Food: February 10, 2015

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In The Groove

Day two in my quest to improve my diet quality and shed some body fat and today I’m back in the groove. Woke up felling great and started the day in a ketogenic state per my Ketonix Breat Analyzer. This is important to me because it shows my body is producing and burning ketones as my primary fuel source rather than glucose, or blood sugar. In short, I’m burning away that chocolate cake from last week! :)

I kept with my practice of intermittent fasting, eating my first meal at noon and my final meal around 7pm. I made food choices matching up with my version of Primal/Paleo which were low in carbohydrate and high in good fats. Once again I used my trusty Vitamix to whip up a yummy green smoothy containing a whole avocado, one of my favorite super foods.

Take a look at my weekly weight chart below and you will see my scale weight beginning to normalize–I would guess this a combination of fat burning and shedding water weight.

Most importantly, I feeling great and healthy. Stay tuned to see how my eating discipline holds up as I hit the road for a couple of days and, as always…

Be smart in the kitchen and a beast in the gym!

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Food: November 1, 2014

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Take a look at my weekly weight measurements (for the purposes of this blog I track my weight using the FitBit Aria scale) and you will see the results of what I’ll call the “Halloween effect!” :) It’s very clear that my body doesn’t tolerate a large volume of “bad” carbohydrate. Friday and today I ate too many carbs from sugar (candy) and grains (popcorn) and the scale shows my weight rocketing up. I theorize some of that gain is due to my by body storing excess calories as fat and some of it is water retention.

candy-negMy good friend Joe send me this cool chart that I probably should have thought about before I stuffed all those candy bars down my throat on Halloween. :) Thanks for sharing, Joe! “Bad” carbs are empty calories to my body and you can see from my food logs that when I eat junk food I also seem to eat an excess of calories and my weight goes up. Conversely, when I eat quality calories, good fat/protein and carbs from whole fruits and veggies, my body is satisfied and I end up not over eating and my weight naturally stabilizes.

It will be fun to watch how my scale weight normalizes this week as I return to my Primal/Paleo eating pattern. I will predict that if am able to stay away from the leftover candy my weight will naturally trend back toward 160 lbs. by the end of the week.

Bottom line, I had some fun over the past day or so but I’m not stressing. I know I have the ability to return to my normal high-fat, low-carb eating pattern, so let’s sit back and observe! 😀 As always…

Be smart in the kitchen and a beast in the gym!

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Why I Practice Intermittent Fasting

This post contains affiliate links to products I personally enjoy and use--should you purchase using these links (products cost the same) I will receive a small commission. Please, help keep the lights on! Full disclosure policy.

monkThe mere mention of fasting used to conjure up visions of emaciated practitioners of exotic religions who had the discipline and training to accomplish a feat I would never be able to even attempt, let alone complete: to skip a meal or even not eat for an entire day or two! After all, conventional wisdom tells us we must eat every few hours, especially if you do any type of physical activity, to keep our blood sugar up lest we become woozy and pass out. :)

Not now, not me! I practice intermittent fasting (IF), popularized by the leangains web site, meaning I try to keep my eating inside an eight hour window everyday. What works best for me is attempting to eat all my calories between roughly noon and 8pm which ends up to be about a 16 hour, daily fast. There are some days that I “accidentally” fast for much longer as work or commitments get in the way–I simply forget to eat until much later in the day.

So why in the world would I choose to not eat, especially breakfast–haven’t we been told since we could remember that breakfast is the most important meal of the day? Oh, and breakfast has to eaten as soon as you get up in the morning or your day will be less than productive. That’s how I was raised and how I lived for nearly 50 years!

Once I became Primal/Paleo–by attempting to remove all grains, refined sugar, and processed food from my diet–I began reading about the possible health benefits of fasting and decided to give it a try. I believe there are numerous benefits for me–here are three big ones:

  1. Low blood sugar = less insulin which lowers inflammation
  2. A smaller feeding window = consuming less calories which keeps me lean
  3. Fasting promotes autophagy which helps with anti-aging and, hopefully, functional longevity

Controlling Blood Sugar

Based on the many books I’ve read on nutrition and understanding how my body works I’ve concluded high blood sugar is a very bad scenario which could potentially cause a plethora of serious health issues and diseases. My basic theory is when I eat food that excessively raises my blood sugar my pancreas produces insulin to lower the blood sugar. Excess insulin will cause chronic and systemic inflammation (not to mention, over time this insulin could damage my cells’ insulin receptors eventually leading to diabetes).  I believe inflammation is a primary cause of almost all of our modern diseases and certainly accelerates aging. I’m obviously simplifying here, but I personally want to keep my blood sugar low and my insulin production minimal in order to prevent disease, slow the aging process, and promote longevity. IF has been proven to be a great method for me to keep my blood sugar low for very long periods of time. Let’s face it, if I’m not eating food for two-thirds of a 24-hour day, then the chances of me spiking my blood sugar during that fasted time are pretty slim.

