Measure Up Pt. 2

I wrote recently on my wish to reduce, what I feel, are excessive amounts of measuring and testing in my quest to stop aging and become Uncle Drew. Last time we spoke of feeding windows and measuring tapes as a simplification for things like counting calories and weighing yourself. Today I’d like to speak about the dreaded macronutrient and how you can keep track in a simple way without the smart phone food calculators and the digital scale.

In Pt. 1 I spoke of the possibility of eating absolutely ad libtum (anything and whenever you want) by just reducing the feeding window until you get the weight control benefits you require.  Some people can do it this way but there are plenty of Franken-foods out there that if you indulged in them on a regular basis your eating window would have to be relatively small and you would require very strict fasting outside of that window. One of the ways to regulate this is to care (just a little bit) about whether your chosen morsel is 1) mostly fat, 2) mostly protein, 3) mostly carbohydrate (sugar simple or complex), or 4) natural or industrial.

There is a boat-load of information about this, I’ve provided many links on this discussion on my Facebook Page but boiled down to its essence it goes something like this: Fat causes the least insulin response, protein the next highest and carbohydrates the most.  Insulin is a hormone that functions like a key to let energy into the cell and to store fat when energy is abundant.  When you are fasting your insulin is low and if you’ve fasted long enough (i.e. the body has used all its carbohydrate stores) you body will start to get energy from its reserves of fat. This process can be bumpy if you’re not accustomed to it, but, if you’re committed, take time to listen to your body and learn a few tricks most healthy people can get past it.

For me, this fasted or ketogenic state is the basic state. In the womb we ate a refined nectar-like kind of food based on our mother’s diet and as breastfed children we ate a high fat ketogenic diet. If you are fasting or trying to make it until your window opens and clear, calorie free liquids aren’t cutting it anymore try a fatty drink like Bullet Proof coffee (or cacao or tee).  Insulin will be released but not enough to send you over the edge to begin a meal. A handful of nuts is a possibility but I find this much more dangerous (you can never eat just one).  I tend to save nuts for the beginning of the feeding window when I don’t want to sit down to eat but I’m happy to have something.

I like to save protein and carbohydrates for proper meals and if I can, I save carbs for as late in the day as possible.  Protein helps to satisfy hunger and can be broken down to sugars for energy and carbohydrates can help you to sleep, especially if your fasting is very strict so if I’m not having a big meal I’ll add protein sources to the fat I’m eating and only eat carbs later. If you are trying to stop aging via a paleo approach then your carbs are limited to non-starchy vegetables, green or otherwise (honey though is a natural concentrated carb you can use before bed as sleep aid). If you are trying to maintain athletic performance you will have to play around with things like sweet potatoes, rice and resistant starches. Consensus is that more carbs are needed for speed athletes.  Pure endurance athletes can probably get away with a more ketogenic diet especially if they have the luxury of time and can use the Maffetone Method to train their fat metabolism.

Carnivore, vegan, lacto-ovo vegetarian; the choice is yours and it might be useful to choose different paths depending on your stage of life and fitness goals.  Even industrial foods are not an across the board evil (read the label though, some things ingredients though legal cannot be really seen as food) unless you really are intending to stop aging. If you are seeking to simulate a truly ancestral diet to stop aging you have to try to have not only a pre-industrial diet but a pre-agricultural one as well.  This is insanely strict and I’m not sure it’s really possible to eat what we ate before the introduction of grain and dairy but because more and more people are interested in grass-fed meats and organic/wild vegetables I think if you’re committed enough you can come close.

To close I think it is probably most important from a conceptual point of view to see the fasted state as the natural state.  Turn the light back on yourself.  Cultivate your own resources.  Rather than following a food culture that has you eating 8 or 9 times a day let your body tell you when it’s time to eat (at the beginning you’ll need to give it guidance). Food is not entertainment in its essence even though Madison Avenue has made it that. Slow down, breath deep, keep fasted as long as you can, dance, sing and have as massage every once in a while.




Biology vs Evolutionary Biology

What’s the difference?  This is not a question that I can answer with any efficiency.  I’m neither a molecular- nor an evolutionary biologist.  However, I pose the question for two reasons 1) to highlight the aha moment I experienced near the end of the summer when all the disparate elements I was trying to integrate into my weight-loss/fitness process dawned and 2) to encourage those of us wading through the loose strands of regular/molecular biology; the biology of cancer, of telomeres, of mTOR and so on to try on another pair of glasses.  If you’re like me and you’re geeky enough to even examine some of these things, you have to ask yourself, “is it necessary get a handle on all these metabolic pathways both intellectually and practically to optimize health or is there a simpler way?

