It's not what you eat but how often

I’m 24-hours into a 3-day fast. When I want to learn about something, I dive into it. Today was reading all about fasting and blood glucose levels.

I had listened to Dr. Jason Fung on a podcast and read some of his articles in the past on fasting so I dug them back up. Doing so led me down the rabbit hole, I went through almost of all his work on Medium. There were many highlights.

One of the biggest ones was what you eat may not matter as much as how often you eat.

Dr. Fung is a big advocate for treating patients with metabolic diseases with extended periods of fasting.

I don’t know enough about the biochemistry of how things work to explain why (Dr. Fung has plenty of work on this). But read the snippet below.

Outtake from  Does Fasting Burn Muscle?  by Dr Jason Fung.

Outtake from Does Fasting Burn Muscle? by Dr Jason Fung.

Think about it. If all diseases related to age end up being diseases of excess, is food part of that excess?

The body has two states, fed and fasted. In the fed state, the body releases takes in glucose and amino acids to the liver and releases insulin to tell the rest of the body to start storying extra energy, either as glucose in the muscles or as fat (for later).

Having a hormone which leads to fat gain is good. 10,000 years ago, food may have been in short supply when we needed it, so storing some of the excess food we gathered/hunted would make sense.

In the fasted state, less insulin is secreted as the body starts to move from using glucose as the primary energy source to fat as the primary energy source.

So what?

Eating too often leads to being in a fed state too often. Being in a fed state too often means more insulin is released than required, means more glucose is stored as fat and the body is in a continual state of excess.

The fix?

Reduce how often you eat.

Reducing how often you eat through extended fasting or time restricted feeding (eating for 8-hours per day and fasting the other 16) allows the body to clear itself of excess, thus, potentially leading to longer term health benefits.

I’m going to continue digging more into the benefits of fasting as well as ways to measure them. Currently, I’m tracking my blood glucose levels via blood glucose monitors. I’ll write more about this in a few days.

In the meantime, if you’re interested in health, do yourself a favour and check out Jason’s work. If it doesn’t benefit you directly, it’ll probably be worth sharing with someone you know.

Please note: I’m not a doctor. I’m only curious to how the body works and to try and understand it better, I’m sharing what I’ve learned. Do your research before you try anything new.


11 fitness tips which will make you healthier

  1. Sleep and nutrition first, exercise second. You can never out-exercise poor eating or sleeping. If you have a choice between losing sleep and working out more or getting sleep and working out less, choose sleep.

  2. Movement not exercise. The healthiest people in the world don’t have gym memberships. What do they do? They move.

  3. Mobility will save you. Some of the most muscular people in the gym can’t touch their toes and have constant shoulder pain due to poor movement patterns. Don’t be this person. Practice mobility as much as muscle.

  4. Fitness like finances. You’ve heard it. When you’re young health comes easier. Maintain it. It’s far harder to start moving at 57 than 27. No one wants to be the parent who can’t run around or pick up their kids.

  5. Fuck your phone off. Instagram is great for education, the internet is great for finding posts like these but they shouldn’t get in the way of your workouts. Most people’s 45-minute workout would be 15-minutes if they left their phone in the car.

  6. Food not supplements. If it requires an advertisement, you don’t need it. If it has more than 1 ingredient, you don’t need it. Bright labels with a list of ingredients you don’t understand don’t equal health.

  7. Hunger not habit. Your weight problems come from abundance. You don’t need to eat as often as you think. Eat when you’re hungry, not out of habit.

  8. Sweat helps. Before I wrote this I didn’t want to move. But I had to. I wanted to see a friend. Then I wanted to write. Then I wanted dinner. 25 kettle-bell swings in and the sweat started. Then I didn’t want to stop.

  9. Run. Every man should be able to run at least a mile at 80% of their sprinting speed. If you can’t, change it. “I don’t do cardio.” Don’t be a fool.

  10. Stay lean. A healthy human is a lean and muscular human. You don’t need the extra flab to build muscle. If you’ve got it, use the above to get rid of it.

