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Monday, January 31, 2011

Standing at Work

Like many office workers, I tend to sit from 9 to 5 pm.   This means my posture ends up being like this:

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Not exactly ideal for the spine.

There's been literature recommending people stand or stretch during the work day to avoid long sedentary periods.  Apparently you burn more calories and use more muscles standing than sitting.  Even the New York times picked this up for publication.

Up to this point, I've tried sitting on a kneeling chair, a swiss ball and fancy ergonomically designed chairs.  The one I used for the longest time with any satisfaction was the kneeling chair.

Eventually the padding on the knees wore thin and I retired the chair.  Using the kneeling chair did not prevent  slouching.

So being January 31, 2011 with a bunch of deadlines due for month end, I looked around the office and found some boxes and an old computer.  On went one monitor on an old unused computer, and on went the keyboard on top of a few stacked boxes.  Voila!  A standing setup.

Crappy cellphone picture
 So how does it feel after 8 hours?  Interesting.  My feet isn't fatigued and my shoulders are in a more natural position. I feel more alert.  I shift my weight whenever I feel like it and generally its comfortable.  Time will tell whether its a keeper.  The advantage of the present setup is being able to set aside the boxes, and just revert to the keyboard on the desk.  By tilting the monitor downwards, I am able to use the chair with no adjustment needed for a sitting position.

One thing I love about standing at the desk is being able to break into some squats and lunges just to move around.  I actually do not mind the feeling of standing for periods of time.  Its an interesting N=1 experiment for me.  Time will tell if its a keeper.

Have a read here for some research by the Mayo Clinc:

Here's what Mark Sissons had to say:

Additional links on the matter:


Saturday, January 29, 2011

Food Porn - 2

Chopped kale and leeks fried with garlic and eggs.

Sting ray also called skate wing.  Season with salt, pepper, or chinese black bean sauce or sweet Thai chili sauce.  Broil in oven turning over every 15 minutes.  Very tasty dish of seafood meat and relatively inexpensive.   You can also cook this in  a pressure cooker.  Garnish with ginger and spring onions.

Can't remember what this was.  But it was yummy!

Food Porn

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Ginger, salmon, carrot, garlic and dried chinese red dates soup.

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Bison meat seasoned and fried in a cast iron pan with organic flame raisins, walnuts and lettuce.

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Almond flour (crushed almonds) with organic butter.  A whipped egg or two.

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 Form the batter into little cakes.

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Pan fry until golden brown.

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Lamb chops seasoned with salt and rosemary.  Fried in a pan.

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Lamb chops sliced into pieces with a light gravy made from pan drippings and cream.

 Baked primal pie made without flour.  The crust is made from crushed almonds.

Meat, onions, celery,  vegetables, seasoned and placed in a baking bowl. 40 minutes later.

Pie served on a plate.


Thursday, January 27, 2011

Jack Lalanne - May he rest in peace

This was Jack as I remembered him.  Growing up in Malaysia during the days of black and white TV, Jack would appear in these half hour programs talking at the speed of a freight train while demonstrating exercises that could be done at home. I remember watching him as a child along with programs like Sea Hunt.

Truth is I was too young to understand the wisdom that was being presented by him at that time.  I was not equal to the knowledge set before me.

Now in my mid-forties, Jack's advice on healthy nutrition, daily activity, keeping fit and health have never rung more true.  Most of us living in the western world and in the far east have adequate resources for food, shelter and clothing.  If you were truly poor, you could not afford the technology costs to read this blog. So we have adequate money.

What money does not buy is health.   While death is the final equalizer of all, health is our inseparable companion until we reach the end.  For better or worse, we have health as our chaperone through life.

Jack's passion for living and "no bullshit" sound advice is exactly what we need to get past our complacency in matters of diet, exercise and fitness.  Here are some of his advice:

Money Cannot Buy Health

Your Body Looks Like Your Shopping Cart


Are You A Slave?

Why Are We Tired?

Jack did not have access to the kind of information we do in 2011. However his emphasis on eating whole foods and avoiding sugar and processed foods which the foundation of any healthy lifestyle.


Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Please Support my Ride to Conquer Cancer!

