Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Are you Cold?

If you're like me and work in a climate-controlled office, a lot of your female coworkers say, "It's freezing in here!" I used to chill easily, but now I wonder what they're talking about. (No, I'm not in menopause.) I'm not running the heater in my car nearly as much as I used to, either, even when it's nighttime and in the 30s and 40s. I usually don't feel the need to.

Where is credit due here? The type of clothes I wear hasn't changed: usually slacks, a cotton shirt and a wool blazer for the office and a coat and alpaca hat and gloves outdoors. I did buy a long down coat, being inspired by my new style icon Mello (on the right) from Death Note, but it just replaced my slightly shorter down coat. I've even worn sandals and short skirts recently. Not together, though: if I'm bundled up in pants and a coat, I can wear sandals; if I'm wearing a coat and tall boots, I can wear a short skirt and save the tights for work.

What changed last winter was my diet. I'd been on Body for Life, a low-fat diet, for six years. Then I started eating a low-carb, high fat diet and soon wondered if springtime had come to Denver in February: I'd started feeling warmer. On Body for Life (the previous diet), I ate a lot of skinless, boneless chicken breast, turkey, tuna, lean ham, cottage cheese and lean beef. I had enough lean, tough meat to last me the rest of my life. On the low-carb, high fat diet, though, I started eating bacon, lamb burgers, pork chops, bacon, full-fat cheese, sour cream, bacon, chicken thighs and wings, and an occasional fish fillet or salmon patty. I believe that eating a high-fat diet made me feel warmer.

I'm not alone in thinking this. Tom Naughton recently reviewed a book called Kabloona: Among the Inuit by Gontran de Poncins, a French explorer who lived and traveled with a group of Inuit who lived a traditional hunting and gathering lifestyle in the Arctic. Naughton describes what we would today call Poncin's diet and exercise regime:

Poncins recounts running along trails with Eskimos for hours – he was fatigued and panting, while they barely seemed to notice the effort. After a year in the Arctic, Poncins finds he is beginning to prefer their diet, even though he had supplies of “white man” food on the sled carrying his belongings. As he explains in one passage, boiled rice could warm him up temporarily, but then he’d feel colder an hour or two later. By contrast, raw meat or raw fish was cold going down, but then he felt warmer for the rest of the day.

I may not be eating raw fish or raw meat, but I think I'm getting the same benefit from my high-fat diet. I've read that saturated fat raises LDL (bad cholesterol) in some people, but my lipid tests from before and after starting my new diet showed an increase in HDL (good cholesterol) and a decrease in calculated LDL. So if saturated fat doesn't increase LDL for you personally, it's as Mark Sisson says: there's no such thing as too much bacon.

Bacon: it keeps you from shakin'.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Both Feet on the Ground

My mother is one step closer to walking again.

Four years ago, my mom had back surgery, which started a chain of disasters: she developed deep bed sores from lack of care, she was assaulted in a rehab center, and she ended up in a wheelchair. One of the sores was on her heel, and so even putting weight on that foot was out of the question.

My mom's heel pretty much healed in July. There was a scab on it until a few weeks ago, but no depth to the wound. With the scab gone, one roadblock to walking again is gone.

The other roadblock was that she couldn't put her heel all the way down to the floor. Being in a wheelchair for four years, her muscles had tightened and atrophied. My parents and I discussed three options:

  • One doctor recommended making a small incision in the leg to either stretch or cut a tendon or muscle, allowing the heel to move downward. (Isn't that what some people have done to racehorses to end their careers?)
  • Another doctor wanted to fit a boot to Mom's foot, along with wires actually going into the foot, and making adjustments over time to stretch the foot. Given that my mom had a sore on the same foot that took three years to heal, Dad and I thought this was a bad idea. So did Mom's general practitioner.
  • My idea: if you can stretch the muscles by wearing a boot, why can't you stretch them with stretching exercises?

