Guest Post: What It’s Like To Try Acupuncture And Cupping

This week we have a special treat – a guest post from Doug Nordman a.k.a Nords, from The Military Guide.  He’s sharing with us his experiences with medical tourism.  He bravely (or foolishly?) underwent acupuncture, cupping, and moxibustion in Thailand.

Remember the Olympic swimmers and their purple dots this past summer?  That’s what you look like after cupping.  To learn more about these procedures, and medical treatment abroad, read on:

Thanks for inviting me to write about these treatments, Crew Dog!

I’m a 56-year-old retired U.S. Navy submariner. As a “recovering nuke,” I’m skeptical about alternative medicine. Before I believe in a medical technique I want to read a pile of peer-reviewed reproducible studies of double-blind experiments with statistically significant evidence– and acupuncture just isn’t there yet. If acupuncture achieves anything at all, it might be simply a gigantic placebo effect.

However I’ve lived in Hawaii for over 25 years, where Occidental and Oriental cultures overlap with science and technology. I’ve learned to keep an open mind when I encounter treatments which defy the explanations of medical research.

My physical therapy for joint injuries has taught me that Western medical science doesn’t always have a precise explanation for why a technique works. I’ll enjoy the results whether or not I fully understand the mechanisms. If acupuncture is simply just a gigantic placebo effect then I can live with that.

I’m also willing to try new approaches because I’m a little frustrated with my aging body. I’m encountering new limits in my maximum heart rate and recovery time. When I was in my 40s, I used to burn through the Navy’s physical fitness test and then go work out. These days, after that type of exercise I’m tempted to burn through 800 mg of Ibuprofen and take a nap. When I do a couple hours of heavy yard work, I have to be careful to maintain good posture in my knees and my back – I don’t want to end up in another round of physical therapy.

My body’s latest betrayal is my left shoulder (deltoid) muscle. Over 10 months ago I felt a small “pop” during a push-up set, and the next day I couldn’t raise my left arm above my shoulder. It slowly healed over the next six months but I kept re-injuring it. When we traveled to Bangkok, I still didn’t have full range of motion and I couldn’t put my left hand up behind my back. I was worried that I’d injured my rotator cuff and I felt like an idiot.

Thailand’s cost of living is incredibly cheap, and Bangkok’s major hospitals are a magnet for medical tourism. My spouse and I had heard about the Traditional Chinese Medicine Clinic of Hua Chiew Hospital, and we were happy to spend a few dollars to experiment on my deltoids.

Hua Chiew is definitely not practicing traditional Western medicine: the hospital takes walk-in patients. The lobby was a beehive of activity with a large waiting area by the cashier’s window. The clerk at the front desk explained (in English) that a typical acupuncture treatment would be less than 600 baht. (At 35 baht per dollar, that’s just over $17– and nobody asked us about insurance.) He entered our names into their computer system. We stopped by the next table for a quick health check of height, weight, temperature, and blood pressure before being sent up to room 504.

The fifth floor was quieter, with a few patients in the hallway and a family in the waiting area. When I walked into room 501’s open ward, it smelled like old cigarette smoke– and marijuana. (Hey, I have a training certificate from a 1980s Navy drug education class with a “test burn”.) I was greeted by an acupuncturist and an assistant who asked me where it hurt. A few minutes later the assistant was guiding me to an exam table.

“This won’t hurt a bit.”

I was asked to remove my t-shirt (which the assistant quickly hung on a hanger) and arranged on my right side with my left arm extended across a pile of pillows. While the assistant set up the privacy curtains, the acupuncturist came up behind me with a tray of needles and other tools. (Selfies were discouraged during this procedure, but I took photos afterward.) I turned my head to watch, but she politely asked me to relax on my pillow so that she could put needles into my neck.

She swabbed my skin with antiseptic and opened a package. Each needle was about three inches long with tiny coils at their gripping end, and they seemed very delicate. They must have been extremely fine and sharp because I could barely feel them going in– just a cool sliding sensation as she inserted them about an inch. My skin didn’t even dimple as she gently and quickly placed them from neck to elbow. A minute later I had a dozen needles sticking out, and she suggested that I should stay still. She even put two needles in the side of my left calf, explaining that there’s a nerve connection to the shoulder.

Then the assistant brought out a power supply and an electronics box. I later learned that this was an electrical muscle stimulation system, and the acupuncture needles make it easy to deliver the electrons directly to the injured area. She wrapped electrical wires around two of the needle coils and flipped a switch. My deltoid promptly started twitching gently, about once per second. After she checked the electronics display, she brought out an IR heat lamp and positioned that over my left shoulder. She said she’d check on me in 30 minutes and gave me a call button to push if I had any problems.