As part of my goals to continue giving back to the community, I am participating in the 2011 Ride to Conquer Cancer! 

The ride is set for June where several thousand participants will take two days to ride from Vancouver, Canada to Seattle, USA.  All monies which I raise for the ride goes to the BC Cancer Foundation to support cancer research. I do not benefit a cent from the pledges that are raised.

Here is a short video from 2009 to give you an idea of what its like:

If you have found this blog to be helpful, would you please give a donation towards cancer research?  You can donate by going to this link My Personal Ride to Conquer Cancer Donation Page.

Click on this green box:

This will take you to a donation page where you can input whatever amount you wish.  This will also generate a charitable tax donation receipt for tax purposes.

If you have any questions, please feel free to leave a comment or email me.

Healthfully yours,

Friday, January 21, 2011

How To Meditate

I practice meditation.  I do it anywhere. When I'm waiting for the bus, waiting for the train, sitting in the train.  Lying in bed before I sleep.

One method is simply closing your eyes and focusing your awareness on the tip of your nose.  Now breathe.  Just breathe.  Notice the thoughts running through your head?   That's normal.  That's our inner dialog. Let the thoughts come and let the thoughts go.  Ease up on control.  Keep breathing.  Feel your body relaxing.

Another method is simply reciting words.  One word, a few words, a series of words or a sentence - it doesn't matter.  Some people use prime words, some use a mantra.  I recite words of virtue in my mind such as, "Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, acceptance, self-control". As I focus intention on these virtues, I feel their calming and uplifting effects on my body.

My wife and I have also been using this intention technique to communicate love and healing energy towards each other with good effect.


Thursday, January 20, 2011

Proper Push Ups - Can You Do Them?

Finding time to do a workout is always challenging - especially when transitioning from a sedentary lifestyle to a more active one.  Since I prefer to be a cheetah than a cow, I like to move the body for short intensive bursts of activity from time to time.  Enter the humble push up.

If you could only do one exercise, I would recommend the push up. Everyone knows the push up right?  Everyone does but performing a push up correctly is not something most people do. Proper form is key to maximizing strength gains and muscle definition when doing a push up.  Proper form also makes the push up a lot harder than many people who have a pattern of poor form realize.

I would rather see 10 good form push ups than 20 push ups done with poor form at a high speed.  Which brings me to my next pet peeve.  Most people perform push ups at a rapid speed to make it easier on the muscles.  Going down and coming up quickly makes the exercise easier because it uses the body's momentum and reduces the muscles' total time under load.

If you want to see strength gains, great definition and a sculpted body, commit to doing push ups with good form with proper technique and good tempo. Check out the video below which shows perfect form push ups along with the most common errors people make doing the push up.


Monday, January 17, 2011

Primal Platter from Leftovers

The hardest part about losing weight is eating right.  All the exercise in the world will not cure poor nutrition.  Probably the most frequent question I get asked is what can we eat that is not starchy, not sugary, will not drive blood sugar sky high, yet be tasty, nourishing and satisfying.  Here is an example of the dinner we had tonight.

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Opening the fridge revealed leftover brussel sprouts and steamed turkey burger.  The natural thing would be to use it as part of a Primal Platter.  Here is the turkey burger sliced and being fried in a cast iron pan with bacon grease.  This sears the turkey slices to give it texture.  Sprinkled with sea salt and cinnamon.

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Part of the dinner prep included washing and slicing mushrooms, spring onions, tomatoes and spinach.  The plate on the left shows the bacon that was cooked prior to mixing the sliced turkey burger, brussel sprouts and the fresh ingredients.

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Here is the mega platter of cooked whole food on a bed of raw spinach.  Charred sliced turkey burger with mushrooms, spring onions, brussel sprouts,  seasoned with mixed spices, cinnamon and salt.  The platter is ringed with bacon.

Topped off with an omelette made from four  free range, organic eggs.  Our family of three did not finish the platter for dinner.  So there will be leftovers.


The Cheetah & The Cow

The cheetah is the fastest land animal on earth capable of reaching speeds up to 70 mph (112 km/h). It is a muscular, slim and athletic hunter.  Note its strong shoulders, arched back, svelte waist and powerful hind quarters.  Shown at full stride in the picture above, it is elegant and majestic.

