Tag Archives: insulin

With Great Freedom Comes Great Responsibility: The Safety of Sugar Free

I like to think that I eat fairly healthily, especially compared to the norm. I try to keep my carbohydrates low, eat plenty of vegetables, and always have a bottle of water handy.

There is one questionable substance I allow myself without restriction, however: sucralose. I’ve realized this lately, and am attempting to cut down, but it’s made me curious about just how dangerous fake sweeteners are.

Most Americans and Europeans regularly consume “fake” sweeteners on a regular basis, either on purpose (in baking, coffee and tea) or unintentionally (in reduced fat foods, and even some medications). They’re a welcomed loophole for those looking to lose or maintain their weight, and keep their blood sugar stable. But are they safe?

It Causes Cancer! … It Might Cause Cancer! … Male Lab Rats Are Prone to Cancer!

It seems that the best argument those who oppose sweeteners have is that aspartame, saccharin, and sucralose are all carcinogenic–they cause cancer. But do they really?

The newest study to come to light was in June of 2013, when Italian scientist Dr. Morando Soffritti fed male lab rats “varying” levels of sucralose throughout their lives. This study is still under peer review, and has caused quite a bit of controversy in the scientific community.(1) It contradicts the 2000 study which concluded that the substance posed no threat. Both studies were carried out on lab rats over a significant portion of their life span.

The scientific community, so far, is disregarding this study as “bad science,” however. Read the full story here. It seems that this Dr. Soffritti has been under review by his peers for less than perfect performance in the past, so for now, the consensus is that sucralose is safe for consumption.

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This is only the most recent of many almost identical situations for artificial sweeteners. In the 1970s, the oldest sweetener, saccharin, came under fire when scientists found that lab rats fed the substance developed bladder tumors. Upon further investigation, it was discovered that the specific way rodents metabolized saccharin was causing the problem, and that humans would not suffer the same consequences. Warning labels were removed from Sweet’n’Low and Sugar Twin by 2000.

Conversely to the accusatory studies, University of Adelaide researchers released findings that shows that the gut’s reaction to sweetener is neutral. “In our most recent study involving healthy men, we found that the gut’s response to artificially sweetened drinks was neutral – it was no different to drinking a glass of water,” the researcher added. (2)

What About Natural No-Calorie or Low-Calorie Sweeteners?

When you think of “natural low calorie sweetener,” how many of you think of Stevia? Oh, looks like most of you.

Unfortunately, it looks like Stevia is actually worse for you than any chemical sweetener–though nobody is going to drop from this chemical. The compounds in this shrub, which has been consumed for centuries, break down in humans’ guts to steviol, which is slightly toxic. Dr. Berger explains this much better than I could:

Erythritol, however, seems to be the one golden angel of the bunch. This chemical has never been accused of being harmful–in fact, it’s only fault is being a sugar alcohol. No, it doesn’t get you drunk; being a sugar alcohol means that a fair amount of the population (about 40%) will get a blood sugar spike from consuming it, though smaller than if they were consuming regular sugar. Also, all sugar alcohols (xylitol, maltitol, and sorbitol are some of the more common ones) cause many consumers intestinal discomfort, so make sure you keep track of how much you eat in one serving, and per day, or you may be in for a bad time.

stevia

 

So What Am I To Nom?

Because artificial sweeteners are still under review, it’s hard to say what the future brings. However, at this time, it looks like all commercially available low or no calorie sweeteners are safe for consumption–in moderation. Keep track of how much you eat a day, and take note of any weird symptoms or discomfort. Your body will tell you what’s best!

 

What sweetener do you use?

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The Big Four

Want to lose weight? Control your acne? Improve mental clarity?

These four diets are what I believe to be the “extremes,” with most other (safe and healthy) eating plans being a combination of qualities from them. They each have unique pros and cons, which I’ve listed in each description.

For any diet, it’s important that calories are kept within a reasonable limit, and that you do what feels right for your body.

Let’s start out with the majority of readers’ “ground zero”…

Western Pattern, Meat-Sweet, or the Standard American Diet (SAD)

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This way of eating has overtaken the majority of Westerners, and is spreading through the world as each new fast food chain is opened. Most calories are taken in through red meat, sugary desserts, and refined grains, along with high fat foods. A large amount of dairy is typically added, along with highly sugared beverages and processed animal products.

The macronutrient breakdown is generally about 50% carbohydrates, 15% protein, and 35% fat–which, if eaten through different foods, could make up a healthy intake, but the concerning aspect of this way of eating lies more with the overly processed nature of the foods. (1)

Pros: Easy to maintain as it fits with cultural habits, generally inexpensive, low prep time per meal.

