Measuring the Way to Good Health

Posted April 10, 2016 by Phil Odence
Categories: Diet, Exercise, Health

Tags: , , , ,

Management guru Peter Drucker is well-known for the maxim, “If don’t measure it, you can’t improve it.” There’s a corollary I stumbled upon in my Total Quality Management studies that suggests if you do measure it, it will tend to improve. The idea is that just drawing attention to an issue is often enough to cause people to address it.

This can also be applied to one’s personal health and thus I’ve started measuring stuff. It probably doesn’t work for everyone, but if you are the kind of person who strives for 10 out of 10 in Facebook quizzes, holds your breath for 60 seconds or checks your pulse during business meetings, or engages in other frivolous games with yourself, it might.

FullSizeRender.jpgWeight is so central—both an indicator and a driver of health—that it’s well-worth shining a light on. Face the reality of the scale every day. Doing so creates the little voice in the back of your head that quietly reminds you when faced with the dessert menu that tomorrow morning you will also have to face the numbers. It’s good to have some goal in mind. An excellent internist advised me years ago to pick a number that triggers red flashing lights and sirens. In my case, a nice, round 200 works very well. If I find myself approaching that threshold (which, by the way, I had blown past by my late thirties): Whoop, whoop…flash, flash, it’s a sobering condition red.

I no longer count every calorie, but as discussed in another posting, that’s a great practice, both to steer daily behavior and to educate you on the goods and bads of what you are putting into your system. Doing it for a few months is enough to give you a practical sense for what foods fit your dietary needs and which ones are better to avoid.

IMG_0296.PNGI never jumped on the FitBit, but as soon as my iPhone started counting steps, I began mildly obsessing over getting in 10,000 steps every day. This has clearly modified my behavior. I have cranked up the mileage on my runs, walk to someone’s desk at work rather than texting, and just yesterday, took the dog for another walk in the late afternoon, because I was sitting about 7,500 steps. As with anything, one can go overboard. And the reality is, I fall short, sometimes way short, a day or two a week, but being mildly obsessed with one’s health is a positive.

IMG_0297.PNGMost experts agree that for a male two drinks a day on average and never going above four are good guidelines. Knowing that I occasionally deviate, I started measuring using a simple iPhone app. It requires me to log in every drink which is a little bit of hassle, but manageable for the mildly obsessed. I’m positive that the act of measuring has caused me to drink less over the last couple of months. Having misbehaved a bit last weekend and to create some buffer for this weekend, I turned teetotaler for Sunday – Wednesday to get my 14-day average down.

I hope for and expect technology to enable more and easier health measurement. I would love to have the phone in my pocket vibrate whenever my blood sugar spikes a little. Last fall I experienced the joys of a kidney stone. Now I must avoid oxalates (spinach, almonds, and other otherwise healthy foods), up my calcium intake slightly, and drink a lot of lemon water to achieve a balance of chemicals in my blood that avoids the formation of stones. It drives me crazy that I can’t see how I’m doing; I’m shooting in the dark. The next measurement will not be for six months, a back-looking urinalysis, CAT scan and ultrasound. Boy would I love to have a real time graph on my phone, but I’d settle for a home urine test.

My Annual Easter Joke

Posted March 27, 2016 by Phil Odence
Categories: Humor, Uncategorized

Tags: ,

Kicking off the new Barefoot Phil off with my annual Easter joke:

Three Italian guys were sitting on a stoop, discussing the best holidays.

The first one opined (in English with a strong, lousy Italian accent), “My favorite holiday is-a Easter. It make me so happy to see the happy childrens get all dressed up in those costumes. And, it make them so happy to visit their neighborhood and get all that candy. ’at’s-a why I love-a Easter.”

“Luigi,” followed Cute-Happy-Easter-Photos.jpgthe second, “Easter is my favorite holiday too, but-a you got it all wrong.” He went on. “I love Easter because it’s when the fat man dresses up in his red suit and brings gifts to all the little children. He go down the chimney and it make ’em so happy. So that’s why I love-a Easter.”

“Giuseppe, Luigi, don’t-a you know about Easter?” admonished the third. “Easter is my favorite holiday, too. It’s the time when we think back to-a Christ our Lord. He-a die on the cross for your sins. And then they shut his-a body in a cave.” Wide-eyed, the other two listened as he slowly continued. “It stay there for two days. After that, He-a rise up from the dead….He-a step outta that cave…and-a…if He see his shadow…”

A new thing for Barefoot Phil

Posted December 13, 2015 by Phil Odence
Categories: Books, Uncategorized, Writing

After now nearly 6 years, I continue to run barefoot 4-5 times per week. Actually, my gym and showers at work are currently under construction, so that  has slowed me down a bit, but I just finished my second run of the weekend on Cape Cod where it is unseasonably mild. Should be back in full swing by January 1. I continue to run, but I simply ran out of things to say about it a few years ago; I just do.

