Sunday, January 29, 2012

One of My Favorite Websites on Weight Loss & Maintenance

I forgot to include this one in the letter to my friend:

An Open Letter to a Friend Who Wants to Lose Weight

Dear ___________.

If you truly do not like being overweight, you need to do whatever it takes to get rid of the fat. The only logical way to lose weight is to eat fewer calories than you use, each and every day. Sugars and starches are literally addictive, and they're fattening so it helps a lot to eliminate 100% of the sugar and concentrated starches from your diet. Concentrated starches are things such as wheat, corn, and rice. The refined versions of these grains are even worse than whole grains, but even eating whole grain products can make it more difficult to lose weight.

Eliminating sugar and concentrated starches means no sodas (diet sodas are OK, except many of them are sweetened with aspartame, which is toxic), no sweet tea (you can use Splenda or stevia sweeteners to sweeten tea, but the sweet tea sold at stores and fast food places contains corn syrup), no tortillas, no hamburgers, no bread, no rice, no fast-food french fries (they add sugar to the french fries to make them taste better!), and go easy on potatoes.

It sounds grim at first, until you actually start eating meals without sugars and starches. Once you get used to not having these things, it becomes much easier to enjoy meals without them. For example, I love Mexican food, especially things such as enchiladas and tamales. I've been working on recipes that approximate these foods but without the masa. For example, a beef and cheese fritata is a tasty substitute for an enchilada. I'm pretty sure one could make something similar to a tamale using ground nuts instead of masa. They would not have the smooth consistency of a traditional tamale, but they would taste great.

One of my favorite lunches is the lettuce roll, where you roll up sliced turkey, chopped tomato, onion, olives, etc -- whatever veggies you want -- in a large lettuce leaf. It tastes a lot like the sandwiches they make at Subway, only I actually like the lettuce rolls better.

Here's the website of Barbara Berkeley,  a doctor who specializes in helping people lose weight and maintain their new weight once they've lost:

Dr. Berkeley has also written an excellent book called Refuse to Regain about how to keep the weight off for good, once you get to your target weight.

Here are some websites of people who were overweight and who have lost weight and, even more impressive, kept it off: (scroll down to the middle of the page to see her "before" picture)

There are lots more blogs and websites. You don't have to do this alone, there are thousands of people out there trying to lose weight.

I KNOW how hard it is. Even though I've only lost 26 pounds (9 to go to reach my target weight of 130), I've gone through the same things everyone else goes through when they lose 10% or more of their body weight. I posted a comment on the weight-loss doctor's blog, and she confirmed that it's just as difficult to deal with maintaining one's new weight after a 20 pound loss as it is to maintain it after a 150 pound loss.

I'm not going to lie and say it's easy. It's one of the most chanllenging things I've ever done. It's much harder than quitting smoking and, I suspect, harder than quitting addictive drugs. One reason is that we're constantly bombarded with temptations to eat unhealthy foods. You have to plan each day carefully. For example, if you know you're going to be away from home all day, pack a healthy lunch and healthy snacks instead of buying food at a convenience store or fast food place.

Here's something surprising -- even though I'm eating more fresh veggies and good-quality nuts and grass-fed beef from Central Market, my food bill has actually gone down. I'm not spending money at restaurants, I'm not buying prepared foods and I'm eating less. For a snack, I used to have, say a mini-cheeseburger from Wendy's or a $1 carton of yogurt and some crackers or maybe some prepared food from Central Market (they add sugar to their prepared foods, including things such as chicken salad). Now I eat a few nuts. Easier, cheaper, healthier. And, surprisingly, just as satisfying.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Modern Paleo: The Blog

I've been ill the past ten days with a cold that led to sinus infection. Although the sinus infection is probably due to bacteria, I dislike using antibiotics except as a last resort, especially since the newest ones can have pretty debilitating side effects. So in an attempt to heal myself, I've been hanging around the house, getting lots of sleep, drinking lots of water and herbal tea, steaming my head, and irrigating my sinuses. I've also had a wonderful time reading books and seeing what new things I could learn following web links. No more headache now, and I'm feeling almost back to normal.

One of the most delightful results of my web searching has been my discovery of Diana Hsieh. I've enjoyed her Noodlefood blog tremendously and highly recommend it, but Moedern Paleo is more relevant to my recent line of inquiry into weight maintenance and health

Dr. Hsieh does not advocate going back to the stone age, or even to the agricultural age. Instead, she "uses the evolutionary history of homo sapiens, plus the best of modern science, as a broad framework for guiding daily choices about diet, fitness, medicine, and supplementation." (Modern Paleo)  From the time I began raising chickens when I was young and noticed how much healthier they (and their eggs) are when they have access to basic needs, such as dust baths and insects, I've thought it made sense to consider what humans need to eat and how they need to act to be healthy. For the diet, I don't rule out grains entirely, as some Paleo dieters do. People need some carbs in their diet, and archeaological evidence indicates that ancient humans gathered seeds of grasses. Certainly modern gatherer-hunters do, even Intuits whose diet consists largely of meat and fish. One of my mentors when I was a young person, Wild Horse Havard (about whom I must write more someday) told me about a malady he called "rabbit fever" that people suffered from when they were away from civilization for a long time and had mostly lean meat to eat. I suspect "rabbit fever" -- that is to say, lack of fats and carbs in the diet -- is what killed Chris McCandless, the young man who died in the old Fairbanks city bus on Stampede Trail in Alaska.