Most of the time, it lounges and plays.  When its time to hunt, the cheetah will stalk and expend sudden bursts of energy to chase down prey.  Full sprints chases usually last 20 seconds and seldom go longer than a minute.

The cow on the other hand, is a domesticated animal which doesn't hunt. As a ruminant, it is a herbivore and grazes between 7 to 12 hours a day. Commercially bred cows are fed a high-grain diet to facilitate rapid weight gain.  I think the cow reminds me of a modern sedentary office worker.

We end up looking like what we eat.  Do we graze or only eat when we are hungry?  Do we plod along like a cow or do our exercise patterns mirror the sudden energy intensive patterns of a cheetah?

To summarize, I work like a cow but play like a cheetah.  :)


Sunday, January 16, 2011

Organic Turkey Burger & Avocado

It's the weekend so there are more occasions for me to cook and take some pics.

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Steamed cooked organic turkey burger, steamed yams and avocado for lunch.

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The steamed turkey burger is garnished with sauteed white onion seasoned with cumin and sea salt.


Saturday, January 15, 2011

Brussel Sprouts, Beef Stew & Octopus Recipes

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Couple of days ago, we steamed brussel sprouts.  I usually put a pad of organic butter for flavor. A bowl of this and some bacon would make a meal.

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This was our lunch today.  Ingredients are 2 lbs of cubed stewing beef, some sweet potatoes or yam, 1 large onion, nutmeg, cumin, sea salt, 3 tablespoons butter and crushed almonds aka almond flour.  I used a pressure cooker for this since I wanted it ready in 15 minutes.

Slice the sweet potatoes or yam into large slices and place into pressure cooker along with cubed beef.  Dice onion and mix into the pot along with butter, nutmeg and cumin.  Put enough water so it fills about 1/3 the height of the mixture in the pot.   Turn heat on high on the stove. Once the pots starts making steam sounds, set the timer for 15 minutes and lower the heat slightly (keep the pot hissing).

Once the 15 minutes is done, cool pot under tap per manufacturer's instructions, salt to taste and add the (crushed) almond flour to thicken making gravy.  The sweet potatoes naturally sweetens the stew while the nutmeg and cumin make it tasty.  The beef should be tender, moist and full of flavor.   Serve with large leaves of washed lettuce. The orange brown color is from the yams.

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For dinner we bought some cooked octopus (the slices of white-orange up top), made some boiled organic free range eggs garnished with walnuts and cashews (picture only shows walnuts).  Two helpings of food led to satiety.


Thursday, January 13, 2011

Why We Get Fat and Why Paleo and Atkins are Right in their Low Carb Approach

I could have titled this post many different ways.  I settled on a verbose and inelegant title for the sake of inclusion.

Gary Taubes is a science reporter.  Driven by curiosity, he asked questions about diet, nutrition and health without preconceived ideas and without the bias of being funded by interest groups.  His findings contained in his resulting book, Good Calories, Bad Calories was nothing less than a damning indictment of shoddy science. It launched a paradigm shift in the understanding of metabolism and obesity.  He has since published a new book called, Why We get Fat which makes the information found in his previous book a little more accessible to the average reader.

ABC News published an excerpt from Taubes' Good Calories, Bad Calories book with the following points (the parts which are underlined are my emphasis):

1. Dietary fat, whether saturated or not, is not a cause of obesity, heart disease, or any other chronic disease of civilization.

2. The problem is the carbohydrates in the diet, their effect on insulin secretion, and thus the hormonal regulation of homeostasis of the entire harmonic ensemble of the human body. The more easily digestible and refined the carbohydrates, the greater the effect on our health, weight, and well-being.

3. Sugars sucrose and high-fructose corn syrup specifically are particularly harmful, probably because the combination of fructose and glucose simultaneously elevates insulin levels while overloading the liver with carbohydrates.

4. Through their direct effect on insulin and blood sugar, refined carbohydrates, starches, and sugars are the dietary cause of coronary heart disease and diabetes. They are the most likely dietary causes of cancer, Alzheimer's disease, and the other chronic diseases of civilization.

