Thursday, November 24, 2011

Notes on the Paleo diet

A quick glance over the entries on this blog should provide anyone with sufficient evidence to unequivocally prove that, one, I am following a Paleo diet and, two, I am very satisfied with the results.

It is from this biased position that I will attempt to write a brief review of this diet.

- First, then, a Paleo diet is... what exactly?

It is important to be clear on this because there are as many definitions as there practitioners. It should be noted that this is not necessarily a problem.

To me, anything that is edible in its natural state is Paleo. If it needs boiling, baking, etc, in order to become edible, it is not Paleo. Processed foods are also excluded because, although they could be Paleo, it is impossible (for me) to determine exactly what is in them and whether the manner in which they were processed was questionable.

My exceptions are yogurt, butter, and cocoa powder. All are processed even if the first two derive from milk, which is edible in its natural state. Cocoa seeds are not edible raw, as far as I know.

That said...

- It is a healthy diet.

It cannot be any other way, really. Fruits and vegetables, meat and fish, must be good for human health. It is either this or a denial of the theory of evolution. Foods from other sources, including those that are indigestible/toxic until cooked, could (and may) be questionable. However, the very essentials must be found among those plant and animal products that are edible in their natural state and that were available to our human and primate ancestors.

Although this is "just" a logical common-sense argument, self-experimentation has led me to the same conclusion. I have never been particularly prone to illness but, nonetheless, would be under the weather with minor aches once or twice a month (digestion issues, mild migraines, colds/congestion, muscle/joint soreness, etc). Since I started this diet, my health has become near-bullet proof.

In terms of results, a Paleo diet is remarkably convincing.

- It helps the metabolism to regulate itself.

When I first started this diet, I was keen on losing weight. I no longer worry. The fat seems to disappear almost as a side-effect. The template menu, in all its incarnations, is posted on this blog. I don't eat sparingly. In fact, I eat more than I did last year when I put on 15 kilos.

The most immediate observation I can make based on my experience is that this diet allows the metabolism to address its own concerns without imposing undue stress that would, otherwise, divert its efforts to damage-control. In other words, my metabolism is given sufficient breathing room to get the job done. Since, for example, I have extra weight on, this means that the fat must go and my metabolism processes it away.

Interestingly, my metabolism caters to muscle growth simultaneously. I had been told many times not to expect muscle gains while losing fat. Well, it appears this is not a problem I have. My metabolism is able to handle all its tasks adequately.

- It is forgiving regarding quantities.

Let me first say that, in principle, the "calories in, calories out" paradigm is valid. It must. After all, if there were no relation between the energy our bodies use and the energy food provides our bodies, why eat at all? Where does the energy come from? Well, people, it comes from the food we eat and that is the reason why we eat. Anyone that claims otherwise is, unfortunately, delusional.

It is a fact, however, that not all calories are alike.

Eating too much (or too little) does not seem to be a problem while on a Paleo diet. My metabolism keeps a neat balancing act regardless of the amounts of food I eat, whether a lot or little, provided that it is Paleo. Energy levels are surprisingly constant too. Moderation remains important but I do not even need to pay conscious attention to amounts or servings. It seems to work itself out.

In contrast, when I followed a near-vegan Japanese style diet, any rise above my "recommended" calorie intake quickly led to weight gain (shedding fat was never nearly as easy, though). In order to gain weight, all I had to do was indulge, no matter how little. In order to lose weight, I had to make a deliberate and substantial effort and, then, go hungry for what seemed like an eternity.

- It simplifies and clarifies the relation we have with the sources of nutrition.

Since I did away with processed foods, I see everything I eat. What I mean is that my brain no longer identifies boxes and bags as food. Instead, when I think of food nowadays, mental images of actual carrots, cucumbers, mushrooms, pineapples, etc, pop up.

It might seem a trivial change but it is not. Being able to identify your food (and that what you consider to be food actually corresponds to real food) is something that needs to be experienced.

- Beware of Paleo utopia.

Myth: "It is the healthiest diet ever conceived." The truth is that no diet is. If such a thing were ever to exist, it would first need to be customized to the genetic makeup of each specific individual. Then, it would need to be tailored to the needs of that individual for each specific moment of his/her life, come high, come low, and taking into consideration stress, exertion, illness, menstruation, etc. At this point in time, this is science-fiction. Diet wars are absurd.

Myth: "It will cure any and all diseases." Sure, there are anecdotal claims that a Paleo diet will cure from acne to cancer, from cavities to diabetes. Well, I should not need to say this but it is not the case that such a diet exists, Paleo or not. Food cannot take the place of medication any more than medication can take the place of food. Each has a role and a function. No sane person will recommend you feed yourself with drugs. The same applies to food as medicine.

Myth: "It is impossible to gain weight on this diet." Again, it is claimed that, no matter how much you eat, if it is Paleo, you will not put on a pound. This is absurd. Sustained overeating eventually leads to fat accumulation. This is, in fact, healthy. If your metabolism were not able to use its adipose tissue, the only way to avert death from the toxicity brought about by nutrient/energy saturation would be through waste disposal, that is, by overtaxing the organs (just as bad in the long run). Besides, I have put on a few kilos of muscle over the last few months. There is no doubt in my mind that I will also be able to put on fat when and if I want to.

