Archive for April, 2012

Phat and Fat: Wrestling with Fat

April 30th, 2012

Most of us have been on weight loss diets…numerous times. Again and again, we have heard about the virtues of low-fat nutrition. This of course falls in the spurious commonsense category. The assertion, prima facie, is eat fat and gain fat.

After many thousands of pages of reading, plus my own science experiment of myself, I know that’s crazy, lazy talk. Docs and even nutritionists as groups love the easy and formulaic. Nearly all say just consume more calories than you burn up and you’ll lose weight. Minimize fat intake to lose body fat.

Despite all I’ve learned, part of me clings to the unproven and unprovable claim that fat is bad, bad, bad.

Meanwhile, I’ve been on a low-carb, medium fat diet, keyed off of Atkins. Now I’m at the point of refinement.

My CrossTrainer program estimates protein/fat/carb percentages for low-carb eating. To keep this working long term, I need to settle on percentages that work best for me. As in two posts ago in this series, I add complex carbs slowly (about 5 grams per day per week) and measuring weight and body fat weekly, an iterative and personally scientific system. Thank myself very much.

Now’s the time to own up to that emotional block. I’ve minimized fats for so long that I am habituated. Looking at cheese, oil, butter, cream makes me uneasy.

My cure appears to be in the Volek and Phinney The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Living. It is geekier than the Atkins books, but less research oriented and intellectually demanding than Taubes’ Good Calories, Bad Calories. Instead, it both narrows ad expands on the others. The authors are researchers as well as a physician/dietitian duo. They have even converted to low carb. After heaping on the body chemistry and internal workings related to food and exercise in their book, they are specific about what to eat.

That is, unlike the typical formulae for fat/weighty control and maintenance, they acknowledge the wide range of metabolisms and body functions. They point readers to the right starting points and augment that with some decent and sensual recipes.

For me, the detailed discussions of how we use fats and which ones to add in what quantity is well worth slogging through the research. I suppose one could skim or skip those parts, but, hell, they’re over half the book. Plus, I need to be totally convinced to snuff out my emotional issue.

I’m going to up my fat intake to keep make this low-carb thingummy integral, but I’m doing it carefully. I’ll report back on what I decide and how that works.

This series includes:

Call it Lifestyle on the intellectual and emotional commitment to low-carb
Watching the Struggle on my grandmothers diet woes
Wrestling with Fat on overcoming fear of dietary fats
Hunger? do you starve on a low-carb diet?
Low-Carb Eats on what’s on the menu in the regimen
How Much of What Food on calories-in/calories-out cliché
Dr. Cadaver on mindless trust in group averages
Who’s Counting on body fast v. weight
Part 1 on pants don’t lie

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Felder Bares Bernstein

April 30th, 2012

Loath as I am to stand in applause (seemingly the norm at every performance from kindergarten through Broadway), Hershey Felder as Leonard Bernstein had me up and flapping. Last evening’s nearly two-hour, one-man show also deserved the overused and usually hyperbolic tour de force.

Note that this is an ArtsEmerson show at the Paramount and runs through May 20th. Hie thee. Maestro: The Art of Leonard Bernstein is far better done and more memorable than any play you’re likely to see this year or any musical with women wearing spangles and rhinestones.

At its most basic, this show is a chronological biography. Badly written and performed, that could surely be tedious. This is riveting. No one coughed or rustled papers.

Note too that Felder is creating a career out of these musician shows. Following Bernstein, he comes on with black hair starting May 30th as George Gershwin. Previously, he’s been Chopin and Beethoven. He takes his shows on the road and somehow maintains his energy with one or two a day and transitioning among characters and musical repertoires.

And music…

Felder plays and sings, the former stronger than the latter, but certainly in the role of conductor/composer, his voice is fine and does not distract from the story. He plays enough Beethoven, Wagner. Copeland, a few others, plus parts of his own work. Intriguing is his early efforts and parts of his major works. Yet an apt leitmotif that does a fair job of tying his story together are a couple of songs from West Side Story, Somewhere and Maria.

Key tensions in the tale start with his unapproving, gruff father. Over his objections, Bernstein pays for his own piano lessons, studies with several leading mentors, and makes a seeming success of it all. Underlying are problems most of us who saw him conduct or perform and explain on TV forgot or did not know. There’s his finding, marrying and having three children with Felicia, his professed great love. Meanwhile, he longed to be known as a composer, to be among the greats in this country and historically. Along the way, he had homosexual affairs, including one for whom he left his wife for a few years. He returned and nursed her as she died of cancer.

A long, pivotal scene near the end has him beseeching the audience to sing any of his arias or recall even a few bars of his serious work. He knows no one can and in the end seems to accept begrudgingly that West Side Story will be his piece by which people recall him.

The show carries the biography from childhood to death surprisingly smoothly. Felder stays in character, or characters, as he voices the father, mother, various mentors and more. This artificial cast of characters allows for development and aging and struggles one-man shows tend to lack.

