Anyone who has the misfortune to spend much time around me knows that I have a pretty serious obsession with health.

Not just in an abstract fusion either, but I like to drill into what can practically be done to impact weight, longevity, quality of life, disease, all that crap. I’m not terribly big on so much of the “hey, heres some abstract concept on this obscure part of diet, but there’s nothing you can do about it” type research that seems popular. I like to focus on what we can do.

I just finished reading “Fat Chance: Beating the Odds Against Sugar, Processed Food, Obesity, and Disease” By Dr. Robert Lustig, who if you don’t know is famous for his “Sugar: The Bitter Truth” Lecture on Youtube. This is a great resource on the biochemistry and politic side of obesity and the impacts of Metabolic Disorder.

I Have also been thumbing through “Testing Treatments: Better Research for Better Healthcare ” Which has a great discussion on how clinical trials are generally mishandled, and “Death by Prescription: The Shocking Truth Behind an Overmedicated Nation” Which gives a lot of data on taking personal action in your use of prescription drugs.

Much of this is interesting by itself.

I also read training data for my health on Strongfirst, Dietary information at Mark’s Daily Apple and Whole 9 Life, And countless other sites.

I started caring about this because I hit a point in my personal life where I was tired of being fat. As a typical obsessive-compulsive nerd, I was drawn in as I dug deeper. Americans (followed by the rest of the world) live longer lives now. But the quality of those years has declined. We have had was was once the last five years of our life lived with “significant” quality impairments increased to the last “twenty” years of our lives. See the rise in those fucking scooters for the mobility impact.

Alzheimer’s and cognitive issues are on the rise. Cancer is on the rise. Fuck, the lack of fitness in Americans has impacted the military recruitment, and is becoming a National Security issue. Fuck, can we start taking this seriously yet?

I have some deep opinions on the best way to do things, but that’s no longer even the point. How about we simply stop doing the worst fucking things possible?

Eat less than 130 pounds of sugar per year.

Safe levels of sugar were once calculated back when the average was 40 pounds per person per year. now we eat 130. If you want to know why this is an issue war Dr. Lustig’s video above. Or of you think that only calories are the issue then just imagine the calories (hint: at this amount, the calories are overwhelmed but the impact on insulin and your liver)

Actually, I can stop advice right there. Just sugar alone is probably the worst of the worst of the worst. Just fixing that in anyone’s diet (stop drinking sodas and fruit juice, quit foods with added sugar, etc) would make a big impact.

Then, get off your ass and do something. Anything. (but not jogging, that shit’s useless) Do 50 pushups each day. Take the whole day, I don’t fucking care. do it. Add 20 sit-ups. get two empty gallon milk containers, fill them with water, and duck-tape them closed. carry one in each hand and walk around the block.

If all that’s too easy, go buy some Kettlebells. Show up at my house and I will personally show you how to use them. Lift more heavy shit.

Personally, I chose to do a lot more. I still eat a paleo diet, and have barbells, kettlebells, and bodyweight workouts that I mix. But not everyone needs to be as insane as me to make a difference. Just. Do. Something.
Photo 5

As usual, I am reading far too many things at once.

Yulia and I are signed up for a class on Sunday. This particular class is Primal Move, which comes from the folks associated with DragonDoor, the home of the Kettlebell system that I use so often, and write about when I’m not lazy as hell.

Several natural-movement based systems have sprung up in the last few years. You can count in there the barefoot running, minimalist shoe movement, MoveNat, and Primal Move, is the latest. I particularly like that it has foundations in Grey Cook’s Functional Movement Systems, as well as Krav Maga, and a bunch of other ingredients.

I like to prepare for courses and classes like this. The last class I took at this studio was with Pavel Tsatsouline, and was based on his books Bulletproof Abs and Naked Warrior. I already had those books before the course, and I re-read them before starting the course.

So when we signed up for this, I took time on the Primal Move site (primalmove.com) and read interviews with the founder, Peter Lakatos (who I was familiar with from Russian Kettlebell training). He mentioned Grey Cook, Kettlebells, and several other inspirations for the system, one of which is the book Play by Stuart Brown M.D.

Naturally, I had to prep for the course by starting to read this.

I’m about halfway in, but It is such an absorbing and moving read that I have been really amazed with every page. There are a lot of motivational elements that I have found as I have followed a Paleo diet over the last year or so, and the lofty idea of getting back to the general roots of the human animal has been one of the most basic yet strongest elements.

At our core, we are all animals, and whether we like it or not, we thrive best in an environment that fits in with out mind, body and soul, as opposed to trying to bend the world in a way that we don’t fit into ourselves. Animals trapped in unnatural zoos slowly go mad, and we aren’t all that different.

The book, Play, addresses one bar in the cage of our human zoo, and works to shatter it, freeing us just a bit. It starts with setting a definition:

Play is a state of mind, rather than an activity. Remember the definition of play: an absorbing, apparently purposeless activity that provides enjoyment and a suspension of self-consciousness and sense of time. It is also self-motivating and makes you want to do it again.

