Stepping Aside From Nutritional Blogging

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The deeper I get into nutrition, the more I realize I have no business blogging about it.

There are nutritional researchers and bloggers online that are far more knowledgeable than me. There are also some charlatans that appear to be experts. I no longer want people to trust that this blog can tell the difference between the two groups. I’ve been fooled a few times and although I’d like to think I’m smarter now and won’t be fooled by others, I can’t promise that.

Something CarbSane said on a podcast really struck me. She said that health bloggers have a tendency to over report their successes and under report their failures. As much as I wish that weren’t true with me, it has been.

The times things were going their best were the times I posted the most. I had things figured out. When things didn’t go as well, I spent more time looking for answers and less time posting. But the reader doesn’t see both sides and this could be problematic if they were inspired to take the same path as me based off my writing. I don’t want that to happen.

My journey went from finding the optimal diet to constructing a diet that was likely not “too wrong”. The funny thing is when I go through 15 years of data, I see that I was always weight stable within 10% and usually 5% despite following wildly different diets. So I’m thinking my energy would be better spent focusing on something else.

Best of luck meeting your nutritional goals and not getting fooled by the charlatans.

Photo by Alan Levine

 

Frequent Blood Donations and Cold Intolerance

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I want to give a hat tip to Chuck, who in the comments of my last post, asked me if my frequent blood donations have had an effect on my cold tolerance. That question rattled me, because I have noticed a gradual decline in my cold tolerance each winter – with this year being the worst since 2007-2008.

The winter of 2007-2008 was my first winter in the Seattle area after living in San Diego since 2000. And boy did I feel cold. At the time I assumed 100% of the reason was because I became a temperature wimp in sunny SoCal. But there may have been a second reason. At that time I was still rarely eating red meat. My diet was probably low in iron.

By the time the winter of 2008 arrived, I not only began cold exposure training, but I also fully embraced red meat as a regular component of my diet. I started throwing heat. I still believe the majority of the benefit I got was from teaching my body how to generate more heat via cold exposure, but now it seems there may have been a dietary component.

A quick search on Iron and Cold Tolerance will pull up pages of results. They mostly state that having a low iron level can increase cold intolerance and cause one to feel tired frequently. The thyroid needs sufficient iron levels to do its job.

Last winter felt colder to me than normal. This winter felt even colder.

What else has changed beside my frequent blood donation? I’ve been eating a Peasant Diet which is much lower in red meat. Also as a result of feeling cold and tired more frequently, I’ve been drinking even more coffee. Coffee can reduce iron absorption by 50%.

Interestingly, my body temperature remained up at 98.4-98.6. This contradiction made me seek out a doctor to test my thyroid. He told me my TSH of 2.0 was fine and that I probably just had poor circulation. No other ideas were put forth.

futurama-coffee-house

So in my quest to donate blood to reduce my iron levels, it appears I overshot the target. As of today I am going to:

  1. Stop donating blood for at least 6 months.
  2. Increase red meat consumption.
  3. Pair foods higher in iron with foods higher in Vitamin C to increase absorption.
  4. Reduce coffee intake.

Last week I began reducing coffee and felt so lethargic. More than any other time before. Now I think I have an explanation. I’ll do a follow up a post if my cold symptoms are corrected. Thank you Chuck!

Is There a Metabolic Unicorn?

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I want to use this post to start a discussion on metabolism. I’m going to cover what I believe to be true and what I’m skeptical about. I hope to get some good comments, because this is a topic I find extremely interesting and yet I don’t fully understand.

I’m going to break this discussion into 2 parts:

  1. Bringing a low metabolism back up to normal.
  2. Getting lean by jacking a metabolism with high caloric intake.

When I first started reading the blogs on metabolism, I was only thinking about the first part. The second part was not even on my radar. It is something I didn’t even think about until last week. More on that later.

Increasing a Low Metabolism

Years ago I was constantly experimenting with new nutritional ideas. One of the ideas that crossed my path was the idea that body temperature could be a metric of health. In 2013, I posted an overview of the book Diet Recovery 2 by Matt Stone. In that post, I summarized the things that can reduce metabolism.

They are calorie restriction, especially yo-yo diet, excessive exercise – especially chronic cardio, poor sleep, long term low carb dieting, drinking too many liquids and consuming too many PUFAs (polyunsaturated fats).

The book made a strong case that too often when we plateau in meeting our health goals, we are encouraged to double down and go more strict, but in doing this we can make our metabolism fall even further. My summary of the corrective advice in the book was:

Eat more calories. Get off the treadmill. Sleep more. Stop fearing carbs. Quit drinking so many beverages, especially water. And embrace saturated fats over PUFA.

I also used this analogy in that post:

Following this advice you are very likely to gain weight at first, but that is OK. Think of the leaky boat analogy. Yes you can paddle it real hard and hope you’ll get across the lake or you can be patient, make the repairs and then make the journey safer and with less effort.

The book and the advice rang true to me. I saw numerous examples of people that were exercising hard and restricting their diet, but falling short of their goals. Exercising and dietary restriction were likely no longer undervalued options. Their metabolism was responding by slowing as a defensive technique.

