Whole30, Goldilocks and evil carbses

Back to posting after long silence.

Things have been downright crazy here at primalmeded/Whole9SouthPacific HQ. Jamie and I have successfully held our first ever W9SP workshop in Cairns. I expect this to be the flashiest workshop we will ever have since it was conducted in the Shangri-La rather than in a Crossfit gym surrounded by pull up bars, chalked up weights and breathing in the sweat the smell of victory. But hey, we can talk to people about nutrition anywhere as long as nobody decided to punch out 20 burpees when they get bored of our ramblings. The Paleo Cafe in Cairns were awesome organisers and they will be conducting a Whole30 in February and we will get to judge the winner. Our next stop is Crossfit Toowoomba which is getting close to being booked out!

Jamie dropping some knowledge bombs to a full house in Cairns

Jamie dropping some knowledge bombs to a full house in Cairns

Me, with my "d'er" slide

Me, with my “d’er” slide

The obligatory glam shot: me and Julianne Taylor from Paleo Zone Nutrition who was our special guest. Post workshop dinner at Cairns marina

The obligatory glam shot: me and Julianne Taylor from Paleo Zone Nutrition who was our special guest. Post workshop dinner at Cairns marina

This post is mostly about Whole30 and random thoughts on troubleshooting. This is my 4th whole30 and yes, I’m getting pretty good at this. Plus I have the benefit of being intimately familiar with the book, knowing the references and also presenting that material. Not to blow my own trumpet but I think it’s fair to say it gives me a little bit of an insight. But in spite of all this, I found myself wide-eyed and amazed at how much I learnt this time around.

A little bit of personal background to put this into perspective. I have been eating low carb/primal/Paleo for over 2.5 years now. I don’t have any medical conditions or an overt food intolerance. Junk food (sugar, grains, processed food) gives me pimples, makes me bloated and pushes me to the sarcastic bitch end of the spectrum. When I eat well I contain my natural impatience with stupidity a lot better. I never thought I had problems with dairy but I have been having less and less of it in the last few months and my skin which was already pretty good improved more. Plus I don’t really miss it. I put on some weight this year mostly due to stress, irregular hours and meals, and sleep deprivation. I have made it my priority to improve those areas in the last few months and was already getting good results. We decided to do the January Whole30 to “walk the talk” (so nobody could tell us “eating THIS way is soooo hard”) and see what results we can achieve with perfect focus.

First the results:

  1. My satiety levels are the best they have EVER been. I used to snack occasionally (i.e. daily) and felt no hunger in the morning, then was practically starving by lunch, and again before bedtime. Now I have 3 full meals spaced out at around 6hrs with some gentle hunger around hour 5.
  2. My energy levels improved dramatically. We go to the gym 3 days a week doing basic strength. On the days that we don’t train we go for beach walks, sprints and short hikes. Instead of wanting to collapse into the couch when I come home and play dead, I actually look forward to getting out of the house and dissipating some pent-up energy.
  3. Strength gains. This year my training has been really inconsistent. I remember thinking at my surgical rotation that the only exercise I get is holding the retractors in OT. Last few months I introduced more gymnastics-style training which I hugely enjoyed. I sustained a minor injury in late December and somehow found myself coerced convinced to take a month off gymnastics and do a strength block instead. Never thought I’d say it but I actually do enjoy it and will introduce some deadlifts (gasp!) into my regular program. Ok, ok, I’m loving it. I have no doubt that having extra energy and good recovery contributed to that.
  4. Body composition. If you are expecting the Before and After photos you are out of luck. It ain’t happening. The water weight and some extra insulation (he he) that I picked up over winter started to shift in the last few months. But in the last few weeks I felt like somebody just pushed the right button. I am leaner with the biggest differences in my stomach and waist. I probably could say more but I am going to stop there. Let’s just say I am very happy with the change.

So what did I do differently???

