Sunday, January 20, 2013

The Fate of Sisyphus

   In my previous life (pre-paleo era) every winter was a struggle, I would effortlessly pack on 5-10 pounds in the winter months. It usually took many hikes starting from spring to late fall to lose the extra baggage and once the weight was lost...guess what...the winter came again, lo and behold the weight was back. Alas, the vicious cycle continued. This seems to be the case for many folks. First week of January, standing around the water coolers and coffee stations these stories are reverberating all over the country. Everyone seems to be happy and relaxed after a much needed rest, but no one is happy with the extra baggage they seem to have packed on during the holidays. Plans are usually being made to exercise, join a gym, or enroll in the company sponsored weight watchers' programs. The gym parking lots are full, and the multi-billion dollars weight loss industry begins to churn. The fate of Sisyphus becomes our fate as we begin to push the heavy boulder up the hill only to see the heavy boulder roll down the hill again in the winter months. Is there a solution to this problem or are we to just hide behind the cards we were dealt with? Why do we tend to eat more during the winter months? Why doesn't all of the weight comes off during the summer months? The answer to these questions may lie by examining our physiology and the way we were genetically me, there is a way to escape the cursed fate of Sisyphus.

  The only star in our solar system, the sun produces enormous amount of energy every second to sustain life on earth. As sun burns and gives off energy, part of it dies every second to produce that energy. As the old adage goes---nothing lasts forever, the mighty sun will too eventually run out of its fuel and will cease to produce the energy that we humans have depended on for millions of years. Don't pull money out of your 401K yet, we are covered for few more million years. OK, where am I headed with this sun story? I strongly believe that if you want to study the big universe (macrocosm) then first study the small universe (microcosm). The closest microcosm available to us is our own body. There are literally hundreds of similarities between our bodies and the macro physical universe. Our body like the sun is a fuel burning furnace, producing heat at a constant rate and maintaining an internal temperature of 98.5 degrees fahrenheit to sustain hundreds of chemical reactions necessary for life. We must eat carbon based foods (fuel) to release the energy to maintain our internal temperature. In the winter months when the external temperature falls, the body must produce more heat to maintain its internal temperature. It is a delicate game of thermal balance. We actually end up burning more calories in the winter due to cold weather. Burning calories translates to eating more. This is no different than exercise in the summer. When we exercise we burn calories, and we consume food to make up the energy that we have expended. The cold weather lowers are body temperature and the body must produce more heat by burning calories. The calories have to be supplied by eating food. The body usually requires and craves calorie-dense foods like fats and proteins in the winter months. If we study the Norse Greenland society during the time of Erik the Red, we find that Vikings usually consumed seal blubber, seal meat, caribou meat, cow meat, and various cheese products during the harsh winter months. The Vikings lived off the heavy fatty foods and appeared to be healthy and strong. They never got excessively fat. Since The Vikings never developed methods to harvest grains due to short growing season in Greenland, hence, they primarily lived off the animal products.

  The body's hormonal activity fluctuates and changes with different seasons, we begin to store few extra pounds in the late summer and autumn as fat, as an insurance policy just in case food happens to run out or run low during the upcoming winter months. Packing few pounds during the summer months was probably a good thing for the Greenland vikings as the winter approached and they prepared for few harsh months. If the food happen to run out then their body fat insurance policy could pay off and they could survive another Greenland winter. However, this is not the case these days; we have supermarkets and Walmarts open 24 hours. Also culturally, we basically get a free license to eat everything and anything starting around halloween. The candies come out everywhere around mid-october. The giant media-marketing machine begins to churn and the consumers are bombarded with commercial after commercial and excessive advertisements encouraging us to buy, buy and buy. Just buy something, if you are not buying something then you are not celebrating the holidays the right way.  I have even heard news anchormen encouraging us to get out and shop to help the economy. I work in an office and yes, around the holidays, there is plenty of food, candies, and potlucks. None of the foods are healthy and good for you, but we have lots of it everywhere. As mentioned earlier, the license to eat everything and anything starts with halloween and the trend continues to thanksgiving, and then takes on a maniacal turn around Christmas time. By that time, the major winter damage has been done. The new year is around the corner and we jump on the scale and are horrified from what we see. Many of us will make new year resolutions to exercise more and many of us will wait for the summer to arrive to get active. Unlike, the Norse Vikings, the food supply is never a problem in the winter months for us. So instead of getting slim, we tend to fatten up in the winter. Observing the animal kingdom today, we see the same pattern that Norse Vikings and many other hunter gatherer societies followed years ago. Of course, the squirrels and other animals are still following the natural rhythms while we humans have long parted our ways with nature and have become city slickers. A squirrel gets fat during the summer months as it prepares for winter. A bear packs on pounds as he prepares for long hibernation period during the winter months. We humans do just the opposite, we hit the gym and get slim in the summer time, while getting fat in the winter time. The nature wants us to eat more carbs, like fruits and vegetables, in the summertime, and eat more meats and fats in the winter time. The carbs like fruits and vegetables are abundant in quantity in the summertime and have a much shorter shelf life. The meats and fats are perfect for long storage (when cured properly) and small quantity can provide abundant calories. Hence, making meats and fats perfect for the winter months.