Myth: "It is impossible to lose weight if you eat a non-Paleo diet or foods." Clearly false. Eat nothing but a slice of bread a day and you will wither away, fat and muscle gone, eventually dying. As with the previous myth, the difference (to me) is the ease with which one gains or loses weight. That is it. Non-paleo foods, specially from grain sources, deliver too much energy too quickly. If you are riding the Tour of France, do have your 6,000 calories of pasta a day. Nothing else will do, really. It is either carbs or intravenous feeding (which coaches prefer for health reasons but is not legal). If you are a regular person with a normal level of activity, however, it is irrational to systematically spike your glucose level into toxicity due poor food choices.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Template menu 0.6

There is more food on the menu that I can eat. I am getting rid off the omelet for dinner.

In case there are any doubts, this is what I have been eating, day in day out, for months now. It accounts for 95% of my diet.

  • Homemade bone and vegetable broth with an egg-drop.
  • ~200 grams of plain yogurt with a spoon of cocoa powder.

  • ~200 grams of beef or pork.
  • Salad: Lettuce, 1 carrot, 1 cucumber, 1 onion (sautéed with a tablespoon of butter), and 3 tablespoons of homemade mayonnaise as dressing.

  • Homemade vegetable purée (from pumpkin to exotic mushrooms and every wild thing in between).
  • ~200 grams of fish (pan-fried butter).

The remainder 5% is not posted because I am not regular about it. For instance, I have 1-2 servings of fruit per week, a serving being a pineapple or two large pears or half a dozen kiwis. I also eat 3-4 handfuls of walnuts weekly. And there is coffee, although this is even more infrequent, having from none to at most three cups a month.

Despite efforts to free myself from this kind of commitments, approximately once a week, I have to attend a social event that involves a non-paleo meal. A lunch or dinner, these could include grains/beans/tubers, breads/cake/sweets, and essentially all sorts of food that I would not otherwise eat. I go along and that is that. Ill effects from these meals are generally mild and sort-lived provided they do not occur too frequently.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

X H.I.T. report

I am coming to the end of what I consider to be a sufficiently representative experimental window and it is therefore time to start wrapping up the blog. This is likely to be the last H.I.T. report.

The following are a few of the things that I have done and learned.

Adequate perspective and persistence, among other things, allow us to develop proper exercise performance. This, in turn, makes it possible for us to discover our personal limits regarding the amount of weight we can lift, neither a trivial nor a simple thing to do. It takes time to learn how to deploy our strength properly and fully.

Once we are pushing against our limits, however, we also find that we have hit a brick wall.

Let there be no mistake about this. Just take a look at the stack of weights on exercise machines. If, for instance, your limit on the shoulder press were 54 kilos, it would be near impossible for you to add an additional plate and lift 62 kilos. The difference of 8 kilos (nearly 20 pounds) is a massive ~15% increase. You would only be able to move the larger stack briefly, haltingly, and sacrificing proper form. In other words, you would be gaining nothing while inviting injury.

It is understandable that, once limits are reached, most gym tourists either quit or fall into a rut. Progress appears to be hopelessly out of reach.

After the honeymoon period of the quick early gains has passed, it is natural to ask: What do I need to do in order to move beyond these limits and keep on lifting heavier and heavier? Is my training protocol still appropriate? And, if so, am I implementing it correctly?

I have successfully addressed these concerns as follows:

  1. Protocol: Infrequent, abbreviated, high intensity workouts.

    • Weekly sessions means plenty of time for rest and recovery, that is, time for muscle growth.
    • No more than 5 or 6 well-chosen, large-muscle, compound exercises.
    • A warm-up set (at ~50%, 6 reps) followed by a set to failure (60-90 secs, 6-8 reps) per exercise.

  2. Implementation: Perfectionism.

    • Develop the correct form and stick to it. Change little and only for the better.
    • Always add more weight or reps, not necessarily every workout but relentlessly.
    • Stop immediately if you feel pain or are about to. It makes no sense to injure yourself.

Progression at one's limit is slow and gradual. It would be ideal if it were possible to increase the weight on the stack with plates of half a kilo (or less). Unfortunately, exercise machines are not designed like this. It is one of the reasons why serious trainees eventually move on to free weights. There is no other way to have advanced/sophisticated control over lift loads.

Whatever the equipment, work on perfecting your form patiently and carry on training hard until additional muscle develops. The extra musculature and improved form will make it possible for you to increase your maximum lifts, no matter how slowly.

It is also important to keep a healthy and realistic perspective. If one were able to lift 1 extra kilo a month, that would mean a gain of 12 kilos a year, and a gain of 120 kilos (~270 pounds) in ten years. For an average person, this is would be huge achievement. In reality, this is beyond the capacity for work and dedication of most people.

As of the date of this post, I have followed a H.I.T. protocol for about 6 months. It has been during the last 3 months at the gym when I have progressed the most. Looking at my workout sheet, I have doubled (in some exercises, tripled) the amount of weight I can lift. The "awakening" of existing muscle and the improvement of performance skill probably account for 80-90% of the gains. Muscle growth accounts for the rest.

Let that sink in. I am today 2-3 times stronger than I was when I started.

The effectiveness of this protocol is far superior to anything I have ever done before. My plan is to continue with it and push on.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Affection or fondness is a "disposition or rare state of mind or body"

As the winter months approach and the cold gradually settles, it is difficult to stay put without my cat trying to sit on me.