Just Count Protein – More Thoughts

Two days ago I posted Just Count Protein For Fat Loss, which theorizes that the minimum effort one needs to do to lose weight is increase protein. Get the grams you need and that should reduce appetite, create a caloric deficit and trigger fat loss.

Now I am thinking about timing. If I need to consume 143-191 grams of protein a day and I know roughly how many meals and snacks I will eating, then I need to be cognizant of my running protein total as the day progresses. My first day I raced to hit 144 grams before bed. Yesterday I hit 210 grams. This will take a little practice, but I am carrying around a notepad to help me.

30 grams of Protein First

To ensure I am both getting a high level of protein and that the protein I am getting has the best chance to curb my appetite, I’ve created a rule that I will eat Protein and Veggies first. I will shoot for a 30 gram minimum goal when I eat. After eating protein and veggies, I will then wait before reaching for carbs and fat.

I don’t think carbs and fat are bad, but I want to make sure that I am truly hungry. Several sites recommend waiting 20 minutes before getting a second helping of food. So I will consider Protein + Veggies to always be serving #1.

Eat Staples

I’m a food explorer, so the idea of eating the same foods over and over is not appealing on the surface. However, I’ve learned from a few fitness professionals that athletes that carry a low amount of body fat tend to eat many staples. In my case, I am trying to eat more protein. As many food options as there are, there isn’t a lot of 30+ gram protein options. Meat, eggs, fish, protein powder and some dairy.  To get 144-191 grams of protein consumed a day will require staples.

I can still be a food explorer while I get lean, I just need to eat the protein first.

cans of tuna

Photo by David Mulder. 

Just Count Protein For Fat Loss

I’ve been thinking a lot about low effort sustainable dieting and I’ve come up with an idea that I was certain someone else had figured out before, but I haven’t seen it articulated anywhere. That either means my searching skills aren’t that good or it is a terrible idea or it is brilliant. :)

My thought is that the least effort approach to fat loss would be to just count grams of protein and nothing else. Hit your target grams and then trust that your appetite will be reduced, calorie intake will fall and fat loss will occur. Many diets count calories, which is hard work. Some diets count carbohydrates, which depending on how you do it can be successful or draining. But what many diets share in common is higher levels of protein.

Why Protein?

Protein has been shown to have the greatest effect on reducing appetite. And not only will eating more protein suppress appetite, but it will support metabolism. A frequently cited study A high-protein diet induces sustained reductions in appetite, ad libitum caloric intake, and body weight despite compensatory changes in diurnal plasma leptin and ghrelin concentrations concluded that doubling protein from 15% to 30% reduced appetite and “results in significant weight loss”.

You could count calories. People do all the time. But it is more work than just counting protein and does not address appetite. Go hungry for too long and you’ll binge eventually. In the end, appetite always wins. Give it protein.

How Much Protein?

The site Suppversity does a great job of pouring through the scientific research. Their article Losing Weight Doesn’t Have to Ruin Your Metabolism: No Unexpected Reduction in Energy Expenditure With Sane Weight Loss. Plus: 9 Simple Rules Every Dieter Must Follow lists some solid ideas on what works best for dieting, including increasing protein levels to 25% or greater of total calories. Another Suppversity post more specifically makes a solid case for striving for 1.5-2.0 grams of protein per kg of body weight (not lean mass).

For easy math, let us say someone weighs 200 pounds (91 kilograms). Their protein needs would be between 136 and 182 grams a day. Going back to their recommendation in the first linked article, which advises a 15% initial calorie reduction, this works out to a protein ratio of about 30% at the high end.

eggs

Photo by Frank Monnerjahn

This is Starting to Look Like The Zone

The Zone Diet advises a protein ratio of 30%, which is a diet that started out well for me, but in the end became problematic. In the post My Experiences With the Zone Diet, I outlined how the frequent small meals left me hungry all the time. Besides the frequent meals, the Zone demonized too many good foods and had dieters obsessing about both carbs and fat. A quick search on fat loss and meal frequency will also show that “eating many small meals” have no metabolic edge over a less frequent eating pattern when calories are constant.

Despite the problems with The Zone, the 30% protein recommendation seems like solid advice for fat loss.

Just Count Protein

This post is just a proposal. I don’t know if it will work, but it seems like a sensible indirect route to fat loss that acknowledges appetite and doesn’t require counting calories.

I already know the opposite is true. When I was eating clean, underweight and with low appetite, I sought out ice cream as the food to bring my weight up. Turns out ice cream is just 5% protein. Lower the protein, increase the appetite. Right now I don’t think I am getting close to 30% protein. I plan on giving this a try.

What do you think?

Death By Food Pyramid vs The Calorie Myth

I just finished reading two books on nutrition. One was excellent and the other not so much.

Death By Food Pyramid

Death by Food Pyramid : How Shoddy Science, Sketchy Politics and Shady Special Interests Have Ruined Our Health
Death by Food Pyramid : How Shoddy Science, Sketchy Politics and Shady Special Interests Have Ruined Our Health by Denise Minger was outstanding. It has an excellent section on the history of the food pyramid and how what we collectively believe about good nutrition is flawed. The book also has a chapter on how to read nutritional research, but the part that I enjoyed the most was the section devoted to the research of Weston A. Price. Price is an early pioneer in nutritional research and wrote the book Nutrition and Physical Degeneration.

I have been in the Weston A. Price nutritional camp since late 2009. To me it makes more sense than Paleo. We can learn a lot from traditional cultures. Death By Food Pyramid agrees.

I don’t want to give away the entire book, but I do want to share some ideas the author presented in Meat chapter.

  1. Eat the whole animal. Nose to tail. Organ meats. Bone broths. Marrow. Traditional cultures knew this (WAPF), now science can see the different distribution of amino acids and how eating the entire animal balances those ratios. Most people today just load up on muscle meats and discard the rest of the animal.This presents a problem we can have too much methionine and not enough glycine.
  2. How we cook meat is important. Low and slow is the way to go. High heat and charring can be problematic. For the past few years, I cook the majority of my meat in slow cookers or liquid. Good to know I’m on the right path.
  3. Iron overload. If you eat too much red meat, you could get elevated iron levels. One of her solutions is the same as mine. Donate blood. I’ve donated 22 pints of blood since December 2010. Easy win for not only your health, but the health of the person receiving your blood.

Death By Food Pyramid does nutritional history more concisely than Good Calories, Bad Calories and presents the ideas of Weston A. Price better than Deep Nutrition.

The Calorie Myth

The Calorie Myth: How to Eat More, Exercise Less, Lose Weight, and Live Better
The Calorie Myth: How to Eat More, Exercise Less, Lose Weight, and Live Better by Jonathan Bailor

If a book says calories don’t count and then proceeds to tell you how to eat in a way that reduces your appetite so you consume less calories and you lose weight, did the calories count? I would say yes. The Calorie Myth uses the good foods (SANE) versus bad foods (INSANE) narrative to tell the reader how to eat. If I could basically summarize the entire book, I’d say eat a lot of protein. Protein is known to reduce appetite and help with fat loss. No myths. No mysteries.

This is yet another nutritional book that states fructose is bad, but with little evidence to back up the claim. It has been 4 years since Alan Aragon discredited Dr. Lustig’s anti-fructose hysterics. Are we just suppose to assume fructose is evil like we used to assume saturated fat was “artery clogging”?

He also goes into how we need glycerol-3-phosphate to store body fat and we mostly get that from carbs. Isn’t this what Gary Taubes got wrong in Good Calories, Bad Calories? Listen to Carbsane on Episode 39 of Evil Sugar Radio explain this point (jump to 28:20). The implication that restricting carbs somehow gives one a free pass on storing calories as fat is the myth.

Bailor also repeats the most nauseating health advice ever, which is to drink lots of water to boost your metabolism. I don’t think so. Drink a lot of water and your body temperature drops. Matt Stone has been on topic of this for a few years. When I stopped drinking so much water, my body temperature increased and my sleep quality improved.

Unlike Death By Food Pyramid there is no mention of nutrient dense foods such as offal, bone broths and fermented foods. But foods such low-fat dairy, skinless chicken and egg whites are listed. Uggh. From a calculator standpoint, he may be right, but I’m more persuaded by Denise Minger’s approach to nutrition and whole food.

