Glucose the toxin Part 3 – You can override your brain

In part one of this short series, sugar was vilified for its unrelenting potentially lethal impact on human health.  In part two, refined grains were exposed as equally culpable in this lethal assault against humanity.

We now turn to what can be done about it.  Fortunately, it’s not all doom and gloom.

Sadly, fear is a terrible motivator.  Fear of all of those adverse health outcomes – heart disease, dementia, stroke, obesity, type 2 diabetes – simply does not work to motivate us to effect change.  If it did, all adrenalin addicted, chain smoking, sugar buzzed overweight business executives who survive a heart attack would voluntarily trade in the smokes for a pair of running shoes and a yoga mat, quit their high stress job, move to the quiet countryside, spend their days meditating and their nights in a blissful slumber.

It’s just not going to go over terribly well.

Cut the sugar and skip the flour.  Hmm.  What’s left on the menu?

Thankfully, we live in a global economy and are no longer dependent on our hunter-gatherer skills or the limitations of our local environment.  A huge variety of fruit from all over the world is available year-round.  Same for high quality vegetables.  Ditto for meat and fish.  Lack of choice or availability are not concerns in the 21st century.

We cannot even use a lack of culinary skills as an excuse.  Multiple food delivery services are just an email request away.

However, in the last century or so, we have been conditioned to believe we must eat multiple meals per day and that hunger is dreadful to be avoided at all cost.  Have you ever wondered when (and why) three meals a day became the accepted norm? And when did that norm morph into 6 or more meals or snacks a day?  I suspect three meals a day became the norm with the agricultural revolution, and that norm morphed in the late 1970s with the introduction of the faulty American dietary guidelines and its low fat recommendation.

Secondly, as alluded to in part one of this series, our brain was beautifully designed for survival in a hostile world where food was scarce.  It was specifically designed to seek/crave calorie dense foods and it rewards us (with dopamine, our “Oh nice” neurotransmitter) when we find and eat those calorie dense foods.  Thirdly our body was specifically designed to store excess energy as body fat for future famine, something it does extremely efficiently.  Thank you insulin.  We survived as a species because of these two key hormones – dopamine and insulin.

Fortunately, we no longer live in a hostile world, food is no longer scarce and famine is rare.  But evolution has yet to upgrade our brain or our body to match this hospitable food aplenty world.  The brain continues to crave calorie dense foods and the body continues to store excess energy as body fat.  And this default program in the hospitable food aplenty world of the 21st century, is detrimental to our well-being.

It’s quite a paradox – what historically ensured our survival is now threatening our survival.

So we believe hunger is awful, and dietary fat is bad.  But dietary fat is satiating (filling), and when we avoid it, we feel hungry.  To compensate we eat constantly. Hmm.

Add to that sugar’s calorie dense, addictive qualities, flour’s ability to fuel the fire and our hospitable, food aplenty world.  Hmm.

Add to that our brain’s default program to crave and reward calorie dense foods and the body’s exquisite ability to store excess energy as body fat.  Hmm.

Add to that all the energy saving conveniences of our sedentary lifestyle.  Hmm.

Is it any wonder we struggle?

While we wait for evolution to catch up, we must counter some very powerful brain neurophysiology and body physiology that served us exceptionally well for millenia.  Not only that, we must counter a society that covets the very issues that undermine our health.

Sounds impossible right?

Nope, it’s totally possible, because our brilliant brain has a pre-frontal cortex.  The pre-frontal cortex (PFC) is the part of our brain that directs what psychologists call our executive functions – planning, organization, creativity/imagination, focus/attention and decision making.  And best of all, the PFC can override the brain’s default program.  Unlike any other animal species on the planet, you can choose.  We just have to start to direct our pre-frontal cortex.

  • Your brain may crave calorie dense foods, but you can tell it “no, not today.”
  • You can choose foods that do not flood the bloodstream with glucose (no sugar, no flour, above ground vegetables, naturally occurring fats and go easy on the protein).
  • You can choose to fast (no snacks between meals and fast 12-14h overnight).
  • You can choose eating patterns that rev-up your energy not slow it down (time restricted eating or intermittent fasting).
  • You can choose to eat only when truly hungry (not to console).
  • You can choose to prioritize your own self-care.
  • You can choose to move your body.
  • You can choose to de-stress.
  • You can choose to rest and get sufficient sleep.
  • You can choose your thoughts.
  • You can direct your brain.

In essence, the default program directing the neuro-transmitter dopamine and the hormone insulin, can be re-written under the direct supervision of the pre-frontal cortex and the choices we make.

Manage your dopamine and change your perspective.
Manage your insulin and change your weight.
Manage your thoughts and change your life.

It is utterly and completely possible.
It’s your choice.  And again I repeat, choice is a precious gift.

Buff it up,
Dr Karen

Glucose the toxin – Part 2 – The many guises of glucose

In part one, sugar was vilified for the role it plays in a host of adverse health outcomes.  Sugar is insidiously destructive, slowly killing us with massive amounts of glucose.