5. Obesity is a disorder of excess fat accumulation, not overeating, and not sedentary behavior.

6. Consuming excess calories does not cause us to grow fatter, any more than it causes a child to grow taller. Expending more energy than we consume does not lead to long-term weight loss; it leads to hunger.

7. Fattening and obesity are caused by an imbalanced disequilibrium in the hormonal regulation of adipose tissue and fat metabolism. Fat synthesis and storage exceed the mobilization of fat from the adipose tissue and its subsequent oxidation. We become leaner when the hormonal regulation of the fat tissue reverses this balance.

8. Insulin is the primary regulator of fat storage. When insulin levels are elevated either chronically or after a meal we accumulate fat in our fat tissue. When insulin levels fall, we release fat from our fat tissue and use it for fuel.

9. By stimulating insulin secretion, carbohydrates make us fat and ultimately cause obesity. The fewer carbohydrates we consume, the leaner we will be.

10. By driving fat accumulation, carbohydrates also increase hunger and decrease the amount of energy we expend in metabolism and physical activity.

Check this link to hear Maureen Cavanaugh from KPBS conduct an interview with Gary Taubes about weight loss.

The Paleo Diet and Atkins Diet independently arrived at the same conclusion that insulin was the key hormone to control.  Paleo approached this from an evolutionary diet perspective while Atkins targeted low blood sugar as a goal; and low glycemic index foods for the stimulation of ketosis (especially during the induction phase).  In contrast to the Dr. Bernstein Diet which severely restrict calories to less than a 1000 calories per day,  the Paleo Diet and Atkins Diet typically allows you to feed until you feel full.

Taubes' ground-breaking work is one main reason why Harvey and I keep repeating on this blog that weight loss occurs in the kitchen and NOT the gym.  Exercise will make you stronger and fitter.

But if you want to lose inches around the waist and get leaner, the diet has to change.  Stop eating sugars (orange juice, apple juice, soda, pop,  sports drinks), grains (whole grains, cereal, oats, pancakes, pizza, breads, pasta, muffins, scones, etc.) and starchy foods. When you have reached a healthy weight and are in maintenance mode, you can gradually incorporate a little tubers (potatoes, yams, etc) back into the diet. Mark Sisson's has long promoted the idea that as much as 80% of the body composition is due to what we eat.  What we eat also affects how much we eat.

Diets that severely restrict calories will cause weight loss too. In the long term however, they are unsustainable.  Who enjoys feeling perpetually underfed?  With the emphasis on whole foods, protein and healthy fats, the Paleo Diet is not only healthy, it is satisfying and sustainable.

Another option by Ian Ayres is to commit to weight loss with the punishment of losing money if you don't achieve your goal in the $500 Diet.  The diet uses a website to create Commitment Contracts to hold you accountable for your articulated goal.  I think I have more fun eating Paleo.

Once the role of carbohydrates and what they do to the human body is understood, carbohydrate restriction makes sense.  Suddenly all the reasons why we benefit from avoiding sugar and wheat; and why we should occasionally fast make sense.  The pieces of the puzzle all begin to fit.  Here is how to eat Paleo.


Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Interval Timer for Workouts

A timer is a great tool for workouts.  Specifically a timer can be used to time or countdown repetitions of a set of exercises.  One common use of a timer is when a person is doing exercise according to the Tabata Protocol.

For example, one could set the timer to for 30 seconds of an exercise followed by 15 seconds of rest before proceeding to the next exercise.  For example, start with burpees, rest, jumping jacks, rest, high knee jumps, rest, squats, rest, vertical jumps, rest and so forth.

Tabata timers are also useful for keeping time during sparring rounds.

Beach Fitness has an excellent and easy to use online Flash-based Tabata Timer you can use.  They have also made the program downloadable for offline use.  You download the file to your hard drive by clicking here.

After downloading the file, use your browser to OPEN the file to start using it. No installation is necessary  You don't need an internet connection once the file is on your hard drive.  You can also download this Flash file to your mobile device and use it there if it supports Flash.


Live Curious

I love this advertisement made for National Geographic TV.


Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Good Exercise by SimpleFit

I want to share with you a surperb and practical way to exercise. It will ramp up your metabolism and build muscle strength with endurance.  Performed correctly, it will not only help you sleep better, it will reshape your body. Best of all, it costs very little. The system is called SimpleFit.

Now I'm not affiliated with SimpleFit in anyway neither do I make any money by recommending the system.  I'm just pointing out that getting in shape, gaining strength and transforming one's body doesn't require great amounts of money or a gym membership.  All you need is desire and will.

I like SimpleFit as it is a safe, efficient and effective way of building muscular strength and endurance without great expense.  There is also community forum where one can ask questions.

SimpleFit is a form of circuit training where you perform a series exercises as many times as you can within a time limit or you perform a set number of repetitions of exercises and try to do it in the least amount of time.  The only thing you will need to buy is a pull up bar.  Try Craigslist or Amazon for the bar.

The foundation of SimpleFit consists of three exercises:

The Pull Up

The Push Up
The Squat

These exercises are performed in a certain pattern.  Read about it here.  Once you can do a level easily, you move to the next level.  Each level up requires more repetitions.  There are a total of 8 levels in the program.

That's it.  No fancy promises.  No exotic exercise equipment.  No poser points except a toned and muscular body. No excuses - all you need is enough space to perform a push up.

I stress that all the exercise in the world is insufficient to overcome poor nutrition.  So to lose weight and to begin reshaping your body, change what and how you eat first.  Exercise will strengthen the heart and muscles.  But to lose inches around the waist, the diet needs to change.

While I did not train using the SimpleFit system, I did lots of push ups, pull ups, sit ups along with following a Primal lifestyle.  You can see my transformation here.  Below is a video my wife took of me doing pull ups after our daughter had gone to bed.


Friday, January 7, 2011

Ground Beef, Broiled Yams & Siu Choy Dinner

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Tonight's dinner consisted of broiled yams (aka sweet potatoes), 1 potato, boiled siu choy and some pan cooked ground beef.  This is dinner for three people.

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Sliced, skin on. Sprinkle lightly with sea salt and cinnamon.  Oven broiled till cooked.  12-15 minutes, turning over once.

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Boiled in a pot with 1 inch of water.  Drizzled sesame seed oil for flavor.

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Dice sweet white onion and fry in coconut oil.  Add ground beef and turn over frequently.  Add dried spices to taste, along with salt, black pepper, dried oregano and Lea & Perrins sauce.  For tonight I cheated and added some Thai sweet chili.  I added some water and used a lid on the cast iron pan to allow some steam to cooked the ground beef thoroughly.


Thursday, January 6, 2011

Exercising to Lose Weight is a Myth!

The Myth
There is a common assumption that one has to exercise more to lose weight.  This is based on a "calories-in versus calories-out" understanding of weight loss.  If this is true, take a good look at your gym.  Notice the folks who go several times a week but are still noticeably overweight or packing extra pounds?  Or perhaps you're wondering why you have trouble shedding weight even though you do cardio three times a week.  The truth is exercise alone won't make us lose weight.

Losing Weight
Losing weight is largely a function of what we eat and secondarily how much we eat.  How much we eat is governed by what we eat. Some foods leave us hungry faster than others.  Other foods keep us feeling full so our total caloric intake throughout the day is less.  A good book to understand this phenomenon is Gary Taubes' Why We Get Fat.

What Causes Fat Storage
When we eat sugar, sweet things, wheat, beans or legumes, it causes the body to release a lot of insulin into the bloodstream. Insulin is a hormone which tells the body to store the glucose (sugar) in the blood stream in the liver, muscle and fat cells in case we need energy in times of food shortage.  This was a good thing when food was scarce.  It is not such a good thing in our present times when there is sugar or refined carbohydrates readily available all around us.  It makes it too easy to eat foods which are quickly converted to sugar in the body and stored as fat.  Insulin is a fat-storage hormone. When insulin is released, it prevents the body from using fat as an energy source. This is why when a person drinks Gatorade before and during a workout, they do not end up burning fat.  Instead the body ends up using the sugar from the drink for its energy requirement during the workout.