I will say one part of the book that was spot on was his approach to exercise. Bailor is a proponent of High Intensity Training. He gets it. John Little, the co-author of Body By Science, even provided a nice plug in the beginning. My advice is if you want to learn more about HIT, read John’s book.

The Winner Is…

Hands down Death By Food Pyramid beats The Calorie Myth.

UPDATE: The blog No Gimmicks Nutrition has an entire section exposing the incorrect ideas from Jonathan Bailor.

How I Plan to Lose 20 Pounds – And Win the Bet

For those that don’t know the background story read How I Regained the Weight I Lost, The Fat Loss Bet and The Fat Loss Side Bet. In this post I am going to outline my plan for losing 20 pounds and winning this bet.

Since I started researching and experimenting with nutrition again in 2007, I have been exposed to so many ideas. Some of the ideas that swayed me early on no longer do. There is rampant disagreement on the best way to lose fat. Unlike other bloggers that talk about nutrition, I’ll be the first to say that I don’t know the answers. I come from a finance background and I approach nutrition from the mindset of an investor. This means I assume I am working with incomplete knowledge.

Calories, Carbs and Caffeine

Any discussion of dieting starts with calories. There has been an endless debate on “do calories count” in the blogosphere. People much smarter than me have been going back and forth on this never ending debate. To me it is all about appetite. Some calories stimulate appetite and some suppress appetite, but those calories do count. I want to have the appetite of someone that weighs 20 pounds less. Since my metabolism isn’t broken and I otherwise seem quite healthy, I must assume that reducing calories is the logical path to reach that goal.

I don’t think carbs are bad or inherently fattening. If I happen to reduce carbs, it is because I am reducing total calories or trying to reduce appetite. I’ll be seeking high satiety foods, some of which may or may not be carbohydrates.

For me caffeine helps suppress appetite. When I cut back, I get hungry, which is exactly what I don’t want to happen now. So this means it is unlikely that I will be reducing caffeine until I hit my weight goal (or lose the main bet ).

cake

No cake for me!

Exercise

Exercise is the least important part of the equation, because it is where I am the most constrained. Due to my knee injury, I am limited by how much I can move. I can do some low intensity cycling and rowing for rehab, walking – but not too much- and some upper body strength training. In other words, nothing is changing as far as exercise.

Adding more exercise could jeopardize my knee’s ability to recover, which is the entire reason for losing the 20 pounds. I am following the exercise ideas in the book Framework for the Knee.

Strategies

Before I list my plan of attack, I want to say this is what I think will work for me, not everyone. The sequence of these items is important.

#1 Remove Foods that I Eat Past Satiety

I don’t eat fast food or much processed foods. For me the two foods that I used to help gain weight when I was underweight were ice cream and dairy kefir. I have stopped eating both. I still consider both foods to be healthy, but just not at this time. I see these foods as tools.

I do not consider sugar harmful, but it makes sense to remove the foods that dis-regulate appetite the most. I disagree with the health bloggers that claim food restriction leads to binge eating. It may for some, but my inner economist tells me that if you’re trying to cut your heating bill, the first thing you do is close all the windows. For me ice cream and dairy kefir were the open windows.

#2 Create a Food Journal

I started writing down all the food I eat in a notebook starting on February 19th. I have zero plans to count calories, as I kind of know where the problem resides (see #1), but if I am wrong I will at least have a record of what I ate. I might even make the food journals available publicly as a form of accountability.

#3 Reduce Eating Window

I have found that reducing the number of hours a day that I eat is the most effective and sustainable path to lowering calories. Others get benefit from eating as soon as they wake up to jump start their metabolism. All that did for me was cause me to gain more weight. I must eat right before bed. If I don’t I will not fall asleep and if I don’t eat enough, I will wake up in the middle of the night hungry. The often repeated “don’t eat before bed” if you want to lose weight is a myth.

This means I need to fast or eat very few calories in the AM hours. My willpower is very strong before evening and weakens before bed. I’m also more likely to eat socially and away from my kitchen in the evening. Building up a calorie deficit early in the day is important for me.

#4 Increase Protein

One of the reasons low carb diets seem to work well is that they are usually higher in protein. Protein has the greatest effect on reducing appetite. From the Perfect Health Diet article Protein, Satiety, and Body Composition:

A number of studies have found protein to be the most satiating macronutrient, with fat moderately satiating, and carbs least satiating.

Thus, when people reduce carbs and increase protein, their appetite declines and they almost always reduce calorie intake. This can leads to rapid short-term weight loss. This is why most popular weight loss diets are high in protein: increasing protein causes dieters to quickly lose some weight, encouraging them to continue.

Since I dropped ice cream and dairy kefir, this means I’ll need to add additional sources of protein. I already consume red meat and eggs, so I’ll be increasing my seafood intake. Recently I’ve become a big fan of a Vietnamese fish soup, which I’ll post a recipe for soon. I also love Korean fish soups.

#5 Cold Thermogenesis

Because of my exercise constraints, one way I could trigger more fat loss without movement is cold thermogenesis. For more on this topic see Shivering Thermogenesis. I don’t plan to start this at this time. I want to focus on getting the first 10 pounds lost using the above strategies. Then if I get stuck, start tinkering with cold exposure. I’ll be careful not to stack stressors.

Restricted Foods

Ice cream, liquid calories (kefir, juices, alcohol), wheat, most processed foods, nuts and vegetable oils.

Metabolism

Some readers will want to know about my quest for increasing body temperature using some of the ideas from the Ray Peat / Matt Stone / Danny Roddy camp. I will continue to avoid nuts, as I still believe that excess PUFA is the common enemy in nutrition. However, I will be reducing my dairy and avoiding liquid calories such as orange juice and Mexican Coke. I also think Peat-atarians are wrong by promoting low fat dairy, as it has lower satiety.

If for any reason I start to feel uncomfortably cold, I will stop and consume some carbs. This might be a sign that too large of an energy deficit is happening. See the Calories Proper post Hypothyroid-like symptoms, energy balance, and diet quality for a detailed discussion on this topic.

Last Words

I have no idea how much weight I will lose and how fast. I’ve never actually successfully dieted before. The weight I lost in 2008-2011 was unintentional. It just happened when I cut out the wheat, started cooking more at home, reduced my eating window and embraced a diet based on nutrient density and diversity.

My plan is to use a combination of food restriction, eating window restriction and accountability via food journal to create a caloric deficit. I believe this will result in a 20 pound weight loss that is sustainable.

The 30 in 30 Experiment

I’ve started a new experiment. This time I will be testing an idea from Tim Ferriss. Upon waking I will consume 30 grams of protein within 30 minutes. In the book The 4 Hour Body, Ferriss mentions how this trick helps accelerate fat burning.

By starting the day off with a high dose of protein, Ferriss has found that it has an appetite suppressing effect which results in an easier path to fat loss. 4HourLife has some ideas on how to get those 30 grams. For me, even though I think whey protein is the one of most hyped overrated supplements, I bought some to make this experiment easier.

The 4-Hour Body: An Uncommon Guide to Rapid Fat-Loss, Incredible Sex, and Becoming Superhuman
The 4-Hour Body: An Uncommon Guide to Rapid Fat-Loss, Incredible Sex, and Becoming Superhuman by Timothy Ferriss

This experiment is a radical change for me. I’ve never started my day off immediately with food. In the past few years, I’ve gone hours before consuming calories. Besides seeing if the 30-30 method could control my appetite, I also selected this experiment because it will help me be morning compliant with an idea from the Ray Peat crowd. They warn against consuming coffee on an empty stomach as it can trigger stress hormones.

I started this experiment on Friday September 20th. Way too soon to tell if it is having an effect. I’m only interested in losing 10 pounds. Unless I get a negative response, which I don’t expect, I’ll keep this experiment going for at least 60 days.

I wonder how well the 30-30 plan works for the last 10 pounds? Has anyone experimented with it? I’d especially like to hear from those that normally would skip breakfast.

The Twinkie Diet Proved Nothing

I wrote this post two years ago, but never hit publish. It got lost in the drafts. Consider this a “lost episode”.

In 2010, Escape the Herd alerted me to the story of a professor that proved that fat loss was all about calories and not about nutritional quality. I still read people that cite this study as proof that it is all about the calories and if you just cut the calories you’d lose the fat. For those unfamiliar with the diet, read Twinkie diet helps nutrition professor lose 27 pounds:

His premise: That in weight loss, pure calorie counting is what matters most — not the nutritional value of the food.
The premise held up: On his “convenience store diet,” he shed 27 pounds in two months.

