Sunday, January 30, 2011

Weight Gain Caused by Undereating

What Would we Do without Experts?
We've all heard the conventional expert advice to lose weight by eating less and exercising more. It seems to make sense: if you eat fewer calories, your body will have to burn some of its own fat. Or if you burn more calories by exercising, your body will have to burn some of its own fat. Calories in, calories out. Just look at serious athletes or starving people in Africa.

And yet like a lot of things that look good on paper, this doesn't seem to work out in real life. In Why We Get Fat(1), Gary Taubes points out several groups of people who were hardworking, malnourished, and generally overweight. At one time, he adds, obesity was considered a disease of malnutrition.(2)

If you've ever tried and failed to lose weight by eating a little less and exercising a little more, you're not alone. Several years ago, I started Body for Life, a program that involves exercise and eating a lot of protein and carbohydrate. I ate more than I had been eating and lost weight. After a few years, I noticed I'd gained weight, so I cut down on my cheating (I stopped drinking Coke), and I kept gaining weight. I cut out the sixth small meal of the day, and I kept gaining weight. I was diligent about workouts. By the calories-in, calories-out theory, I should have gained weight eating more and lost weight eating less.

The Case of the Underfed Mice
In a recent study(3), researchers fed a group of mice ad libitum (as much as the mice wanted). The fed another group of mice (the calorie-restricted mice) only 95% as much feed as the other group ate. Result of the three-week experiment:

Five percent CR induced significant changes in body composition without altering body weight. Body weight was relatively stable throughout the experiment in both AL and CR mice (P > 0.05). Relative to AL mice, CR mice showed an increased body fat mass (P < 0.01) and decreased lean mass over 3 weeks. CR mice had a 43.6% greater fat mass (4.97 ± 0.40 g vs. 3.46 ± 0.15 g, P < 0.01), and a 6.4% lesser lean mass (14.44 ± 0.17 g vs. 15.43 ± 0.26 g, P < 0.01) than AL mice at the end of the experiment.
Result of the four-week experiment:

Five percent CR induced a significant increase in body fat mass (P < 0.01) and a significant decrease in lean mass (P < 0.01), whereas AL mice remained relatively stable over 4 weeks. Relative to the AL mice, CR mice had a 68.5% greater fat mass (3.37 ± 0.23 g vs. 2.00 ± 0.09 g, P < 0.01), and a 12.3% lower lean mass (14.43 ± 0.24 g vs. 16.45 ± 0.31 g, P < 0.01) at the end of the treatment (Figure 1a)
But wait, maybe the calorie-restricted mice sat around a lot more. Indeed, they did:

TEE (total energy expenditure) (kcal/day, P <>TEE was 5.0% lower (7.97 ± 0.14 kcal/day vs. 8.38 ± 0.46 kcal/day) and REE was 20.7% lower (4.83 ± 0.54 kcal/day vs. 6.09 ± 0.43 kcal/day) in CR mice than AL mice after 3 weeks (Figure 3).

Considering that the CR mice had a 44% greater fat mass than the AL mice after three weeks on their diet, it would have taken a heck of a lot of time on the exercise wheel to burn off that fat.

Why did the CR mice get fat on fewer calories? Their metabolism (the way their bodies use fuel) dialed down. More of the nutrients were sent to fat cells. As a result, they didn't have as much energy to get up and move. Perhaps this is an evolutionary response to food shortages.

Weight Gain, Weight Loss have More than One Cause
What about anorexics and anyone else who restricts calories--why don't they put on weight? They restrict calories a lot, not a little. Weight loss programs like Nutrisystem and Jenny Craig work, at least in the short term, because they set calorie consumption at concentration camp levels.

Is weight gain necessarily caused by undereating? Of course not. It seems there are several causes of weight gain: hormones, medications, and my fave, too many carbs, all play a role. Just as there is more than one way to lose weight (severe calorie restriction, macronutrient balance, micronutrient balance, illness), there is more than one way to gain weight.

For Further Reading:

The basics on a diet that will let you lose weight without restricting calories: the Atkins Diet. This is the diet I've followed for a year. I lost 20 pounds and a number of health problems, improved my lipids, and I'm never hungry.

Tom Naughton's take on the calorie-restricted mouse study:

Dr. William Davis got not only fat but diabetic while hungry and exercising. It looks like those CR mice knew what they were doing by lying around.

A blog post from Weight of the Evidence that includes links to further studies on weight gain and malnutrition:

Mike W's NINO (nutrients in, nutrients out diet):

1. Why We Get Fat by Gary Taubes, pp. 19-28.
2. Ibid, pp. 29-30.
3. Obesity, "Mild Calorie Restriction Induces Fat Accumulation in Female C57BL/6J Mice" by Xingsheng Li, Mark B. Cope, Maria S. Johnson, Daniel L. Smith Jr and Tim R. Nagy. Published online October 1, 2009.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Neck Pain Gone: My Expensive Diet Keeps Paying Off

As of this month, I've been wheat-free (for the most part) for a year, and as of February, low-carb for one year. I'm also approaching another important anniversary: on February 8, it will have been one year since I saw a doctor for a medical problem. Coincidence? No.