I stayed as still as I could despite being a human pincushion with my shoulder twitching like a frog leg in Dr. Frankenstein’s high-school biology class, while the lamp heated my shoulder (and the metal needles). It must have looked extremely uncomfortable.

A few minutes later I dozed off.

Judging from the assistant’s polite smile when she woke me up, this must happen a lot.

Well, technically my deltoid kept twitching while the rest of me had a very nice nap. When she turned off the machine, my entire shoulder relaxed.

She gently extracted all the needles that they’d inserted. (I kept count just to make sure.) I could barely feel the sliding sensation as they were removed, but there was no pain.

Then she picked up a tray of heavy glass cups, and I realized that I’d signed up for a bonus cupping session after the acupuncture.

Cupping

The assistant laid out a dozen cups of various sizes. They were each about 2”-3” tall and 1”-2” in diameter, made out of heavy glass. She rubbed a light coat of oil over my shoulder and back (to get a better seal).

Next she used her forceps to pick up a cotton ball and dip it in a liquid that looked like alcohol. Then she picked up a cigarette lighter, set the cotton ball on fire, and walked over to my shoulder.

An open flame. In a hospital. In a ward where there were probably oxygen canisters near more flammable liquids and oily skin. With a submariner who used to teach firefighting tactics at a training command.

I was not happy.

It turned out that the flaming cotton ball heated up the cups (and the air inside them). The acupuncturist briefly warmed each cup over the flame and then gently slapped them down on the skin that had held needles. As the air in the cups cooled and contracted, the suction drew the skin up into the cups and held them in place. A few cups were pried off and re-applied for a better seal.

As the skin on my shoulder and back was pulled up into the cups, I could feel a warm tingling as more blood was pulled up into my muscles. Several minutes later the assistant released all of the cups (with a wood tongue depressor) and wiped the oil off my skin.

The acupuncturist asked me to sit up and move my arm around. It was still warm from the treatment, and the deltoid felt particularly loose. I was happy to discover that I had much more flexibility and no pain. Wonderful!

When I checked my shoulder and back in a mirror, it looked like I’d lost a grappling match with an octopus. (This picture was taken an hour later.) The acupuncturist reassured me that the bruising would fade in a few days. In my case, the marks took nearly three weeks to disappear.

after-cupping

What happened to make my arm feel so much better?

According to traditional Chinese medicine, my body’s qi had been manipulated by the needles and the cups to bring more healing energy to my damaged deltoid.

Western medicine claims that my muscles had been stimulated by electricity, bringing more blood and lymph fluid to help repair the microtears. The heat and the cupping had brought even more blood into the muscle and skin, causing more bruising yet supplying more healing fluids. My body would focus greater effort on repairing damage in that area, which would also accelerate repairs to the deltoid muscle.

And, of course, the hour’s performance had kicked my placebo effect (and endorphins) into overdrive. No wonder I felt so good.

I’ll leave that debate to the doctors. Whatever happened during that hour, the pain relief (and the greater range of motion) was worth every penny of $17.

When I paid the bill at the cashier’s desk in the lobby, it was more like $16.75. My smartphone’s Google Translate software wasn’t much help here, but if you read Chinese or Thai then please feel free to share the details.

hua-chiew-invoice-and-patient-card

Followup

As I left the fifth floor, I was handed a small appointment card and admonished to return in three days for more treatment. My spouse and I got busy with other activities (there’s a lot to see & do in Bangkok) and we returned in nine days. When we walked in (still no appointment necessary!), the front desk checked our cards and started the routine again.

When I walked back into room 501 it still smelled like marijuana. I confidently returned to my treatment table, hung up my t-shirt, and laid down for an encore of my last visit. The setup went the same and I was soon bristling with acupuncture needles, but they didn’t haul out the electrical box.

This time the assistant unwrapped a couple small paper packages the size of a section of a Tootsie Roll. Later I learned that they held a dried Chinese herb called moxa, and I was about to experience moxibustion.

She poked two of the herb bundles on top of two of the acupuncture needles… and then lit them with her cigarette lighter. I immediately realized why the ward smelled like marijuana smoke, only it was burning moxa.

moxibustion

As she pulled the privacy curtains closed, she asked me to push the call button if my deltoid got too warm. I soon realized that moxa burns just like tobacco and it was heating up the acupuncture needles. Those, in turn, conducted the heat straight down to my deltoid muscle. I wasn’t exactly getting first-degree burns, but it was uncomfortably warm under my skin. I gritted my teeth and vowed to wait out the moxa.

It must have worked because I dozed off again. The moxa stopped smoldering in 20 minutes and the assistant followed up with the heat lamp for another 10 minutes. They removed the acupuncture needles and commented that my cupping bruises were sure taking a long time to heal, but that was the end of the session!

