Sustainable Balance can now be found at:
Well, although I told myself I would put up a few posts over the past year or so, grad school got the better of me and I never got around to it. I'm now going to finish the story from where I left off: Discovering evolutionary health and fitness ideas, and beginning to incorporate them.
I met some people during this time who also suffered from what I was starting to call "IBS" (irritable bowel syndrome), and the concept of gluten-free diets was introduced to me. Gluten - basically a protein present in some grains - was apparently quite allergenic to some people (celiacs) and resulted in several different symptoms ranging from an IBS symptoms to migraines to arthritis. Being something of a scientist, I wanted to test my own sensitivity to gluten. On the blog "Mark's Daily Apple" (by my now-hero, Mark Sisson), I found a post called "Why Grains are Unhealthy". It blew my mind that something so ingrained (ugh) and encouraged in our society could actually be causing health problems. I'll let you read the link for the details, but essentially the gluten, lectins, and phytates present in ALL grains (ESPECIALLY WHOLE GRAINS) makes them essentially pointless to consume. The only thing they're good for is providing your body with a smash of glucose along with allergens and anti-nutrients. Awesome. Mark also created a graph called the "Carbohydrate Curve", which was fairly in-line with what I already thought about carbohydrates: if you're going to limit one macronutrient, this is the one (my thoughts on this have changed somewhat as I don't think it applies to everyone uniformly, but for me it still pretty much does). Obviously, hefty portions of protein were part of his prescription. Mark also encouraged the consumption of natural fats for most of your energy, and the idea of becoming a "fat burner" (having a dominantly fat burning metabolism) as opposed to getting hooked on blasts of sugar every 2-3 hours. He also encouraged the consumption of heat-stable saturated fatty acids, and recommended limiting your polyunsaturated fat intake due to their propensity for becoming oxidized by relatively small amounts of heat and light (oxidized fats = bad). Industrial vegetable oils were thus eliminated as well (canola, corn, soybean, etc.) as he explained that they were responsible for a lot of body inflammation, and their introduction into indigenous cultures worldwide always preceded a rise in heart disease and obesity (along with the introduction of refined foods, of course).
So, as I was pretty low-carb already, I bought right into ditching grains entirely. I don't even know why I was hanging on (tastiness of some things, probably). Out went the toast, pizza, wraps, pitas, pasta, oatmeal, granola bars, cereal, corn products...and as it turned out: almost anything processed at all. My intake of meat, eggs, nuts, veggies, and fruits was already pretty high, but I increased the overall fat content by cooking in butter and my new favourite: coconut oil. I was slathering that stuff on! Then...interesting things started to happen. The first thing I noticed is that I started to sleep more soundly. I would sleep through the night (amazing for me), and wake up easily feeling pretty good. I would eat a big breakfast of bacon and eggs with veggies (no toast...maybe a bit of fruit), and then, to my amazement (after a while) EASILY MAKE IT TO LUNCH WITH NO HUNGER! At first I kept cramming down my mid-morning snacks (nuts and fruits) out of habit, before I realized I just didn't want it anymore! By lunch, I would be...hungry, but not starving. It was a light hunger, with no accompanying irritability or weakness, and it typically didn't happen for 4-5 hours after breakfast (breakfast at 7, hungry around noon). Then it was usually a salad with meat of some kind, and I would cruise until 4-5 pm, maybe have some nuts, then eat dinner at 6-7 (meat and veggies in coconut oil or butter). No more late-night snacking necessary, I was fine! My appetite was totally in control. I added up the calories (I now realize this is mostly pointless) and was well under maintenance calories, but felt no real hunger! I leaned out bigtime on this, all while not even working out that much (I was super busy with school, and pretty sick of working out at this time in my life). I felt great! Mark had written some posts about "intermittent fasting" (infrequent, short fasts usually not lasting longer than 24 hours) and their potential health benefits, so I decided to give it a shot.
I'm not going to go into detail on intermittent fasting, since its already been done by several more reputable authors, so I'll just provide a few links: 1. The Myriad Benefits of Intermittent Fasting, by Mark Sisson 2. Eat, Stop, Eat, by Brad Pilon (amazing book for the scientifically minded, and for the layman), and 3. Martin Berkhan's entire blog, Leangains. These guys basically all recommend a simple prescription for optimal health: Lots of good food, strength training, and the occasional short-term fast.
With my new-found energy, I wanted to get back into strength training, but balked at the idea of spending up to 10 hours a week in the gym, and being exhausted and starving all the time. Luckily, Mark Sisson also had some ideas for fitness training. His "Fitness Pyramid" involved a base of TONS of low-intensity exercise (this was exercise? Walking, light biking...exercise?), with a bit of QUALITY strength training, and at the top was the all-out effort that comes with sprint sets. So - I set up my new fitness "regimen" - two or three (third was optional!) total body strength training sessions (lasting about 40 mins each), and one "sprint day", where instead of traditional sprint sets, I played ultimate frisbee and sprinted my ass off.
Within 2 months, I was breaking all my old strength records (while weighing about 25 lbs less than before), running faster and jumping higher while playing ultimate, and almost never feeling overly exhausted or hungry. I felt and looked fantastic. I've been tinkering with the fitness routine for a couple of years now, and have it pretty minimalistic, but highly effective. I'm training about 2 hours a week now (training HARD, but not super often), and getting lots of light aerobic activity (I LOVE HIKING). Eating mostly fat for energy, lots of plants and animals, and little-to no grains or sugar (I'm pretty healed up now, so the odd bit doesn't kill me). I basically follow Martin Berkan's Leangains protocol (training fasted, eating in a somewhat flexible 8-hour window), am very strong for my weight, and keep seeing gains. Training doesn't take over my life anymore, and either does food. Granted, I train HARD and eat LOTS, but I feel very in control now. I listen to my body, and I know when I need to eat, or back off, or give 110%. And when I fall off the rails (ditch workouts, eat some crap) its so easy to get right back on. CLICK! I barely even think about it anymore...its natural. What I love about this is feeling as though my body is as optimized as I can get it without devoting all my free time. This allows me to stay fit and strong and healthy while having the time to explore more interesting topics such as science, psychology, philosophy,
There's more to this lifestyle. Optimizing sleep is important, as is getting sufficient sunlight (a lot of unfiltered too - no sunglasses or sunscreen). Its all part of the "primal/paleo" way of life. This isn't JUST a diet, its realizing that our bodies aren't designed for chronic stress (stress = too much exercise, shitty food, low-quality sleep, overwork), but for ACUTE stress followed by recovery periods. Now, in the modern world (where I'm something of a workaholic) this isn't always possible, so I have some methods of dealing with chronic stress that I've been using to stay somewhat primal in the modern world. I got through an intense graduate degree in engineering while holding to these principles, and feeling pretty good the whole time while working TONS under stressful deadlines.
That's the next post! Designing your regime. No excuses.