Tuesday, July 27, 2010


I try to eat a pretty decent paleo diet, but on the occasions when I do go crazy overboard I notice that I feel great the next day. A few months ago, for my wife's birthday I ate a ton of ice cream with a ton of berries and a lot of potatoes. I felt great the next day. A few weeks later I cheated again, and again felt great. Then I did it a second day and felt lousy. So I have started thinking there might actually be something to cheat/fast day thing. John Romaniello advocates this sort of thing, here's a blog article with videos of him gorging himself on cheat day. Brad Pilon intermittent fasting, Eat Stop Eat is quite popular, especially among the paleo crowd. And Tim Ferris also advocates once a week cheat days. Now I'm a little skeptical of these guys, for a variety of reasons, but my personal experience with accidental cheat days leads me to think there could be something to this stuff.

The basic idea is to prevent the body from going into starvation mode, reducing metabolism. So the theory is it would be better to have 5000 calories one day and 0 the next, rather than 2500 or even 2000 on each day.  Some people say that this causes increased leptin levels, others that there is a something else going on. Whatever it is, everyone who promotes cheat-fasts agrees that there is a metabolic effect that keeps the body revved.

There are some reservations to this approach:

1) Cheat days lead to relapses into bad habits

It's like giving up smoking except on Saturdays. Then jonesing all week for a cigarrete. Eventually one is going to take up smoking again. When I have cheated in the past I honestly didn't have a sudden urge to go out and raid a candy store. Other people might have a different reaction. Probably, when one first goes paleo/primal it wouldn't be a good idea to cheat for at least a few months. Intermittent Fasting (IF) would be a better goal.

2) One should never eat crap food, and it is hard to gorge on 5000 calories of meat, salad and bone marrow soup.

This is a pretty valid point. Kurt Harris would never be caught dead eating ice cream, it is solid sugar, pizza is mostly bread, and these are bad things right!? If you've drunk the paleo kool-aid, which I have, they most certainly are. On the other hand, in all things moderation, even moderation, that's pretty much my motto. Once you lose the carb addiction I don't see a problem with the occasional pizza or ice cream. Probably the best way to cheat would be to add in 3000 calories of high quality berries. And if I ever become independently wealthy I will consider doing just that.

3)  Cheat days are promoted by guys in their 20s and early 30s.

Now this is perhaps the most compelling argument against. I mean, When I was Romaniello's age I ate whatever I wanted. Every day was a cheat day. I'm pretty skeptical taking dietary advice from a kid in his 20's, or any advice at all, actually. 

In conclusion, this is something I'm going to think about and perhaps mess around with. It requires some discipline, both the cheating and especially fasting, but it is an interesting idea and my experience is that it might boost metabolism significantly.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Primal shopping

Look at all that glorious meat. Monday morning primal shopping trip to the butcher and deli. Pig's feet, pig knee, beef liver, beef round (half of it ground) from the butcher. Big ole hunk of Cheddar cheese, Thor caviar paste, Hachez 88% chocolate, jamón serrano, and some canned Italian tomatoes (yeah I know but the fresh ones taste like wax around here, and it is mighty convenient). The worst thing is probably the caviar paste, whilst 60% fish eggs, the rest is vegetable oil, sugar, salt and preservative. They don't even say what kind of vegetable oil. None of the meat is grass-fed, unfortunately, just normal meat from a Czech butcher. Also, I would've liked to get more organ meat and fatty meat, and especially beef bones, but there wasn't much besides the liver. Oh well, I'll have to make up for it with some booze.

I picked up a couple bottles of Trivento, a very nice Argentinian wine with a reasonable price tag, because nothing says primal like a cool glass of Chardonnay. My primal workout was carrying all this stuff home and up five flights of stairs (actually did some wall squats, too).

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Tabata Sprints and the Beauty All Around

My knee has mostly healed so I've started sprinting again. Yesterday morning I went at 5 am. This was no Rocky thing - set the alarm for 4:30 and drink raw eggs stuff - I just woke up early and I really enjoy running extremely early when there is no one around. This is tough to do in this town, Czechs take masochistic pride in being early birds, but 5 am will usually do the trick. So when I do wake up early and feel good, I get amped up thinking about getting out there before anyone else.