  11. Forge your own path. Take the best from dummies like me and remix it into your own definition of fitness. My views are biased by what I’m into. Yours should be the same.

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4 Things Every Ideal Diet Should Be Based On

Too much nutrition advice contains information like 64mg of Sodium Potassium Chloride twice every 6.5 hours with still water out of a recycled cup.

The focus of my ideal diet is performance. Mental performance and physical performance.

Foods these days have been over-engineered for taste, sacrificing performance. Short-term mouth pleasures to keep you eating more.

My whole diet can be summed up in seven words. Eat food, mostly plants, not too much.

I stole this from Michael Pollan. His book Food Rules is the best book I’ve ever read on food.

We’ll treat these as the pillars.

A) Eat Food

This sounds trivial.

But the key is the definition of food.

Food, in this case, is whole foods. Foods which your great great grandparents would recognise as food.

This rules out most of the refined food sources you find the Standard American Diet (aptly abbreviated as S.A.D because it will make you sad).

This colourless combination of carbohydrates and fats has only been introduced to our diets in the last few decades. And it’s causing havoc to our health.

This colourless combination of carbohydrates and fats has only been introduced to our diets in the last few decades. And it’s causing havoc to our health.

Processed carbohydrates, sugars, vegetable/seed oils, fried foods. All the things you see at stores in the bright packaging or at the restaurants with the neon lights. Gone.

This isn’t to say carbohydrates, sugars and oils are completely avoided.

My ideal diet still contains these things but in the form of fruits, vegetables and non-vegetable/seed oils (olive, coconut).

Meat is there too. Preferably from animals who also don’t eat these kinds of foods. Grass-fed & free range where possible.

Why these?

My primary goals are mental and physical performance.

The body works very efficiently off of these kinds of foods.

Have you ever ate a heavy meal of burger and fries and felt sluggish after? I’m avoiding this feeling at all cost. Plus, add up enough of these feelings and you’ve got yourself a longer-term health problem worse than just feeling sluggish.

The best foods don’t require packaging.

B) Mostly plants

Vegetarian diets and vegan diets work great. All diet trends work great.

Why?

All the diet trends you’ve heard of work because they follow a common trend. They avoid the S.A.D (Standard American Diet).

Whether it be completely plant-based, a combination of plants and animals or completely meat-based, they focus on whole foods.

Mostly plants is me trying to take care of my microbiome.

What’s the microbiome?

It’s the colony of bacteria which live in your gut. There are more of them than us, 10 times more. 10 times more bacteria cells in your whole body than your own cells.

We still don’t know the exact role the microbiome plays in day to day life but more and more research is pointing towards it being considered as the second brain.

Even if you based the significance of importance on cell numbers alone, your microbiome is something you should be concerned about.

There was an experiment done on sets of twins. Genetically, twins are the same. They have the same DNA. Except for these sets of twins, one of them was overweight and the other wasn’t. If their DNA is the same, what was the difference?

The twin which was overweight had a less diverse microbiome.  Outtake from The Royal Institution Talk:    What Role Does our Microbiome Play in a Healthy Diet?

The twin which was overweight had a less diverse microbiome. Outtake from The Royal Institution Talk: What Role Does our Microbiome Play in a Healthy Diet?

Their microbiome. The twin who was overweight had a less diverse microbiome than the other. This is was the case for all the twins in the study.

Less diverse means there were fewer species of bacteria. The overweight twins microbiome was like walking through a garden with only one type of plant. And the other twin had a microbiome like a rich English Garden.

Keep your microbiome looking like a rich English garden.  Outtake from The Royal Institution Talk:    What Role Does our Microbiome Play in a Healthy Diet?

Keep your microbiome looking like a rich English garden. Outtake from The Royal Institution Talk: What Role Does our Microbiome Play in a Healthy Diet?

How would you improve the garden with only one kind of plant?

You’d add more plants.

This is the same as the microbiome. Adding more plants, more fruits and vegetables, diverse kinds of leaves, fermented foods (foods with bacteria already in them) help to diversify the microbiome.