The average human body stores between 1200-2400 Calories worth of energy in the muscles. The liver stores another 300-400 Calories of energy. However, visceral and subcutaneous fat stores about 100,000 Calories!  Clearly the body is programmed to store energy as fat whenever possible.  It is precisely this ability of the body to turn anything we eat into fat easily that works against us in a modern world where cheap, nutrient-empty calories are in abundance.

When we eat foods that do not cause high levels of insulin, our bodies burn fat for energy using a process called gluconeogenesis.  This is why working out in a fasted state enhances the fat-burning process.  Some might argue they won't have enough energy to complete a workout if they don't have an energy bar before or during the workout.  A 205 lb. person doing 2 to 3 hours of general aerobic exercise burns up to 2400 Calories (the same as the amount of glycogen in the muscles).  Remember visceral and subcutaneous fat?  You can't work off 100,000 Calories in one sitting. Still think we need that energy drink?

When we fast, we abstain from eating.  Since there is no food entering the body, insulin is not secreted and the body is not in fat-storage mode.  As energy requirements rise, the body releases glucagon which tells the liver to convert stored fat into glucose to feed cells with energy.  Insulin is then secreted to enable energy uptake by glucose-dependent cells thereby causing blood sugar to stay within a healthy range.  This part of a normal hormonal feedback system.

Turns out that eating healthy fats and protein increases satiety and doesn't cause blood sugar to spike as much as eating refined carbohydrates.  This means less issues with fat storage and less issues using fat as an energy source when the body requires energy.

What To Eat
For this reason, meals should consist of fats, protein and vegetables. A little fruit is OK. Foods to avoid are sugary drinks, starchy foods and grains (whole or otherwise).  If this sounds like an Atkins Diet, it is.  The Paleo\Primal Diet and Atkins Diet are similar but not identical. Just don't confuse the Atkins Induction phase with the Maintenance Phase. I won't bother dithering about the differences as either of these are better options than a vegetarian diet or a Standard American Diet.  If you're not sure whether the Atkins Diet is healthy, do some research here.  If you want the truth, watch this video from Stanford University.  If you don't have time, bookmark it and watch it another day.

Which Came First:  Exercise or Weight Loss?
That's me in the picture above.  I've been asked if I lost weight by cycling and kickboxing.  The answer is no.  I lost weight by changing my diet first.  I went from 170 lbs. at 5'6" to my present weight of 141 lbs - losing about 17% of my bodyweight. I began to exercise after losing weight.  After I lost weight, exercise became fun again.  Here is my skilled instructor Milo and I going at it for a 2 minute round. I'm in shorts.

If exercise doesn't make us lose weight, what does it do?  Exercise strengthens muscles, preserves the body's range of motion, increases cardiovascular capacity, lowers blood pressure and reduces the risk of coronary artery disease. It boosts metabolism and lowers stress. It stimulates testosterone and human growth hormone. It also improves one's sex life by improving blood flow networks all over the body.

Exercise alone however, does not make us lose weight.  That comes from changing what we eat.  The right kind of exercise partnered with a change in dietary choices is the key to the physical transformation most people seek.

To summarize, eating right helps us lose weight. Exercising makes us fit.


Update:  I came across an article in TIME magazine which concluded with:  "In short, it's what you eat, not how hard you try to work it off, that matters more in losing weight."

Primal\Paleo Food Links for the Beginner

Don Matesz over at Primal Wisdom summarizes food this way:

Primal Diet in a Nutshell

1. Meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and any natural animal fat
2. Vegetables, including leaves, stems, bulbs, roots
3. Fruits and berries (includes avocados and olives)
4. Nuts such as almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, pecans, coconut, etc.
5. Herbs and spices

Avoid/minimize (in order of importance)
1. Sweeteners, including sugar (white, brown, organic, whatever), maple syrup, rice syrup, etc.
2. Vegetable oils other than extra virgin olive, avocado, palm, and coconut.
3. Cereal grains and grain products (bread, pasta, pastries, etc.)
4. Legumes (beans and peas, including soy and peanuts)
5. Dairy products

(Note that dairy is a gray area among Paleo\Primal folks.  Some say have it in moderation if you're not allergic to dairy, others say no dairy at all.  My household eats cream, cheese and butter.)