Being amped up and totally alone on the sidewalks, I was doing a lot of looking up and gawking at the fantastic architecture that is all around me every day, yet I tend to take for granted. This what entranced me about Prague all those many years ago (ok, the beer and beautiful women didn't hurt). We just don't have this kind of stuff in New Mexico where I grew up. Although we don't live in the center of Prague, where the really amazing stuff is, there is plenty of fascinating architecture around my own hood. Later on, I went back to take some pictures. Unfortunately, I'm a lousy photographer, and the middle of the day doesn't capture the early morning misty light, but I'm going to post my lousy pics anyway.

Who is this couple? No idea, probably the original owners of the house. There is something captivating about these serene faces.

I love this small pentagonal balcony and all the detailed stonework. I also love the tall skinny window arched at the top. I want arched windows, damnit!

This building has recently been restored to its First Republic glory.The wrought iron work, the statues, the gloriously useless tiny balcony, it really is stunning.

This was the first thing I noticed walking to the park. I must've walked by this building a thousand times, but I don't think I ever craned my neck up far enough to see this attic framed by huge statues. The shot I took just didn't do it justice so I ran it through a BW filter to try and add a bit of dramatic flair. It's probably time to read the owner's manual for my camera.

Anyway, the thing about being primal/paleo is to break out of routines: don't jog, fractal run, don't count calories, just eat real food when your body wants it. In so doing, one might help reawaken the respect for beauty that is all around us in our daily lives. At least is did for me. Walking back was a different story, Tabata sprints are just brutal. But after some recovery I was on a good endorphin high the rest of the day. I can really feel my metabolism shift into high gear on sprint days.

And, of course, there's always things like this: 

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Stay away from the Light!

Remember those seventies films where everyone (except black people) had bronze skin? I'm convinced it was Cary Grant who started it, I mean what guy couldn't do with a bit more of Cary Grant's looks and charm? Where did he get his bronze skin from? I doubt it was from growing up in Bristol.

Too bad he had to go and die from skin cancer in his early 50s!!!!

Actually, Cary Grant died of a cerebral hemorrhage at the ripe old age of 82 but if that hadn't gotten him skin cancer surely would have, because he existed in a primordial backwards era when people didn't use sunscreen. It is hard to imagine such things in our enlightened age but yes it is really true. Men also wore a suit and tie whilst swimming (women weren't supposed to swim at all), and everyone drove giant convertibles without seat belts. It was a barbaric age to say the least.

Fortunately, we now have sunscreen. Thanks to technology, we can go on vacation and lay in the sun all day long even if lily white, and we will be protected from the Sun's death rays by SPF 5000. SPF stands for Sun death ray Protection Factor. So how's that working out?

Not so great.

Since 1972, rates of malignant melanoma have roughly doubled for women and tripled for men.

The current party line of the medical establishment is that no one should ever go out in the sun without sunscreen. Ever! There's the question of vitamin D, and the party line is, don't worry about vitamin D, just avoid the sun at all costs, ok maybe take a pill or something and make sure to eat right and of course DON'T EXPOSE YOURSELF TO THE SUN EVER WITHOUT SUNBLOCK!

Here's a typical quote from Barbara Gilchrest, a dermatologist writing in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition:
A neglected but critical point is that the true, optimal level of 25(OH)D for musculoskeletal health, cancer prevention, or any of the other claimed benefits is irrelevant to the proven value of sun protection. Whatever this optimal level, ample vitamin D can be obtained from diet, supplements, and incidental sun exposure (45–48). Intentional unprotected sun exposure to increase vitamin D photosynthesis is not only unnecessary but also inefficient for populations at highest risk of vitamin D deficiency (29-31).
The proven value of sun protection? Have you seen the graph, lady? The aisles of drugstores are crammed with sunblock nowadays and malignant melanoma has tripled since '72 for men. Tripled!! Here's a chart from the American Cancer Society.

1/1500 back in 1935 and now 1/75? Didn't more people actually spend time working in the sun back then? Sure there are confounding factors, like increased lifespan, but come on, that's an insane rise. Some of it could be attributed to an increase in leisure time. Certainly more people play golf these days. But it still is an insane rise. Especially since the American Academy of Dermatology has been pushing sunblock for years, they even have a picture of SPF 50 on their front page. Not to mention the tanning tax.

