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Friday, May 25, 2012

Getting Away With It

Excerpts from a couple of amusing and informative posts by my friend Carolyn* about diet, nutrition, and ... getting away with it.

What Americans seemed ubiquitously to have trouble doing is maintaining a healthy, happy weight, fat-to-muscle ratio, and shape, even while holding their caloric intake steady. They have plenty of food and plenty of time to eat it, and deprivation diets (where calories are moderately to severely restricted) are just too painful to maintain. So they simply can't lose fat, period. UNLESS, they find a way to eat basically the same number of calories, without, as you say, sending their bodies into starvation mode. The solution is the *quality* of the calories, not sheer calories. So the nutrition professor is only somewhat correct.

There's been a lot of speculation in the last few years, that the only reason that Atkins and zone diets make people lose weight is that fat and protein are more filling than carbs so people automagically eat fewer calories. As near as I can tell, this isn't entirely true. The true part is that fat and protein are more satisfying, but the false part is that zone and Atkins people eat fewer calories automatically. On the Atkins and zone diets you can eat a *manly* pile, and still not get fat. I eat a tremendous number of calories for my sex, age, and size. When I'm not deliberately trying to put on muscle mass, my weight stays constant. When I'm building, my weight also stays constant, but my muscles grow while my fat decreases. (If I wanted to keep getting bigger, I'd start eating more calories, which would increase my weight.)

I think the reason that the atkins and zone nutritional lifestyles work is precisely that they let people get away with it. Getting away with it is the basic human motivation. My two mid-day "snacks" (or "lunches", however you want to count it) yesterday were small amounts of: parmesan cheese and pumpkin seeds and a pear, then stilton with cranberries with protein powder. I was blissful, alert, and distinctly not hungry. I am also distinctly not fat, even though I eat this way day after day, year after year. The meals were delicious, satisfying, and, apparently, enviable to most people. And I got away with eating them.

What people see when they watch me eat, is that I can get away with it. They think this is genetic. They think I *can't* get fat, no matter what I eat. This is absolutely false, as has been proved: When I accidentally went on high-carb nutrition plan (freshman year of college), I put on 30 lbs of pure fat in first semester. I lost the weight second semester, after my mother pointed out that she'd never fed me bread, pasta, soda, or cocoa, and if I wanted to lose fat I'd have to stop eating it. I paid attention and learned my lesson, that's all. There's nothing special about my body. Rather, there is something odd about my relentless insistence on being happy and healthy. It causes me to seek out the causes of things and to make adjustments when a strategy (like thoughtlessly eating all the carbs presented to me in the college dining room) fails to promote my health and happiness.

Other people apparently do not have this urge to be happy and healthy. They say they want these things but they DON'T.

And that is what you have to overcome, to make good on this hope and promise:

> We'd be doing a great service to many people if we figured out how to 
> get them to do what is best for them rather what they believe is best 
> for them.

I'm sure that there are among the current readers, already people who hate me for saying what I have said in the last couple of days. I've made many people hate me for saying it to them, in much more reserved terms. I'm really getting tired of it now and I no longer care. I'm tired of the fact that the entire clothing industrial complex of the U.S. has restructured fashion so that there is room for pot-bellies not only in jeans but in t-shirts which are naturally stretchy anyway, I'm tired of the fact that I can no longer go into a store and find ANYTHING that fits me off the rack, because "average" now means grossly over-fat and frighteningly under-muscled. I'm tired of people asking me how I maintain my physique, pretending to listen politely as I give a 60-second explanation, when what they are really doing is waiting for me to stop talking so that they can tell me why NO DIET WORKS and it's ALL JUST MARKETING HYPE and NO ONE REALLY KNOWS and CAROLYN IS JUST LUCKY and HER DIET IS UNHEALTHY. I'm so tired of it. I literally laughed out loud when you said the above. It's so innocent and sweet. I used to think this way too.

Here is what people want to do, in order of importance:

drink alcohol
eat carbs, lots of them
fail to think about what they are eating
get away with it all

Sure, they eat a serving of steak now and then, possibly frequently. But it is accompanied by not just one beer, but five, and not just one serving of carbs, but five.

Why do people get so sleepy after Thanksgiving dinner? They are sure that they have the explanation: it's the tryptophan. Turkey is high in tryptophan, and that makes you sleepy.

