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2 weeks of Intermittent Fasting in the Books

5 lbs. Exactly 5 lbs. Gotta admit I didn’t expect that. It’s been exactly 2 weeks since I started this intermittent fasting thing and I hopped on the scale this morning. I figured if anything I’d have lost maybe a pound or so, but certainly not 5. And when you take into account the time of year I chose to do this challenge, that makes it all that more impressive I think. So that got me to thinking… how?

Well from the get go I speculated that it would simply come down to math. limiting the time in which I could eat, I’d simply not eat as much. And I think that’s what happened. There may be some physiological changes going on too that I haven’t taken into account, but weight loss comes down to calories in and out so I’m guessing that’s the key here.

So how has it been going you ask?

Not all that bad, really. I thought I’d be really hungry by the time that first meal hit, and sometimes I am, but for the most part, it’s not that big of a deal. And the foods I eat haven’t really changed either, sans for some holiday weekend indulgences. I’m not sure this is something I’d keep up for the long term, but it beats the hell out of going low carb for quick weight loss. It’s something that will almost certainly go into my toolbox when working with my clients. And more than anything I’d like to use it in certain circumstances for a short time to really drive home what it feels like to be hungry. I eluded to this in my last post, but I really do think it’s extremely important to understand what it feels like to actually be hungry. However, with all that being said, I do miss breakfast.

Struggles

It hasn’t been entirely without it’s share of tough times. For instance, I made my girlfriend, Megan, a breakfast burrito last week. Like, the real deal breakfast burrito. Flour tortilla. Eggs. Cheese. Cilantro. Salsa. And then I broiled it in the oven to crisp it up. I wanted that thing pretty bad, but instead had to sit back and just sip on my coffee. So that kinda sucked. There were a few other instances of this happening over that holiday too, but this example probably was the hardest.

I’ve also had several mornings where I thought about cheating and having at least some cottage cheese or a Greek yogurt thinking that one day wouldn’t hurt. But I’ve fought that temptation and can say I’ve stuck to the plan almost to a T.

Last, but not least, exercising (be it swimming, biking, running, or lifting) on an empty stomach sucks. One day I had an hour bike ride on the indoor trainer planned for the noon hour, after which I’d eat at 1 pm. I shut it down after 45 minutes because I felt so terrible. It was low blood sugar for sure and I decided that it wasn’t worth it to suck it up and stick it out. I ate a bunch immediately and then took to the couch for another 45 minutes before I started to feel better. But that only happened once so it may have been a fluke.

Good Stuff

I often discuss with my clients what it is like to really savor and enjoy your food to help prevent overeating. For example I like to say “You know that first sip of coffee in the morning and how freaking good that tastes? But by the end of that cup or even onto the second cup, it’s lost its luster hasn’t it?” It’s a way to make them self aware while eating. Well, that first bite of food at the first meal is really, really good. I’ve found myself enjoying food and it’s flavors more than ever. And I think that’s really cool. To appreciate it rather than to just eat to eat is something everyone should experience. Although a quick word of caution here is to remember to not eat until your bursting at the seams. It’s tempting. Trust me. But if you can keep that in check, you really do find yourself truly enjoying the meal.

So all in all it’s going pretty well. I’ll check back in at the end of the next 2 weeks to give you my final numbers (before and after weight and body fat percentage) and my final take on the whole experience, but for now, it’s a mostly positive one.

Intermittent Fasting: What is it and why am I doing it?

I’m pretty hungry. Not quite hangry, but I could eat for sure. It’s 10:31 a.m. as I typed those last 2 lines. I haven’t eaten yet today. The last bite I took was last night around 7:30. It was black bean and brown rice stuffed peppers topped with cilantro, some salsa, and a bit of cheese. It was delicious. I’ll probably have that again today when I finally eat along with a whey protein shake… and a large, stuffed crust, meat lovers pizza… Okay, not the pizza, but right now my brain is pretty consumed with thoughts of food. I suppose those are the early phases of doing 1 month of Intermittent Fasting, or IF for short.

Some of you may already be familiar with the term. Some of you may have no idea what it is or why in the hell I would subject myself to it. So what exactly is IF?