  • More food. Seriously. I have always considered that I eat a lot “for a girl”. I thought I was tired and apathetic because of work, stress, “I am just lazy”. It is practically ingrained in women that they should eat less than a man. Dishing out dinner I would go with the Goldilocks principles: papa bear meal, mama bear meal and a baby bear. And of course, somehow accurately estimating with a trained eye that my portion should be about 30% less than Jamie’s. This time we decided to run an experiment and fill my plate. So now we plate out a portion of protein about 150-200g each and fill the white gaps on the plate with veggies and fruit. Occasionally it’s too much and I don’t finish it. More often than not, I do.

I had a few people ask me recently on Twitter and at the workshop whether it was 200g per day or per meal which caused me a lot of merriment. Get you calculators ready, doubters!
3 eggs at 11g protein each = 33g (breakfast)
Smoked salmon 150g = 32g (lunch)
Lamb chop = 33g (dinner)
Total around 100g protein a day. I weigh 60kg. Which makes it ~1.6g of protein per kilo. Hardly a huge amount for a young active female. Don’t forget, you have eliminated snacks with “healthy” sources of useless protein, a.k.a. gluten, like Nutrigrain cereal bars. 3 meals of between 25 and 40g each does not add up to a whole lot.


Very typical dinner: lamb chop (of course!), sweet potato+orange+pecans in olive and ginger marinade, braised cabbage with garlic

Very typical dinner: lamb chop (of course!), sweet potato+orange+pecans in olive and ginger marinade, braised cabbage with garlic

Just in case you think I used an entree plate. Palm size is a minimum, ladies!

Just in case you think I used an entree plate. Palm size is a minimum, ladies!

So yeah, I lost MORE body fat eating MORE food. Still think calories count?

  • More vegetables. When Dallas and Melissa said “Fill the rest of your plate with veggies” they weren’t joking. When I talk to people about vegetables I normally get this slightly guilty shifty look: “Yeah yeah I know they are good for me…” and the voice trails into the distance. Yes, they are bloody good for you. Eat them. I don’t go into throws of ecstasy over broccoli and bok choy. But I eat it. I am a grown up, FFS. I love how people who dislike them find all sort of reasons to avoid them. I know there are many with autoimmune conditions etc. who genuinely need to avoid nightshades or FODMAPs. But something tells me that it’s all too easy to use that excuse to avoid “boring” veggies. Which actually undermines the distress of those who actually cannot tolerate these veggies. Needless to say, all our veggies are cooked in fat (I don’t just want to chew fibre, I actually want to absorb some micronutrients here). And try not to spot diagnose yourself with intolerance to <coconut, onions,=”” radishes=””> after 1 week just because your gut is not used to that amount of fibre and you feel a little bloated. Don’t blame the food. Give it some time to adjust then reassess.
  • Whole30 Meal Template. One of the mistakes that I see often in the newcomers (and sometimes old-timer paleos) is focusing on Whole30/Paleo-approved ingredients. People tend to forget about the fact that these ingredients still need to add up to a MEAL. So yes, almonds, blueberries and cocoa are technically all Whole30-approved but it is still not a meal. Swapping your protein+veggie lunch for a “light” soup with some nuts may sound like a good idea but you are shortchanging yourself on nutrition and will likely crumble like an almond meal cookie in a day or two. The Whole30 Meal Template does not just apply for dinner (most of us are down with that) but also to your Meal1 and Meal2. We successfully melted a few brains at our Cairns workshop suggesting slow cooked lamb and stir-fried veggies for breakfast. For us every single meal but 2 (caught out at Brisbane airport)  followed the protein and veg (and some fruit) format.
Breakfast: 3 eggs, slow cooked lamb and random veggies. Oh and an apple

Breakfast: 3 eggs, slow cooked lamb and random veggies. Oh and an apple

Work lunch sitting on my lap

Work lunch sitting on my lap

  • More starchy vegetables. Oh boy. I am in the process of actively opening a Pandora’s box and I know it. Let’s get one thing straight: “starches” are vegetables. I am not talking about tucking into potato starch with a tablespoon or sprinkling flour over steak. They are VEGETABLES. Since when are vegetables bad for us? News flash: they have more than strings of glucose held together by glycosidic bonds: vitamins, minerals, nutrients. They are cellular carbohydrate sources (if you haven’t yet read this paper you must!)

