Thursday, May 31, 2012

Liver McNuggets

This recipe has become a weekly Thursday night tradition at my house. I pretty much cobbled this together from various Google searches for liver recipes and the first time my wife tried it she said, "Ooh! Yummy! It's like Liver McNuggets!"

Liver was one of those items that I knew I should be incorporating into my diet but like most, I never found it terribly appealing. Now I find myself craving it by the time Thursdays roll around. So try it out, add your own twist and let me know what you think.

1 lb beef liver
1/2 cup potato flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
1 cup bacon grease

Give the liver a quick rinse and drain off the water. Don't be tempted to rinse it too much as it is pretty delicate at this point.
Gently lay down the slices between layers of paper towels. Cut the slices in to smaller pieces. I usually aim for 5-6 pieces per slice. More is fine but it's a bit more work.

I know, I know. So far this doesn't look appetizing at all and I usually have to grit my teeth to get through this part. 

Mix together the potato flour, salt and pepper in a bowl. Then lay each piece in the bowl, one at a time, and give it a shake until it is completely coated. Then fish it out and set it on a plate.

Don't make the mistake of trying to throw several pieces in in at once. They'll glue together into a big, sticky mess. Trust me, I tried.

 At this point, your fingertips will probably be covered in a sticky paste that will take some intense scrubbing to remove. Don't worry, the worst part is over with now.

Here's the whole batch, coated in potato flour. See, it's beginning to look better already.
Heat enough bacon grease in a skillet to cover the bottom with a thin layer. You're not trying to drown the pieces but you want to have enough in the pan to make sure it's not running dry.

Work in small batches and sear the liver for 2 minutes per side. Keep a very close eye on the temperature. You do not want it to be smoking hot or spattering like crazy. You're aiming for a gentle sizzle. This is usually between 3 and 4 on my electric range.

Here's the finished product, served up with some roasted potatoes and homemade mayonnaise.

I'll admit that this may not be the optimum, healthiest way of preparing liver but I'm willing to bet that it's far more nutritious than a serving of Chicken McNuggets.


But I didn't want to offend them.

I hear this a lot from people who are trying to watch what they eat. It usually runs along the lines of, "I didn't want to offend them" or "I didn't want to hurt their feelings". This often happens around holidays but it can happen on just about any occasion. Maybe a friend or relative made a special treat for dessert or a buddy made some home brewed beer. The variations are endless but the end result is usually the same: overindulgence in an "off plan" treat. I'm not being judgmental here, I've done it often enough myself during various diet phases.

I'm calling BS on the rationalization behind this excuse. It's a cop-out and people should recognize it as such.

First of all, a host, friend or family member will rarely be truly offended if you pass on an indulgent item. The vast majority of people are understanding of others who are trying to watch what they eat. It doesn't matter if it's Weight Watchers and you're out of points or you're trying to do a strict paleo program for a month. People understand. Even if the offering party jokingly tries to push it on you, they'll generally feel a sense of respect for those who choose not to give in to a temptation.

Secondly, you always have the option to take a small portion or a single bite. Such small portions rarely have an adverse affect on you in the long run unless you have a severe intolerance (in which case you have a legitimate excuse to give to the host). For some people, it may be the kind of item where just a small taste of a "trigger food" is too much handle and in that case, this wouldn't be an option. My guess is that for most people this would be a fine choice and may even be a good way to prove to yourself that you won't revert to bad habits after just one bite.

Finally, just because someone is conscious of their food choices on a regular basis doesn't mean that dogmatic adherence is absolutely necessary. If you're doing well and getting the results you want, an occasional indulgence can be a nice treat. There's nothing wrong with that and realize that it is your choice. Don't give a cop-out rationalization that you didn't want to offend someone. Own the decision and be OK with it.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Does Exercise Make You Fat?

This is a nice video by Abel James from Fat-Burning Man showing the different results he got when training for a marathon versus doing sprints a few times a week:

While we need to be careful about taking what is suggested in this anecdote to an extreme and denouncing all endurance exercise as worthless or harmful, I think it's important to get the message out that weight loss and fitness do not require heroic levels of exercise. It's one of most frustrating myths perpetuated by shows like The Biggest Loser which is itself a reflection of the conventional wisdom.

