Saturday, 24 April 2010

7-Day Virtually Zero-Carb Experiment

I have been meaning to try this for a while, and after eating too much bad food over easter, I was in the mood for something radical.

A while back Mark Sisson posted about the possibility of eating zero carb - you can read that here. One of the things he says is:

"A perfect zero carber who closely watches meat sources, gets plenty of sleep, good Primal exercise, and leads a low-stress existence is probably fine without piles of vegetables."

Do I tick those boxes? Not always, but believed I was up to the challenge.

I also noticed in March that Girl Gone Primal had decided to eat a meat/fish/eggs-only diet (some of her meals are shown here), and she reported almost immediately feeling better, believing that for her, at any rate, this is the optimal way to eat. This piqued my interest.

Of course, being truly zero carb is more or less most impossible, as there are sources of carbohydrate even in meat. I planned to try virtually zero carb, which is all one can hope to realistically achieve while eating in a natural way.

So in fact I was trying two things at the same time. First, zero carb. But as a secondary goal, eating only meat, fish and eggs.

This is why I wanted to try it:
  1. To know how it would feel.
  2. To know how would it affect exercise.
  3. The challenge of achieving quality nutrition with meat, fish and eggs alone.
  4. To lose the Easter pounds.
What Did I Eat?

By the end of the 7 days, I had eaten:

Meat/Fish/Eggs: A rabbit, a chicken, a mackerel, a crab, 2 pork chops, 6 eggs, a beef joint, a lamb joint, a tin of pilchards, a tin of sardines.

How I ensured maximum nutrition:
  1. All meat was wild caught (rabbit, mackerel, crab, tinned fish)
  2. ...or organically farmed (chicken, pork, lamb, beef, eggs)
  3. Where possible I ate the unusual parts (mackerel head, rabbit organs, chicken bones)
  4. Of course, I ate all the fat.
Non-animal, but still low carb items: a few coffees, avocado & pine nuts in one lunch; a bowl of walnuts, cashews and pine nuts one evening; a couple of squeezes of lime and lemon; olive oil and coconut oil in sauces.

What Happened - The Food Diary

Below is my food diary, along with photos.

Day 1
The first day began with a regular fast until the evening. I'd been eating a fair bit over the weekend, so it was a relatively easy fast.

At about 7.30pm, I had a couple of free range pork chops, stir fried in coconut oil with three organic free-range eggs, which I overcooked a little. The whole lot slid easily onto the plate as a single item.

The veg steamer sat unwanted on the stove.
Day 2
I skipped breakfast because I didn't do a workout. I prefer to earn breakfast, or not have it.

I hadn't quite decided to go 'all animal' at this point, just v.low carb, so I packed a whole avocado and a tin of pilchards, which are hiding under a generous handful of pine nuts.

In the evening, I baked a large mackerel, once again ignoring the veg steamer's plaintive looks. A squeeze of lime and some coconut butter were the sole accompaniments.

I made a point of eating pretty much all of the head. Eyes, brain and sundry mushy stuff. By now I had the idea that I could get all the vitamins I needed from wild or organic food, provided I ate all the good bits.

Day 3
On this day I was running a race in the evening. It was a couple of miles and 1000 feet of ascent.

I decided to fast for two reasons. First, I had never exercised at the end of a fast before, because I usually workout in the morning.

Second, in the interest of experimentation, I wanted to know how it would feel to run hard for nearly 30 minutes at the end of a 24 hour fast, the day after eating virtually zero carb.

The result was not clear, as I explained in the post about it - I felt sluggish at the start, but later got into my stride. Sluggish I may have been, but I completed the race and drove home without feeling faint or unwell.

At home, I released a rabbit from the slow cooker which had been its home for 5 hours and devoured every morsel to leave a neat pile of clean bones. No lime, no pine nuts, just animal.

I made a point of eating the mini liver, kidneys, heart and lungs to ensure vitamins and minerals were part of my nutrition.
Day 4
Now on a roll with the animal-only idea, I once again fasted, intending to roast a free-range organic chicken that night.

I confess to a cup of coffee to assist. Consecutive 24-hour fasts are a challenge unless you stuff yourself stupid at the end of the first day, which I had not.

The chicken was smothered in red palm oil to create crispy skin and provide a source of vitamins.

I ate half of the chicken, including the skin and any other bits and pieces I could gnaw off the bones. The accompanying sauce was a combination of the red palm oil and the fat that came out of the chicken.

The other half went into a plastic tub for lunch the following day.

The leftover carcass went into the slow cooker along with the remaining sauce. I also had a couple of rogue organic lamb kidneys, so I chopped them up and threw them in.

Day 5
On this morning I did a 9-minute intense upper body interval weights session (details here.)