He also manages to deal candidly with issues, such as the gay affairs, without becoming salacious or silly.

The show had no pauses, no awkward or forced segments, and nothing contrived. It is brilliantly written. The steady rhythm of intense performance performance and then casual conversation provided great focus and framed each example of development memorably. Felder was more than capable at the piano and the musical selections illustrated both how Bernstein progressed, and regressed, professionally, and supported the thesis of a tormented would-be great composer.

Felder’s view seems to be, as the program reads, that it is too soon after Bernstein’s life and death to judge his oeuvre. His superb version of the life does not judge either. I left the Paramount with a much fuller and more personal sense of the musician and person. Again, this show brought me to my feet.

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Phat and Fat: Hungry?

April 27th, 2012

Several times in my adult life, I’ve trimmed down. The old way followed the platitudinous calories-in/calories-out advice that most medical and nutrition sorts still flog. I have come to disdain that after much reading and experimenting.

Those seeming death marches featured deprivation. Feeling hungry to ravenous seemed like an affirmation of will, of virtue. Pounds disappeared, at the cost of feeling self-punished. I could hardly wait to reach a target weight and stop that silliness.

In contrast, nearly all the low-carb versions I’ve seen and one I’ve adapted for myself go for sustainable eating patterns. Unlike just-eat-fewer-calories-than-your-body-needs, eat-right-foods-until-you’re-comfortable is, as the newer cliché goes, a plan. There’s no rush to escape.

A fundamental principle in Atkins or Duke or so many other low-carb regimens is worrying far less about calories, and instead counting carbs. Have four, six, even eight ounces of fish or meat for lunch or dinner. That of course depends on your size and activity level of the day. Do without the bread, potatoes, rice and other starches. Have a cup or two of greens and other low-carb veggies.

I confess that the veggie part is easier for me than some who grew up food picky. I worked with my grandfather in his gigantic gardens for 11 summers. Asparagus, lettuce, squash, kale, string beans, cabbage, peppers and on and on were in my hands and on the table shortly after picking. We ate what we got to the table and it was all damned good.

Those who didn’t grow up with an abundance of fresh vegetables or got mushy ones from cans might have a problem. For us, my grandmother froze and jarred many hundreds of pounds of them for winter and spring.

If you’re considering low-carb, keep the key concept in mind that you won’t go hungry. If you’re masochist, you can always stick with the modified starvation plan so popular in medical circles.

This series includes:

Call it Lifestyle on the intellectual and emotional commitment to low-carb
Watching the Struggle on my grandmothers diet woes
Wrestling with Fat on overcoming fear of dietary fats
Hunger? do you starve on a low-carb diet?
Low-Carb Eats on what’s on the menu in the regimen
How Much of What Food on calories-in/calories-out cliché
Dr. Cadaver on mindless trust in group averages
Who’s Counting on body fast v. weight
Part 1 on pants don’t lie
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Phat and Fat: Low-Carb Eats

April 25th, 2012

Like New Yorkers about rent-stabilized apartments, we just have to know what a dieter eats. It’s the treasure map on the shared quest.

After typical and near total lameness from doctors and a nutritionist, I applied my fastidious nature and research experience to the task for me. For the impatient who need to gather essential information, I’d advise Gary Taubes’ Good Calories, Bad Calories or even his somewhat simplified version Why We Get Fat. After hitting libraries and online sources, mostly medical and scientific, I found that Good Calories included the punchlines of nearly every solid work I found on my own, plus much more. I could have started there, but likely would not have felt comfortable until I confirmed things.

On the no-no side, I can’t stress enough that for me, the diet clichés simply don’t work:

  • WRONG. Everything in moderation is ideal.
  • WRONG. Low fat and high complex carbohydrates are the key.
  • WRONG. Consumer fewer calories than your estimated expenditures and all will be well.

Despite my assiduous devotion to those medical platitudes, my fat and weight crept up. The simpleminded docs, nurses and nutritionist could only conclude that I and my two nutrition/exercise programs were lying and given bad data. Their assertions just had to be accurate!

Yet, truth be told, I am like many adults who do not fit those silly saws. In my particular case, I share much physical history with others I know and read about. For example, several times, I have lost more than 10% of my body weight and fat. That turns down your metabolism substantially, making losing and maintaining weight/fat harder…likely forever. Also, aging does much the same. Moreover, I am an almost pure mesomorph, tending to broad shoulders and large muscle mass top and bottom. I have an efficient metabolism, which means exercise burns up less than the gym machines measure and software estimate. I see from various research that many of us end up switching to slow-twitch muscles after such body changes, which also means greater efficiency in exercise. Drat.

A non-scientist, the late Robert Atkins has a keen chapter in Dr. Atkins’ New Diet Revolution that covers other reasons for metabolic resistance, as it’s known. Even staid old calories-in/calories-out folk like the Mayo Clinic report that some drugs, like beta blockers, can decrease metabolic rate by up to 13% (huge when you want to lose or control). Likewise, hormones, anti-depressants, anti-arthritis, steroids and on and on can hose metabolism. In the tablet and pill-happy medical environment we inhabit, that’s a big deal.