But sugar is not the only dietary source of glucose.  Glucose is found in many guises in the foods we eat.  Starchy vegetables – eventually broken down into glucose during digestion.  The sugar found in fruits – fructose is converted to glucose by the liver.  The carbohydrates found in non-starchy vegetables – again glucose.  Excess protein is converted to glucose in the liver (a process called gluconeogenesis).  All of this glucose, regardless of origin, can be used as fuel or stored as body fat.

The difference between glucose from these various sources of glucose and sugar is its ease of digestion.  Sugar a simple carbohydrate (remember it is a disaccharide) is easily digested and rapidly absorbed.  One swing of the axe, and its ready for absorption.  Not so for the sugar in fruits, vegetables or starchy vegetables.  These foods contain complex carbohydrates and are considerably harder to digest.   Hundreds if not thousands of swings of the axe are needed to cleave off a glucose molecule, ready for absorption.

Protein has a completely different route of absorption and is broken down in the stomach into amino acids (the building blocks of protein), absorbed into the bloodstream in the small intestine, transported around in the blood to wherever new proteins need to be made, and then repackaged into protein.  Excess protein building blocks (amino acids) are transported to the liver for conversion to glucose.  Protein to glucose, is a long and drawn out process.

A much slower process, the digestion and absorption of these complex carbohydrate containing foods and protein does not flood the bloodstream with glucose anywhere near the same extent as sugar.  It’s a gentle stream versus a bursting dam.

Another key difference is complex carbohydrates are packed with nutrients – vitamins, minerals and anti-oxidants – that are essential for our health.  Sugar is void of nutrients.

Grains are missing from that list.  Whole grains are complex carbohydrates and are packed with fiber.  But whole grains are really hard to digest and often our digestive system simply cannot digest it.  So we just don’t eat it ‘straight up’ – instead we grind it up.

We grind whole grains into flour, a very fine powder.  And the grinding process removes/destroys fiber and any nutrients it may have contained.  In flour’s defense, manufacturers have added some vitamins back giving flour its enriched or fortified status.  The problem is, refined flour is easily digested and rapidly absorbed.  And as a derivative of grains which are complex carbohydrates, it breaks down into glucose (all glucose, no fructose as found in sugar) which is directly absorbed into our bloodstream.  Which means – you guessed it – flour floods our bloodstream with glucose and spikes a huge insulin surge.  And just as with sugar, insulin goes about the business of removing glucose, pushing it into our cells for all their energy needs and storing the excess as body fat.

Flour and sugar are often combined into delightful sweet treats for a whopping dose of glucose.  As far as the body is concerned, a molecule of glucose is a molecule of glucose regardless of origin.  And as we learned last week, glucose at massive doses is toxic.

Because flour does contain fructose it is not sweet.  But that does not mean it is innocent.  Flour spikes glucose in our bloodstream just as effectively, perhaps even more rapidly than sugar.  As such, flour is equally responsible for the host of adverse health outcomes (obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol/dyslipidemia, type 2 diabetes, dementia, stroke, and major depressive disorder) blamed on sugar.

An irresistibly tasty killer combination, sugar and flour perpetuate insulin resistance and all the morbidity and mortality that follows.

Cut the sugar, skip the flour and feel better.

Next in the series, Cut the sugar and skip the flour – it is possible.

Buff it up,
Dr Karen

Glucose the toxin Part 1 – Sugar the con artist

Ahh, sugar!  We love, love, love it.  It’s such a powerful additive.  And what a ubiquitous additive it is – sugar is added to most everything processed.

Sugar is a highly concentrated form of carbohydrate derived from sugar cane, and other plants such as beets and corn (think high fructose corn syrup.) Chemically this delightful white crystal is a disaccharide – a simple sugar molecule composed of one part glucose and one part fructose.  Fructose, is so named because it is the sugar predominantly found in fruits, and is the component that makes sugar attractively sweet.  And when concentrated into high fructose corn syrup it packs one powerful sweet punch.  (High fructose corn syrup is the sweetener used in most soft drinks.)

Sugar is easily digested and is broken down into glucose and fructose then rapidly absorbed into our bloodstream. The glucose floods our bloodstream immediately, but fructose is diverted to the liver for processing and conversion into glucose before entering our bloodstream.  The pancreas, detecting glucose in the bloodstream, almost instantaneously releases insulin, our life saving energy management hormone.  Insulin then goes about the business of removing glucose from our bloodstream, pushing it into our cells for their immediate energy needs, storing a small easily accessible emergency energy supply (called glycogen) in our muscles and storing the excess energy as body fat.  This is all well and good.  Insulin is doing its evolutionary job – storing excess energy as body fat for future famine.

