Archive for November, 2011

Moving into our renovated farm house wasn’t exactly like a scene from one of those hone-renovation shows on HGTV … you know, where the homeowners go away for awhile, return to a perfectly-renovated home with everything in place, then weep for joy.

Our renovations are almost but not quite finished.  Rather than pay another month’s rent on the apartment, we went ahead with the move.  Consequently, my HGTV moment was more like this:

“How come there aren’t any faceplates on the outlets?”

“They’re doing that next week.”

“They’re not done with these baseboards, are they?  I see a lot of splatters from the walls.”

“They’re coming back to do another coat next week.”

“Uh … didn’t we used to own some nice big rugs?”

“They’re in the garage.  We can’t put them on the hardwood floors for 10 more days.”

“So the movers have to come back and move all the heavy furniture again?”

“That’s right.”

“You know, I don’t want to criticize your furniture arrangements, but–”

“We have to keep all the furniture three feet from the walls until the painters and the electrician are done.”

Take it from me:  if you ever feel you’re blessed with an abundance of space, move all your furniture three feet from the walls.  It’s amazing how quickly it all converges in the middle of the room.

We didn’t have a working kitchen until Sunday.  We knew that would be the case, so you can imagine how happy Chareva was when one of my co-workers at BMI invited us to his place for Thanksgiving dinner.  When I called home to pass along his invitation, the conversation went something like this:

“Hi, Honey.  Would you be interested in spending Thanksgiving with—“

“Yes.”

Despite having to step around stacks of unpacked boxes to navigate a room, we’ve already enjoyed some out-in-the-boondocks moments.  Wednesday night we saw two deer running across our front pasture.  As we left for Thanksgiving dinner on Thursday, we drove past five wild turkeys hanging around our loooong driveway.

Jim, the aforementioned co-worker who hosted Thanksgiving, is a big man with a big laugh, a big heart and a big family – six kids.  (No, he’s not Catholic or Mormon.  He told me people ask him that all the time.)  He’s also surrounded by his extended family.  Together they all own 25 acres of hilly countryside north of Nashville, with everyone living just down the road from everyone else.

With so many relatives (plus several friends) in the house, Thanksgiving dinner was served in three different rooms.  The food was terrific, and since it was a holiday, I didn’t concern myself with carb counts or which foods would qualify as paleo.  I skipped dessert, but only because I was full and a slice of pie didn’t appeal to me.

The girls didn’t skip dessert.  None of the kids did.  Perhaps because he’s raised so many of them, Jim had wisely planned ahead with a full lineup of activities to keep the sugared-up kids busy after dinner.

For starters, they got to walk a horse around the barnyard and then ride it.

Later, the kids all participated in a shooting contest with a BB gun.  As you can see, Alana developed her own technique for drawing a bead on a target.

Sara turned out to be a natural dead-eye, placing second in the contest despite never holding a gun before.  If I take up hunting someday, I may have to bring her with me.  I’ll spot, she can shoot.

After the shooting contest, all the kids, three dogs, and three adults set off for an hour-long hike and scavenger hunt in the forest behind Jim’s house.  The kids took along their lists and dutifully checked off the items they found as they tromped up and down the hills, jumped over logs, climbed rocks, swung from branches, and waded in a stream (despite instructions from the adults to stop wading in the stream).

As we were hiking up the last hill to return to the house, Alana announced, “This is the best Thanksgiving ever!”  I didn’t ask how many Thanksgivings she actually remembers.  I remember quite a few, and I have to say, running around a forest in the hills of Tennessee on a cool, sunny day certainly felt like a fitting way to spend Thanksgiving.  Over the river and through the trees kind of stuff.

When we said our goodbyes and left for home, Alana fell asleep in the car almost immediately.  She continued sleeping for another 12 hours.  I guess the best Thanksgiving ever can wear a person out.