Marketing Opportunity: In a little side rant, I would pay for a smart, learning diet program. My mother and niece also recorded their nutrition and exercise for years. We’re all honest and thorough; it would have done us no good to cheat. We found the calories-in/calories out to be near worthless for us. There’s likely a huge market for a piece of software that follows your intake and expenditure, and correlates them with your ongoing weight and body-fat measurements. Then it would tweak what is actually happening in your unique system. It would rationalize the basal metabolism rate and provide meaningful measures of exercise expenditures for you.

My mouth

Draw your own conclusions when you read about nutrition. I came to low-carb and started on it. I’m losing fat and weight at a decent clip and intend to keep it up and eventually move simply into maintenance. A big plus on the far end is that this appeals to my scientific bent. I can tweak my diet in ways neither my medical sorts or the software have been able to do.

The short of it is for me, I modified the Atkins. I just don’t want to consume the levels of fat he suggested. I’ve been leaning low-fat for a long time and moved up to moderate amounts. I’ve nearly eliminated fruit, have not consumed bread in six weeks, nor even allegedly healthy starches like brown rice. I eat fish, meat, eggs, cheeses, olive oil, mayonnaise, and low-carb veggies. I rarely touch a beer, instead have a bourbon or malt whiskey (carb-free) or dry wine (low-carb).

Fortunately, over the years, I have come to care less and less for sweets. I do like a piece of dark chocolate, but can ignore a full cookie jar, ice cream in the freezer, or a restaurant’s dessert menu. I’m a very good break baker and have not come to terms with what I’ll do to ease back into small amounts down the line.

There are several popular low-carb variations. I suspect any of them would be a major change for most of us, and would do what I want done. As far as my body, I’ve been sold and re-sold defective goods in health comes from high-complex carbs and low fat. It doesn’t work for Mike.

Instead, I have increased my daily calories substantially from about 1100 to about 1500. I’m trimming down. My pants are looser (remember, pants don’t lie!). I’m sleeping better. I’m flat out happier. I eat as much as I want of protein, veggies and fat, never feeling hungry or deprived.

As a serious cook, I see the challenges here. Each low-carb diet book has its recipes, but many are not sensual and amusing enough for me. I’ll work on that.

Yet a diet starting the day with a cheese omelet or scrambled eggs with sausage or no-carb ham, plus celery, salad or other low-carb green is a satisfying start. To my point of fat, most low-carb book would use all whole eggs. Instead, I use one egg and two or three whites, with a teaspoon or so of olive oil in the pan. I’m getting the fat, but maybe half of what an Atkins meal calls for. Again, this is working for me in weight and body-fat drops week after week. I remain emotionally comfortable with the amount of fat I consume too, even if I might be losing faster with more fat.

That Science

To my call for a smart, heuristic diet software package, a very appealing aspect of switching to low carbs is the anticipation of finding a personal plan in the end. In Atkins for example, you start out with severe carb restrictions, under 20 grams a day. You slowly up it as you switch to on-going loss, like an average of five more grams a week.

That turned out to be not all that hard in practice. For years, I’ve used CrossTrainer to record all I eat and exercise; it can be set to low-carb so that it plainly displays running counts as well as what’s in any given food before you add it. There are many others, in fact Lockergnome god Chris Pirillo tested buckets of them and swears by CalorieKing. His point and mine, of course, is to use it and record every damned morsel, sip and step. Let’s be adult about this.

The Atkins operation also wants to own you. It will send a free get-started package for you email address as well as give you a wide variety of free online tools. It wants to sell you books and its energy bars and such. The package they mail includes a nifty pocket-sized carb counter that suits most foods…and takes the excuse out of traveling or restaurants.

So assuming I keep this up and get back to my svelte self, the scientific tweaking comes into play. While the RDA for carbs is 300 grams a day, that certainly won’t work for me. The idea is to keep counting, keep increasing, keep weighing/measuring body fat. When a specific level, say 60 a day or 110 or whatever, shows up a week or two going the wrong way, I need to go back down.

I am anal retentive enough that weighing and using the body-fat machine (takes about 30 seconds) weekly is fine, as is continuing to track carbs, and for no particular reason it seems, calories, daily is OK too. I keep a notebook for when I travel and know enough about what to eat and not that I’m close without the running totals. That’s me and others might have to use a smartphone or laptop with an online app.

This series includes:

Call it Lifestyle on the intellectual and emotional commitment to low-carb
Watching the Struggle on my grandmothers diet woes
Wrestling with Fat on overcoming fear of dietary fats
Hunger? do you starve on a low-carb diet?
Low-Carb Eats on what’s on the menu in the regimen
How Much of What Food on calories-in/calories-out cliché
Dr. Cadaver on mindless trust in group averages
Who’s Counting on body fast v. weight
Part 1 on pants don’t lie
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Phat and Fat: How Much or What Food?