For me, minimizing my blood sugar levels has some awesome benefits. I am no longer a slave to eating! Once I removed most of the refined sugar, grains, and processed food from my diet and began eating tons of vegetables, meat/fish, and quality fat, my body switched from primarily burning glucose (blood sugar) as fuel to burning fat. So at a high-level, once the fuel from my latest meal is burned off then my body’s own stored fat becomes the fuel source. That’s right, I have become a fat burning beast and can pretty much stay lean without effort.

Before converting to using fat as my primary fuel source and relying on glucose as fuel, I was a slave to eating. If I didn’t get carbohydrates into my system every couple of hours, especially on days with heavy physical activity, I would get the typical headaches, foggy brain, and dizziness associated with “low blood sugar.” I had to eat and if I didn’t my brain and body made me miserable!

Plus, I could never seem to shred those few extra belly pounds covering up those abs I knew were hiding under there. Want to know why? I would eat and spike my blood sugar, then my pancreas would pump insulin into my bloodstream to control the blood sugar and insulin essentially prevents the flow of fatty acids out of my fat stores making it impossible for me to burn fat. So once the glucose is consumed just a few hours later, my brain starts signaling for more fuel and it is time to eat again. Slavery.

Consuming Less Calories

Another benefit I derive from my practice of IF is I actually end up eating fewer calories verses when I eat all day. I think there are a couple of things going on here. Partially this is might have less to do with the IF and more to do with eating less carbohydrate and more quality fat and protein. Bad carbs, like processed grains and refined sugar make me hungry. For example, I can remember eating a huge plate of spaghetti with garlic bread at dinner time, say 6pm, and then be starving again by 8pm causing me to eat yet another huge plate! Compare that to a typical IF eating pattern where a meal of four eggs, bacon, and a large green smoothy at noon will often times keep me satisfied until 7pm and beyond (circumstances are different, obviously, like on workout days I’m probably going to eat more and maybe more frequently as I refill my tank).

In fact, I find myself really only eating two meals a day while fasting which leads into the second thing I believe causes me to eat less: compressing the eating window, combined with only eating two main meals daily, seems to make it harder for me to consume excess calories. I can only eat so much a one sitting and, as long I listen to my body and eat until I am satisfied (and not “Thanksgiving” stuffed), I am really finding it difficult to massively over eat. When I do observe a fairly high calorie day, I can usually go back and see a greater than desired amount of carbohydrate consumed.

So for the reasons above, IF coupled with a nutritious, low-carb, high-fat diet seem to act as a natural and painless governor on my calorie consumption resulting in a leaner body fat composition.

Promotes Autophagy

What is autophagy?

The word autophagy is derived from Greek words “auto” meaning self and “phagy” meaning eating. Autophagy is a normal physiological process in the body that deals with destruction of cells in the body. – Ananya Mandal, MD

This concept intruigues me as a 50 year old interested in figuring out how to thrive as I age. As the definition states, autophagy is a normal process that happens in each of us and, according to Primal guru Mark Sisson,  it is also “the process by which cells recycle waste material, eliminate or downregulate wasteful processes, and repair themselves.” What does this fancy process have to do with IF? Well research shows fasting turns on autophagy. The benefits are fantastic, again from Mark Sisson’s post on IF:

Why is autophagy so important? It’s required to maintain muscle mass, and inhibiting it induces atrophy of adult skeletal muscle.  It reduces the negative effects of aging and reduces the incidence and progression of aging-related diseases. In fact, researchers have determined that autophagy is the essential aspect of the anti-aging mechanism of fasting. Without the autophagy that fasting provides, you would get very few of the benefits. Fasting even increases neuronal autophagy, which aids in maintaining mental health and function. Short term fasting, too. No marathon thirty-six hour fast required.