Cons: Difficult to maintain control over calories as the high glycemic load of this diet induces cravings and blood sugar variances in most adults. 

Now on to the good stuff…

The Paleolithic Diet

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get the recipe

This diet is based off of the idea that if it can’t be found in nature, don’t eat it if a human wouldn’t eat it before the agricultural revolution, it’s not food (thanks Mike D for correcting me!). Because of that guideline, those who follow a Paleolithic–usually shortened to just “paleo”–diet plan eat plenty of meats, vegetables, fruits, and tubers, while scorning dairy, grains and processed foods (from wheat to bologna). This diet’s macros are highly variable, and depend on what the eater prefers.

If using this diet for weight loss, or to treat diabetes, it’s a good idea to go light on the fruits and tubers, and eat mostly meats and vegetables. If this diet is adopted as a possible remedy for various maladies such as acne, frequent headaches, and hormonal imbalances(2)–many of which are theorized to be caused by various allergies, excessive sodium intake, gluten, unnatural chemicals in food, or high blood sugar–the dieter should experiment with macronutrient amount and timing to achieve their desired result.

Pros: Is reported to help treat many diseases, allergies, and, depending on your choice of food, can assist with weight loss. 

Cons: Can be moderately difficult to maintain in social settings. Because grass fed meats and dairy, and organic produce are highly recommended, this diet can be expensive to maintain. 

For more information: The Beginner’s Guide, What To Eat On The Paleo Diet, The Paleo SubReddit

Ketogenic Diet

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get the recipe

This diet, often simply referred to as “keto,” has a similar menu to the Paleo diet, but for different reasons. Originally used to treat some forms of child epilepsy, this way of eating was popularized for weight loss by Dr. Atkins. The keto diet as we know it today maintains the recommended maximum of 30 grams of carbohydrates a day–shared by both the medical diet and the Atkins diet–as well as a defined macro recommendation that the daily calorie breakdown should be 30% protein, 65% fat, and 5% or less carbohydrates (remember that fats are 9 calories per gram, whereas protein and carbohydrates are 4 calories per gram).

This diet consists almost entirely of leafy green vegetables, fatty cuts of meat, eggs, hard cheeses, and small amounts of nuts and berries. Because of the diuretic effect of this plan, users should be careful to both drink plenty of water, and ensure that they are consuming enough electrolytes (sodium, potassium, magnesium).

Unlike many other diets, this plan must be adhered to diligently to get results–dieters will not get nearly the same benefits by partially adhering, either by only following the “rules” some days of the week, or by not cutting carbohydrates out enough. Do not be mistaken, there is benefit to lowering carbohydrates, but the dramatic results that are associated with keto–improved mental clarity, acne cessation, hunger suppression, and rapid weight loss for those with 30+ pounds of extra fat–will not take effect until the body enters ketosis, as this diet’s success relies on hormone and energy regulation, and has a chemical impact on the functioning of your body:

Ketosis is a state in which your body has run out of glycogen (sugar), and is using fat for energy, including your brain. This can take anywhere from 3-10 days to achieve, during which many experience the “keto flu,” a state in which the body is adjusting to the new energy source. The dieter will feel sluggish and dim, and possibly experience headaches and mild nausea. Once the body is adjusted, however, dieters report feeling “smarter,” more alert, free of cravings and severe hunger pangs, and even (in some, not all) needing to sleep less hours every night.

Pros: Can remedy many maladies caused by high blood sugar and gluten. Is very helpful for those suffering from diabetes, or are pre-diabetic. Regulates hunger and greatly diminishes cravings. Some evidence that the diet “starves” cancerous growths. (3)

Cons: Can be very difficult to maintain in social settings. Many, including some doctors, combat the diet openly, as there is a belief that fat and red meat will lead to cancer, high cholesterol, and heart disease–though keto dieters tend to have improved blood panels after a few months. 

For more information: The Keto Calculator, Diet 911 by Muscle & Fitness, The Keto SubReddit

Vegetarian

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get the recipe

The majority of vegetarian dieters are lacto-ovovegetarian, in that they do not eat animal products, save for eggs, dairy, and honey. (4) Fruits, vegetables, grains, and legumes are all encouraged.

Those who are looking to lose weight should be mindful of their grain intake, as calories can accumulate, though it can be tempting to turn to breads and pastas out of convenience. Dieters should also be mindful of their protein intake, and ensure that they are eating plenty of beans, dairy, eggs, and nuts. The healthfulness of eating excessive amounts of soy is still under debate, though some–especially men–have reported ill effects.

This diet can be extremely nutritious if the dieter primarily eats vegetables and fruits. It’s easy to have a wide variety of tastes, as many are culturally vegetarian.