15 Tips to Eat Primal Cheaply

Making the Switch to Primal Living

Here are some ways to transition your pantry:

Why Can't I Eat Grains?  What about whole grains? What about oats?

Still holding on to grains?  Avoid them in general.  (I still eat white rice.  Ask me why).

Primal Food Eating Pyramid

As long as you are compliant say 80% of the time, the times you do cheat won't undo the benefits you'll experience being on the Paleo Diet.

What about starches?
How about white rice (I'm Chinese!), potatoes, sweet potatos, yams and tubers?   My personal feeling is that they are fine in moderation.  I don't think eating a baked potato will make you diabetic. However, eating french fries from a restaurant is unhealthy due to the kind of vegetable oil they use in the fryer.  Its not just starch as a food group, but how the starch is prepared, the portion size you are eating and your caloric expenditure throughout the day.   We tend to steam our tubers.  We seldom make rice at home and only eat it when we're at social meals outside the home.  As a result, I have not bought rice in over a year - highly unusual for a Chinese immigrant family.

If you are sedentary and never workout with peak intensity, I don't see a compelling reason to incorporate starch in your diet.  If you cycle many miles a day, run, swim, hike mountains, box, wrestle or practice mixed martial arts, then having a bit of starch isn't going to harm your metabolic profile.  The key as in all things, is knowing yourself and being honest with who you are.

If you're trying to lose weight, then cut out starches completely.  Get your carbs from veggies and increase your fat and protein intake.  This leads to better satiety,  You'll feel full for longer periods of time.  Overall, most people eat fewer total calories by eating more protein and healthy fats than by decreasing fats.  This caloric deficit is necessary for weight loss.


Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Can the Mind Influence Gene Expression?

(Update: Scroll to the bottom to read Techniques for Priming the Mind)

Gene Expression
As human brains grew, we developed consciousness.  Some anthropologists think that as our brains grew as our guts shrank when we switched to a diet richer in protein and fat. This increase in brain size relative to body mass is what gave us an evolutionary advantage over other animals leading us to the top of the food chain where we reside today.

Central to the idea of  Mark Sisson's Primal Blueprint is the belief that a return to ancestral eating, exercise and sleeping principles can influence gene expression for a healthier life in our 21st century. In contrast, Art De Vany - one of the fathers of the modern Paleo\Primal\Evolutionary Fitness movement - thinks we can only control the process of stimulating but not the outcome of  gene expression. He puts it this way:

"You can't control the outcome, only the process. We really aren't even in control of the process; the dynamics move us toward attractors, not our intentions."  (source)

Given that identical twins which have identical genes can have different life outcomes, I believe that while our genes define the limits of our genetic potential, there are several factors that influence gene expression.  In no particular order, these are:

- ancestral inheritance (see the video which explains this phenomenon)
- environment (geography)
- nutrition (the field of nutrigenomics)
- the mind

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All Roads Lead to Rome
In a confluence of serendipity, I began reading Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol on an Amazon Kindle which provided some interesting references to Noetic Science and the power of thought affecting the material world.  This fascinating idea encompasses dilemmas in quantum physics such as Schrödinger's cat.  

This in turn dovetailed with a book I ordered (but have not read) called How Your Mind Can Heal Your Body by David R. Hamilton.   By the time I read about Lynne McTaggart's The Intention Experiment, I was certain that the power of the mind was an epigenetic factor in affecting gene expression.  As if I needed further confirmation of this hypothesis, one of the cycling blogs I read featured this article about talismans.

The field of medicine has long realized the placebo effect. Traditionally, test subjects were not aware if they were taking a medicinal component or an inert placebo.  This blind is a vital part of the testing protocol.  A recent study however, strove to discover how subjects would respond even if they knew with certainty they were taking a placebo.  What the study revealed was that as long as the subjects believed the pill was going to help, it did in most cases. In fact, cases of chronic pain, Parkinsons Disease and Irritable Bowel Syndrome have all shown positive effects through the use of placebos.

So why do placebos work?  Obviously the mind was sending signals to the body to heal itself or to mitigate symptoms.  The question is how?

