Archive for the ‘Diet’ category

Measuring the Way to Good Health

April 10, 2016

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.

Fat and the screwed up medical community

August 12, 2011

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

August 7, 2011

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, (more…)

Barefoot calorie counting on both sides of the equation

July 31, 2011

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 (more…)

Phil’s unlimited barefoot wonder diet

July 26, 2011

By popular demand…here’s what I was eating when I was losing about three pounds a week:

Breakfast- The easiest breakfast for me, because I tend to eat at work, is a packet of instant plain Oatmeal. It’s a little dull, but when you are diet hungry, even dull foods taste wonderful. Oatmeal, although a little carb heavy, is also good for cholesterol. More in line with most of the low carb diets is 2 or 3 ozs of meat and a bunch of vegetables, leftover from the night before.  So, I was mixing it up between the two. Vegetable omelets are great too; I usually just don’t take the time.

Lunch- Salad (about 8oz) including 2oz of chicken or hardboiled eggs with oil, vinegar and black pepper. This was really easy for me and continues to be my daily lunch. I’ve come to love the plain o/v dressing. We have a cafeteria at work with a salad bar, so after I exercise at lunch, I swoop in there and toss together a salad. It is completely satisfying. They come in a plastic container with a top allowing (more…)

Phil’s recommended reading for barefoot dieters

July 24, 2011

There have been countless wonder diets published over the years. Nephew Dan Gould was questioning how there can be so many different right answers. How can one diet tell you to eat X and another to avoid X and eat Y? I can’t claim to have done exhaustive research, but my sense is that there is reasonable consistency amongst the popular diets today.

The common theme is that to burn vs. store fat, you want to keep your blood sugar levels low and flat.  You get there by losing the carbs, eating lots of vegetables, and drinking lots of water. A helpful rule of thumb is to avoid white—Rice, potatoes, milk, sugar, bread, etc. (The notable exception is cauliflower, a great potato substitute.)

My reading started with The Four Hour Body. It’s not a diet book per se, rather an empirical study of many aspects of how bodies work (more…)

Barefoot running may not be the whole answer

July 5, 2011

Ok, here’s a little secret: My knees still bug me a little. Like many barefooters, I shed the shoes for health reasons, among with others. In my case there we no acute issues, but I did have the sense that my knees and hips could impede my running one day. I can unequivocally state that I don’t even think about the hips any more.  And, I’ve definitely improved on the knee front, but more, maybe, from shedding pounds than shoes. So, I’m broadening the discussion here to diet and general health, as that’s where my research and attention have been going of late…still doing 15 miles of barefoot running per week.

Sadly, casual running alone is no longer sufficient to keep my weight in check. I have difficulty not consuming large volumes of food, perhaps in part due to being active, and my metabolism ain’t burning the cals it did when I was a younger man. Most guys I know observe that the ol’ bod  significantly downshifts at 40. No doubt getting exercise is a net positive, but nonetheless, last December 31, I found myself weighing 228. For context, I’m 6’2″ and over 50 (uggh) and that weight was 30 lbs over my soccer/rugby, in-shape weight, 25 lbs over my unstated goal, (more…)