This time I only paid 525 baht ($15).

Long-term results

We’ve been back on Oahu for a couple of weeks, and my left deltoid is completely healed. It could be qi or it could be targeted electricity and heat therapy, but the results are undeniable. I’m back to pull-ups and push-ups and reaching up between my shoulder blades. I’m also doing more stretching and taking it a little easier with the multiple sets, but now I know what a local acupuncture clinic (or the placebo effect) can do for me.

Either way, I’m happy.

Crew Dog: Doug usually writes about Financial Independence and Early Retirement, and how he did it on a military salary, at the-military-guide.com.  He’s also the author of The Military Guide To Financial Independence And Retirement.

Have you been a medical tourist, or tried alternative medical procedures? What were your experiences like?  Comment below.

Guest Post: The Importance of Sleep to Health and Weight Loss

I had been thinking about this one for some time, and then I saw the following blog post: Does Sleep Deprivation Really Impact Weight Loss?  The obvious answer being, ‘ Yes,’ and it covered nearly everything I was planning to write about, so I highly recommend clicking on the link to this post.

I’ve already talked about the poor food choices we tend to make when tired.  As I am now tracking my daily calorie intake, sleep, and weight the next morning, I’ve also personally noticed 2 nearly identical days of food intake and the next morning one will have a positive effect on my weight, and the other negative – the only real difference was having a good night sleep.

Another interesting study looked at eating late at night.  Your body starts releasing fat into the blood stream about 1 hour before your normal bed time, and does so continuously overnight.  This is to keep the cells nourished while you sleep.  So eating right before bed can not only give you funky dreams and heart burn, but go straight to fat.

Your body saves extra fuel in the blood stream as fat.  If you are eating at a time when your body naturally releases fat, you create an overload which goes right back on as fat.

Everyone’s cycle is different, so I can’t give you a rule to stop eating by a certain time.  I’m a morning person, so I found it is important to me to eat fairly early in the day and stop fairly early.  I try to stop eating food (and drinking any alcohol) by 6-7pm in the evening (yes there are special occasions when I don’t follow this).  My wife however, is a night owl, and she usually eats breakfast later in the morning, and stops eating later in the evening.

I found it surprising how many more calories I can consume and still lose weight, when eating good healthy foods, in the right combinations, at the right times of the day, and getting a good night sleep.

We all know far too well how the negative cycle works. Doing the right  things help get you into a positive cycle of feeling good, making good decisions, sleeping well, and maintaining a healthy weight.

Good luck! If you have any questions or comments, feel free to email me at daveb.uk@hotmail.com.  [Crew Dog: Or comment below]

Guest Post: Breaking Through the Weight Loss Plateau

[This is the next post in the series of guest posts on healthy diet and lifestyle from Dave Banko.]

My new diet is off and running. I’m disciplined and start losing weight. A couple of weeks in, and my weight loss starts to slow down, then stops all together even though I’m still doing what I did at the start.

Frustration sets in, and this is where many people quit.

Why?! I’ve hit the plateau!

This happened to me time after time.  I worked so hard, and only lost 10-15 lbs.  Months would pass, and I couldn’t get any further.  Eventually something would happen and I’d stop. I couldn’t get past the plateau.

Over time, with repeated trying, hitting the plateau, and not being able to break through, I became depressed and didn’t think it was possible to lose weight. When trying again this time, I set the goal of losing 100 lbs in a year, but given my past experience I didn’t really believe it was possible.

The ‘What’s the Right Diet for You?’ program, though, explained what the plateau was and how to break through it.  This time I was ready and armed with new information, and blew through each plateau as they started to happen!

What is the plateau? Here’s a link to a dietician’s explanation about a plateau. To try to explain it in simple terms, your body adapts to the changes made and your weight loss levels out.

I started off weighing more than 350 lbs, and let’s assume (I wasn’t measuring at the time, so I don’t know for sure) I was consuming 5,000 calories per day to maintain this weight. I start dieting, cut my intake to 4,000 calories per day and start losing weight.  At 350 lbs, my body needed the 5,000 calories per day just to maintain.  Since I reduced the intake to 4,000 calories per day, my body will start burning fat to compensate for the difference.  However, as I lose weight, my body no longer needs as many calories to maintain the lower weight, and at some point the weight loss will level out as I reach the point where my body only needs 4,000 calories per day to maintain itself. (You can probably insert a nerdy mathematical decreasing returns graph here.) 🙂

So what do I do? Cut further… go from 4,000 calories per day to 3,500 calories per day. When I reach the next plateau, I cut further again.

As long as I have fat reserves, I know my body has all the energy it needs and I can cut further.

