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Losing Weight; Maintaining Muscle

I posted a few months ago about being pleased to have lost fifty pounds.

Well now I have lost seventy pounds, and have maintained it for about a month. My diet is about the same, with only two intentional changes.

First, I am no longer eating fruit with lunch. I’m just not as hungry for sweets midday.

Second, I am eating more protein after exercising. I am eating larger portions of meat at dinner after swim practice, and either a vanilla yogurt with fruit, or some hard-boiled eggs. For weekend breakfast after running or biking, I am eating more eggs in my omelets, and adding more meat and cheese.

Why? Because my wife always worries about me, and she was concerned that I was losing weight too fast, or as she put it, “you’re just melting away.” My stepson theorized that by doing mostly aerobic instead of strength training, my body may have been burning away muscle mass. I was initially not concerned because I have been lighter than my current weight as an adult. I was only training about an hour and a half each day, and I felt that there must be an anaerobic component to swimming, cycling and running. But, I’ve learned the hard way that I should listen to my stepson, and I am at the age when men often begin to lose significant muscle mass. I also noticed that while I have become much smoother in the water over these last few months, I haven’t yet regained that much speed. And, there were little flaps of skin dangling from my upper arms – whether from losing fat or muscle, I don’t know.

So I did some research and found that the body is constantly burning mostly fat but also constantly breaking down lean tissue, like muscle, tendons, ligaments, etc. The body uses what you eat to replace the fat and lean tissue. The body needs enough calories to replace everything, or you lose weight. The body also needs the right types of foods to replace what it breaks down, or you lose what gets broken down. In particular immediately after exercise, the body will need protein to rebuild muscles. Hence the added protein in my diet after workouts.

I also decided to address my stepson’s concerns with specific strength training. The apartment complex already has a full set of barbells, and a simple lifting machine, but for my pre-practice warmup, I bought a kettlebell. I felt that it would be best to work on my core strength first.

There are any number of youtube videos with specific kettlebell exercises, but that big swing routine felt a bit scary. So I first tried a very safe looking basic routine, Kettlebells 101: How to Get Started + Beginner Kettlebell Workout with Brittany van Schravendijk. I went with her weight recommendation and bought a 16 kilogram Ethos kettlebell.

Basic Kettlebell
-Dead Lift (from between heels).
-Two Arm Clean (to neck height).
-Goblet Squat (hold clean during squat).
-Overhead Press (clean to over head).
-Halo (circle head each direction).

Following Brittany’s most basic advice, I’ve also concentrated on keeping my back flat while sitting at work and while riding my bike. That has helped to relieve some lower back pain.

Later I found a more advanced routine, Enter The Kettlebell, by a proud-to-be-Russian fellow named Pavel Tsatsouline.

Advanced Kettlebell
-Two Hand Swing.
-GetUp.
-One Arm Clean.
-Press.
-Groove.
-Lower the Kettlebell.
-Snatch.

Tsatsouline’s workout is a lot more aggressive, so I have something to work towards.

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Don’t Do That

In the old joke a patient says, “Doctor, it hurts when I do this.” The doctor replies, “So don’t do that.”

I’ve been swimming with a masters team for almost two months. I haven’t had a coach on deck since I swam in college, and it does make me try harder when I know she could be watching. But I still concentrate on technique. After I started practicing in April, I thought to reconnect with the Total Immersion website. When I used to follow rec.sport.swimming in the late 1990s, I was strongly influenced by posts by their founder Terry Laughlin. His ideas about “slippery” swimming – modifying one’s swim posture and longitudinal balance to slip through the water more efficiently – made sense to me. I defended him online, and attended a TI swiminar at the Madeira School near DC one weekend.

I’m not sure I would have kept up with swimming without Terry. I used to have a difficult time getting back into any sort of practice after some sort of life break. Several years after college, I started swimming again because I wanted to do a triathlon. I was in pretty good shape from running and biking, but some voice in my head was always finding excuses to stop at the next wall. And this repeated itself, getting worse as I got older. It would take weeks to get in any sort of shape, and I would inwardly dread going back into the pool.