We should note that purposelessness does not necessarily imply a waste of time. On the contrary, the book goes into detail about how animals, including the human animal, use play on an elemental level to teach ourselves communication, limits, signals, and so many more things in a depth that the modern rote learning can never reach.

The concept that – the opposite of play isn’t work , but instead depression - rings so true. We can learn, work, and exercise all interspersed with play. There is nothing stopping us aside from our preconceived notions of what is the proper or adult thing to do.

We limit ourselves, and what we are willing to do, and how we are willing to act, not by what works or doesn’t, and not by what we want, but more by how we expect to be perceived from the outside. Only to our detriment.

We can live healthier, happier, and certainly more fun lives if we are willing to open up just a bit.

I am looking forward to playing on Sunday. And I am even more pleased that I get to play with my wife.

When I first got the bug up my ass to quit killing myself slowly with the couch, and actually try to get in some kind of shape, I was not motivated by the standard new years resolution, but by the impending doom of MY 40TH BIRTHDAY! It was good motivation.

I had been demotivated from working out so many times in the past, usually because I never saw any results, or I got hurt. Needless to say, this sucked. So I did the thing any OCD-enhanced individual would do, I started reading.

I buried myself in magazines, blogs, books – pretty much everything I could find about effective exercise. Doing some prep work turned out to be a good plan. Through one of my chains of reading I found out about Kettlebells, and the assorted books by Pavel Tsatsouline. In Enter The Kettlebell, There is an entire chapter entitled “It’s Your Fault”.

This was terribly enlightening. The whole section is the opposite of the usual bravado that you read in any fitness writing, and is an admonishment to pay attention and not get hurt. I really hadn’t read that anywhere else, as an explicit fitness topic, and it is one of the things that has kept me buying Pavel’s books.

After that, one of the online friends through the kettlebell forums summed it up better in a single phrase:

“Don’t move into Pain”

Of course, the difficulty in following that advice, is that as you push yourself harder towards a fitness goal, it hurts. You are moving heavier weights, testing your endurance, and frankly, hurting.

It is a fine line between pushing yourself through the hard work, and not injuring yourself. And if you are new at it, it can be a very fine line. For me, fine enough where I ended up almost damaging a tendon in my elbow before I realized that this wasn’t just part of my lifting, but something was wrong. It ended up costing me three months of physical therapy to recover, and probably another three months of starting from scratch.

That was fine. It gave me time to focus and see the difference between stopping before the pain, which is there to warn you about getting hurt, and ignoring the suffering that pushing yourself to the limits causes.

Really, we are actively seeking out that suffering, and trying to drive through it. That’s what makes us stronger – both physically and mentally.

When I did the Livestrong Ride two years ago, it was my first time doing an organized ride of that size. it was 45 miles, of flats, hills, city and back streets. It prepped myself and trained for the distance, but the race day was miserable. It started cold, then once we were part way into the race, started to rain. It was sticky, oily roadspray, with cold, biting winds. my hands froze on the handlebars, and I was sore all over. My lesson to myself as I was on the road was that I could tell that while I was sore, tired, and freezing, I wasn’t actually hurting or in Pain. I was just suffering through a crappy ride. It actually cleared just a bit as I made it to the finish line.

I had nothing left in the end. I could barely walk to the car until I warmed up, but I felt great. The sense of reward and accomplishment was indescribable.

After that experience, I would add an addendum to my earlier advice:

Don’t move into Pain, but feel free to punch Suffering right in the cock.

Well, at the end of last weekend I managed to work my way over to my mom’s house and steal a stack of Olympic weight plates that my brother left in the back porch. Combining those with my own, I now have 325 pounds of weights for my Olympic barbell, which means…

Deadlifts!

Power to the People was one of the first books from pavel that I picked up, but I never had space or equipment to do deadlifts. It was a great book to have in any case, since half of the book is Pavel’s standard discussion on tension, strength, and muscle irradiation. Real fundamental stuff. But now I went back to the book and re-read the whole section of starting deadlifts. The big upside, as mentioned int this book and just about every book on lifting, is that deadlifts are a very natural movement and a safe one at that. You don’t have a bar over your head and the motion isn’t awkward and tricky.

For pavel’s program you combine two sets of 5 pulls each per day, with a set of overhead presses. the book offers a barbel side press, but I’m option for a Kettlebell Military Press instead, as it is a lot safer than swinging a 6 foot bar around inside the room.

Here are this week’s numbers:

Monday: 185lbs/135lbs
Tuesday: 205lbs/185lbs
Wednesday: 225lbs/205lbs
Thursday: off
Friday: 225lbs/205lbs
Saturday: 235lbs/225lbs

These weights aren’t particularly heavy yet, but I am doing a slow progression to keep form and build up to some kind of a wave cycle later on. You can really feel the difference in this exercise vs a lot of the Kettlebell lifts, it is a whole body tension that is hard to do otherwise.