I’m an artist by temperament and my reading of the biology is that of an artist and for that reason you should beware.  This is my limitation and bias. As a shiatsu therapist the human being is always taking first place rather than the science, which has both strengths and weaknesses.  I’m sure you have your own biases and neither of us is in a position to ignore these. For example those with a stake in the energy medicine game find it easy to cherry pick studies to advance their cause or when convenient to ignore the science altogether and stand on convention/tradition/authority.  Those running the quack-watch websites and others professing pure allegiance to the scientific method can also fall victim to citing poorly done studies or ignoring the possibility that scientists also respond to incentives like professorships, tenure and straight out cash when they sit down to interpret the data.  It’s of course not supposed to be that way anymore than politicians are not suppose to stuff the ballet box but there is a real world existing apart from our innermost desires for justice and truth.

So, I can’t break down what evolutionary biology is in its deepest sense but I can give you my take on Michael R. Rose’s 55 Theses and how they tie together the many strands of information related to the biology of obesity, weight loss and the diseases of aging that have occupied me over the last several years.

In regular biology or what MJR sometimes calls 20th century biology, two main theories hold sway as to why we start to decay as we age.  The first is that there is an internal program that gets triggered which causes us to age. This program theory of aging can be further broken down into three aspects which you can examine for yourself in the link. The other is the damage theory of aging.  Over time our cells, tissues and genetic material accumulate all sorts of junk and damage and that we are never able to eliminate this with enough efficiency to maintain a state of youthful vigor. At the molecular level these seem to be true, biological programs run amok and damage is accumulating however Rose posits a different cause, perhaps a level up.

Dr. Rose points out that aging itself is not universal and that some species do not age (those reproducing through fissile division). He has observed in his laboratory experiments that in species that do age there is a point where aging actually stops, a point where visible and cellular decay plateaus. He contents that aging actually is a function of the lessening of the force of natural selection in organisms and that there are environmental factors affecting this decrease such as the first and last ages of reproduction and food quality and availability. From this perspective cellular damage is not the cause of aging but the result of the diminishing force of natural selection, which is the true cause of aging. It may seem like semantics but closer inspection of Rose’s methods (which I will not take time to do here) will show that he is offering quite a different point of view.

Dr. Rose is admittedly a “fruit fly guy,” meaning that all of his experiments over the last several decades have been conducted on fruit flies. However he draws two basic conclusions for human populations from this research. 1) Those populations that live in environments closest to the ones that humans evolved to live in will show the highest levels of natural selection.  These populations will tend to reach this theoretical plateau where aging stops much earlier. 2) Delaying the age of first reproduction will over time (many generations) lead to an increase in the overall longevity of a given population.  Please examine the links for the details (which are fascinating) but he essentially says that the ancestral hunter gatherer diet and lifestyle i.e. physical activity, sleep et cetera create the earliest plateau in aging, sometimes as early as 50 or 60 years of age. The agricultural diet and lifestyle causes a significantly later plateau of 75 to 80 and that our industrial diet and lifestyle creates a plateau at around 90 to 95 years.

What does this mean in general?  It means that there is no program per se; that aging is not an evolutionary given and decay is dependent on evolutionary adaptive forces rather than something like telomere length (correlations aside) or diminished cellular apoptosis. He makes the suggestion that different human populations will reap differing levels of benefit from an evolutionary approach of returning to a hunter-gatherer lifestyle after the last age of reproduction.  For example, those populations with lesser adaptations to agricultural and industrial foods and lifestyles like the Inuit who return to their traditional diets and lifestyles will achieve earlier aging plateaus and therefore maintain greater physical function than say European populations that are further along in the process of agricultural adaption to things like cereal grains and milk drinking.  These populations will have later aging plateaus than the Inuit when adopting what is popularly called a “paleo” diet but it would be an improvement over remaining on an industrial or even agricultural diet.

For me in particular it means that that there just may be a simpler way of reaching greater function in old age than calorie counting or restrictive macronutrient schemes.  We’ll just have to see won’t we?

Nutrition for Shiatsu?

The nutrition and diet industry are big business. You must certainly have noticed. I think that there are two main reasons why. The first is that nutrition is the foundation of health. Eating is a primary physiological need. Sure there are a few people claiming that they only need a few hours of sunlight a day and otherwise they don’t need to eat but I don’t usually see those people in my praxis. You can have great genes and a great exercise program but if all you’re eating are honey buns and potato chips you probably won’t get far. The second reason probably is rooted in human adaptability. It seems that there might even be a percentage people who can thrive on honey buns and chips (at least for a while), others meat and potatoes, others rice and beans and therefore it is difficult to pin down what’s good for who. In addition what and how we eat, who we eat with and when are deeply cultural and social. The seemingly unceasing variables to diet and nutrition make the science difficult and the ground fertile for speculation. The radical change in social structure and roles as well as the evolution of the food industry has also complicated the mix. Everybody has to work and staying home and cooking real food doesn’t seem to count as viable “work.” So there are millions and billions of people who have a fundamental requirement that holds them back from death (temporarily) in which a huge percentage are unwilling to take even a passing interest beyond the most basic considerations of “how does it taste” and “do I feel full.” Perhaps that’s why the Chinese can stretch rice yields with edible(?) plastic rice pellets or Monsanto can breed the insect killer right into the corn and soy.

