Archive for August, 2010

The Psychology of Semi-Starvation

In my last post regarding the concept of energy balance I talked about a case of internal starvation that would result from the body partitioning incoming calories into fat as opposed to energy.  If this were to happen the person would be starving despite intaking a large amount of calories.  In such a case, fat tissue would be a parasite of sorts, stealing away calories from other biological activities.

It runs against the grain of popular culture and common medical advice to suggest that someone who is overweight is starving in any way.  If they were starving, then prescribing fewer net calories would be bad advice would it not?  In addition to misguided advice is the fault in common thought that ones eating habits are a purely logical behavior and that the overweight are but those with substandard willpower.

What I present in the following is not conclusive evidence of causation; sadly I don’t have those data.  What I looked for was the psychological impacts of starvation and obesity.  If obesity is starvation, then they could have similar psychological effects.

The first experiment I want to discuss is the Minnesota Starvation Experiment, which was conducted during World War II.  This experiment included a 6-month semi-starvation period.  A standardized test (MMPI) was used to assess the psychological affects of the experimentation.  The psychological affects were summarized as follows:

The psychologic changes, although more complicated and more difficult to measure, are just as characteristic as are the physical changes. The chief psychologic manifestations which were found characteristically in all subjects are intense preoccupation with thoughts of food, emotional change tending toward irritability and depression, decrease in self-initiated activity, loss of sexual drive, and social introversion.  …  The elevation of the neurotic end of the profile (Hs, D, and Hy) during semistarvation gives a quantitative and graphic indication of the personality changes observed clinically.  In rehabilitation these changes were reversed, although the profile obtained at the end of controlled rehabilitation is still above the normal. In this connection it may be pointed out that the first twelve weeks of rehabilitation were in reality a continuation of the stress. This was especially true of the first six weeks and of the men in the lower caloric groups. It was only some time after release from the controlled diet that complete rehabilitation was effected. Profiles on 20 subjects obtained after thirty-three weeks of refeeding had returned to the
“normal,” semistarvation level.  The average score on the Pd scale was initially low and there was little change during semistarvation.  This indicates an absence of a tendency to devolop aggressive, antisocial reactions or “character neuroses.” It is of interest that 3 of the 4 subjects who failed to complete the experiment (and were not included in the group profile) did show significant elevation in Pd score. The moderate elevation of the scores on the Pa, Pt, Sc, and Ma scales was entirely within “normal” limits and is further evidence of the absence of “psychotic” types of reaction in the average subject. This was not true of a few individuals who showed more severe or unusual symptomatology. (Source)
A little interpretation; the MMPI scores showed increased prevalence of  Hypochondria (Hs), Depression (D), and Hysteria (Hy) during the starvation period and this was reversed afterward.   This study indicates elevation in the same MMPI categories in the obese (Hs, D, Hy).
This study goes a step further and shows similar trending; supranormal Hs, D, and psychopathic deviate (Pd) in the morbidly obese AND those who suffer from anorexia and bulimia.  The study examined the three groups; hospitalized anorexia patients, hospitalized bulimia patients and morbidly obese outpatients.  From the abstract:

The results indicated that there was no significant difference in the overall profiles of the three experimental groups, but that all differed from the control group.

As previously noted one cannot assign a causative link with these sort of data but I believe that a hypothesis that claims that obesity, like anorexia and bulimia, is a form of starvation is not unreasonable, even if incomplete.

To bolster such a hypothesis I ask you to consider this, which discusses the connections between brain chemistry and food intake and the resultant cravings and possible obesity.  In addition to the effects of carbohydrates in general, the specific affects of exorphins which result from the digestion of wheat gluten and milk may be players.

In summary, what and how much we eat can affect our brain chemistry to such a degree that it can change what we eat and/or how much.  In the same way that I argued that it’s not as simple as calories in calories out, it’s also not as simple as just controlling food quantity and quality in a logical way due to the psychological affects of food on our decisions.

Categories: Nutrition

Energy Balance: A Calorie is a Calorie?

In my recent post, Of Nutrition, Commitment, and Progress, I mentioned that I am having CNU count calories due to a tendency to overeat.  It may be thought that I am implicitly stating that caloric surplus is the cause of being overweight, and that caloric deficit is it’s remedy.  This view is appealing to science types, like me, due to the convenient comparison to a “control volume” approximation.  Lets look at the control volume theory of the body and it’s implications.

Here we see the body control volume model.  The control volume is constant in the amount of energy it contains in a state of equilibrium.  So from this model we can see that if you want to reduce the fat (energy stored) in the body control volume, you need to increase Energy Out and/or decrease Energy In.  This model is how the “eat less move more” dogma has come about.  It turns out, to no shock of those who have struggled with losing weight, this model is flawed.