My ideal diet takes care of my bacteria cells and my own cells.

C) Not too much

Have you ever seen a person walking through an airport trying to carry too many bags?

It doesn’t look like a good time.

Eating too much is the same as trying to carry around more bags than you need.

If I’m trying to balance all those extra bags and perform physically and mentally at the same time, it isn’t going to end well.

How do you know how much?

One way is to meticulously plan out what you’re going to do.

Like planning a trip day by day, hour by hour and packing every single thing you need.

Eating like this works but it’s hard work. Tracking every calorie, adding food here, removing it there.

I won’t be able to perform physically and mentally if all I’m doing is trying to calculate the perfect amount to eat.

What then?

D) Not too often

Eat when it’s required.

Imagine your body is a car tunnel. Except the car tunnel has a smaller exit than entrance. What happens to the car tunnel when cars keep coming in faster than they go out?

It gets clogged.

It’s hard for the car tunnel to do what it’s meant to do when it’s clogged.

The same goes for the body. If I’m always in the state of trying to process food, eating every couple of hours, I won’t be able to perform how I want to perform.

How does a car tunnel get cleaned?

It shuts off for half a day. Maybe a whole day sometimes.

The same goes for the body. Eating when you’re hungry instead of in between lets it get on with the other things it has to do.

My car tunnel shuts down for maintenance from 8 pm - 12 pm every day.

Like packing for the airport. I only pack what’s required.

E) The perpetual experiment

Biology is funky.

What works for one person might not work for someone else.

But when it comes to health, don’t look for the overcomplicated solution. Try a few things and see what works for you.

My ideal diet is a perpetual experiment with the goal of finding what helps me perform better physically and mentally over the long term.

Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. Not too often.

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Some simple food heuristics

  • If it requires a packet, avoid
  • If it needs an advertisement, avoid
  • If it has more than 3 ingredients and those ingredients aren’t plants or something you can’t understand, avoid
  • Shop at the perimeters of the shopmarket (all the junk is in the middle) 
  • Learn to cook your own food, heating up frozen dishes doesn’t count
  • Eat when you’re hungry and not otherwise

Of course, there will be times where you go against these. But since nutrition matters for everyone, they’re worth thinking about.

What did people do before alarms?

I have no idea how long alarm clocks have been around.

But what did people do before them?

If they had to be up early in the morning, what was the solution?

They probably wouldn’t stay up late.

They’d get to bed early and wake up with the sun.

Now the alarm clock helps us get out of bed at the right time. The buzzer goes off. You start slapping around and eventually turn it off.

I feel better in the morning without an alarm clock. I’m not against them, it is how it is.

The body knows how much sleep it needs.

There’s a lot of hype around sacrificing sleep to work more.

I’m not buying it. I’m sleeping when I need to sleep.

When I’m well rested, my work is better. My relationships are better. My health is better.

Sleep is the force-multiplier of life.

Tomorrow I’ve turned my alarm off.

I’m going to bed earlier instead.

Good night.

100% almonds

My favourite food in the world only requires 1 ingredient. Almonds. You crush them up, apply a little heat and crush them up some more and you get almond butter. I buy it by the kilo.

It's possible to get something beautiful from piling things on top of one another. More features, more capabilities, more ingredients.

It's also possible (but less common) to get something beautiful from taking things away. Removing what's unnecessary.

The iPhone took away all of the buttons on a traditional phone. You know what happened next.

A healthy diet doesn't mean adding in more healthy foods, if they're already there, it may require the removal of less healthy foods.

The default is more. But when more doesn't work, even more isn't the answer. Try less. Less but better.

Six Hacks For Getting and Staying Lean

So you want to get shredded?

Or maybe because it’s the start of the year and your New Years resolution was to lose weight. I’ve been there.

It doesn’t matter what time of year it is. There are things you can do all year round to get lean and stay lean.

Screw the 8-week challenges. Think 80-years instead.