There's a false notion that it takes hours upon hours of grueling exercise to change your body. That you need to do endless stretches of cardio to burn off fat. That you need to do extraordinary amounts of weight lifting to build muscles. That "No Pain, No Gain" is a self-evident truth.

It isn't true. Any kind of exercise is better than none and while I would never discourage anyone from doing endurance exercise if that's what they truly enjoy, I would encourage anyone who isn't active to take up some form of resistance training. At the end of last year I started doing Olympic weight lifting once or twice a week at East Valley Crossfit. It has been so much fun and I've felt so energized that a few weeks ago I picked up a set of dumbbells to get in a couple more workouts at home.

While I don't quite have the physique that Abel has, this has definitely yielded me measurable gains. Here are graphs of my weight and body fat percentage over the last 3 months:

What isn't obvious from just glancing at the graphs is that while I lost 8.8 lbs. of weight, I lost 9.3 lbs. of fat. Who said you couldn't lose fat and gain muscle at the same time? That's doing a few hours of low intensity weight lifting 1-2 times a week with plenty of rest between sets and never getting winded. Besides those lifting sessions, I rarely do anything more strenuous than leisurely walking the dog.

Perhaps I could make faster gains with higher intensity training or more aggressive calorie restriction. I'm sure some young buck with great genetics could blow away my rate of progress but for a guy who's pushing 40, I'm trending towards better health while most people my age are slowly losing theirs. I'm in no rush to reach my goals and I'm developing sustainable habits I can maintain for the rest of my life. This is an exercise routine that I genuinely enjoy and could see myself doing for many years to come. In the end I think that will make all the difference.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Mat Lalonde on The Science Behind the Paleolithic Diet

I stumbled across this video a few days ago and thought it was superb:

Mat explains why many of the arguments used by paleo advocates are false and then provides real scientific explanations why the paleo diet is a useful tool for constructing a healthy diet. He also addresses common misconceptions about macronutrient ratios. I like that after beating us over the head with some heavy science, he concludes with one of the most succinct, practical ways I've heard of starting a paleo diet: "Eat meat, vegetables and tubers." I wish Mat had more material available on the web. His deep knowledge gives the paleo world a much needed reality check that is sorely needed to maintain credibility.

Driving By Surprise

We've all experienced it before. We're driving along and suddenly, a car cuts across three lanes of traffic to make a turn. Sometimes they don't even make the turn and cut back across three lanes to make a U-turn to catch that exit they missed. Heck, some of us might even admit to doing the same thing ourselves.

I call it driving by surprise. It's a lack of mindfulness of where we're going. Perhaps we're getting distracted by the scenery, too involved in a conversation with a passenger or singing along to a song playing on the radio. Whatever the reason, it's a dangerous habit and when you're not paying attention, it's easy for the twists and turns to take you by surprise.

Having a route planned out and getting ready to make turns ahead of time is all part of being a responsible driver and staying accident free. If we're making routine trips like the daily commute to work and back, less planning is required than when you're going somewhere you've never gone before but either way, to get where you want to go, you need to have a destination, a route and the mindfulness to make the right turns at the right time. Depending on how important it is to arrive on time, you may even plan for alternate routes and backup plans in case of traffic jams or accidents.

It seems like most people eat by surprise. I've certainly been guilty of this most of my life. My trip through the day would rarely include a plan for what I would eat. Poor planning left me with nothing to pack for lunch and not enough time to whip something together. Then I'd engage the cruise control through the morning until somebody asked if I was hungry and what I was in the mood for. A poor choice for lunch would be followed by an equally poor choice for dinner: either some junk in a box nuked for a few minutes or another trip out.

It took me many months to develop new habits, but one of the best aspects of the paleo ideal is to make all your meals from scratch. I started one meal at a time. I transitioned from toast with peanut butter for breakfast to bacon and eggs. At first it took a lot more time to prepare, but I found that I could cook up big batches of bacon at once, store it in the fridge and reheat a few strips in the skillet while I'm preheating it to cook the eggs. Then I learned that I could cook up big batches of food over the weekend and assemble lunch while I'm fixing up breakfast. Now this 30 minute routine in the morning can set me up with all the meals I need to get me through a workday.