The control volume model is mathematically equivalent to a lake with a dam.  On any given day some amount of water will come in and some will leave.  For our body control volume model, the level of water in the lake is equivalent to the body fat level.  When it rains or snow melts water enters the lake.  When the dam opens or when water evaporates, water leaves the lake.  I am assuming the water has no other way out.  These are good corollaries for movement and heat in the body control volume model.  If it never rained again (you never ate) the water level in the lake would drop to zero due to evaporation over time or water through the dam.  Likewise if the dam never opened and we could some how stop evaporation and it rained a lot the level in the lake would have to rise.

Ask yourself this.  If you are at the controls of the dam, and it hasn’t rained in months is it going to effect how much water you let through the dam?  What if it’s been pouring every day for weeks?  You probably have goals for water levels both in the lake and downstream so you are not going to just let water out at a constant rate no matter what’s happening with the flow of water into your lake.  Your body is the same way, but far more complicated.

Let’s first look at a model that represents more complex ins and outs.  Using the lake analogy again, lets consider the operator of a lake that has canals that feed it and a dam like before.  In this way the operator may control the level of his lake by both adjusting the water out of the dam, but also affecting the water in by controlling the canal flow.  With this control, our operator will make decisions for the flow in or out based on the flow out or in and the level of the lake.  The human body works in the same way.

If you go workout regularly, increase your Energy Out, you’ll find that you are hungrier and desire to eat more.  Likewise if you’ve seen what happens when a 3 year old who get’s a big batch of candy, you’ve see that an increase of Energy In can lead to and increase in Energy Out.  The body creates a hormone called Leptin.  This hormone is released in proportion to the amount of body fat you have.  It acts like a fuel gage of sorts and helps to regulate hunger.    To drive home it’s role in fat regulation; the hormone was discovered in mice that had a gene mutation that resulted in a lack of Leptin receptors.  With out these receptors, the mice were constantly hungry and became obese.  So the inability to sense Leptin, called “Leptin Resistance,” can lead to overeating and obesity.  Fructose has been implicated in causing Leptin resistance.  This starts the explanation of why calories in and calories out is an overly simplistic model, and fails to help stem the tide of obesity world wide.

Let’s consider a third even more complex model for the body.  This is where the lake model falls apart, and why the original control volume theory is such a poor model.  The model I’ve shown at left is EXTREMELY crude and not a full representation of internal fat regulation, but is intended to make a point.  In a lake, water cannot hold itself back from the spillways of the dam.  If the dam opens, the water cannot resist it’s flow out.  Body fat CAN resist it’s flow out of the body, or better said, it’s flow can be resisted.  Insulin is a hormone that the body releases to keep blood sugar at healthy levels.  Too high and you’ll die, too low and you’ll die.

When you eat a carbohydrate rich meal, think that big plate of pasta, you often feel very lethargic and have a big crash some time shortly after.  This is a result of the body releasing insulin to clear the excess blood sugar from the blood.  The problem with those carb rich meals is they cause the body to over release insulin and once the blood sugar is cleared, the left over insulin goes on reducing your blood sugar even more eventually leading to low blood sugar leaving you feeling drowsy.  So where does that sugar go?  Insulin binds to muscle and fat tissue in the body telling them open up and take in the sugar from the blood.  This, over time, can lead to increased fat accumulation.  In people with hyperinsulinemia, chronically elevated insulin levels, the body can pull needed calories from the blood and store them as fat instead of making them available for Energy Out.  This can result in chronic lethargy, making it very difficult to heed the “move more” advice.

As with Leptin resistance, Insulin resistance can occur.  Insulin resistance, unchecked, will lead to Type 2 diabetes.  This is part of my rationale for believing that diets high in carbohydrates are intrinsically bad and a cause of obesity.  A FAR more detailed discussion can be found in Good Calories, Bad Calories.  It is a read I cannot recommend more highly.

I hope I’ve made a reasonably clear and concise argument against the idea that a calorie is a calorie, and that the energy balance equation is far from a complete model of body fat regulation.  With that said, you can eat too much.  Even without carbs, you can just plain eat too much.  If you do it will result in weight gain.  With this said, the energy balance equation is part of reality, not it’s whole.

Categories: Nutrition

CNU’s Training For The Week Ahead

Sunday (8-15): Long sunrise hike in the moutains with the dog.  The farmer’s market is just a few miles from the trailhead so this should be a good Sunday morning ritual!  See how the puppies paws hold up to the trail.

Monday (8-16): Mile morning run with the dog, 4 rounds of 20 abmat situps on the evening.  Seems light, but last weeks toes to rings are still hurting CNUs abs, so I want to make sure he’s useful for the rest of the week.

Tuesday (8-17): Mile morning walk, heavy deadlifts in the evening, planned max of 220lb for 2 reps, 10lb higher than last week.