What I don’t want to do is cut so far my body goes into starvation/fat preservation mode or is unhealthy because I’m not getting the basic nutrients I need.

The recommended average intake for a man is 2,500 calories per day (minimum 1,500 calories) and a woman is 2,000 (minimum 1,200 calories). This average has a wide variation, however, based on age, body size, activity level, etc. You really need to measure and experiment for yourself to find out what your value is.  I found mine, once I went below 250 lbs, to be around 2,200 calories per day, and, at this moment, as I am working on the last 10 lbs, I set myself the target to stay within 1,800 to 2,100 calories per day.

You might feel like you’ve cut really hard, well below the recommended value, and you’re still not losing weight.  Here are my recommendations:

  1. Did you cut as far as you think you did? If you aren’t tracking what you eat, you may not think you are eating a lot but would surprise yourself by how much you really are. In August 2015, I finished a project at a customer site and started working from home. I had already lost 100 lbs, and was doing well. After a week, I stopped losing weight, and, in fact, started to gain weight. How could this be? I was following my diet and hardly eating anything. This is when I downloaded My Fitness Pal and started tracking what I was eating. To my surprise, I was consuming much more than I thought. It was too convenient at home to have a bite of this and a bite of that, even good food. My calorie consumption had gone up, and my weight was climbing accordingly. I had to discipline myself to track EVERYTHING I was eating at home to get a handle on this. As soon as I did, I got my diet back on track. Another possibility is that you are having nice low-calorie healthy meals like salads, but the salad dressing you are using is so packed with sugar, unhealthy fat, and empty calories it completely outweighs the benefits of the salad.
  2. Did you cut too far and put your body into starvation mode? Remember, we need to consume a healthy minimum of nutritionally balanced food to kick-start our metabolism into burning fat for the excess energy we need.
  3. Are you drinking enough water? We need water to flush the toxins out of our systems, to properly use the nutrients we are taking in, and to release the fat into our blood stream for use. Be sure you are drinking enough water throughout the day.
  4. Adjust your ratios and the nutritional benefit of what you are eating. We need a balance of protein, complex carbs, fiber, fruits, and vegetables, but our body chemistries are all a bit different, so what may work for me won’t work for you quite the same way. This is fine tuning and will come into play more as you work off the last few pounds.
  5. Add or change your exercise regime. Exercise helps improve fitness and burn calories. We need to be careful about exercise when using it for weight loss however (see my previous post on this). Adding or changing your exercise regime while controlling your diet is another way to change the status quo and break through a plateau.

Here’s a blog post from My Fitness Pal with additional tips for breaking through the plateau.  [Hint: think of plateau-busting as troubleshooting.]

Plateaus are natural and will happen as your body adjusts to your new eating lifestyle. When you understand them, YOU CAN BREAK THROUGH THE PLATEAU! Breakthrough simply requires another change, further tuning your diet. You can do this!

Good luck! As always, feel free to contact me at daveb.uk@hotmail.com if you have any questions or comments.  [Crew Dog: Or comment below.]

 

Guest Post: Warning about ‘Healthy’ Food Labels

Low Fat! No Fat! High Fiber! High Protein! All Natural! Organic! Free Range! Zero Trans Fat! Sugar Free! No Sugar Added! Low Carb! Multigrain! Light! Cholesterol Free! Made with Real Fruit! [Follow link for more information on food label claims]

[This post is the next in the guest post series on healthy diet and lifestyle from Dave Banko.]

Buyer Beware!!!

There is very little regulation on the claims companies make about food products, and advertisers push it to the limits! Let’s face it, they are trying to make their product stand out from the others.

I no longer purchase anything based on the marketing slogan. When I shop, I read the labels and purchase whole food products with natural ingredients and as few chemicals and preservatives as possible. Don’t believe the slogan on the label until you do your research.

While I’m on the subject, also beware of fad diets like detox, liquid, no-carb, etc.  Any diet that demonizes one or more particular food groups is unbalanced and will force you to compensate with expensive alternatives.

As an example, ‘gluten-free’ is the rage where I live with many people believing they need to eat ‘gluten-free’ to be healthy.

Gluten is a composite protein found in many grains, such as wheat, rye, and barley. There is an autoimmune disease called coeliac which affects about 1% of the population. Coeliac (spelled “celiac” in the US) causes the body to react to gluten by triggering a serious autoimmune response which can damage many parts of the body.  If you have this disease, consuming gluten is dangerous and you need to seek out gluten-free products.

If you don’t have coeliac, gluten sensitivity, or a wheat allergy, you can consume gluten without problem. In fact, going gluten free if you don’t have coeliac can result in serious nutritional deficiencies.

