Ten-years and About that “diet”…

(Part 72 of 73 in My Journey)

Recently a friend of mine emailed me and asked, “Hey Craig, tell me about that diet you went on a few years ago.” He was referring to what I did from ~2008 to ~2016—the photos above were taken in 2008 and 2016. Below is my response and this just happens to all coincide with the “ten year challenge” currently all over social media.


I did a few things. Each of these took a few months of trying/fiddling until they felt comfortable.

I tried to avoid refined carbs like the plague; I tried to eliminate all added sugar, all refined grain (bread, pasta, etc), and even eliminated granola which was a go-to breakfast staple (with plain yogurt). What really happened was that it forced me to become aware of the carbohydrates I was eating. I still ate pasta and bread and even sweets, but by focusing on, “I am the type of person who eats fish, meat and veggies,” I was able to shift my diet significantly. I started to make choices such as, “if I’m going to eat pasta, I’m not eating shitty pasta, I’m going to my favorite Italian restaurant so I really enjoy it.” I did not count calories. This was not fun as I [in my opinion] was addicted to the blood sugar spikes from eating a lot of carbohydrates. Shifting my dietary balance had the effect of changing my energy metabolism; it caused changes in my liver function and cellular mitochondria performance.

After many months of that, I next worked on my addiction to eating. I started intermittent fasting. (Without consulting my doctor I just jumped all in.) I did (and still do, many years later) “16/8” intermittent fasting; meaning I’m fasting 16 hours-a-day, and permit myself an 8-hour “feeding window.” (Aside: What I now call ‘normal human eating.’) The way I like to do this is to aim for consuming no food after about 7:30pm. That makes it easy to have a normal dinner, including social eating which is super important to me. Then I basically don’t eat breakfast. Around 11:30, (16 hours after 7:30 the previous day,) I have my break-fast while everyone else is calling it “lunch.” Most people never notice I’m doing this. I could talk for hours about intermittent fasting. BE CAREFUL with this; you can faint, or have low-blood sugar problems depending on how wacked your metabolism is.

It’s important to note that I did the above things separately, one after the other. My reading indicated that reducing carbohydrate intake would force my cells to up-regulate all the cellular processes for burning fat—my own pre-installed fat. So my “lower carbohydrates” work was in preparation for the intermittent fasting work. If I was planning to not eat for 16 hours, my body will have to switch to mobilizing the fat from fat cells; the liver has to be able to put glucose into my blood stream from stored-like-a-battery glycogen in the liver, and from glucose created chemically from other substrates. Those in particular were cellular processes that I was hardly using for decades, when I was always-eating and eating lots of carbohydrates.

So the big picture for me was to change my energy metabolism—to recover my [natural, normal, hey humans are awesome] ability to run on various fuels, (be that carbohydrates, protein, or fat I put in my face, or the pre-installed fat.) I did that by first reducing carbohydrates, and then starting to fast.

I’ve written some of my thoughts up on my web site, but it’s all scattered about. Let me know if you want more information on any of the above and I can give you more and point you to specific resources. If you want to learn more, start with my health or self-improvement tags.

All that said…

I’M INSANELY HAPPY I DID ALL THE ABOVE.

I can train like a machine all morning, not having eaten—in fact, if I eat I feel worse when I try to work hard. I’m considering using longer fasts (days, even up to a week) because there are long-term benefits seen in some studies; fast for a week, have improved blood markers for months. But this is definitely out in the land of, “I’m experimenting on myself.” (If you want to learn about long-term fasts, check out Peter Atia’s podcast, The Nothing Burger, it’s a long discussion of a one-week long fast he did with insane amounts of medical science.)