April 23rd, 2012

It’s not quite as common as the compulsion to rub a pregnant woman’s belly (really! how impertinent is that?). Yet, nearly all adults think about food, think about weight control, and just have to ask people how they are losing weight.

The extremely knowledgeable Gary Taubes ducks the what-to-eat specifics in his Good Calories, Bad Calories. After analyzing hundreds of research findings and his own interviews, he sets out the key concepts of controlling body size and fat. Yet, he punks out at the end, basically telling those who have stuck through 640 pages of substance to take his work and craft their own diet.

That didn’t stand and in his somewhat smaller, simplified version, Why We Get Fat, he begrudgingly comes across. He writes of the pressure to suggest a diet. He says if you really have to start somewhere, go with the Duke Diet. While it’s clear he still thinks people need to tweak their own within his conclusions, he accepts most people need a harbor to chart their voyage.

People see that I am getting  trimmer again and have begun to ask. I don’t mind. I recognize that to most of us, certainly me included, diet is an avocation.

For the past six week, I’ve been keying off the Atkins. I’ve been modifying it to my tastes and results (mostly considerably less fat than Dr. Atkins mandated), but close enough that I can say Atkins and most folk are satisfied.

In line with Taubes precepts, I work with low-carb foods. That started with no bread/flour and no sugar. Unlike many folk I know who talk food, as I’ve aged, I care less for sweet, so the sugar part has been easy. I even eat the occasional third of an ounce dark chocolate square — one is enough; I truly savor it’s glories.

Far harder was dumping and later severely limiting the surprising high-carb foods. My previous breakfast was hardy and all wrong, for my main example. I started by boiling up a quarter cup of Scottish (steel-cut) oats. I loved the smell and flavor, plus oats allegedly keep the vascular system clear of nasty clogging stuff. I’d put in a chopped banana. Then most days, I’d have a half cup of non-fat, plain yogurt with 20 medium grapes.

Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

The calorie total was fine and the foods in those quantities kept me perking, alert and satisfied. Yet, the meal likely wrecked my insulin levels and contributed to creeping fat/weight. Each ingredient was rife with carbohydrates…supposedly of the healthy sort. Forget calories. Yes, forget calories or at least put them down the list of considerations.

Likewise, I had kept whole grain breads on the shelf. Our sons would get cookies, but we didn’t indulge in any description of junk food. My pulses (beans and such) were from dried and not the mushy canned junk full of salt, sugar and chemicals. I’d make starches like potatoes rarely and low fat. Still, these declared healthy foods apparently also contributed to my belt creep, even counting, weighing, measuring and recording every damned calorie that entered my mouth.

I have known trim and healthy looking vegetarians and vegans who seem to thrive on what they call the right kind of carbs. That doesn’t work for me.

For decades, I’ve heard and read calories-in/calories-out, all you need to know. Just use the estimates of calories ingest, calories expended in exercise, basal metabolism rates, and consume fewer than you need to lose weight. That may well work for a small subset of adults, but anecdotally at least, it’s crap for most of us. I immediately think of my mother and niece as well as myself. Each of us is or was (my mother’s gone) assiduous in tracking food. We are Boy/Girl Scout honest and with strong attention to detail. We recorded and found the simpleminded formula is next to worthless.

I gave up on my doctor and the nutritionist I insisted on seeing when I found calories-in/calories-out was meaningless for me. Both of these are so mindlessly devoted to the calories cliché that they insist that the only way it can’t work is if the patient is deluding himself. That’s a sad commentary on them.

Amusingly enough, medical pros make breakthroughs conceptually and for individuals when they listen to patients and observe. Assuming that patient self-reporting is always wrong may make them feel superior, but doesn’t help us at all.

This series includes:

Call it Lifestyle on the intellectual and emotional commitment to low-carb
Watching the Struggle on my grandmothers diet woes
Wrestling with Fat on overcoming fear of dietary fats
Hunger? do you starve on a low-carb diet?
Low-Carb Eats on what’s on the menu in the regimen
How Much of What Food on calories-in/calories-out cliché
Dr. Cadaver on mindless trust in group averages
Who’s Counting on body fast v. weight
Part 1 on pants don’t lie

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Phat and Fat: Dr. Cadaver

April 22nd, 2012

In the series on my fat-control, here’s a last set of comments on BMI, using the closely related height/weight charts doctors had as a gimmick before BMI. We can’t even estimate how many of us become sick, sicker or dead from physicians not listening, not believing.

Although they tend to say their anecdotal and experiential knowledge is sound “medical science,” it is a very rare doctor who trusts patients’ self-reporting. I recently experienced that repeatedly from two nurses, my PCP, and a nutritionist. Shown two years of carefully measured, counted, weighed and machine-derived caloric intake and exercise expenditure, to a one, they denied it all. I was yet another patient who was confused, or dishonest, or inaccurate, or unaware of what I was eating.