It's almost as if the harder the so-called experts push something like sunblock the worse the results in the general population. The experts push harder, the general public worsens, so who is to blame? The general public for being lazy and self-indulgent, of course. Sound familiar?

What's going on here?

The medical literature is mixed, mostly because they often compare apples and oranges. There's this study, for example, that shows that SPF corresponded to a delay of skin tumors in mice, although, "almost all of the UV-irradiated mice developed skin tumors". Do mice need sunlight like humans? Are they evolved to be exposed to sunlight? Last I heard, mice are nocturnal, they are covered in fur and they produce their own vitamin D.

This Swedish study compared people who always use and never use sunscreen. What is really interesting is the people who always used sunscreen but still got burned were at a 60% higher risk than the never users, but the people who always used sunscreen but never got burned were at a 120% higher risk. I suspect that the people who never got burned were using stronger sunblock and spending more time in the sun. Or they were just lying. The study mentions that the never use sunscreeners were exposed to less sun and that brings us to the heart of the matter.

One problem with sunscreen is that has a Peltzman effect. When risky behavior gets perceived as safer, people tend to engage in more of it and offset the added safety. People will bake themselves on vacations but use plenty of sunblock. If they didn't have the sunblock they wouldn't be able to lay in the sun for eight hours and enjoy their two weeks in Acapulco, but thanks to the wonders of modern technology they are safe, right? Wrong.

Then there's the that fact that sunblock is composed of a bunch of crazy chemicals and it get's absorbed, up to 10 percent of it through the skin. Yummy. Yeah, it's not just nicotine patches that absorb through the skin. So don't put anything on your skin you wouldn't want to put in your mouth.

And perhaps the biggest problem with sunscreen is that it blocks production of vitamin D in by the body in quantities that it sees fit, along with five to ten other chemicals according to Dr. Michael Holick.

Getting some sun seems to be hardwired into us and this makes sense given that we need the sunlight to make vitamin D and perhaps some other chemicals. But our ancestors didn't have the ability to transport themselves to a sunny clime for a couple after spending the whole year inside their cave making wall paintings. They were out in the sunlight every day, hunting and gathering, gathering and hunting, and later on farming and herding. Modern living pretty much makes that impossible but we can try and make up for it as much as possible. Eat lunch outside, get some sun on the weekends. If you are dark skinned and live in a temperate cloudy place, you need to try even harder. The important thing is consistency not duration. Sunburns are a bad, bad thing and should be avoided at all costs.

It seems that the healthiest way to enjoy a sunny vacation would be to try to build up decent base tan, going to a tanning salon if necesary, then get as much sun as you can on the actual vacation without getting burned or using sunscreen. This will be less sun than a person slathering SPF 5000 on themselves can handle, but it will also be a lot better for your skin. And your body will store all that fat soluble vitamin D (and possibly other chemicals) for the coming winter.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Running is, like, totally healthy.

"Science is a way of trying not to fool yourself. The first principle is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool." - Richard Feynman

This two year old article about running supposedly slowing the aging process came to my attention as it just popped up in the most read article list on BBC's news website. Here's the abstract. What this emeritus professor of medicine at Stanford did was recruit a bunch of people from a running club (!) and compare them some normal people, ie old fat lazy chain-smoking slobs for 20 years:
At baseline, runners were younger, leaner, and less likely to smoke compared with controls . . . At 19 years, 15% of runners had died compared with 34% of controls.
The runners obviously lived healthier lifestyles, they were younger and leaner for one thing, and we all know that that is a very healthy lifestyle choice, although I myself have chosen to be older and fatter for tax reasons. But why even pretend to control for other variables? Let's come right out and list the uncontrolled variables right up front. This is known as the purloined letter tactic, or it could just be the we have no idea what we are doing but they pay us good money to do it tactic. And what is the obvious conclusion, as if we didn't know? Lead author Professor James Fries helpfully informs us that:
The study has a very pro-exercise message. If you had to pick one thing to make people healthier as they age, it would be aerobic exercise.
The health benefits of exercise are greater than we thought.
The only thing that is obvious to me is that one can become an emeritus professor of medicine at Stanford and engage in research that will faithfully be parroted in the media without having a clue about the scientific method (or even worse, willfully ignoring it). This isn't research, it is toeing the party line. To paraphrase the old communist joke: we pretend to do science and they pretend to do journalism.