Up until mid-February last year, I saw my chiropractor for aches and pains in my neck and shoulders. A couple of weeks after my last appointment, I was well enough to skip the treatments for good.

I recently thought of seeing my chiropractor again for a minor neck injury. While lifting weights, my neck felt strained, but being stubborn, I kept on and ended up in pain. There was a knot on my spine and a dip just above it, like a vertibrae had tilted on the x axis. It was painful to look left, tilt my head or do the Indian dance move where you slide your head left and right.

Having had good results with my neck and shoulder healing on their own after I changed my diet, I decided to see if this injury would do the same. It's been two weeks, and it's nearly healed, just as I expected. The lump/dip is mostly gone, I can turn and tilt my head, and the head slide isn't nearly as painful as it was. All I used was aspirin, arnica cream, and yoga exercises. I've skipped weightlifting to give my neck the chance to rest. Had I seen my chiropractor for, say, two visits (yeah, sure!), it would have cost me $90, plus vacation time from work. (The arnica cream was around $7.) The $13 extra I'm spending at the grocery store on nutrient dense food like meat, eggs, protein powder, full-fat cheese and veg and skipping the wheat and other high-carb foods pays off once again.

If you're living on a diet of cheap calories, are you sure that's a cheap diet? If you can live on food like cereal, noodles and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches without stomach problems, cavities, aches and pains, acne, midafternoon slumps, or a gaggle of other health problems, or having to buy ever-bigger clothes, more power to you. (And if you can, what are you doing here?) Otherwise, the costs of medicines, doctor bills, sick days and bigger clothes should be considered along with your grocery budget.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

"Taste of the Wild" is not Low-carb

In a few posts, I mentioned that I fed my dog a low-carb diet of Taste of the Wild dog food. A few posts on other blogs about animal chow piqued my interest (see this and this), and I looked up the dog food on the web. It turns out that despite bison, lamb meal, chicken meal and egg product being the first four ingredients in the High Prairie Canine Formula, the macronutrient blend is 32% protein, 18% fat, and presumably 50% carbohydrate. That's not low-carb by anyone's definition, and I apologize for my error.

The food is made of good ingredients as far as animal feed goes (certainly better than the sugar/casein/milk fat/etc. pseudo-food--I mean, "Western diet" that gave some of the lab rodents cancer--see links above). And it has several supplements, although I doubt if the Lactobacillus bacteria remain alive at room temperature.

Nevertheless, it's a high-carb, low-fat diet that I've come to believe is suboptimal at best and untenable at worst. (I'm making the assumption that dogs and humans have similar dietary needs, since we've been companions for thousands of years and we're both omnivores. But I could be off on that assumption.) In any event, Molly has been continually hungry and has put on a few pounds--a sign of too many carbs. Her time as a stray dog surely didn't do her metabolism any good. And I don't know what Molly's previous owner fed her, but considering that he or she didn't have her spayed and didn't get a $30 microchip for her, I'm guessing Molly ate crappy, grain-based dog food as a puppy.

Since Molly likes to eat as soon as I get home, I made the best high-fat, moderate-protein, low-carb meal I could for her on short notice: 1/2 cup of dog food (instead of one cup), 2 T sprouted rice protein powder, a handful of soaked, roasted almonds, some olive oil, and some raw cauliflower (which I normally feed her). I'm guessing that knocked the carbs down to roughly 25% to 30% of the meal. She loved it (even the protein powder) and hasn't been begging for food. That she's full on a meal rich with fat and protein shouldn't surprise any low-carbers. We'll see if she loses the few pounds she's put on.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Acne: Crustaceans versus Oxidation

Having read about the benefits of krill oil for arthritis pain and blood sugar control, I bought a bottle for my mother. So far the results for her blood sugar have been encouraging if inconclusive. Her blood sugar levels took a dive into the normal range a few weeks after she started taking krill, but that was followed by some high-carb holidays. And her record keeping leaves something to be desired. She's not sure yet if it's going to help her arthritis.

Since krill oil is supposed to be a great anti-oxidant (keep that word in mind), I decided to try it to see what it would do for me. What it did was commit the worst trespass any ingested substance can cause: acne. Straightaway, I got a cyst on my knee that was so painful I couldn't dance. Then I got one on my jaw; both of them went away within a few days, though--but I hadn't had one in years. My keratosis worsened and even showed up on my face. (Keratosis is having those hard little lumps in the hair follicles of your arms and legs--not to be confused with ketosis or ketoacidosis). Now I'm so broken out that I'm wearing a freaky looking application of Queen Helene Mint Julep Mask. (What, you think gorgeous just happens?)

Then I thought...oxidation...Oxiclean...benzoyl peroxide...maybe some of that crud in your skin is supposed to oxidize. Maybe anti-oxidants aren't always the best thing since sliced bacon. Here's an interesting discussion from The Beauty Brains Forum:

And here's a rodent study(1) where the oxidation action of benzoyl peroxide was used to induce tumors in mice. (Keep in mind that rodents aren't furry little humans, and that some rodents are bred to be prone to illness. Using benzoyl peroxide on your skin isn't signing your death warrant. Still, I wouldn't slather it on.)