Screw the stomach surgery. You don’t need it. No one should need it.

I grew up as an overweight teenager. I used to be scared in gym class to take my shirt off.

Scared to walk around a shopping centre because my t-shirt was hugging my man boobs.

I’ve been lean for the past 7-years. I’m not going back.

I know you’re in a hurry. So we’ll look at the things which offer the biggest benefits.

A) There is no best diet

I’ve tried them. Vegan, vegetarian, paleo, keto, low carb, high carb. You name it.

They all work. I felt better on some than others. And you’ll be the same.

Nutrition science is still very guess and check when it comes down the individual.

The most universal protocol I’ve found (and the one I stick to) is to consume a wide range of minimally processed foods and only eat when you need to.

What does this mean?

It means avoiding anything which has been made in a facility where people wear white coats.

It means avoiding anything your great great grandparents wouldn’t recognise as food.

It means swapping calorie counting for eating in a time restricted window. This means for a certain number of hours in the day, you don’t eat anything and only consume water.

A quick example.

6:00am — wake up

6:00am — 12:00pm consume nothing but water (coffee/tea okay but avoid any sweeteners)

12:00pm — 8:00pm consume whole food diet (meats, nuts, plants, oils or whatever suits your needs)

8:00pm — 6:00am consume nothing but water (coffee/tea not okay because it will interrupt your sleep pattern)

Is this the perfect fasting example? No. You can mix it up to suit your needs. Aim for a minimum 12-hour fasting window every day.

For more on food, I recommend Michael Pollan’s book, Food Rules. After doing a nutrition and food science degree, Pollan’s short book is the most concise resource I’ve ever found on the topic.

B) Snacking is a myth

There is no chance our ancestors would’ve made it through the past 100,000 years of homo sapien existence if they required a small delicate meal at 10:00am and 3:30pm to survive.

What makes you think you’re any different?

Avoid snacking. Eat whole food based meals at well spaced intervals.

If you find yourself craving something at a certain time every day, you’ve created a habit. Your body had become a custom to an influx of energy/mouth pleasure at a certain time.

If you must cave, stick with the protocol above. Nothing outside of your fasting window but if you’re within it, whole foods only.

C) Be prepared

‘How do you have time to make that?’

‘I do it in batches.’

‘I don’t know if I’d have the time to do all that.’

‘I cook on Sunday’s and Wednesday’s if I’m running out.’

I work in an office. The artificial lighting and air conditioning combination aren’t ideal for human physiology so I have to make sure I’m prepared.

By prepared, I mean having meals ready which follow the whole foods protocol so I can avoid falling into the trap of eating out.

Most food you can buy premade these days is garbage. Actual garbage.

Take the time to learn about food and how to prepare it. If not for your own health, for the health of your children.

How you live effects your genes. And how you eat is a big part of life. Your genes will be passed onto your offspring.

I was teaching at coding camp once. All the kids were aged 8–14.

On the first day one of the parents came up to us and said her child had learning difficulties. She was right. He had trouble concentrating in class.

Then lunchtime came and I sat to down to talk to some of the kids. He was there.

I watched him open his lunchbox.

‘What are you having for lunch Thomas?’ (name changed)

‘Pizza, chicken nuggets and Nutella sandwiches!’

Learning difficulties explained. This kid was trying to run a fuel hungry developmental brain off garbage. Actual garbage.

Preparing and cooking your own food and your child’s food not only forces you to learn more about food, it reduces the amount of decisions you have to make when Sally from HR comes in and asks you if you want to go to that burger shack down the road. Thank you for the offer Sally. But no.

D) Sleep

‘I can operate fine on a few hours of sleep.’

Is the equivalent of…

‘I haven’t had that much to drink, I’m fine.’

When was the last time you got a proper 8-hours sleep?

Not one night either. A week’s worth. How about a month’s worth?

Of course, there will be times where this is not possible. New borns. Dogs barking. Garbage trucks arriving at 4:37am. If I had it my way, they’d be carrying half the food you find available in a food court these days.