Pro: Easy to maintain in a social setting. Wide variety of foods available.

Cons: Some foods that qualify as vegetarian are low in nutritional value, so a high level of self control is necessary for maintaining or losing weight. 

For more information: Becoming Vegetarian, Vegetarian Times

Vegan

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get the recipe

Like vegetarians, vegans do not eat animal products–and also do not eat eggs, dairy, or honey, which can make it a little bit harder for them to get adequate protein. With the right planning, this diet can be just as complete as any other, though the same precautions against excessive refined carbohydrates (namely bread and pasta) should be taken as with vegetarians.

Because of the extensive restrictions on food that can be eaten, it’s highly recommended that those considering adopting this lifestyle plan out how they will eat to ensure that they get enough fat, protein, and minerals.

Veganism has been reported to have many health benefits, often in ways unique to the particular dieter, and can include allergy and asthma relief. If done right, the food a vegan consumes is much lower in calories than the same volume of non-vegan food, and can be a very effective diet for weight loss. (5)

Pros: Is reported to help alleviate hypertension, obesity, and may play a part in preventing cancer. (6If the dieter avoids processed grains, the food is generally very low in calories, and thus conducive to weight loss. 

Cons: Can be very difficult to maintain in a social setting, as many dishes include non-vegan ingredients, such as butter while cooking. 

For more information: 10 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Went Vegan, How to Be a Vegan and Stay Healthy

How do you like to eat? What makes you feel best? Have you tried any of these?

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What To Do After A Binge

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It’s Halloween! Some view it as the night the “candy season” is finally over, but really, it’s the first holiday of the winter season–the binging is just beginning.

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All of us, except for a few gastronomical saints, will indulge at some point or another this season, and that’s ok! There’s more to these shared meals than nutrition and caloric value–it’s a time to bond with family, get a little giddy with some drinks, and make some memories.

If you want to keep you weight in check this holiday season, here’s the ideal “day after” plan [I don’t always do this, but when I do, I feel much better…and the scale moves a lot less]. This plan is assuming that the binge was mainly carbohydrates since… well… it’s a lot harder to really overeat pure fat and protein:

Binge Recovery

Step one: Getting Home

Oh lordy. I’m so full, it hurts… 

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You get home. You know what you did and dammit, you don’t care. You’re an adult, you can eat an entire pie if you want to.

Or you feel immensely guilty.

Or you’re very drunk.

Step 2: Work out when you wake up

Ideally you worked out before you indulged. No matter how much you lifted, ran, climbed, or biked before you ate, though, it’s likely that your glycogen stores (in your muscles and liver) are full. They may already be overflowing, which means that the extra energy is being converted into the dreaded jiggle…

When you wake up you’ll probably feel bloated–that horrible feeling like your skin isn’t quite big enough anymore, and you’re uncomfortable in kind of a nonspecific way. Working out in a way that maximizes glycogen depletion will do some damage control and make you feel like yourself again.

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The simple principle is, the more energy you use, the less you’ll store–first and foremost, pick an exercise you aren’t going to quit after 10 minutes because you hate it. Going for a long walk will help if you can’t muster the will to do more. A long bike ride is a great choice. Running is fantastic fort his, and if you can do a HIIT work out, and/or get yourself to the gym to lift (high reps is best for this), even better. Explosive movements are the best, but moving in general is the best thing you can do right now.

Step 3: Drink a ton of water throughout the day

Back to that bloating feeling–know why you get it? For every molecule of glucose (pie, cake, pasta, ice cream, sweet drink mixers) your body stores, it stores two molecules of water. It has to do this, which means that the rest of your body has become dehydrated. Gulping water throughout the day, especially before, during, and after your workout, will help kill the lethargy.

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Step 4: Make the next meal low in carbohydrates

You’re already full up–make a point to have a low carb meal the next time you eat. Something classically “healthy” like a salad is great, because it also contains a lot of water, but an omelette, a bunless burger, or a lettuce wrap will work equally well.

Fiber will help you get rid of any garbage left in your digest tract a little faster.

It’s also a good idea to make your next few meals small to help your stretch stomach shrink back to its original size.

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Follow these steps and you should feel like your old self by the end of the day or the next day!

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Do Detox “Cleanse” Diets Work?

If you rounded up a group of people who had 10-20 pounds they were trying to lose, “do you wish you could lose it in a week? How about less than a month?” I guarantee you every one of them would answer yes.