Instead, logic could go for Occam’s razor, looking for the simplest explanation that fits the known facts. In this case, I came to them because the two nutrition/exercise recording programs I had been using clearly indicated that I should have lost considerable weight instead of continuing to edge up. The conclusion I drew and expected them to was not that I had to be a liar or fool when my experience did not fit their formulaic stereotype of calories-in/calories-out. Instead, my metabolism might be hosed, my body was too efficient during exercise, and the estimated basal metabolic rate was wildly off in my case.

With my conclusions, I could try to work in that frame and find solutions short of absolute starvation. The best my doc could say was maybe I could increase my aerobic exercise 10 minutes a day. I was already exercising one to two hours six or seven days a week. His way was just silly.

It took me back to decades before, when I dealt with the guy I think of as Dr. Cadaver. He was a partner of my favorite doctor and specialized in smoking cessation and weight control. He was so gaunt that he appeared to have been dead for quite some time. I think that was good for his anti-cigarette work.

About that x-ray…

In fact, he did scare me. After a battery of what was then called routine tests, he said he wanted to talk with me about my chest x-ray. I had smoked two packs of Camels a day for years and dreaded the skeleton’s revelation. He asked whether I lived in Manhattan (I did). He paused a long time, leaving me to stew. Then he said, “That’s odd. You have the clearest lungs I’ve ever seen in a city dweller.” That put the idea in my head to stop smoking, while I was ahead.

I had complained to my doctor that I wanted to lose some weight. At about 190 or so, I wasn’t fat, he said, but he sent me to Dr. Cadaver.

The first conflict came from the exam where he questioned my checking large bone structure on his form. Like so many doctors and nurses before and after, he laughed derisively and with a snort said that everyone claims to have big bones but almost no one does. Then as two other doctors have done since, he got out his calipers to prove me wrong.

He measured several times and had to admit that in fact I had the largest bone structure, from wrist measurements, he had seen and at the very top of the chart. He palpated my wrists and found them very broad and without any flab at all.

Next, he brought out ye olde height/weight chart. As I recall his finding, at six feet even, I should weigh no more than 173 pounds, ideally five pounds less.

I went off and to the Stillman diet, used by two girlfriends. That meant almost no carbs and extremely low fat. I got weak and a few times nearly passed out, but I lost pounds. When I returned, I was around 175 or maybe a little under and feeling very accomplished.

He examined me, making odd noises. When he finished, I recall very clearly that he fairly exclaimed, “What the hell did you do to yourself!”

He said I was way too thin, my ribs were sticking out and that I did not have adequate fat on my torso. Having done what he commanded, I was none too pleased. He said I needed to gain at least 10 pounds back, slowly if I could.

Add some science

Since then, I listen politely when a doctor pulls out weight or BMI numbers. It’s important for them to play expert here, even when observation and listening to me should be more productive. With my own doc, I have said plainly that I use body-fat measurements and have no use for BMI. As muscular as I am, pure poundage or BMI is almost worthless.

Fortunately for this matter I grew up to be a relentless researcher when called for. That has worked well for me as a newspaper and magazine writer, and on occasion for such personal matters as diagnosing myself when medical types fail.

I would love to find a nutrition/exercise program with heuristics. I wish I had one as I assiduously tracked all food and liquid I consumed and all exercise I performed over several years. Then with the weekly entry of weight and body fat, I’d like that program to adjust the basal metabolism rate and perhaps rationalize the true exercise calories burned. I’d like to be able to trust the result so that at the end of each day if it says I lost .2 pound or whatever, it would be right.

Someone must be working on that. There are a lot of software applications that do learn.

Short of that, I researched to find out what I should be eating and perhaps why my metabolism doesn’t follow the estimates medical sorts use as gospel.

This series includes:

Call it Lifestyle on the intellectual and emotional commitment to low-carb
Watching the Struggle on my grandmothers diet woes
Wrestling with Fat on overcoming fear of dietary fats
Hunger? do you starve on a low-carb diet?
Low-Carb Eats on what’s on the menu in the regimen
How Much of What Food on calories-in/calories-out cliché
Dr. Cadaver on mindless trust in group averages
Who’s Counting on body fast v. weight
Part 1 on pants don’t lie

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Drugless Cure

April 21st, 2012

In my 20s, I ended up with a great physician, back when there were GPs. John Staig Davis was literally a Virginia gentleman winding down his practice on the Upper East Side of NYC. While team physician for the likes of the NY Giants and famous in medical circles for synthesizing vitamin B6 from pyridoxine hydrochloride first, his love was fixing folk.

I think of his mentality and methods faced with today’s not-so-good docs. He would never treat a patient’s symptoms with a drug unless he had diagnosed the problem. He’d also intend to cure the patient. That doesn’t happen for adults except in the rarest of cases. Even then, it’s usually the body’s natural actions that effect a cure.

