Monday, January 25, 2010

end of Week 2


and BF:

About 1 1/2 pounds in week two, fairly typical.

I continue to eat well. Exercise is not as often as I would like, but better.

Cluster headaches continue, with one of the worse ones yet today.

Sleep still inconsistent, will try next week to do better.

Just keep at it!

Friday, January 22, 2010

Back problems - regular update

Just a mini-report: diet still continues fine, keeping on task, low-carb, no snacks except some nuts in the evening (no jokes, now--I know I'm the nut in the evening). I've eaten at restaurants for lunch most of this week with a colleague and have kept to salads with added meat--at Mexican restaurants have eaten no chips--which is something, and hasn't been difficult. Energy is much better and more consistent.  My past experience says that after two to three weeks of low carb I will have much more energy.

I've been walking most mornings (although not this one) and continued back exercises. Cluster headaches continue, a bit worse, but manageable (although it means taking naproxen + tylenol--not especially liver-healthy). If my past history is a guide, the series lasts for two to three weeks, then fades. My sleep is marginally better, but headaches often awaken me early in the morning. Hopefully, that will change. With the return to teaching I've been getting up much earlier, but haven't yet gotten to a consistent, every day wake time (I will).

I mentioned back problems: minor injury in gymnastics in HS (landed a dismount and back went into spasm), continuing occasional problems, gradually getting worse, leading to an L4/5 (the lower discs) laminectomy (disc surgery--they go into the spinal canal to remove disc material that has extruded into the canal and is pressing on nerve roots) in 1986 (and was repeated in 1989). In my case, I was having numbness of the toes of my left foot, extreme sciatic pain, etc. Lots of conservative treatments were tried with no success. In 1988-89 I knew things were still not right and had several episodes of spasm, went on a trip to Sweden and Germany in April (it was to be for 3 months), but cut short the trip after 2 months and flew home, had an MRI, and the second surgery.

I've been OK since, although I still have to be careful and can have persistent low-back pain or short periods in spasm.

As I've recently discovered, the exercises most closely connected with better backs are about stability. By that I mean not: flexibility (helpful, but may make the problem worse), strength (isn't the full issue), or other elements. If the correct muscles can gain considerably in endurance (not so much strength), the spine is kept much more stable and the back muscles will not go into spasm.

Much of the research is by Stuart McGill in Toronto. He has several books on the subject and I've just ordered a new book by Rick Jemmett: Back Stabilization: The New Science of Back Pain. The most common exercises are:
1 - the bird dog, which strengthens the multifidus muscles, which weave through the spinal facets and stabilize the spine
2 - the plank, which strengthens and stabilizes the abdominal core
3 - the side plank, which strengthens the transverse abdominals (this video shows both regular and side plank variations). This link also has a very good interview with Stuart McGill, plus one of McGill's other exercises, the curl-up.

Again, the first goal is endurance, so exercises are gradually extended in length of time/number of repetitions. With the side plank, I'm only strong enough to do this from the knees, so I need to wait until I get sufficient strength and endurance before I start to do from the feet (see the video to see what I mean). As you can see in the last video, one can combine side plank to regular plank to side plank (on the other side) without pause--much more advanced, of course.

My past experience is that if I DO these exercises regularly, my back feels MUCH better. The point is to do them--and that's the point of this transformation . . .

Monday, January 18, 2010

Week One. . .

First, here are the results for the week (weight from Monday, January 19, 2010):

So, down 6 pounds, not unusual at the beginning of a low-carb diet, when you ditch water pretty fast. I still feel a bit bloated, so it will take my body another week or so to make the transition to low carb.

The week was fine in terms of eating. I kept quite strict, only having a salad with chicken tenders (i.e. breaded) when at an Italian restaurant Sunday with friends. It was the least objectionable option (that I liked). I'm too picky about which vegetables I like and have too small a repertoire. I'll work on that at some point, but not now.

Exercise stayed on track, but minimal. Today I walked with my wife for about 30 minutes, followed by my back exercises. Again, I'm trying to limit the number of changes I'm making to only one or two at a time. The temptation to do too much at once (and fail) is strong! But I know from past experience that I need to introduce changes slowly.

