Better Health? Love Thyself

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Over the past 2 weeks or so, I’ve been assisting my cousin Tommy with his weight loss and health goals. By following my basic regimen of a very low-carb, ketogenic diet in conjunction with intermittent fasting (sans the organ meat… for now…) he has lost 10 lbs. in as many days! 1/4 of his goal! Now, I know you may be thinking those first 10 lbs. are the easiest to lose, and your weight can vary by several lbs. day-to-day, blah-blah-blah… And, you’d be right. However, the most impressive thing he’s done in my view has nothing to do with the scale (which I also think is awesome), and everything to do with breaking the iron grip of sugar and processed foods, and replacing them with natural, healthy alternatives (quite easily as far as I can tell). No whining, no complaining, and apparently no symptoms of glucose withdrawal from cutting out nearly all carbs.

So Tommy has been asking me a ton of questions as far as what to eat, what not to eat, when to eat, etc., and, like the true southern gentleman that he is (born and raised in Georgia) he usually includes an apology in the text or email for being a “bother” or “a pain”. Apparently, I’ve done a decent job of helping him with his goals, and a poor job of articulating that it really is my pleasure to offer him any help I can, not only as a cousin and friend, but because I LOVE THIS SHIT, and I can and do talk about it constantly! Discussing health and diet is like a selfish indulgence for me. It helps keep me sharp and makes me think. In other words, it’s a win-win scenario!

Anyway, he’s asked me a lot of excellent, relevant questions, and I’m always glad to share my opinions and experience, so I thought I’d post a few excerpts from our texts and email exchanges in no particular order:

(by the way, I totally didn’t change his name or ask his permission before posting this… the cost of getting free advice from family…)IMG_1381

 

TOMMY: Hey, sorry to bother-
Is it bad to fast two days in a row?
Yesterday: 2 cups of coffee with oil, two bottles of water, and small piece of cheese and walked 40 minutes
Today: 2 cups of coffee with oil, walked 40 minutes, had 2 pieces of cheese, and bottle water

I am not hungry. Should I make myself eat this evening? And yes, the cheese was raw organic.

Thanks as always for the help.

ME: Totally fine to fast a few days in a row right now. Always remember to listen to your body’s cues and signals, and follow your instincts. If you’re not feeling hungry, and feel like going another day without eating, go for it! No need to force yourself to eat if you don’t feel like it. Just realize you’re going to burn more fat while fasting by spreading out your fat intake throughout the day, which it sounds like you’re doing.

TOMMY: BTW, You’re a great coach and encourager!

ME: I’m going to save this email for negotiation purposes when I start charging you for my services. Haha.

TOMMY: Pizza for dinner here. Can I have pepporoni, mushrooms, peppers, sauce?

ME: In terms of your weight-loss goals, that’s all fine assuming the sauce has no added sugar (it probably does). In terms of overall health, the pepperoni and any cured/processed meats are always something to be wary of (carcinogenic due to additives and preservatives). I’m assuming you’re referring to eating the acceptable stuff sans crust or bread, yes?

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TOMMY: Can you tell me the probiotic and other supplements I should get? I want to buy them tonight. Again, hope it’s not too much trouble.

ME: The probiotics I would recommend are Prescript Assist or Pro-15. I also mentioned the Green Pasture Blue Ice cod liver/butter oil blend. If you’re looking for a high quality whole food-based multi-vitamin/mineral supplement, I suggest MegaFood or The Synergy Co. All should be cheapest through amazon.

TOMMY: So, my question is, what is the advantage of taking a whole food-based multi vitamin?

ME: Simply put, your body is designed to assimilate and utilize nutrients in their natural form. Synthetic isolates and concentrates can actually do more harm than good due to excess and the fact that the nutrients can be refined and stripped of their cofactors, which can render them either useless or harmful to the body. Also, remember that more in not necessarily better, and increasing nutrient A increases the need for nutrient B, C, etc. because nutrients work synergistically, not individually, which is one of the reasons I favor nutrient-dense FOOD over food extracts and supplements. Finally, intermittent fasting not only forces your body to recycle cellular and genetic material (which is GOOD material assuming you’re eating good food), but also boosts production of your mitochondria, which in turn produce your ultimate antioxidant, glutathione, which is much more powerful than any dietary antioxidant. It also helps preserve telomere length, which are substances that keep your DNA properly intact through the process of cellular division. Telomere preservation is widely regarded as one of the keys to anti-aging. Bit of a tangent, but there ya go. Sorry if any of this is confusing, but if you feel like taking some supplements, those are the ones I would personally endorse. Keep that synthetic shit out of your body because your body doesn’t recognize it as food.