This is the offering made by every detox cleanse diet. These “fad” “crash” diets have been made popular by celebrities, who face considerably pressure to make their body fit the director’s description of various characters. Beyonce made the “Lemonade Cleanse” famous when she lost 20 lbs in preparation for Dreamgirls. After shooting was over, however, she regained the weight rather quickly (Yahoo)–in general, we only see the dramatic losses, not the eventual regains in weight.

Are cleanse diets really worth it? Do they really “detoxify” your body? 

This is a rather broad question, so I’ll break it down into several points:

What is a detox diet?

It seems that almost every “detox” diet has a different definitely of what it truly means to “cleanse.” As a general rule, diets that claim you cannot properly cleanse your cells without their specially formulated product are probably not worth your while. Common sense dictates that if it’s something we need to do, then what we need to do it must occur naturally, not require a laboratory for manufacture.

Further, diets that claim you need a specific (naturally occurring) substance, such as apples, kale, or their great grandmother Hagatha’s tears of true joy, are also eliminated as bunk. Humans live throughout the world, and so far there have been few  deaths that resulted from a person dissolving into a “bag of puss.” (thanks for that visual, Raw Reform)

Essentially, if you’re looking for a diet that will “cleanse” your system, pick one that is either a water fast, or requires only a variety of produce to do.

As far as not for profit detox diets, their definition of the word seems to be:

  1. Resting of internal organs, especially the kidneys and liver
  2. Eliminating harmful foods from the diet
  3. Hydration
  4. Encouragement of toxin expulsion through the intestines, kidneys, lungs, and skin
  5. Improved blood circulation

The Benefits

The benefits of a diet such as a water fast, a juice fast, or eating only raw produce for a period of time are very similar (or identical, in the case of water fasting) to that of any kind of fasting.

As I mentioned in a previous article, fasting induces some physical reactions similar to those that exercise creates, as well as many others. The scholarly literature goes back into the 19th century, but in the two most sought after are usually:

  1. Rapid weight loss (though maintaining this loss requires a considerable change in lifestyle once the fast is broken)
  2. Increased insulin sensitivity (again, lifestyle must be maintained after fast to keep this benefit)

These benefits will also be seen in a “detox” diet, as they almost unanimously lower calories into the realm of a “partial fast” (under 600 kcal a day).

Detox diets also remove junk food, psychologically reactive chemicals (such as alcohol and caffeine), and most–if not all–of the more difficult to digest foods, such as fibrous produce, meat, and fat. Perhaps the most logical reason that dieters feel “clean” during and after “detoxing” is that by removing most or all of their food sources, they also eliminate possible allergens, or foods that they are sensitive to, such as wheat, soy, lactose, eggs, and peanuts (as well as many more uncommon sources of irritation).

If you’re experimenting with detoxing and feel less enflamed (not to be confused with bloated, which is caused by excessive sugar or salt, but not an usually by an allergy) than you did previously, they would be wise to experiment with removing single ingredients from their diet to expedite the process of finding what food is causing discomfort. 
 

The Risks

As with fasting, low calorie diets or diets intended to put you in a state of ketosis (cleanse diets can be both or either) have the potential to upset your electrolyte balance, which can cause cramping, irritability, and lethargy. Seniors, children, adolescents, and women who are pregnant or nursing should definitely not attempt these, and others should keep in mind that if they experience these symptoms they should address them (a sports drink and a more varied diet usually does the trick!)

Reducing your calories should be approached cautiously, especially when under 800 calories. Your blood sugar will most likely drop drastically, which, depending on your current health, could lead to extreme fatigue, dizziness, and possible faintness. If you begin this diet, start on a Friday night, for a weekend that is free of plans, especially those that require cognitive skills and driving.

Also, expect to spend a considerable amount of time in the restroom, as many “cleanse” diets are made up primarily of laxatives and diuretics.

The Myth

Overall, detox and cleanse diets can have a similar effect on your system as a prolonged fast, either traditional or modified (under 600 calories daily).

However, if you’re feeling “toxic,” there is absolutely no scientific proof that these regimens will have any effect. Your body already has a fantastic waste management system, in the form of your kidneys, liver, intestines, and cardiovascular system. 

 

Have you ever done a cleanse diet?

Do you know anyone who has completed one of these regimens?

Have you ever been tempted to try one?

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Sleep Your Way To The Top

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Sleep: every single creature does it, it takes up about a third of life, if we skip it just for one day we lose the same amount of mental function as being legally drunk, and scientists don’t know what it really does.

Earlier today, I decided that a visit to ted.com was in order. This video caught my attention:

In it, Russell Foster explains that sleep is not “an illness that needs some sort of cure,” but rather one of, if not the most important behavioral mechanism that controls us.  Though no one knows definitively why we do it, science does know that it is tied to memory consolidation and problem solving, and without it, we become stupid.