I've had cluster headaches for some years now--and the term "suicide headaches" is an apt one! When they're really bad, they're truly unbearable. The worst episode had my blood pressure (when I went in to urgent care) over 200, really frightening. I haven't had any episodes as bad as that for a couple years, and my doctor recommended a blood pressure medication (amlodipine) and naproxen on an ongoing basis. Usually acetaminophen in addition is needed when I have attacks.

This week has been a time of mild attacks. It's hard to know if the diet has anything to do with it. I'm also under a bit of stress right now, so that could be a part of it, too.

All in all, not too bad for a first week. It's the long road that counts.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Days 2-4

I'm focusing on changing my diet this week and am so far successful--low carb, no cheats (well, it's only four days!).

Tuesday I was dead--no energy at all, occasional dizziness Tuesday and Wednesday when I changed position quickly. Those are both fairly typical for me, particularly if I cut carbs after a period of high carbs, and my carbs had indeed been high over the Christmas break! Since Tuesday, my energy has been much better and I expect it will continue. Again, I'm not shooting for ketosis: I'm still eating my lovely little clementine oranges or an apple at each meal, some nuts, green beans, salad, etc. This is more "Primal" than Atkins "Induction," and that's fine with me. I expect I'll experiment with Intermittent Fasting once I've adapted.

Sleep hasn't yet been a focus for me--good sleep some of the time, terrible on Tuesday night (just a few hours) and then last night to bed around 1:30 AM, up for a couple hours early, then back to sleep until 12:30 PM. That won't continue, if only because classes at the university where I teach begin next Tuesday and I have 8 AM classes two days a week and probably a meeting at 8 at least one other day, so it means I have to be up by 6:15 AM or so every morning. That's the time for me to work on a consistent waking time. The challenge will be getting to bed at a reasonable time (and building a night-time routine).

Exercise has also been sporadic, but OK. Walking most mornings, doing my back exercises Monday and Wednesday (I need to do a minimum of three days a week). I need to walk around campus on a regular basis as well during the day once classes start. I'm not sure when yoga will start, but probably after next week, when I've had time to adjust to my teaching schedule. It also gives me time to adapt to low carb, a little lost weight, and get my back in a bit better condition.

So, I'm happy with the way it's going so far. "Low and slow" is not only for cooking grass-fed beef!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Day 1 . . . and the ugly truth

So, day one of the transformation--although it started earlier with planning, of course.

First, the ugly truth (OK, that's overkill!) about where I am now:

Bodyfat percentage:

Front view:

Back view:


As you can tell, I have far too much of the weight around the middle that is so damaging metabolically. The plan is to change that!

After getting up, I walked for about 20 minutes, did my back exercises, then took these pictures before a breakfast of a protein shake (water, 1 scoop designer whey, 1 scoop of metabolic drive low-carb, heaping tablespoon of all-natural yoghurt (full fat), couple tablespoons of cream, and a couple tablespoons of virgin coconut oil). I'll likely alternate this with eggs.

Lunch out with colleagues while at work--an Italian restaurant--so a salad with salmon. No bread, water to drink. Then dinner fixed by my wife: grass-fed steak (much better fat profile, no hormones or antibiotics), green beans with butter, and a mandarin orange, plus one dove dark chocolate. Before going to bed, a much smaller version of the protein shake without so much fat, partly to take my magnesium and zinc, which tend to give me a bit of heartburn.

So that's the start . . .

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Getting Ready

Getting ready primarily consists of re-reading Mark Sisson's The Primal Blueprint.

OK, maybe some other thought and planning, too!

But Mark's approach is one that makes a lot of sense to me. You don't have to buy the book (but it's a great way to have it all in one place and I recommend it), Mark outlines much on his blog. Here's his post on Primal eating.