  Another reason for packing on few pounds during the winter is the lack of sunlight. The days are much shorter. Most of us go to work in the dark and when we leave our offices it is almost dark. During the day we have no desire to go out because it is simply cold. Living in California, we are fortunate that we can actually enjoy sunlight during the day, but we have to make an effort to leave our desk and take a stroll outside. In the east coast many folks suffer from depression during the long cold winters. The lack of sunlight sours our moods and makes us irritable. There are many known credible studies indicating a strong correlation between overeating and depression. The cold weather outside, the lack of sun, and ample food available just drives us to eat. There is a very nice person in my office, who loves to bake, and several times per month brings in delicious baked goods. The baked goods are left in the central coffee area and within few hours the baked goods disappear like magic. My appeal to this person, please keep bringing the love....but make it gluten free. Getting back to the sunlight and packing on pounds...the lack of sunlight may signal the body to start storing energy as fat as the body senses a prolonged winter ahead. Vitamin D may also play a role in this. The lack of sunlight reduces the production of vitamin D and the lack of vitamin D reduces the absorption of calcium by the bones and interrupts the fat metabolic activity. The bones requiring more calcium and fat not metabolized may possibly signal the body to eat more food. This is purely my theory and speculation on my part. My reasoning is deduced from observing that we tend to require more food around dinner time, because, the lack of sunlight signals the body that there is an unknown prolonged period of fasting ahead....better store up the fuel. Once again, my personal belief that lack of sunlight promotes weight gain in the winter months.     

  The hunter gatherers roaming the earth over 10,000 years ago, were in tune with the seasons. They ate seasonal fruits and vegetables during the summer months. They hunted and ate meats and fats from their hunts. They gathered fats and meats and cured the meats and the fats for winter usage. The little fat that they did acquire during late summer and fall helped them get through the winter months. Since hunter gatherers roamed about and never stayed in one place for a long time, the notion of farming and domesticating crops was not on their priority list. They lived a grain free healthy life. I have noticed for myself that I don't get hungry in the winter months. Most often, I can easily skip any given meal. On the weekends, I almost always skip lunch. The desire to eat is simply not there. I do crave hot drinks like coffee and tea. And I drink my share. My being on paleo has adjusted my appetite to eat according to the energy requirements of the body. I eat my fill when hungry and that is it. It is very possible that my leptin hormone levels have adjusted due to the absence of grains in my diet. Once the leptin levels are adjusted then responding to external stimuli is easier. I am simply not going to eat, no matter how appealing the food looks. I am only going to eat when hungry. I have also heard from many people that you need body fat in the winter time to stay warm. That is why you pack on extra pounds and it is completely acceptable. How about just wearing proper clothes to keep our bodies warm? That would solve that problem. The textile industry makes pretty good sweaters and undergarments these days. The moral of the story is that we were not meant to get fat during the winter months. We are genetically programmed to fatten up during late summer and fall and that fat should serve as an insurance policy to get us through the winter. We should come out of winter months nice and lean not 10 pounds heavier. When squirrels come out in the springtime, they are skinny. Eating meats and fats during the winter months keep us satisfied and fruits and vegetables during the summer months keep us active and energized for summer outdoor activities. We can finally escape the punishment of Sisyphus, and that big boulder can stay on the top forever.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Give Paleo a Chance

   Maybe Albert Einstein was right; time is relative. I swear the older I get the years seem to roll by so quick. Another year has rolled by and 2013 is straight ahead. I am not complaining though, life is good---for me it is all about the journey and not the destination. I enjoy my life daily with my family and take it day by day. My paleo journey is one and a half year old and I have not gotten sick of eggs and steaks yet. This past year I even perfected a technique for making a great steak at home. Thanks to my friend Andre for giving me a great tip on broiling and selecting good quality prime meat. The marbled fat inside the prime cut keeps the steak moist and juicy through the cooking process.