Finally—this is subtle but important—I did not intentionally increase my physical activity. It was not, “I’m exercising to get in shape.” My activity level spontaneously went up in response to feeling better. “I feel like running 2 miles,” is a thought I now have [sometimes] and now I can go run just for fun. It’s a virtuous cycle though; I feel better, I feel like more activity, I feel more better, I feel like more activity, …

ɕ

Holobionts?

https://www.quantamagazine.org/should-evolution-treat-our-microbes-as-part-of-us-20181120/

The tighter the integration, the more closely intertwined the fates of host and microbe become. For such holobionts, Bordenstein says, you can’t understand the evolution of either the host genome or the microbial genomes in isolation because the community of organisms as a whole shapes the traits of the individual. “We need to understand what the microbes make, what the host makes and potentially how those products work together,” he said. The holobiont, he argues, adds up to more than the sum of the host and microbes. Out of their interaction emerges a coherent entity that natural selection might act on alongside other units of selection, like the individual or a gene.

~ Jonathan Lambert

I’m am fascinated by the reality that there are countless microbes which coinhabit our body.

ɕ

An open door policy

http://slatestarcodex.com/2018/08/23/carbon-dioxide-an-open-door-policy/

Aware of this research, my housemates tested their air quality and got levels between 1000 and 3000 ppm, around the level of the worst high-CO2 conditions in the studies. They started leaving their windows open and buying industrial quantities of succulent plants, and the problems mostly disappeared. Since then they’ve spread the word to other people we know afflicted with mysterious fatigue, some of whom have also noticed positive results.

~ Scott Alexander

I thought this was going to be an article about fossil fuels and global warming. No it’s much worse. It’s about how some people have measured levels of CO2 in their bedroom that exceed the OSHA workplace safe-exposure limits.

Now i’m wondering if one of the reasons I sleep better in the winter, is the difference in ventilation. Our A/C is a closed system—it only circulates the air in the house. But the wood stove lowers the air pressure slightly and that draws outside air in from the peripheral areas of the house. Tiny cool drafts come out of all the wall outlets and light switches in the winter providing fresh air ventiliation.

ɕ

Advice on losing weight

https://bradpilon.com/weight-loss/what-do-you-do-when-a-friend-asks-you-for-advice-on-losing-weight/

Truth be told, if I really wanted to help people lose weight I would increase the price of Eat Stop Eat to 100 dollars per book. Far less people would buy it, but those who did would be invested heavily in making a change in their lives. They wouldn’t just read about fasting and weight training, they’d actually practice it.

~ Brad Pilon

Call it wisdom– Call it Imposter Syndrome— whatever. The more I learn about health, the more I’m convinced I know nothing.

For me, the solution to my unhealth was to change my life. Not, “more exercise,” but “rediscover moving.” Not, “eat better,” but “listen honestly to my body.” Not, “lose weight.” — there’s no, “but…” on that last one; The weight loss just happens the more I change my life.

ɕ

What is health?

https://chriskresser.com/what-is-health/

But as the saying goes, the darkest hour is just before dawn. At some point during this “dark night of the soul,” I realized that the depression and despair I was feeling was the direct result of comparing my actual experience with an idea of what I thought my experience should be. I saw that I was striving for an ideal of health that was—at least at that point—unattainable, and that this was the cause of most of my suffering.

~ Chris Kresser

This idea is right at the heart of my experience of the last few years.

ɕ

On depression

https://chriskresser.com/is-depression-a-disease-or-a-symptom-of-inflammation/

Unfortunately, the “chemical imbalance” theory continues to be the dominant paradigm for understanding depression nearly 30 years after this profound discovery, despite the weak correlation between serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine and depressive symptoms.

~ Chris Kresser

I’m sure I have nothing useful to add on the topic of Depression– being not a doctor, psychologist, etc.

But I can raise my voice because I believe I understand the personal experience of depression. It sucks. Talk to someone.

ɕ

Origin story

(Part 2 of 2 in Weight to Waist Ratio)

“I should lose weight. Specifically, I should lose some of this fat. …actually, a lot of this fat.”

Since I began my health tracking grids I had been regularly tracking my weight, building the habit of stepping on the scale every day. I’ve read several opinions that this is a bad idea. Because one’s weight can fluctuate significantly day-to-day, daily weighing can lead to “fear of the scale” and stress. I disagree. After stepping on the scale every day for about 10 years, it is now simply something I do. The scale shows me a number and I write it down.