So what’s not to like about IF? For me, I love it as the benefits listed above align perfectly with my health goals. Additionally, I enjoy the discipline required to execute IF. I feel great satisfaction in being able to adhere to my IE schedule when I can, along with knowing that being without food for an extended period of time not only won’t kill me but doesn’t adversely affect my physical or mental performance.

Clarifying Answers

As I wrap this up, it occurred to me there are probably a couple of obvious questions so I’ll just go ahead and preemptively clarify…

“But aren’t you starving all morning and late at night?”

For the most part, no. It did take some getting used to and I became successful because I eased myself into it. I remember trying the eight-hour eating window once a week, then increasing to a few times a week and so on until the practice just became “normal” for me. Also, I would never be able to pull this off if I had not first become adapted to burning fat as my primary fuel source as opposed to glucose. Did I mention I’m a fat burning beast? :)

“Doesn’t working out fasted hurt your performance? Aren’t you worried about consuming your own muscles for fuel?”

Not in the least! Check out the expert on working out fasted, Martin Berhan, and let me know if you think IF is killing his athletic performance! :) His site has a link to a comprehensive study on “The Effects of Intermittent Fasting on Human and Animal Health” that is good reading if you are interested in details. That being said, everyone is different and your mileage may vary–I can only relate my own experience which does not show any athletic performance degradation due to IF. I do have friends way stronger than me and much more athletic that simply cannot workout in a fasted state. I do follow Martin’s recommendation to consume BCAAs before and during my workouts but the brand I use does not throw me out of my fasted state.

I would love to hear about your experiences with fasting and, as always…

Be smart in the kitchen and a beast in the gym!

What I Eat and Why

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What do I eat? Well, I eat just about everything, including all kinds of things I shouldn’t eat. Look, I’m human and occasionally I consume things I know aren’t good for me. I believe you only go around once in this life, so enjoy (within limits). So did I eat the giant cupcake my family got me for my birthday dinner the other night? You bet I did! Did I stress about it? Nope.

I think a better question is, “What do I try not to eat?” This is a more relevant question–the key word being “try,” because I readily admit that sometimes I lack control when it comes to food. The simple answer is I try to avoid:

  • refined sugar
  • grains (breads, pasta, cereals, and yes, oatmeal)
  • processed food
  • seed oils (vegetable, canola, corn, sunflower, soybean, etc.)

pasta-in-breadSimple, right? Not for me :) ! Sugar and grains are highly addictive to me. For example, if I happen to “fall off the wagon” so to speak and find a package of Oreo cookies in the pantry, I can’t just eat one or two cookies–I’ll eat the entire sleeve. Ditto for ice cream, pizza, pretzels, M&Ms and on and on! Oh, and I am an expert in rationalizing, while I’m eating this stuff–it is okay for me to be pigging out because I had a bad day, or I killed it in the gym earlier and deserve it…whatever the lame reason!

The truth is, if the junk is not in the house I am not going to eat it–I am very good about not buying this stuff at the store.

steak-bacon-saladNow that we know what I try and stay away from, let’s go back to address the question of what I do try and eat. The answer is both simple yet complex! (I know, that sounded like a politician at a debate :) ) To answer the question in the simplest terms, I try to eat natural, whole foods, or as the great Sean Croxton calls it: JERF, Just Eat Real Food. Essentially I try to eat foods that make me feel good and that I think support my efforts to thrive physically, mentally, and emotional–I have determined my current eating habits from tons of self-experimentation.

Most of my adult life, partly for health reasons but mostly due to vanity, I have fiddled with my diet, looking for the best way to eat. I was very active in my 20s and 30s playing basketball, tennis and golf. I also worked out in the weight room consistently (although now I feel like I could have been much more efficient when it comes to weights, but that is a topic for an upcoming post). From the mid-90s and into the 2000s I played full court basketball three times a week before work plus leagues at night and I was in great shape. I do remember asking one of the trainers in the gym how I could get rid of those last few belly pounds so I could see those abs I knew were hiding under the surface–I wish I knew then what I know now because losing body fat for me is easy. See, I told you I’m vane! I continued this active lifestyle after we had kids. In fact, I remember the morning my daughter was born I left the hospital to play in the regular 6am basketball game while Mom and Madison slept.

Throughout this whole time I would tinker with different diets, usually making changes based on the latest book I had read or a television/radio show I had heard. For example, in an attempt to maximize my athletic performance, I got the book and I tried “The Zone Diet” by Dr. Barry Sears (which is somewhat close to my eating habits today). On the other extreme I went vegetarian for about 72 hours based on Dr. John McDougall (with various “diets”  in between). Keep in mind my weight was never really an issue, this was more about keeping slim and being healthy.