TOMMY: Should I just stay with fish oil? Or, should I take fish oil and the other two you mentioned? I don’t care about taking supplements but you mentioned some and I thought I should be taking them. If not, I’ll just stay on track with the diet. Thanks again. 

ME: Go with your gut. I don’t want to say definitely do or don’t take supplements (with the exception of probiotics and possibly fish oil, but fermented foods and wild fish/grass-fed dairy, etc. are even better options here). They won’t do any harm as long as they are a quality whole food-based supplement, but they won’t necessarily put you in a better state of health than a sound diet. I would recommend starting with those few we mentioned, then maybe read some of the books I mentioned to see if there are any others you think you might need. I’m just a big advocate of a high-quality diet over high-quality supplements.

 

ME: Relax. Breath. Be human. You’ve only been at this for a week, but you’re doing a kickass job adapting.

 

He’s been extremely coachable and motivated to reach his goals, which makes giving him advice all the more enjoyable for me. A lot of his questions have reminded me where I have been in the past, and make me more grateful for the drastic changes I’ve committed to.

“…relax… breath… be human…”  With the addition of the phrase “…love yourself…” I think that’s some of the most sage advice I can give my cousin, or anyone else undertaking any endeavor for that matter, and something which may be in my best interest to remember more often. Like many health-conscious individuals, I’m quite driven and set very high standards for myself. But, no matter the impetus or level of commitment, I am human, and I will falter. I will stumble. I will scrape my knees. Achieving my goals comes not from avoiding displeasure and pain, but by facing them head-on, locking horns with Adversity, and giving that cruel bitch hell. By simply recognizing my human faults, accepting and loving myself, and deciding to arise before she inevitably knocks me on my ass, I have won before the battle ever takes place.

No matter how bad you think you have it, someone is always getting beaten down by life worse than you, yet they somehow dust themselves off and ask for more. What’s your excuse?

Flaws, flab, and all, I love myself (which took me a long time to figure out how to do)… and that’s enough… with or without a 6-pack (currently without, but stay tuned…)

Embracing Your Primal Cravings

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This is a thought that has been rolling around in my head over the past few days: Are occasional indulgences better for your longterm health (both mental and physical) than complete abstention? Conversely, are these intermittent indulgences simply a form of cognitive dissonance that enable us to cheat on our diets and lifestyles by eating things we know we shouldn’t without the burden of that pesky guilt?

Example: Over two months ago I cut out all forms of fruit, nuts, seeds, and legumes. This was part of my effort to eliminate foods that can be unhealthy when consumed in excess or prepared improperly. Theoretically, if I never ate any of these foods for the rest of my life, I would be better off for it, all else being equal. The one potential caveat to this plan? I love fruit, nuts, seeds, and legumes… a lot. I used to demolish bags of peanuts and mixed nuts as though they were being outlawed the next day. A simple banana with peanut butter after a meal was like a junky’s fix for me (albeit slightly less pernicious…) Even though my lifestyle revolves around a form of intermittent fasting in which I eat nothing during the day, then literally eat as much as I want in the evening (as much of the right foods, of course)… even though my ketogenic, low-carb diet leaves me feeling fully satiated with no sugar crashes… even though I look and feel better than ever before… these delectable foods were literally the only forms of snacks or sweets that were permissible after I completely eradicated all fast food, processed food, refined carbs, gluten, etc., nearly a year ago, so the allure of a fresh apple or humble bag of nuts should really come as no surprise.

As much as I love these foods, once I made the decision to eliminate them (at least temporarily), I honestly wasn’t even tempted to cheat for several months due to the otherwise very satisfying nature of my diet and my high degree of self-discipline. Of all the changes and improvements I’ve made in my life, I can honestly say that simply making the decision to change is invariably the hardest part; adhering to the new resolution tends to be a by-product.