No, turkey is NOT high in tryptophan. It's no higher than any other whole animal meat (roast beef, ham, chicken leg, fish fillet, lobster). Unadulterated animal meats are almost exactly the same in terms of their amino acid content.

The reason people get sleepy after Thanksgiving dinner is that, also on the traditional menu, are the following desserts, and I use the word 'dessert' deliberately. These are not just vegetables and fruits and grains, not just carbs, but the highest of the high-glycemic-load carbs:

stuffing (i.e., bread)
mashed white potatoes
sweet potatoes (usually sweetened with brown sugar or even marshmallows)
CORNFLAKE and greenbean casserole
cranberry sauce
pumpkin pie

If you're like me, you'll make your plate half turkey, and half some subset of these other things. But people don't do that. They take equal portions of each of these so that their protein is only 1/10 or less of their meal, and they experience a carb-coma. That's just the people who aren't over-eating. It's not the tryptophan, it's the carbs.

All science news has done for us in this respect is give us an excuse to get away with it on Thanksgiving. We can't help it if there's too much tryptophan in our turkey! Science says!

If you say ANYTHING about food or nutrition, other than "keep doing exactly what you are doing, it's not your fault that you are fat", you are violating people's basic world view. It doesn't matter how politely, academically, scientifically, or impersonally you say it. In fact, if you silently eat (properly) in front of them and fail to be fat, you are violating their basic world view.

It's a huge hurdle that we would have to overcome, this extreme defensiveness and religious devotion to alcohol and other carbs.

Short of locking people up and giving them nothing but balanced meals, I'm not sure what could be done.

> In the short term you and I could do the same thing; however, many 
> people will have problems recognizing when to stop the twinkie diet, and 
> move onto the next phase.

Indeed they would! One main reason is that a lot of them would *like* the twinkie diet, which is both easy and tasty. Keep in mind that home cooking is a dying art. Most of my friends rely on packaged foods, and those are my smart friends! It is easier to open a package of twinkies than to even read the Nutrition Facts panel on any package let alone make choices according to that information, and it is infinitely easier than buying a piece of raw meat and cooking it.

A few weeks ago I attempted to explain how to eat in the zone, to a friend who'd said he didn't want to go through the hassle of counting calories and measuring and weighing foods, etc. I said, "At each meal, use this visual..." and I stuck out two fists and said "this fist is your protein portion, and this fist is your carb portion", and before I finished my sentence he looked away shaking his head and said "This is 'way too complicated."

What he really means is, "Carolyn*, by making it so blatantly simple for me, you are not letting me get away with it." Thus, I was violating the basic principle of human motivation, which is what they killed Socrates for.


>> First, given (1) our amino acid requirements, and (2) how almost 
>> impossible it is to fulfill those requirements using vegetable sources 
>> alone, I find it extremely hard to believe that we were not primarily 
>> *hunters*.

> Er, where's that excluded middle coming from?

I just write the posts, I don't think about them!

I am currently attempting to become a vegetarian; I am not yet seriously considering veganism, because vegetarianism is so hard already. I've greatly reduced my consumption of meat. Because I would like to remain in the zone, I have been putting a great deal of effort into determining the nutrient content of foods and combining them in such a way that I can both get sufficient micronutrients and still stick close to that 30-30-40 average of macronutrients.

Sears is my source for determining the macronutrient ratios suitable for my body. But the micronutrient issue is determined by the World Health Organization, specifically, task forces who are trying to correct malnutrition in children in developing nations, where they have plenty o'carbs, but are not able to achieve the amino acid minimums necessary for infants and children to thrive and for adults to be healthy.

I am running into exactly the same issue. Either I eat meat every day, or I struggle to get the minimums of my amino acids.

Juggling with these amino acids has proven very interesting. It's fairly easy to alter the tastes of combined foods just by attending to the quantities of amino acids. In fact, it's fairly easy to make vegetable sources of protein *taste like meat* by altering the amino acid content.

I think we like the taste of meat because we like the taste of things we need. It's how we *find* the things we need, and how we remember that we got them from a particular food.