In my opinion his study proved very little.

The only thing this study showed is that in the short term a single healthy male of 41 years old with University resources can eat a mostly poor diet and lose fat. How does this further our knowledge on obesity? It doesn’t. There are many examples of prisoners of war or concentration camps where those detained consumed nutrient poor and calorie restrictive diets. And they lost weight.

When we discuss fat loss, we should be striving for long term and sustainable. I suspect that one of the reasons people over eat is because they are under nourished. Putting out press releases saying you can lose fat eating Twinkies isn’t helping those that struggle with dieting that may have real health issues in addition to being overweight.

Twinkies

Photo by Joel Kraut. 

Hostess vs High Velocity Super Warrior

Since so many people seemed hellbent on showing that the only thing that matters is calories, I’d like to propose a study. My study would add two additional metrics: long-term success and perceived hunger. Take 100 people with at least 50 pounds to lose over the age of 30 evenly divided by sex.

  • Group A: They would follow the caloric restrictive Twinkie diet for 2 months.
  • Group B: They would get 70% of their calories from the foods listed on the post High Velocity Super Warrior Foods.

If a calorie is a calorie, they should lose weight at equal amounts. Fair enough, but that part isn’t interesting. I want to see what happens when they resume normal eating. Who keeps the weight off better and feels the least hunger? The Twinkie group or the Super Warriors? I strongly suspect it won’t be the Hostess group. I believe the more nourished group will have greater long term success.

Diet Colas and Changing My Opinion

Several times on my health journey I have changed my opinion on a nutrition topic. Part of the freedom I have as an individual is that I am not accountable to clients or some brand. I’ll embrace an idea, test it, use it as long as it suits me and then discard it when I need to. The one idea I have changed my opinion on the most has been diet colas.

My Boring History With Diet Colas (High School to 2012) – Skip This Section if You Like

In high school, I switched from regular Coke to Diet Coke. No calories! In college, I fell for the aspartame is an evil toxic compound argument and went back to regular cola. By the time college ended, I was a coffee drinker and rarely drank cola. Then during the dot-com era, I started drinking Coke again. Then I got all healthy again, I stopped drinking all colas. That was until Coke came out with a Splenda version of Diet Coke and eventually Coke Zero.

Coke Zero held my attention for a few years, then I became concerned not so much for the aspartame, but the benzoate compounds. I even wrote a break-up post with Coke Zero titled Yes, It’s Over, Call It A Day, Sorry That It Had To End This Way. That break up lasted until I found myself in the blaring heat of Thailand. Even after that trip, I would continue to drink maybe 1-2 cans of Coke Zero a month.

Coke Zero in Bangkok

Headaches, Diet Cola Safety and Krieger

Why was I still drinking the occasional diet cola? Two reasons. One, I believed that diet colas could help on those mornings when I had a really bad headache that coffee and tea couldn’t eliminate. Two, I believed that the sugar from regular cola posed a worse risk than the artificial sweeteners from diet cola. Some will gasp at that statement, but there is a lot of hysteria when it comes to the dangers of diet colas. If it were 1% as bad as its critics claim, people would be dropping like flies. People drink a lot of diet cola and have for a few decades. I don’t see these people having worse health outcomes. There are some alarmists that treat drinking diet cola as if were like riding a motorcycle in the rain without a helmet. Really?

The first level headed examination of this topic that I heard was when James Krieger of Weightology appeared on the Bulletproof Exec podcast #15. I’ve listened to the show twice and I feel Krieger made the case that health risks from diet cola are way overblown. There are some people that get headaches or feel lousy from drinking diet colas. They should stop. James has a series of articles on the topic for paid members of his site for which I am not.

By the summer of 2012, I was still medicating with Coke Zero whenever I got an extreme headache. Then I noticed that my headaches would go away at the same rate regardless of if I drank a cola or not. So I stopped drinking diet colas. Later I discovered that lowering my coffee intake would be more effective in reducing headache frequency.

Why Am I Fearing Sugar?

Going all the way back to high school, the underlying assumption has been that sugar is full of health risks. Why else would anyone initially embrace diet cola? Last year I played with the idea that sugar may have gotten an undeserved bad reputation. Although I am still not convinced sugar is 100% innocent, I am no longer with the majority that believes it is evil. I cover my thoughts more in the post Why Ice Cream is Better Than Protein Powder.

The safety debate that I read about concerning sugar has to do with real sugar versus the corn syrups. Some say they are equal, whereas others have written about the dangers of the corn syrup variety. I honestly don’t know the truth, but last year when I made an effort to only eat clean ice cream (no corn syrups or carrageenan), my skin quality improved. So I started drinking the occasional Mexican Coke, which uses regular sugar and I feel fine. It also tastes a lot better than corn syrup Coke or any of the diet cola offerings.

My Current Opinion

I am not convinced that any cola is healthy, yet I think I am fine with regular or diet. Since I drink so few colas, the best option for me now is Mexican Coke. Once again I am rejecting diet colas, but not because I believe they are dangerous. Diet colas don’t help my headaches, they don’t taste as good as real colas and I no longer fear small amounts of sugar. It is likely my opinion on this topic will change again. For the record, I still think the best option is no cola, but sometimes I really crave the taste of Coke.

My Problem With “Eat Less Move More” Part 2

Judging from the comments on My Problem With “Eat Less Move More”, I think I did a poor job explaining my position on Eat Less, Move More. Let me summarize my view.

  1. Calories do count. (Eat Less)
  2. Exercise is vastly over-rated for long-term fat loss. (Move More)
  3. ELMM most likely explains every success. (or in my opinion EL alone)
  4. 90-95% of people fail when they attempt ELMM for fat loss.
  5. ELMM does NOTHING to explain why such a large percentage fail. They openly or through implication state it is a character flaw in the dieter. They either lacked discipline, willpower, lied or deluded themselves to their caloric intake.
  6. The failure rates are too high to attribute to character flaws.
  7. I believe the probability of long term dietary success is higher when the individual is healthy. Restricting calories (and therefore nutrients) to an already unhealthy person has a high failure rate. I believe one should get healthy BEFORE they attempt to get lean.

Seeking Nutritional Alpa

I’m not a dietitian and I do not have a client list. My approach to nutrition assumes incomplete knowledge and comes from an investor mindset. The term alpha in finance means return in excess of the compensation for the risk borne. From a nutritional standpoint, we know that some foods are far more nutrient dense than others. We also know that some foods are more toxic. Those foods might have equal calories. I believe from my own personal experience and talking with others that finding those foods with a greater alpha do a far better job of reducing hunger at equal caloric rates.

Beef Stock is a food with a high nutritional alpha.

I think that a strategy of removing foods with negative alpha (grains, veggie oils, soy) and adding foods with positive alpha will increase the probability of success more than taking on calorie restriction head on. Did for me. The hunger I experienced when eating bread (negative alpha) was much greater than when I gave it up. Losing 20 pounds without bread was significantly easier than losing just 5 pounds when I did eat bread.

The challenge in fighting obesity is not continually explaining the minority of successes, but figuring out how to increase the number of successes in a way that works with the body. Blaming the individual isn’t helpful.

My Problem With “Eat Less Move More”

If you do a Google search on the phrase “Eat Less Move More“, it will return over 9 million results. If you listen to most health care professionals and personal trainers they will say that the only way to lose weight is to eat less and move more. They repeat that it is simple logic and they can point to every successful case of fat loss as following those principles.

Explaining how just 5-10% of dieters succeed is not a complete explanation for why 90-95% fail when they attempt the same principles. The question we should be asking is not what makes a diet work, but what causes it to fail? Eat Less Move More does a great job explaining success, but that is just half of the equation. Before we can address failure, we first need to explore how we feel about obesity.

Is Obesity a Character Flaw?

It is time for an open and frank discussion about how we view overweight people. When you see someone 50 or 100 pounds overweight, do you make a snap judgement about that person? What words would you use to describe their character? Lazy, undisciplined? We judge the obese because it is a commonly held belief that they choose to remain heavy. After all, if they only ate less and moved more they would be lean. Right?

Obesity and the failure of diets has been framed as character flaw. If obesity wasn’t such a worldwide and growing epidemic, I might agree with them. But every person that walks the planet today is the result of a highly resilient lineage. We are the successes. I also believe that most people do not consciously chose to be overweight and would prefer to be leaner. When overweight people are cast as being undisciplined, it does a great disservice to those individuals that are already struggling both physically and emotionally.