What it is

Intermittent fasting actually has no exact definition. A broad description I suppose would go something like this: Occasional periods of longer than normal fasting (we fast every night when we sleep). There are a few different versions of it, however, that seem to be pretty popular. There is the 5:2 variety where you essentially eat normally on 5 days of the week and cut calories to around 500 on two non-consecutive days. Preferably these would not be days that you are exercising. Some folks prefer to simply take 1 day each week and not eat. So another way to word that would be a 24 hr fast. You can really create any variety of IF that you want, but the one that seems to be the most popular is called the 16:8. This refers to a 16 hour window in which you abstain from consuming calories (solid or liquid). Therefore you have a daily window-of-eating period of 8 hours. Within this window, there are no restrictions on when to eat, but a meal roughly every 3 hours seems most popular. For me personally, I’m going to do something that looks like this: First meal of the day is between 12-1 pm. Second meal is from 3-4 pm. Last meal is between 7-8 pm. Then I will fast until the next day from 12-1 pm and repeat that cycle for 1 month. Ideally my biggest meal will be the first and will follow a workout with each of the next two meals getting slightly smaller. But somehow I don’t see that necessarily happening… and I’m cool with that.

Benefits (or potential benefits)

At the risk of sounding too much like a Crossfitter, there is some thought that in the hunter-gatherer era, we almost certainly had extended periods of fasting due to the obvious circumstances. The hypothesis is that there may be some health benefits to that. And some of the research to date seems to imply that might have some merit to it. Personally, I feel it is a bit early on in the research to say that these are all for certain, but it looks promising nonetheless. Here are a few:

  • Weight loss
  • decreased risk of cancer
  • decreased risk of cardiovascular disease
  • improved blood lipids
  • decrease in inflammation
  • potential to increase life span
  • increased insulin sensitivity
  • decreased blood pressure

And while the list above is not exhaustive, I think we can all agree that’s pretty damn impressive, even if the changes are minuscule. And those are the reasons I thought I’d give this a shot. I want to see if this is both practical and sustainable… and possibly enjoyable. It’s why I went vegetarian for a month. It has some serious health benefits. It’s why I didn’t try the Hollywood Cookie Diet or the Tapeworm Diet. And yes, those are actual diets. Google away my friends.

In addition to the physiological markers described above, I think quite possibly the biggest impact this way of eating (note I didn’t refer to it as a diet) could have on most of us is this: It helps us to understand (or re-learn if you will) what ACTUAL hunger is. What I mean by that is we are always eating. We’ve been told for some time now that we need 6 small meals a day. Or we need to have 3 square meals with some snacks in between. And let me be clear that I’m not knocking those two ways of eating because there is no one correct way to do it. It’s an individual type thing. Do what works for you! But I digress. I think it’s important to truly understand what it’s like to be hungry. Not bored, emotional, or kinda-sorta hungry, but really truly hungry. I’m afraid a lot of us don’t know or forget what that feels like. And in the world of weight control, it plays a really big role. I often advise my clients to use a 1-10 hunger scale. 1 would be so hungry you could eat your own arm off and 10 would be that you might actually, literally explode. I’ll tell them to start eating when they are approaching a 3 and to stop eating when they are approaching a 7. But if you don’t understand what real hunger is, those numbers are likely skewed. For example, that 3 looks more like a 5 and that 7 more like an 8 or 9. That’s not going to help them much now is it? So with all of these benefits, are there any possible drawbacks?

Drawbacks

Aside from some health concerns for people in certain disease states (I’ll get to that shortly) I don’t find very many drawbacks to it. One potential for it to maybe not work down the road is that the majority of the studies that I looked for and found on the subject used animal models and not humans. That’s not necessarily a bad thing though. For example, rats are used a lot in research studies because of their short life span. We can speed up, if you will, how quickly the data gets to us. We can see the “long term” much more quickly. What would take years or decades of studying in humans we can get in a much shorter time with rats. The downside is that while there are many similarities between species (rats, humans, monkeys, etc.), it’s still not done solely in humans so it is difficult to make a definitive statement on the efficacy of such studies. But you know what, it’s pretty damn good and close enough in my opinion.