Anyhow, in addition to a diet that suits the human metabolic system, there are other things people need in order to be healthy. The human requirement that's been the most important to me from as far back as I can remember, is the flexibility to base one's actions on decisions made according to one's own reasoning. (I use the word "flexibility" because "freedom" has been used in so many different ways it no longer has much useful meaning.) Therefore, I was excited to see that Dr. Hsieh's Paleo Principles includes this (at the very end):

You are 100% responsible for your own life, health, and happiness. Refuse to submit to the standard dogmas just because everyone believes them. Read, think, inquire, and judge for yourself. Don't depend on the government and its lackeys to keep you healthy. Insist on the inalienable rights of all persons to produce, trade, and consume voluntarily -- free from the unjust burdens of government regulations, subsidies, and taxation.

Thank you, Dr. Hsieh! 

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Hever Castle Buddleia Blooming in January

I odered one-gallon containers of Buddleia x pikei from Mountain Valley Growers last spring. I thought of it as a gamble, because plants bred to grow in England, even in the southern regions, do not always do well in my Texas gardens. The arching branches and lavendar colored blooms attracted me. In less than a year, the plants have grown to be about 5 feet tall and 5 feet wide. This is pretty impressive, especially considering the summer drought. A couple of days ago I was surprised to find that the shrubs are beginning to bloom. The wind was blowing too hard to get a good photo, but I'll be sure to take more when the plants are in full bloom. The fragrance is very fresh and spring-like. I'll plant paperwhites and other early-blooming bulbs in the bed in front of these shrubs, to make a perfumed corner of the garden for sunny winter days.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Weight Maintenance and the Punishment of King Sisyphus

King Sisyphus was a character in Greek and Roman morality tales who was punished by the gods by spending eternity pushing a huge boulder up a hill, watching it roll back down, pushing it up again ...

This is a pretty good description of the experience people go through in trying to maintain a constant body weight. I've spent the last few days reading weight-oriented blogs and websites, and of course I've experienced my own struggle to maintain a constant weight. At the bottom of this post, I've linked to some of the most interesting blogs and websites.

Based on what I've learned so far, it looks as though there are a few people who are genetically predisposed not to store fat. These people would be in big trouble if they were in a situation where food was not always available, but they do well as long as there's plenty to eat. It is possible to be born with a genetic tendency to be thin but to be infected by a virus, such as the AD36 adenovirus, which causes the body to create fat cells. Between genetics and infection, something like 80% of people tend to gain weight when we eat regularly. Of these people, some are able, through constant vigilance and deprivation, to lose and/or maintain a constant weight.

Until fairly recently, few people had a constant source of food. For people who are subject to periods of food scarcity, fat cells are literally life-savers. Those fat cells are like having a readily available cache of food that doesn't spoil or become infested with insects.

It is possible for one to eat so much in one sitting that one's stomach bursts, but in all but a very few cases, this does not happen, because eating is regulated by hormones that cause a person not to be hungry any more when the blood sugar reaches a certain level. Hormones also drive a person to eat when the blood sugar level falls. These hormones seem to have a "memory" of a person's highest weight, so when person loses weight, the hormones drive the person to eat enough to regain the weight. When people lose weight, they lose both muscle and fat; many people (especially if they are 40 years or older) add more fat than muscle when they regain the weight they lost.

The body's reaction to weight loss would be likely to prolong one's life in a situation where food is not always available -- which would have been the condition of most people who have ever lived. Therefore, it's not accurate to think of it as a flaw, and it's not appropriate for people to hate their bodies for "betraying" them by driving them to gain weight.

Many people do appear to hate their bodies, or even themselves. They believe that their inability to lose weight or stabilize their weight at a certain point is due to weakness or a moral defect of some sort. Some people accept their weight, which is fine to a point. But there is a point at which a person's stored fat begins to interfere with the normal function of their bodies. Walking becomes difficult; running impossible. Weight-bearing joints such as knees deteriorate more rapidly due to the stress of carrying more weight than they were meant to carry. The heart has to work harder to service the larger bulk of the body (but the heart also grows larger, so this may not actually be a health problem). Meanwhile, the hormones keep on doing their job -- the drive to eat is almost at inexorable as the drive to breathe.

I saw many blogs that were full of hope to begin with but ended abruptly after an initial weight loss followed by a gain. Then there were the very rare people who managed to lose significant amounts of weight (up to 1/2 of their initial weight) and keep the weight off. One of these people describes weight maintenance as a part-time job (Debra's Just Maintaining). In general, there appears to be a rift between weight-acceptance people and weight-loss people. Debra's philosophy is that she could easily gain weight again (for example, if she were unable to do the relatively high level of exercise required to keep the weight down), and if that were to happen, she doesn't beleive she would deserve self-hate. I agree with her, and the research supports her -- maintaining weight after weight loss requires far more exercise than maintaining one's highest weight. As part of the body's fight to keep itself alive in a sitatuion of perceived food-scarcity, muscles function differently after weight loss. They become more efficient, can perform more on a given amount of fuel. So exercise that requires 100 calories when done by a person who has never lost weight might require only 75 calories after weight loss. This is great for a person stranded in the woods with nothing to eat but lean meat, insects, and plant matter, but not for a person who has ready access to concentrated sources of carbs and fats.