I spent the rest of the weekend engaged in manual labor.  As I mentioned when we first bought the farm, we got a great deal because the elderly widow who lived here for decades had let pretty much everything go.  The wooden floors and stairs, for example, all looked like this:

The good news is that the wood has been refinished.

The bad news is that sanding and refinishing all that wood left a layer of sawdust on nearly every surface in the house.  The sawdust was still there when we moved in last week.  So Chareva and I spent all Friday and Saturday removing it.  After we moved some furniture around (at least three feet from the walls, of course), I vacuumed all the walls, doors and baseboards, and she followed behind me with a damp rag.

It finally occurred to me to snap a picture of a wall that was partly vacuumed.  You can see how thick the sawdust was.

Take it from me:  if you ever find yourself complaining that your house isn’t spacious enough, try vacuuming every square inch of it.  You’ll quickly realize just how big it is.

As we were clearing sawdust from Chareva’s office, two wild turkeys paid a visit to the back yard outside her office window.  I managed to grab the camera in time to snap a picture of one of them before they scampered off.

We’re still more packed than unpacked, the house needs more work, my office is crowded with furniture placed three feet from the walls, the rugs are in the garage waiting for the wood floors to fully set, and there are holes in the ceiling where vents for the heat are supposed to be.  Everything feels unsettled.

On the other hand, the girls had a terrific time running around the Tennessee countryside with Jim’s kids, the layer of sawdust is finally gone, the wood floors sparkle, and I’ve got deer and wild turkeys showing up on my land.

The best Thanksgiving ever?  I don’t know, but it’s definitely near the top of my list.

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It’s moving day, the first of two.  I woke up this morning in the apartment; tonight after work I’ll drive to the farm house and start living there.  Our PODS will arrive from storage on Wednesday.  With any luck, I’ll have my home office up and running by Friday.

You may recall that after Chareva’s birthday dinner at a Chinese restaurant, my one-hour post-meal glucose level was 219 mg/dl.  After two hours, it was still near 160.  Since Chareva packed up the kitchen yesterday afternoon, we went to Red Lobster for dinner.   Here’s what I had:

  • One crab cake appetizer
  • Lobster-artichoke-cheese dip on about six tortilla chips
  • A Cobb salad with bleu cheese dressing
  • A bite of Sara’s clam chowder
  • One lobster tail
  • Two skewers of garlic shrimp
  • Four large scallops
  • Two crab-stuffed shrimp (because Chareva couldn’t finish her dinner)
  • Broccoli drenched with drawn butter

In other words, I feasted.  An hour later, my glucose level was 101 mg/dl.

A diet that keeps your blood sugar under control doesn’t have to be boring.

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Geez, I’ve been so busy lately, I totally forgot to post about my second Listeners’ Roundtable interview on Dr. Su’s podcast.

You can listen to it here.

Speaking of busy, Chareva talked to the renovators and the movers this week, and the upshot is that we’ll be moving from the apartment to the farm house on Monday, with our other belongings arriving from the storage facility on Tuesday.

You can imagine how relieved she was when one of my BMI co-workers invited us over for Thanksgiving on Thursday.  Who wants to make a big dinner two days after a move?

Anyway, I’ll check comments when I can, write a post if I manage to find time, but I may be more or less out of commission for a few days.

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Today is my 53rd birthday, so I’m taking the night off.

I can’t believe in two more years I’ll qualify for senior discounts …

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Odds and ends from the news, my email inbox, etc:

Take Those Salt Guidelines With A Grain Of … You Know

Perhaps someone should send this article to Mayor Bloomberg before he tries to force his anti-salt preferences on more food manufacturers:

Reducing dietary sodium (salt) helps lower blood pressure a little, but it also may increase levels of some hormones and unhealthy blood fats, a new review of studies shows. Researchers say that means cutting back on sodium may not have a substantial health benefit.

More like no benefit whatsoever, at least for most of us.

The review is an analysis of data from more than 167 studies of people with normal or high blood pressure who were randomly assigned to eat either high- or low-sodium diets.

