Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Controversial Discussions

Yesterday I was talking to a colleague about my lunch. I didn’t start the conversation, he did, as I looked to be eating a particularly healthy lunch and my dietary habits are often the subject of discussion. My lunch consisted of canned tuna, boiled sweet potato (kumara), butter and two boiled eggs. Now this is quite a lot for me but I am trying to overeat a little in an effort to build a bit more muscle mass. He started going on about how it is bad to mix certain types of foods like it is bad to mix protein and carbohydrate in the same meal as different enzymes are used to digest these things. It suddenly occurred to me how annoying it is to have someone lecture you on food choices, which incidentally, is something I do to other people all the time.

Time for a double take I think. Now diet is probably the most controversial subject known to man. If you can find an argument in support of something you can always find an argument against it. Most diets could be described as fads. Even Paleo, which you would think, is hard to bitterly criticize as it is only eating natural foods, has its opponents. Also what is good for one person may not be good for another. There is even a bit of a movement now for the “eat everything diet” which could actually work for some people. At another extreme I read about how humans, as they were largely scavengers exploiting the kills of large predators, ate mostly raw meat that was slightly off and that is what we should feast on now – rotten raw meat.

Exercise too is constantly being criticized. Cardio is good then it is bad. Lifting weights is great then maybe not as you could go blind and so on. Exercise is useless for making you functionally stronger. Body builders are worse at doing everyday tasks and long distance runners damage their bodies.

So what to do? First off I think I will me much less vocal in my criticism of other people’s food choices. I am a student and not a teacher. I’m going to concentrate on what works for me and adapt my strategies accordingly. The focus has to be on healthy longevity and this blog is simply a log of my personal journey in pursuit of this goal.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Bruce Lee

Bruce Lee would at first glance appear to be an ideal candidate for the Early Celebrity Demise File except for the fact that he achieved immortality status as the world’s greatest martial arts master. Because of this I consider him to have been a Nietzschean superman .

While he died young and the cause of his death is still disputed and mythologized he is in my pantheon of total heroes. Bruce Lee is now an immortal which is the ultimate in active survival. The more mundane Active Survivalist probably shouldn’t follow Lee’s lifestyle to the letter however we can learn some things from his life and teaching.

Lee had an impressive body with almost zero body fat. He achieved this by eating a fairly standard diet that had a reasonable amount of carbohydrate and not large quantities of meat. “Lee believed in staying away from foods with empty caloric content and little nutritive value and found it especially helpful to avoid refined sugars, excessive fats, fried food and alcohol.” He considered the Western diet to have too much protein and too much fat. I think that drinking a little red wine would probably have done him some good though and maybe he would be alive today if he had done that. He was also known to eat egg shells which I would caution against – you could get the same benefit from eating canned fish with the bones. But to achieve a body like Lee’s you need:

"a lifetime of sacrifice, denial at the dinner table and tremendous dedication at the gym"

I’d say that Lee had phenomenal will power. Go here and here for some more reading.

Some Bruce Lee quotes gathered from GrumpyChimp:

"Knowing is not enough, we must apply. Willing is not enough, we must do."

"a man can be strong, but if he cannot use that strength quickly, he is not powerful".

"A goal is not always meant to be reached, it often serves simply as something to aim at."

"As you think, so shall you become."

"By adopting a certain physical posture, a resonant chord is struck in spirit."

"The less effort, the faster and more powerful you will be."

"Use only that which works, and take it from any place you find it."

"Using no way as way, having no limitation as limitation."

And my personal favourite in Lee’s own voice:

Body Under Construction

My three year project now has only nine months to go. Progress has been good but slower than I expected. I haven’t managed to put on as much muscle weight as I would have liked. My weight has remained remarkably stable at between 70 and 71kg during the time that I have been controlling what I eat and only drifted up from that on two occasions when I lapsed. Both lapses were easily corrected but I seem to be unable to get below the 70KG barrier - BMI 22.4.

In the last nine months I am going to concentrate on body building. I want to lose a bit more fat and build up a bit more muscle. Not that I have much fat to lose but it is a bit of a dream of mine to be able to see the veins on top of the abdominal muscles.