From a medical condition standpoint, it may not be appropriate for someone with diabetes. Low blood sugar + driving a car = no bueno. It also might not be appropriate for individuals with already low blood pressure. As with the diabetic scenario above, low blood pressure + driving a car = no bueno. I’ll also throw in here that it may not be appropriate for individuals with a history of disordered eating or eating disorders.

Restrictions

At this point you may be wondering if there is a “foods to eat” and a “foods not to eat” list. Well, no there isn’t. And that’s kind of the beauty of it. As many of you know I am a fan of flexible dieting or If It Fits Your Macros. For those who don’t know what that is, it’s what we used to call moderation. And I also don’t like to use the words “good” or “bad”, because it’s not the food, chemical, or ingredient that is the issue, it’s the quantity of it that you consume that is the issue. As I said in my last post, too much water will kill you. But anyways, just because it doesn’t have any foods off limits doesn’t mean its a free for all. I still encourage a diet high in produce that may or may not contain lean meats. A diet that is high in fiber, micronutrients, healthy fats, and plenty of water. So it’s basically a diet that is good for you that you eat at different times than you are probably used to.

My Experience… so far

Okay, so this is only my second day of being an IFer (had to; been saving that one). However, here is what I have noticed so far:

  • On day 1, I was not digging it. Really hungry by my first meal. Not too bad after that
  • Today (day 2) I was hungry for that first meal, but not as much as I thought I’d be
  • Discovered that I’m drinking more water in the morning to help fill the void… not a bad thing
  • I’m back to two cups of coffee after being a one cupper for the past couple of years. Again, I think I’m filling the void here
  • My energy hasn’t suffered. I feel fine. Feel pretty damn good actually, but that might be the endorphins from my extreme hunger pains talking (kidding… maybe)

So I think I’ve typed enough for one post. I will update throughout the journey here and there to give updates should they be warranted. If you have any specific questions or comments for me just post in the comments section below and I’ll be happy to try and answer you.

It’s not the chemical, it’s the DOSE

I have to say that I didn’t see this coming. When I transferred from a major in Animal Sciences  to Dietetics while I was at Purdue back in the early 2000’s I would not have predicted this would be the state of America’s mindset on nutrition. I thought we’d still be arguing about whether or not eggs were good for us or if we should only eat the white. Still plugging away at the importance of whole grains over refined. Getting folks to eat some fruits and veggies each day.

But we’ve leapfrogged. We skipped over a bunch of things I find to be much more important than the issues we’re discussing in the media and at the water cooler. Rather than focus on actually getting in fruits and vegetables each day we’re more worried about how they’re grown… and then continue to not eat them? According to a recent report, only 4%, yes I said 4%, get the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables each day. But we’re worried that they may have had chemicals sprayed on them? Seems to me that the chemicals shouldn’t bother us since we aren’t eating them anyways.

I know I’ve written about this more in length in my recent post titled “Putting the cart before the horse” (or it was titled something close to that, I’m too lazy to go check). So today I’d like to focus instead on educating you guys. I’ll keep it short and sweet because with a million and one things vying for your attention in this crazy world we’re living in today, that’s really what I have to do. Who the hell has time for an article longer than a few paragraphs when we won’t watch a YouTube video if it’s longer than 2 minutes?

So akin to the title of this bad boy, I’ll tell you why the ingredient isn’t the issue, it’s the dose. You see I get the following almost every day: “Alec, what do you think about artificial sweeteners? I hear they cause cancer so I try to avoid them.” Or I might get something like this: “I don’t like the extra cost of organic vegetables, but I pay it so that I know I’m not putting any chemicals in my body. What are your thoughts?”

And you know what? Those are good questions. If I’m not in my position with my knowledge, I’m probably asking the exact same things. I mean, shit, chemicals?! Chemicals are bad! I saw these pictures of rats that were given aspartame (an artificial sweetener) and they had these massive malignant tumors on them. They looked like little monsters!

And you know what? Those are normal reactions. If I’m not in my position with my knowledge, I’m probably saying the exact same things. And yes, I copied and pasted and then changed a couple of words there. Told you I’m lazy.