Wednesday (8-18): Mile morning run, evening workout; slow light squat, situp couplet (3 rounds 20 situps, 15 squats (95lb)).  The purpose is two fold, one to keep good movement and work out any soreness from Tuesday and keep the total volume up.

Thursday (8-19): Mile morning walk, evening light overhead press, 4 rounds 20 reps, bar only.  This is to work on stabilizing CNUs shoulders to help reduce chances of future injury during rock climbing.

Friday (8-20): Mile morning run.

Of nutrition, commitment, and progress.

August 14, 2010 1 comment

Commitment is a quality I admire.  With the exception of my wife and job, I have committed to very little with success.  One might say that a wife and serious professional undertaking are no mean feats.  They both depend on me in some way or another and that is the secret to my success.  You can rely on me…I cannot rely on me as much.  So, despite my track record, I’m going to jump in with both feet on the next layer in my self-administered life coaching: Strict Nutrition

My nutritional protocol will be a hybrid of paleo, primal, caveman, hunter-gatherer etc.  I’ll call it paleo, but that’s certainly an umbrella that covers many unique schools of thought.  My protocol will be defined as follows:

Standard Paleo

  • No grains.  Not just gluten grains, but no grains of any kind.  Pseudo-grains like Quinoa are also not allowed.
  • No legumes.  No beans, no bean products especially soy and it’s derivatives.
  • Grass-fed ruminant meat.  Beef, goat, sheep.
  • Wild-caught seafood.
  • No seed oils (canola, corn, soy, etc).

TRB Paleo:  These are my personally decided allowances.

  • Grass-fed butter; only allowed dairy, in small to moderate quantities.  This is to get more vitamin K2 in my diet.
  • Conventional Pork and Chicken.  I have nothing good to say about the conventional method used in raising these creatures nor the resultant nutritive qualities, just that I cannot get/afford anything else right now.
  • Fish oil, vitamin D, and magnesium supplementation.  The fish oil is to help balance the Omega-6 content in the pork and chicken.  The VitaminD is to make up for the lack of sun exposure (9-5 indoor job).  The magnesium is to help support good quality sleep.  Supplementation of any and all may be reduced or eliminated by improving food sources (fish oil), completing body fat reduction (fish oil), increasing sun exposure (VD) and increasing veggie intake (magnesium).
  • Keeping carbohydrate intake low.  Low carb diets are healthy and help to reduce body fat and lower insulin levels.
  • No caffeine.  This is going to SUCK like no ones business, but I think it will help improve my sleep quality in the long run.
  • Count calories.  I have a pretty long history of binge eating, so counting my calories is important.  If you have ANY history of or proclivity for eating disorders be VERY careful with rigorous nutritional protocols!  I can over eat very easily and will even tend to, so it’s necessary for me to be keep an eye on what I’m taking in.

Progress So Far

In the two weeks I’ve been tracking my (CNU’s) training I’ve seen no statistically significant weight or body fat loss.  That’s not too surprising as I’ve been eating a lot and only being “ok” with my food quality.  I wanted to get a good start at things before I layered on the extra work and focus of strict nutrition.

I did not do any climbing this week due to my shoulder hurting last week.  I’ve made the mistake in the past of getting back at it far too soon and having to be off for a month.  I’m going to add in some training work this week that will help support rehab of the shoulder.

Going Forward

There will be a forthcoming post regarding the week ahead and what I come up with on the diet front.  I’ll tell you what I’m eating so you might get some ideas on the what’s and how’s.  Before that I am going to get out a post on physical training in the week ahead.

Liberty For All, Individuals

Editorial Note:  This post obviously varies greatly from my previous posts.  It’s intended to provoke thought and consideration, though many will not agree with it’s thesis.

Liberty is nothing unless it is complete and unabridged.

Liberty of the many, especially if at the cost of the liberty of the individual, is questionable liberty at all.  Liberty is only meaningful if it is granted to those most unfavorable to the majority.  The popular concept of liberty is often freedom of speech and religion.  These are great freedoms, but liberty cannot be a short list of approved behaviors.  Liberty, truly, must be complete.

To take an example from the news lately may be the subject of polygamy.  Polygamy is illegal, but so long as it’s amongst consenting adults (not the sort of coercion of which Warren Jeffs is accused) who is the majority to tyrannize the choice of these few?  The same argument could be made for prostitution.

A common retort is that in both these cases there are instances of abuse, this is almost certainly true.  Abuse is a violation of liberty in all cases.  It is coercion by threat or act of harm, bodily or otherwise.  It must be understood though that there are people who knowingly participate in polygamy or prostitution and this is a result of their personal beliefs and desires, and not abuse.  By making these practices illegal, those who are abused are both branded as immoral, as though legality and morality are synonymous.  Worse still, those who are abused have little legal recourse due to the illegality of their behaviors.  Author Walter Block wrote a good thought provoking book called Defending the Undefendable.  Check it out for free.