A woman I knew professionally and would later keep company with referred me to him. I had some dizziness, light sensitivity and such. The doctor I had seen had no idea. She on the other hand trusted Davis. Her father was a big shot at CBS News and Dr. Davis had figured out his problem and cured him of it when others could not.

Sure enough, after a few visits, he nailed my issue. The cure took a bit, but the diagnosis was spot on.

He was chatty, patient with his patients. I had noticed an open cabinet in his office with a bottle of bourbon on the shelf. He explained that a few elderly women would come by for a word and a nip from time to time. He was close enough to their age and was mannered and pleasant enough that they liked to socialize with him. He didn’t charge them and they left after a drink, but he figured it was helping keeping them healthy.

After checking me a couple of times, he was ready to treat me. He also arranged for what was then normal practice with the likes of Blue Cross — three days and two nights in a hospital for a full range of tests to rule out anything unseen.

His treatment started with turning the framed picture on his desk to face me. It was he decades before with a gorgeous woman, a woman who looked remarkably like his receptionist, who was his daughter. The woman was his late wife. She had been an actress who had been in supporting roles with the likes of Clark Gable.

I of course was very puzzled and wondered what the devil that photo had to do with me.

He told the story about how he adored his wife, truly worshiped her. She could be mean and crazy and even cruel, but he was, as I came to know many years later, limerent. He could not control his passion and devotion.

She killed herself. He fell into profound depression, but came out the other side. He told me that then he realized that he himself had nervous symptoms, like insomnia, forgetfulness and mild depression when he was married. It was a destructive relationship for him but in his love of her he didn’t see it. He said that her absence after death turned out to let him be happy and healthy. He realized he never felt better.

His diagnosis for me, pending test results, was to think about leaving the woman I lived with. He could tell from our discussions that I was similarly devoted to her, adored her, and ate my anguish at not feeling equally loved.

He was right.

I did not leave her immediately, but soon. In the hospital, she did not visit me, but the woman who referred me to Davis did. She brought books for me to read between tests and simply spoke and listened earnestly. Leaving the hospital three days later, I called her and we went for a drink in the Village. I did not go back to my apartment that night, spending it instead with my visitor.

Shortly after I was in a new apartment, my sundry symptoms disappeared. Mirabile dictu.

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Phat and Fat: Who’s Counting?

April 21st, 2012

At various times in my adult life, I dieted, largely successfully short- and mid-term. It took me a while to rationalize the scales though.

Finally, it became obvious that height/weight charts then were as much crap for an individual as BMI is. The simpleminded medical types have forced that on us, apparently largely out of their own laziness.

After watching my maternal grandmother struggle mightily with Lite Diet bread, the Gaylord Hauser books and weighing herself in despair, I read what I could find. Hauser’s shelf of diet books at least had the seed of low-carb eating in eschewing sugar and white flour. Among the science available was the fascinating information that while docs, nurses and nutritionists glommed onto the height/weight charts, the insurance industry moved past them. The actuaries found no correlation between a person’s good or bad rating in the charts and longevity or health. Likewise, BMI is as good as the universe it measures and the frequency of measurements, like a whole school system’s eighth graders.

Both the earlier charts and BMI, which let’s be honest is just a height/weight chart with a very minor variation in calculation to produce one number, don’t work for individuals. Unfortunately such well-intended health proponents as Michelle Obama are wont to say as she has that BMI is “highly scientific.” In reality, the vast variations on muscle mass, bone structure and more put the lie to that for a single person. Someone may have a pretty good BMI number and look OK in clothes, only to be without muscle mass and have organs swimming in fat. Likewise, many athletic types can be the opposite, overweight or even obese in BMI rating, but be much healthier and have a much lower body-fat percentage.

Of course, the same medical sorts who are wont to say all you need to know about losing weight or controlling it is calories-in/calories out, consume fewer than your burn.  That’s crackpot stuff. Beware anyone who says, “It’s only common sense,” which almost invariably really means, “I’ve got nothing. Don’t challenge my wild assertions.”

Many years ago, I got an introduction to body-fat measurement. When I went to the main YMCA in Boston, I got training in Nautilus equipment and got the caliper treatment. It turned out I still was pretty muscular from my days as a jock as well as my pretty active life of walking everywhere, hiking, roller skating and later biking. My fat percentage was low.

I still use obvious indicators and body-fat measurements as much more reliable than scale weight. Depending on whether I’m doing free weights and machines or not, my weight can vary by as much as 10 pounds and the fat percentage stay pretty much the same or even drop if I’m lifting. I advise dieting folk to buy a $25 or so hand held body-fat machine and/or a scale that reports that along with pounds.

Otherwise, pants don’t lie.

If my clothes fit well or get loose, I’m losing extra fat. If the base of my thumb on the top of my hand has a deep intention when I move the thumb back, I’m losing. If my armpits are really deep when I soap them in the shower, I’m trim. There are another half dozen or so palpable, observable and meaningful measures. Better doctors should look and feel their patients instead of turning to the relatively meaningless BMI.