But the default for sleep should be trying to hit the right quantity as well as quality.

For most people (99%+), 7–9 hours of sleep is where you want to be.

There isn’t one bodily process sleep doesn’t effect. Including the hormones which regulate appetite and hunger.

If your sleep is poor, your hormones will be as unbalanced as the table you sat at last Sunday for brunch. You know the one you had to stick napkins under to fix. Then when it was level, you looked up at the waitress and said, ‘It’s all good, I got it.’ And proved it with a little shake.

So you’re starting to see what happens here.

Poor sleep equals poor hormone regulation equals cravings for more foods equals distrusted sleep because of non ideal food intake. The circle repeats itself.

‘Yeah, 7–9 hours, I get plenty of sleep but I’m still tired.’

The quantity is there, how’s your sleep quality?

Have you avoided caffeine 6+ hours before bed? Caffeine has a half-life of 6-hours. That means half of it is still in your body after 6-hours. Caffeine blocks the natural adenosine build up that occurs in the body during the day. But a build up of adenosine at the end of the day is good. Because once it hits a certain threshold, it triggers the release of melatonin. Melatonin is like the starting gun for sleep.

Too much caffeine later in the day = a blockage of adenosine = a lack of release of melatonin = sleep initiates but doesn’t start properly for a couple of hours.

Avoid caffeine after 2pm (earlier if you can).

What about a dark room? Are all the standby lights off?

We evolved sleeping under the stars or in dark caves. Because of this, we’re very sensitive to even the smallest light source. Even the smallest light in your room can effect the quality of your sleep.

Turn on all the night mode settings on your devices and remove all light sources in your room when it’s time to sleep. The darker the better.

For more on sleep, Matthew Walker’s book, Why We Sleep, is the absolute gold standard.

E) Movement

You already know the benefits here. It’s usually the first thing you hear about when people say they’re going to get healthier.

I’ve put it here because when it comes to health, sleep and food are the cake and the icing, movement is the cherry on top. Ironic using a cake example in a health post. But you get it.

The healthiest cultures in the world don’t have gym memberships. Instead, their days are intertwined with movement.

Movement. Not exercise.

Exercise is great. Really great. But if you’re looking to make a change focus on movement first.

People get scared of exercise because they went to one session, got blown out of the water by some guy who runs marathons and woke up the next day feeling as if they were hit by a bus.

Start by making small changes and gradually increase them.

Simple movement hacks:

  • Take the stairs. Always.

  • 10-minute walks after every meal.

  • Got a phone call to make? Walk and talk.

  • Bringing groceries in? Do 6 trips instead of 1.

  • Catch the bus or train? On Friday’s you get off a stop early and walk the rest.

Once you’ve started to learn more about your food intake, improved your sleep and added a little more movement to your day, then you might want to look into stepping it up. Maybe one day you’ll be the one running marathons.

F) Break the rules

After doing it for 7-years, it’s easier for me to eat well, move every day and get quality sleep than it isn’t. The principles above have been ingrained into the habit region of my brain.

But it didn’t start out like that.

There were plenty of times where I ate poor food. Where I missed a day at the gym. Where I stayed up until 3:00am scrolling through Facebook and Instagram before waking up at 7:00am.

Sally comes around every dam Wednesday. She loves those burgers.

And the benefits of having health hacks built into your day to day is being able to say, ‘You know what Sally, I’ll come.’

Life happens.

But don’t use it as an excuse every day. Health habits don’t build themselves.

Saying it like this makes staying healthy sound bad. It’s not. It’s natural. It’s biology. It’s what your DNA is screaming for.

After all, if you don’t have your health, what do you have?

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Health like a Physicist

Health sciences are too often reactive practices.

They could probably improve with some first principles thinking.

Like our Physicist friends do.

Take a rocket ship, how well would it fly if a Physicist forgot about incorporating gravity into the design?

“But that would be silly, they’d never forget gravity!”

You’re right.

A launch wouldn’t be very impressive if they did.