It was just a matter of mapping a route to a new destination, planning ahead and sticking to a decision to stop eating by surprise. A little bit of effort put into making some time yields tremendous rewards. I certainly waste far less money on food now that I'm not eating out all the time and even though I'm no culinary genius, my homemade food is infinitely tastier than anything served out of a box or through a window. Best of all, once the routine was established it was easy and I can't imagine going back to feeling hungry and agonizing over deciding what I'm in the mood for.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Why I Still Count Calories

During the first six months of shifting to a paleo/low carb lifestyle, I didn't bother much with counting calories. The natural spontaneous calorie reduction that tends to accompany low carb was enough for me to shed 10 lbs. in 3-4 months. Granted, that's not an impressive weight loss rate, but during this same time frame I started working graveyard shifts and took up a more sedentary job role. Both of those tend to lead to significant weight gain and I was pleased to manage any kind of loss, especially considering that I had been gaining 1-2 lbs per month during the preceding year.

Once I plateaued, at about 206 which has always been a tough point for me to break through, I was curious what my calorie intake was like so I started tracking my food. Based on that, I created a slight caloric deficit to maintain a weight loss rate of 2 lbs. per month until I reached 190 lbs. At that point, I adjusted calories to hold my weight constant. At no point during the weight loss phase was I chronically hungry. In fact, there have been more times that I felt I was eating more than my hunger dictated than when I have felt genuinely hungry.

Even so, the calorie counting practice bothered me a little. Isn't the whole point of paleo and low carb to restore natural appetite regulation? It seemed a bit at odds until one afternoon, I woke up and stumbled into the kitchen. Next to the sink I saw my wife had left a plate with a single bite of hamburger left over.

To give a little background, my wife is one of those people who has always been relatively lean. At her heaviest, she was just barely in the overweight range on the BMI charts and as long as she isn't eating garbage food, she's usually in middle of the normal range.

When my wife came home that evening, I asked her about it:

"I noticed you left a single bite of burger on your plate."
"I was full."
"But it was just one bite. Didn't you like it?"
"It was delicious and I really liked it."
"But you left a single bite."
"I wasn't hungry anymore."
"I don't understand. It was just one bite."

Never in my life would it have dawned on me to leave just one bite of something I liked uneaten. I mean, it's just one bite and it tastes good. Why on earth wouldn't I want to enjoy that one last bite?

That's when it struck me. The satiety mechanisms my wife has is actually working properly. For whatever reason, mine is broken. My best guess is that some of it has to do with the rate at which I eat. We'll sit down for dinner together and I'll wolf down my plate of food in about 5 minutes flat. 30 minutes later, she'll still be chewing away, savoring every bite. This isn't an exaggeration, either. She's one of the slowest eaters I've ever met and I'm one of the fastest that I know.

During the 5 minutes that follow my sprint to finish my plate, I'm usually left hankering for some more. I could easily chow down another serving or move on to dessert. But I don't. I measure out my portion before I sit down to eat and when the plate is clean, that's it for that meal. After about 5 minutes, I feel perfectly satisfied and I can cruise through until my next meal. Other than those few minutes after wolfing down the food, I never feel inappropriately hungry.

For some, the practice of counting calories and weighing and measuring portions is uncomfortable, neurotic and intrusive. I can understand that. My wife tries it on occasion and hates it. For me, it's kind of the opposite. I don't have to worry about overeating when I already know how much I'm going to eat. I don't have to try and monitor my satiety and wonder if I'm second guessing myself over getting too much or too little food. Having the right amount of food planned out for the day before I even step into the kitchen sets me free to enjoy an appropriate portion without worrying about it.

This is why I no longer beat myself up about counting calories. It's my substitute for a broken or subverted satiety mechanism. I'm sure I could work on slowing down when I eat but I enjoy eating fast. To me, most food has about a 3 minute window when it's at the perfect temperature and I like to eat it before it gets cold. So, instead of adjusting my eating style, I use the scale in the kitchen to serve myself an appropriate portion and I use the scale in the bathroom to determine how big that portion should be. Right or wrong, it works for me and could be useful for some, especially if they are hitting a plateau. I know many in the paleo community shun the practice but I think that in certain situations, it can be a useful tool that shouldn't be ignored just because our ancestors didn't weigh and measure their food.