It found that eating less than 2,800 milligrams of sodium a day helped lower blood pressure. But the reductions were small — an average of 1% for people who had normal blood pressure to begin with and 3.5% for people with high blood pressure.

So if your blood pressure is 130/90, cutting back on salt might reduce that to 128/89 or so. Whoopie. I’d rather enjoy my food.

But cutting back on salt appeared to have other effects, too.

Since so many experts are pushing low-salt diets in spite their negligible effect on blood pressure, I’ll bet those other effects are fabulous.

People on lower-sodium diets had an average 2.5% increase in cholesterol and a 7% increase in bad blood fats called triglycerides compared to people who were eating more than 3,450 milligrams of sodium — an amount that’s close to what the CDC says the average American eats every day.

Way to go, Mayor Bloomberg! That’s just what New Yorkers need – higher triglycerides.

Now, considering that this was an analysis of 167 studies, you’d expect the results to finally convince the anti-salt hysterics to shut up and go away. And of course, you’d be wrong.

But critics say the review draws faulty conclusions because it relies on too many small, short-term studies. They say the weight of research evidence shows clear health benefits when people cut back on sodium.

Yes, uh … ahem … well, uh … you see, if you simply ignore the vast majority of the studies out there, you can still claim the weight of research evidence shows that salt causes high blood pressure.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Scientists are freakin’ liars.

Scientists Are Freakin’ Liars

I told you I’d say it again. Another freakin’ liar was busted just recently:

Tilburg and Groningen universities are to take legal action against one of their professors after an investigation showed he had faked research data in at least 30 scientific papers.

The fraud is ‘considerable and shocking’, the committee set up to look into Diederik Stapel’s academic publications said in an initial report into the scandal on Monday.

The investigation shows at least 30 academic papers submitted to respected scientific journals contained data that he had invented and there are doubts about several dozen more, the committee said. In total, statistics quoted in 150 papers dating back to 2004 when Stapel worked at Groningen University, are being examined.

The investigation committee also accused Stapel of abusing his position by damaging the reputations of young researchers who worked with him. False statistical data was used in 14 out of 21 doctoral theses mentored by Stapel, the NRC said.

So he’s not only a freakin’ liar, he was apparently training young scientists how to be freakin’ liars too. I wonder what kind of hidden agenda could cause a supposed scientist to engage in such un-scientific behavior?

Stapel, who was a professor of social and behavioural sciences at Tilburg, was suspended last month after doubts emerged about research that concluded eating meat makes people anti-social and selfish.

Hmmm … perhaps one of Stapel’s grad students should conduct a study to determine if shunning meat turns scientists into egotistical morons.

Meat ATMs

A reader sent me an article about vending machines in Paris that dispense French bread. (See the video below).

I replied that I’d much prefer to find a vending machine that dispenses meat (even though some “scientists” believe the meat would make me anti-social and selfish). Well, wouldn’t you know it:

Places one can acquire meat usually include grocery stores, farmers markets, and, if you’re lucky, a proper butcher shop. Residents of Odenville, Alabama can now add “a vending machine in a convenience store” to that list. No cuts are over $6, and they claim it’s actually cheaper than a grocery store.

Now all they need are some nearby grills that take quarters.

Grocery Clerk Pushes Fat Head

I take it as a good sign when people who know me starting hearing about Fat Head from people who don’t. A good friend of The Older Brother’s grabbed a quick lunch at McDonald’s with a business associate awhile back, and after tossing the bun from his burger, the business associate began explaining that he’d taken to eating burgers without buns after seeing this great documentary called Fat Head.

Yesterday my low-carb buddy Dana Carpender had a similar experience at an Aldi grocery store, which she recounted on her Hold The Toast blog:

When my turn came, I told the nice young man that the last time I’d come to Aldi I had written about it at my blog, posting all the prices from my receipt. Cool, he said. I wrote?, he asked. Yep, I told him, I write about nutrition and cooking and stuff. Interesting, he replied, he was into nutrition. Well, I said, I’m kind of the anti-vegan. He liked that, said he ate a lot of meat, too. I’m one of those Atkins people, I said, I eat low carb. He lit up — had I heard of a documentary called Fat Head?