Physical therapy had helped with this while my Mom was a rehab, and at home she'd worn a brace that helped also. But with the sore on her foot healed, she started doing more stretching exercises at the kitchen sink for ten minutes a day, along with doing some light work standing up. Over the past few weeks, I've also been leading my mom in Slow Burn resistance training. (She even bought some two-pound free weights.) Dad and I have encouraged her to walk with a walker and stretch her muscles. I know from my experience with turf toe how quickly muscles weaken when they aren't used: when I resumed serious dancing a month after my injury, I was amazed at how much strength I'd lost in my feet. Mom still needs to develop a lot more strength to walk again. Physical therapy is good, stretching is good, but there's no substitute for making demands on your muscles.

The result of my mom's self-directed exercise program is that she can put her foot flat on the floor. No procedures needed.

The next roadblock to remove: lack of strength in her feet and flexibility in her legs.

Friday, November 26, 2010

A Shout-out from Jimmy Moore

I'm feeling a bit puffed up, but not from overindulging on Thanksgiving. (My indulgence was expensive red snapper and other low-carb fare.) Jimmy Moore, author of the Livin' la Vida Low Carb blog, has recommended my blog, among several others, to his readers:

As has become my tradition when I leave for vacation, I have searched far and wide for the best and brightest new and exciting low-carb diet and health blogs on the planet that have come on my radar screen in recent months. Many of these feature the talented writing skills of people you should probably be paying more attention to which is why I like giving them a boost featuring them here at my blog.

Moore's blog features interviews, podcasts, videos and links on health and diet. The focus is on low-carb, but he interviews people with other viewpoints as well. He himself struggled with a weight problem:

...in 1999 I did an ultra low-fat (almost no-fat) diet because we have always been taught that eating fat makes you fat and I did surprisingly well on it losing 170 pounds in just nine months. But there was only one problem–I was constantly hungry which made me irritable, tired, and feeling like I was going out of my mind! And my stomach was so bloated and big I felt like I was a lot WORSE off than I was before my weight loss. One day my wife Christine asked me if I would go to McDonald’s and get her an extra value meal and I asked her if I could have a Big Mac meal “just this one time.” Anyone who has ever been fat knows what happened next.

Hmmm. Substitute 20 pounds for 170 and cookies for a Big Mac, and that sounds familiar. I was on a low-fat diet as well once and gained all the weight back myself.

A few years later Moore did the Atkins diet--as directed by Dr. Atkins, not the unlimited-bacon-cheeseburgers-and-hold-the-lettuce version of urban legend.

By the end of the first month after beginning my New Year’s resolution to lose weight in January 2004, I had shed a total of 30 pounds. HOLY COW!!! At the end of the second month, another 40 pounds were gone and by the time I had been on Atkins for 100 days, over 100 pounds were gone forever from my body. Words simply cannot describe how I felt going through this incredible journey and I will never be the same again. Although it wasn’t an easy road by any stretch of the imagination, I am so thankful I found the healthy low-carb lifestyle because I went on to lose a total of 180 pounds that year. More importantly than my weight loss, though, is the fact that low-carb living gave me my health back. All of those prescriptions I was taking for high cholesterol, high blood pressure and breathing problems were all history within nine months of being on the Atkins diet. And to this day, I have yet to take another medication for any health ailment. WOO HOO! Who says your health doesn’t improve on the low-carb lifestyle?

I basically did the Atkins Diet too and got off of acid blockers and shed 20 pounds. My lipids improved, too. At age 41, I feel like I'm 20. I go out dancing on school nights, I weigh what I weighed in high school, and I feel great.

I encourage you to check out Moore's blog:


Saturday, November 20, 2010

Dodging a Bullet: Avoid Unnecessary Meds

Back in May, I wrote that my continual nosebleeds had mostly stopped since taking large doses of zinc. That's still the case. What I didn't know until a few days ago was that the Flonase my doctor prescribed for my nosebleeds could have given me diabetes. (The other alternative he presented was cauterization. However, I tend to shy away from treatments that remind me of a Civil War battlefield hospital.)