Using the techniques in the book, I was able to increase my body temperate from 97.0°F to 98.5°F. My sleep went from 6.5 hours with several wakings to 8 hours solid. I did gain some weight (~10 pounds) as expected, but at my height (6’2.5 or 189 cm), I’m still lean (not ripped).

At this point in the story, I am a believer. My exercise is lower, my sleep is great, my skin is no longer dry and I almost never get the headaches that used to wake me up in the middle of the night. I’m willing to accept that my analysis on what happened to me is flawed. Maybe I feel better for unrelated reasons? I don’t know, but for now I will credit an increased metabolism as measured by a higher body temperature.

Jacking a Normal Metabolism

Last week Matt Stone posted The Metabolic Zone, which is about eating A LOT of calories consistently to force the body metabolism higher, which will have the effect of lowering one’s fat set point, which will trigger a loss of body fat. The post further explains that one must keep eating in excess or the fat loss will cease. He even links to a blog post of man that is claiming he got lean by eating 6,000 calories a day.

After reading the article three times and the comments, this is how I felt.

As I explained in the first part, I understand how a stressed body that is deficient in sleep, calories, nutrients and is perhaps exercising too much would need to change direction and do the unconventional approach to get back to normal. And that doing so would likely result in some weight gain. I get that part. When you’ve painted yourself into a metabolic corner, it makes sense to me why one would need to eat in excess … for a while.

My skepticism is that a Metabolic Unicorn exists where one can eat in excess to get lean. Not to get back to a healthy spot so one can pursue a more sustainable weight loss program, but to gorge ones self to achieve leanness. Although the body might generate a little more heat, it also has the ability to store those calories as excess fat. The metabolic effect here would have to be massive, right?

The article acknowledges my skepticism:

No one has officially found the Metabolic Zone scientifically. Right now we’re operating on signs, evidence, rumors, logic, hearsay, and anecdotes. But I’m back in it, and back on it.

I believe Matt believes it exists. Right now I don’t, but I’m open to the possibility there is more to learn here. I’d love to hear your comments.

 

More on the Peasant Diet

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After reading the latest post by Matt Stone titled Why Are Central Americans so Fat?, I wanted to clarify my usage of the term Peasant Diet. After discussing the high levels of obesity in Central America, he states:

I’m fully over my whole “I’ll just eat like the locals!” sentiments. Western food is awesome. There’s a reason why only peasants eat peasant diets. They suck.

And while peasant diets may be associated with leanness, I’m definitely not seeing it in Central America.

I’m a fan of the Peasant Diet and I often agree with Matt Stone, so I want to reconcile the difference. In my post Designing a Modern Peasant Diet, I made the distinction between a peasant and a poor person.

When I think of a poor person today and imagine their diet, I see a lot of processed foods. They are likely to be overweight or even obese. The foods are highly flavorful, calorie dense and hyper-palatable. However, when I imagine a peasant I see a diet of boring staples. The foods are low in flavor and have a low calorie density.

Of course I was describing an American poor person. However, the problem I suspected was true in Central America was confirmed to be true.

They are consuming a large amount of industrial seed oils. This would be detrimental to a healthy metabolism and it is a problem that would build over time, which is exactly what Matt Stone is seeing in Central America. His article also outlines a few other possible causes, but dietary fats is the one I want to address for my Modern Peasant Diet.

Hard boiled eggs by Lisa WIlliams

Cooking Methods

When making potatoes or legumes, I am boiling or using a pressure cooker. Most of the time, I do not add any fat. If I do add fat, I use butter or coconut oil, both saturated. Probably the bulk of my fats come from dairy. Also saturated.

I usually boil my eggs. When I bake chicken, I do my best to remove excess fat before consuming.

My strong hunch is that on days when I do a Peasant Diet, my fat intake – even at a higher caloric level – is lower than the average Central American. And my PUFA intake is trace compared to theirs.

Following a Modern Peasant Diet several meals a week has helped me lean out and maintain that leanness with minimal planning, effort or money. It is also possible that cycling in a few palatable meals a week (which I refer to as World Cuisine in the The POWS Food Pyramid post) helps me maintain a higher metabolism than someone following a Peasant approach all the time for weeks, months or years.

The POWS Food Pyramid

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In my previous post, I explained how I like the idea of having an expansive approach to food, but I also recognize that can lead to either consuming too many bad foods or too many calories in general. I wanted an eating strategy that I didn’t have to think about that kept me full and kept me lean. I not only succeeded, but I did it in a way that saved me time and money.

I developed my own 5 level food pyramid.

  1. Peasant Diet
  2. Old School Bodybuilder
  3. World Cuisine
  4. Super Foods
  5. (optional) Modern indulgences

I took the first letter of the first 4 levels and named this the POWS Food Pyramid. The levels are in order from consume the most to consume the least. So from the bottom of the pyramid to the top. Let us drill into it.