Then, in July of 2004 I made the decision to write a novel (shameless plug: The WILCO Project, published in 2010) and stopped doing any type of exercise while eating poorly. I got up every morning (six days a week) at 4:30am and wrote which is the time when I had been playing hoops and working out. I did this from August of until December and consequently gained 15 pounds of fat! No big deal, I thought (foreshadowing for you literary types)…

It was, however, a big deal. I found myself stuck with 40 year-old body and had a heck of a time trying to shed those pounds. For a variety of reasons, I never got back into the same great shape I had been in prior to taking those four months off to write my novel. Fast forward a few years to 2010 and suddenly I needed to inhale and suck in my stomach to button my pants–my weight had climbed to about 185 lbs. Working constantly, not eating right, lack of sleep and stress made me pudgy and miserable–I knew I had to change. Sound familiar?

I began searching for answers. I watched the “Forks Over Knives” documentary on Netflix and decided meat would surely kill me. Then I watched “Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead” and bought a very expensive juicer and commenced a juice-based diet. The juicing seemed to make me feel better for a short time–might have been a placebo effect–but soon I was constantly dizzy, tired, and miserable. My strength in the gym, heck, even my motivation to go the gym waned.

I can’t remember how I stumbled across it (I think a friend of mine on Facebook mentioned it), but I found the paleo diet and then the Mark’s Daily Apple website. I devoured everything on the site–reading, not eating–it made sense to me! I purchased and read The Primal Blueprint, by Mark Sisson and embarked on a “Primal” way of life. I read many related books (I’m sure I’ll forget some of them), including:

Going Primal/Paleo was not easy. I remember feeling weak and sick for about five days as my body adjusted–I was feeling what is known as the “carb flu.” I soon felt better and I had the confidence I could eat this way permanently. In the beginning I took an 80-20 approach. There would be occasional stretches where I would go completely back to a standard diet for a week or two. But it wouldn’t take long for me to tire of feeling bad and notice my pants tightening and I would return to the Primal eating pattern.

In 2013 I injured my ribs requiring a chest x-ray. The radiologist noticed a small nodule on my thyroid and I began paying attention to the thyroid hormone levels. Having a family history of thyroid problems, I do not want to go on thyroid medication, so this summer I started eliminating gluten from my diet. I read a theory that gluten and the thyroid tissue are somewhat similar in structure and in some cases, if a person is sensitive to gluten, the body’s own immune system can attack and damage the thyroid. I have not been completely successful, but I would estimate I am about 98% gluten-free. Many of the things I try to avoid (listed above) contain gluten, so this step has been extremely helpful in maintaining the primal way of eating. Hint: what do beer and grain-alcohol contain? Gluten!

After reading Keto Clarity this summer, I have begun experimenting with a ketogenic diet in an effort to keep my blood sugar low and limit my insulin production. I am finding that limiting my carbohydrate intake coupled with trying to keep the source of the carbs from mostly vegetables has also kept my eating clean. This whole self-experimentation thing has been quite helpful for sure!

Specifically, I try to eat tons of multicolored vegetables with lots of leafy greens as I feel they provide an abundance of micro-nutrients and minerals needed to fight disease and aging. I find eating a large amount of vegetables difficult, so I have ditched the juicer in favor of my favorite tool in the kitchen, my Vitamix. Now I drink more vegetables in a day (without wasting any of the skin and fiber) than many eat in a week!

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I add enough protein (not too much as this could throw me out of ketosis due to a process known as gluconeogenesis) and saturated and monounsaturated fats (think grass-fed butter, coconut oil, beef tallow, bacon grease, olive oil, avocados) for long lasting energy and satiety. For protein I choose fish, red meat, chicken, lamb, pork (lots of bacon), and eggs.

When I eat this way, I find I am able to go long periods of time without hunger and ultimately I end up eating less calories (keeping lean and mean)! I am also a big believer in supplements and prefer the Primal Blueprint product Damage Control Master Formula.

You can get an idea of this eating pattern by browsing my food diary, but be warned, you will see the occasional sleeve of Oreo cookies because, I am human after all :) !

Well there you have it–all the above is subject to change as I continue to try things out and read/listen/watch more information on food!

I would love to hear your thoughts on this post and what you eat and why! As always…

Be smart in the kitchen and a beast in the gym!