Monday, 17 March 2014

TED Talk Tuesday - Brene Brown on Vulnerability

Today, I don’t want to write too much because I want to share a video instead. It is Brene Brown’s TED talk on vulnerability, and it is amazing. It is confronting, but also motivating and inspiring. I have watched it a few times now and each time, I walk away going “Yeah – I AM enough!”

Image by Steve Maraboli via Pinterest

Brene states that connection is our reason for being – it is what gives purpose and meaning to our lives. She mentions that shame is the fear of disconnection. The thought that “is there something about me, that if other people see it, then I won’t be worthy of connection?”

I felt this way before I wrote about my hypothalamic amenorrhea journey. I thought that if people realized that I am not in 100% health myself, then they’ll think I’m a fraud. I mean, how could I be an expert on health if I couldn’t even get my own shit together?

Brene talks about having a sense of courage – to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart and to allow yourself to be imperfect. She says, so eloquently:

“We can’t practice compassion with others until we treat ourselves kindly”

So in fact, my going through this journey, having the courage to tell my story and to lay out all of my imperfections on the table for the whole interwebs to read about (and they have evidently been the most popular posts on my blog – kind of scary and a bit confronting, really), has led me on a path of self-love, forgiveness and releasing fears, which in turn has strengthened my ability to practice love, forgiveness and compassion with others. And I can tell you; it is a huge weight lifted off my shoulders. Not only am I gentler on myself, but also I definitely do feel more connected with others.

Image by Harold J Duarte-Berhardt via Pinterest
Anyway, check it out. It’s 20 minutes well spent and remember: You are enough

If the video doesn't work, go HERE

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Death by high protein diet?

Aah you’ve gotta love the media, right? They make things seem so interesting, so compelling, so……dramatic! If you haven’t come across the latest “news” (if you can call it that), this is a handful of some of the headlines that have been thrown about in reference to a recent study on the topic.

 “Quick! Put down your steak and have a piece of bread instead!!” – said no one ever. And I’m definitely not about to say it now.

I was alerted to this media frenzy through the I Quit Sugar 8 Week Program forums, where one of the members was asking for our opinion on the matter. I love me a good scientific analysis, so I decided to take a look. The problem was that the news pieces seemed to be pointing to 2 different research articles, both on the potential adverse effects of high protein diets, both in the journal Cell Metabolism, both published this month. It seems the editor of the journal is either a) On holiday, b) Lacking in creativity, or c) Vegan.

Anywho, as there were two studies, it only made sense to analyse them both. So, without further adieu, I unapologetically offer you a somewhat lengthy and detailed analysis of the effects of “high protein” diets on health. Oh, and if you can’t be bothered reading through the sciencey stuff, feel free to skip to the bottom where I say “OK, let’s wrap this up baby”. I won’t be offended at all. Even though I spent a shit-load of time going through these studies for YOU! I'll try and intersperse it with interesting, seemingly irrelevant, images. Like this one:

OK, here we go. Grab a tea and settle in.

Almost 7,000 US men were studied, consuming on average 1823 calories per day, with a breakdown as follows:
  • Carbs: 51%
  • Fat: 33%
  • Protein: 16% (most of which was from animal protein – 11%)

Note: When nutrition data is collected on a large scale and broken down into macronutrients such as this, we have absolutely no idea about the quality of the food. For example: a McDonald’s Big Mac patty would be on par with an organic grass-fed steak. In the eyes of the study, they are just sources of “protein”. I wrote a post a couple of years ago on the importance of quality meat HERE (There's a yummy recipe in the post, too). 

The researchers classified participants into protein intake as follows:
  • High = above 20%
  • Medium = 10-19%
  • Low = below 10%

What they found:

“We found that high and moderate protein consumption were positively associated with diabetes-related mortality, but not associated with all-cause, CVD, or cancer mortality when subjects at all the ages above 50 were considered”

Note: Thus far, it would seem that only death by diabetes in those over 50 is increased as a result of a [possibly-McDonald’s-patty-filled] high protein diet. OK. I’m not  turning veggo yet, are you? Even the researchers lay out a few caveats, making it seem as though they aren’t too sure either. They even, very kindly, put things into perspective:

“There were only 21 diabetes deaths among persons without diabetes at baseline”

Out of almost 7,000 people. Righteo. Think we can safely put that one aside then. This is an example of a study showing statistical significance (that is, the computer says it is significant), however it is not clinically significant (not really relevant in the real world).