For those concerned about their glucose tolerance. The glycaemic effect of a meal hugely depends on its fat content. And if you were a diabetic who decided to tuck in a bowl of plain white potato on its own on an empty stomach your BSL may indeed shoot up. But why would you do that unless you were getting paid by a sugar company keen to sell their low GI sugar? If you incorporate the same potato into a normal size meal containing meat/fish and a decent source of fat to slow the stomach emptying I betcha you will see some different numbers.

But of course, everything is a spectrum. And as much as this applies to the middle of the bell curve there are always outliers. I have seen people get a BSL of 18 after a piece of fish and 10 after a bowl of pasta, making me swallow the pill of humility and bite my tongue. If your glucose tolerance is indeed shot to pieces you may have to watch your sweet potato “allowance”. AND you need to look at your activity level and building some good muscle where you can sink some glucose. If you are bed/couch-ridden you will tolerate less. If you get yourself a decent muscle sink and empty it regularly you will tolerate more.

What I find infinitely more frustrating is not the glucose intolerant individuals who have to have a little less sweet potato because they are sick, unable to exercise, their pancreas is on its last legs and they are trying to minimise the damage. It is those who claim that a piece of pumpkin with dinner sends them into hyperglycaemic coma and goes straight to their thighs but pumpkin gluten-free pancakes/cookies/muffins on the other hand are totally “Paleo”. I’m sorry, what? Sure, I like to let my hair down from time to time, I am not some boring Paleo prune who never has fun, I want to give some treats to my child and help her grow up well adjusted. So I will bake her some nut flour/maple syrup/honey/cocoa concoction but will vilify half a sweet potato? Holding onto paleofied sugar methadone with a death grip will prevent you from assessing your real starchy vegetable tolerance. Those evil carbses might actually work for you if you let go of the dessert addiction.

Argh. Ok. This is turning a little more ranty than I intended. I’ll get off my soap box and stop my preaching. Take from it what you want. There is no need to send me BSL measurements to prove that beetroot gets you higher than cocaine. This may not be you. But I sure do see this a lot from people who then go: “This Paleo thing doesn’t work for me!!!!!! I tried it, was tired all the time, couldn’t lose weight, got weak in the gym. It’s a fad people, get over it”.


Good luck with your Whole30.


The weight loss conundrum

Disclaimer: this post expresses my personal opinions. Fancy that. On my personal blog too. And guess what, this opinion may even be different to yours. You can let me know if you agree or disagree with the views expressed here. You might even go as far as to tell me that I am wrong. I may or may not care about that. Enjoy reading.

Phew. Now that we got that out of the way let’s talk weight loss. Everyone on the internet knows that the best way to get traffic is to tag your pearls of wisdom  “weight loss tips” and “Jessica Biel’s diet secrets”. I have neither. Sorry. But this post was mostly brought on by the frustration that the topic of losing body mass is still a priority not just in conventional women’s magazines but in ancestral health community.

You know the one: “Yes, I’ve given up grains because Robb Wolf told me to, I don’t eat refined carbs after reading Gary Taubes, I stopped sugar after watching that Lustig’s video and I force down a tablespoon of fermented cod liver oil since attending Weston A.Price conference. I feel great but… How do I lose another 10kgs?”

And of course there is no shortage of available experts on the interwebz:
– eat less carbs
– eat more safe starches
– introduce interval training
– stop HIIT to salvage your burned out adrenals
– eat sauerkraut for healthy gut
– calories don’t matter
– calories matter
– start IF
– use FitDay to track your daily intake
et cetera.

It’s all very sad.

In the meantime the average long term success of most weight loss strategies is around 1%. Yeah, sure, most people do it wrong. They choose the wrong diet (Lemon Detox, anyone?), they choose the worst possible exercise (if you are a female with a cup size C and above, for god’s sake stop running). And they just don’t have the willpower that the new dieter has (sarcasm font). Because the new dieter knows that he/she will be different. I will be in that 1% who does it right and stays skinny ever after. The End.