Did they compare aerobic exercise to other forms of exercise, like lifting weights? No. But that doesn't stop it from being the single greatest thing one can do to extend life and hold disease at bay. I was gonna give up smoking, but I think I'll take up jogging instead.

Now I believe that exercise does make one healthier and probably extends life. It certainly makes life more enjoyable to be in decent shape. The exercise should probably consist of a variety of things like strength training, walking, sprinting, playing soccer with your kids, and perhaps even a little steady state cardio. So these are the kinds of things I try and do nowadays. People who exercise regularly also tend to live healthier lifestyles, smoke less, have lower BMI, eat less sugar, etc. Do I need some big shot from Stanford to prove I'm living healthier by doing some crap longitudinal study? No. But one thing I will do is stay away from marathon running, (not that it was ever a huge risk, honestly).

Orthorexia Nervosa

Oh noes, the evil psychiatrists have gone and fabricated another disease!!!! That's the hysterical reaction by  blowhards like this to an idiotic article in The Guardian (although it's not just The Guardian. That great institution for the dissemination of the philosophies of science, Good Morning America did a segment on it). So I did a little bit of digging, which apparently the blowhard couldn't be bothered to do (that's the media's job, right?) and it took me all of 5 minutes to discover that this term was coined by a Naturopathic MD named Steven Bratman and Bratman himself has repeatedly said that it is simply a description. Check out the discussion page of the term in Wikipedia and Bratman's own page to see him repeatedly saying sensible things like:
"I don't think it's pseudoscience; I never claimed that it was an established diagnosis. It's a descriptive expression, like "workaholism." The analogy is close, in that use of a disease name is employed for expressive purposes.
What seems to get people all worked up about orthorexia nervosa is that it is in Latin. They must be trying to invent a disease and they want to destroy our vegan religion, er lifestyle. As the blowhard writes:
I told you this was coming. Years ago, I warned NaturalNews readers that an attempt might soon be under way to outlaw broccoli because of its anti-cancer phytonutrients. This mental health assault on health-conscious consumers is part of that agenda. It's an effort to marginalize healthy eaters by declaring them to be mentally unstable and therefore justify carting them off to mental institutions where they will be injected with psychiatric drugs and fed institutional food that's all processed, dead and full of toxic chemicals.
Now this is some pretty idiotically paranoid stuff and one would think it was real fringe stuff, but it came up on my Google Reader recommended items page, 100+ people had happy faced it.

I think the media hype is interesting in that it really highlights the unhealthy co-dependent relationship between the media, the general public, and pseudoscientists on health issues (well, all issues but we are focusing on health here). Here's a quote from Bratman:
Lots of dieticians, eating disorder specialists, etc., seem to take it seriously. But that doesn't mean it's a real disease. It seems to be pretty much trendy at the moment. Before I closed my website to email, I was inundated with emails from journalists wanting to know about it. Many countries too: Germany, Brazil, Chile, Sweden, UK ... But the fact is, orthorexia is NOT a scientific diagnosis. It's just a popular culture term at the moment. I think there's about a 50/50 chance that it will some day be a DSM term. Someone else besides me will have to do that. I'm not an eating disorder specialist, and I really don't have an investment in what happens with it.
In the ADD world of journalism, reporters are only too happy to pick up on the scent of a newly manufactured disease, and dieticians are only too happy to add it to their collection of junk knowledge. Has there ever been a journalist reporting on science that actually had a degree in science? Well, there's Gary Taubes, who studied applied physics at Harvard and aerospace engineering at Stanford, and look where that got him, the guy is claiming that saturated fat is healthier than whole wheat tofu crackers fried with industrially extracted frankenoils! Oh, the humanity!

Speaking of ADD, I think the term is great as a description. You see it used all the time because it is a useful adjective or adverb, as in "last week Crossfit, this week kettlebells, he's got exercise ADD". I once saw ADD defined as "behaviors that annoy elementary school teachers". Of course, the problem is that the term ADD is no longer just a description but a real disease, with lots of medications approved by Big Brother to treat it. Hurray for modern medicine, the media and the FDA! If I were to make up a Latin term for Soccer Mom, say, matris pilaeus SUVus, would that get picked up by The Guardian, Good Morning America, etc, and ten years later have FDA approved medical treatments? Well, I suppose I'd need an MD in Naturopathy and have to write a book about it first. Not to rip too much on Steven Bratman, he seems like a nice, sensible guy who has gone out of his way to insert some rationalism into this thing he invented. I'm even tempted to buy his book. And while I don't have a problem with thinking outside the medical box, I think Naturopathy and its ilk are thinking outside the wrong box, ie the problem with current medical dogma isn't the rigorous science, it is not having enough rigorous science.