Furthermore, I have been able to avoid cravings for meat (which I experienced years ago when I tried to be a vegetarian) by carefully balancing the incomplete proteins. I feel fed, and I'm not desperate for meat. I'd like to just stop eating meat, but I did very badly last time due to ignorance, and I'm afraid I don't yet know quite enough to do it right.

The best advice I can find says, no problem, eat whatever you want and you'll be fine. Practically every vegetarian and vegan resource that I have turned to in increasing desperation for real assistance, has said exactly the same thing. Here's a web site that lays out in the most excruciatingly damning detail why it so hard to be vegan even when thinking hard about what you are eating, all the while saying, "oh, don't worry about it, just eat some stuff and the amino acids will take care of themselves, no problem." The nutrient contents are from the USDA database of foods, the minimums are from WHO, (see especially table 3):


It's actually kind of hard to believe that this site was put up by a vegan! It's more like a completely true spoof of veganism, by an Atkins carnivore who's out to show exactly how stupid vegans are by presenting their claims along side the hard facts. Most especially alarming is the number of servings of each food that you would need to get your amino acids if, say, you were to eat just that one food for the entire day--it's quite clear that you can't do it with fruit, not even a combination of different fruits--so fructarianism is just flat-out false. You can't do it with roots and leaves--so, vegetarian paleo can't cut it. You can begin to get half to part way there, if you have grains (after all, if you have nothing else to eat, you can probably eat 15 cups of rice in a day, right? Don't bother to combine apples with that, you'll just be taking up valuable room in your stomach with a food that doesn't supply amino acids in as great a quantity as rice.). You can get most of the way there with legumes. You can *achieve* it with several servings of protein extracted from soy beans. But hunter-gatherers didn't have soy protein isolate; they didn't even have soy beans or rice--agricultural products--as per the definition of 'hunter-gatherer'.

> I find it extremely hard to believe that our ancestors were not hunters, 
> but I find it relatively easy to believe that our ancestors were not 
> _primarily_ hunters.

The above is why I can't believe that they were not primarily hunters. It's SO EASY to get these amino acid minimums with two hunks of meat a day--every animal meat supplies them all. Even if you have to make up, oh, say, half of your caloric requirements once in a while, with vegetables, if you have a largish piece of meat (6 ounces), you have all or most of your amino acids for the day. And you're going to remember where you got the food that tasted "right" and made you feel good, and there goes another one running away through the forest. Why should you sit around here eating this stupid root your friend dug up when you can eat a rabbit?

If nutritional requirements are any indication of what our natural food sources have been through our evolution, then the amino acid requirements suggest that we were doing a lot of hunting.

> (Those things I've read estimating e.g. animal/plant sources of calories
> suggest that it's somewhere between 70/30 and 30/70, but I'm not entirely
> convinced these are reliable.)

I don't think 30 percent meat can be correct, based on what I said above. I would bargain with you at 50%, especially during times when it's hard to get meat. At 50% meat, you can get sufficient amino acids. But it's worth reminding people that we didn't always have grains; it takes a lot of vegetables to make up that 50% of calories, which is the explanation as to why I and both my siblings never got fat until we left my mother's house. Cows and wildebeasts are the kind of animals that spend the entire day eating enough vegetables to get what they need. One question we have to ask is, why would we do that, if we can so very easily get what we need from meat, with a little supplementation with fruit and leaves for the missing vitamins? It *seems* to us like it would be less effort to gather than to hunt, but I'm not sure that is true even if we don't take into account any drive to get those amino acids, which we're just not going to get from bananas and sweet potatoes even if we can find them.


> (given our striking aversion to e.g. maggots)

I was just thinking about this issue again at the Zoo. There, you can see some of the most creepy, most enormous insects alive today. Some of them are as long as my forearm and half as thick. The children LOVE them. "Our aversion" is, I'm pretty sure, learned, not natural. Most kids just love bugs and are not creeped out by them at all--at least, not until some moron adult looms over them and exaggeratedly says "EWWWWW!" You can give kids an aversion to almost anything doing that. Most kids seem to be more creeped out by spinach than by bugs.

Further, we know that some cultures eat insects, not just as emergency food, but as treats.