I grew in the 1960’s and 1970’s and came to age in the 1980’s so my body was fully formed before McGovern’s commission decided that Ancel Keys  was right and dietary fat was evil. However my consciousness about what one should eat was definitely influenced not only by the new USDA recommendations but by the influence of yoga, zen and the back to the land and vegetarian movements of the ‘70s and ‘80s. As a teenager I began to realize that if I wanted to live independently and free I’d better acquire the means to care for myself and one of these means was to learn how to cook.

My first cook book at, 16 years of age, was a macrobiotic cookbook (now out of print) but wasn’t attracted to it because of the macrobiotic philosophy per se but because it seemed like the simplest approach to cooking of all the cookbooks I saw that day. However, it presented cooking techniques in such a simple way that I found it impossible to make anything that was actually pleasing to eat when I used it. I can’t count all the looks of, “are you really gonna eat that” I got in those days. I did however come to accept many macrobiotic tenets and was (later) a vegetarian for over ten years from about 1996 to about 2006. I also eventually learned to cook food that actually tasted good too.

Macrobiotics, like most “traditional” dietary systems is not science but a philosophy and philosophy isn’t philosophy unless the principals are universally applicable. So, the best food for humans are grains because blah, blah, blah. No one should eat this food because of blah, blah, blah. Should we follow nutrition “philosophies?” How much of diet is universally applicable in your experience?

The shiatsu that I learned was, in fact, founded on macrobiotic principals or at least within the context of the macrobiotic community. The International Shiatsu School in Kiental was originally the Macrobiotic Institute and the influence of the macrobiotic style of eating and cooking remains present but has faded to just a fine scent over the nearly 30 years since the Institute was founded in 1987. There are schools of shiatsu founded on other five element cuisines and traditionally all eastern styles of medicine have both a manual therapy and a nutritional system that it is integrated within it. How important is nutrition to shiatsu? Does one have to follow a special diet for the promises of shiatsu to really unfold? What would represent an approach to nutrition in shiatsu that is more attuned to current nutrition science?

My involvement in Buddhism made it easier to be a vegetarian but when I learned that I would have child I started being concerned about my health (I didn’t want to look like my son’s great grandfather at his high school graduation) and when I looked objectively the prognosis didn’t seem all that good. I was meditating, eating good quality vegetarian food, exercising and doing shiatsu and tai chi but my weight had blown out of proportion. As I set about learning how to “fix” my weight problem I questioned whether my diet was as good as I thought/was told it was. One of the first stops for me when the internet became more available to me up in the Bernese Alps was beyond vegetarianism’s group of essays called, ”Frank Talk about Vegetarian, Vegan, and Raw Diets & Beyond” which gave me my first inkling of something called the paleo-diet. Continued study and personal experiments have lead me to my current low carb anti-sugar, (not always successful) grain-avoiding ketogenic intermittent fasting ways. More about that later, I guess…

I believe without a doubt that that the work that I do as a shiatsu therapist is helped when people are at least interested in the connection between diet and their overall health and when they are interested in trying the “get their diet right,” at least in terms of their own conditions, tastes and goals. I believe this is primarily because nutrition is one of the most powerful influences on how our genes actually express themselves. It has been shown that people genetically predisposed to diabetes can turn off the expressions of the diseases linked to insulin insensitivity and their own “carbohydrate intolerance” by avoiding the intake of “excessive” carbs and there are other examples of remission rather than cure through diet in the scientific literature that I hope to get more specific about or at least point you in the right direction to find in future blog entries. So, if you can arrive at diet that gives you good results but maintain a willingness to continue to improve, you won’t get left behind by the science or solidify into a “this is how I eat and f*ck everything else” fossil.

Should you eat a ketogenic diet or a vegan diet or a “traditional” diet based on the teachings of Weston Price? Only you can determine that, science, philosophy or popular culture can, in the end, only make (strong) suggestions. I, too, in my professional role, can only make suggestions based on my personal and practical experience and the research I’ve happened to stumble over, find, or have suggested to me; the same as you and probably the same as your primary care physician. There are few solid proofs about diet, little research on the effects of specific diets combined with bodywork of any kind let alone shiatsu, and extremely few universal applications, but that doesn’t mean we’re helpless. It just means we have to come to our own conclusions and accept responsibility for them.

Finally, being able to admit that there is no “one answer” for everyone while opening the door for possibilities and experimentation, doesn’t actually make things easier. Shizuto Masunaga, one of the founders of modern shiatsu says in Zen Shiatsu: How to Harmonize Yin and Yang for Better Health that,  “It is important for us to keep in mind that incorporation of shiatsu and a balanced diet into our daily life will keep us healthy. Diet is the root of good health, for it is food that nourishes life. Therefore, proper knowledge of a balanced diet is fundamental to proper health care.”  Our challenge and journey together are focused on defining for ourselves what “good health,” “balanced diet,” and “proper knowledge,” really are.