Then again, we all have a primal brain… And, with a primal brain comes primal cravings…

Flashback two weeks ago. I’m at my cousin’s Going Away party two states east in Virginia (I live in Ohio). Lots of friendly people having a good time. Plenty of decent wine… and, this food doesn’t look half bad… should I try some? I wonder what’s in this ‘stuffed ham’… that looks good… MEATBALLS! I can’t remember the last time I had one of those! 

You get the idea. Now, bear in mind, I could have just as easily sipped a bit of pinot noir politely without eating a thing, but I honestly felt that even though having a human indulgence might be opening a messy can of worms on a precipitous, slippery slope, I also thought it would be a great test of my will power (can I occasionally eat a few “grey area” foods with my fellow man without going off the deep end? How will this affect me, if at all? How will I feel? Can I justify this, or will I feel like a failure?) 

After establishing that the ham and meatballs were both gluten-free, I decided to have a taste. No, the animals these dishes were produced from were not naturally-raised on local farms (at least I don’t think they were), and the meatballs were prepared in a cranberry sauce glaze (call it “strike two”), but I was like 8 hours from home! Nothing we do out of state counts… right?

Three servings of this foreign dish known as “stuffed ham”. The stuffing was a blend of kale, spices, and some other form of vegetable I don’t recall at this point. Delicious. And, after allowing myself to “taste” one… two… three of those meatballs… I slowly and methodically destroyed them. If I had allowed myself to feel any guilt over this carnal indulgence, it would have been disgraceful. But, hey! Everyone was basically done eating by the time I got there, so they would have gone to waste if I hadn’t eaten all of them! Now, THAT would have been guilt-worthy, right?!

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And… I didn’t die. And, I didn’t get sick. Nor did I feel ashamed. On the contrary, I actually felt proud of myself for allowing a bit of flexibility in my diet, which up to that point had been mostly theoretical. The next day I had a full-day fast, and I returned to my regularly-scheduled programming happy and content without skipping a beat.

Now, backtrack a few days ago. I have one of my short, high-intensity evening workouts following by a big meal. Then, as I prepare a kefir coconut cream cheese vanilla shake (don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it), I get this maniacal, pregnant lady-craving for peanut butter and bananas. It was the most compulsive craving I’ve had in recent memory. Peanut butter and bananas… my kryptonite… the bane of my existence… so innocuous, yet so devious… This was a craving so compelling I knew that it must be addressed and not ignored. I had been so proud of my abstinence of fruit and nuts over the past few months that I didn’t want to sabotage my efforts for a few minutes of bliss… BUT, I also didn’t want to further sublimate this craving and wake up in a Kroger produce department surrounded by banana peels and apple cores a few months from now. Besides, I had just proven to myself that I could have these little indulgences without being swayed back to the Dark Side. I deserved to treat myself, right? And, I did… with not one, not two, but THREE bananas, and what top scientists can only describe as “a shitload” of peanut butter, with a few mixed nuts for good measure. And, it was… awesome. One of the most memorable meals I’ve had in months. I don’t recall what I had for dinner that night, but I’ll remember those fresh bananas and mashed legumes for some time… and… isn’t that appealing? Can’t that heightened appreciation of a food you love be reason enough to abstain from it temporarily or moderate your intake of that food? That’s one of the things I love most about fasting; its tendency to increase your appreciation of food, and it makes you more mindful of your choices and needs. And, let us not forget that when we get that primal, overwhelming craving for a certain food, it is often (though certainly not always) our brain’s way of telling us to eat that food because our body is deficient in something that food contains. So perhaps I was low on potassium a few days ago… perhaps not. What I do know is that life is too short to chronically deprive one’s self of things they love, so long as those things do not inflict irreparable damage on the body. Food is one of life’s great sensuous pleasures, and one we may all indulge in sans guilt when we eat mindfully of whole, real foods.

