Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Results of my Fat Fest Are In

If I listened long enough to you, I'd find a way to believe it's all true. From "Reason to Believe"

At the end of January, I saw my doctor for pain in my shoulder. He examined me and assured me it wasn't injured. Since he rarely sees me, he ordered a blood workup while he had me there. This was about the time I cut out wheat; a month later, I started a low-carb diet. I've read a lot about a low-carb diet not ruining your cholesterol or your waistline, so a few weeks ago, I asked my doctor to order another workup. Here are the before and after results.

BEFORE
January 28, 2010

Typical daily menu:
banana protein shake
cup of caramel corn
one-half baked sweet potato and cottage cheese
turkey sandwich
small salad
one-half apple and low-fat cheese sticks
meatloaf and mashed potatoes
several chocolate candies

Exercise:
Daily workout of either 20-minute high-intensity aerobics or 50-minute weightlifting session (Body for Life)

Weight: 140

Triglycerides: 46
HDL: 42
Total cholesterol: 135
(LDL was calculated, not measured; therefore, I'm not including it because I don't know how accurate the figure is)
Eos (absolute): 0.2
Eos: 4

AFTER
August 20, 2010

Typical daily menu:
nut butter protein shake
chef's salad with 2 boiled eggs, a strip of bacon and full-fat dressing
low-carb protein bar
diet soda
"pizza" (pepperoni, mozzarella, garlic, a little tomato and spices--no crust)
low-carb ice cream
a few chocolate candies

Exercise:
High-intensity, 30-minute weightlifting sessions twice a week (Slow Burn)

Weight: 119

Triglycerides: 46
HDL: 57
Total cholesterol: 140
(Again, LDL was calculated, not measured; therefore, I'm not including it because I don't know how accurate the figure is)
Eos (absolute): .5
Eos: 10

Comments:
On my six-month fat fest, I ate fat and protein until I was full, cut way back on the carbs and the workouts, lost 21 pounds and raised my "good" cholesterol by 15 points. (Cutting down on the sweets had nothing to do with willpower--I'm just not as hungry as often on the low-carb plan.) I feel good, too--my original shoulder complaint is gone.

I wasn't familiar with Eos, but at August 20, they were high. Eos stands for eosinophil. According to the American Association for Clinical Chemistry, they're white blood cells "believed to function in allergic responses and in resisting some infections." My doctor remarked that the high level was probably from allergies, but if I had allergies, I didn't notice it.

Conclusion:
The old saw that eating fat makes you fat and raises cholesterol turned out to be partly true: it raised my good cholesterol (HDL). My effortless 21-pound weight loss speaks for itself.

Comments I've read on other low-carb blogs suggest that I'm not metabolically unique. So why do dieticians and most doctors and nurses keep telling us to eat a starchy, sugary diet and avoid fat? I think it's like the Rod Stewart song quoted above: they've listened to the fat-is-bad message so long they've come to believe it.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Cutting out Entire Food Groups?

I sometimes hear pronouncements on the dangers of cutting out entire food groups. Generally, these red alerts are rich in adjectives ("dangerous!" "unhealthy!" "extreme!") poor in verbs (like "causes" or "leads to") and generally empty of substantiation (like "your body can't make the needed nutrients found in only X food group"). Just for fun, let's look at some food groups these folks have probably cut out of their own diets, if they ever tried them.

Plankton. If these tiny sea creatures nourish fish and water mammals, why couldn't they nourish us too?

Insects. "Throughout history," says National Geographic, "people have relished insects as food. Today, many cultures still do." The magazine adds that insects are high in protein and pound for pound, require far fewer resources to grow than beef. Marilyn vos Savant once remarked that the insects farmers kill are far more nutritious than the crops they're trying to protect. I won't try to argue with the world's highest IQ.

Grass. We can't actually digest the leaves since our bodies don't produce the enzyme cellulase, but we could take a cellulase pill, couldn't we? Some people take enzymes to digest grains (which are grass seeds) and dairy. Grass covers much of the earth and it's dead easy to grow. Sounds like the food source of the 21st century if people just won't eat plankton or insects.

Organ meat. Could Julia Child be wrong about what's good? Her book The French Chef Cookbook has recipes for liver, brains, kidneys and sweetbreads. Organ meat is also highly nutritious. I'm not a liver lover, but I've sprinkled cooked chicken liver in soup to good effect. A few weeks ago, I bought some calf liver from a farmer's market for my mom, and she remarked that it tasted good and fresh.

I'm not saying you should eat any of these things if you don't want to. My point is that the problem isn't cutting out food groups, it's people's definition of food. I propose defining food as a substance that nourishes and benefits your body when you consume it. If it makes you sick, if you can't digest it without help, it's not food for you.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Avoiding a Nightmare by Using Math

The answer lies in trigonometry. -Sherlock Holmes

Don't worry if you never learned trigonometry--the answers here lie in arithmetic.

Medical test results often come back positive or negative, as if the result were a certainty. Of course, there is the accuracy, but if the accuracy is 99% or so, what does that really mean? That you should get your affairs in order? Before you call your probate attorney, let's take an example from the book Calculated Risks by Gerd Gigerenzer.

Let's say you're a 40-something year old woman with no symptoms of breast cancer. You have a positive mammogram. What are the odds you have breast cancer?

Using some assumptions about test accuracy and rates of disease based on real data, the odds that you'd have breast cancer are one in eleven according to Gigerenzer. (If you were way off, don't feel bad--most of the physicians Gigerenzer tested were way off, too--and they had the data in front of them. Not that that's comforting in every way.)

A different example: what if you have no risk factors, but have a positive test for HIV? Your odds of actually having HIV are about 50%. But, if the experience of one of Gigerenzer's students who shopped around for good medical advice in Berlin is any indication, you're not likely to hear that from an AIDS counselor. In fact, one counselor--a physician--said, "With certainty, [false positives] do not occur; if there are false results, then only false negatives, occurring when the antibodies have not yet formed." Several of the counselors searched for information on false positives but couldn't find any.

Those with a positive test for a disease have reason to be cautiously optimistic. With a little data and some arithmetic, using a book on probability like Calculated Risks can help you decide how to proceed.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Working out Joint Pain

If there's anything that will make my knee flare up, it's dancing for hours on a sticky floor.

The floor I danced on last night was the stickiest dance floor I've ever danced on; it was as if it were coated with epoxy. The shoes I wore weren't sueded on the bottom, either, which would have helped. And this being a big dance weekend, I had partners who really put me through the paces. Yet after a few hours of dancing, I had no knee pain. None.

I attribute this to a few things. First, after I started a low-carb diet, a lot of my joint pain disappeared: I believe the carbs were inflammatory; my doctor thinks I may have had a wheat allergy. Second, I've been doing a new strength training program (Slow Burn) that has strengthened my legs. Having lifted weights for six years and danced for eight, I thought I had strong legs. But the single-leg, slow-motion doorknob squats have strengthened them further without hurting my knees at all.

I noticed something similar a year or two ago when I started doing ab exercises with my neck lifted: much of my neck pain disappeared. I believe the isometric neck exercise strengthened my neck muscles.

A lot of the popping and cracking of my joints has disappeared, too. Nobody knows what causes popping, and I never found it painful, but it's startled a few of my dance partners who felt my bones suddenly shift.