Protein takes priority. If there is ample glycogen (stored glucose) and the body is getting the rest of its energy efficiently from fats, protein will always go first towards repair or building cells or enzymes. In that context, it hardly seems fair to assign it a “burn rate” of 4 calories per gram. It’s like saying the 2×4 studs that support the walls of your house can burn nicely if you run out of firewood. They will, but I prefer to burn other fuel first. At a minimum you need .5 grams of protein per pound of lean mass/per day on average to maintain your “structure”. If you are moderately active you need .7 or .8, and if you are an active athlete you need as much as 1 gram of protein per pound of lean mass. That’s at a minimum, but it’s on a daily average. So a 155 lb moderately active woman who has 25% body fat (and thus) has 116 lb of lean body mass needs 93 grams of protein on average per day (116 x .8). If she gets 60 or 80 some days and 110 on others, she’ll still be in a healthy average range. And even if she exceeds the 110, it’s no problem if she’s eating low carb because the excess protein will convert to glucose, which will reduce her effective carbohydrate needs (see below). At 4 calories per gram, that’s between 320 and 440 calories per day in protein. It’s not that much.

If you’ve forgotten everything you ever learned in biology, just remember this and “own” it: Carbohydrate drives insulin drives fat (Cahill 1965, and Taubes 2007). The idea in the PB is to limit your carbs to only those you need to provide glucose for the brain and for some reasonable amount (certainly less than an hour) of occasional anaerobic exercise. And the truth is, you don’t even need glucose to fuel the brain. Ketones from a very-low carb diet work extremely efficiently at that task. Either way, ideally, we would like most of our daily energy to come from dietary or stored fats. Typically, (if you are at an ideal body composition now) I use a rule of thumb that 100-150 grams of carbohydrate per day is plenty to keep you out of ketosis (and ketosis is NOT a bad thing) but away from storing the excess as fat if you are the least bit active. Don’t forget that your body can make up to 200 grams of glycogen from fats and protein every day, too. On the other hand, if you are looking to lose body fat, keeping carbs to under 80 grams per day will help immensely in lowering insulin and taking fat out of storage. On the other other hand, if you are insistent on training hard for long periods of time, you would add more carbs (say, 100 per day extra for every extra hour you train hard). It becomes a matter of doing the math and experimenting with the results.

Ironically, it’s tough to exceed 100 grams of carbs even if you eat tons of colorful vegetables – as long as you eat like our ancestors and consume no grains, no sugars and few starchy vegetables (potatoes, yams, beets, legumes, etc). Even if you eat a ton of vegetables AND a fair amount of fruit, you’ll be hard pressed to exceed 150 grams of carbs on average per day. Our remote ancestors couldn’t average 150 grams of carbs a day if they tried, yet they had plenty of energy and maintained their lean mass. At 4 calories per gram that’s only between 400 and 600 calories per day. Add that in to the protein above and our sample girl is barely at 1,000 calories on the high end. So where does the rest of the fuel come from?


Learn to love them. They are the fuel of choice and should become the balance of your Primal Blueprint diet. Fats have little or no impact on insulin and, as a result, promote the burning of both dietary and stored (adipose) fat as fuel. Think about this: if protein and carbs stay fairly constant (and carbs stay under 150), you can use fat as the major energy variable in your diet. Feeling like you need more fuel (and you’ve already covered your bases with protein and carbs)? Reach for something with fat. Nuts, avocados, coconut, eggs, butter, olive oil, fish, chicken, lamb, beef, the list is a long one. 100 grams of fats per day would only add 900 calories to our girl’s daily average, putting her at between 1620 and 1940 calories a day. Even if she averages somewhere between 1400 and 2200 calories per day over a few weeks, as long as she pays attention to protein and carbs, her body composition will shift to lower body fat and more desirable lean mass. If she decides to do some walking, a few brief intense weight sessions and a sprint day here and there, that process would accelerate greatly. If she gets to a point where she’s content with her body fat, she can even add in a little more fat to provide energy that she previously got from her stored fat.

The main thing I’ve figured out from eating this way for years is that I don’t need nearly as many calories to maintain health, mass, and body fat as I once thought I did – or as the Conventional Wisdom says I do. I eat 600-1000 calories per day less than when I ate a carbohydrate-based diet, yet I maintain slightly lower body fat and slightly higher muscle mass on even less training. Remember: 80% of body composition is determined by diet. The best part is that I don’t ever feel hungry because I base my eating on exactly what my 10,000-year-old genes want me to eat.