>>> I have also worked out (using similar observations of how I feel after
>>> meals) that I need a reasonably high fraction of protein in my diet, and
>>> what's more, it usually has to be animal protein to count.
>>> Except when I went to Japan I was eating probably 70% of my calories as
>>> carbs (rice + soba noodles, primarily), and have never felt better.
>>> Also, eating breakfast usually makes me feel lousy unless it is something
>>> like a steak salad.  Except I can eat things like millet or
>>> buckwheat--essentially 100% carbs--just fine.
>> So, what I'd say here is that, if you are overfat and you can't shake the
>> weight, and you can't rely on your internal feelings to guide you as to
>> what to eat, then you are one of the people who should do the
>> calculations.
> Oi.  You completely dodged my point, which is that my personal experience
> makes pretty much no sense at all from a Zone perspective.

It's not my intent to dodge that point. What I was trying to dodge was the necessity of interrogating you in detail, in this medium and forum. In addition, I was trying to disown the claim that everyone MUST be sensible of their own bodily reactions and must have the SAME reactions, as me. I noted earlier that there are some people, who are not the subject of the present inquiry, who can eat carbs with abandon, without the fattening, mentally debilitating, and physically fatiguing symptoms that drive people to get mid-morning coffee and donuts. You may be one of those people. Or you may not mind the symptoms, like some of my friends, who just assume that that is what life is like. I used to have the symptoms but never understood where they came from, so I just accepted them and masked them with caffeine. I can't tell what you are experiencing without interrogation and observation; maybe you can write down everything you eat and how you feel for a couple of weeks and I can analyze it.

> Also, I mentioned the Japanese diet for another reason: Japan is among 
> the least obese (and most energetic) of the industrialized nations, and 
> they are from what I have seen _way_ out of the Zone.

Not what I have heard. I've heard from vegetarians who visited Japan that they basically starved the whole trip, because the Japanese have no concept of vegetarian meals, and your "vegetarian" plate is delivered to you with meat and fish on it anyway. And I don't know how the Japanese eat at their homes, but at restaurants here the meals are zone balanced, with a lump of fish and a lump of rice of equal sizes in every bite. It's one reason that I like to eat at these restaurants.

>>> I've had this triggered by pasta most often
>> (aha!),
>>> but also the occasional salad (wha?)
>> Sugar in the dressing? Did you check?
> Oh, sure, there was probably sugar in the dressing.

The reason that I ask about this, is that if your dinner was all and only that salad, you may simply have got too many carbs. If the salad had no meat in it, then it was all carbs. This might be fine if your dressing was high fat, you used a lot of it, and there was no sugar in it. And if there weren't any croutons on the salad and if you didn't have bread with the salad. What I'm trying to establish here is whether we are talking about the same kind of salad that *I* would eat (all very dark green leafy vegetables like dandelion and water cress, with a whole avocado and possibly some soy bacon bits), or iceberg lettuce with half a cup of sugary dressing and a layer of croutons, which is what I see most people eating and at which I would turn up my nose.

> But probably not more than there was in a brunch of crepes (sweetened 
> with sugar) with preserves and honey and maple syrup, which I have eaten 
> many times without any incident like this.

Well, I *was* going to point out that, unlike a vegetable salad, crepes are very high in fat and have a great deal of protein. They are basically eggs fried in butter with a touch of carbs for lightness. However, it looks like you must put a tremendous amount of sugar on yours, because:

> (I might be asleep for a couple hours afterwards until my glucose and 
> insulin levels get back into sensible ranges, but there's no sick 
> feeling, nothing in the stomach, no headache, and no mental shutdown 
> except inasmuch as I'm mostly asleep.)

I would like to emphasize this, especially since I almost missed it myself: asleep for a couple of hours? After BRUNCH? This is exactly what I'm talking about! Maybe you don't get the early warning symptoms. Maybe you get them but don't notice/care, and maybe you could learn to notice them to avoid having to take a nap in the middle of the day--well, that's what I sought to do, and have done. I don't know why any healthy grown adult would need a nap in the middle of the day. Oh, wait, yes I do: a too-high ratio of carbs!


>> One of the frisbee players came to lunch, ordered a turkey wrap which 
>> looked to me to be way, way short on meat for the amount of "wrap" 
>> (tortillas)--and he astonished me by picking off half the meat! I asked 
>> why. He said he thinks people eat too much meat.
> Did you ask whether he thought this for nutritional or environmental 
> reasons?  It's more efficient to eat plants, if we really want to have 
> so many billions of us on the planet.