But since learning better form and particularly better breathing, I have found that I can get back in the pool and manage a thousand yards or meters of steady swimming without feeling like I’m desperate for air, or feeling like my arms were too heavy. So I was stunned to read on the TI website that Terry had succumbed to cancer two years earlier. I met with him once in New Paltz, and we used to read each other’s blogs, but even with social media we lost touch.

Only two of us showed up for a recent swimming practice, and coach had us swim an 1800 meter set of freestyle in a light rain: 3 x 200 build; 6 x 100 mixing fast and easy, and 12 x 50. As usual I tried to remember to hide my head, press my buoy, enter the water with patient hands. Our coach had suggested I try a four-beat kick instead of my TI-style two-beat, so I do a very light flutter kick between rolling to breathe on each side.

In the showers my lone teammate, a proficient and strong swimmer despite his big belly, complained, “After all this I should be losing weight, but now I’m going to go home and fill up on junk.” That, but for the influence of my wife and stepson, could have been me. I thought, “So, don’t do that,” but quickly realized just how long it took to get to where I wasn’t doing that any more.

I recently thought I had reached my goal of losing fifty pounds, but realized that my old Taylor scale had become inaccurate. Since getting a new EatSmart Precision CalPal scale, I have lost fifteen pounds more, though I am only ten pounds lighter than my previous goal. So I’ve lost at least sixty pounds. My wife thinks I am melting away, but I know that I am still thirty pounds heavier than my lightest adult weight. That, however, was when I was still under thirty years old, running three to six miles every day, and getting no upper body exercise except tennis. So being that light again isn’t a goal. I figure I will reach a balance point between diet and exercise.

I’m not sure what to call my diet. A few years ago I was trying to follow Dr Terry Wahl’s paleo diet, eating lots of greens and some meat. Then my stepson and my wife were trying to do a keto diet. Though I used to follow Nathan Pritikin, and am still suspicious of the word ‘ketosis’ I have inched closer to what they eat. I just watched a video by Joel Fuhrman, who calls his approach Nutritarian, and it sounds familiar, too. Fuhrman compares eating poorly to hitting your hand with a hammer, complaining about the swelling, but then doing it again day after day. “So, don’t do that.” [Note 2019.06.18: My stepson now describes himself as Nutritarian. Keto, he believes, is for big people trying to lose lots of weight and he is just trying to stay healthy.]

Essentially I eat the same three meals every day:

Breakfast:  Steel Cut, Non-GMO oatmeal. I have recently switched from the 365 Brand to the more expensive McCann’s steel cut oats, or maybe Bob’s Red Mill. I cook two cups of oats, and eat it all week with a small dollop of real maple syrup. I drink filtered water with a touch of RealLime added. On weekends I will make a four-egg omelette with farm-raised eggs, gouda cheese, tomatoes, finely chopped lettuce and sometimes ham.

Morning Snacks: Organic bananas

Lunch: Sandwich of Dave’s Bread, one slice of organic cheese, two slices of Applegate luncheon meat, a slice of organic tomato and some sort of green or reddish lettuce. A half-quart salad with slices of apples, that may also include asparagus, broccoli, carrots, cucumbers, lettuce, peapods, scallions, zucchini or the like depending on what I have. I add in some dried cranberries, too. I drink water from the office dispenser. Then I eat some fruit like, red grapes, navel oranges, peaches, nectarines or an apple.

Dinner: Sometimes a grass-fed ground beef or buffalo burger with cheese, tomato, pickles. Sometimes organic chicken thighs with steamed carrots or broccoli in Kerry butter. Sometimes I finish with fruit in vanilla Siggi’s or Brown Cow yogurt. For some reason it is getting harder to find vanilla yogurt. On cold days I will make whole wheat spaghetti with organic red sauce. I love alfredo, but it is too rich. On weekends I treat myself to a Red Oak beer or an Angry Orchard hard cider with dinner. Also sometimes on weekends I will snack on Boulder Canyon potato chips while watching millionaires play tennis.