The researchers then go on to “show” that high protein diets, especially high animal protein, increase the risk of all-cause mortality (death from anything and everything) and cancer deaths in men aged 50-65.  Going back to my first comment, this could be due to over-consumption of hot-dogs and chicken McNuggets. Who knows?! I don’t think they do, because the results then do a bit of a backflip:

Study participants aged 66 and over who consumed a moderate-high protein diet actually had a decreased risk of death from all causes and a 60% reduction in death from cancer.

So, basically, you should be a vegetarian from the age of 50-65, then you should be a carnivore….hmmm.

Too far? Have I ruined all credibility with this one? Sorry. Not sorry. 
Not content with what they found in studying humans from a distance, the researchers decided to pick on some mice in order to “verify causation and understand the mechanism that may link proteins to cancer and overall mortality”.

Note: causation cannot be verified with animal studies. Animals are not humans. Humans are not animals**. To verify causation in humans, a randomized controlled trial (RCT) on humans must be carried out. Comprendez-vous?

But let’s pretend that mice=humans and take a peek at what they found. After feeding mice on a high vs low protein diet, and injecting them with cancer cells, they found that 100% of the high protein group developed cancer, while only 90% of the low protein group met with the same fate, with 10% wagging their happy little tails in glee at being cancer-free.

Perspective time: they only studied a maximum of 20 mice, with 10 in each protein group. Hardly the numbers required to prove much of anything, don’t you think?

**Note: animal studies are incredibly important to the scientific process. They allow us to test out hypotheses that would otherwise be dangerous, difficult, or unethical in humans (e.g. cocaine use during pregnancy). They also allow tighter control of a number of variables. HOWEVER, rats and mice are different from humans - psychologically, socially, emotionally and physiologically. For example, rats do not have a gallbladder, which is important for the digestion of fat. They also have a very large cecum, which allows them to digest cellulose. Humans are unable to do so. 

These guys are an Aussie –based bunch of researchers who wanted to see how different percentages of dietary carbs, proteins and fats effected longevity in mice. (Note #1 see above re humans not being mice, but we’ll pretend again for fun, anyway. Are you having fun? I certainly am….reading through 26 pages of scientific research is AWESOME. Although I am trying to portray sarcasm right now, if I am to be completely honest, I am quite enjoying deciphering these studies. I’m such as nerd. But you all knew that).

So this one was done on 858 mice fed 25 different diets (that’s about 34 mice in each group). The little critters were fed differing amounts of protein (5-60% of total calories), carbs (16-75%), fat (16-75%) and energy.

Note: I have not yet reached the results of this study yet, but if I heard that someone died prematurely from consuming a diet that was 60% protein, my response would be “no shit!”. In case you were wondering, I generally would not recommend a protein intake of >25%, but this is not about what I think….yet.

What they found: 

“Median lifespan was greatest for animals whose intakes were low in protein and high in carbohydrate, but was not influenced by total calorie intake” 

The authors state that these results are consistent with findings from studies on invertebrates. Great. Now we are being compared to insects.

They also found that “median lifespan increased from about 95 to 125 weeks…as the protein-to- carbohydrate ratio decreased” (i.e. higher carb, lower protein). Interesting…

And this: 

“Diets that were low in protein and high in carbohydrate (i.e., those that promoted longest life) were associated with lower blood pressure, improved glucose tolerance, higher levels of high-density lipoprotein, reduced levels of low-density lipoprotein, and lower triglycerides”

So now we are back to low protein diets being good? Not so fast. Let’s remember that their high protein diet was up to 60% of total calories, which any normal, non-juiced-up, human being would have great difficulty in consuming. And if they are stupid enough to do so, then….a case of natural selection maybe?

Additionally, the study found some adverse effects of a low protein, high carb diet, including:
  • Increased body fat
  • Reduced lean body mass
  • Fatty liver

 So you’ll be an old person, but a fat old person, with little muscle control to be able to get about your daily life, and no energy because your liver is screwed. Great! This is reminiscent of statins (cholesterol lowering meds), which may prevent you from dying of heart disease (if you are male and have already had a heart attack/stroke), but they’ll increase your risk of depression, low sex drive and amnesia. I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t want to live if I was sad all the time, didn’t want to have sex, and forgot who I was!