Failure is the Problem

If Eat Less, Move More were such as effective strategy, then the failure rate wouldn’t be so high. Some people find it easy and some find it impossibly hard. I cringe every time I see a reference to some fat loss study that lasted weeks or a few months. Who hasn’t lost weight in the short term only to regain it later? The important question is not how the dieter lost the weight, but what caused it come back. The answer is always implied. The dieter lost the discipline to eat less or got too lazy to keep up with an exercise plan. Failure is framed as a character flaw and not a flaw with the Eat Less, Move More advice.

If 90-95% of dieters fall and most or all of them attempted a variation on the Eat Less, Move More principle, why such a high failure rate? Our so called health professionals blame the dieter, because they lack discipline. This enrages me. Can you imagine if LASIK eye surgery or any other health service had anywhere close to that failure rate? But because the individual ultimately controls what they eat and how much they move, the failure of a diet is always defined as the fault of the individual. We also stop looking for alternate causes of failure.

DIET by Christi Nielsen

Move More?

I am on record as saying exercise is vastly over rated when it comes to fat loss. My position is that appetite will always rise to meet energy expenditure, but not necessarily in the short term. You can go weeks or a few months where exercise appears to be an effective strategy for fat loss, but it’s not. We get injured, we get sick, we travel and the body gets very good at predicting how much energy you’ll burn through and adjusts appetite accordingly.

Earlier this year, I did a five part series on Exercise and Fat Loss where I detail not only why I consider it ineffective, but how it can actually make you fatter. The first three parts are relevant for this discussion.

  1. Walking Didn’t Lean Me Out
  2. How Exercise Indirectly Kept Me Fatter
  3. Fat loss and the Case For Less Exercise

Note that I am not anti-exercise. My concern is that an overweight individual that eats poorly and starts an exercise program may lose fat in the short term, but when that appetite catches up to activity expenditure they will end up eating more of the poor quality foods that made them overweight. Fix the diet first.

Eat Less?

In the end eating less is the solution, but again that doesn’t explain why so many people fail. It is clear that some people lose weight easier than others. Are they more disciplined or is something else going on? From my research into nutrition, permanent fat loss is a lot easier when the body is healthy. An idea that Sean Croxton of Underground Wellness puts forth is that you don’t lose weight to be healthy, you get healthy to lose weight. What this means is that if you have nutrient deficiencies, inflammation and hormonal imbalances, your success rate at fat loss will increase if these are addressed before you start eating less.

I like the analogy of the leaky row boat. You can certainly try to paddle that boat across the lake. It will be very hard and you may get there safely or your boat could fall apart before you arrive at your destination. Personal trainers will scoff at the failures as not wanting it bad enough or lacking willpower. The reality is that unlimited willpower only exists in Nike and Gatorade commercials. A better plan would be to patiently fix the boat first. Remove the rotted wood and repair the holes. Once the boat is seaworthy, the journey should be a lot easier. How do you do that?

  1. Fix your sleep.
  2. Remove toxins known and suspected. (grains, veggie oils, soy, dairy for some, non-traditionally prepared legumes)
  3. Eats lots of nutrient dense foods.
  4. Learn how to cook.
  5. Exercise minimally, safely and efficiently.

When I followed the list above, weight just started falling off. It was effortless. Besides fat loss, other signs that your body is healing are improved skin, better digestion and deeper sleep. When personal trainers and health professionals blindly repeat the phrase Eat Less Move More they are indirectly blaming every dietary failure as a character flaw in the dieter. They point to the successes without trying to understand the failures.

My Problem With “Eat Less Move More” Part 2

Flavor Signaling and The Shangri-La Diet

I just read a fascinating diet book that approaches fat loss by adjusting the body’s fat set point by weakening the signal between calories and flavor.

The Shangri-La Diet: The No Hunger Eat Anything Weight-Loss Plan
The Shangri-La Diet: The No Hunger Eat Anything Weight-Loss Plan is by Seth Roberts.

This book provides an alternate hypothesis to reversing obesity, but it doesn’t contradict anything that I’ve learned about nutrition over the past few years. The Shangri-La Diet offers an explanation, which if true, provides a framework for understanding why diets succeed or fail despite identical macronutrient ratios. This diet doesn’t restrict calories or carbohydrates, but instead uses a goal of adjusting the body’s fat point by reducing the flavor signal. Note that I use the term Flavor Signaling to describe what is going on, even though that term isn’t used in the book. In short, flavors that are stronger, more frequent and more predictable will push the body’s fat set point higher. Those that do the opposite, will lower the fat set point.

How The Diet Works

The diet is amazingly simple and could easily be tried by anyone, even those following another diet. At least an hour before one of your meals, consume unflavored sugar water and/or Extra Light Olive Oil. Both of these foods are flavorless and provide calories. The author and many of his blog followers have lost and more importantly kept off the weight using this simple technique. Although it sounds too good to be true, once you think about it from an evolutionary standpoint it makes perfect sense.

Evolutionary Explanation

Paleo man didn’t have a 24 hour grocery store and a McDonalds. Nature varied the amount and variety of food sources. Some regions and some seasons provided more abundant and predictable food sources. For survival purposes, there would have been an evolutionary advantage to increasing the body’s fat set point during those times.

When food is more plentiful, we choose the food with the strongest flavor. When it is not, we take what we can get. Simply having tasty food around would have provided the hormonal signals to store more fat. The more frequent a particular food was consumed, the stronger that association. If a food was rarely consumed, then that flavor would not send the same signal to increase the set point, as that could be an indication of scarce resources.

Back To The Present

In modern times, we not only have access to endless amounts of food, but we tend to eat the same foods over and over. This strengthens the Flavor Signal. You feed your body a Big Mac and Pepsi everyday and even though the meal may meet a normal caloric requirement, permanent fat loss rarely occurs because the fat set point doesn’t come down.

One of the things I’ve noticed about people with chronic weight issues is that they tend to be picky eaters. The common perception is of the fat guy that eats everything in sight. I don’t see that. The people that I see that eat the most diverse diets, tend to be thinner. Those with predictable limited diets, tend to have trouble losing weight or keeping it off when they are successful.

We have a huge problem with obesity in the poor. Poor people consume a lot of fast food and processed food. Seth Roberts calls these “ditto foods“. Foods that taste identical every time you eat them are ditto foods. They send a flavor signal of abundance and are quite addicting.

Why Do So Many Diets Fail?

One of the things that I tend to focus on when researching things is looking for points of failure. This is why I bash personal trainers that are blinded by survivorship bias. I’m more interested in learning why something failed than defending why something worked. Lots of diets work. They tend to work for a while and then the dieter gains the weight back. Usually the dieter is blamed for a lack of discipline, but the failure rates are too high for such a simple explanation. Addressing the set point might be the answer.

Take Away Diet Lessons

Here are some take away lessons one can use from this book to improve their diet.

  1. Consume Extra Light Olive Oil and/or Unflavored Sugar Water – Do this at least an hour before eating. If you consume the sugar water, do it very slowly. The book goes into details on dose size and answers common questions. As of this writing, the hardcover book on Amazon is just $2.70.
  2. Stop Eating Ditto Foods – Or if you do eat Ditto Foods, keep altering which ones you eat.
  3. Vary Your Menu – Get out of the habit of eating the same foods. On the foods that are the same, change the spices.
  4. Eat Slower Digesting Foods – Processed foods digest faster and have stronger flavor signaling. Choose more slower digesting foods.
  5. Cook More – When you prepare your own meals you can alter ingredients, cooking times and spices from meal to meal. This is the opposite of Ditto Foods.

Final Review

If I were overweight, I would have held off on this review and tried the protocol. Then I would have included my thoughts on the book along with my own results. However, I’m already lean and weight stable so I can’t test it. Even if this diet doesn’t work for someone, I really like it, because besides making sense it is a low cost and low effort.

My biggest tips for losing fat have been to cut the sugar and wheat. Sugar is obvious, but The Shangri-La Diet also strongly supports my case against wheat. It is processed and fast digesting. Also, unless you are always varying the type of bread, it can mimic a Ditto Food.

After reading this book, I did some more research and learned that this avenue of obesity research is gaining popularity. Additional resources include The Deconditioning Diet on Getting Stronger and the 8 part series Food Reward: a Dominant Factor in Obesity (Part 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8) on Whole Health Source.