But here’s the truth. It’s okay to consume these chemicals.

…. And I just caused some butt hurt right there for some of you. I know. And that’s okay. I don’t need to change your mind. I’m just presenting the evidence. The science.

But back to the aspartame example. Yes, it actually can cause cancer. However, the amount of, oh… let’s use diet soda as our example. The amount that you’d have to drink would be somewhere near 100 or so cans per day over the course of a long time before it would become an issue. And I forget the exact number of cans, but its a crap ton. For some reason 88 cans rings a bell, but I’d have to go back and look at the study’s results and conclusions again… which I’d do, but I have other stuff to do today. However, if you want it linked later just let me know in the comments section.

Look, bottom line is this: too little water is deadly. Too much water is deadly. Yes, you can drink too much water and die. It’s a condition known as hyponatremia, or low blood sodium. This can lead to a swelling of your cells which can cause complications that can lead to death. You may have heard of it with marathon runners afraid of dehydrating. They then over hydrate and it’s caused some deaths. Another famous example is a woman who was participating in a radio contest for a Nintendo Wii entitled “Hold your wee for a Wii”. Clever? Sure. Deadly? Sadly, that too.

So instead of fearing a certain food, ingredient, or chemical, think about the insane amounts you’d have to consume before any damage would occur. You should be more concerned about reapplying sunscreen when you’re at the beach, refraining from smoking or inhaling second hand smoke, and wearing your seat belt anytime you’re in the car. Just look up the stats on those vs. aspartame and the story writes itself.

Think I’m wrong? Spot on? An idiot? Just let me know in the comments section!

 

The cart keeps coming before the horse

I originally intended for this post to be about the secret to being fit, lean, and strong for life. That was actually the title of the post. I started writing it last Friday and then things got busy and I put it on hold to finish today. But something happened this weekend that put me over the tipping point of an issue that’s been bothering me for a long time now. So yes, I’m going to bitch and moan a bit again. Don’t want to hear me complain about stuff on here? No problem, just comment at the end of the post about what you’d like to learn more about and I’m happy to oblige. So without further adieu…

This past weekend I went up to Chicago and attended Farm Aid. It was an awesome, all day concert with a stellar line up. Jack Johnson, Imagine Dragons, Dave Matthews, Tim Reynolds, John Mellencamp, Neil Young, and of course, Willie Nelson among others. Being an all day event and having the title of “Farm Aid”, you knew they’d have a crap ton of food. And did they ever.

So being a dietitian, I did my homework ahead of time to see what they’d have available. It briefly occurred to me that they might have some healthy stuff they were throwing on the grill. I mean, c’mon… its FARM AID. It has farm in the title for crying out loud. It had to be good, right?

Of course not. Who was I kidding? Ok, to be fair there were a couple of decent items, although they had stupid names like “detoxifying spinach salad” (a bit ironic considering the amount of happy smoke and booze that were flowing) which contained “paleo granola”. There was also an organic rice bowl and corn on the cob, but that was about it. So, would you like to know what else was on the menu? Sure you do. Here’s a sample of items they had:

  • BBQ Bacon Burger
  • Chicken Tenders with fries
  • Live Nation Dog
  • Sausage Pizza
  • Italian Sausage
  • Hand Dipped Corndogs
  • Roast Corn
  • Super Premium Ice Cream Bars

These are the actual names of some of the food they had available.

Now, on paper, these don’t sound very healthy (sans the roast corn). Would you agree? I mean burgers, hot dogs, French fries, pizza, ice cream? Of course not!

But you’d be wrong, you sucker you. These are all actually good for you. Really, really, good for you! Shit, they might as well be categorized as vitamins and minerals and sold at GNC for $79/bottle. They are freaking super foods! Detoxifying, life-extending, cancer-staving, heart attack preventing super foods!

Ah, yeah… you guessed it. This is the part of the article where Alec finally starts talking about what the title of the article said he was going to talk about.

The problem lies in the power of a couple of things. One is marketing. And damn if these food manufacturers are extremely good at it. Even I get fooled from time to time. But marketing is another story for another time (although it’s tied into the next part).