Hah! When I told him that Tom Naughton is a friend of mine, that I know him from the Low Carb Cruise, you would have thought I said I knew Jack Black or Will Ferrell. He thought that was the coolest thing ever — he’d seen Fat Head, gone low carb, and lost fifty pounds.

I’m pretty sure Jack Black and Will Ferrell aren’t writing software 40 hours a week to pay for their new houses, but hey, it’s nice to have some name recognition.

Overheard At Work

So while I was taking a break at the software-writing job today, I overheard two women talking as they were buying their mid-afternoon snacks. One proposed (kidding, of course) that anything you eat with a Diet Coke doesn’t count. The other said she liked that theory, because dieting is too hard.

“Naw, dieting is easy,” her friend replied. “It just doesn’t work.”

Perhaps they need to visit an Aldi and get some advice from a clerk.

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Two news article landed in my inbox recently that aren’t directly related to each other, but ought to be.  The first was about a company that’s going to start charging “unhealthy” employees more for health insurance:

Like a lot of companies, Veridian Credit Union wants its employees to be healthier. In January, the Waterloo, Iowa-company rolled out a wellness program and voluntary screenings. It also gave workers a mandate – quit smoking, curb obesity, or you’ll be paying higher healthcare costs in 2013. It doesn’t yet know by how much, but one thing’s for certain – the unhealthy will pay more.

In recent years, a growing number of companies have been encouraging workers to voluntarily improve their health to control escalating insurance costs. And while workers mostly like to see an employer offer smoking cessation classes and weight loss programs, too few are signing up or showing signs of improvement.

So now more employers are trying a different strategy – they’re replacing the carrot with a stick and raising costs for workers who can’t seem to lower their cholesterol or tackle obesity.  They’re also coming down hard on smokers. For example, discount store giant Wal-Mart says that starting in 2012 it will charge tobacco users higher premiums but also offer free smoking cessation programs.

I’m sure MeMe Roth would love the idea of punishing fat people for not being born naturally skinny like she was, but I don’t like seeing smoking and obesity lumped together.

Yes, quitting smoking is notoriously difficult, but people do it all the time.  Once the dangers of smoking were well-known and well-publicized, the rate of smoking in the U.S. dropped by half over the next decade or so.  Both of my parents – neither known for their iron wills – quit smoking in middle age.  That’s because, difficult as it was, they knew exactly what to do:  stop putting cigarettes in their mouths and lighting up.  (Like most people who quit, they quit cold turkey.)

You don’t quit smoking cigarettes only to find that two packs per day of Marlboro smoke is somehow finding its way into your lungs anyway.  But people go on calorie-restricted diets all the time and find (much to their chagrin) that they can’t seem to lose more than a few pounds … which brings me to the second article:

For years, studies of obesity have found that soon after fat people lost weight, their metabolism slowed and they experienced hormonal changes that increased their appetites. Scientists hypothesized that these biological changes could explain why most obese dieters quickly gained back much of what they had so painfully lost.

But now a group of Australian researchers have taken those investigations a step further to see if the changes persist over a longer time frame. They recruited healthy people who were either overweight or obese and put them on a highly restricted diet that led them to lose at least 10 percent of their body weight. They then kept them on a diet to maintain that weight loss. A year later, the researchers found that the participants’ metabolism and hormone levels had not returned to the levels before the study started.

Wait, you mean losing weight isn’t just a simple matter of cutting 3500 calories from your diet to lose a pound of fat?