Jenny Ruhl at the Diabetes Update blog reported that a study showed a 34% increased risk of diabetes from taking inhaled steroids. When I asked her if Flonase was one of the steroids, she said it was, and added that a steroid wasn't likely to heal my nose and might have made it worse with time. As I've written here before, there is diabetes on both sides of my family, and I may have genes for the disease. Continuing to take Flonase might have made me diabetic.

Why did I decide to take zinc instead of Flonase? The Flonase helped a little, but not much, and I was already wary of taking medicines I didn't need. No doctor suggested zinc. I only knew from reading and experience that it was helpful in healing. Dr. Robert Atkins, whose advice hadn't led me wrong, believed in optimal doses, not minimum doses, of vitamins--and my own research suggested the minimum daily recommendations didn't mean much.

UPDATE: My mother tells me that someone in our family had a cortisone shot for sciatica. (Cortisone is the active ingredient in Flonase.) This relative, a type 2 diabetic, later had a BG reading of over 500 (yes, five hundred). Yes, I've tried to tell her what little I've learned about blood sugar control, but since she's had diabetes for 20 years and listens to her nutritionist about eating plenty of carbohydrates (read: sugar), I'm afraid she feels I have nothing to add to her beliefs about diabetes. Sigh.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Fruit Fail

My healthy diet doesn't include fruit. Shocked? You're not alone: this surprises people who continually hear "eat lots of fruits and vegetables!"

I initially stopped eating fruit when I read Norm Robillard's theory of carbohydrates causing acid reflux in susceptible individuals. I found fruit to be the worst food for giving me acid reflux, and I've rarely touched it since. Anytime I have, I've almost always regretted it within 20 minutes. Non-starchy vegetables quickly became a much bigger part of my diet: they're low-carb and full of nutrients.

Am I missing anything by avoiding fruit? Lots of vitamin C and fiber? I made a chart to find out. Using Nutritiondata.com, I chose five fruits and five vegetables that I eat (or used to eat) and looked up how much of certain vitamins they contained. I chose vitamins that most of them had at least of little of. I also noted their total carb and fiber content.

(Click for larger image.) Note that the bottom lines are averages, not totals. (I never ate five cups of fruits or veg a day; I doubt many people do.) For vitamins A, C and K, the vegetables listed are the runaway winners. Vitamins A and K are fat soluble, meaning they have to be eaten with fat to be absorbed. How often do people eat the fruits listed with something that has fat in it? I know I didn't before going low-carb. I eat veg with salad dressing, butter, olive oil or ranch dip.

It looks like I'd get a little bit more folate and two more grams of fiber from the fruit--and a lot more carbohydrate--23 grams per cup, on average. The carbohydrate in fruit is mostly sugar. It may be natural, but it's still sugar. If you're concerned about blood glucose levels, weight gain, your teeth, and a variety of other health issues, sugar in anything but very modest amounts is bad news.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Does it Matter where you Eat your Food?

Have you heard the advice not to eat at your desk, not to eat alone, not to have the food on your plate touching, and not to eat while watching TV? It seems the idea is that if you eat under those conditions, the food you're eating must be the kind that will make you fat. Or you'll mindlessly eat large enough quantities to gain weight. I almost always eat under those conditions, and haven't found any of this to mean anything. Would it make a difference if I plopped down with some coworkers to eat the lunch I packed? Or if I took my plate to the dining room table instead of here at my computer? Maybe it would be even better if I put my dog's dish on the table so she could join me. I really might end up eating less that way: she's a terrific scavenger.

I don't think it makes a bit of difference where you eat your food. It's what you eat. Of course, if you don't plan and prepare, you can end up eating whatever is handy, and that, I suspect, is a real reason people eat junk food at work or alone--or at home or with others, for that matter.