My funkiness in measurements includes looking as I brush my body. That’s right. Many years ago, I bought and read a fascinating nutrition book, Are You Confused, by Paavo Airola. He believed that we’re healthier when we thoroughly clean our skin and rid it of toxins along with dead cells. For him that was brushing the body every day or few days with a boar’s bristle (no plastic, please and ouch) brush, then showering. That made and makes sense to me. Plus I have nice skin.

The point here is that if you are brushing, you have to look and can’t pretend all is well, fatwise, when it isn’t. Even if the idea of brushing yourself seems creepy, really looking in front of the bathroom mirror helps keep you honest with yourself.

Enough of that. This is the second in a series on diet and body fat. The introduction is here. I’ll start next on what I do about food next.

This series includes:

Call it Lifestyle on the intellectual and emotional commitment to low-carb
Watching the Struggle on my grandmothers diet woes
Wrestling with Fat on overcoming fear of dietary fats
Hunger? do you starve on a low-carb diet?
Low-Carb Eats on what’s on the menu in the regimen
How Much of What Food on calories-in/calories-out cliché
Dr. Cadaver on mindless trust in group averages
Who’s Counting on body fast v. weight
Part 1 on pants don’t lie


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Who’da Thunk?

April 20th, 2012

Ego into the side pocket, I’m used to teachers, friends, coworkers and such telling me how knowledgeable I am, how smart, blah, blah. I confess that I enjoy the moments when I discover my own oversights and stupidity.

Recently, take hand soap, and not just Lava or other cleaner available in the supermarket.

I’m a serious shopper, almost professional in my efficiency. I know the layouts of the markets I frequent and come in with lists by aisle. I sweep through in under half the time of ordinary mortals, without missing a special or item.

Yet, when it came time to replace my industrial hand cleaner, I lost. Mr. Smart Guy looked and failed. Like my efficient mother, I consider using an index, store map or God forbid, clerk, for directions an admission of incompetence. I did end up at groceries, hardware stores and home centers, asking about those tubs of thick goo I used as carpenters, my auto mechanic friends had on the john counters and my grandfather kept by his mud sink. They looked blankly. A few had heard of or seen them, but they surely didn’t have them in stock. At Lowes for example a young stock guy took me to his cleaning stuff shelves and likewise admitted defeat.

The amusing moment was when I realized my oversight.

Speaking with the staff at the various stores, I had mentioned repeated, “like auto mechanics use.” I didn’t listen to myself.

A few days ago, I walked to the local public library and headed to a grocery when I finally did replay my tape. Damn, there was an AutoZone on the way. I had said again and again, “like auto mechanics use,” without going where auto mechanics and would-be auto mechanic shop.

Sure enough, not only did AutoZone have what I wanted on a helf right inside the door, it had several brands and one with 50% extra in the tub as a promotion. For a scant $2.99, plus MA tax, I had years worth of grime remover/cuticle cleaner.

I was unsure whether to be self-satisfied or humbled. I was both.

Yeah, I’m smart. Yes, I solve problems. Yes, I can be as dumb as the next guy on a given day. It’s a good lesson.

Phat and Fat, Part 1

April 20th, 2012

Striding the aisles of the new Hyde Park Stop & Shop, I was aware how loose my trousers were. That’s smirk making.

Consider yourself warned. Self-absorption follows in this and related posts. Already, chum John experienced that in our recent four-day trip to Manhattan. I had started a low-carb regimen and talked about it. I tried not to harp, but it was everywhere. We’re drinking buddies, usually concentrating on ale. Beer is very expensive in carbs, ale less so, wine even less so and bourbon is free. So I’m sure he got bored suggesting brews and hearing me dither or pull out the carb counter and see if I could afford it.

So what brought me to my own modified Atkins world, you may ask?

The answer relates to that self-absorption we bloggers seem to epitomize but also transcends it. The more salient response is the incompetence and ignorance of health professionals. Therein lies the justification for this series.

I’m tired of being trim for a little bit and chubby for quite awhile. I’m also well beyond the teens and 20s when I could cast aside poundage and excess fat in a few weeks with modest changes in exercise or food choices. Way back in those days, I recall a woman with whom I kept company. She is about 10 years older and even then, in her 30s, has trouble paring a single pound off when I could drop 5 or 10 in a week or two.


Who Ya Gonna Call?


Well, we either age or die. Aging isn’t terrible, considering the only alternative. With that process comes a slower metabolism for nearly all of us. We as a nation then end up late or soon consumed with consumption of food and drink.

We care, we whine, we compare, we plot, we despair.

Of course, there are the tiny subset of exceptions. There are ectomorphic somatotypes. Those skinny men and women with neither visible fat nor apparent muscle mass, women with no breasts or hips to hold and men with no shoulders and wee, wee thighs. These freakish folk tend to have permanently high metabolic rates, as most of us did in puberty. They also tend to disdain the struggles of the 90-some percent of us who discover tighter pants when we have changed nothing about our activity, food or drink.