#1 Peasant Diet

The base of my food pyramid is the Peasant Diet, which describe in the post Designing a Modern Peasant Diet. There I made the case for consuming a large portion of your calories using foods traditionally associated with peasants. Think potatoes, beans, oats, etc. Nutritious and dirt cheap. I do want to stress these are traditional peasant foods, not the foods consumed by poor people today. So no french fries and Mountain Dew.

Legumes can be time consuming to make for true peasants, but we all have pressure cookers. Right?

#2 Old School Bodybuilder

There was a time before the Internet where a group of mostly men worked hard on developing some of the most amazing physiques to ever walk this planet. I’m thinking of the bodybuilding era from the 1950s up to the 1980s. Not the steroid monsters we see today, but the classic physiques.

Without access to the information we have today, they figured out how to sculpt amazing bodies. They weren’t in chat rooms arguing about the most minute details. They were hammering out the basics day in and day out. And they got damn good results. Let us set aside the training debates for now. On food, they consumed a lot of protein. Eggs, tuna, cottage cheese, ground beef, chicken breasts, turkey and seafood.

Most people associate higher protein intake with building muscle, but higher protein suppresses appetite. It helps you get lean and getting lean makes your muscles look bigger.

There is a lot of cross over between the Peasant Diet and the Old School Bodybuilder. For my own clarity, I envision the Peasant Diet as more carbohydrate based and the Old School Bodybuilder more focused on protein. Whenever I don’t separate the two in my mind, I tend to under consume protein.

#3 World Cuisine

If one only ate food consumed by peasants and 1970s bodybuilders, life would be pretty miserable. One of the things I love most about modern life is that I have access to foods consumed by people all over the world for hundreds or even thousands of years. Thanks to the internet and globalization, I can try so many different cuisines via restaurants and ethnic grocery stores that were not around when I was a kid in Central Ohio. Now add in ideas from YouTube, cookbooks, food shows and the number of food possibilities is enormous.

There are two keys to this section of the POWS Food Pyramid. First the cuisines need to be as traditional as possible. Just because some deep fried flour thing is the rage somewhere in Asia now, doesn’t make it a candidate for this tier. Ask if it was popular 50, 100 or 200 years ago. Aim for dishes that have been altered less since industrialization. In other words, avoid the high heat foods cooked in oils. Favor soups and slower cooked foods. Those that follow a Weston A. Price diet are aware of how to make many traditional American dishes. Now take that thinking globally.

The second key is moderation. If I had the metabolism of an Olympic swimmer, almost 100% of my calories would be in this tier, but I’m not, so I need to be realistic. I need to consume a majority of my calories from the Peasant Diet and Old School Bodybuilder in order to create a calorie deficit that I will spend here.

#4 Super Foods

If 60-70% of my calories are from staples that I’ll consume repeatedly, there is a possibility that a few nutrients could become under represented and since there is no guarantee that I’ll get them on my World Cuisine visits, I created this tier as extra insurance.

Super Foods are not going to be a high source of calories, but they will be a high source of nutrition. Bone broth, offal, oysters, natto, ginger, kelp, garlic and mushrooms are the foods that first come to mind. The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth is a book with more ideas.

Nutrient density is a topic that is popular in nutritional blogs. I like to also think of nutrient diversity. This means from the group of Super Foods, rotate your selection. This is the opposite of the staple approach used to get the bulk of our calories in Peasant Diet and Old School Bodybuilder. That is by design. We should spent the least amount of time, thought and energy with those calories.

#5 Modern Indulgences (optional)

The least amount of your calories should go towards processed industrialized calories, unless your desire is to gain weight or feed a very active lifestyle. If I were one of those guys running 50 mile races in the desert, you can bet I’d be consuming a fair amount of calorie dense processed foods. But I don’t, so I keep this tier as small as possible.

Using the POWS Food Pyramid

Unlike the USDA Food Pyramid, I am not assigning a number of portions to each tier. The reason is we all have different needs. For someone trying to lose weight, increase the percent of calories on the Peasant Diet and Old School Bodybuilder tiers. For someone more active that needs more calories, increase the calories from World Cuisines and Modern Indulgences.

Why POWS Works

POWS takes advantage of three proven nutritional principles that work for fat loss and weight management.

  1. Higher volume foods are more filling. Peasant foods such as potatoes and legumes are filling at a much lower calorie level than most foods. Displacing calorie dense foods with high volume low calorie food works at a hormonal level. (see Eating for Volume to Loss Weight and The Potato Diet is a Calorie Savings Account)
  2. Protein suppresses appetite. This is the Old School Bodybuilder tier of eggs and tuna working. (see Just Count Protein For Fat Loss)
  3. By having a high percentage of weekly calories as “OK tasting”, you greatly reduce your exposure to hyperpalatable foods. (see How ‘Hyperpalatable’ Foods Could Turn You Into A Food Addict)

The POWS Pyramid saves you time and money and if you calibrate the ratios right you’ll get fat loss without hunger. You can read the excellent book Forever Fat Loss by Ari Whiten for the science that supports the statements above.

I’ve been doing a variation of the POWS for over a year and it works. I’ve saved money, calories and time.