Food is at the center of almost every special event and celebration of friendship. This is not surprising, given that most people who have ever lived went through regular periods of food scarcity. It makes it really hard for people who are trying to lose or stabilize their weight. Given the statistics, it's completely normal to gain weight. The exceptional people are the ones who don't gain. Therefore, it's not accurate to refer to low body weight as "normal."

What to do when "normal" is not healthy?  Some people recommend support groups, which seem to work well for short-term weight loss. But people who get the weight off and keep it off seem to be motivated more from within themselves, like artists.

I myself have 4 motivations:

(1) my knees are shot, and I want to avoid knee surgery -- this is my main reason for wanting to lose weight. My knees function a lot better when they have less to carry;

(2) I'm getting old and do not want to accumulate great masses of belly fat, as my mother has done;

(3) I started sewing and became interested in fashion, and many of the garments I'd like to make look better on slim bodies than on larger ones;

(4) I feel better when I eat a diet that consists mostly of fresh veggies, fruits, fish, whole grains, seeds, and nuts; this same diet results in weight loss, especially if I go easy on the grains.

I'm fine long as I'm in weight-loss mode, but one cannot stay there indefinitely. At some point, one reaches one's goal weight and must add just enough calories to maintain that weight. That's when it gets really difficult.

Here are some of the blogs I found most interesting and helpful:

Debra's Just Maintaining - This is the best blog I've found so far. There's a lot of good research here, and the author is a very good writer. She also has a healthy attitude -- she didn't hate herself when she was larger; she thought of herself as a Botticelli Babe, and judging by her photos she is attractive at both large and small sizes.

Tara Parker-Pope New York Times article -- the first part of the article is sort of depressing and hopeless, but keep reading to the end, and look at some of the blogs.

Refuse to Regain - a website about maintaning a constant weight, especially after weigh loss.

Jenny Craig - I'm put off by this company -- it's owned by a large corporation (Nestle) and charges people lots of money for frozen foods and advice. But it does seems to work for many people -- there are some good before-and-after photos and stories on the website.

South Beach Diet - I like this one. You can join for $5 per month, with no long-term contract. This is what I used to go from 165 to 145. I no longer use the South Beach diet recipes but instead look for interesting recipes on the Web or make up my own.

The Paleolithic Diet websites and blogs are interesting, but I believe they have their proportions wrong. As this Wired article points out, it's likely that most Paleolithic people ate grains and other plant-based foods at least as often as they ate meat. People such as the Inuit would have been the exceptions. Even the Inuits gather and preserve tubers, berries, grass seeds (i.e. grains), sea weed, and other vegetable material to supplement their meat and fish diets.

Paul Campos is a lawyer who makes a good case against the obsesssion with weight loss in his book The Obesity Myth. Here's a good interview in which he explains his position:

I'm editing this post to include this excellent blog:
For years, I have traced virtually every science, food and health story in media to their original press releases, which are reported verbatim. Literally everything we hear and read today - on the internet or mainstream media - is marketing and created by those trying to sell us something: a belief, cause, product, service, or themselves. That’s why we hear “science” finds something one day, and something entirely different the next. “Pop” science, what is popularly believed and marketed as “science,” is oftentimes really the junk science.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

From the Winter Garden

The summers here in San Antoinio are vicious, but the winters are, for the most part, very pleasant. Many rose bushes produce larger, more deeply colored blooms in winter than they do in other seasons. 

I've been sick with a cold, so I picked these roses from the garden today, to cheer myself. The pink ones are from a bush I originally planted in the Tilmon garden (near Austin) but dug up and brought to San Antonio when the Tilmon grasshoppers ate it down to a nub. It has since recovered from its near-death experience.

Infection as a Cause of Obesity

Effects of Obesity on The Brain

This is one of the blogs I discovered while looking around the Web for
information on gaining and losing weight. I have to go to bed now, 
so I won't have another relapse of this cold, so I cannot write 
about this in detail.

The gist is that eating a fattening diet (that is to say, consistently 
consuming more calories than one burns) causes inflammation of 
brain tissue. One reason it's so hard to keep weight off after 
one has gained and lost may be damage to the portion of the
 brain that controls appetite.

There's also this on the AD36 virus, which appears to contribute to
 obesity in those infected:

Seven viruses have been reported to cause obesity in animal models by 
various research groups. 
We reported the first human virus, an adenovirus (Ad-36), which causes 
adiposity in chickens, rodents and non-human primates and shows 
association with human obesity. Our in-vivo  and in-vitro data show 
that Ad-36 increases adiposity, lowers serum lipids, increases insulin 
sensitivity and preadipocyte differentiation.