I feel grateful for having had these recent experiences in “healthy hedonism”, as they have solidified the belief that I really can have my cake and eat it, too (so long as the cake is made with coconut flour and sweetened with stevia or xylitol). I’ve resolved to have more of these intermittent indulgent days for now, but in a healthy, mindful way, i.e. I’m still not going to consume anything patently damaging like gluten or trans fat, and the odds of me lighting up a crack pipe are still much greater than those of catching me at McDonald’s, but if my body is screaming for some fruit, I will happily and dutifully answer the call… occasionally.

What do you crave?  

 

Melt-in-your-mouth, non-traditional lamb liver pâté

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This one has become a staple of my diet over the past few weeks. I essentially took a basic pâté and tweaked it to my preference, adding a tomato paste and red wine reduction and sautéed red pepper and carrot in addition to the onion.

The lamb liver (you can use the liver of any creature) is seasoned with salt, pepper, dry rosemary and thyme, then cooked to medium-well. After caramelizing the onion with red pepper and carrot, the pan is deglazed with a generous helping of dry red wine, then I add a few spoonfuls of tomato paste.

Everything is then added to my Vitamix (I’ve also used an immersion blender, but the Vitamix naturally produces a smoother final product) and blended smooth with butter (the butter ends up being about 1/3+ of the total volume). After final seasoning adjustments, the blender contents go into silicon molds or small tupperware cups. Wrapped, the individual portions keep very well in the freezer for weeks. After chilling, the final product goes perfectly with dijon and soft cheeses such as the brie pictured, or even eggs (bearing in mind I’ll eat eggs with just about anything…)

So this has become my favorite liver preparation. It’s ketogenic, buttery, silken, and most importantly, nutritious.

How do you take your liver?

From My (beef) Heart to Yours: Hearty Stew

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To know the heart of a bovine is to know a love that keeps on giving. Whether slowly cooked in its own fat, or rubbed with herbs and gently braised in red wine and vegetables, it has a deep, intense beefy flavor that is sure to satiate your inner beast, while providing unconditional love, asking nothing of you in return (…because cows can’t talk, especially after you kill them and remove their vital organs… moving on…)

In addition to the aforementioned culinary commendations, heart– whether from a cow, pig, goat, etc.– receives plenty of nutritional bonus points for being the richest natural source of coenzyme-Q10, the ultra-potent antioxidant critical to heart health, as well as being high in protein, zinc, phosphorus, various B vitamins, etc. In other words, you’d be quite “heart-pressed” (groan…) to find a denser source of nutrition.

While the “ick factor” may invariably scare the majority of the population off of offal (my 14-year-old nephew enjoyed my pâté until I informed him the primary ingredient was liver… You should have seen the look on his face as he spat it out! Priceless!), don’t cheat yourself out of these extremely nutritious and economical cuts that are quite pleasing to the palate when properly prepared (yeesh… try that one 5 times fast…)

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Since heart is very dense with plenty of connective tissue and no marbling, it lends itself to low, slow methods like braising or confit (in fat). However, I’ve recently been making a lot of this beef heart stew with the aid of my new favorite method–the pressure cooker, which produces a tender, supremely flavorful product in a fraction of the time, so you can focus on important things like exercising, work, and posting stupid cat memes on facebook (yes, I saw it and, no, it wasn’t funny…)

This “hearty” stew can be broken down into 8 simple steps:

  1. Cut it and cook it. Cut the heart into large chunks (don’t worry about trimming the fat at this point), season liberally with salt, pepper, rosemary, and thyme (I usually use these herbs dry for convenience’ sake, but fresh works great as well). Add heart to pressure cooker pot along with chopped onion, a few cloves of garlic, carrots, celery, fresh parsley, a few spoonfuls of tomato paste, and a few cups of dry red wine. In my particular pressure cooker, it takes about 30-35 minutes to bring to fork-tenderness.
  2. Cool it. Strain contents of the cooker using a colander. Park the drippings in the fridge for a few hours until a disk of solidified fat forms on top. Pry this off with a spoon and set aside.
  3. Trim it. Here’s the pain-in-the-ass bit… Take the cooled heart chunks, remove the cooked vegetables, and trim away the rubbery valve/arterial stuff and most of the remaining solid fat. Makes great dog treats. You can do this while working on the next step…
  4. Sautée vegetables. Remember that disk of red-gold, delicious fat we pulled off the drippings? Now it’s time to put it to use by adding some of it to a pan over medium heat and cooking the vegetables (I use red/yellow/orange bell peppers, onion, celery, carrot, tomato, and more fresh parsley and garlic).
  5. Deglaze. After the vegetables are cooked al dente, deglaze the pan with more red wine, and add a few more spoonfuls of tomato paste. For me, it’s hard to use too much of these two ingredients, as they provide such rich, intense flavor. Cook the wine down a bit over high heat for a few minutes, then…
  6. Add drippings and heart. Just throw everything else in, and cook down over medium-high heat until you’re left with a thick, rich sauce. Be sure to taste along the way, and adjust flavors to your preference. There are no rules here–just follow your heart (I swear that’s the last one!)
  7. Don’t forget the fat! Take about half (or more) of the remaining flavorful fat disk, and drop it right in the pot. Anything you reserve can be used to crank up the flavor of sautéed vegetables, eggs, liver, what-have-you to 11! This also makes the stew, which is actually quite lean at this point, ketogenic, which is something I always remain conscious of.
  8. Eat it! Here is where the work finally pays off! You really can’t go wrong here. Goes great with eggs, whether scrambled or sunny-side-up, or simply unadorned in a bowl. If you’re not anti-carb like myself, I reckon it would go great with potatoes or steamed rice as well… just know that I’ll be silently judging you. Adding a liberal shaving of cheddar and a dollop of sour cream or crème fraîche (preferably grass-fed, not just because you’re a food snob, but for your health! [proper ratio of omega 3:6]) provides a high that should be illegal. Incidentally, if you’re still of the misinformed opinion that offal is awful, this same protocol may of course be used for more conventional cuts of meat (fatty spare ribs make an even more melt-in-your-mouth product, for what it’s worth…) Just use your imagination, and let your gut be your guide!

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Bon appétit et bonne santé (good appetite, and good health)!

Ditch the Kibble, Meat They Should Nibble: Feed Your Pup Primally for Optimal Health

IMG_1335Dog food is crap. There. I said it. Iams? Crap. Eukanuba? Crap. Hill’s Science Diet? Crap. If you’re feeding your dog one of these “quality” or “veterinary-formulated” foods and think you’re doing right by your beast (I used to be one of them), your bubble needs to be burst. 

But, don’t just take my word for it; read any modern book on natural dog care/nutrition such as Paleo Dog, The Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs and Cats, or Real Food for Healthy Dogs and Cats. Experts all seem to agree on one point–the higher-end foods are better than most other commercial brands, but they can’t approach the nutritional quality of a canid’s natural diet. Not even close. Think of them as the lesser of two evils. This should not come as a revelation if you a) have any idea what wolves eat, and b) have ever read the ingredient label on your dog food. Feral canids are of course by nature almost exclusively carnivorous, while many commercial dog foods are comprised primarily of corn, rice, oats, or other grains. Feeding your pack good food does not require a degree in veterinary medicine or any specialized knowledge; all it really requires is a bit of common sense, i.e. “why would I feed a carnivore who is physiologically-designed to thrive on raw meat a bunch of refined grains?” Answer: I have no idea, and I don’t know why I did for as long as I did. Your body did not evolve to subsist on grains, and your dog’s body sure as hell didn’t (wild candids do come across incidental grain/vegetable content from the stomachs of their prey, but this is not a primary component of their diet, and it is partially digested and masticated before it ever enters their mouths [dogs are extremely ill-equipped to process raw plant matter, and so are you, FYI]).

While the issue of the deleterious effects of grain/carb/plant-based diets on both you and your four-legged mate is one entirely unto itself, I think we can summarize this point for now with the elementary statement “meat=good, grains=bad”.