‘Gluten-free’ products are being advertised as ‘healthier’ than regular products. The influence is so strong, I had someone who didn’t have enough food to eat come into the food bank where I volunteer and ask if she could have ‘gluten-free’ products because she was trying to eat healthier. She didn’t have coeliac and was surprised (and relieved) when I explained to her what it was. Believe or not, there is even a company promoting ‘gluten-free’ water, which is ridiculous considering there is no grain in water to begin with so all water is naturally gluten-free.

The same applies to other food allergies, like wheat, nuts, etc. These medical conditions are serious. If you have a food allergy and consume products containing them, the results can range from minor discomfort to death. The fact that products for these conditions are being advertised and labelled is a huge benefit to people with these conditions.

But, if you don’t have the condition, you don’t need to seek out these products in the name of being ‘healthy.’ Instead, eat a good balance of real food.

[Crew Dog: To summarize what Dave is saying – Don’t buy into the hype and confusion of food labels.  Think about what the food advertisers are saying and whether it makes sense – even if a cookie is low-fat, it isn’t healthy fuel for your body.  Don’t pay extra for things you don’t need (like gluten-free water) just because advertisers slapped faddish buzz words on the packaging.  It may seem like a lot of work to eat healthy, but it doesn’t have to be.  Just eat non-processed foods in their natural state (fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, meat, fish) or foods with a few simple ingredients.]

As always, feel free to contact me at daveb.uk@hotmail.com if you have any questions or comments, and good luck!  [Crew Dog: Or comment below.]

Guest Post: Diet Decision Making when Tired

[Here’s the next post in the series of guest posts on healthy diet and lifestyle from Dave Banko.]

One of the interesting experiments performed on ‘What’s the Right Diet for You?‘ assessed the effect of being tired on the decisions you make about what to eat.

The participants were divided into 2 groups: one group was given a good night’s rest and the other was forced to stay up until early in the morning. The next morning, both were sent shopping and given identical lists of types of things to purchase, but not given specific items.

When the groups finished shopping, their shopping baskets were compared and the results were astounding! The well rested group made excellent choices: lots of fresh fruits and veg, whole foods, and lean meats. The tired group purchased a lot of sugary and high fat items with a calorie content more than double the amount of the rested group!

Why is this?

When we are tired and drained of energy, our natural preservation mechanism is to quickly boost our energy levels, so we crave sugary and fatty foods.

Making good choices in this state will take every ounce of will power to overcome this fundamental self-preservation instinct.

This also relates to the discussion in my previous blog post about how when we are drained after exercise we crave sugary and fatty foods, but eating them would wipe out the positive weight loss effects of the exercise.

How do we counteract this? First and foremost is to get enough rest. I’ll be writing another post about the additional benefits of a good night’s sleep, and this is certainly one of them.

We live busy lifestyles though, and can’t always get enough rest or do things when well rested. In this case, the best thing to do is make a plan while rested. If grocery shopping, make your list in advance while rested, then stick to it when shopping!

In the end, knowledge is power. Just knowing what our bodies want helps us to make better, healthy lifestyle decisions!

As always, please contact me at daveb.uk@hotmail.com if you have any questions or comments. 🙂  [Crew Dog: Or comment below.]

Guest Post: Hydration and Weight Loss

[Here’s the next post in the guest post series on healthy diet and lifestyle from Dave Banko.]

There is a lot of content available regarding the importance to weight loss of drinking plenty of fluids. I’m including this blog post for completeness, but won’t really spend a lot of time on it.

Below is a great diagram from a post called 11 Reasons Why Dehydration is Making You Fat and Sick.

Just remember to be drinking the right kinds of fluids: plenty of water (perhaps with a squeeze of lemon or other fruit/veg infusion) and green/herbal/fruit teas and limit or eliminate sugary and/or caffeinated drinks. Check the labels and you’ll be surprised how many drinks contain sugar, fructose, and a chemical sweetener.

Please contact me at daveb.uk@hotmail.com with any questions or comments.  [Crew Dog: Or comment below]

[Crew Dog NOTE: For more information on proper hydration, such as getting water from foods, times when you need to increase your fluid intake, and what can happen if you drink too much water (hyponatremia), see this Mayo Clinic post.]

Guest Post: Eating to Lose Weight

 

[Here’s another guest post from Dave Banko on healthy diet and lifestyle.]

This may sound counter intuitive, but the worst thing you can do to lose weight, particularly to burn fat, is to starve yourself.

Your body has a primitive defense mechanism for self-preservation to protect fat reserves in the event of actual starvation, going back to days when the availability of food was cyclical. When no calories are coming in, your body slows the metabolism down to conserve energy (making you feel lethargic and moody) and consumes muscle and organ tissue along with the fat to protect reserves and supply the brain and red blood cells.