VanWie_TheConfluence copyBut, I still love to write. The last 18 months I’ve been working on a book abut a twenty-five year annual fishing trip. I actually mention my barefoot running in the book in a chapter where I explain about another sartorial oddity of mine–fishing without waders. (I do wear pants, though.) I mention it here in case any old BFP fans have interest in stories of friendship and the woods and fishing. Many test readers have given it a big thumbs up. Please check out the website at:

Fat and the screwed up medical community

Posted August 12, 2011 by Phil Odence
Categories: Diet, Health, Research

Tags: ,

Why We Get Fat by Gary Taubes provides a much more in depth explanation of the dynamics of fat storage than was in my last posting, but it goes well beyond that as well. Taubes is pretty scathing in his description of how off track the medical community got with respect to diet since World War II, and to the great detriment of the average American’s health.

If you believe, as most people seem to today, that carbs are the chief culprit, it’s absolutely shocking to look with fresh eyes at the food pyramid. Introduced less than 20 years ago, the explicit recommendation was for 6-11 servings of bread, cereal, rice and pasta vs 3-5 servings of vegetables! No surprise that the FDA replaced it in June with MyPlate, a much saner guide though still probably off for someone trying to lose weight. In the meantime the obesity problem has achieved epidemic proportions.

A lot of smart people got caught on the wrong path with two overly-simplistic models: Cals in v. cals out, and If you eat fat, you get fat. And, implicitly, if not explicitly, they cultivated the view that obesity is a symptom not a cause. Of what? Why of gluttony, sloth, and a lack of willpower, of course.  The reality is that some people have a tendency to get fat and some don’t. Most of us who are over 40 know that our current selves are in the former, and that our former selves didn’t have to think about diet. Why is it so hard to believe that a fat guy has an inherent problem, not a lack of willpower. Unfortunately, there’s no silver bullet in the book. If you tend to fat, you can’t eat carbs; if not, you can.

The implications are pretty well aligned with the diet I’ve suggested for losing weight. But there are a couple of differences. First of all Taubes would take issue with my suggestion that counting calories can accelerate weight loss. I’m not sure I buy it, but he poo-poos that whole notion. And, while he suggests that exercise is great for a bunch of other reasons, diet it the dramatically dominant factor in weight loss. One of the key dynamics he cites is the relationship between exercise and eating. Most people eat more when they exercise more which offsets the weight loss benefit. Finally, he’d have you eat more meat than I was suggesting; no reason to limit at all. I suppose I could test all this by putting 40 pounds back on and giving it another go…nah!

A barefoot layman’s view of the biochemistry of fat storage

Posted August 7, 2011 by Phil Odence
Categories: Diet, Health

Tags: , , ,

The dynamics of fat storage are pretty complex; here’s a boiled down version:

It all starts with the regulation of blood sugar (glucose).  Glucose is transported by the bloodstream as a source of fuel for our cells, however too much sugar in the blood is a problem, so the body regulates it by pancreatic insulin secretion. The quickest way to get sugar out of the blood is to shuttle if off for storage as fat in fat cells, and insulin in the blood triggers just this process.

As carbohydrates are digested, they turn into glucose. In reaction, insulin in the blood directs glucose into fat cells (and away from muscle cells). In the process, fatty acids in the blood, say from eating bacon, Read the rest of this post »

Barefoot calorie counting on both sides of the equation

Posted July 31, 2011 by Phil Odence
Categories: Diet, Exercise, Health, Research

Tags: , , ,

The simplest model of body weight dynamics says there are g’zins and g’zouts and to lose weight the g’zouts must exceed the g’zins. So, if you are really aiming to lose some weight, it’s an excellent idea to track your caloric intake versus output. For me, that practice turned the daunting endeavor into a game with my score reported by the scale every morning. My competitive juices provided the discipline to keep the calories down and the exercise up.

Years ago my mom would diligently look up various foods in a little paperback pamphlet. Today, if you are at all technologically bent, software makes it a lot easier. Google “counting calories” and you’ll find scores of options. Most are free web apps where you get an account, enter your stuff and it tracks it for you. They all are pretty similar; the key is to find one with a good database. Piecing together what’s in a salad from McDonald’s is tedious, but if you need only enter “McSalad- Southwest,” that’s easy. Some of the sites have social media aspects, so you can “friend” with other dieters and build a support group. For me a key feature was having an iPhone app available, so I could carry my tracking software in my pocket. I did a little research Read the rest of this post »

Barefootin’ on Boston TV

Posted July 27, 2011 by Phil Odence
Categories: Barefoot Running, Other Runners

One morning in mid-June, ten or so of the New England Barefoot Runners faithful gathered by the Charles in Cambridge for our TV debut. Channel 5 weather guy (and avid runner) Dave Brown was working on some stories about running in Boston for Chronicle and had contacted Barefoot Preston Curtis who put out a casting call.

Although we didn’t get a great workout, it was fun and interesting to see how local TV sausage gets made. Dave and his photographer started by interviewing Barefoot Mama, Therese Withee, the first woman to run a barefoot Boston marathon. Next up was Todd Byers, a buddy of Ken Bob Saxton’s, and the world record holder for barefoot marathons with 102 under his belt. Both are great folks,
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