Why We Get Fat

I just finished reading the slimmer version of Good Calories, Bad Calories.

Why We Get Fat: And What to Do About It (Borzoi Books)
Why We Get Fat: And What to Do About It (Borzoi Books) by Gary Taubes was written to be more accessible than his book Good Calories, Bad Calories. Although many of us adored the GCBC book (I read it twice), the majority of people don’t have the time or energy to read a 600+ page exhaustive expose on nutrition and nutritional history. But the message is important, important enough that a scaled back version with half as many pages was released.

What is the message? It’s the carbs, not the calories. Carbohydrates drive insulin which drives fat storage. The carbs we’ve been told to eat to be healthy are the ones making us fat and ill. Why We Get Fat also exposes the mistruths about our understanding of cholesterol and heart disease. The book also touches on cancer, diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease.

Last year when I saw Gary Taubes give a free lecture at one of the University of Washington medical buildings, he shared his frustration about getting his message out to the medical community. He could have easily sold out Seattle’s Townhall at $5 a ticket, but he wanted to reach doctors, so he brought his lecture to them. Very few people showed up for the lecture. Most were fellow nutritional geeks like myself.

Is this book exhaustive in explaining every pound of excessive fat? No, but I don’t think any one book could do that. Taubes focuses on insulin. He doesn’t go into omega ratios or gut flora or other inflammatory factors that may contribute to obesity. Some will criticize this, but Taubes is not a doctor or nutritionist. He is a science reporter focusing on the role of insulin.

Why We Get Fat is an outstanding book that I think will be more accessible to the public. There are still a few dry chapters on history, but to understand how we arrived at such bad conventional nutritional wisdom some back story is needed.

 

Spring Strategies For Nutrition and Fitness

A new season means a new installment for my seasonal approach series to nutrition and fitness. Last year I was inspired to see what would happen if I altered my diet and activity based off the seasons. This is all a grand experiment and not meant to serve as advice. For previous seasons check out these posts:

After a long sleep deprived winter full of holiday parties and sickness, spring is the season that modern man decides it is time to lean out. Not me. I got plenty of sleep and leaned out during the winter. I decided to hibernate like the mammal I am. Note that I live in Seattle and my winter strategy is more extreme than it would be if I still lived in Tampa.

May 2009 in Seattle

Other than my normal diet, here are my spring strategies:

  1. Increase Activity – I’m going to start urban hiking soon. If I can imagine my caveman ancestor emerging from the cave, I could see him traveling to find new food sources.
  2. Increase Carbohydrates – Not a lot, just a little. On days with more activity, I’ll be adding more root veggies and potatoes. Ice cream isn’t until summer. :)
  3. More Offal – Now if I’m emerging from the cave lean, than so are the other animals. This means the most prized cuts of meat will come from their organs. So this means more liver, heart, etc.
  4. More Seafood – You can only eat so much offal. ;)
  5. Reduced Intermittent Fasting - I’m developing a new IF strategy that I think overcomes the problems with the other popular protocols out there. Stay tuned on this one.

That is pretty much it. The primary focus this season will be maintaining my current level of leanness while making strength gains and increasing my endurance.

UPDATE MARCH 2011: More spring greens – see 1st comment below.

Reviewing Winter Strategies For Nutrition and Fitness

Now that spring has arrived, I want to go back and review the goals outlined in my post Winter Strategies for Nutrition and Fitness. My general thesis is that winter has the potential to be the best month for fat loss. This is the season for rest and repair.

If we get into touch with our environment, this is the period where carbohydrate consumption should be at its lowest. Many people tend to gain weight in the winter, because they fail to get the sleep they need and eat too many carbohydrates that were never available year round until the modern age.

Time to review my 8 strategies.

  1. Sleep MoreSUCCESS for the beginning of winter when the days were shorter. As the days got longer, my sleep cycle decreased. Int he depth of winter I was sleeping 8.5 hours and now I am closer to 7.5 hours.
  2. Removal of All SugarFAIL. I developed a minor sweet tooth when I did the 16 hour “scheduled” Intermittent Fasts. On March 1st, I started a 30 Days Without Sugar or Fruit experiment.
  3. No Fruit Except BerriesFAIL (see above).
  4. Ketogenic ExplorationSUCCESS. I achieved ketosis during the 16 hour Intermittent Fasts that started after a low carb meal.
  5. Cold Weather ExposureFAIL. I had problems with my 2nd month of the daily 16 hour fasts and ended this practice. I plan to return to cold rinses in the shower soon.
  6. Very Short WorkoutsSUCCESS. I averaged one High Intensity Training session every 5 days. It took between 10 and 15 minutes. I did no other exercise.
  7. Daily Intermittent FastingSUCCESS. I had success with month 1 and complications in month 2. In month 3, I returned to more random IF.

Let me review my goal for winter.

My primary goal for winter is fat loss. If I am to hit Level 3 Leanness in 2011, it is most likely to happen at the end of winter. This is all uncharted territory for me. Ive never done a ketogenic diet or daily IF. Will I make it? Stay tuned.

Did I succeed? Despite the problems I had with the 2nd month of daily 16 hour fasts, I am emerging from winter leaner than I’ve ever been in my life. I did it by sleeping more, exercising less and eating very low carbohydrates. I did not make Level 3 Leanness. Came very close. Maybe next winter. Now it is time to plan for spring. That post is coming up next.

 

The 4-Hour Body

Finally finished reading it.

The 4-Hour Body: An Uncommon Guide to Rapid Fat-Loss, Incredible Sex, and Becoming Superhuman
The 4-Hour Body: An Uncommon Guide to Rapid Fat-Loss, Incredible Sex, and Becoming Superhuman by Timothy Ferriss is a pretty good book. I don’t agree that eating first thing in the morning accelerates fat loss and I think the Geek to Freak chapter is dishonest. However, the book is fun. I’m sure anyone with even a passing interest in fitness or nutrition will find something that sparks their interest. Tim is really good about being an ambassador to some of the great minds in fitness.

People have already started asking me my thoughts on the Slow Carb Diet. My opinion is it is much better than the standard American diet and that many dieters could benefit on that plan. I can see how this diet combined with a cheat day would be easier to follow than a paleo diet. Is it superior? The best diet is the one that inspires you and the one that you stick to and follow. For me it would be a huge step backwards, but I’m already at my ideal weight and not the target audience for this chapter.

If I were to change one component of the Slow Carb Diet it would be the legumes section. I do not see a reason to EVER consume non-fermented soybeans. The other beans aren’t great either, unless they are properly soaked and sprouted. Beans have phytates which block mineral absorption. Soaking and sprouting disables the phytates and it is easy to do.

The highlight of the book for me was the Reversing Injuries section. I knew about wearing flat shoes and have been doing Egoscue exercises for a decade, but I was unaware of some these other techniques. I’m injury free now, but knowing about these other excellent strategies is worth the price of the book. There is also an excellent appendix called Spotting Bad Science, which should be required reading for every medical reporter.

What sparked my interest the most? Probably the bench press chapter. I’ve always had trouble with that exercise. This summer I will try out his plan.

Winter Strategies For Nutrition and Fitness

At the start of autumn, I posted Fall Strategies For Nutrition and Fitness where I outlined my seasonal approach to a low-carb/paleo diet.

The premise is that our bodies have growth and repair cycles, just like the planet. During the spring and summer is when the planet grows. Long days stimulate carbohydrate cravings and growth. The fall is when nature rests and repair begins for the following spring. Shorter days will reduce carbohydrate cravings provided you dont bathe yourself in artificial light after sunset and stimulate repair.

I believe many of todays health problems, especially cancer and obesity, are a result not allowing the body to go into a repair mode during the colder months. Repair means more sleep, less carbs and less exposure to blue light.

The focus of winter is fat loss, injury recovery and rest.

Kerry Park 2008 Snow Storm by MAS (can you see the Space Needle?)

Here are my winter strategies for nutrition and fitness.