Now, unfortunately these sneaky buggers did not include the dietary info of the pellets fed to the animals. However, they did (in very fine print) provide a link to where I could find such info.  Being the curious cat that I am, I clicked on said link and found what I wanted:
  • Protein: Casein (found in dairy) and methionine (found in meat)
  • Carbohydrates: Sucrose, wheat starch and dextrinized cornstarch
  • Fats: Soya bean oil
  • Vitamins and minerals were also added for adequate micronutrient intake

Really? This constitutes food? Perhaps mice would eat this junk, but this is hardly representative of ANY form of human diet. Similar to consuming a 60% protein diet, if your diet is made up of these constituents, then good luck to you buddy!

This is actually reminiscent of The China Study, where they fed the animals a huge quantity of casein (an isolated protein in milk). A large proportion of the animals developed cancer. The authors concluded that animal products cause cancer. This is a problem in so many ways – casein is an isolated nutrient that no one would ever consume on its own. It would be part of a whole food (milk) and so the milk-cancer link cannot be drawn from such a study. Many studies have similar flaws in that they feed animals ridiculous isolated nutrients, or extremely processed foods (e.g. the studies that show saturated fat is bad for you often use hydrogenated fats) and therefore are not representative of a human eating a whole-food diet.

OK, let’s wrap this baby up. Having gone through the above studies, I think we can safely say that protein, in a reasonable amount (I would say 15-25% is appropriate, on average), and of decent quality (not cheeseburgers or a pile of casein) is not going to shorten your lifespan, or cause disease. Would you agree? Please correct me if I am wrong, but the above studies have not convinced me to give up [insert yummy animal food here].

Some additional take-aways:

  1. As stated before, multiple times (but again for those of you who have chosen not to read through my lengthy analysis), animals are not humans. Animal studies allow us to generate “hypotheses” (theories), which need to be proven using randomised controlled trials with humans eating real food. The media tend to grab studies such as these and blow them out of proportion
  2. There is no one perfect diet that will suit everyone. Looking at healthy, robust traditional societies (e.g. using the “Paleo” approach), we have seen that there is a HUGE variety in terms of macronutrient breakdowns. For example, the Inuit had a predominantly fat diet (from whale blubber), the Maasai had quite a large amount of protein (from meat, milk, blood and organ meats), and the Kitavans had a very high carb diet (from tubers). All of these traditional societies showed optimal health. It wasn’t about what was in the diet, so much as what wasn’t – processed and packaged foods and drinks.
  3. It is pretty hard to over-consume protein unless you are having a large amount of “fan dangled foods” such as protein bars
  4. We need to look at things in terms of “whole foods” rather than nutrients or macronutrients. Any given whole food has a huge array of nutrients contained within it that interact to promote health in ways we do not completely understand. If we stick to whole foods – lots of fresh produce (including humanely and appropriately raised animal products), fresh water and minimal sugar and processed foods, then we are on the right track to optimal health

I noticed that many of the media articles implicated the Paleo diet as a harmful high-protein diet. Aside from what I stated above about there not being just one “Paleo Diet”, I decided to do an anaylsis on my own daily paleo-friendly diet, which looks like this:

Breakfast: 2 poached eggs, avocado, sautéed greens and leftover roast sweet potato, bone broth
Snack: 3 brazil nuts and ½ cup kombucha
Lunch: 1 tin of wild-caught salmon, basmati rice, carrots, greens, pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
Snack: Choc-Banana smoothie
Dinner: Lamb shanks with roast potatoes, broccoli, zucchini and butter

The macronutrient breakdown? Drumroll please:
  • Protein: 20%
  • Carbohydrates: 37%
  • Fat: 43% 

And that is eating some form of protein at every meal. Hardly what you would call a "high protein" diet. A couple of years ago, this was very different – 70% fat, 20% protein, 10% carbs, but in the past year I had to change this around a little. More on this in an upcoming post…..

Phew. That was somewhat exhausting. I'm off to get some sunshine! Till next time, friends! Feel free to post questions in the comments below. 

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Think you're training hard? Try this!