A critical point that seems long forgotten, is the fact that our body is specifically designed to burn predominantly fat for fuel, rather than glucose.  That is why we store excess energy as body fat – it’s for future use!  That is a key factor in our physiology that allowed us to survive when food was scarce during our hunter-gatherer days.  Another key evolutionary fact that contributed to our survival, is that our brain was designed to reward us for eating calorie dense foods.  As hunter-gatherers ‘calorie dense’ meant tubers (underground starchy vegetables), fruits when in season and animal meat after a successful hunt.  Wild blueberries, yum.  Potatoes, yum.  Steak, yum.  Not sugar in its 21st century can’t-get-enough-YUM-YUM-YUM concentration!

Our body is not well designed to handle sugar in this highly concentrated form.  It floods our bloodstream with massive amounts of glucose.  (Remember sugar is ultimately converted to glucose.)  The glucose in our bloodstream is tightly regulated and maintained at a concentration that is roughly the equivalent of 1 teaspoon of sugar.  ONE TEASPOON in our entire bloodstream.  Contrast that with 10 teaspoons of sugar in a single 375ml can of cola.  The amount of sugar we consumed as fruit and tubers as hunter-gatherers is miniscule relative to that can of cola.

The dose of sugar consumed daily in the 21st century is massive.  Just how massive? Roughly, 152 pounds per person per year.   That is just under ½ pound per day!  To put this into perspective in the 1700s sugar consumption was about 5 pounds per year, in the 1800s it was 23 pounds per year.  (Of note in the 1700s and 1800s, obesity and type 2 diabetes were extremely rare, versus the 21st century where both are epidemic and accelerating!)

We eat roughly ½ pound of sugar per day.  There are roughly 55 teaspoons in ½ pound of sugar.  We only need 1 teaspoon of sugar circulating in our bloodstream.  We eat 55 times more sugar than we need – daily.  (Kinda gives new meaning to the idea of a sweet tooth huh?!)

And that massive dose of sugar is converted to glucose.  And glucose at such massive doses is toxic to the body and over the long term wreaks havoc with just about every system in the body – the brain, the eyes, the kidneys, the heart and blood vessels, the nerves, and the gut.

So, instead of using our stored body fat for fuel, our body preferentially burns the incoming sugar for its daily energy requirements.  And insulin doing its evolutionary job, continues to store excess energy as body fat, predominantly around the middle.

Furthermore, because our brain is designed to seek/crave calorie dense foods, sugar in its highly concentrated form is not only toxic, it is addictive.  But unlike other addictive substances (nicotine, cocaine, heroine or alcohol), sugar does not have any obvious short term negative consequences – no hallucinations, no heart palpitations, no slurred speech, and no impaired judgement.  (Though, as a pediatrician in days gone by, I can attest to the hyperactivity inducing qualities of sugar and subsequent sugar withdrawal related behaviour challenges.)

In fact, the opposite is true – sugar soothes.  Sugar stimulates the reward center of our brain, predominantly via dopamine, our “oh-nice” neurotransmitter.  Eat a little sugar, “oh-nice” and we feel relieved, at least briefly.

Unfortunately, while sugar stimulates our brain’s reward center, delivering a nice soothing little bit of relief, the more we use it, the less dopamine our brain produces.  To make matters worse, the brain decreases its number of dopamine receptors (a phenomenon called down regulation) rendering the dopamine that is produced less effective.  And then, just like any other addictive substance, we need more and more sugar to elicit the same response.

Sadly, we have become a society of sugar addicts.

Though the short term consequences of sugar may be minimal, the long term consequences are staggering.  Sugar is insidiously destructive and takes decades to kill.  And if it does not kill us, it certainly causes considerable pain and suffering!  Over consumption of sugar is a known significant risk factor in a multitude of adverse health outcomes – obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol/dyslipidemia, type 2 diabetes, dementia, stroke, and depression.

Collectively obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke and type 2 diabetes fall under the umbrella term of Metabolic Syndrome and Metabolic Syndrome accounts for the majority of chronic diseases afflicting western civilization.  And the central tenent of Metabolic Syndrome is insulin resistance.  Which means our cells no longer respond to insulin and as a result, glucose accumulates in our blood to toxic levels and we get sicker and sicker.  In an effort to compensate, but with limited options, our body makes more insulin and we store more energy as body fat, and we get fatter and fatter.   Unfortunately, we also increase our insulin resistance.  It’s a self-perpetuating downward spiral.

Sicker and sicker, fatter and fatter, and addicted.  Thanks sugar.

Except for concentrated calories, sugar is utterly void of nutritive value.  Sugar is sweet but not so innocent.

At the heart of many pathological processes that drive what ails us in the 21st century, over consumption of sugar has been implicated in inflammation (think joint pain), gut dysfunction (think bloating, pain), impaired cognition (think brain fog, dementia), volatile mood (think depression, stress, anxiety), and accelerated aging to name just a few.

So, weight loss aside, if you want to decrease joint pain, think clearer, feel less depressed or stressed or just want to feel better overall – cut the sugar.

Sugar – it’s quite the con artist.  And we are all victims of the con.  Cut the sugar – admittedly no easy feat, but there is so much to gain (or in the case of weight, so much to lose.)