  1. Sleep More – Continue loading up on sleep. Less daylight means energy conservation. This is the season for rest and repair. Longer sleep will boost your immune system too. I have black out blinds in my room and zero electronics. I’m now having the deepest and most restful sleep of my life.
  2. Removal of All Sugars – OK, not all sugars. The only acceptable sugar will be the small amount in the occasional piece of dark chocolate (73% or higher). Nothing else. That includes alcohol.
  3. No Fruit Except Berries – Fruit is not in season. Wait until spring.
  4. Ketogenic Exploration – Winter is the season for very low carbohydrate intake. When your carbohydrate levels drop low enough you will enter a state called ketosis. During ketosis the body burns ketones instead of glucose. Many dieters have found this is the holy grail of fat loss. I don’t know if I ever entered ketosis. This season I will purchase ketostix to measure. Depending on how successful I am with regular ketosis, I may experiment with a cyclic ketogenic diet (CKD) closer to spring.
  5. Cold Weather Exposure – Cold weather means cold weather training. It’ll toughen you up and may lose some more fat.
  6. Very Short Workouts – Since the carb levels are low, I am going to keep exercise to a minimum. I want just enough to maintain current levels of strength and trigger hormone-sensitive lipase for fat loss. One brief high intensity weight lifting session and one 4 minute Tabata per week should be enough. If I can do that without stimulating a carb craving, I may add an additional workout, but diet comes first. All workouts will be done in a fasted state. I will also add in some fasted urban hiking around Seattle.
  7. Daily Intermittent Fasting – I am going to use the Leangains 16 hour daily fast method. In the fall, I did about 3 each week. For winter, my goal is to do it daily. I’ll also be supplementing with BCAA.

My primary goal for winter is fat loss. If I am to hit Level 3 Leanness in 2011, it is most likely to happen at the end of winter. This is all uncharted territory for me. I’ve never done a ketogenic diet or daily IF. Will I make it? Stay tuned.

The New Evolution Diet

The publisher of Art De Vany’s book was kind enough to send me an advance copy of the The New Evolution Diet to read and review. It will be released tomorrow.

The New Evolution Diet: What Our Paleolithic Ancestors Can Teach Us about Weight Loss, Fitness, and Aging
The New Evolution Diet: What Our Paleolithic Ancestors Can Teach Us about Weight Loss, Fitness, and Aging by Arthur De Vany is an excellent addition to the growing library of books that remind us how we used to eat before the age of agriculture.

It was about three years ago this month that I was exposed to the ideas of Art De Vany. At a holiday party I was hosting a guest pulled up his website. The next morning I began my journey into evolutionary nutrition. Later I would purchase the 7 hour DVD lecture which would become the genesis for The New Evolution Diet book. Professor De Vany first exposed me to the idea of Cold Weather Training and Intermittent Fasting. To say his influence on me has been important would be an understatement. I am now 20 pounds lighter and almost never get sick.

The New Evolution Diet goes after the usual suspects: sugars, processed foods, grains and dairy. Some early reviews complained that his diet is lower in fat than other books on the paleolithic diet. I don’t believe this is something to be alarmed about. It really speaks to the resiliency of the diet itself. Once you remove the neolithic foods, it will work fine at lower levels of fat too. De Vany has been practicing this form of eating since he was 47. He is now 73 years. It would be wise to listen to someone with this many years experience on the diet. Instead of feeling threatened that my diet may be too high in fat, I am excited to know that it will still work if I reduce the fat level.

As a side note, I follow a seasonal paleolithic approach. I consume more fat in the winter and more carbohydrates in the summer. Unlike Professor De Vany, I live significantly north of the 37th parallel (Seattle) and rely more on animal fat during the winter months for fat soluble vitamins.

Throughout The New Evolution Diet he promotes seafood as an excellent food source. In his DVD lecture series, he explained that during the Ice Age humans migrated towards the coasts and began consuming much more seafood and sea vegetables. Weston A. Price in his 1939 book Nutrition and Physical Degeneration documented how important food from the sea was to the health of many indigenous cultures. This may just be anecdotal evidence, but have you noticed how people near the coast lines seem to be healthier than those in the middle of the country?

My favorite chapter of the book was The Metaphysics Behind the Diet. This is De Vany at his best. As an economist that studied complex systems, he used that training to study human health. This chapter explains how the human body is a collection of decentralized complex systems. Hopefully this chapter will cure readers of any notion that you can precisely control your health through regimented exercise and calorie counting.

There are many brilliant people in the paleo field now. I don’t believe anyone is as wise at Arthur De Vany. I highly recommend The New Evolution Diet. I also recommend his 7 hour DVD lecture series from 2008. The afterword of the book was written my one of my favorite thinkers – Nassim Nicholas Taleb.

Revisiting “Cleaning Up My Diet”

In 2006, I did two nutritional posts titled Cleaning Up My Diet 1 and Cleaning Up My Diet 2. Boy did I get some things wrong. Not quite a nutritional mullet, but close. Usually I attack others, such as the current Surgeon General, but for this post I will attack the 2006 version of myself.

Part 1 wasn’t too bad.

On closer look Im getting too many starchy carbs and not enough protein.

After eating one piece of fish, Id still be hungry so Id grab another serving of rice. Starchy carbs are fine when you return from exercise. However they should be minimized on rest days. Starting last night I doubled up on the fish and cut back on the carb grams.

Cutting the carbs was correct, however the hunger issue was caused by lack of fat. Doubling up on a super lean protein like fish did little to curb my hunger. The result was periodic carb binges and I never leaned out for long on this strategy.

Part 2 is embarrassing.

Monday I swapped my Mayonnaise for Nayonaise Original. Tastes fine to me. Its got 1/3 the calories and fat of the real stuff. They offer a fat-free version as well, which I may try in the future.

At Costco they sell cases of egg whites. Just pour and cook. No need to do that egg white dance anymore.

In p1 I covered removing excess starchy carbs and in this part I got rid of the bad fats.

I was so wrong. Swapping egg based mayo for a highly processed soy based mayo is nutritional stupidity. Soy is to be avoided, not egg yolks. Egg yolks are highly nutritious. But the biggest error in this post was my goal of lowering the calorie content in my diet by reducing fat. Less fat = more hunger. When you swap fat for carbohydrates, you increase your insulin output, which is the fat storing hormone.

Today I follow a high-fat, low carbohydrate diet. I am no longer a slave to wild blood sugar swings and strong hunger signals. My jeans were once tight at 36 baggy and I even had one pair of Dockers that had a 38 waist. Today, my jean size is now a 33 normal, which was my size during my freshman year…of high school. I exercise far less now. My cholesterol, triglycerides and blood pressure are all in the optimal range.

MAS in the 10th Grade. I’m leaner today and no longer sport a mullet. ;)

I’m glad that I admitted what I knew to be true in 2006 wasn’t. Once I got comfortable with not knowing, it gave me the freedom to start researching again and open myself up to new ideas. Those new ideas have had a profound and positive effect on my health.

Physique Hacking

Earlier this week, I was having a discussion on nutrition with some friends. I disclosed my latest experiment, which is still too early to blog about at this time. The response I got was, “how lean do you want to be?” It was a fair question that I didn’t have an answer for. I’ve since had a few days to think about the answer and it not as simple as being a certain weight or body fat percentage. Let me explain.

When I think about health, I can really break it down into 8 goals. Two primary (1,2) , three secondary (3,4,5) and three tertiary (6,7,8).

  1. Be Healthy – The desire to be disease free, not get sick and be energetic.
  2. Injury Free – Avoid accidents and have minimal restrictions on mobility.
  3. Leaner – Not only is it important to be lean, but maintain that level.
  4. Gain Muscle – I’m a dude. I will probably always desire at least one more pound of muscle on my frame.
  5. Strength – Although there is a correlation with muscle, it is not always direct.
  6. Dexterity – Eye / hand coordination. Juggling, sports and hobbies can improve dexterity.
  7. Endurance – Hiking long or steep distances. Lifting a large volume of weight. Not distance running.
  8. Speed – Something I haven’t focused on since I was a kid, but is on my radar now.

Photo Farmer’s Walk by milesizz

I am searching for ways to accomplish these goals via nutrition and fitness. The most important thing I’ve learned in the past 2 years is that diet is FAR MORE important than exercise and that too much exercise can be just as bad as no exercise at all. Exercise too much and you’ll get sick (suppressed immunity) or injured. Finding the food and exercise combination that allows me to achieve my listed goals is not case of willpower. It is a research puzzle. In computer terms, it is hacking.

For all the non-coders out there, when a programmer goes to make a change to working code, you just change a few lines at a time. Then you test. Then you study the data and test again. If things look good, you make some more changes. Otherwise, you roll back to a previous version and start the process again. I do the same process with food and exercise.