Enter the field of neuroscience. Psychotherapists have diagrammed the mind-body communication through the Basic Rest and Activity Cycle (BRAC). They are confident enough to assert thus (source: page 17):

"We utilize a new neuroscience model of the creative process from mind to gene.

• Facilitating our natural mind-brain-gene dialogue is the essence of psychotherapy.
• An entire cycle of mind-body communication and healing takes about 90-120 minutes
• Psychotherapeutic experiences can turn on genes and brain plasticity in a single session."

Download a PDF book by Ernest Rossi about neuroscience and psychotherapy by clicking here.  This would explain why prayer seems to reduce stress, alleviate pain and in some cases, heal.  Could prayer be a form of psychotherapy that initiates a mind-body dialog that affects gene expression?

By now some readers might think that I am bordering on the paranormal and the supernatural.  Allow me the defense that we typically ascribe to the supernatural what we do not understand.  Arthur C. Clarke said this:

"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."
from Profiles of The Future, 1961 (Clarke's third law)

A Mind to Survive
Neuroscience suggests the mind releases hormones which influence cellular choices in mRNA transcriptions that program gene expression. Could it be that we have yet to fully appreciate the power of the mind?  Is that why it appears to be magic? Why does the mind have such power over the body anyways?  In the video below, Michael Shermer explains that evolutionarily speaking, the default position of the mind is to see patterns where are none.  This is a Type 1 error which favors mistakenly reacting to a predator which is not there, rather than not reacting to a predator which is present (a Type 2 error).  This instinct is so ancient in the evolution of life that we can see similar reactions by tapping at fish in a fishbowl or scaring cats (not that I am suggesting we be cruel to animals!).

It seems the mind makes decisions which maximizes a person's chances of survival whether or not the decision is grounded in fact.

Prime Environments
I close with the account of an experiment conducted in 1979 by Ellen Langer of Harvard University fame.  She took a group of men in their late 70s to early 80s. One group went to a retreat facility which was decorated and programmed with props and materials from the 1950s.  Would priming the environment actually help people live younger than their biological age?  Read about it here:

Havard Magazine's Account of the Experiment
The BBC's report on Ellen Langer's test.

Woman thinking
[...] Prof Langer took physiological measurements both before and after the week and found the men improved across the board. Their gait, dexterity, arthritis, speed of movement, cognitive abilities and their memory was all measurably improved.
Their blood pressure dropped and, even more surprisingly, their eyesight and hearing got better. Both groups showed improvements, but the experimental group improved the most.
Prof Langer believes that by encouraging the men's minds to think younger their bodies followed and actually became "younger".

What the men thought affected their bodies.   Shoulders became wider. Fingers became less deformed by arthritis. "Whatever you put into the mind, the body will follow," Langer said recently.

While ancestral inheritance may cast the initial momentum over our gene expression, the priming of our thoughts, nutrition and environment cause the mind to influence gene expression.  We are in fact, as young as we allow ourselves to be. Short of acute trauma, the outcome of our genetic potential inherited from our ancestors is within the purview of the choices we make. 

"Until you make the unconscious conscious,
it will direct your life and you will call it fate."
 - Carl Yung

UPDATE: Techniques to Prime the Mind

Make a list of prime words and read them every morning and night.  Or make a list for the morning and another list for the evening before turning into bed.

Decorate and furnish live\work spaces for yourself and not for someone else's aesthetic.

Noble aspirations are uplifting and healthful.  Any form of ill-will is burdensome to the body.

Don't try. Be.

Vision, belief, courage and persistence.

Write things down. It reinforces belief.

Set aside 5 to 15 minutes each day practicing awareness.  Take time to be silent and just listen to your body. The act of listening to the body is healing. Meditation techniques used by the ancients work well.  Mediation time - which I consider a form of self-hypnotherapy - is gene programming time.

Utilize prayer if you find it helpful.  The act of prayer brings acceptance and peace.

Practice mindfulness and patience. Pursue peace.

When someone upsets your harmony, recite this silently, "You have your karma, just as I have mine.  I wish you well." (Note the intention is not to pronounce a curse.  Rather it is a detached acknowledgement of the universal principle of reciprocity.  The second sentence is an intent to wish the other person good thus purifying the mind).