   With new year there are new year resolutions. The resolutions that most of us will only keep for few months and never turn them into life long habits. But this is the beauty of being human. We were design to strive all our life. This constant struggle opens up new possibilities as we strive and struggle in different life scenarios. With struggle comes pain....and there is pain of discipline and the pain of regret. The choice is ours. With political uncertainty in the country, fiscal cliff, and new health laws staring us in the face in 2013, we have no choice but to make sure we take care of ourselves. I am a firm believer that an ounce of prevention is far better than a pound of cure, and who knows if that pound of cure may even be available in the upcoming years. I thought it would be appropriate in this blog post to make an appeal to my friends and family to give paleo a serious chance in 2013, and get them on a path of good health. The remainder of this blogpost, I will take you through what I do on the daily bases. Be creative and do not be afraid to modify the plan to fit your lifestyle.

   The hardest and the most important element of the paleo diet is controlling what we shove down our mouths on the daily bases. The normal diet of pastas, cereals, and low-fat foods has to be eliminated from our daily lives. However, most people simply adopt a non-negotiable attitude when it comes to giving up the breads. The carbs from grains and simple sugars are what making us sick as a society. There are simply too many chronic diseases that are caused by the consumption of grains over a long period of time. Trust me on this one, by simply eliminating grain products from your diet you will start to feel better and the weight will come down quick. Please see my earlier blogposts on grains and you will see the havoc they cause in our bodies. The ubiquitous USDA food pyramid is totally wrong. Several helpings of cereals and breads recommended by the food pyramid is what makes you fat. We should be eating fresh vegetables, seasonal fruits, fresh meats, and healthy fats. When humans were evolving during the paleolithic era, these were the foods that were available to us. There were no Einstein Bagels, danishes, Cheerios, Corn Flakes, and whole wheat breads. We were all hunter gatherers by profession not farmers. Farming or the age of agriculture only started about 10,000 years ago. The hunter gatherers roamed about the land, hunted wild game and gathered wild plants for their sustenance. The hunter gatherers ate animal flesh, animal fat, bone marrow and animal organs. These nutritious and calorie dense foods made our stomachs smaller and made our brains larger. This is what paleo is all about. That is why the paleo diet is also called a stone age diet. However, we are not living in the stone age, but we live in the age of information and the age of the internet. The age where information is only couple of clicks away on Google. Then how are we to adopt a paleo life style in this modern age? We can simply start by giving up the breads. Believe me this simple change will make you feel better within a week. Here is my diet regimen:
  • For breakfast I usually eat 2-3 eggs. Some mornings I eat eggs cooked medium over easy. Some mornings, I add ground beef, onions, mushroom, bell peppers, zucchini  potatoes, or whatever is available in the refrigerator. If I am traveling, and eggs are not available then blueberries or other fresh fruit is enough for me. A cup of coffee black or with little bit of heavy cream is enough to get me through the morning. Sometimes, skipping a breakfast is not a problem. That whole idea that breakfast is the most important meal of the day is simply not true. We are driven by our blood sugar levels. The lower the blood sugar levels, the hungrier we feel and the need to nourish our bodies with food. Breakfast is usually the first meal after a long night hence, our blood sugar is naturally spent and we feel hungary. Generally, eating a good breakfast is a good idea. However, if you had a heavy fatty dinner, then the body might still have plenty of energy left over to keep you going until lunch time. The point is that skipping a meal will not kill you, but it may even do some good. By giving our bodies an intermittent hunger shock forces the cells to burn fat and eventually, the cells learn to burn fat as the source of energy and the dependence on the simple carbs goes away. The hunter gatherers most likely did not eat three square meals per day. The food was simply not available all the time, and they survived just fine. As a matter of fact, the hunter gatherers were lot more healthier than the modern humans.
  • For lunch, I consume a salad, with some meat, like chicken, fish, or shrimps. Many restaurants have a wide variety of salads that are loaded with fresh vegetables and meats. Avoid the soups, salad dressings, breads, and croutons. On the weekends, ninety nine percent of the time I skip lunch. I usually sleep in then my breakfast/lunch is around 10 in the morning. At that point there is no point to having a lunch. Once again skipping a meal here and there is not a problem. 
  • For dinner, I make a salad with lemon/olive oil vinaigrette. Every dinner meal consists of either, beef, lamb, chicken, or fish. I add sweet potatoes, cauliflower, broccoli, or many other vegetables as a side. The vegetables are usually cooked in butter, coconut oil, or olive oil. There is no calorie counting. I eat until I am full. A cup of tea after a meal is all I need to complete my dinner. 
   I do not exercise like hitting the gym three to five nights per week. I enjoy the outdoors activities like hiking during the summer months and during the winter months light weights, leg squats, push ups, and few yoga stretches every night is the extent of my physical activity.  My real exercise is just going through the normal daily routine of ---just living. This type of physical activity matches our hunter gatherer ancestors' lifestyle. The hunter gatherers walked several miles per day in search of foods. Once they found food, they setup camps feasted and then slept a lot. The nomadic cycle began all over again once they began to search for food. Since, they ate meats, and plants they were not able to store food for an extended period of time, they had no choice but to move and continue their nomadic lifestyle. They did not go to 24 hours fitness gyms and did countless hours on the stair master to stay fit. They simply walked and did occasional sprinting chasing after a prey. Of course, the real secret was the absence of grains and simple carbs from their diet that never got them fat to begin with. There are numerous studies that suggest that excessive exercise can lead to injuries and may possibly leads us to eat more because we are expending more calories during exercise. The heart is one of the most over worked organ in the body. The heart muscle for our entire life span never stops and continues to contract and expand to produce the flow of blood in our veins. There is no further need to overwork this important muscle. This muscle is moving all the time and the day it stops--well, it doesn't matter then. Most fat burning exercises concentrate on achieving and maintaining a heart rate above a certain level to effectively burn fat. This type of excessive stressful exercises can actually damage the heart muscle. Trust me on this one just breathing sleeping, talking, smiling, thinking, eating---other words just living burns calories. Just living every day burns calories. That is why calories or energy is required to replenish our bodies in the form of food. There are many credible studies that suggest that having a good deep REM sleep burns about 1000 calories per eight hours. Heck just sitting around quietly burns about 900 calories per eight hours. Bottom line is that excessive exercise should not control and make up our daily lives.