I have stopped eating restaurant food unless it is an office or social event. I have stopped buying frozen pizzas, or any other prepared food, too. I have also switched from Whole Foods to a local coop called Deep Roots Market. Since Whole Foods was purchased by Amazon, it has become really difficult to tell what is and is not organic in the produce section. They simply post signs saying ‘grown in Chile’, or ‘imported from Canada’.

Less Sugar, High Anxiety

I recently posted about the effects of demineralized water on my equanimity. But lack of minerals may have been only part of my problem. A few months ago, I began eliminating sweets from my diet, which helped me reach my goal. For years I had been rewarding myself at lunches and dinners with cookies, cakes, chocolate bars or ice cream, or some combination thereof. I bought and ate the best organic sweets, but they still contained a great deal of sugar. Statistics from The Diabetes Council indicate that US citizens consume over 126 grams of sugar per day.

A theory goes that we prefer sweetness because it indicates consumable carbohydrates in ripe fruit while sourness indicates unripe and bitter indicates spoiled or poisonous fruit. Refined sugar is, of course, very sweet, and it is difficult to find prepared foods that do not contain refined sugars such as high fructose corn syrup. As described in The Conversation, it is easy to get addicted to high levels of sugar in your diet:

Like drugs, sugar spikes dopamine release in the nucleus accumbens. Over the long term, regular sugar consumption actually changes the gene expression and availability of dopamine receptors in both the midbrain and frontal cortex. Specifically, sugar increases the concentration of a type of excitatory receptor called D1, but decreases another receptor type called D2, which is inhibitory. Regular sugar consumption also inhibits the action of the dopamine transporter, a protein which pumps dopamine out of the synapse and back into the neuron after firing.

In short, this means that repeated access to sugar over time leads to prolonged dopamine signalling, greater excitation of the brain’s reward pathways and a need for even more sugar to activate all of the midbrain dopamine receptors like before. The brain becomes tolerant to sugar – and more is needed to attain the same “sugar high.”

After the dopamine receptors have become less available, signalling from normal levels of sugar consumption fails to “reach” the dopamine receptors – until you reacclimate. In the meantime, you can suffer the symptoms of dopamine deficiency. Medical News Today offers a long list of symptoms, but in myself I noticed:

trouble sleeping or disturbed sleep
feeling inexplicably sad or tearful
mood swings
feeling hopeless
feeling guilt-ridden
feeling anxious

I initially chalked these symptoms up to low zinc in my drinking water, but they may have been from low dopamine, or from both. Fortunately I seem to be acclimating, but it was a strange couple of months.

Goal Met; New Goals

Almost two years ago, I moved back to downtown Baltimore from the suburb of Mt Washington. I had moved out to satisfy my wife, who didn’t like being in the city, but she seemed unlikely to ever come back to live with me for more than a week here and there, so I decided to get closer to work. That meant that instead of commuting ten miles each way by bike or bike & light rail or walking & light rail, I would only be a mile from the office, and closer to everything downtown has to offer: theatres, farmer’s markets, and the occasional political rally.

But in giving up all that daily bicycle exercise, I began to put on a little weight. And then a little more weight. The office had free meals for lunch n learns, and bagels and donuts on Fridays. The farmer’s market had good organic food, but also sweet organic cookies and breads. I was feeling a bit lonely and sad, which I now think had to do with drinking all that RO water, and looked forward to my sweets.

So I decided I needed to lose weight, and first turned to the dieting app, LoseIt, which I had used with some success before. I wanted to lose fifty pounds in 2012, and ended up losing about thirty-five, maybe forty, which I maintained with all that bicycling.

Over a few months, tracking food and exercise got me down about forty again, and then I moved to North Carolina. My new office did throw a lot of holiday food at us, but I generally maintained all through the last Xmas season. But I got tired of LoseIt. Even though it was easier to use as an iPad app, recording the same meals over and over got terribly boring.