There are numerous reasons why weight loss strategies fail. And there are numerous reasons why they succeed. Temporarily. You can lose weight in literally thousands of different ways: Paleo, low fat, low carb, low calorie, ketogenic, vegetarian, aerobic exercise, HIIT, IF, bariatric surgery, liposuction…

That’s why the to and fro arguments on which approach is better for weight loss is kinda pointless. YES! YOU CAN LOSE WEIGHT EATING MARS BARS AND DRINKING COKE! (feel free to leave this page at this point and celebrate).

We have this love and hate relationship with a number that determines our body mass. Lily Allen famously said: “And everything’s cool as long as I’m getting thinner”. There is another number that we have become very preoccupied with in the last few decades: serum cholesterol. Chasing that number (down) is the name of the game, mostly by pharmacological means. Of course, you could tilt this snow globe upside down and decide that the number per se is not very meaningful and in fact represents some other pathological process in the body. Ideally you would choose an intervention that both addresses the cause of the problem and pushes that number in the direction you want. A nutrient-rich diet free of processed junk and pro-inflammatory toxins accompanied by reasonable physical activity is likely to address the chronic inflammatory state that leads to dyslipidaemia and therefore drop the dreaded cholesterol numbers down and please your conscientious doctor.

But sometimes it doesn’t get you to the magic 5.5 mmols that your doctor wants to see. Just like your 6 month foray into the Paleo diet fails to get you to that elusive number that determines your weight, size and consequently happiness. Time to go on PaleoHacks and shout for help.

I am not having a go at the desire to be slimmer. Sure, I wouldn’t mind losing a few kgs. I also wouldn’t mind losing my freckles or having bigger hands (it sucks trying to find surgical gloves that fit). Neither affects my sense of self worth.

So for what it’s worth, these are my ideas in relation to weight loss (note, doesn’t say FOR weight loss):

I am overweight? Oh thank you, kind sir, I wish I knew this earlier! Let me just switch to a healthy diet and start running.

1. If your primary focus is weight loss you are already behind the eighth ball. If being skinny was a powerful motivator we wouldn’t have 2/3rds of Western world overweight or obese. Wanting to lose weight tends to screw with people’s heads even with the best foundation: they start stressing (excess cortisol=bad), they start reducing/counting/starving/hating their bland food/exercising at 5am and generally stop listening to the bodies.

Things are quite different when you eat to nourish every cell in your body. Shift your focus to wellness and flip the switch.

1a Unless you have congestive heart failure or chronic kidney disease, chuck your scales. Like now. Get up and throw them in the bin.

2. Start with having a nutrient-rich diet and get rid of junk. Use whatever framework takes your fancy: Paleo, primal, perfect health diet, whole30, Mediterranean, vegetarian (gasp! ). Minimize the “healthy” versions of unhealthy food, you don’t want any food holding you emotionally hostage.

Until you have that down pat, forget the words “Do you have these pants in a smaller size?”

3. Find a regular consistent physical activity you enjoy. I know exercise is supposed to be about torture. That’s ok if you enjoy torture, no judgement here. Do something you can see yourself doing regularly in a year. Or five.

3a. Do not ramp up the volume/intensity of the said activity to accelerate weight loss beyond the level you see yourself comfortably doing long term. Did I hear you say “bootcamp”? Pfft.

4. You cannot fix self esteem issues with weight loss. The two have very little to do with each other.

4a. In the same vein, having weight loss as a dangling carrot in the future can derail your enjoyment of today. Don’t put off activities, clothes or happiness until you get thinner. See point 1.

5. It seems that the thoughts of weight loss frequently return when people are still longing for a six pack in spite of measurable improvements in their physical and mental health. This is where we hit a little snag.