You will lose weight, but not all of it will be fat, and this method can have serious negative effects on your overall health.  As soon as you start eating again, most of the weight comes back on as your body rebuilds.

Consuming calories, even a small amount, stimulates the metabolism and releases fat reserves.  This is also another reason breakfast is so important, as you haven’t been consuming calories for 8-12 hours overnight.

In ‘What’s the Right Diet for You?‘ scientists stress 80% of successful dieters start with breakfast.

A good breakfast including protein (eggs, fish, poultry, other lean meat or high protein legume) and complex carbohydrates in fruit and whole grains, and, of course, one or more glasses of water, is the perfect way to kick-start your metabolism and fat burning for the day.

Adding a cup of tea or coffee isn’t the end of world, unless you are also cutting down on caffeine. 🙂 I would avoid fruit juice as it has a high concentration of sugar without the fiber naturally found in whole fruit to slow down its hit to your blood stream.  Also be careful of hidden sugar in spreads, commercial cereals and even muesli.

However, you don’t need a lot of calories to trigger the fat burn which is why the 5 and 2 diet can keep the calorie content on the fasting days to 500-600 total calories. But even the 5 and 2 diet encourages breakfast on fast days to get you going, and regular eating on non-fast days.

Be sure not to fast on consecutive days, and eat properly on the days in between fasts.

According to the National Institute of Health, women should consume a minimum of 1200 calories per day and men should consume a minimum of 1500 calories per day for a healthy metabolism, appropriate balance of protein, fat, fiber and carbohydrates, and avoidance of malnutrition.

If intermittently fasting (this should only be for 2, at the most 3, non-consecutive days per week and for no longer than 12 weeks) the minimum should be 500-600 calories per day on fasting days, and 1500-1800 calories on the non-fasting days.

When aiming to lose weight, average women should aim for a weekly total of 8,400 to 10,500 calories per week and men, 10,500 to 12,600.  If you are heavier or very active, this target should be higher.

When I started this new healthy eating lifestyle (I prefer not to call it a diet, because I will be eating this way for the rest of my life), I weighed 351 lbs (having peaked at 365 lbs) and consumed around 5,000 calories per day.

I tried and failed with numerous starvation and detox diets.

Eating to lose weight made absolutely no sense to me, but I tried it anyway, and my successful weight loss convinced me.

Eating the right foods, in the right combination and at the right time of the day made me feel better, gave me plenty of energy, and made it easier for me to eat less (you may not feel ‘full’ but you will feel ‘satisfied’ and for longer), and the weight melted off.

At the time of this writing (17 months after starting to change the way I ate), I’m down to 218 lbs and working to lose the last 8 lbs to get down to my military weight of 210 lbs.

Every now and then, I still have bad days where I blow the diet, and it shows on the scale the next morning. My natural inclination is still to stop eating to counter my binge from the day before, but I remind myself how my body works, and then go cook my 2 whole egg cheese & veg omelette to have with my morning fruit, full fat natural yogurt, whole grain toast, lemon water, and tea (no sugar), and I’m right back on the program. The weight keeps coming off.

For more information on eating to lose weight, here’s a good blog post from My Fitness Pal.

Feel free to contact me at daveb.uk@hotmail.com with any questions or comments.  [Crew Dog: Or comment below.]

Guest Post: Low Fat or Low Carb?

[Here’s the next in the guest post series on healthy diet and lifestyle from Dave Banko.]

One of the main debates in our Facebook weight loss group was whether we should focus on reducing carbs or fat. When focused on weight loss alone, studies have repeatedly shown a ‘low fat’ diet loses more body fat over the same period than a ‘low carb’ diet.

Having said that, there is more to consider for a healthy lifestyle than weight loss alone.

Let’s first separate carbs into complex carbohydrates, which tend to have a low glycemic index (GI), and simple carbohydrates like sugar, fructose and processed grains (skin, husks and other fiber removed), which have a higher glycemic index.

Take an apple for example. An average-sized apple is about 65 kcal and 14g of carbohydrates. The carbohydrates are complex because the natural sugars are locked with the cell structure. This naturally provides fiber so, when you eat an apple, it takes time for your digestive system to break down the cell walls and release the sugar. The cell walls also provide fiber and other nutrients to the body even after releasing the sugar.

When you drink apple juice, the sugar has been squeezed out of the cells of the apple.  There is no fiber to slow down the processing, so the apple sugars are immediately digested and hit the blood stream causing a spike in sugar levels and the need for insulin similar to drinking a commercial cola or other syrup-based drink. As a result, while I eat lots of whole fruits, I no longer drink fruit juice or syrupy drinks. Click on this link to read an excellent article illustrating the difference.