The next big beef (pun-intended) I have with the pet food industry is the quality of the meat used in their food, and here it is–there is none… quality, I mean. There is no quality. Put simply, the “meat” in your dog’s food is:

a) Factory-farmed. This means the livestock were probably treated inhumanely and subjected to deplorable conditions while alive, pumped full of antibiotics and growth hormones, and fed an unnatural grain-based diet, which inverts the natural ratio of omega 3:6 fatty acids. Animals raised on natural grass, hay, and forage will produce fat containing a proper balance of omega 3:6 fatty acids, as good as 1:1, which is ideal. Grain-fed animals, on the other hand, produce meat with an unnatural 3:6 ratio, because grains contain much more omega 6 than 3 (we really are what we eat–dog eats cow, dog becomes cow… so, what was the cow?) This is why the virtues of fish oil are so heavily extolled in the western world; it’s not because omega 3 is so much better than omega 6 (they are both essential); it’s simply because grain-based diets so common in the industrialized world provide a terribly lop-sided 3:6 ratio greatly in favor of 6, which is widely known to be a contributing factor to a litany of chronic inflammatory maladies in both K9s and homo sapiens, from arthritis to atherosclerosis/heart disease.

b) Rotten/diseased. Even on a good day, most factory-farmed meat has no place in an optimally healthy diet. If the issues listed above aren’t scary enough, consider the fact that dog food-grade meat is often comprised of animals that died from god-knows-what before being slaughtered, or diseased/infected body parts. You’re also likely to get some roadkill and euthanized pets in the mix! This is all considered unfit for human consumption, so why would you feed it to an animal you presumably love?

c) Cooked/processed. This is a pretty straightforward point: Dogs bodies are designed to utilize raw meat. Taking very poor-quality meat that is then cooked and processed under high temperatures, likely denaturing much of the protein and nutrients, then putting what scarce viable nutrients are left through the gastric system of an animal equipped with extremely strong digestive acids and enzymes leaves very little actual nutrition left for your poor dog. This is why so many dog foods are heavily “enriched” with synthetic vitamins and minerals; there is very little nutritional value to the actual food. However, if you fed your dog real food…

I think you get the point, but I will reiterate to further beat this dead horse: The best commercial dog food in the world is poor nutrition compared to a natural, raw meat-based diet. 

In my personal experience with my own pack since ditching the Iam’s for real food, I’ve noticed measurable improvements in their health. While my senior border collie’s frisbee days are behind him, his raw meat diet took him from “husky” to a slim, natural physique. Even better is his increased energy, vigor, and better mobility with his arthritic joints. Real food has done better for him than glucosamine chondroitin and fish oil ever did.

And, while my hyperactive mini doberman/chihuahua hybrid (pictured tearing apart the spare rib above) certainly doesn’t need any more energy, he slimmed down to a more natural weight since going grain-free as well.

Start with nutritionally-dense, ideally grass-fed offal such as liver, kidney, and heart. These are among the first cuts consumed by a pack of wolves on a fresh kill for a reason. Raw eggs with shell and raw bone (be sure to monitor them initially) are also great additions due to dogs’ high calcium requirement. You can also start the process by adding some raw meat to their dry food and gradually ween them off. This is an especially good tactic for elderly dogs who may have more sensitive systems.

If you’re considering making the transition from dog food to real food, I highly advise checking out the books listed above, and if you feel the need, consulting with a holistic veterinarian. While the process may seem intimidating to some, just remember why you’re doing it. I don’t know your dog (he could be a total dick for all I know…) but, I do know he deserves the best health and food possible. 

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Health Goals for New Year

Screen Shot 2016-01-04 at 3.44.39 PM.pngHappy New Year, and welcome to my new page! I thought I would take a few minutes to introduce myself and share some of my goals for 2016.

To put things into perspective first, I have made drastic changes to my diet and lifestyle since spring of 2015. Since taking my health into my own hands and reading countless books on wellness and nutrition, my diet has undergone several important phases of evolution, including an ephemeral borderline-vegan phase (oy vey… once was blind, but now I see…) This self-elected process of ongoing research, dietary tinkering, and biohacking has given me the vehement belief that there simply is no one diet or macronutrient ratio that is right for everyone. Truth be told, this is not just a personal opinion, but a scientific fact supported by millions of years of evolution and countless indigenous cultures that subsist on vastly different diets while experiencing extremely low rates of chronic disease. However, before I digress too much, the point I am trying to make is a very straightforward one–for better or worse, YOU must take complete control of YOUR education and diet if you ever wish to attain nutritional contentment and optimal well-being. There is no one book or one person who can tell you definitively what your body’s optimal diet is, including your doctor. Each person’s journey and level of commitment will naturally vary, but I feel anyone desiring better health must approach the topic with a student mentality, and LEAVE THE DOGMA AT THE DOOR!