In the next part of this short series – it’s not only sugar that is intoxicating.

Buff it up!
Dr Karen

Friends and friendship – the best medicine!

I don’t think anyone would argue that friends and friendship aren’t important.  They feed our soul and fill our heart.

Merriam Webster’s dictionary defines friendship, as “the state of being friends” and defines a friend as “a person who has a strong liking for and trust in another.”

Philosophers have been debating the meaning of and need for friends and friendship for centuries.  Aristotle, circa 350 BC, mused that friendship is a necessity for happiness.  More recently friendship has been described as a voluntary social relationship.

I disagree with the idea that friendship is voluntary.  Whom you choose as a friend may be voluntary (unlike your family) but having friends is essential to our health and well-being.  We survived as a species by belonging to a tribe.  We were able to rise to the top of the food chain in a hostile eat-or-be-eaten environment because we learned to cooperate.  The need to belong, that crucial relationship that extends beyond the family unit, was selected for over the millenia.  It’s in our DNA.

And that need to belong is powerful.  Our choice of friends influences everything and is of paramount importance developmentally.  As a child our family is the center of our world. But as we progress through the teenage years, our peers replace our family on the priority list.  Friends are everything to a teenager.  It’s why we did stupid stuff to fit in as a teenagers.  And if we were somehow ostracized, we were scarred for life.

As adults our friends have a tremendous impact on our lives and our habits.  If we exercise, if we smoke, if we are a non-drinker, social drinker or over drinker, if we over eat or under eat, even what we eat is influenced by our social circles.  Our friends influence our dreams and aspirations.  We become who we are, largely because of our friends and friendships.

Furthermore, friendship has been identified as one of the most important predictors of longevity.  Social isolation is known to be detrimental to our health.  It’s worse than smoking!  Seniors with longstanding friendships live longer, laugh more frequently and have a higher quality of life with than those living in isolation.

Think about it.  It is so much easier to keep a commitment with a friend than to ourselves.  Why is that?  The power of friendship.  I can attest to this power.  Myself and a friend committed to meet weekly to hike along the Bruce Trail, an 894 km footpath in Ontario that stretches from Queenston along the Niagara Escarpment up to Tobermory.  We have yet to miss a week. Though both of us admitted, this past week, neither of us would have braved the chilly rain and headed out before dawn on our own.  Both of us would have hit snooze and rolled over enjoying the warmth under the comforter, except for the power of friendship.

Yet, despite the importance of friends and friendship on our well-being, the ability to make friends and maintain friendships is often taken for granted.  And for many adults, trying to strike a balance between the demands of career and family, friends and friendships trickle down the priority list and fade unnoticed.  And sadly, the art of building friendship is withering in the shadow of social media.  We collect friends on social media like we used to collect rocks or trinkets and it’s not healthy.

Right alongside laughter, friends and friendships just might be the best medicine we could ever need!  Building friendships is not a luxury.  Friends are not optional.  Both are essential and need to be tended and nurtured as if our life depended on it.  Because it does.

Have a wonderful week my friends,
Karen

There is hope – LCHF!

Keeping myself up to date (just a little), I recently attended a presentation entitled Food Quality Matters:  Using Therapeutic Nutrition to Improve Health.  It was most encouraging.  The speaker’s opening comment sums it up beautifully.

“There is hope!  We are entering the era of diabetes reversal.”

Oh yes there is hope not only for individuals with type 2 diabetes, but the obese and the overweight, the stressed and the sleepless, the depressed and the anxious and I like to believe, hope for the prevention of dementia.  Eating a low carb diet works.  I have proven it for myself (my weight loss journey is documented elsewhere.)  And the medical community, slow as it tends to be, is starting to change its longstanding but incorrect, low fat diet recommendations.

The speaker started with the utter lack of evidence to support the low fat dietary recommendations currently accepted as irrefutable dogma.  Yes – the LACK of evidence.  There was minimal evidence available to support the sweeping low fat diet recommendations adopted for the US Food Pyramid, and the evidence that was available was deeply flawed.

Unfortunately, instead of conducting its own review of the available evidence and reaching its own conclusions, the Canadian Government aligned the Canadian Food Guide recommendations with those of the US.  So, most residents of North America excluding Mexico and the far North, were, unbeknownst to themselves, participants in a huge food based experiment supposing that high fat diets are a major factor contributing to death from heart disease.

Some 50 years later, the experiment has some astounding results.  Results, that despite being replicated many times, are largely ignored.  Low fat diets are slowly killing us.  Obedient citizens that we are, we ate low fat.  And we got hungry, moody, irritable and fat.

Since the low fat dietary recommendation was introduced in the late 1970s, rates of obesity, type 2 diabetes and other metabolic disorders have reached epidemic proportions.  Following along in parallel, rapidly rising rates of Alzheimer’s dementia are equally alarming.  “No, no, no” we are told, “it’s not low fat.  Rates are rising because we are living longer.”  Perhaps, but if living longer were the predominant cause of Alzheimer’s dementia those populations world-wide that tout the most centenarians per capita would also have the highest number of Alzheimer’s dementia.