I began running again, but just once or twice a week. What really got me to lose the last ten or fifteen pounds was giving up sweets altogether, which was difficult. Whole Foods has all sorts of organic and free trade treats, but I had to train myself to simply not see them. Food Lion has really tasty oatmeal raisin cookies, but likewise, I just stopped even noticing them. I also cut back on restaurant pizza and calzones, which I used as a sort of weekend comfort food and reward for running.

And just a few weeks ago, I went through my cabinets and threw out chips, wheat thins, alfredo sauces … anything with canola oil or trans fats.

So now I have lost fifty pounds, and it feels very good to finally meet that goal. So my new goals are to try to regain some of my foot speed and to get back in the pool with a masters team again.

Reverse Osmosis and Regrets

About a month and a half ago, I was on Facebook, and in a moment of weakness and curiosity, looked at the profile of an old girlfriend. She was the first great love of my life, but left me to marry someone else. I thought I had gotten past that disappointment – I have been married to a wonderful woman for almost two decades – but I saw one picture that brought painful memories flooding back. I had seen pictures of her with her husband before – quite a while ago – but this one was at her daughter’s wedding, and my first thought was, “she really looks happy.”

My wife used to work as a caregiver, and several years ago had to return to her hometown to look after her adult son. Then she began caring for her mother, and now for her aunt, too. Consequently I have lived mostly alone for several years now. Even so, we have a good relationship. Skyping every day helps a lot, and I visit her about once a month. I have, though, moved to a new job in a new state, farther away, and I while I like my new position and coworkers, I do miss the friendships at my old office.

After a few days and fitful nights of this girl living in my head rent-free, and my gut being tied in knots, I told (confessed to) my wife. I prefaced by saying that I had no complaints about her, and really loved her, then recalled Mark Gungor’s very funny but somewhat true Tale of Two Brains video, which I had sent her years ago. I theorized that I had been keeping all my memories of this girl in a box for almost four decades, which for some reason had now come open. My wife is (probably has to be) a very patient woman. We talked about it some more on my next visit, but she was concerned that I seemed especially anxious and needy. ‘Usually,’ she said, ‘you just accept things and move on.’

Now, my wife had also gotten me to buy a book on nutrition, Healing is Voltage by Dr Jerry Tennant. I needed to think about something else, so whenever I woke up with internal chatter, I opened the book. The key idea is that our cells work best at a particular pH level. You may remember from Biology class that a pH of 7 is neutral while lower is acidic and higher is basic, or alkaline. But pH also stands for ‘power of Hydrogen’ or maybe ‘potentia hydrogenii’ and in that it is the reciprocal of hydrogen ion activity, Tennant claims that it is also a measurement of electrical voltage hence, Healing is Voltage.

Our blood and most of our cells should be slightly basic, between 7.34 and 7.45. Seawater is a bit more basic, between 7.5 and 8.4. Urine is slightly acidic at 6.0, skin even more at 4.7 and gastric juices are strongly acidic at 3.5 to 1.5. When the pH of our cells is abnormally low, say 6.48, he says they are ripe for becoming cancerous. When the pH is a bit high, say 7.88, he says our body is ripe for making new cells – which is how we repair ourselves.

Anyway, I’m reading this book, and in Chapter 5: Nutrition is a section called Water. Good water is alkaline, it says. Carbonation, fluoridation and added sugars make water too acidic. I gave up carbonated beverages years ago in favor of bottled water, and in 2010 switched to a Clear2O filter pitcher (like the more popular Britta). In 2016 I began drinking water from a three stage filter from a company called Reverse Osmosis Revolution. This filter did not include a reverse osmosis stage, but it did filter out many contaminants. I was bike commuting ten miles to and from work, so I drank a lot of water.

In 2017 I moved to downtown Baltimore, and switched to a four stage system with reverse osmosis, and began bringing that water to my office, still on my bike. So except for office tea, I was drinking almost entirely RO water. So I figured that was all good. But later in  Chapter 5: Nutrition, Tennant writes:

“… zinc is one of the most important elements in the body. Without zinc, you can’t make stomach acid. Without stomach acid, you can’t digest your food. Without nutrition, the body can’t repair itself. In addition, without zinc, you can’t make neurochemicals like serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine, and epinephrine.”