For me Physique Hacking is a riddle. I’ve done the balls-out approach. It only works in the short term. The body’s job is survive and propagate. Running marathons and caloric restriction interfere with that primary objective. Fat loss and muscle gain come from hormonal responses. Triggering those responses without interfering with the body’s objective is the goal. Studying evolutionary health has been extremely beneficial.

I’d like to quote Bruce Lee on simplicity.

In building a statue, a sculptor doesn’t keep adding clay to his subject. Actually, he keeps chiseling away at the inessentials until the truth of its creation is revealed without obstructions.

Small incremental changes are far more effective than the go big or go home mentality. True Physique Hacking doesn’t look like a Gatorade or Nike commercial. It is a lot of reading. Sifting through all the information and finding something that works a little better than it did yesterday.

What you a capable of achieving can be greater than you imagined. Here is what Bruce Lee said about limits.

If you always put limit on everything you do, physical or anything else. It will spread into your work and into your life. There are no limits. There are only plateaus, and you must not stay there, you must go beyond them.

The Anti-Estrogenic Diet

The author of The Warrior Diet released a follow up book that directly addresses estrogenic foods.

The Anti-Estrogenic Diet: How Estrogenic Foods and Chemicals Are Making You Fat and Sick
The Anti-Estrogenic Diet: How Estrogenic Foods and Chemicals Are Making You Fat and Sick by Ori Hofmekler is a mixed bag. The book has some great information, but a lot of it was already covered in The Warrior Diet. It covers how estrogens in our food and environment are making us sick and overweight and what we can do about it.

A simplistic overview is that we should avoid foods that are highly estrogenic and consume foods and supplements that combat estrogens. If you are following a paleo based diet already, then there are almost no changes you’ll need to make to your diet. The paleo diet is already anti-estrogenic.

Here are some bullet point. Notice the overlap between this list and the notes I took for The Warrior Diet.

  1. Avoid soy, licorice, alcohol (especially beer).
  2. Consume cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cabbage).
  3. Consume garlic and onions.
  4. Drink green tea.
  5. Eat citrus fruits.
  6. Organic dairy and meat is good. Non-organic is raised using highly estrogenic chemicals and is to be avoided.
  7. Chamomile is a powerful estrogen inhibitor.
  8. Omega 3 oils good (olive, flaxseed). Omega 6 oils bad (soy, corn).
  9. Also good: raw nuts, seeds, avocados.
  10. Spices that promote liver detoxification: turmeric, oregano, thyme, rosemary, sage.
  11. Wild catch fish is recommended.
  12. Green leafy vegetables are loaded with phytonutrients that will assist with liver detoxification.

If you would like more details and a deeper understanding of the science, then I recommend this book. The book does have recipes and a step by step plan. The Anti-Estrogenic Diet is not a “paleo diet”, so it is not necessary to be low carb. Besides the information overlap with The Warrior Diet, my one compliant with this book was it didn’t go deeper into non-dietary environmental estrogens and strategies for dealing with them. Also not covered was water quality.

My Top 5 Diet Books

I’ve read quite a few books on nutrition and dieting over the years. What are the best ones? Here are my top five. Each title is linked to my full review. Note that these books are not traditional dieting books like South Beach, The Zone or some low-fat nonsense. I believe these books do the best job of filtering out the noise and misinformation.

1 -Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think by Brian Wansink

Why do the majority of dieters fail? As the title states: we eat more than we think. This book explores the psychology of eating. It is a quick and easy read. Mindless Eating covers dining expectations, comfort food, group eating, package sizes and physical versus emotional hunger. This book also has a must read chapter for parents. Read this prior to the start of a diet, especially if you are one of those “all or nothing” dieters.

Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think

2 – The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth: The Surprising, Unbiased Truth About What You Should Eat and Why by Jonny Bowden

Dieting isn’t just about removing unhealthy food. You should be adding more healthy food. The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth will help you fall in love with food. Since discovering this book, I’ve become a food explorer. Eating a wide variety of healthy food is the surest path to being trim.

The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth: The Surprising, Unbiased Truth About What You Should Eat and Why

3 – In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan

We are bombarded with messages of fear when it comes to food. Studies come and go telling us which foods are good and which ones are bad. And then a few years later, we learn the study was wrong and the opposite is really true. This is a book to restore common sense when it comes to eating.

In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto

4 – The Primal Blueprint: Reprogram Your Genes for Effortless Weight Loss, Vibrant Health, and Boundless Energy by Mark Sisson

Regular readers of this site already know that my research led me to try the paleolithic approach to nutrition. It works. It works better than anything I’ve ever tried before and with less effort. Counting calories and running on treadmills is a recipe for failure. Mark Sisson does a phenomenal job explaining evolutionary fitness and the hormonal approach to fat loss.

When people are first exposed to evolutionary nutrition they can recoil. I know I did. The best way to approach it is by first finding points of agreement (processed carbs are evil) and then slowly adding new habits. I’m still not 100% in the paleolithiccamp and I probably never will be. If I can reach my goals following many of the principles most of the time, then that is good enough for me. The Primal Blueprint takes a difficult topic and makes it extremely accessible.

The Primal Blueprint: Reprogram your genes for effortless weight loss, vibrant health, and boundless energy

5 – The Omnivores Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan (the first half)

This is a long book and I am only including the first half of it on my Top 5 list. Changing the way we eat often just requires some education. The first section of this book covers the industrial aspect to food. The pollution, the hormones, the environment and nutritional damage. It is all in there. The second section covers how things should work in a sustainable system. This book will change how you approach food as a consumer. Those changes will help you get lean.

Omnivore's Dilemma

17 Lessons For Fat Loss

The Precision Nutrition site just posted a great article on fat loss lessons called Why You’re Not Lean Yet. My first thought was – oh great, not another get lean list. But I really like this list for a few reasons.

  1. It was written by a CLIENT (Canada K), not the TRAINER.
  2. The author is a 37 years old chemical engineer that was able to get to 5% body fat. To me this is more relevant and inspiring than the magazine profiles of 25 year professional athletes that are ripped. I’d rather listen to an engineer than a running back.
  3. Never once was a supplement or service pushed.

I don’t want to go through every tip, but I want to highlight two themes: emotional eating and the fat loss dead zone.

Lessons 4 – 6 cover the importance of recognizing that all eating is emotional and learning how to direct those emotions to your benefit is extremely important. This is the psychology of eating and most dieters do nothing to mentally prepare themselves for fat loss. Canada K writes:

It is also nearly impossible to divorce the emotional aspect from eating and make it simply a re-fueling process. If it was, wed all eat nutritionally perfect gruel and be perfectly happy with it. Getting to an elite level of body comp and staying there requires wrapping your head around the FACT that the reason you reach for the bag of Doritos, or the cheesecake, or the Aero bar is emotional eating.

Its all the mental stuff tied up in eating that make it pretty much impossible for most of the world. Its the emotions around eating, the addiction to the taste and the feeling of food, the bonding that comes from sharing food with others, and the sense of belonging that comes from going with the flow. Most people fail not because they don’t have the right diet plan, not because they don’t have access to the right food, and not because they don’t know or understand exactly what they need to do. All the physiological elements are in place, and they work. Most people fail because they don’t consider the psychological aspect of the diet.

Amen! The body and the brain crave different foods. The body wants all the healthy stuff and the brain will often just want a simple source of sugar for that hit to please the emotions. The body doesn’t want a donut, the brain does. The book Mindless Eating references the book Think Thin, Be Thin in describing the two forms of hunger.

Physical Hunger:

  • builds gradually
  • strikes below the neck (growling stomach)
  • occurs several hours after a meal
  • goes away when full
  • eating leads to feeling of satisfaction

Emotional Hunger:

  • develops suddenly
  • above the neck (eg – a taste for ice cream)
  • unrelated to time
  • persists despite fullness
  • eating leads to guilt and shame

Reading and understanding those two lists on a regular basis will do more to lean you out than any treadmill. Advertisers peddle poison to appeal to your emotional hunger, not your physical hunger.

The second theme that Canada K writes about, that was of interest to me, is something he named the Fat Loss Dead Zone (aka When Fat Loss Turns Invisible). He states any fat loss above 15% looks good (this is the male number).

Your shape improves, you get slimmer, clothes get smaller, and so on.

However, once you drop below 15% you enter the Fat Loss Dead Zone.