Just as gravity is a pillar force in getting rockets off the ground, if you want to improve or maintain your health, there are pillar forces you should pay attention to.

A rocket needs good fuel. So does your body. Whole foods, mostly plants, not too much.

A rocket that doesn’t move isn’t very helpful. Neither is a body that hasn’t moved in a while. Bend so you don’t break, every day.

And a rocket can’t (yet) operate at full capacity mission after mission without rest and repair. Neither can you function without adequate sleep and recovery. Quantity, 9-7 hours and quality, dark room, no caffeine after within 8-hours of sleep.

Food, movement, sleep. If a Physicist designed a healthcare protocol for themselves, these would be as important as gravity is for rocket design.

Just like gravity is crucial to rocket design, food, movement and sleep are crucial to health.

Just like gravity is crucial to rocket design, food, movement and sleep are crucial to health.


The man in the arena

My heart was pumping.

I tried to slow it down with my breathing.

In for 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds, out for 4 seconds. I read somewhere this is how Navy Seals breathe to keep themselves calm. If it was good enough for them, it was good enough for me.

It worked.

My vision got clearer and my heart rate slowed down.

But the voice in my head was still there. The one who says, 'you're not ready for this.'

Still there. It always is in the big moments. Even if you've been getting prepared for months. The voice always shows up.

I knew it was coming. And I knew what it was going to say.

Samurai's thought it was best to fight with an empty mind. So I cleared out the house in my head where my thoughts live and locked the door.

There I was standing at the edge of the mat, staring at a guardrail across the hall. But how did I know I was staring at the guardrail? Was that a thought? Dammit. My mind wasn't clear.

The voice started to come back. Maybe I hadn't done enough training. Maybe the other guy was better than me.

Shhhh.

These thoughts aren't helpful but they're always there.

'Don't forget to breathe,' one guy told me. He was right. Breathing is important.

The fight started and the crowd cheered. I had some supporters and the other guy had some too. Everyone was there for the show. People love to be entertained.

It went on for a few minutes, he had control for the most part and ended up winning on points.

My first Brazilian Jiu Jitsu tournament match, a loss.

'That wasn't so bad,' I thought. And the voice was gone.

What was the point of it showing up?

No one else was against me except it. Our harshest critique lives in our heads.

But you can silence it with your actions. The critiques opinion doesn't matter to the man in the arena. Because the critique isn't the one going to battle.

The critique isn't the one putting themselves out there.

The critique isn't the one showing up and trying something which might not work.

The critique feeds on attention and loses her power when the man in the arena decides to ignore her.

Today was good fun. I finished the day with 2 losses by points, 1 win by armbar submission and 9.5/10 fingernails.

Six weeks into this sport and I'm already in love. There are plenty more rolls to come. And that gets me excited.

If you haven't tried Brazilian Jiu Jitsu before, you should. I highly recommend it.

Even if it's not Jiu Jitsu, and you're thinking about trying something else. Something new. But you've been paying too much attention to your harshest critique and it's holding you back. Silence the critique with your actions. I highly recommend it.

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Changing your mind is free

Someone came up to me today and said they wanted to get healthier.

‘I’ve got a pack with my friend to sign up to the police force,’ he said, ‘and we’ve both let ourselves go a bit.’

‘And you look like the type of guy who knows what he’s doing, and I’ve decided it’s time to do something.’ 

‘Yeah, of course, I can help,’ I said, ‘ask me anything.’

What he did takes guts.

It’s hard to look at the world and say, ‘I’m going to make a change.’

It’s sometimes even harder to look at yourself and do the same thing.

Changing your mind is free but that doesn’t mean it isn’t hard.

On another note, these kind of situations are why I stay fit.

My body is my product. It’s skin in the game. If I’m going to write, talk about and spread the message of being healthy, I have to first be healthy myself.

You are what you repeatedly do. That’s your personal brand.

The same principle applies. If your personal brand is what you repeatedly do, you can change it like your mind. It’ll be free but no one said it’ll be easy.