I rewarded myself with breakfast, which was three boiled free-range organic eggs and a tin of sardines. Fellow train travellers were not impressed :-)

For lunch, as few hours later, I had the other half of the chicken, cold. The breast was a little dry but the rest was divine. Needless to say, I gnawed the bones until they were practically sterile.

Finally, in the evening, I returned to find the carcass ready for eating in the slow cooker. It had been cooking since the previous evening (I added some extra water in the morning) so the bones were lovely and soft.

I threw in some olive oil and coconut butter to make sure there were enough calories, then tucked in. Cooked chicken bones: sounds terrible, tastes great!

I have to say that on this day I had a couple of fleeting, icky moments. It was faintly reminiscent of the blood sugar pangs I used to get between meals when I was a carb-head. But they did not last more than a few seconds. I wonder whether, even for someone who is normally low carb, going even lower carb will create mild hypoglycemia at times?

Day 6
This day was really the climax of the experiment.

Having been truly animal-only the day before, and very low carb indeed, I took part in a mountain race that took an hour and 15 minutes to complete. I described the experience here.

This was a hard 75 minutes. I would say my heart rate was consistently 170-180.

I had eaten no food since the bowl of chicken bones the night before, and the race started at 11am. Once again, I confess to a coffee, an hour before race, but that's all.

Imagining the race to be a failed hunt, I deferred eating afterwards until the evening, putting a big hunk of beef in the slow cooker.

In the meantime, I kept myself busy to ward off the creeping hunger.

I won't pretend those 6 hours were easy. At times I experienced waves of quite powerful hunger - but I always had energy. The busier I was, the less hungry I felt, and the hungrier I got, the more energy I seemed to have.
Day 7
I had trouble sleeping the night after the long race. My body was craving food. The hunk of beef was large, but it was still all I had eaten that day. The fast and the race combined may have created a calorie deficit of up to 2000.

So, at 12.30am I got up and, being a believer in following hunger, raided the nut cupboard. That's what I craved. They tasted especially sweet. Pine nuts and cashews are sweeter than regular nuts anyway, I think.

After that, I slept well.

In the morning I wasn't really hungry so I had a late breakfast of re-heated beef juice left over from the slow cooking.

This kept me going until lunch, when I had this crab with a squirt of lemon and some extra virgin olive oil. Don't worry, I didn't eat the shell.

My legs were a bit tired from the race, but no more than would normally be expected, and I was able to have a fairly active day.

In the evening, my final meal of the experiment was a slow-cooked lamb shoulder and some leftover beef. The juice from the roasting and some olive oil formed the sauce.

By day 5, this was how my fridge and freezer looked. Nothing in the fridge except condiments; and a freezer full of frozen joints or foil-wrapped portions of meat and fish.

What Happened - The Weight Graph

Having said one of my reasons for doing this was to lose the Easter pounds, I feel obliged to show this excerpt from my body composition graph.

The orange arrow shows the week of the experiment. To give you an idea of scale, the flag is at 12 stone 10, and the bottom of that 'peak' is at about 12 stone.

Don't read too much into the apparently profound drop in weight during that week: the weekend before the experiment involved eating more than usual - a 'rebound' from the post-Easter fasting that brought me down from the dizzy heights.

So although it looks like the experiment led to a drop of about 6 pounds in a week, a lot of that will have been the usual post-binge clean out of water retention and overly stocked innards.

What Happened - Other Things I Noticed

Digestion: my stomach felt very stable and I had virtually zero wind at either end. This is no surprise - I have always found that wind levels correlate pretty closely with carb consumption. I had worried that my solid output, which normally requires little persuasion to find its way to its porcelain home, would become distinctly obstinate; but whilst there was definately a change, this was minor. I few gentle words of encouragement and it was on its way.

Energy: I had as much energy as ever, if not more. I continued to walk to and from work for nearly an hour each day and exercised as frequently, if not more so than normal.

Carb Cravings: I definately noticed something, but 'cravings' is too strong a word. Those few, brief moments of what felt like hypoglycemia on day 5 were definately significant, and I had a couple of dreams about cakes. Perhaps if I carried on eating like this there would be adjustments and this would stop.

Sporting Activities: Let's separate out two things here: performance and enjoyment. As I say in the post about the race on day 6, performance is not what matters - it's comfort. It's not possible to know whether I would have run faster on a higher carb diet, but I would be happy if the answer were yes.

What matters is whether I could still enjoy the running. And the answer is that yes, I could eat no carbs and still run a race, fasted without any sudden feelings of faintness or energy loss.

I am not at the margins of athletic stardom, so losing a couple of minutes off my time really does not matter. This doesn't mean I will go out of my way to do this each time I have a race: but knowing I can makes a busy life easier.