No, of course it isn’t.  The body adjusts to try to become fatter again.  Hormones drive people to accumulate body fat in the first place, and hormones drive them to regain the weight they lose.  Look at what happened to the people in this study:

In the study, Joseph Proietto and his colleagues at the University of Melbourne recruited people who weighed an average of 209 pounds. At the start of the study, his team measured the participants’ hormone levels and assessed their hunger and appetites after they ate a boiled egg, toast, margarine, orange juice and crackers for breakfast. The dieters then spent 10 weeks on a very low calorie regimen of 500 to 550 calories a day intended to makes them lose 10 percent of their body weight. In fact, their weight loss averaged 14 percent, or 29 pounds. As expected, their hormone levels changed in a way that increased their appetites, and indeed they were hungrier than when they started the study.

Okay, no big deal so far, right?  They were eating less than before, so we’d expect them to be hungry.  But by gosh, if they’d just stick to that maintenance diet …

They were then given diets intended to maintain their weight loss. A year after the subjects had lost the weight, the researchers repeated their measurements. The subjects were gaining the weight back despite the maintenance diet — on average, gaining back half of what they had lost [emphasis mine].

That’s not character at work.  It’s biochemistry.  Their bodies were slowing their metabolisms in an attempt to regain the weight and reacquire a state of energy balance.

One hormone, leptin, which tells the brain how much body fat is present, fell by two-thirds immediately after the subjects lost weight. When leptin falls, appetite increases and metabolism slows. A year after the weight loss diet, leptin levels were still one-third lower than they were at the start of the study, and leptin levels increased as subjects regained their weight.

Other hormones that stimulate hunger, in particular ghrelin, whose levels increased, and peptide YY, whose levels decreased, were also changed a year later in a way that made the subjects’ appetites stronger than at the start of the study.

Your body doesn’t kick up your appetite because it wants to torture you.  It kicks your appetite because it senses a fuel shortage at the cellular level.

The results show, once again, Dr. Leibel said, that losing weight “is not a neutral event,” and that it is no accident that more than 90 percent of people who lose a lot of weight gain it back. “You are putting your body into a circumstance it will resist,” he said. “You are, in a sense, more metabolically normal when you are at a higher body weight.”

Bingo.  It’s like I said in my Big Fat Fiasco speech:  from a biochemical standpoint, you’re as fat as you need to be.  Your body defends a higher fat mass as long as it needs that fat mass to supply your cells with fatty acids for fuel.  To lose weight and keep it off, you need to be able to tap your stored body fat more efficiently – and that requires a change in your hormonal balance.  It’s not just a matter of cutting calories.

Months ago, I bookmarked an article on similar study that looked at the biochemical changes among former contestants on The Biggest Loser.  Here’s what the researchers found:

In an abstract presented at the most recent Obesity Society Annual Scientific Assembly, Darcy Johannsen and friends reported that by week 6 participants had lost 13% of their body weight and by week 30, 39%. More interestingly they reported that by week 6 participants metabolisms had slowed by 244 more calories per day than would have been expected by their weight loss and by week 30, by 504 more calories

That’s basically a meal’s worth of calories a day that Biggest Loser contestants no longer burn as a consequence of their involvement. Effectively that means they’re eating an extra meal a day.

Is it any surprise that so many contestants from The Biggest Loser – including the season two overall winner – have gained back all the weight?  All the “eat less, move more” theory did for them in practice was slow their metabolisms – again, beyond what the weight loss alone would predict.

I’m sure the companies threatening fat employees with higher insurance rates expect those employees to become motivated, eat less, and lose weight.  Without understanding of what drives fat accumulation, I think it’s more likely those employees will become motivated, go on a diet, lose a few pounds, stall, regain, give up … and end up paying the higher insurance rates.

If the bigwigs at these companies knew better and truly wanted to encourage (or coerce, to be more accurate) their employees into making positive changes, they’d base their insurance premiums on their fasting glucose levels – then teach them how to bring those levels down.  If I’m looking at a fat guy with normal blood sugar and a skinny guy with high blood sugar and had to bet which one will run up more in future medical expenses, I’d pick the skinny guy to cost me more every time.

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