Hmmm.

As a society we are a stubborn lot and the message ‘dietary fat bad’ has been heard loud and clear.  The result?  Paradoxically an unwell, fat fearing, fat society.

Secondly the speaker outlined mounting evidence that supports a low carbohydrate diet as an intervention for disorders known to be secondary to insulin resistance – most notably type two diabetes.

“We are entering the era of type 2 diabetes reversal.”  Astounding statement.  We are trained in medicine that type 2 diabetes is an irreversible, progressive and fatal disease.  Irreversible and progressive.  And now to claim type 2 diabetes is reversible by altering what we eat?  Absurd right?

Nope. Not at all.

It is possible.  It’s just not easy.  And your doctor keeps telling to eat your carbs and take your insulin enhancing medications.  With careful and close monitoring of your blood sugars, you can delay the inevitable… diabetic nephropathy (loss of kidney function requiring dialysis three times per week), diabetic retinopathy (loss of eyesight), peripheral neuropathy (loss of sensation in your feet), foot ulcers from poor circulation and perhaps ultimately an amputation.

“There is hope.”  You could try eating a low carb, high fat, real food (unprocessed) diet and stop the progression of this debilitating fatal disease in its tracks.

I for one, reversed my pre-diabetes, hypertension (high blood pressure) and obesity by eating mostly low carb despite my inconsistency.  And true or not, I am willing to believe choosing a low carb, real food diet, will at best prevent, or at the very least, slow the early onset non-Alzheimer’s dementia that affects the elderly women in my family.

To believe otherwise is pointless.

There is hope.  We can end this fattening, low fat diet experiment, that is making us miserable, and slowly killing us.  Eat two – three low carb, high fat, minimally processed meals, 4 – 5 hours apart with no snacking.  It is possible.  Change your health.

It’s your choice.  And, as I have written before – choice, is a beautiful thing.

Buff it up my friends,
Dr Karen

Burnout

Burnout.  It’s in vogue these days.  It seems to be turning into society’s new normal.  We are all busy keeping ourselves busy.  This busyness of society is not new,  Socrates commented on it centuries ago.

“Beware the barreness of a busy life.”

If you have been reading my musings, you know that I retired from my pediatric practice just over 2 years ago.  After closing my practice, it took me about 5 months to recognize I had been utterly burned out.  After reaching this blatantly obvious conclusion, I casually mentioned to a close friend, “I think I was burned out.”  Her response?  “Ya think?” It was one of several post-retirement “Dah-Doctor moments.”

Such is the nature of change I suppose.

Change, by definition, thrusts you into the discomfort zone of life – that uncomfortable place where you feel the edges of life a little too sharply.  The discomfort zone is also that beautiful zone where we rise to challenges, build courage, take risks and experience personal growth.

Sometimes change can land you deep in the panic zone – ‘the-OMG-what-have-I-done?-zone’ – also a place I’ve visited since my decision to retire.  We can all inadvertently end up in the panic zone – it’s just life sending us a wake-up/pay attention call.

I’ve also occasioned the bottom end of the spectrum – ‘the complacency zone’, which I refer to as the ‘Meh!-whatever-zone’ which, in my view, should be avoided whenever possible.

Two years after my Dah-Doctor revelation, I can honestly say I am recovered – no more burnout.  Being busy keeping myself busy, is no longer part of my vocabulary.  I have slowed my life down and I spend most of my time hanging out in ‘the comfort zone’ – that zone where you can relax and recharge after some inadvertent visits to the ‘panic’ or ‘meh-whatever’ zones.  I also venture into the discomfort/learning zone often, effectively expanding my comfort zone.

To prevent burnout, we need to spend most of our time in our comfort zone while venturing into our discomfort/learning zone often while being careful not to overshoot into the panic zone triggering a retreat into the complacency zone.   In essence, recharge yourself (comfort zone), challenge yourself (discomfort zone) and avoid too much stress (panic zone) or not enough stress (complacency zone).

Comfort zone – relax and recharge.
Discomfort zone – challenges, learn and grow.
Panic zone – what have I done?
Complacent zone – Meh, whatever.

What’s your comfort zone, and how often do you venture into your discomfort zone?  And have you built guardrails around the panic and complacency zones?

They should teach this stuff in high school!  What a better place the world could be!

Buff it up, my friends,
Dr Karen

Lessons from a carb-craving-munch-fest

Overall, I am happier than I have been in many decades, I have considerably more energy and I sleep much better.  All of which I credit to the changes I have made in my way of eating –  low carb (minimal sugar, minimal flour) with intermittent fasting and an occasional extended fast.