Let’s say you start off in the obese category. Up to a certain point weight loss and health gains go together. Then you reach a state where your body is happy, healthy and well-nourished. To lose more subcutaneous fat from this point will not gain any further health benefit. In fact, you may dip down into negative territory. If you are body builder, dancer, gymnast or any athlete dependent on low body mass this is the risk you have to take. If you are a suburban mother of 2, disappointed she doesn’t look like her graduation photo any longer, you may be playing a dangerous game. If you still choose to continue down this path that’s cool. Your choice. It’s way harder to shift the happy-healthy weight so you may have to pull out all stops. Some of those deviate even further from the path to long term health and wellness. Obviously if you are naturally lean and small you have to flip this scenario 180 degrees. Getting massive past the point of diminishing returns may not be optimal for your body either.

When I see an obese patient I do not have an overwhelming desire to help them lose fat. To me their weight is nothing more but an external manifestation of serious internal issues.  I worry about their risk of heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s and autoimmune conditions. I feel the same level of concerns for the skinny-fat: normal BMI with little muscle and obvious visceral adiposity.

Incredibly sexist and quite offensive to naturally thin women. However we don’t think twice when the ads are turned the other way around.

For a health-conscious and somewhat rebellious community we are still remarkably superficial and eager to conform to the current body image stereotype.

How (Not) to Put On Weight During Thanksgiving

We don’t celebrate Thanksgiving in Australia. We have managed to appropriate most other North American holidays without actually knowing their true meaning (Halloween, anyone?) mainly because we just need another excuse to take a day off and stand around the barbeque with a few drinks discussing world affairs, our bosses and why Demi and Ashton have unfollowed each other on Twitter. For now Thanksgiving is all American. The media and the Internet kindly provide us with a small glimpse into what actually goes on during this festive occasion and a lot of talk happens to be about food. I saw this gem of an article today from Medical News Today, a very respected establishment, offering a few helpful tips on how to avoid being a gluttonous slob over Thanksgiving. I decided to improve on some of their suggestions and now I offer you a guide on

How (Not) to Put On Weight During Thanksgiving.

1. Start stressing out about the celebratory occasion a few days in advance. Try to guess what kind of food will be on the table and estimate the total amount of calories, fat and carbs. Don’t sleep the night before tossing and turning while calculating your calorie budget for the next day.


2. Start denying yourself food a week prior to the occasion. Every calorie that does not go into your mouth will accumulate in a magical space that you can call on at Thanksgiving dinner.


3. Alternatively,  make a day before your carb loading day. Surely if you overfill your glycogen stores and calm your nervous system with extra sugar you will have more willpower to walk past the crusty bread platter without collapsing into a heap.


4. Do go out and exercise in the morning. Preferably do something mind-numbingly repetitive for a couple of hours like a Stairmaster in the gym. Face the wall so that you are forced to watch the screen counting the calories spent. Realising how bloody long it takes to burn each  calorie will make you think twice about shoving more food down your gob.


4a Such exercise will have an additional benefit of assisting with your hunger control. Everyone knows that doing long bouts of cardio is a marvelous way to stay sated.


5.  Have a breakfast of champions: a bowl of wholegrain cereal full of fibre to make you fill so bloated that you can’t even look at the turkey without letting out a sneaky one. Don’t have a single ounce of fat with your breakfast: your arteries will be swimming with saturated fat in a few hours time. Let’s try to avoid a heart attack at a family party.

Don’t forget your orange juice: freshly squeezed, of course. Do you see those orange bits floating in your glass? That’s more fibre, it will lower the GI of your juice from 250 to a respectable 79 and help you maintain even blood sugar levels for the rest of the day.


6. Talking about blood sugar. You will quickly realise after your breakfast that you are ravenously hungry. That’s good. Keep topping up your blood sugar level  every 2-3 hours with such wholesome snacks as bagels with low fat cream cheese, tiny tubs of no fat soy yoghurt with fake chocolate flavour and a few multi-grain cereal bars.


7. If you have time just before dinner go for a quick run around the block. Last chance workout!


8. If you are a guy wear a pair of pants size smaller. Ladies, pull that ridiculously tight, preferably pastel-toned dress out of the back of your wardrobe. Your clothing will serve two purposes: first, being so tight it will make it impossible for you to sit down comfortably at the table without looking like you are about to be cut in half. You will be relegated to standing in the kitchen and eating low calorie finger food. Nothing like spending your Thanksgiving dinner munching on carrot sticks and low-fat low-salt low-calorie cardboard crackers.