Lately, however, sleep deprivation has become somewhat of a thing to be proud of. I’m sure we’ve all witnessed (or been guilty of) bragging about only getting a few hours of sleep and then going to work or school the next day. The braggart may have gone, but were they anywhere near as productive?

The Effects of Sleep Deprivation

Depriving yourself of sleep wreaks havoc on both the mind and the body, yet it’s become a norm in Western society. But what are the effects?

Mental

Does sleeping 6 hours a night sound fairly normal to you? Perhaps the effects don’t seem that bad, you’ll catch up on the weekend…right?

Chronic Sleep Deprivation

A study by Van Dongen showed that though the effects seemed benign, restricting sleep to 6 hours or less a night over 14 days reduced cognitive ability to a level similar to skipping two days of sleep in a row. However, participants did not rate themselves as feeling impaired, which is why it can seem fairly harmless to consistently restrict snooze time.

Sleep Deprivation and Mental Illness

Sleep is also a prime time for the formation and cementing of memories. In a Q&A session following the above presentation, Foster also explains that regular trouble sleeping can be connecting to a variety of mental illnesses, including depression, schizophrenia, and PTSD. He and his colleagues have found that those who are sleep deprived have much more difficulty remembering traumatic memories than those who are fully rested, and hypothesize that excessive wakefulness may be a natural coping mechanism.

Physical

As every athlete (at any level) knows, a huge part of exercise performance is based on mental stamina and willpower. The body also needs time to repair itself after heavy exercise sessions, and to be ready for the next physical trials we throw at it.

Length of Physical Effort

It should come as no surprise that sleep loss has detrimental effects on exercise. In a study that deprived participants of sleep for 36 hours, then stuck those poor souls on treadmills, an 11% decrease in time able to exercise was witnessed, despite a doubling of prize money for completing the assigned goal. Two groups seemed to form: “resistant,” and “susceptible,” with the resistant group losing as little as 5% of their productive time, but the susceptible group losing up to 40% of theirs.

Metabolic Changes

When you are sleep deprived, your body starts releasing higher levels of ghrelin, and decreasing leptin. This surge causes you to feel hungry more often, especially for carbohydrates, as they are a quick way to “boost” energy.

At the same time, because growth hormone (GH) is released in it’s highest amount during the first portion of each sleep cycle, those who miss out have slower metabolic functioning. In addition, sleep deprivation increases the rate at which the gastrointestinal tract absorbs glucose, which can lead to increased insulin resistance if chronic. (Mullington)

How to Get a Good Night’s Sleep

Thinking of hitting the sack a little earlier tonight? Good! Here’s how:

  • Make your bedroom as dark as you possibly can. This helps tell your brain that it’s time to shut down.
  • If you can cool down your room, do! It will help you sleep.
  • Spend 30 minutes or so not looking at a screen.
  • Think, talk, and do happy things in the hours leading up to bedtime. It will help you sleep deeper, and will lower the chance of you waking up in the middle of the night.
  • Don’t drink caffeine after lunch time, no matter how tolerant you think you are!
  • Above all, give yourself enough time before waking. There’s no definitive time that adults need to sleep, but we do know that 7-9 fits most of the population. If you need an alarm clock to wake up, you need to go to bed earlier!

Parting Thoughts

There are many more effects that chronic sleep deprivation can have, including some very scary statistic on cardiovascular health. My goal for this article was to point out the effects that are more immediate, and therefore, more inconvenient for us in the short term.

Hopefully I’ve helped motivate some people to put their phone down and get that extra hour or two of sleep!

Comments?

How many hours do you sleep when you don’t have an alarm set?

Do you often deprive yourself of sleep? Why? How do you feel it affects you?

 

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Controlling Emotional Eating

I’ve only met a few people who are unfamiliar with emotionally eating, and I’m not sure I believe them. For this particular discussion I’m going to focus on emotional eating triggered by stress, instead of boredom.

Before we even begin, let me just make sure the record is straight: I pride myself on my control of my emotional eating, but there is still a gluttonous beast within me that every so often, slips its chain.

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Objectively Speaking:

To qualify it as a subject worthy of study, the parameters set (via WebMD) are:

  1. Sudden onset
  2. Feeling like the hunger must be satisfied immediately; excessive urgency
  3. Continuing eating while full, possibly to the point of discomfort
  4. Feeling guilt during and/or after consuming the meal.

Generally, this kind of hunger is brought on by stress–be it sadness, anger, guilt, or fear. It’s one of the oldest evolutionary responses: “I need fuel, there’s going to be a fight or a flight.” 