This new way of eating is fantastic.  I love the way I feel with this approach to eating and it offers tremendous flexibility.  Because, sometimes life needs a little flexibility.  Right?  I simply refuse to be rigid in my diet.  Life is short, and unlike last 40 years, I am not going to spend the next 40 years trying to lose weight.  I am done with that nonsense, forever.  Lose your excess weight, then be done.  Stop perpetually dieting!

For me, runnin’ on empty with a brain fueled by ketones feels fantastic.  As I eluded to in an earlier blog, the brunt of our daily energy expenditure is accounted for by the digestion and absorption of food.  When you fast for 24 – 36 hours, all that energy can be redirected elsewhere.  And contrary to common belief, you won’t die if you miss a meal or two!

When I completed my first extended fast of 5 days, after the first two days, I rarely felt hungry.  Even those first two days were not terribly miserable.  Hunger comes and goes and is never an emergency.  Master faster Jimmy Moore, co-author with Dr Jason Fung of The Complete Guide to Intermittent Fasting, routinely fasts 7 – 10 days.  He is of the opinion that if you are going to fast for 48h, you might as well extend it to 5 – 7 days, because the hard part is already over.  That has also been my experience.

I am not recommending you jump in with both feet and start a 7 day fast.  Please do not do that to yourself.  Fasting is like running, if you start with a marathon, you are unlikely to finish and if you do, you will likely be miserable for much of it, vowing never again!  You must be smart about it and build up to it.  Get yourself off sugar and processed foods stuffs and train your body to burn body fat for fuel.  Then all the amazing benefits of short extended fasts are yours!

To date, my longest fast has been 5 days (though I confess I take coffee with cream every morning, fasting or not – ‘cuz life is short.)  And at the end, I felt great – full of energy, with crystal clear mental clarity!  VROOM! VROOM!  Truly remarkable.

This past month, I was canoeing/portaging with some lifelong friends, and with that week long adventure, I was completely off my new way of eating.  And truthfully – I was and remain totally fine with my choices.  We had a fabulous trip – rain included!  Sugary snacks readily available (chocolate, every flavor jelly beans, and peanut butter, banana and chocolate gorp), early morning oatmeal and highly processed dehydrated (but amazingly tasty) evening meals, my carb-craves have returned big time!

It’s the first time in over a year that I overloaded on carbs daily for a week.  Since then, I have been fielding cravings for Baskin and Robin’s Jamoca Almond Fudge ice cream, Almond Crunch Cookies (one of my food nemesis’) and the salty crunch of Miss Vickies potato chips.  And I will confess I caved on more than one occasion!

Along with this carb-crave-munch-fest, I lost my crystal clear mental clarity and my inner critic has returned.  The mental clarity of low carb with intermittent fasting was incredible, but the silencing of my inner critic was astounding.

As I return to my new way of eating, I watch my brain fog slowly lift and listen to my inner critic as she recedes into silence again with curiosity.  Hmm, what can I learn from this?  This is such great information to know.  I already knew I was ‘sensitive’ to carbs.  A ‘cheat’ of some homemade banana blueberry muffins with homemade strawberry jam would add 2 – 3 lbs water weight for a day or two.

Now I have evidence that mental clarity and a silent inner critic are tied to my new way of eating.  Whoop!  Whoop! My cotton candy brain recedes.  I want that always.  AL-WAYS!

Who wouldn’t?  Many women who follow a low carb diet combined with intermittent fasting report an increase in their mental clarity but few mention a silent inner critic… I doubt I am a special unicorn in that regard, but if I am, I will take it thank you very much!

What about you?  Are you a special unicorn too?

Buff on my friends!
Dr. Karen

If you want to swap out some mental clarity for the brain fog, I can help.  Let’s chat.

Your Brain is Your Servant

Thank your brain for helping out.

Your brain is running your life based on beliefs it derived from its previous experiences.  And many of those beliefs were decided when you were an acne prone teen/twenty something doing your best to fit in to what you thought was the right fit for you.

Perhaps it was the right fit, perhaps it wasn’t.  And it really doesn’t matter.

The point is, your brain is capable of more than you can possibly imagine.  It’s like owning an iPhone and only using it as a phone – you know, like to talk with someone.  You can take/send pictures, play music, listen to podcasts, pay bills, transfer money, record videos, keep lists, set reminders and alarms – all kinds of cool stuff with your ‘phone.’  And for us over 50 types, who really only want a phone for a possible emergency, we are out of luck.  Phones are now obsolete.  For all intent and purposes it could be a triquarter (think Star Trek) or a palm sized computer that also happens to be a phone.  If you are at all like me, you are unaware of the multitude of tasks your iPhone can perform.