Secondly, you will be so mortified about every lump and bump spilling out of your neckline, your sleeves and between the buttons it will be shameful to eat at all. Now is the time to punish yourself severely for all the indiscretions since the last Thanksgiving.


9. If you do decide to partake of the gluttonous orgy that is the Thanksgiving dinner eat only the bland and unappetising dishes. Ask the hostess to provide a glass of water, a 100g of steamed unsalted piece of salmon and some salad with low fat dressing on the side. If the hostess is your mother, do not forget to remind her that you have to eat this way because of all the dietary mistakes she made when you were a child.


10. Finally, if you find yourself ravenous, cranky and slightly dizzy by the time dessert comes around, don’t worry and give yourself permission to have a piece of each dessert (in moderation, of course. Don’t be stupid and go back for third helpings!).  You only live once. This is a once-a-year family occasion. After all, you can always repair the damage by running a half marathon tomorrow.


Good luck! You are going to need it!

My Whole30 experience

This is going to be a pretty personal post so if you are after something scienc-y call back next week or go and geek out on the amazing series on time from New Scientist (free rego required but worth it).

Most readers here would have figured out by now that I follow a traditional primal/Paleo-ish diet based on high quality animal products, vegetables, nuts, berries and some high fat dairy. Being a part of this Paleo Internet community is amazing but I think sometimes we lose touch with the nutritional reality out there. Let’s face it: the majority of our population still believe that low fat yoghurt plus a cereal bar is a healthy afternoon snack (my rant on the big picture here). I think it’s preposterous and hilarious that my diet is viewed as extreme by those who regularly ingest food-in-a-box with ingredients that you need a degree in biochemistry to pronounce. Yeah, and I’m the weird one.

A few people who in my view do a fantastic job of bridging the gap between the real world and the real food world are Whole9Life, Diane from Balanced Bites, the original caveman Robb Wolf and Mark Sisson. What I like about them is that they recognise that most people need a simple and practical approach to changing their diet and lifestyle. I chose to do a trial run of a 30 day program The Whole30 by Melissa and Dallas Hartwig of Whole9life.

My goals for my Whole30

Weight loss was not a priority for me. I’m pretty petite and in a normal weight range but definitely not skinny. Some days I wish I looked the way I did a few years back in ‘teen % body fat (yes, I was vain enough to get it measured) but then I remember that I was running myself to the ground by training, teaching in the gym, studying and looking after my family. I ended up with some serious overuse injuries which took me out of action for more than a year. Perspective.

Although I’m Russian I am not a big drinker (despite constant references to alcohol on Twitter!) I enjoy my glass of red wine with dinner and it is about all I can normally manage before getting a bit giggly. However since our trip to Italy earlier this year I have noticed myself having wine most nights and also ordering a bottle for 2 at restaurants. Not that I was concerned but I was curious how I would go without alcohol for a month.

The only other tweak that I had to make on my Whole30 was to say au revoir to high fat dairy. I’m a bit of an artisan cheese fiend, sour cream fan, Greek yoghurt addict, you get the picture. I was interested to self-test the theory that dairy has insulinogenic properties exceeding its carbohydrate content and to see if it affects my overall wellbeing.


The Whole30 Guide which Melissa and Dallas kindly sent me was easy-to-understand but comprehensive. It would be suitable for both rookies with little nutritional knowledge and hardcore jaded cynics like me. The science was solid but not overwhelming. I like the good cop-bad cop approach: they encourage people to try new foods, listen to own bodies (a skill many forget they possess!) and forgive indiscretions but at the same time tell you to harden the f#%^ up for 30 days. The Facebook page is great to get perspective from other peeps on Whole30 or to ask a direct question. And in case you wondering at this point, no, I’m not getting paid for this.

I was surprised how easy it was to give up alcohol. I just seamlessly replaced my glass of red with a glass of sparkling San Pellegrino and I didn’t miss the wine one bit. In the whole month I had a glass on two celebratory occasions but I checked with Dallas on Twitter and he gave me a-ok 🙂 Now that Whole30 is over I re-introduced red wine but I feel like it has reclaimed its place as a special occasion drink a couple of nights a week rather than a staple.