The First Step: Recognition

Just like any problem, the first step is recognizing that there is a problem. For me, this is generally mid spoonful just after I’ve reached the point where yes, those calories definitely count, there is no way I can rationalize that away as “just a taste.”

I like to think that educating yourself on brain chemistry will help you combat your cravings and urges when next you catch yourself in the act–generally, this is my approach when I’m gorging because of frivolous reasons. Knowing why you’re doing what you’re doing really does help you control it. 

Why Do We Do This To Ourselves?!

What science can tell us:

  1. Ghrelin, the hormone that makes us feel hungry, is released just as reliably when we’re stressed as when we have gone for several hours without food. Ghrelin also has some interaction with the hormones that control depression and anxiety, and can act as a natural antidepressent (though this sounds like a jump off into a conversation about anorexia, I’d rather not go there, at least not today). Source
  2. Those who lack fish oil in their diet are more likely to have low moods, which may cause stress eating. This is because they run low on docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA. This can be mitigated by taking fish oil pills, if you either don’t like fish or don’t like its effect on your wallet.
  3. Often times we crave food that was given to us as a reward in the past, especially during childhood. This alone is a fantastic argument against giving food “prizes” to kids for good behavior. Source
  4. Foods that are high in fat and/or sugar often stimulate various hormones in our brains that cause us to feel happy and/or relaxed.

Why Am I Craving Sugar?

Craving sugar can happen for one of two reasons, and it’s usually a combination of both:

  • You were given sugar as a child to make you feel better, and associate it with comfort, love, and safety.
  • Your body wants a blood sugar spike.

Craving sugar because of your past is something that must be overcome psychologically, and unfortunately that’s as much as science can tell us at this point. However, it’s somewhat rare for that to be the only reason I really want that mocha instead of black coffee when I’m having a rough day.

The blanket reason seems to be adrenal fatigue. If you haven’t had enough sleep–be that because of too full a schedule, or laying awake worrying about things–or are spending too much time feeling “rushed” or pressured, often times your body will turn to an outside source of energy to keep you awake. Blood sugar spikes do this quite well, especially since our body conveniently forgets that we will, inevitably, have a blood sugar crash, which will only make it all worse.

Next time you’re craving something very sugary (not fatty, so think something along the lines of hard candy), stop and evaluate how tired you are, physically and emotionally. If “exhausted” is an adjective you’d assign to yourself, perhaps try finding a quiet corner and relaxing/take a nap (guide to timing your nap) before you dig in, and see if you don’t feel better.

Why Am I Craving Fat?

This answer is rooted more in evolution, but isn’t entirely unlike our desire for sugar or carbohydrates.

Think about how a human’s day went before the agricultural revolution: We use up a lot of calories for our size because of our brain, so, in order to supply those calories, humans evolved to eat mostly dead animals. In order to survive, they hunted. If the hunt was unsuccessful, they went hungry. If they went hungry for too long, they died.

For this reason, we developed a preference for fatty animals, and our bodies have adapted to process both animal fats and proteins exceptionally. Our bodies can be fueled entirely on these two food sources (given that the animals had a natural diet and thus have nutrient rich flesh, which unfortunately is usually not the case today).

When a hunt was successful, those who helped were most likely physically spent, and eating the best parts, especially on the outside of the animal, was their reward. This is the theory behind why we crave it during stressful times: eating fat signals to our brain that we will not starve.

This video explains it well, though I do not completely condone taking chunks out of a stick of butter (I can’t really argue why it’s bad, it’s just … icky. If that’s your thing though…). Warning: this is an advertisement, but it is factually correct: Eat More Butter from Tiny Falcon on Vimeo.

Ending Thoughts

I hope that this post explained a little bit about how brains work in the face of delicious treats, and maybe I helped someone out there.

As always, for any craving, I’m a big advocate of drinking a 16+ oz glass of cold water first. I also think distraction works amazingly well. If you have a computer in front of you, pick your poison; at a party, my favorite thing to do is try to remember every word to a song, or start a conversation with someone about a very engaging topic. Being alone is always the hardest, but is also usually the only time you can nap if you feel that’s why you’re feeling peckish.

How do you combat your cravings? 

What do you crave when you’re stressed? 

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The case for Intermittent Fasting

This past weekend was the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur. On this day, Jews around the world (and their doting husbands, apparently) do not eat from sun down to sun down, and reflect on their misdeeds of the previous year and how they can better themselves.

The effects of fasting has many purposes. For the very religious, the belief is that the spirit–the life force that animates the physical body–is forced to be uncomfortable as it’s “home” suffers. For the not-so religious, such as me and my husband, the mental and emotional blunting that comes along with fasting serves as an official time to reflect and be in a semi-meditative state for much longer than is usually possible. We have made it our “family” custom to spend this time together, really appreciate each other as people, and talk out any problems that may have been festering throughout the year.

