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.
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We were watching Anthony Bourdain’s travel show the other day, and I was really hit by a comment that he said. The show was a tour through the Burgundy region of France, and if you have been to any part of France outside of Paris, you can really appreciate the beauty of the provinces. But Bourdain’s show is about Food, and also, his reactions to food. So this comment erupted after a tour of wineries, shops, all the usual places, and he and his traveling companion were in some side market, tasting vegetables from the region. After tasting some random – whatever, he said:

“If vegetables tasted like this in America, people would actually eat them!”

I was floored.

This comment reactivated ideas that had been swimming in my head for a long time since I have started eating a “Paleo” type diet.

I went today to get my Flu shot at Microsoft. It is one of the cool corporate benefits that we get, and they will also to a quick health screening as well. A mail get sent around to everyone to click a link that takes you to the internal wellness site, where you can pick a time to get your shot, and even take the spouse along for free.

When you sign up, the tool also walks you through a short series of questions about your health habits, do you exercise, how many hours, what do you eat, etc. The one that made me pause was, “Do you eat fatty red meat such as Hamburgers, Pizza…”

I stopped right there.

I’m not sure where you eat, but the last time I saw a hamburger, the “meat” was the smallest part of it. And most of the “red” on the last pizza I saw was sauce. The next choice was eating “Lean” meats such as chicken breasts. Third place is you’re fired.

My eating habits, of eating “fatty” cuts of meat that aren’t wrapped in a great blob of gluten isn’t even a choice. How about the quality of meat that I eat? Do they really think that the source and feed or hormone profile makes no difference?

If you have ever read any paleo blog or book, a common refrain is the poor quality of studies that claim the benefits of whole grains or the dangers of fats in the diet, when confounders in these studies wipe out any chance of getting valuable data. Calling Pizza a “Red Meat” happens often. Not controlling for food quality is common.

If you talk with someone who advocates a “Low Carb” diet, it will be uncommon to find two people who agreed what “low” exactly means. And virtually none of the studies out there, pro or con, state this clearly.

We frequently hear about how a ratio of macronutrients will give one he alt benefit or another, vs how many calories are needed per day. But does your body treat 100 calories of cake the same as 100 calories of spinach? How about 10 ounces of cheap, feedlot beef vs 10 ounces of prime, organic grass-fed bison? Are carbs the same in apples and bread? Is fat the same between Soy oil and avocado? How fresh are the ingredients?

If I buy a tomato from the store, even from the organic pile, and eat a slice, it’s pretty good. But its just a tomato. We get freshly picked tomatoes delivered each week ripened on the vine, and cutting into one release smells of the vine and soil, and with that I can remember being 12 years old, running in my grandparents yard and brushing against their tomato plants, potted in wine barrels, releasing that same smell when I hit them.

If the quality of food can impact my memories so much, how is that impacting my health? How is the lack of that quality impacting our health?

The whole concept of eating high-quality, clean, natural food is such a novelty in our culture now. We look to packaged, enriched foods and expensive drugs to make up for missing basics in our diet. We want simple, easy numbers to track (100 calories! 50 carbs!) so we can check them off of a list.

But our bodies don’t run on checklists.

We are what we eat. We are what our food eats. We are where our food grows.

Those are first principles. Eat real food.

After that, we can discuss eating more of one thing or less of another. But discussing and arguing over how much garbage and chemical by-product we should eat isn’t the answer.

Once first principles are correct, we can move to the next step.

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.

I suppose that the end of the year is a time for reflection. Sadly, since I do not actually wear a tinfoil hat, I am not that reflective.

This year, I really appreciate the number of people who came into my life, and will truly miss those who have left. The thing that I truly enjoyed about Facebook is how you can add new people to your life even in a small way, and though you might not be physically close to each other, you have a connection that you might not have had before.

The downside to this also means that sometimes you learn about the loss of people who might completely passed you by. I found out today that an old friend from high school, died this week trying to save someone else’s life. I’m never sure how to feel about something like this, in that I might never have reconnected with this person in life, but knowing that they’re gone still feels like such a loss.