The second is fear and fear mongers. It seems that everyone is seemingly so solely focused on things like artificial sweeteners, GMOs, some chemical in yoga mats, toxins, whether or not the chicken on their plate was fed in a natural way, if that cow was fed corn or grass (ok this one has some merit to it), and if their eggs came from a chicken that was allowed to roam free instead of being caged.

Cart. Before. The. Horse.

So just a few paragraphs ago I mentioned that those items at Farm Aid were actually health foods. Of course they aren’t, but damn if they didn’t try to make it sound that way.

That BBQ bacon burger? It’s good because the meat was raised humanely.

The sausage pizza? No worries, the pork was pasture raised.

The hand dipped corndogs? It’s ok, calm down. The hot dog is certified organic and is coated in non-GMO cornmeal.

The ice cream? Well it was made with milk from a nearby farm, or “regional” as they put it.

Look, I can’t put it anymore plainly than this: IT’S STILL A HOT DOG. IT’S STILL A SAUSAGE PIZZA. IT’S STILL ICE CREAM. Period.

And it’s not just Farm Aid. It’s all over the news these days. You can read here of just one such instance. If you don’t want to read it, the gist is that restaurants are getting graded on their meat quality based on whether or not the animal was given antibiotics and other stupid shit or whatever. Chipotle received an A while Burger King got an F. How about we worry instead about eating at home instead of downing a 1300 calorie burrito that contains chicken that was raised in a penthouse suite?

We’re so worried about some chemical we can’t pronounce -and therefore don’t understand – and that’s spooky to people. And we do all of this while overlooking the more important issues. We don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables. Sodium and trans fat intake is well above the recommended limit for most Americans. The list goes on and on.

So the bottom line is that we’re so focused on the stupid stuff and forgetting the important stuff. I just read today that obesity rates are now at 30% or higher for half of the states. But never mind that, we’ve got a crazy scary sounding chemical in our damn pumpkin spiced lattes!

………

Ok, I just did a couple of breathing exercises and now I’m back. I hope the message got across. Focus on the stuff that actually makes a difference. The stuff that counts. Please, put your horse in front of you.

Tip To Feel Better & Lose Weight

Get more sleep. Seriously, you don’t sleep enough. Be like Nike, just do it. Thank me later.

Ciao

About Fat Shaming & Body Images

Ok, before I dive in I realize not everyone will agree with me on this topic. Frankly, it’s likely to piss some people off and make them think I’m a terrible person.

And that’s ok.

This is an opinion piece after all. I have my right to it and I do mean well as I hope you all see after reading this.

Read More

HIIT is not the only option

For anyone who pays attention to the world of fitness. To all of you who have picked up a Men’s Health or Fitness magazine in the past year or so. To the friend of yours who swears up and down that repeated sprints, burpees, rope slams, prowler pushes, and box jumps are THE way to burn fat and get shredded. I want you all to know one thing. You’ve been lied to.

Read More

The Complicated World of Nutrition

Yeah I know, the title kinda sucks, but I couldn’t think of anything clever. I just wanted to get some info out there today. Now as a quick side note, are you guys like me in that whenever you read an article or blog that says something like “7 Ways to Lose Your Gut by Summer” or “6 Secrets to a Strong Core” you find yourself skipping the stupid intro/filler/fluffy stuff and just getting to the meat and potatoes part of the text? Most of the time it’s bullet pointed or in larger, bold letters. That just dawned on me as that is exactly what I am doing right now. I mean, seriously, everything I’ve written so far has told you nothing and yet you chose to read it. Or if you’re like me, you didn’t. Ok, actual content below.

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Moderation: What Does it Mean?

Well before I dig into this particular post I suppose I should address my lack of posts over the past months. And to be perfectly frank, it’s because I didn’t have anything to write about. At least not anything that I felt was blog worthy anyways. So there you have it. Now onto today’s topic, moderation.

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Why There Can Never Be a “Magic Pill”

Even if Moore’s Law  is true and technology continues to double every 18 months, I don’t think we’ll ever reach the point where we can pop a magical pill or have some mega machine instantly transform us into lean and ripped specimens. And even if I’m wrong and we do reach that point, it won’t happen because it simply can’t happen. Let me explain.

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