   I do not take any vitamins or supplements. Most of the foods consumed in paleo diet contain numerous amount of vitamins and minerals. Just recently I started to take fish oil, and vitamin D supplements couple of times per week. The reason is that we simply do not get enough Omega 3 fats in our diet. A good fish oil supplement fills that void. If you are on paleo and consuming ample amount of fatty fish like wild salmon, then there is no need to take this supplement. Vitamin D is the second supplement I take couple of times per week. This fat soluble vitamin is usually synthesized by the body when exposed to sun light. But being indoors and working an office job there is simply not enough sun light exposure. I only take vitamin D supplement during the winter months. Don't waste your money on multivitamin pills. An egg, 6 ounces of liver, or a small piece of red meat contain plenty of vitamins and nutrients. Most fruits and vegetables contain plenty of water soluble vitamins.
   The food choices I make on the daily bases have kept my weight stable around 155 pounds. My last blood works showed an improvement in my overall cholesterol, and blood sugar level. Yes, my cholesterol improved after consuming nothing but cholesterol loaded foods. My story is not a month old but a year and half old. If paleo is harmful, then this prolonged diet regimen that I have subjected myself to should have harmed me by now. The fact is that I feel great and have more energy, my stomach issues, and joint pains have disappeared. This past year and half I did not get sick, not even a simple flu, this is in a house that is full of kids who usually bring flu from school. The fact is that we were designed to eat the paleo way. The Paleo imprint is in our DNA, our cells process and burn fat more efficiently than simple sugars. I'll continue to write this blog and will continue to report my progress so my friends can benefit from my experiences. Another appeal to all my friends and family to give paleo a serious consideration in 2013. Just try for a month by giving up the grains. Remember, there is nothing but pain...There is the pain of discipline or the pain of regret. The choice is ours.