I wasn’t so lucky with dairy. I hadn’t realised how much I relied on my sour cream, yoghurt and cheese for my fat sources. My downfall at the end of the first week was probably due to my failure to plan other fat sources like coconut oil/milk, avocado and fattier cuts of meat. 5 days into this lowER fat state my brain cells went into meltdown. My mood started zigzagging in step with my food intake (my partner had the lucky foresight to go overseas for that week), I had a couple of spectacular afternoon crashes requiring a nap and the old friend hunger reared his ugly head. Oh, hello, I remember all this. That is what I used to feel like every day when I conscientiously adhered to the Heart Foundation diet high in whole grains and low in fat. Anyway a few rescue tweets and Facebook messages later, I was back on track armed with cans of coconut milk, a few avocados, casserole beef cuts and nuts.

Surprisingly enough, I still found myself a little hungrier than usual for the rest of the month. I attribute my dairy tolerance (some would say dependence) to my Eastern European genes (epigenetics counts, people!).  I didn’t get any digestive upsets when I re-introduced some natural yoghurt back into my diet and it completely solved any niggling hunger issues. However I feel a lot more confidence in controlling my soft cheese cravings and also haven’t felt the need for more high fat dairy since.

An unexpected benefit of focusing more on what I eat and how I feel daily was an appetite for more vegetables. I’m not a big veggie eater. I allow that they might be good for us and generally eat them drowned in butter but I resent the ad nauseum push for 2+5 as if the lack of fruit and veg is the sole source of all our heath problems. That said, on the Whole30 I found myself looking for new varieties at the grocer and doing some veg experimentation in the kitchen.

So at the end I reckon even a pretty good diet can do with a few tweaks. It’s easy to get into a rut with your food choices and the Whole30 allowed me to bring a little more focus and awareness to my food choices.

Anyone who is still on the fence about giving up grains, sugar and industrial food should seriously consider a 30 day program like this. I really believe that cold turkey is the best approach when comes to diet for most people: better struggle for a couple of weeks than drag it out for months and fight the recurrent cravings.

Feel free to share your experiences with Whole30 or your own story of lifestyle change. How did you do it? What mistakes did you make along the way and how did you deal with them?

I’ll have what she’s having.

This immortal line from “When Harry met Sally” (YouTube it if you are too young to remember this) is the embodiment of our attitude to weight loss. We fall for it, hook, line and sinker, every time. Don’t believe me? Do the following statements apply to you?

I have tried a weight loss spray (congratulations, if you don’t know what I am talking about)
I have bought/considered buying AbCirclePro
I have done a Lemon Detox Diet
I buy protein bars endorsed by my favorite bodybuilder
I have bought Zumba DVDs to get a “Zumba body” at home
I follow the success stories in a fitness magazine and analyse their diet and training
I ask my girlfriend what she did to lose weight and try to copy her plan

I bet most of us go from “you gotta be kidding me” to “what’s wrong with that?”. In actual fact, all these scenarios are based on clever advertising (featuring skinny models) + our natural inclination to believe in patterns. It is very easy to look at a fit and slim individual and say: “Whatever you are doing is obviously working, please tell me your secret so I can look like you”.

The next natural step is for the owner of this fantastic slim and fit body to say: “Whatever I am doing is obviously working, so if you do the same, you will look like me”. To be honest, I was a perfect example of this self-righteous arrogance myself a few years ago. Teaching 10-15 classes a week as a 20-something fitness instructor, I was happy to share my advice to “eat everything in moderation” to my obviously less disciplined participants.

My previous post on insulin received similar comments.

“I understand that carbohydrates stimulate insulin, and insulin promotes fat storage. But I have been eating sweets, cereals, pasta, cakes, etc. all my life, and I am still skinny. According to your logic, I should be fat and unhealthy. What gives?”