Yesterday, we went to the Farmer's Market and got some grass/pasture fed beef, pork, and chicken. I'll tell you how it works out!

And I'll let you know what I'm eating. It'll be my way of tracking what I do.

Today (Sunday) will be the last day of eating whatever comes to mind (i.e., as a carboholic, carbs of all kinds, simple sugars--too much of that for someone who's pre-diabetic).

My challenge to myself is to stick with a Primal way of eating for at least 30 days.

Exercise-wise, I'll get started with Bikram Yoga (not one of Mark's types of Primal exercise, but necessary for incredibly stiff/inflexible me), my back exercises (more later), and some walking. I'll get into some more intense Primal exercise (weights, sprinting) later--but have to succeed with this first!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Mark's Daily Apple - Journey, not a Race

Mark Sisson has a great blog and his book, The Primal Blueprint, has the model I'll most closely follow.

His most recent post, It's a Journey, not a Race, is terrific for me.

While I'm starting this blog with the New Year, it can't be just a New Year's Resolution for me to be successful with this transformation. Since it means changing the way I live, permanently, a simple resolution won't do it. And the attitude of a journey is exactly what I mean by transformation.

More motivation

The NY Times had a good article on a study in Uppsala about being "fat, but fit." Essentially, it looked at a group of people they'd studied from age 50 and followed for 30 years. Those who were overweight and had metabolic syndrome, defined as:
A diagnosis of metabolic syndrome means that you suffer from three or more of these conditions: impaired ability to handle blood sugar, high blood pressure, elevated blood fats, low HDL (“good” cholesterol) and a large waist circumference.
Those with metabolic syndrom who were overweight had a much higher incidence of heart disease.

This article describes me (and I'm nearly 60, not 50), so it's even more important for me to move in the right direction.

Just more reasons for transformation . . .

Tuesday, January 5, 2010


It's become increasingly clear that good sleep is an important part, not only of health in general, but also of losing weight.

My sleep habits have never been good and as I've gotten older, have gotten worse.

For me, it's rarely normal insomnia (although occasionally I have trouble getting to sleep), but more often going to sleep, then waking up 2-4 hours later and THEN not being able to get back to sleep (or being up for a couple hours before managing it).

I suppose if I were truly productive during those hours it might be worth it, but it rarely is! I'm much more likely to surf the net.

I've always been a late-night person and, even as a kid, tended to be the last of the cousins to sleep when we were together over holidays. And even when I'm in an early morning routine--and going to bed at a more reasonable hour--I can get back to the late night (early morning, really: one or two AM) with just one or two late nights because of travel, a late concert or party, etc. My brain and body clock shift back to their preferred routine very quickly

So one of the things I have to address is better sleep habits. The route to good sleep usually includes the following:
  1. get up at the same time every morning, weekends included (so your cycle is always the same)
  2. no stimulating activity (TV, computer) late at night
  3. have a usual bedtime regime (ablutions, hot bath, meditation, writing down the things that need to be done tomorrow, etc.)
  4. keep your bedroom dark and cool
  5. use your bedroom only for sleep (and lovemaking!), so you associate it with those things only, not watching TV, reading, etc.
  6. exercise, but not in the evening, so you're normally tired
  7. cut down on stimulants (caffeine)
When I wake up I often notice it's for one or more of several reasons:
  1. my body's overheated (hot, sweaty)
  2. I have trouble breathing (I use a C-PAP for sleep apnea -- if you can't breathe through your nose, you can't breathe--and I have allergies that tend to act up regularly)
  3. my back is sore
  4. I'm a middle-aged male: I have to pee!
So, solutions for me are:
  1. get up at the same time every day
  2. cut out late-night computer/tv and find something that is relaxing (set a limit as to how late I can do those things--10 PM?
  3. build a pre-bedtime regime (I'll have to think about that one)
  4. as my exercise program gets into gear (Bikram Yoga, back exercises, walking), that should help on the physical front
  5. as my back is healthier, it should take away one cause of my waking up (backaches)
  6. I also wonder if carbs (especially eaten late) cause the overheating--it'll be interesting to see if low(er) carb and no eating in the evening after dinner makes a difference
  7. don't drink fluids after about 7 PM!
  8. when I find a doctor in my new town, I'll see if my current allergy regime can be better (right now take claritin once per day and use a steroid nasal mist (nasacort) to keep down swelling--all of which would mean not waking up because I can't breathe through my nose
  9. when I DO wake up in the middle of the night, I need a better way to deal with it. Maybe I should do productive work . . . or maybe find something soothing to do
These need to gradually become part of my new transformation . . .