In general, we are unaware of most of what the brain is up to and unaware of its incredible potential.  It’s just up there churning out thoughts, 60,000 a day, most of which are repeats of yesterday and the day before and the day before the day before that.  Our brain is running on default habits it established.  You get up on the same side of the bed, stumble to the bathroom, then to the backdoor to let the dog out, you make coffee, let the dog back in, feed the dog, have a shower while the coffee percolates, dry off, get dressed, sip a coffee with cream.  WHEW already a long morning!  And all you did was get up, get dressed and make a cup of coffee.  You do all that without a second thought.  Thank you brain.  Your brain may even have been prepping you for the day – overslept again, better have a short shower, or busy day today, let’s wear our favourite shirt, or hey it’s Sunday why are we up so early?  All automatic, the subconscious brain ticking along, as always, same ole, same ole.

Our brain is similar to our lungs.  Just like our thoughts are automatic, breathing is automatic.  Can you imagine how disruptive it would be if you had to remind yourself all day long to take a breath every 6 seconds.  Okay take a breath, get up, walk to the bathroom, take a breath.  Take a breath.  Walk to the back door, take a breath, step step, take a breath, step step step. Take a breath.  Let dog out, take a breath.    Where was I, right, take a breath, making coffee, take a breath.  Exhausting huh?  Fortunately, we breathe automatically most of the time.  But we can take conscious control of our breathing.  You can breathe deep if you want, you can hyperventilate if you want (not recommended) or you can hold your breath for a minute or so.  Our lungs and our brain are under both conscious and subconscious control. No other organ is like that.  You cannot will your hearing to not hear.  You can choose to not pay attention, but you will still hear.  You cannot will your heart to beat faster or slower (well, not without thinking some panic inducing thoughts first), you cannot will your pancreas to release digestive enzymes.  But you can direct your breathing, and you can direct your brain.

Direct your brain.  Say what?  No, you did not miss the memo, there was no memo.  There is no instruction manual.  But you can direct your brain – totally possible, but your brain won’t like it.

Try it.  Consciously break your morning routine.  Get up on the other side of the bed.  Make coffee before your shower.  Empty the dishwasher after feeding the dog.  I can almost guarantee you will feel ‘out of sorts’ all day.   Your brain’s autopilot has been disrupted and that makes your brain very confused.

“No, no, no… that is not how we do things around here.”
“What are you doing?”
“Don’t mess with this.”
“I went through a lot of trouble designing this routine and it works.”
“Don’t mess with the routine.”

But if you can tolerate that ‘out of sorts weirdness’ and start to give your brain specific directions, it will respond.  For example, if you are chronically behind in the mornings, always hunting for the keys or gathering papers you need for the day tell your brain it’s time to learn to be on time.  Ask it “What must I do to leave the house on time?”  It’s very likely it will offer up a reasonable answer quickly.  Gather papers the evening before, have your lunch already packed in the fridge, leave the keys on the counter beside the coffee, grab coffee to go and keys… and you are out the door.  When you wake in the morning, tell your brain, we are going to be on time for work today.  TELL it.

If it doesn’t work you may need to build a thought bridge.  Because right now your brain believes it (and subsequently you) is(are) always late, and that is just the way you are.  It’s the brain familiar default.  You need to change the default.  Ask your brain to solve this puzzle.  I am always late and I want to be on time, how can I fix this?  It will provide an answer.  You are not always late.  If it’s important or fun (like traveling) you are always early, never late.  So it is possible to be early sometimes.  Tell your brain to be early sometimes.  If it is possible to be early sometimes, is it possible to be on time other times?  Sure.  Huh.  Can you see how you are changing the default?

How many annoying defaults has your brain adopted?  What if you were to question everything you currently believe about yourself?  What if it’s not true you are always late?  What if it’s not true you suck at math?  What if it’s not true you are a terrible cook?  What if what you think about yourself is not true, even just a little?  What if you can tell your brain what to believe about everything.  “No brain, actually, I am always on time.”

Your brain is your servant, not your master.  Just as you can take a deep breath, you can tell your brain what to believe.  ASK it empowering questions, it will give you brilliant answers if you trust your own wisdom.  Try it.  You can always go back to the default.  If you want some help on learning to ask empowering questions check out Brain Thumb twiddles

Buff on my friends,
Dr Karen.

Muscle-weight loss myth

When I tell my clients that exercise is not a useful weight loss tool, they seem genuinely miffed and utterly confused.

I have proven with absolute certainty that, for myself anyway, weight loss has NOTHING to do with building/losing muscle and even less to do with exercise.  And yes, I know this is utterly contrary to the Eat Less/Move More weight loss gospel that has failed us all for generations.

Please do not misunderstand.  Exercise has many health benefits – and we should all do it, regularly.  It’s just that weight loss is NOT one of those benefits.

This is my story.

Several years ago, obese, stressed, hypertensive, prediabetic with weekly migraines and chronically tired, my family doctor gently suggested I needed to make some changes.  She did not tell me anything I did not already know, but she articulated the growing worry (pun intended) which prompted me to take action.  Plus, I believe we should listen to our Doctor!

Embracing the ‘Eat Less’ part of the doctor recommended, Eat Less/Move More weight loss gospel, l joined a popular weight loss program, and rather easily lost 30 pounds.  But as time passed, weight loss slowed, then plateaued, then started to creep back.  Yet another failed weight loss attempt to add to my pile.