So in order to build muscle I am going to have to eat more food however in order to lose fat I am going to have to eat the right foods and be much more disciplined about it. This means avoiding breads and sugars and focusing on the Paleo foods but eating them in much larger quantities. I reckon that I should not let myself become hungry and if I do I should eat meat or starchy vegetables with butter.

Exercise, particularly the right type of exercise, is going to be all important. Massive cardio is going to be avoided unless it is in response to a bout of massive carbo eating. Upper body exercises are going to be the main focus with short and intense cardio exercises. It will be necessary to slowly increase the weights that I use and focus on and improve my technique to avoid injury at all cost. An increase in the tempo of exercise always results in some damage for me so I am going to have to proceed with great caution, always concentrating on good technique and never exercising in a rush or when I have some, more pressing need, to attend to. This last point is important as I find that if you attempt to do your routine at a time when you feel a little guilty about it the likelihood of injury is much greater. You will tend to rush it or just not be in the right frame of mind and body to do it well – better to not do it at all.

So, time to get constructing and achieve the project goal of a fitter, stronger, better looking body at 50 than I had at 25.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Killer Tomatoes

My grandmother was 97 when she died and she died while sitting in a chair watching TV at her home. Earlier in the day she had gone for a helicopter ride. I don’t remember her ever spending a day in hospital except for giving birth to her ten children.

My colleague told me the other day that he once ate a feijoa and soon after fell to the ground, unconscious.

What is the relationship between these two stories?

We all used to dread a little bit going to my grandparents house as they would always try and feed us the most over-cooked foods and concocted meals from whatever was left over in the fridge and you never where sure how long it had been there. Yet they never seemed to get sick. Vegetables were always cooked thoroughly . It was a time when people were starting to eat everything raw or only lightly steamed even going so far as to eat raw mushrooms. Would my grandmother have lived longer if she ate more salads? I don’t think so.

All fruits and vegetables contain natural toxins and these toxins are mostly neutralized by cooking. The more cooking the better. Cooking also kills bugs and bacteria, the sort of thing likely to be found on mushrooms that grow in dark dirty places. People think they can wash vegetables and that this will be good enough but tests show even thorough washing is ineffective. Lettuce leaves simply cannot be washed to a point where they are safe to eat and this goes for all raw food especially mushrooms. As well as bugs there are also man made pesticides and herbicides to contend with. Yet long before man came along nature had already developed its own insecticides and even herbicides. It makes sense that the skins of fruit, leaves and bark have developed defences against predation. The main attackers are insects and fungus and because plants cannot physically fight back they have developed static defences by using toxins, hard shells and thorns to dissuade predation. Believe it or not it is mostly not in the best interests of a plant to be eaten and so evolution has provided ways to make it more difficult.

Some good has come of this and many of our medicines are derived from plant sources. This has been a happy coincidence, so often seen in evolution, where something has been developed for a specific purpose like poisoning or repelling insects and has later turned out to be a good drug for the treatment of human maladies. Yet while medicines are a good thing the healthy body shouldn’t take medicine if it doesn’t need to. Peeling, soaking, fermenting and cooking of vegetables has long been known to render it edible. Some things are downright poisonous if prepared in the wrong way and I contend that this is the case for most vegetable matter. Perhaps some things are ok, like nuts that defend themselves with hard outer shells or fruits that want their seeds to be dispersed by mammals. In general it is the skin of the fruit that is poisonous and this makes sense as this is the thing that was developed to protect the seeds and the food that surrounds the seeds.

So my colleague fell down after eating the feijoa because he ate the flesh close to he skin and he was particularly susceptible to the Methyl Benzoate that feijoa skin contains. My grandmother living almost a century was possibly partly due to thorough sterilizing and detoxifying of plant food – it certainly didn’t do any harm.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Active Dental Survival

I’ve been meaning to do a post about dental health for some time now. It’s a subject that had been weighing on my mind because I hadn’t had a check up in a few years and the other day a filling from a molar fell out along with a piece of tooth. I also noticed that I started to have dental dreams so my sub-conscious was worrying about it too. This is my usual, cowardly modus operandi – wait for a dental emergency and then drag myself to the dentist. This is not what I would call Dental Active Survival at all. The Active Survivalist should go to the dentist once a year for a check up and a professional clean. After all you’re going to need those teeth for the next hundred years or so.