Anyway, without further adieu and in no particular order, here are my top health goals looking forward to the new year:

Eliminate most or all supplements: I really haven’t been heavily into supplements in the past because I see them as a potential enabler for a poorer diet, and the only real reason to take a supplement is because your body is deficient in something, or you have a specific condition. Moreover, the human body evolved to thrive on real, unprocessed food, not little pills. Now, I will be the first to admit that achieving and maintaining good health can be quite a challenge in today’s toxic, soil-depleted world, in which case whole-food, minimally processed supplements are best. However, I feel a much better plan for most people is to seek sound health through a more nutritionally-dense and diverse whole-food diet. As part of my perpetual effort to perfect my diet, I have recently replaced my probiotic supplement with homemade kefir (whether you get good bacteria into your gut through a capsule or fermented foods, this is unequivocally one of the most vital things you can do for your health), bid farewell to my multi-vitamin/mineral in favor of nutritionally-dense foods like offal, eggs, and bone stocks, and cut out my fish oil by… eating more fish… (who knew?! [by the way, do your research on fish oils and most plant-based oils, as they are HIGHLY prone to rancidity and oxidation, especially when refined, heated, and processed, which strips them of their natural antioxidants]) The one supplement I’m still taking is my Green Pasture fermented cod liver oil/butter oil blend. This is such a high-quality product and excellent source of commonly deficient and essential vitamins and fatty acids that I haven’t been able to cut this one out for myself OR my dogs… yet…

Increase muscle mass: I suppose this one may come as a “duh!” statement, but I have prioritized this particular fitness goal because I unfortunately lost some lean mass as a result of some dietary missteps and experimentation with fasting last summer. Fortunately, I have rectified this situation with continued biohacking and research (read on). I’m not ashamed to admit that I just figured out how to build muscle a few months ago. My recent increase in muscle tone, definition, and mass, while perhaps not drastic, is certainly measurable, and attributable primarily to a few basic practices and principles:

  1. Intermittent fasting. Working out in a fasted state increases your body’s natural ability to recycle amino acids. In addition, your muscle cells are at peak insulin sensitivity when fasted. By temporarily depriving your muscles of protein, you increase insulin’s ability to deliver both protein and glycogen to your muscles (glycogen is a stable form of glucose stored in the liver and muscles, but what can’t be delivered by insulin due to excess or cellular insensitivity is converted to triglycerides and stored in fat cells). In other words, hitting your body with a high quality, fast-assimilating complete protein directly after a fasted-state workout will greatly magnify results, all else being equal. Additional tip: Your body can only utilize 20-30 grams of protein at a time. Anything in excess of this will be converted into glucose, glycogen, and fat. However, by spacing out your protein consumption post-workout, you can potentially benefit from 2 or even 3 recovery meals.
  2. Diet. Even with the best strength-training regimen in the world, muscle gain will be severely hampered or non-existent if your diet sucks. Why put your body through all that work, then give it a bunch of sugar or incomplete protein? Follow up your workouts with a high-quality protein like eggs, cheese, beef, chicken, etc.
  3. HIIT it, then quit it! (exercise intensely for short periods, then recover and relax!) Diet is, of course, critical to body composition, but the proper type of exercise must be paired with it for maximum results. High Intensity Interval Training is extremely adaptable, remarkably efficient, and increases muscle-building hormones while decreasing fat-storing hormones. In other words, it turns you into a lean, mean, fat-burning machine! HIIT routines focus on intense exertion for very short periods, interspersed with short recovery periods. If there is one gem to take away from this bullet point, it’s this–your endocrine system dictates whether you put on muscle or fat, but YOU dictate how your endocrine system functions by (among other things) what you put in your body, when you put it in your body, and of course how you exercise! Chronic, low-intensity cardio like jogging or biking requires massive amounts of energy. Fat, being the most energy-dense bodily component, is heavily-prized by the body for these types of exercises, so you end up telling your endocrine system that you need lots of fat to keep this crap up. The dutiful endocrine system responds by producing stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline, forcing your body to store and hold onto body fat. As if this weren’t bad enough, chronic cardio trains your body to get more energy out of each calorie of fat, slowing your metabolism, increases gluconeogenesis (conversion of glycogen and protein into glucose), and decreases production of muscle-building hormones HGH and testosterone. Bummer… To put the final nail in the coffin, chronic cardio is terrible for your cardiovascular system! Marathoners don’t want to hear this, but consider the following for a moment: Exercising in a steady state for extended periods works your heart, but it only requires it to work so hard! Translation–steady, extended cardio tells your heart that this is as strong as it ever has to be. Slow and steady may win a 5k, but a 500 meter dash on the other hand may just extend your life’s finish line… Short bursts of intense exertion tells that endocrine system of yours we need to be strong and lean for this type of work, so it secretes stress hormones acutely during the workout, which is a very good thing, as acute stress increases your mitochondria’s production of glutathione (your body’s ultimate antioxidant, much more powerful than anything you can get through diet), preserves or even extends telomere length (telomeres hold your DNA  together and are shortened slowly throughout life through natural processes such as cellular division and free-radical damage; preservation of telomeres is widely regarded as one of the keys to increasing longevity), and increases production of HGH and testosterone! You’re also strengthening your heart! Bingo! It really is as simple as using your body the way Mother Nature designed it. My preferred method of high-intensity training is the kettlebell, which is amazingly versatile and efficient, and will leave you clutching your knees and cursing at yourself in a few short minutes. Just be sure not to overdo it! That’s a very common mistake with HIIT; overtraining can sabotage your results and lead to adrenal fatigue. No more than a few days a week! Respect your recovery days!

Lose flab, increase definition: This one goes hand-in-hand with the previous goal, of course. At 6’2″ and about 170 lbs., I’m currently at the leanest I’ve ever been (I was in the low-mid 190s last year). While my weight is irrelevant, I do want to lose that last… little… bit of abdominal fat that, much like Rose from Titanic, “won’t let go…” A ketogenic, nearly zero-carb diet, along with intermittent fasting and HIIT routines have gotten me to this homeostatic point where my body says, “that’s it! I’m not burning any more body fat for you! What if there’s a famine, you moron?!” While I do appreciate my endocrine system trying to save my life from a famine that will most likely never come, I have other plans. In order to get the natural, proportionally muscular and lean physique I’m going for, it’s going to take some additional tweaking, and I’m highly confident in the protocol I’ve laid out for myself:

  1. Increase muscle mass (no crap!). This is the most critical component of advanced fat-burning. Building muscle and strength-training creates an anabolic/fat-burning state. More anabolic hormones = more muscle = less fat. An elementary point, but one that can’t be overstated.
  2. Continue with daily feast/famine eating pattern (a form of intermittent fasting in which I eat nothing during the day, and eat freely in the evening within a 4-5 hour window), but take small amounts of fat throughout the day to keep my fat-burning ability at maximum efficiency. Total fasts during the day have the potential to produce stress hormones that tell your body to hang onto fat, but giving your body just enough gives it permission to keep the fires burning at maximum efficiency. While I don’t believe this has been an issue with my feast/famine feeding pattern in the past, a bit of additional fat certainly won’t hamper my results. Plus, it keeps energy levels from waning throughout the day and is excellent at suppressing ghrelin, the hunger hormone.
  3. Caloric restriction 2-3 days a week. This is an additional measure I recently added to my regimen that I feel may help bring me to a tipping point for advanced fat loss. On non-workout days a few times a week, I still sip on my fat during the day (typically in the form of coconut milk, coconut oil, butter, and sugar-free chocolate), but instead of feasting in the evening, I have a single light protein meal strictly for muscle maintenance and to help keep my body in a lipostatic (fat metabolizing) state.

 

Anyway, that’s what I’m up to. How about you? What are your goals/resolutions for 2016? Whatever they are, here’s hoping we all have a healthy, happy new year!