Fat, on the other hand, is dense and energy packed. It takes a lot longer to digest, so eating fat will not cause a spike in blood sugar. Dietary fat becomes an energy source in the blood stream, and any excess energy (no matter the source – whether fat, sugar, carbs or protein) will be converted and stored as body fat to use as an energy reserve for another time when you need it.

For me, I found fat in foods more satisfying in taste and the feeling of fullness than low or no-fat foods. I was satisfied with 1 150g pot of full fat natural yogurt where 2 150g pots of no-fat yogurt still left me longing for more.

In investigating low or no-fat products, I found that because removing the fat leaves the food tasting less satisfying, many manufacturers have compensated by increasing sugar or chemicals to fool your body.  The increase in sugar again leads to the blood sugar spikes which can lead to diabetes.

Since I have a family history of diabetes, I steer clear of anything that can serve as a precursor to becoming diabetic myself.

The negative to fat, of course, is the amount of calories it packs in a small amount of food. If you are satisfied and stay within your calorie targets, it’s fine – remember the French high fat diet is the 7th best in the world; but overeat a little, and it adds a lot of calories.

My personal diet includes a balance of protein, complex carbohydrates (low GI) and full fat items. I’ve gone to more natural foods and avoid processed foods and chemicals wherever possible.

I am not a doctor, and you may have a medical history or condition which requires you to go a different direction with your diet. This is fine, because I’ve hopefully shown that while there are general principles to follow, there is not one diet that works for everyone. Please seek medical advice when putting together any program.

In an article by the BBC on Low Carb vs Low Fat debate, Prof Susan Jebb of Oxford University (and one of the ‘What’s the Right Diet for You?’ team) sums it up like this:

“The investigators rightly conclude that the best diet for weight loss is the diet you can stick to. All diets ‘work’ if you stick to an eating plan that cuts calories, whether from fat or carbohydrate, but sticking to a diet is easier said than done, especially given the prolonged time it takes to lose weight.”

As always, feel free to contact me at daveb.uk@hotmail.com if you have any questions or comments, and good luck!  [Crew Dog: Or comment below.]

Guest Post: Exercise for Weight Loss

[Here’s another guest post from Dave Banko about healthy diet and lifestyle.]

The first thing nearly everyone asks me when they hear about my weight loss is: what exercises did you start doing?  They are astonished when I tell them I didn’t start exercising until I had been following the diet program for 3 months and had already lost 50 lbs!

Exercise is a good thing and beneficial in so many ways, but the professionals from Cambridge and Oxford Universities who put together the ‘What’s the Right Diet for You?’ program were clear that the only way to lasting weight loss is to control your diet.

Many of my failed weight loss attempts in the past were due to starting to exercise first. If you listen to the gym and exercise video promos about the amazing results you will get, always in the small print is a legal disclaimer that this must be in conjunction with some sort of diet.

I remember this from the military too.  When preparing for a weigh-in, I had better results by reducing my physical activity.  Likewise, when preparing for the run or physical fitness test, I had better results when I wasn’t trying to lose weight too.

I have a choice, either consume fewer calories or burn more calories, so if I exercise I’ll burn more calories and lose weight, right?  Not exactly.  Exercise does burn more calories, but not as many as you think.

Whether you walk or run a mile, you still use about 100 calories performing this activity.  But your body already burns 2000-2500 calories per day just sustaining itself, and 100 calories is the equivalent of a single chocolate chip cookie. Your body is more complicated than that.

When you exercise, your body burns the energy most readily available, starting with the glucose already in your muscles and blood stream, then the glycogen in your liver, and finally burning fat.  When you finish a good workout, these energy sources are depleted and your body craves carbs to quickly restore these energy reserves.

To lose weight, I want my body to continue burning the fat, so instead of eating carbs, I should go for protein to help rebuild the muscles without interfering with the fat-burning process.

But protein isn’t what my body craves. As my body instinctively wants to restore the status quo, I will crave sugary and fatty foods. Has anyone else seen the ‘Snickers’ commercial suggesting that’s what you should have when you are hungry? Since I’ve just done a lot of exercise, I am physically and mentally tired, so my willpower to resist these cravings is reduced. Plus, I’ve done a good job exercising and naturally want to reward myself with a treat, like cake – something sugary and fatty.

To illustrate the dangers of over-estimating the impact of exercising on weight-loss, in ‘What’s the Right Diet for You?’ the researchers had participants exercise and showed them how much cake they burned off over one week by exercising (in this case, 4 pieces of cake). Then they removed the cake consumed as extra calories when the participants cheated on their diet by giving in to cravings, and there went 3 pieces of cake leaving only 1.  Then they showed how on the days in-between workouts the participants did less exercise than they normally did when they weren’t exercising at all (this was tracked before they started the exercise program) which equated to half a slice of cake.  So after all the effort, at the end of the week, they only burned about half a slice of cake in actual extra fat lost.