Amazingly I managed to get the tooth fixed up without needing to get it crowned and the rest of my teeth were fine. The most worrying thing about my teeth was some side wear of the enamel caused by over-enthusiastic brushing. I must say modern dentistry is marvellous with highly effective and painless anaesthetics and super rapid drilling. There is no excuse not to go to the dentist regularly. (I always think like this after a successful foray to the dental centre)

I’ve always thought that the enamel on teeth, once gone, was gone forever. However this may not be true. Head over to Whole Health Source for a discussion on diet and reversing tooth decay. I highly recommennd Stephen's blog to anyone interested in diet. It appears that teeth can, to a certain extent, heal themselves and this healing can be greatly assisted by a good diet. The main culprit for tooth decay may not be refined sugars but the starches found in gooey breads and cakes. These tend to stick to your teeth and are perfect food for bacteria. Many people have found that once they started eating a Paleo type of diet their teeth required less brushing and plaque build up was minimal to non existent. I noticed that the sonic cleaning or whatever it is the Dentist just gave me was over and done with very quickly this time whereas last time it was quite painful and lengthy.

If teeth can heal themselves, and it makes sense that they do, it would be very worthwhile to adopt a diet that assists this. Especially if it results in a leaner, healthier body as well. I’m going to make more bone broths and am even more determined now to cut bread out of my diet completely. Let’s see if I can heal up that wear on the side of my teeth. I'll keep you posted.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Starving Fat People

My sister once claimed that she still put on weight even if she ate only 300 calories a day. On the face of it this claims seems absurd as a body generally needs around 80 calories an hour just for base metabolism burn.

However lately I have been thinking about this and pondering if inside every obese person is a skinny person. You would think that with a high energy input and constant weight lifting exercise achieved by just standing up and walking around that a fat person stripped of their fat would be a fine example of a fit person. Yet this is generally not the case. It might be with a young person but most obese people huff and wheeze when doing any physical activity and they look to be in poor health with poor skin etc.

Maybe an obese person is in some way damaged. Instead of food entering their system to be used for energy it is instead stored as fat leaving the body deprived of energy and consequently weak and feeble. Something has happened to the mechanism that controls weight. Perhaps the onslaught of a massive ingestion of sugars over years has broken the metabolism. What is known as metabolic syndrome.

For a fit and healthy person it should be extremely hard to gain weight. I think such a person who regularly over-eats meat, vegetables, root starches and occasional fruit will never become obese. The body has its own mechanisms for governing weight and when fed a diet of natural food the appetite will be suppressed at the right time, metabolism will increase or energy will simply be expelled. That’s with a healthy functioning metabolism. You will notice that animals in their natural habitat respond to a surplus of food not by becoming obese but by increasing in numbers. You never see obese wild animals.

So fat people could indeed be starving. Years of feeding themselves energy rich yet nutrient poor food has over loaded their systems to such an extent that even if they eat healthy food only they may still find it difficult to lose weight. Food is not metabolised correctly and the energy is stored as fat and the system responds by increasing appetite even if they over eat. The starving person inside all that blubber really does need more food because it is being diverted to the fat cells and not being released when needed. Maybe it has never had any practise at being released because the body has experienced an energy surplus for every day of its life. Dieting could possibly exacerbate the situation by putting an already damaged body into starvation mode and so holding onto even more energy and lowering metabolism. There is some sense to having one day a week where you consciously over eat although preferably healthy food – maybe heaps of starchy vegetables with butter.

The breakdown of the metabolism may also be a consequence of aging. Most people seem to gain weight as they age even if they appear to eat less than they did when they were younger. I noticed in myself that I only started to gain weight rapidly when I reached 40. Before that I could munch on chocolate, bread and cake and stay stable but now my weight shoots up as soon as I fall off the wagon.

So spare a thought for the sad plight of the starving fat person.