And for everyone, the effects fasting has on blood sugar, insulin sensitivity, and disease prevention can be interesting, to say the least.

“Eat like a lion”

That quote seems to be fairly popular within the intermittent fasting(IF) community, and it’s not hard to see why. Our ability as humans to run long distances serves as proof that we were, for a long time, a persistence hunting species (we actually still are in some parts of the world).

If you’re interested in learning more about our long distances abilities, this is a great talk to watch:

The major take-away quotes from this video that relate to fasting are:

Two million years ago the human brain exploded in size. Australopithecus had a tiny little pea brain. Suddenly humans show up — Homo erectus — big, old melon-head. To have a brain of that size, you need to have a source of condensed caloric energy. In other words, early humans are eating dead animals — no argument, that’s a fact. The only problem is, the first edged weapons only appeared about 200,000 years ago. So, somehow, for nearly two million years, we are killing animals without any weapons. Now, we’re not using our strength because we are the biggest sissies in the jungle. Every other animal is stronger than we are — they have fangs, they have claws, they have nimbleness, they have speed. We think Usain Bolt is fast. Usain Bolt can get his ass kicked by a squirrel.”

“Maybe we evolved as a hunting pack animal. Because the one advantage we have in the wilderness — again, it’s not our fangs and our claws and our speed — the only thing we do really, really well is sweat. We’re really good at being sweaty and smelly. Better than any other mammal on Earth, we can sweat really well. But the advantage of that little bit of social discomfort is the fact that, when it comes to running under hot heat for long distances, we’re superb, we’re the best on the planet. You take a horse on a hot day, and after about five or six miles, that horse has a choice. It’s either going to breathe or it’s going to cool off, but it ain’t doing both — we can. So what if we evolved as hunting pack animals? What if the only natural advantage we had in the world was the fact that we could get together as a group, go out there on that African Savannah, pick out an antelope and go out as a pack and run that thing to death? That’s all we could do. We could run really far on a hot day.”

It can be logically argued that it is not natural for us to eat 3 small meals and snacks a day. This is the foundation for the theory of intermittent fasting as a whole.

What is Intermittent Fasting?

IF is the practice of fasting for a period of 10+ hours.

The most popular options are not eating for 14-16 hours every day, and having a “window” of allowed caloric intake, or fasting completely for 24 hours, twice a week, with normal intake the other 5 days.

Brad Pilon explains it best here:

Benefits to IF

There is evidence that regular fasting for short amounts of time (under 48 hours) has a similar effect on the body as regular exercise on both heart and brain function and disease resistence, though there are still some unknowns. Multiple studies have found implications that fasting regularly can reduce the risk for disease, even in those genetically prone:

“After 3 months of IF or regular every-day feeding (control) diets started in 2-month-old rats, myocardial infarction (MI) was induced by coronary artery ligation [tying]. Twenty-four hours after MI, its size in the IF group was 2-fold smaller, the number of apoptotic myocytes in the area at risk was 4-fold less, and the inflammatory response was significantly reduced compared with the control diet group. ”

— Cardioprotection by Intermittent Fasting in Rats
Ismayil Ahmet, MD, PhD; Ruiqian Wan, PhD; Mark P. Mattson, PhD; Edward G. Lakatta, MD; Mark Talan, MD, PhD
Available here: http://circ.ahajournals.org/content/112/20/3115.long
 

Essentially the findings of that study are that rodents kept on an IF schedule suffered less cell death, and repaired more efficiently from the injury of having one of the valves in their heart tied closed (as close as researchers could get to mimicking a heart attack).

There are some studies that also suggest IF could have a hand in preventing Alheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease when started by middle age or sooner:

“IF may therefore protect neurons against adverse effects of Aβ and tau pathologies on synaptic function. We conclude that CR and IF dietary regimens can ameliorate age-related deficits in cognitive function by mechanisms that may or may not be related to Aβ and tau pathologies.”

– Intermittent fasting and caloric restriction ameliorate age-related behavioral deficits in the triple-transgenic mouse model of Alzheimer’s disease
Veerendra Kumar Madala Halagappa; Zhihong Guo; Michelle Pearson; Yasuji Matsuoka; Roy G. Cutler; Frank M. LaFerla; Mark P. Mattson,⁎
Available here: http://matsuokalab.georgetown.edu/pubs/2007%20Neurobiol%20Dis%20Caloric%20restriction.pdf

Lastly, there is evidence that IF can provide the same benefits to resting glucose and insulin sensitivity as a reduced calorie diet, even if the subject ends up eating as many calories (over a 48 hour time period) as they would had they not been restricted in any way:

“The findings of this study suggest that IF can enhance health and cellular resistance to disease even if the fasting period is followed by a period of overeating such that overall caloric intake is not decreased.”