For what it's worth, the way I prepare is to go to the grocery store once a week and stock up on nutritious foods: meat, non-starchy veg, nut butter, eggs, protein powder, spices, cream, cheese, etc. as needed. I also get some snacks like pork rinds and low-carb ice cream. As for chips, cookies, pasta, and other high-carb food, I just don't buy it. I don't even look at it or think about it. If the stuff isn't in my house, I won't fall into temptation. Even a little bit of this makes me feel lousy, so it's no sacrifice for me.

To help keep my groceries from spoiling, I put them away immediately when I get home and don't let them sit out when I use them. I wrap them up and put them away.

Every night, I pack a lunch keeping in mind what my appetite really is, not the amount I think I should eat. Even though I work downtown, it's slim pickings for low-carb fare--and expensive. If I need to, I can buy a low-carb nut bar or string cheese or a salad at the convenience store in the building, but I pack almost everything I eat at work. It makes it easy to avoid the junk food at the office. (I do indulge in a few chocolate candies at work, though. What can I say--there's no substitute for chocolate.)

Every morning, I make a protein shake that usually fills me up until lunch. If it doesn't, no problem--there's a low-carb snack in my lunch.

When I get home, I enjoy some low-carb ice cream and usually a light dinner.

This isn't to say I eat perfectly, or always according to plan, but this method keeps me on track the vast majority of the time.

There's not only a lot of talk about where and how to eat, but how much to eat. I regulate this through a four-step process:

  1. I get hungry.
  2. I eat.
  3. I get full.
  4. I stop eating.
Be warned, this doesn't necessarily work on a high-carb diet. On a low-carb diet where you eat plenty of protein and fat, the macronutrients make you feel full and don't cause blood sugar spikes. At least, that's what I've read and what I've found to be true in my case. The only time I really went on a bender was when I tried intermittent fasting. Others have good results with it; I simply follow my four-step process.

By planning, preparing, and following a low-carb diet, I can eat in the park, I can eat with Lark, I can eat all alone, but I can't eat a scone. I can eat by a screen, I can eat while I preen, I can eat while I roam--but I should bring food from home.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Dana Carpender: Food and Thought

I'd like to introduce you to someone I've added to my blog list: Dana Carpender at Hold the Toast. She's written several low-carb cookbooks and once struggled with a weight problem. In her book How I Gave up my Low-fat Diet and Lost 40 Pounds, Carpender describes eating a high-carb, low-fat diet: "hungry enough to eat the carpet" and unable lose weight doing cardio four or five times a week. As a kid, she stole money from her parents to support her sugar addiction. A low-carb diet got her out of reverse.

The book begins with an introduction by one of her Internet friends who wanted to prove her (or any other woman) wrong. He goes on, sounding like a real piece of work, but tells a compelling story of how a low-carb diet saved his life. Then Carpender tells of her own experience with different diets and sneaks up on you with science backed up with a 17-page bibliography and her own experience and that of friends and family--and even a few complete strangers she chatted up.

What I like most about Carpender is that she's a thinker.
  • On moderation: "Yet a person who ate only half the sugar of the average American would still be eating more than ten times the sugar that the average American ate in 1800, and more than four times the average American's sugar intake post-Civil War times. So what's moderate?"
  • On the much-touted quick energy of carbohydrates: "By the way, the only thing your body can use carbohydrates for is fuel." Fat and protein are used as fuel and for repair and maintenance of your body. "Why should a population that is sedentary and obese get most of their food as pure fuel?"
  • On the fat-burning zone: In a blog comment she left some time ago, on the Protein Power site I think, Carpender mentioned that everyone talks about getting to that fat burning zone. Why, she asked, don't people just use fat as fuel, then?
  • On complex carbohydrates: they're sugar molecules holding hands. Aka starch.
  • On the real reason people diet: to be sexay.

I don't know whether she thinks clearly because she writes clearly or vice versa, but she makes more sense than some professional researchers whose work isn't standing up to scrutiny.

I like Carpender's recipes, too. Her salmon with lemon-dill-butter sauce is packed for tomorrow's lunch, and her tangy mustard dressing is practically a staple at my house.