Once you slide below 15%, the returns really diminish. You can lose a boatload of fat and it seems invisible. Its not until you get below 10%, or even 8%, where abs start to appear, where your waistline starts to get really tight, and where veins really start to show up.

So basically, there is this giant dead zone in the middle where you’re making real gains but they’re incredibly unsatisfying. You must hang in there anyway. If you dont, youll never be lean.

I wish I would have learned this lesson 10 years ago. As soon as I’d start to get lean, I’d enter the Dead Zone, fear that I was losing muscle and then end the diet. This is only time in the past 10 years where I’ve felt comfortable in the Dead Zone.

Not every lesson will be relevant to every reader, but the entire article Why You’re Not Lean Yet is great.

The Primal Blueprint – 10 Old School Laws For Nutrition and Fitness

The newest trend in nutrition is actually the oldest trend. Evolutionary nutrition and fitness is gaining momentum online. When it comes to diet, I’ve been slowly moving in the evolutionary direction for a year now. One of the blogs I read regularly is Mark’s Daily Apple. When Mark Sisson came out with a book on evolutionary nutrition, I knew I had to get it.


The Primal Blueprint: Reprogram Your Genes for Effortless Weight Loss, Vibrant Health, and Boundless Energy by Mark Sisson is the first book on evolutionary fitness that is easy to follow and accessible way for average person to learn about evolutionary nutrition. Perhaps “learn” is the wrong term. Maybe “remember” is a better term.

The premise of evolutionary nutrition is that man has not evolved to handle the high carbohydrate diets that we eat today. Disease and obesity are rampant in modern times and only getting worse. By returning to diets based off mostly plants and animals and avoiding the modern poisons, our health and quality of life will improve measurably. Modern poisons are not limited to just junk food, but also include grains, sugars and chemically altered fats. Mark Sisson also endorses intermittent fasting and like me assigns 80% of fat loss to diet.

The fitness portion of the book mirrors my exercise philosophy: lift weights and walk. He also likes sprinting and like me is very anti-cardio. Did I mention the author is a former elite marathoner and Ironman competitor?

I highly recommend this book. Even though I knew most of the information in the book already, I did learn a few things and my understanding increased as well. Not only am I recommending the book, because it was well written and edited, but also because I’ve put a lot of these principles into practice in the past year and I KNOW they work.

When Writing a Diet Book, The First Rule is to Slam the Competition

The one thing almost every diet book has in common is they attack other diet books. It almost seems like a prerequisite. The reader must be told their weight problem was the fault of misinformed or downright evil diet books that got it wrong. Once the reader has been convinced that all the old ways were invalid, then you proceed to sell them on your strategy.

I have read many diet and nutrition books. To me they all hold clues. Some are better than others, but I usually find something of value in most of them. I think low-fat diets are garbage, but any low-fat diet book will stress the need to eat more fresh veggies. That is great advice. Dr. Atkins taught the world about ketosis and low-carb dieting. He understood the damage sugars and processed carbohydrates were doing to the dieter. Again, despite his nonsense about avoiding fruits and his obsession with staying in ketosis for fat loss, the book held clues to at least part of the equation.*

Photo Thrift Store by ex.libris

Today I watched a video where John Barban, the science editor of the EatStopEat program dismisses an entire counter of nutrition books with flippant comments. I don’t even think he got past the cover on most of these. The EatStopEat program is great. I read the book and follow Intermittent Fasting one day a week. I use the other 6 days of the week to eat a wide variety of nutrient rich foods. That isn’t covered in the EatStopEat program. I still read other sources. No one book has all the answers for every reader.

To me the fact there are a lot of diet books is not a sign of failure, but a sign there is a growing interest in health. There is no one way to communicate every nugget of wisdom to every reader in a single book. These authors that go after their peers need a little history lesson. There is no shortage of gurus that have some or all of their ideas discredited over time. Maybe you don’t have all the answers. And just maybe someone in the future will discredit your ideas.

* UPDATE Feb 2010: Atkins, Fruit and When Im Wrong

Revisiting The Warrior Diet

About five years ago, I read the first edition of The Warrior Diet. At the time I just shook my head thinking that this diet would not only be impossibly hard to follow, but that it couldn’t be true. Up until I read The Warrior Diet, all diets that I had been exposed to either relied on caloric restriction and or reducing the insulin response. The Warrior Diet went further than just minimizing insulin and went after other hormones such as estrogen, testosterone and glucagon via aggressive daily caloric cycling and food choices.

I recall the book being trashed by some of the writers I was following at the time, but most of their complaints dealt with the fact one couldn’t build muscle on the diet (bulk up) and that the exercise plan in the last chapters was poorly written. Since my only goal five years ago was to gain muscle, I promptly ignored everything I read in the book and continued eating 6 protein meals a day.

A little over a year ago I was exposed to the hormonal aspect to fat loss again from different sources. This time I was more receptive to the information. I decided to read the 2nd edition of The Warrior Diet.

The Warrior Diet: Switch on Your Biological Powerhouse For High Energy, Explosive Strength, and a Leaner, Harder Body

The Warrior Diet: Switch on Your Biological Powerhouse For High Energy, Explosive Strength, and a Leaner, Harder Body by Ori Hofmekler isn’t for everyone. The Warrior Diet involves caloric cycling. For most people, this style of dieting represents a radical departure. That could be just what you need or you could throw down the book like I did five years ago.

The way I would approach this book is by learning the hormonal aspect to fat loss and then slowly trying to incorporate some of those strategies into your life. The diet involves manipulating hormones through under eating and over eating phases. And since people in modern society get uncomfortable when they experience hunger, it can take a lot of effort and unlearning a bit of nutritional nonsense to be comfortable in a hungry state.

Ori Hofmekler for years has been at the forefront of exposing estrogens in our food and environmental toxins. Although he wrote an entire book on that topic, this book provides information on foods to avoid (soy, processed meats, licorice) and foods that are anti-estrogenic. Here are some anti-estrogenic foods mentioned in the book:

  1. cruciferous vegetables
  2. omega-3 oils
  3. citrus fruits
  4. onion
  5. garlic
  6. dairy products from grass-fed animals
  7. chamomile

I walked away with several tips on improving my diet and more concerned than ever about environmental toxins.

Notes on The Warrior Diet

Mindless Eating

When I first picked up this book I didn’t think it would hold that many interesting ideas about the psychology of eating. I was wrong.

Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think
Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think by Brian Wansink should be read by anyone that has ever dieted or is ready to begin a diet. The motto for the book is:

The best diet is the one you don’t know you are on.

The author has setup many interesting studies regarding what causes us to increase our caloric intake at the psychological level. If the mind can trick us into consuming an extra 100-200 calories a day that will result in a weight gain of 10 pounds a year. If we are aware of the mind tricks then we can reduce 100-200 calories from baseline, resulting in a 10 pound weight loss.

One study covered the effects of larger packages (Costco size).

We all consume more from big packages, whatever the product. Give people a large bag of dog food, they pour more. Give them a large bottle of liquid plant food they pour more. Give them a large shampoo bottle or container of laundry detergent, they pour more.

Did you know that the more people you eat with the more calories you will consume? Every additional person at the table results in bump in caloric intake for everyone at the table. Some tips to avoid over-eating in group settings include:

  1. Try to be the last person to start eating.
  2. Pace yourself to the slowest eater.
  3. Avoid additional helpings by leaving some food on plate.
  4. Decide how much you will eat prior to the start of the meal.

There is also an outstanding section the effects parents have on their children’s eating habits. A baby can sense food aversion from a parent and develop the same aversion. That chapter is full of tips parents can use to expose their kids to a diverse healthy diet.

I highly recommend Mindless Eating.

Why Every Diet Works in the Short Run

I’m so tired of people singing the praises of a particular diet as the one true way to lose weight. Diet choice has become the new religion. Most of the time when I revisit a diet evangelist months later, the weight they lost has returned. They blame themselves and not the diet.

All diets work in the short run because they all have one thing in common. They restrict food choices, which causes us to pause and think about what we put in our mouths.

Food restriction = Caloric decrease = Weight loss.

But humans are hunters by design. Eventually we figure out how to get those lost calories by either ending the diet or finding other food choices that are acceptable. And if we don’t, then the body will adapt to the new level of calories and the weight loss will cease.

The key to fat loss isn’t the diet choice, it is the pause.