– Intermittent fasting dissociates beneficial effects of dietary restriction on glucose metabolism and neuronal resistance to injury from calorie intake
R. Michael Anson, Zhihong Guo, Rafael de Cabo, Titilola Iyun, Michelle Rios, Adrienne Hagepanos, Donald K. Ingram, Mark A. Lane, Mark P. Mattson
Available here: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC156352/
 

Conclusion

I have never done IF, but writing this article has made me reevaluate my eating schedule. I’d love to try this, my only concern is the social aspect of it.

Have you ever fasted for health reasons? How did it go?

Do you practice IF? Why?

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Is The Post-Exercise Anabolic Window a Myth?

Referencing:

Nutrient timing revisited: is there a post-exercise anabolic window?
Alan Albert Aragon and Brad Jon Schoenfeld

(published in January of 2013)

What is this about?

This study challenges the belief that a specific type or timing of a “recovery meal” is necessary to get the most bang for your buck after a workout.

The researchers approach this by reviewing existing literature on the effects of nutrient timing and reanalyzing the results.

Results

There are several reasons given for eating post workout meals. This study addresses each in its own section, so I will follow suite:

Glycogen repletion

The most common reason given for eating a “recovery meal” is to replace the glycogen lost during heavy exercise.

Glycogen is a type of sugar which our body produces from the food we eat. It is very useful in “explosive,” or short and intense movements, such as jumping, or lifting something heavy. Our muscles can store glycogen within themselves, and can quickly turn it into energy (in the form of ATP) extremely quickly in a process called glycolysis.

There is some evidence that glycogen is also a mediator in intracellular signaling, and has an effect on the rate at which muscles are catabolized (reabsorbed to fuel the body).

Previous research in the field has indicated that:

  • Glycogen has been shown to be a defining factor in protein breakdown, and in reducing catabolism of muscle protein
  • When carbohydrates are consumed immediately post exercise, muscle glycogen is replenished twice as effectively as when the athletes waited to eat for 2 hours.
  • Consuming protein and carbohydrates together enhances glycogen resynthesis, or the process of muscles “filling up” with fuel again.

Aragon and Schoenfield’s thoughts on the matter are that there is not a significant amount of evidence supporting the “anabolic threshold.” Studies have, in their minds, proven that there are very select cases where the timing of eating will affect importance, such as endurance events (long enough to deplete glycogen, generally over 2 hours in duration) that are less than 8 hours apart, or those who train the same muscles more than once a day.

However, there is no evidence that there is any urgency for refueling for the majority of athletes and casual exercisers. 

Protein breakdown

As mentioned in the previous section, muscle catabolism is directly affected by insulin levels, which are almost entirely controlled by ingested carbohydrates. One of the arguments for the importance of eating directly after exercise it to prevent muscle loss. However, science, at this time, does not fully understand the control insulin has on catabolism.

Aragon and Schoenfield point to several studies that prove spiking insulin directly after a resistance training workout has trivial benefits, if any, unless the athlete is in a fasted state prior to the workout beginning.

Protein Synthesis

This, by far, is the most touted reason to have a post-workout meal as soon as possible. However, Aragon and Schoenfield state that there is almost literally no reliable outcomes in studies that address how muscle protein synthesis is affected by post workout nutrient intake. Each study gets a different result, and, in their words:

Thus, the utility of acute studies is limited to providing clues and generating hypotheses regarding hypertrophic adaptations; any attempt to extrapolate findings from such data to changes in lean body mass is speculative, at best.

Muscle hypertrophy

At this point, honestly, you can feel the authors’ blood pressure rising. Throughout the article, they have presented the findings of various studies, and then addressed how the studies were, essentially, worthless, or at least overvalued.

This section is more of the same. The table presented after explaining that each study in the field had a completely different design is all that needs to be restated:

Post-exercise nutrition and muscle hypertrophy

Essentially, there was no conclusive evidence of significant muscle volume changes in between groups.

Their conclusion and advice for practical application

According to Aragon and Schoenfield’s article, there is no conclusive evidence that the anabolic window exists in any significant way except for those most extreme competitive athletes.

Their suggestion to the majority of the population is to instead focus on all around nutrition throughout the day and week. There is some evidence that the preworkout meal is more important, but the studies for that theory are no more thorough than those outlined in this paper.

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