One day I started reading more about physiology. How your body composition changes. How a strength building session increases muscle mass (duh) and that can make your weight increase in the short term. Suddenly, the scale going up can be a good thing.

…and then I wondered, “how much should I optimally weigh?” At the time I began this “waist/weight ratio project,” I weighed about 230 pounds and the “male, 5 feet 11 inches tall” medical guideline is . . . 175 pounds. What?! I would be ecstatic if I weighted 220. I’m not sure what I would do if I weighed even 215— I’d probably fall down in a stiff breeze.

So how exactly should one “optimize” weight? Why should I select any specific weight target? Why 175 (as medically recommended,) or 220 (college body!). What if my weight isn’t changing as I make healthy improvements– how do I track that? I began to think perhaps I should optimize health markers: Blood sugar regulation, inflammation markers, and triglycerides, and that is far more complicated than “step on the scale.”

Waist-to-weight ratio

One day, I read the following article. It’s deceptively short, but quite complicated and subtle. You should go read this very carefully before continuing.

http://healthcorrelator.blogspot.com/search/label/waist-to-weight%20ratio

ɕ

Type 2 diabetes

https://peterattiamd.com/type-2-diabetes-reversible-scale/

The traditional approach—which is clearly not working—is to “manage” this chronic condition with medications and the ever-ubiquitous “eat-less-avoid-fat-exercise-more” lifestyle interventions. At best, this approach only slows down the progression of the disease.

~ Peter Attia

Often the things I’m commenting on are “close to the ground” — things that are immediately actionable, or suggestions of things to go explore or do directly.

This one is different. Peter Attia sits in a certain niche — if you know of him, you are nodding knowingly — but this particular article is a neat attempt to zoom way out to think about wether the more “on the ground” sort of “do this”, “do that” personal direction is inherently scalable out to population-wide solutions to problems.

ɕ

Ketosis

https://peterattiamd.com/the-interplay-of-exercise-and-ketosis-part-i/

To test the relationship between exercise and ketosis I decided to examine my blood levels of glucose, B-OHB, and lactate immediately before and after three different types of workouts on three successive days. This interplay is complex and no one knows “everything” about it, including the world’s experts (which I am not pretending to be). I’m going to try to balance a fine line in this post – I want to be rigorous enough to explore the ideas with substance but not too detailed to put you to sleep. I hope I am able to balance these forces adequately.

~ Peter Attia

The more I read about the human body, the more fascinated I become. One of the big dietary changes I started long ago was to just “try to eat fewer refined carbohydrates.” Less cookies, breakfast cereal, that sort of thing. And then I spun off into intermittent fasting and ketosis and on and on.

But this guy, he’s gone way WAY farther down the rabbit hole. This article is a superlative dissection of ketosis, fuels (carbohydrate, protein, fat), wattage, workouts and … well, the best part is after all of it, there’s no strong conclusion. It’s just this wonderful exploration of how one person’s body performed under a bunch of circumstances.

Anyway. File this one under: Human body = amazing.

ɕ

Root of modern disease?

https://chriskresser.com/is-a-disrupted-gut-microbiome-at-the-root-of-modern-disease-with-dr-justin-sonnenburg/

… the microbes are holding the reigns to a lot of what’s going on. If we were not doing a good job at passaging them around to additional culturing flasks — specifically other humans — they would undoubtedly discover ways to make us better at doing that.

I think a more optimistic, or different way to frame this, is just that we’re composite organisms. I think we traditionally think of ourselves — the human body — as a collection of human cells. And what we really are is an ecosystem. We have microbial and human parts that come together to work in a concerted fashion to make up this
super-organism. And we can’t forget about the microbes because they’re really an important part of our biology.

~ Dr. J Sonnenburg

If you haven’t heard much about how important are all the teeny little microbes living in your digestive track, this is a good podcast to get started.

ɕ