I totally hate you for being able to eat whatever you want. But don’t give your metabolism a pat on the back and go crazy with leftover Easter eggs just yet. You might just pay for it later.

There is no doubt that some people seem to be born with an ability (or a gift?) to consume a box of Krispy Kremes with no consequences. Come to think of it, most people could get away with a lot more dietary indiscretions as children or teenagers. For others, the battle might have started in high school, or in their 30s. Many factors are at fault. You can probably blame it on genetics, it is a fashionable thing to do. The problem with that is that genes are passed down with very little change between generations. As recently as 1989, the prevalence of overweight and obesity in men in Australia was 46.7%. In 2000 it shot up to 60%. I am sorry, but genes do not mutate that quickly!

And since now we hopefully agree that our weight is regulated by hormones, has anything changed in our bodies on hormonal level? Yes. Let me introduce you to insulin resistance, the key player in metabolic syndrome. Think of it as a link between overweight and diabetes. If you remember, insulin’s job is to let glucose into the muscle, liver and fat cells. Insulin resistance means just that: cells, especially liver and muscle cells, stop responding to insulin and do not let any more glucose inside. As a result a couple of things happen. Blood glucose levels go up, firstly because of peripheral resistance (muscle cells close their doors to glucose), secondly because liver cells fail to detect the rising blood sugar and do not down regulate their own glucose production. Double whammy means more glucose floating around your system (=hyperglycaemia). Pancreas try fight the flood of glucose by releasing even more insulin (=hyperinsulinaemia). Does this sound like perfect conditions for putting on some extra fat? (I’ll discuss the causes of insulin resistance another time, but you can be sure that carbs will not be an innocent bystander).

So the road from insulin resistance to diabetes looks like this: peripheral muscle + liver insulin resistance -> hyperglycemia -> pancreas releases more and more insulin -> insulin and extra glucose causes fat gain (mostly around your belly) -> belly fat promotes inflammation which further increases liver insulin resistance -> pancreas gets tired of playing catch up with blood sugar -> blood sugar rises even more -> you get diagnosed with type II diabetes -> pancreas is now burned out completely -> you need insulin injections.

The first few steps can happen before you even know it. By the time you realise that your metabolism is out of whack, your body is churning out too much insulin for an innocuous amount of carbohydrates. Suddenly a piece of pizza, which was your weekly staple in your 20’s, becomes a luxury your waistline can no longer afford. Same principle applies if you are a high carb fitness freak, cruising on the Australian government recommended diet. Your muscles and liver are still sensitive to insulin. You look good. You feel great. Is it possible that you are genetically gifted to avoid all complications of obesity and diabetes later in life? I don’t mean to be a killjoy (I love my cheesecake too!) but with insulin resistance rates estimated between 13 and 30% in Oz, I don’t like your chances.

Metabolism, schmabolism

We like when things are easy. It’s nice to put your fate in somebody else’s hands, close your eyes and let them lead the way. When it comes to health an average Joe has handed the reigns over to the government, cancer councils, media and doctors. As doctors, we rely on “guidelines” which is another way of saying that somebody else did the research, came to conclusions and hey presto! We have the answer. Why do we not explain to Joe how his body actually works? Why do we not sift through scientific papers and analyze their findings? Because it’s too bloody hard.
 It’s very convenient to herd a group of sheep into a small enclosure where you want them to be. What’s that? An individual thought? Calm yourself, little sheep, the smart people in charge know what they are doing. Let them think about these complicated issues and then tell you what you should eat, when and where.
 I believe that when you treat people like they are dumb, they will respond accordingly. But if you give them information, they will feel empowered and use their own brain to decide what is good for them.
 On that note, I will write a few basic posts covering the basics of metabolism: how the body processes food, how it uses up fuel, where do all these calories go and why they sometimes end up on our thighs.
When I think of my audience, I am aiming at Lyn, my partner’s mother. She has never studied science, but she is very intelligent and interested in health. If you are likewise brand new, don’t get bogged down in details. Look at the big picture. If you are a biochemistry guru, some concepts will be simplified for my sake and Lyn’s :).
Happy reading. Baaa.