Being a pretty pure mesomorph with arms and legs like oak-tree limbs, but a tendency to tuck extra fat on the torso, I figured the medical world might give me some advice in my personal struggle. That was naive.

I’m no newcomer to diet/exercise/weight and fat control. Yet, not getting results, I went to the pros. I has used a damned good program, CrossTrainer, to track my intake and exercise. Also, being a pretty type-A tech writer, I backed that up with Lose It! Fastidiously, I plugged in each bit and every step. I counted grapes, measured yogurt, weighed cheese, and used the report of the elliptical machines as well as putting in the distance and duration of each bike ride.

Both programs had me losing lots of weight. I put in serious exercise time, yielding rated 1,000 to 1,600 calories burned six and sometimes seven days a week. Moreover, I wasn’t cheating in the slightest. Every morsel and motion went in accurately. That is my wont. The programs reported I should be losing half a pound to .8 pounds per day.

Yet on the weekly weigh in and body-fat machine measures, I was chubbing up. My doctor’s scale showed that meager confirmation as well.

While I had read a lot about nutrition and weight control, I needed help. I turned to doctors and got a referral to a nutritionist.


DIY Health


Fuggedaboutit!

Docs, nurses, even nutritionists are ignoramuses about food and weight. With the flood of information and the myriad patients in their examining rooms, they remain ignorant, if not stupid. It reminds me of the many ministers I know who decry how little they learn of church management in divinity school, often a single course. Then when they get a parish, they are excepted suddenly to be or oversee the CEO, COO and CFO roles.

Unlike clerics, who look to board members, staff and others for help, medical professionals tend to feign competence and exhibit confidence. I have found they they deal instead in platitudes and formulaic responses.

The worst for my issue is calories-in/calories-out. “All you need to know is consume fewer calories than you burn up and you’ll lose weight,” they invariably say.  Elephant feathers!

Even telling my primary doc and nutritionist, even producing two years of weigh ins, with body-fat readings, and as much exercise and calorie intake printouts as they wanted to see, I got the same jive. It always came with the self-satisfied look of the ignorant. Calories-in/calories-out.

I can believe for some ectomorphs, that works. I can believe that those basal metabolic rate estimates and exercise expenditure estimates are reasonably accurate for a small percentage of people. Yet, I know far too many, including myself, for whom those don’t work, don’t work by a big factor.

In fact, I turned to my doc and a nutritionist precisely because I was assiduous in recording all, but did not get the expected result. My wife is fond of noting that I am an outlier. I am my mother’s son, the one who is precise, detailed, and honest. I do the scientific method.

So, provided with my proofs that the estimates of intake and expenditures did not work for me, what do you suppose the pros did? Of course, they doubled down. Calories-in/calories out.

The doctor was dumb enough to say things like, “Oh, I guess the calories are coming from the air.” The nutritionist had next to no quibble with my three-days of detailed consumption/exercise I printed out. She suggested adding more calories, specifically more fat in the form of olive oil, but had no answer for why I was not losing as the two programs reported I should be.


Medical Deafness


I thought of nutrition overlord/author Michael Prager. He has different issues leading to being fat, a self-defined food addiction. Yet, as a newspaper reporter for years, he had his own methodology. He tracked down a nutritionist west of Philly who didn’t do formula, who didn’t pull platitudes, and who did listen to his story to produce a custom plan.

Instead, my doc and nutritionist shoved the same hand of food cards across their desk to me, not hearing what didn’t work. In fact, at a party I ended up with three other people, all of whom had been to docs and nutritionists. One wanted to gain weight and muscle and we other three to lose. We all got identical diet advice. That’s craziness.

So I read. I went to libraries. I clicked around the internet to pop and academic sites. I went way back to William Banting’s 1864 booklet on who he dropped lots of flab. I did current research. I went so far as to find out that everything of value I wanted had been in Gary Taubes’ Good Calories, Bad Calories all along. I could have started and ended there, but given my anal-retentive nature, it’s better I found it after a lot of research so it had all the more credibility.

Part 2 of this series will go into what’s been working for me.

I have a food site I started in concept before my effort to lose some fat. It will have mostly food-enjoyment articles, recipes, videos and such. I remain a serious foodie. Yet, most of us adults are conflicted about food. I’ll address it all. Look here for the nutrition angle. I’ll announce the food site when I open it to the net.

This series includes:

Call it Lifestyle on the intellectual and emotional commitment to low-carb
Watching the Struggle on my grandmothers diet woes
Wrestling with Fat on overcoming fear of dietary fats
Hunger? do you starve on a low-carb diet?
Low-Carb Eats on what’s on the menu in the regimen
How Much of What Food on calories-in/calories-out cliché
Dr. Cadaver on mindless trust in group averages
Who’s Counting on body fast v. weight
Part 1 on pants don’t lie

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