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Saturday, January 2 & Yoga

Yesterday was typical in too many ways for eating: light breakfast, not too huge a lunch (but too high in carbs: half of a french dip sandwich, chips, about 10 oz. coke), dessert at my in-laws' (cake, a bunch of nuts), dinner at a favorite Mexican restaurant (LOTS of chips and salsa, margarita, large combo plate with chicken enchilada, taco, lots of beans and rice).

I'm not trying to change eating habits yet (I'll worry about that after getting home on Thursday), but the above shows areas for big improvement:

  1. good, high-protein breakfast (eggs, meat, or a protein drink)
  2. lunch that's low in carbs
  3. DON'T drink sugared drinks! (I'm a cola addict when I'm drinking them--lots of high fructose corn syrup--and a concentrated source of sugar)
  4. learn how to eat healthily when out to eat (and be HAPPY about it!)
I also signed up for an introductory month at the nearest Bikram Yoga (unfortunately ca. a 35-40 minute drive from where I live).

I've had two back surgeries (some time ago: 1986 and 1989), laminectomies at the L4/5 level. My back has always been vulnerable and my tendency has been to get tighter and tighter over time (less motion, less flexibility leads to less motion, more restriction).

I've done Bikram twice before, once for about 3 months, and that was the best I've felt--back, shoulder, etc) for a very long time. However, my schedule in recent years (lots of travel, including extended time overseas), made it almost impossible to do this.

Even now (although I won't travel so much), it'll be a challenge to keep up my practice, but I've decided this is the best thing for me to do, outside of back exercises that I should be doing all the time!

But, paying for my first month of Bikram is the first step.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Bad eating habits

As I mentioned, I'm overweight, probably by 70-80 pounds.

I'm also a pre-diabetic, having taken metformin for some time now, which has so far kept my A1C counts in the normal/good range (although it's been about a year since I've tested).

I was doing fairly well on diet last spring and summer, but after moving and taking a new job, it's gone downhill, with weight gain (I'll find out how much when I return home and to my scale on the 7th).

I'm definitely a carboholic (NOT good for someone with diabetes on both sides of his family--uncle and cousin on my dad's side, aunt and mother on mom's side). I like it all: bread, pasta, crackers, chips, sweets, coke, etc.

In the past when I've dieted, I've functioned best on a low carb diet, from Atkins to Protein Power. When I say function best, I mean I feel better, mind is clear, no cravings, lots of energy, etc. It takes me two to three weeks of low carbs to get to that point (past the headaches, initial lack of energy and all), but once there it's pretty good.

So why the trouble staying on it?

There's quite a good post on Dr. Michael Eade's site (co-author of Protein Power and related books, all good) about falling off the wagon. Part of the problem is we live in a carb-rich environment, so our brains are constantly being bombarded with the tempting carbs we love. And for people like me, it doesn't take many carbs to set the physical cravings off again.

That, for me, will be the most difficult task: finding ways to stay in the neighborhood (50 grams of carbs a day? 100?) that keeps me metabolically without cravings.

And, of course, the challenge is changing your life so that these aren't temporary changes, but a complete change in what you eat and how you eat--how you live! While I haven't been successful in the past in such permanent changes, that's what I need to do now . . . and to figure out how to do it.

The next thing I'm pondering, is whether for me it's easiest to go "cold turkey" on carbs and do an Atkins-style "induction" (keeping carbs VERY low for a period of time, around 25-30 grams per day, to force the body into learning to burn fat and not carbs) or to move more gradually (low carb breakfast and dinner, allow more at lunch).

Something I'm thinking about . . . more later.