That is one of the poorest, most ineffectual ways of helping the environment that I can think of, to not just waste food, but to waste an *animal* that you have already killed. I'm sure some people think that way but this guy is too smart for that. No, I'm sure he thought it was unhealthy. I hope he thought that. (He didn't save the meat for later, or give it to the birds or a homeless person, he didn't even think to offer it to anyone else at the table, he simply threw it away. I've seen him and several other people do this and give this same reason: "people eat too much meat".)

Incidentally, I agree with you, that there are too many people on the planet to sustain feeding us all meat, certainly too many people to feed us meat in a way that is humane to the animals. That's why I've begun my venture into vegetarianism, to remove myself from what I consider to be an unacceptable level of cruelty and suffering.

I talk about meat because I know that's what my ancestors were eating, I know that must be where these amino acid requirements came from, and it's easier to talk about it. It's not because I'm advising everyone to go out and eat more meat. But one thing at a time. :)

> See my anecdote about being in Japan.

I'd need a lot more detail about your whole trip and experience.

I know it looks like I'm just fishing for the answers that would confirm my hypotheses. I think it looks like this primarily because my expectations have been set by lots and lots and LOTS of people answering questions in what they believe is a completely truthful way, while leaving out 50% or more of the story. Not just about what that ate, either. Have I mentioned to you how often it happens, that I interrogate someone as to whether they have a cat (because they have invited me to their home), and they say "no", and it turns out that they have TWO cats, it's just that they personally don't have their names on the cats' license tags, the cats belong to their co-habitating mother, daughter, girlfriend, or roommate. As if it is cat-ownership that makes me sick, not the cats themselves.

You dont' seem to think it's important that crepes are high in protein and fat, and so you compare them to your salad. You don't mention what else you ate with those or with the apple cider but you also don't explicitly deny that you ate anything else. You don't say what time you did these things, or whether your next high protein meal occurred within 15 minutes. These things suggest to me that we are still talking past each other, because you are not seeing/reporting the details that are important to the central issue.

>> In summary, meal by meal, C-P-F ratio is not *that* crucial to *fat 
>> retention or storage* over time. But it *is* crucial to how one feels 
>> hour by hour.
> I think one of my main points is that this may vary widely from person 
> to person whether it's C-P-F that is the culprit or something else.

Yes, I have no problem with that. If you drink a glass of turpentine it really doesn't matter what the C-P-F ratio of the meal is, you're going to feel terrible. I also agree that the symptoms can vary from person to person, or be absent. I also agree that there is a tiny percentage of the population with a flat stomach, muscle definition, and good mental alertness, and they don't deliberately (or even actually) eat in the zone.

So, where are we now? Bino asked me how I eat in the zone, and I explained. I noted that the P-C-F ratio of 30-40-30 is an *average*, and that each person needs to individually determine his or her own. I recommend that an easy start is by monitoring how you feel, if that's the sort of thing that you are good at, and otherwise doing the calculations. The quickly observable results of eating in the zone should be, mainly:

1. mental clarity and mood stability 2. good body composition, with fat loss if you are fat

Since I am extremely interested in 1 and have no time for mid-day naps or stupidity, I make sure I am always eating in the zone. This makes it simple and automatic for me to get 2, which, by the way, contributes to 1, by making me lighter on my feet and more energetic and hence more inclined to engage in physical activities that pump my brain full of oxygen and endorphins. I personally can use 1 to get feedback on whether my P-C-F ratios are correct. But if you can't, then you're better off focusing on 2 and getting that to happen by taking all your body measurements and doing the recommended calculations to get the correct ratios for you. My *prediction* is that, if you take this latter approach, you will actually become more aware of how you feel and will be able to monitor how well you are eating. This is what usually happens with people who try the zone. They don't realize how good they can feel and how easy it is to disrupt that feeling with food, until they've eaten in the zone for a few days. At that point, if they need to lose fat, it suddenly becomes a pleasure to do so, rather than the horrible torture that they've come to know. They not only feel good mentally but they get to eat exactly the things the USDA's food pyramid tells them they can't have. Happy people = trim healthy people!

Carolyn* Ray, Ph.D.
www.supersaturated.com          The mind is a terrible thing.

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Simon Funk / simonfunk@gmail.com