The use of law, by the majority and/or their representatives, can be coercive.  The law may coerce by threat of imprisonment, fine or bodily harm.  The law’s just and moral role is the protection of people from any inhibition of their liberty.  Where then does one’s liberty end?  Is not such a group of laws too small to keep order amongst people?  One’s liberty extends so far as it does not infringe on someone else’s.  Are laws prohibiting people from actions for “their own good” not inhibitions of liberty.

Doesn’t all this talk of liberty just logically conclude in anarchy?  First, anarchy, by definition, is a stateless society.  The word anarchy is a loaded as any in the English language, helped along by video of black clad anti-globalization “anarchists” breaking windows and burning cars at G-20 summits.  For those interested in political philosophy there are numerous variations on the anarchist political philosophy.  These can vary from anarcho-pacifism which preaches a strict prohibition of violence, to Propaganda of the Deed.  This later form seems to seek violence and destruction as a political end.

So, is a society without a government one of violence and destruction?  If this is so, then man inherently tends towards coercion, and Thomas Hobbes was correct when he said that the natural state of man is the war of  all against all.  This, to me, seems as naive the Socialist ideal that collectivism is the path to uniform prosperity.  I believe that the reality is some place in between.  Minarchism, a state of minimal government, and it variants, seem the most reasonable middle ground to me.  It is the belief of limited government that laid the foundation for the US Constitution.

So, what is liberty really if it’s not complete and unabridged?  To quote Thomas Jefferson, “I would rather be exposed to the inconveniences attending too much liberty, than those attending too small a degree of it.”

Categories: Political Philosophy

Client Numero Uno – Training Progress

Danger, danger Will Robinson!  It’s very easy as a new trainer or new trainee to over do it.  As I mentioned of CNU back in the post My Travels In Fitness, overstress injuries such as Rhabdomyolysis can occur and need to be watched out for.  CNU has suffered from shoulder injuries due to rock climbing and some way back in junior high.  While the discomfort has come and go over time, and we thought it was behind him, it has flared up again.  CNU has not been putting any particular effort into improved mobilization and stabilization of the shoulder.

To help improve the discomfort and speed the healing process I’m having CNU doing icing sessions, with about 20 minutes of ice per hour.  This causes the tissue to contract and reduces the swelling in the joint and surrounding tissue.  There is a certain rebound effect when the ice is taken away as new blood and fluid rushes back bringing chemicals and compounds to promote the healing of the tissue.  To “prove” this affect to yourself put a piece of ice on your leg for a few minutes and take it off.  See if the skin doesn’t turn red when you pull the ice away.

In addition to the icing sessions I’m having him keep up with large dose fish oil supplementation for the anti-inflammatory benefits.  Some may ask, “Why not just go with an NSAID such as Ibuprofen or the like?”  Well NSAIDS have been shown to slow the healing of soft tissue injuries.  If you’d like more info see here.

Lastly, we’re going to put more focus on the pre and post-hab for each workout session.  I’ll talk more about this and the mobility and stability work later.

So with all that said I’m going to try to back off the intensity in CNU’s climbing sessions a bit.  My hope is to work instead on a muscular endurance aspect by doing more lower intensity, back to back climbs but not reaching falls or stalls.  I feel the level of damage, which isn’t a bad thing below a certain threshold, of falls and stalls is significant and easily too potent.

In addition to the more acute injury, CNU has been feeling a little rundown and tired in the mornings.  To avoid overtraining we’re going to pull back the morning runs to three times per week with two walks of the same 1 mile distance.  In addition, CNU has to get religious about his sleep.  Less than 8 hours per night with increasing exercise volume is a path to danger and problems.

One thing in the training you haven’t heard me talk about much is nutrition.  Nutrition is critical, but it’s a layer I asked CNU to focus on…but not let it derail the training progress.  There will be more coming with regard to nutrition in the future.

Client Numero Uno – New PR

Well in yesterday’s max effort indoor climbing session, CNU complete his highest rated route ever at 5.10c!  While it wasn’t the cleanest run and there were some falls and stalls, he got the to top!  That route will definitely be back in a future climbing session to send it (climb without fall or stall).

CNU attempted the 5.10b he’d gone in for and an unfortunate hold twist (the hold twisted on the wall, which doesn’t happen outdoors) he got a little spun up and couldn’t complete the route.  This brings up an excellent point of training however.  In future climbing sessions, we may put in some sort of training to practice the ability to self-calm and not let the adrenaline negatively affect the climbing.  I’m not quite sure how to do that yet, but I’ll have to look into it.

Well that’s all for this post, hope you see a new personal record in your endeavors!