting that they can actually help you lose weight, I am pretty sure that my post-dinner nut guzzling goes beyond the applicability of those findings.

As you can see from the chart, this policy has been successful. You can see the steady decline of my weight from February so that I am now almost back to my pre-Christmas composition. Although it's not clear from the chart whether I have gained or lost muscle, I know I am a little stronger in the gym, which is the important thing.

I still have the odd glass of wine when I am feeling strong, and still eat nuts with lunch or breakfast, but have avoided the scenarios that lead to gluttony.
Paleo/Primal Rationale
I feel as if the last 8 weeks have been a more model Paleo/Primal routine. My focus has been very much on eating lots of wild or grass-fed meat/fish. If I am greedy, it is with vegetables and meat, not nuts.

To me this makes sense as an extension to the rationale that we cannot regulate our consumption of sweet foods because they were scare when we were evolving so we didn't need to. How often would we have free access to handfuls of nuts?

When I restrict myself to foods we would have more ready access to like vegetables and meat (I am speculating a little here, I know) my appetite appears to regulate better and with twice-weekly fasting it leads to improving body composition.
Cordain on Nuts
I will now relax a little, but probably stick with the post-dinner nuts rule for a while. This excellent interview with Loren Cordain on Jimmy Moore's Podcast show does cast some doubt on the status of nuts, so whilst I do think they are a fantastic food, I should perhaps moderate my intake a little and continue to avoid throwing them back by the handful.

Previous body composition updates:
November 08
February 09
... Read more