While paleo may go a long way to restoring proper satiety signals, we still live in an environment where food is ridiculously easy to obtain and overeat and I don't see anything wrong with using some modern tools to make sure our portion sizes are sensible.

Jimmy Moore: From Carboholic to Lipoholic

About 6 months ago I stumbled across the The Livin’ La Vida Low-Carb Show with Jimmy Moore. At that point in time I was a several months into my low carb journey and doing well with it. Since I have a lot of time working nights to listen to podcasts, I decided to go back to Episode 1 and listen to them all sequentially.

Other than the odd missing episode, I've listened to all of them up through episode 515 and I'm slowly catching up on the rest. For those who don't know his story, he started at over 400 lbs. and lost over 180 lbs. after adopting the Atkins diet. It's an impressive story and I won't claim to understand what it is like to be that obese nor what it's like to lose that much weight.

Jimmy has been open with his struggle to keep the weight off during the last few years and as of his Safe Starch Experiment post on April 15th, he is pushing 300. I feel for him because I understand how frustrating it is to regain weight when you're doing "everything right".

Having listened to so many years of his podcasts in such a compressed time frame, I've noticed a distinct transition in his personality. Before he went low carb, he was undoubtedly a carboholic, guzzling 24 cans of soda in a day and downing boxes of Little Debbie Snack Cakes. While I've never gorged on sweet foods, the period of most rapid weight gain in my life was when I was chugging 12 cans of soda per day. I think it's one of the primary reasons I have struggled with weight loss ever since.

During the first few years of the LLVLC (Livin' La Vida Low-Carb) podcast, Jimmy regularly speaks about the evils of carbohydrates. This is still his core message but there has been a subtle shift to an obsession with fat. What started off as a defense of fat as not being evil, he now rarely lets an interview go by without trying to eke out a statement from the interviewee that fat is healthy and how much satiating power it has. This is often accompanied with comments that LLVLC and Atkins really aren't high protein diets but "moderate protein and high fat".

Round about the time that I started noticing this shift in Jimmy's attitude, the whole "safe starches" debate had exploded. Intrigued by Paul Jaminet's arguments on the Perfect Health Diet blog, I started adding potatoes and white rice to my diet. Up until then, I had been eating VLC (very low carb, under 25 grams per day) and I shifted to what I now consider just plain LC (low carb, about 100 grams per day). My shift from VLC to LC while I was listening to the episodes where Jimmy's attitude started shifting made it even more noticeable.

Anyway, back to Safe Starch Experiment and he's adding 3 tablespoons of butter to 1/2 of a baked sweet potato. It's like the fat is supposed to be a magical force field to protect him from the evil starches. It's like he's afraid that he'll be hungry if he doesn't get enough fat to satisfy his cravings. And to top it off, he seems to live in fear of experiencing hunger. It really is sad. I want him to be successful but I don't think he will be until he realizes that his former obsession with sugar has been replaced by an obsession with fat. If fat really was so satiating, then Jimmy Moore wouldn't be 300 lbs.

Besides the crazy high fat content, he seems to be preaching this "moderate protein" notion espoused by the likes of Nora Gedgaudas and Ron Rosedale. While I like much of what they have to say and limiting protein may have benefits in terms of longevity, it's not going to make up for the problems associated with being obese. If there's any single macronutrient that is almost universally accepted by diet experts as satiating, it's protein.

While I won't presume to be a diet guru or know how to fix Jimmy Moore, the high fat, moderate protein approach doesn't appear to be working. I tried going down that route and it didn't take long to notice that my satiety was lacking. I probably noticed this because I count my calories and shifted the macronutrients around in an isocaloric fashion. When I up the protein and leave out the added fats, my satiety is better and my body composition improves. Again, I'm no guru but drenching half a sweet potato in three tablespoons of butter and calling it an experiment in safe starches doesn't make sense to me.