Variety: I did miss having the vegetables to spice up the dinner plate. I am one of the least easily bored people I know in the food department, and even I started to eye the broccoli jealously in the supermarket.


What I can say:
  1. It is possible to eat virtually zero carb for one week without feeling bad.
  2. There are definately some changes, but they are not profound.
  3. These conclusions may only apply to moving from an already low carb diet.
What I cannot necessarily say:
  1. Eating like this long term is a good thing.
  2. If someone else tries this they will also feel fine.
  3. That it's fun beyond the novelty of experimentation.
... Read more

Thursday, 15 April 2010

My Interview on Primal Chat

Jeff at Primal chat is running a series of interviews with Primal/Paleo bloggers called 'SpearTosser Spotlight', and in spite of the double entendre implied by the name (this is perhaps just a UK thing!) I was more than happy to agree:

... Read more

Monday, 12 April 2010

Running - is it Paleo / Primal?

I've just posted an article on Train Now Live Later about running that may interest Pay Now Live Later readers.

There's Running, and there's Running

In the article I review a couple of great books that have inspired me to consider distance running, when done a certain way, to be very much part of a Paleo / Primal lifestyle.

I also question how much attention we should pay to the studies that suggest running is damaging to our health, given the myriad forms it can take and the tendency of these studies to focus on one particularly extreme type.... Read more

Friday, 2 April 2010

Intermittent Binging – Could it be Good for You?

Set aside, if you can, the fact that my own intermittent binging invariably involves excessive alcohol and the consumption of vile (yet divine) cakes whose ingredients list requires a PHD in Chemistry for any meaningful interpretation.

Instead, focus on the pattern of calorie consumption it creates. My hypothesis is that intermittently consuming a lot of food might actually be good for you under certain circumstances.

When I binge, I eat a large number of calories over one weekend, then spend the next 4-6 weeks eating fewer calories than I need on a day to day basis. I do this consciously because I want to maintain my body composition – but no doubt it’s made easier by increased leptin levels from the extra fat stored, and by the beneficial effect on appetite control of the Paleo/Primal food I eat during the recovery phase.

In the ‘wild’ I might have experienced 4-6 weeks of calorie deficit simply because each day I spent a little more energy finding food than the food gave back. Then, just occasionally, I would find a tree laden with fruit, or a stash of honey. Perhaps around the same time an especially large animal was killed. Knowing that both the fruit and the meat might not last beyond a couple of days my family and I would eat as much of it as possible.

The main difference between this and my modern binges is the type of food: in the wild I would have eaten healthy food and less of it. My modern junk fests are driven to unnatural levels of calorie consumption by ingredients specially engineered to stimulate the senses into gross over-consumption.

So on the one hand we have these larger cycles of calorie fluctuation, perhaps spanning weeks, and involving occasional feasts followed by a slow, semi-instinctive reduction in daily calories; but on the other, we have our friend, intermittent fasting. This is the ‘inner’ cycle of calorie consumption - eat well for a couple of days, then fast.

Perhaps in the wild, food would be totally absent for a day or two because the group is moving camp or there are a couple of failed hunts. In my modern equivalent, I choose to fast until dinner time on one or two days per week. On days between fasts, I eat slightly more than I would if I never fasted. However, my total weekly consumption would typically be slightly less than I need, because I am between binges.

People who practise CR (calories restriction) do so because they believe being in calorie deficit creates favourable conditions in the body, allowing it to be healthier and better protect itself against disease; and there is some evidence to support this. The trouble is, as anyone who’s seen documentaries on the subject will know, many CR enthusiasts appear distinctly emaciated and spend most of their time hungry.

Yet there is evidence that intermittent fasting, by periodically creating a profound calorie deficit, can provide the same benefits to longevity, without requiring a net calorie reduction. For example, by going without food for 24 hours a couple of times a week and you can spend the rest of the time eating as much as your overall activity levels dictate you need. You don’t need to be hungry all the time - just sometimes; and you won’t look like an escapee from a prison camp.

So calorie deficit can apparently work in more than one way - a large deficit over short periods, or a slight deficit over long periods. By combining intermittent fasting with intermittent binging, I might spend more time in some kind of deficit than with intermittent fasting alone. This raises the following questions:
  1. Does my combined approach provide any additional benefits?
  2. Does the fact that my binges are based on junk food sabotage any benefits anyway?
I, and everyone who expressed solidarity in the comments of my last binge confession, have to believe the answer to the second question would be yes. As soon as you start finding excuses to intermittently binge, they surely will become less intermittent. Fortunately, binges carry with them their own disincentive to excessive frequency – how awful they make you feel.

So the real question to consider is whether intermittent feasting – what we might have done in the wild – is worth consciously combining with intermittent fasting, and if so whether it might reduce binging frequency.
... Read more