This week, my hubby and I moved to beautiful Wanaka, in the south island of New Zealand. Just to give you a little visual (and to entice you to come and visit), here is a pic that I took just the other morning:

Wanaka. Day 1.
Yes, that is snow that you see on the mountains. Yes, summer has only just finished. Yes, I am aware that New Zealand is known for being pretty bloody chilly in the winter, thanks for sharing. It is also insanely amazing, though, with some of the most incredible and diverse landscapes you will see in the world. This is the part I am looking forward to experiencing – getting out and spending time in the wilderness, because nothing heals like Mother Nature. And after spending 10 years in Sydney (as beautiful as it is, it is still a hectic city), I have a bit of tree hugging to catch up on.

Hippie talk aside, what we are actually going to be doing here, I am excited to say, is be working as part of Tribe TeamTraining. These amazing programs are all about, as the name suggests, training as part of a small team. Why? Because when you train as part of a team you get better results, you have greater support, motivation and encouragement, and you make new friends! And it is fun (except for the workout that I did. See below)! You can read more about Tribe Team Training on their website HERE. Or you can like them on Facebook HERE - they sometimes post workouts for you to try. 

Anywho, we are going to be working as part of Tribe International, but also as trainers in Wanaka at Proactive Gym. As a “welcome to becoming a Tribe Team Trainer and welcome to Wanaka”, we were put through a “master class” (AKA absolute mind-f*@k, torture session) on our first day here. Now keep in mind that it had snowed overnight. It was cold. And this is what we had to do:

  • 250m run
  • 10 push-ups
  • 10 squats
  • 50m of walking lunges
  • 50m of toy soldiers (where you kick your leg straight out in front then kick it behind)

So far so good. I was warm. Now for the brutality:


500m run

Block 1 (repeat 5 rounds):
  • 20 Push-ups
  • 20 Squats
  • 10 burpees (with a push-up at the bottom and a jump at the top)

Block 2 (repeat 4 rounds):
  • 25m of alligator crawls (check out video below - warning - it's a pretty boring video, but only 30 seconds. It gets the point across)
  • 25m of saber tooth sprint (your hands and feel are on the floor, butt in the air and you are sprinting, 2 hands then 2 feet, staying down….it’s messed up)

500m run

If the video doesn't work, go HERE

 Now, on paper, you might think – that looks pretty easy. To you I say, try it and get back to me. If you’re convinced that it looks like a punish, maybe try half of it (i.e. just do 2-3 rounds of each block, with a 250m run tacked on to each end) and see what you think.

I have never in my LIFE experienced something so hard, and I have been working in the fitness industry for almost 15 years. I cried a little. I swore a lot (it would have been louder if I could have). I almost vomited. And I topped it all off by hyperventilating in the final run, thinking I was going to die. Fun times.

Me, in happier times, after climbing Mt Iron this afternoon
You’re probably thinking “Why the f@*k would I want to do this?”. Well, some people (actually a lot of people) really love this style of training. As tough as it is, it’s all done and dusted in 30 minutes. Sweet as, hey bro? (Yes, I have to speak like that now that I live in NZ) Oh, and the usual TribeFIT workout isn’t quite as hard as the one we had to do. But feel free to give it a whirl.

If you’re looking for another style of workout that gets great results and you can do in 4 minutes in room as small as 2m x 2m (yes, we’ve tried it), you could try Tabata training. This is what I have been doing a couple of times a week since I was put on my exercise ban (necessary for recovery from hypothalamic amenorrhea). It’s good for me physically and mentally, as I get a workout in, without putting too much stress on my body. Try this:

Set a timer on your phone* (or use a stop watch) for 20 second work intervals with 10 second breaks. Warm up well, and then complete 8 rounds of your workout as fast as you can (make the most of the 10 second breaks, though – they’ll go by in a flash!). Here’s an example of what you could do:

Exercise 1: Squats
Exercise 2: Push-Ups

Repeat 4 times.  It’s that simple. 4 minutes of exercise. Done. But remember – you have to go as fast as you can. You should be feeling well-shagged by the end of it.

* There is an app called "Tabata Timer" - it sets everything up for you. All you have to do is press start. 

I know what you’re thinking. 4 minutes can’t possibly be enough to get any kind of fitness improvement. WRONG! Studies on Tabata training have shown it to be as effective as, if not more effective than, 30 minutes of endurance training (e.g. running/cycling) at building aerobic and anaerobic fitness. Hurrah! No more useless long slogs on the treadmill! Now you have no excuse not to move your butt, even just for 4 minutes…..

Enjoy and let me know what you think! x