Of course, the massive “clank” as the weights hit the ground is a lot of fun too.

Iron!

I haven’t blogged about fitness or working out all year, and hey, I suck, but deal with it.

Since we started our house remodel, I haven’t been able to work out at home, and have had to go to the Pro Club instead, which is a lot less fun. The people down in the free weight room scare me most days, standing on BOSU balls flailing weights about like a mad flailing thing. I’m surprised most of the time that I don’t get my head caved in.

With that and getting sick for a bit, I really haven’t been regular until the last month or so. At that point, I started working on Military Press ladders with the 28Kg (62 Lbs) kettlebell. I am doing 3 rung pressing ladders. I just went up to four sets each, and am now adding 44lbs snatches in as well. Hopefully I can get up to five sets within two weeks then move up to four rung ladders.

Originally I was hoping I could jump from the 53lbs to the 70Lbs kettlebell, but that just wasn’t going to happen. I can still press the 70lbs bell just fine, but not for enough reps to do ladders.

I also managed to get Yulia a few free passes to the TRX classes by shaming myself in a TRX demo. I might get one of those for home as well, it seems pretty neat.

Good to be back to the workouts, even if it is in a combat zone.

So about five years ago I clocked in at around 240 pounds. It’s pretty easy to get up there in weight if you eat tons of garbage, never exercise, and don’t pay any attention for a few years.

It finally came to my attention when I went to a new doctor after never going at all for years on end, and he pointed out that I was officially in the “obese” category. That kinda sucked. So I did the usual and picked out a diet and went to the gym. The diet that I went with was “The ABS Diet” from Men’s Health magazine, which is a pretty standard “Superfoods” type diet, and it worked OK. The Gym attendance died after a few months when I ended up hurting something or another, and never went back. Just with the diet I was able to get down to around 226 or so.

A year and a half ago I started working out again, but with Kettlebells, and a wholly different method of working out than the standard Gym circuit workouts that I had tried before, and as anyone who knows me is aware of, this has worked out much better, I dropped a lot of fat, put on muscle, and have felt a lot better. My weight moved to around 220, and stayed there.

Just before my Doctor’s appointment this year, I finished a 12-week intensive kettlebell program (Kettlebell Muscle) which was probably the hardest that I have ever worked out. I was eating well and I was lifting more than ever, I was able to press a 70-lbs KB over my head with one arm, so I was ready to smoke my checkup.

The doctor said I was a bit overweight, and my blood numbers showed that my cholesterol was borderline high. He suggested that I take some fish oil and try to get some exercise.

A blood test at Microsoft two weeks later showed the same results.

Needless to say I was REALLY pissed off.

Here I am, working my ass off for a year and a half, eating a recommended low-fat diet, and my weight and numbers are such that my doctor thinks I’m not doing anything at all.

It was at about this point that Timothy Ferriss’ 4 Hour Body came out. This was a pretty cool book, and had a lot of funky and interesting hacks that he tried for his body, and I was willing to experiment at this point. The diet part of his book “The Slow Carb Diet” was worth a try, so both Yulia and I gave it a shot. It was OK, and some weight came off, but it was making Yulia feel really rotten, so I looked at other options.

This is where my OCD really kicked in.

I followed Timothy’s links on his blog for some of the sources for his diet, to see if there was something similar that might work better. I came across a YouTube video of a guy named Gary Taubes on Larry King discussing his book on diet. This was an interesting watch, since he was basically arguing that what most nutritional advice was based on was faulty science. That was a pretty big claim, But I looked up his book Good Calories – Bad Calories and felt it was worth a read.

That was the start of all the annoying posts to Facebook as I burrowed into the data. Working backwards into the various studies, history of the Lipid Hypothesis, related diets and everything. What struck me was how much what was written about low-carbohydrate diets (vs low-fat diets) made sense when looking at my own weight and experience.

So I went to experiment with a diet on this new side of the fence, and picked The Primal Blueprint. It’s a Paleo-style diet which basically recommends to eat fewer (not no) carbs, no sugar, no grains, and cheat once in a while. It wasn’t that different from the Slow-carb diet, and was worth a shot.

I’m down to 206 pounds now, and eating a lot. The difference in how I feel is pretty amazing. My BMI is finally inside the “Normal” range and my fat percentage is dropping again.

I would say that the cognitive leap to this type of eating is as big as the cognitive leap to using Kettlebells for exercise. It is a complete departure from everything that I “knew” had to work in the past, which never worked. At some point you need to trust your personal empirical data, and try something new. This time, it’s been a hit.

Some links:

Gary Taubes “Why We Get Fat” Presentation at the UW

Studies by Steffan Lindeberg and others on the efficacy of Paleo-type diets

Fat-Head – a film on why Super-Size Me was baloney, and pretty funny too.