I was getting a bad feeling that there was little or no zinc in my RO water. I knew that low serotonin levels were often connected with depression, which seemed to be exactly where I was headed. That same day I skyped with my wife and stepson, who in repairing his own precarious health has become a self-taught expert on nutrition. He said that drinking ‘dead’ water was bad, and that he always added a dash of sea salt to his RO water. He may have told me that before, but I certainly heard it this time. I found this article, Demiwater and Health, from a water treatment firm that strongly advised against drinking ‘demineralised’ water.

“The contribution of water to uptake of some essential elements for humans is important because the modern diets are often not an adequate source of some minerals. Moreover these minerals are often present in water as free ions, so they are more readily adsorbed from water compared to food.”

In addition, demineralized water will leach minerals from your body as it passes through your system, and even from your food as you cook it. In avoiding metal and organic contaminants, I was also blocking necessary minerals at a time when – due to running and biking – I needed them the most. And in the subsequent depression, I opened the largest gaping wound in my psyche.

Naturally I began adding mineral-rich Himalayan and sea salt, and some lime juice, to my RO water. I also began taking mineral-rich multivitamins recommended by my stepson. I began to feel better almost immediately.

Revisiting that breakup was painful, but probably for the best in the long run. I called an old friend, who was all-too-familiar with the situation, and told him that once I got past all the denial, anger and bargaining that I should have done thirty-odd years ago, I felt that I had a better idea of what actually happened.

Another article I ran across divides our reasons for failure into a pyramid. At the top are tactical fails. I inherited the really bad habit of stonewalling from both my parents, and for some reason my girlfriend always let me get away with it. I remembered several times in college when she should have dumped my sorry ass. She did have the unproductive habit of citing past grievances during our arguments, which of course led to the silent treatment, and so on. My wife says that I still do that, sometimes, but that we do seem to discuss the important issues.

Next down the pyramid were strategic mistakes. It occurs to me that I didn’t have a strategy; I thought, “we were in love and love was everything.” I got a lot of interesting projects at work, but was very bad at managing my money. I also relied on her for my social life.

And at the base were mistakes of vision. My vision was that I wanted to be a creative architect, try lots of things and eventually have a family, though due to family divorces I was hesitant about marriage. Her vision was different in that, I think, she expected to marry someone very hard-working and financially successful, like her father, and she didn’t want to wait until her thirties. After one particularly bad phone argument she reconnected with a classmate who was already very successful. I tried to win her back, but she just didn’t seem to respect me any more. They got married, and I went into denial for over three decades.

As I told my wife and my friend, I am still grieving a bit, but feel that I am finally ready to let go of the resentment. More importantly, I feel more determined to make my marriage even better.

Gut Bacteria, Obesity

In 1977, National Lampoon parodied Scientific American as “Scienterrific American.” I think they were on to something. I’ve written a few posts about whether we should trust scientists, whether scientists can trust each other, etc. Sadly, some scientists will publish what they are paid to publish, and some will publish whatever makes headlines, so they can continue to work. Some of their results are not reproducible, which means they aren’t really doing science. The charitable view is that eventually the scientific method will sort out the scientific from the scienterrific, but a lot of us were ingesting PFOA from Teflon long before we were told that it was a carcinogen.

Recent headlines advised that the FDA had banned sales of many antibacterial soaps, containing any of over a dozen chemicals, because “the risks outweigh the benefits.”

Studies in animals have shown that triclosan and triclocarban can disrupt the normal development of the reproductive system and metabolism, and health experts warn that their effects could be the same in humans. The chemicals were originally used by surgeons to wash their hands before operations, and their use exploded in recent years as manufacturers added them to a variety of products, including mouthwash, laundry detergent, fabrics and baby pacifiers. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found the chemicals in the urine of three-quarters of Americans.