Ortherexia Nervosa is a great term to describe people who get so hung up on healthy diet that it greatly impinges upon their lifestyle, or turns into a religion, like most vegans and the paleo/low-carb people who go hog wild (literally). Let's keep it a descriptive term, OK?

Oh look, a squirrel!!!!

Friday, July 09, 2010

Keeping up with the Toeses

Barefoot running is becoming all the rage nowadays, something I'd like to check out as soon as I'm injury free. It got me thinking about that most amazing of running creatures, the horse. The main problem with running in fancy shoes is that one tends to hit the ground with the heel, transmitting the shock right up the leg and causing all sorts of injuries to knees, shins, hips etc. A barefoot runner is forced to land on their toes, the ankle flexing to act as a shock absorber. Now take a look at the horse. They essentially run all the time on one big toe, or actually one big toenail.

Then there's the cat, that most amazing of jumpers. Their foot is extremely long giving them tons of jumping power. Some people might think that a cat's paws are the same as our feet, but they are really just her toes. The ankle joint is a natural spring, acting as a shock absorber when we run and a giant slingshot for a pouncing cat. The heel juts out and attaches to the large elastic Achilles tendon, which is why it is a lot easier it is to bounce on one's toes than on one's knees.

And just like cats we don't have the equivalent of a heel on our wrists to give us lots of springy torque. The wrists are for playing with string or playing Beethoven sonatas, the extended heels and Achilles tendons of the rear legs are for pouncing or absorbing the shock of running. Horses, as hardcore runners, do have extended bones on their front 'wrists', front springs, along with fused bones. No playing with string or Mozart sonatas for the horse. This is an animal designed for one thing: to carry cowboys.

So it makes sense that bypassing these natural shock absorbers, this springy heel/tendon combination by wearing a pair of padded Nikes and pounding the ground with the heel and long strides will lead to long term joint problems. I suspect that flat feet are also linked to our constant use of shoes.

One advantage we humans have over horses, with our long flexible feet we can really jump a lot better than them.

Well, maybe not. But it does allow us to use a ladder and stuff, let's see you try that mister overly-adapted-to-running horse.

What really got me thinking about this was some disagreement about orthopedic shoes. My son was born quite bowlegged, and is still somewhat pigeon-toed at 3 1/2. The doctor said he'd probably have to wear orthopedic shoes, so I did some research and found that there is little evidence that these things work. It is the stress of walking and running that straightens out baby's legs and feet. The body responds to the stress by strengthening and straightening the bones (unless that is made impossible by something like rickets, get plenty of Vit D, preferably from sunlight). It is amazing to me just how adaptable our bones are. I used to picture them as sticks that our muscles hung off of, but of course they are a dynamic, living organ. Astronauts' bones weaken quite dramatically after just a few weeks in zero gravity. Likewise, rugby players have some of the strongest bones. So my plan is to let my son run as much as possible in bare feet - he naturally runs on his toes already - and let nature hopefully take care of the rest. If that doesn't work, he's gonna have to play under-5 rugby.

Which reminds me of something else: American football. Just as bare-knuckle boxing is safer, albeit bloodier than boxing with gloves, I'd be willing to bet American football is more dangerous than rugby. A combination of the Peltzman effect and interfering with natural feedback mechanisms, like a natural reluctance to smash into one another. This may also apply to bike helmets.

Fat increases concentration, but it will kill you!

Just came across this little study. Pilots performed best on a high fat diet. And here's a media interpretation of the results. "Researchers said the study is not aimed at weight control and noted that because the pilots are young, they're able to absorb a high amount of fatty acids for brain development." I suppose this sort of caveat by the researchers is necessary when publishing such results, and the media must include it lest people start gorging themselves on lard and become chronically obese or something.

HT bakadesuyo