According to, benzoyl peroxide works by killing acne-causing bacteria by "introduc[ing] oxygen directly into the pore when applied topically onto the skin." The odd thing is, benzoyl peroxide never worked for me, and yet an opposite product--a strong anti-oxidant--has re-introduced acne to my skin.

(1) "Inhibitory effect of a flavonoid antioxidant silymarin on benzoyl peroxide-induced tumor promotion, oxidative stress and inflammatory responses in SENCAR mouse skin." Jifu Zhao, Moushumi Lahiri-Chatterjee, Yogesh Sharma and Rajesh Agarwal. Carcinogenesis, Volume 21, Issue4 Pp. 811-816.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Sit & Scoot Update: Liver to the Rescue!

One of my math teachers once described a student's answer on a test. The question and answer were right, but in between was the sentence, "A miracle happens." No points for that.

In real life, though, the right answer does get points. My dog, Molly, who has had problems with her anal glands most of her life, seems to have finally gotten permanent relief. Over the past month or so, I've been feeding her cooked liver--about half a pound a week. (I've also been giving her 250 mg of magnesium every day.) The liver goes in the dog dish, a miracle happens, and the yucky stuff comes out of her anal glands when she goes outdoors, just as it should. I know this because I almost never see her sit and scoot anymore, and she licks a lot less.

Molly also eats Taste of the Wild dog food (bison flavor--she's constantly hungry on the salmon flavor), non-starchy veg, a little coconut, and the liver (which replaces an equal amount of dog food twice a week). She also pre-washes greasy dishes.

This is another good example of a good diet being a good investment. It cost time and money to have Molly's anal glands drained; and more money if they were infected. Her teeth are whiter and cleaner, too, so they shouldn't need professionally cleaned as often.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The Triple Crown: Solving Three Problems in One Stroke

The readers of this blog have spoken: a lot of you are suffering from bloating and acid reflux and want to know what to do about it. At least, that's what my statistics tell me: the top two posts for the past month are Gas Bloating: The Incredible Shrinking Waistband and Exploding Intestines and My GERD is Cured: Low-Carb Hits the Mark. If you're like a lot of people, you might also have made a resolution to lose weight. I sympathize with all these problems: I used to suffer frequently with gas pain and acid reflux and a year ago I set out to lose 20 pounds.

Why do so many people have bloating and acid reflux this time of year? Too many Christmas cookies, too much stuffing and mashed potatoes, too many holiday potlucks with dishes made of cheap, high-carb food, and too much dessert. In other words, too many carbs. That's the short answer.

What do Carbs Have to Do with It?
Dietary fat doesn't give you gas. Protein gives you very little gas, and it's farther along in your digestive system. Carbs, however, do create gas when they're consumed by your digestive bacteria.(1) Certain carbs are worse than others. Wheat and apples are the worst two for me; others are bothered by lactose and certain vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower.

In susceptible people, that gas pushes up the stomach acid into the esophagus, causing acid reflux. At least, that is Norm Robillard's theory as he's described in the book Heartburn Cured. His theory also squares better with reality than conventional wisdom on avoiding onions, coffee, spicy food, dietary fat, and so on. I had acid reflux so severe that it gave me an esophageal ulcer. Once I cut down on the carbs, to about 50 grams per day, I could have all the coffee, fatty meals and spicy food I wanted. My theory of why these foods are associated with acid reflux is that dietary fat makes your stomach acid stick to your throat and the spicy, acidic foods make it more painful on your delicate esophagus, which was never meant to come into contact with stomach acid.

What to do? You can take a product like Gas-X for bloating, but I never found it very helpful when I was so bloated I looked pregnant. You can take medicines for acid reflux, but beware: they're expensive, they disable the first line of defense in your immune system (most germs die in your stomach acid unless you've neutralized it), and they interfere with absorption of vitamins and minerals. (See this post; scroll down to Antacids.) Going off proton pump inhibitors can give you a nasty bout with acid rebound, which I suffered mightily with. (See this and this.)

What if you could solve both problems--and possibly lose weight--in one stroke? You can: cut down on the carbs. A low-carb eating plan is a time-honored way of slimming down. Before the low-fat craze, our great grandmothers knew that if they wanted to lose weight, they cut back on the bread and potatoes and skipped dessert. Long before Great Grandma was around, our stone age ancestors lived almost entirely on meat, eggs and plants, not fat-free bagels. Paleontologists say they were stronger and healthier than their agricultural descendants.

There's no one diet that's right for everyone. Look into some low-carb diets like Atkins, Protein Power, South Beach and various paleo diets, and see which one you think you could live with best. Commit to a two-week trial--that's about how long it takes for your body to adjust to using fat for fuel. (Yes, I said fat: by all accounts, you'll have a rough time trying to live mostly on protein.) Consult some other low-carbers if you run into problems; we're a supportive community (see blog roll on the right). And have a healthy, happy new year.

(1) Heartburn Cured by Norm Robillard. 2005.