I suppose the best we can hope for is to keep building as many new, great, wonderful people as we can, and hope for as little loss as possible.

On the personal front, this marks one full year of Paleo style dieting, which has meant 20 pounds down and feeling a lot better. I’ve seen a lot of my friends get healthier this year, and a lot of family get healthier as well.

My lifting has improved. I’ve been able to try a lot of different, unique systems, and everything is been a fun and interesting challenge. I feel good that I can end the year feeling stronger and have had a lot of fun in the process.

To friends, family, and acquaintances alike, I wish a good year. Rarely, if ever do I agree with people on everything, but even when we disagree I hope that things work out the best for everyone.

Hope your 2012 is good, and as the Mayans say – Time to buy a new calendar, this ones out!

One of the things that I really like about social media is the exposure you get to large groups of people normally you wouldn’t be able to interact with. In good times, this allows you to get information and feedback from people but you might find useful and interesting. And in other times, you get to watch them pick fights each other. This is one of those other times.

Two of the big groups I’m exposed to right now are the Kettlebell crowd and the Paleo diet crowd. In both of these groups are having big internal conflicts. Personally, I’m rather enjoying the show. I’m lucky enough to have some of the better minds in all these groups available to me on Facebook either as direct friends, or through their business pages. And for the most part, they’re a smart, professional group of people.

Currently, I’m trying not to take sides in the arguments. I’m still pretty much a novice in all these areas, and I am hoping to learn from these people. But after a while, you can start pick out the wheat from the chaff.

I can see the point of the arguments for both sides in these situations, and usually they simply have a difference of opinion, but generally are moving towards the same goals. In some cases, I can see where one side really has a difficult time explaining its point of view, and that makes me feel like they don’t know what they’re saying in the first place. Or that they are just BS’ing to gather attention.

I might be wrong, but if you don’t know where you stand in the first place, you probably shouldn’t be arguing. It might be fun to watch for the rest of us on the outside, but it ends up being a colossal waste of time and bandwidth. And worse, you look like a real dumbass after a point.

There have always been splits in the Kettlebell community, and this time looks to be not dramatically different. I think that’s fine. Most of the players are arguing more about form, and details, and they tend to be mostly polite and professional about it. I think thats fine. In the end, we are really just talking about picking up hunks of iron, and there can be many successful roads to the same destination in this area. most of these folks seem to get that.

The paleo crowd has been quite a bit different. Since this summer there has been a core argument between the argument of the “Insulin Hypothesis” (too many carbs raise insulin which triggers fat storage) and the now opposing “Palatability Hypothesis”

This palatability hypothesis supposedly says that if food is better tasting you eat more of it in this causes obesity. If you buy into the whole “well it’s all just calories” argument, then this works.

That seems to make sense on the surface, but from an idea like that, all we can really difficult conclude is, “eat really crappy food and then you’ll be healthy!” So far, there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot said about what mechanism is happening (it’s complicated!) or how this is borne out by the evidence; whereas on the insulin hypothesis side, there’s a pretty large volume of writing about what this is and how it works. It might be wrong, and probably is to a certain extent, but at least we know what they’re trying to say.

As I’ve been following this across all the blogs and other media, watching the same small number of people over and over making the same arguments and I feel like they’ve never been very clear. This has frustrated the heck out of me. These are people who I’ve really respected before, and have really appreciated their writing, and now I’m left trying to effectively fill in the blanks on what they’re trying to say, because they’re so outrageously unclear.

If you can’t clearly state your hypothesis, then I suspect that you don’t really have one. It ‘s a bit like the Monty Python sketch with the guy selling arguments. It ends up as contradiction for contradiction’s sake. (I could be arguing with you in my spare time…)

But, maybe I’m wrong. Maybe this will be much clearer once there is some better writing and better arguments on this topic. But I just don’t have a lot of faith in that case. So in the meantime, I’ll keep doing what I’m doing right now. The way I’m eating, and the way I’m lifting, are working pretty good so far. And there’s always room for improvement.

That much will probably never change.

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.