Shortly thereafter, quite disheartened, at the hair salon, staring at my reflection – black cape, hair wrapped in foil, close to tears – I thought, “How the hell did this happen?”  Right there and then I decided I was going to take control of my weight.  I went straight to the gym next to the hair salon and completed a brief assessment with a very muscly guy, who in less than 3 minutes concluded, this 50 something woman with nice hair and no gym clothes, who was completely unable to do anything that even remotely resembled a squat or a lunge, was not his client. He passed me off to his colleague, a wonderful personal trainer with an interest in rehab.  Best thing ever! More determined than ever – embracing the ‘Move More’ part of the Eat Less/Move More weight loss gospel – I was going to win this battle of the bulge.

Five years later, consistently meeting 3 – 4 times per week with a personal trainer one on one for resistance/strength training, I lost the weight I had regained plus an additional 15 pounds.  I was stronger (for sure!) and more flexible and I got to know some really terrific ladies!  Even more, I reversed my prediabetes, was no longer hypertensive and rarely had migraines.  My family doctor was impressed.  I had actually listened to her suggestion and lost weight!

Success!!!! WHOOP!  WHOOP!

Sort of – I guess, not really.  Always hungry, always either cheating or behaving, always obsessing/thinking about food I was completely ‘stuck’ unable to break through a nasty weight loss plateau for many months (probably four and a half of those five years.)  In fact, I never did break through that plateau.

Then I retired.  And given the financial constraints that accompany retirement, and since I didn’t enjoy resistance training without a personal trainer, I stopped training.  And… the weight returned, this time not so slowly.  Disheartened, again – I resigned to my fat fate.

Almost.

About a year and a half ago, hidden deep in the googles, buried amongst mountains of nutrition nonsense I stumbled across the writings of Dr. Jason Fung claiming the Eat Less/Move More weight loss gospel is quite simply wrong.

Say what?  Outrageous claim!

Everyone KNOWS more calories in than calories out equals weight gain.
Everyone KNOWS a high fat diet is clogging up our arteries, making us prone to heart disease and premature death.
Everyone KNOWS hunger is awful and we must snack throughout the day or risk over-indulging.

Nope.  Not true.

Obesity is a hormonal disorder centered predominantly around insulin (utterly fascinating, but an entire blog series on its own!)  Not the girly hormones estrogen etc, the appetite regulation and energy storage hormones.  Armed with this new information, I changed my approach.

I intentionally stopped exercising.  I wanted to know that any weight I might lose would be due to the changes I made in my way of eating.

Within 3 months, I was down almost 40 pounds, breaking through that nasty plateau my five years of personal training could not budge.

Less than 6 months of this new way of eating,  I surpassed my previous weight loss goal by an additional 25 pounds!  And all after menopause!  I weigh less now than I have in 35 years!  No exercise.  No obsessing about food.  Minimal hunger.  Better sleep.  A brain fog I was unaware existed lifted, and my inner critic was tempered.  So many benefits over and above some random number on the bathroom scale!  Seriously.  For the first time in almost 40 years, I am not trying to lose weight.

Did I lose muscle?  Absolutely.  But not because of my new way of eating.  I lost muscle because I stopped resistance training.

If you want to build muscle, simply eating more protein won’t help.  Excess protein gets converted to fat eventually since our body cannot store protein for later.  If you want to build muscle, you must stress your muscles and create a little muscle tissue damage.  Your body will ‘fix’ the damage and you build muscles.  If you never stress your muscles, you won’t build muscles.

It’s really that simple.  Building muscle has nothing to do with calories-in or calories-out. The converse is also true. Losing muscle has nothing to do with calories-in or calories-out.  Our body stores excess calories (energy) as fat, not muscle, for future famine.  Should an unlikely famine occur, we have lots of energy stored as body fat (even if you are at an ideal body weight.)  If you want to lose weight, you must access your body fat.  If your body cannot access its’ body fat stores, it will make you hungry, not cannibalize your muscles.  And hunger – is an extremely powerful drive, most of us cannot resist.  (This was my problem during my Eat Less/Move More years.  I could not access my body fat, because I was always ‘snacking’ effectively keeping my body in energy storage mode.)

The widespread belief that weight loss will cause muscle loss is a myth.  You lose muscle because you do not stress your muscles and you lose muscle because we lose 10% of our muscle mass per decade as part of the aging process, unless you do something (like resistance training) to counter that effect.  If you want to build muscle, you must stress your muscles.  You MUST exercise.

The widespread belief that exercise works for weight loss is a myth.  Exercise has many amazing benefits – building muscle is one of them, weight loss, is not.

Buff on my friends!
Dr. Karen

If my story sounds a little familiar, let’s chat and get started on your final weight loss journey!

VLOG – Hunger versus cravings

The final in a 4 part series on why its not your fault you struggle to lose weight.  Understanding the difference between true hunger and cravings is foundational to weight loss.