That New York Times article notes that a trade group, The American Cleaning Institute, opposes the FDA ruling, and claims to have studies that support their opposition. I’m sure they do.

Scientific American (the real one) has posted an excerpt of a book, Let Them Eat Dirt: Saving Your Child from an Oversanitized World, written by two microbiologists: B. Brett Finlay, Ph.D., and Marie-Claire Arrieta, Ph.D.

Finlay and Arrieta point out that while antibiotics have certainly saved many, many of us from dying young from an infectious disease, they have also changed our environment in more subtle ways. Besides the fear about developing unstoppable superbugs, we may be making ourselves susceptible to a raft of non-infectious diseases. One concern is the use of antibiotics in meat, another is the use of antibiotics in early childhood:

While these studies didn’t prove that antibiotics directly cause obesity, the consistency in these correlations, as well as those observed in livestock, prompted scientists to have a closer look. What they found was astonishing. A simple transfer of intestinal bacteria from obese mice into sterile (“germ-free”) mice made these mice obese, too! We’ve heard before that many factors lead to obesity: genetics, high-fat diets, high-carb diets, lack of exercise, etc. But bacteria—really? This raised skepticism among even the biggest fanatics in microbiology, those of us who tend to think that bacteria are the center of our world. However, these types of experiments have been repeated in several different ways and the evidence is very convincing: the presence and absence of certain bacteria early in life helps determine your weight later in life. Even more troubling is the additional research that shows that altering the bacterial communities that inhabit our bodies affects not just weight gain and obesity, but many other chronic diseases in which we previously had no clue that microbes might play a role.

Genetically-Modified Copyrights

In, Unhealthy Fixation, William Saletan defends GMOs :

I’ve spent much of the past year digging into the evidence. Here’s what I’ve learned. First, it’s true that the issue is complicated. But the deeper you dig, the more fraud you find in the case against GMOs. It’s full of errors, fallacies, misconceptions, misrepresentations, and lies. The people who tell you that Monsanto is hiding the truth are themselves hiding evidence that their own allegations about GMOs are false. They’re counting on you to feel overwhelmed by the science and to accept, as a gut presumption, their message of distrust.

And then he talks up Papayas with viruses, staple crops with Bt and Golden Rice with Vitamin A. Somewhat late in the article, Saletan does admit that the extent to which pesticide-resistant GMOs lead to increased pesticide use is a problem:

Two factors seem to account for the herbicide increase. One is direct: If your crops are engineered to withstand Roundup, you can spray it profusely without killing them. The other factor is indirect: When every farmer sprays Roundup, weeds adapt to a Roundup-saturated world. They evolve to survive. To kill these herbicide-resistant strains, farmers spray more weedkillers. It’s an arms race. …

As weeds evolve to withstand Roundup, farmers are deploying other, more worrisome herbicides. And companies are engineering crops to withstand these herbicides so that farmers can spray them freely.

He also admits that monoculture is a problem, but claims that monoculture is thousands of years old, therefore not GMO’s problem.

Saletan hammers home the point that GMOs are not really a group of like things, therefore shouldn’t be labeled as such. As all pro-GMO astroturfers point out eventually, homo sapiens have been altering the genetics of its plants and animals through selective breeding for centuries. Saletan uses, ‘Genetically-Engineered’ (GE), and that or ‘transgenic’ organisms would be more accurate terminology, but most people use GMO for organisms modified using biotechnology rather than breeding.

In the comments is the interesting theory that anti-GMO activism is a false flag operation intended to discredit those who are actually opponents of the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), the TransAtlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), The TransPacific Partnership (TPP) and Big Ag’s tendency to slap a patent or copyright on anything with DNA.

As a recap, ACTA is law in the US, but was rejected in Europe. The proposed TTIP and TPP include much of the same corporation-friendly intellectual property legislation as does ACTA. Seeds have been patented for quite some time, and now GMO seeds are being copyrighted. Patents expire after about twenty years; copyrights are supposedly the life of the author plus fifty or seventy years, but as my former coblogger Jim Marino has noted, valuable copyrights seem to be extended routinely.