How did I start exercising?  When I started dieting, as I mentioned before, the key was to start with small changes. I did the same thing with exercising. After starting the diet itself for a few weeks, I tried walking a little more. I started walking the 1/2 mile to the train station to go to work instead of getting a ride. I started walking around the office more. At the start, I couldn’t do more than 1 flight of stairs so I started pushing myself to take the stairs more often than the elevator.

At the 3 month point and 50 lbs lighter, I already felt so much better and had so much more energy I felt I couldn’t contain it, so I bought an activity tracker and started walking.

(I have a bad ankle from a parachuting accident in the military so I can’t run or cycle, and an impingement in my shoulder so I can’t swim either.)  I just started walking around the block, and gradually went further and further. Now, a year on, I regularly walk 8-10 miles a day and average between 50 and 70 miles a week. I’m also walking exclusively in the office and not using the elevator at all, even to go up 4 or 5 floors.

Once I started tracking calories consumed in My Fitness Pal, linked with calories burned in the Activity Tracker, I noticed the numbers don’t match. I could burn an extra 1000 calories walking, but if I ate more than an extra 200-300 calories that day, I would gain weight. Again, our bodies are complicated.

One final note: When you exercise, you are strengthening your muscles, but you have no control over where your body reduces the fat. Your body stores fat all over, though it may concentrate more in one area than another, like the stomach or the hips. When losing weight, the body draws from fat all over. Exercising a particular muscle group will not have any effect on where the body draws the fat from. Only once all the fat is reduced will the results of your sit ups start to appear.

Please keep in mind there are healthy levels of fat and often the advertised stereotype in magazines is not healthy.  We want a healthy lifestyle and body image and not to go too far the other way to be too thin either.

Exercise is a good thing! Not only does it strengthen your muscles and your heart, but it boosts your metabolism, reduces cholesterol, and stabilizes your systems.

But you cannot expect to have lasting weight loss on exercise alone. You must start with and control your diet first and foremost, then add exercise as a supplement, wary of potential negative diet effects.

Feel free to contact me with at daveb.uk@hotmail.com with any comments or questions.  [Crew Dog: Or comment below.]

Guest Post: To Count Calories or Not to Count Calories?

[This is the next in a series of guest posts about healthy diet and lifestyle from Dave Banko.]

Counting calories was the subject of a major debate in my Facebook weight-loss support group, and the short answer is: there is no correct answer.  A lot depends on you and how much you need to lose.

When I started losing weight and weighed over 360 lbs, I didn’t need to count calories.  The idea of a food diary and researching calorie content for everything I ate was too extreme for me, and the changes I was already making to my eating lifestyle resulted in dropping the weight relatively easily.

When I got down to around 250 lbs, it was becoming more difficult. With a much smaller percentage of body fat left to lose, and so many cuts already made, the margins were smaller, and I found I had to start counting calories to work off the last pounds.

If you want to start counting calories, smart phone apps make the process much easier. I researched 3 different ones and settled on My Fitness Pal.  I only use the free version, and haven’t seen a need yet for the premium services.

This app has a huge database of foods to search and automatically load, including many restaurant menu items which makes going out to eat easier.  You can also pre-load and copy items.  And it interfaces with a number of activity/step trackers like Fitbit so you can automatically include the calories burned from exercise.

Two of the most interesting functions I found are 1) the ability to track what I ate against my weight the next day, and 2) the ability to pre-plan meals.

  • The 1st thing I did was track my normal usage for 1 week, then started experimenting with diet and exercise over a 2 week period.  While the average male stat is 2500 calories per day, I found for me the break-even point was 2200.  If I ate more than 2200 calories, I generally gained weight, and if I ate less than 2200 calories, I generally lost weight.  I say ‘generally’ because it isn’t an exact formula.  Calorie counting is only a tool, but not the only tool you should use to lose weight as there are many other factors too.
  • The 2nd is the ability to pre-plan.  If I know what I am planning to eat for the day, or what restaurant I’m going to, I can look up the items I plan to eat and the calorie content and see how it fits so I know how much I can consume and stay within my daily allowance.  Also, if I’d like a glass of wine, some chocolate or ice cream, I can add this in and know where I need to cut back in other areas to have my treat and stay within the limits.

Someone asked me about cheating, by not entering everything.  This tool is for me, to help me with eating healthy.  The only person I’m cheating by not using the tool properly is myself.

One final point, as referenced above, your body is very complex, and simply counting calories will not do it.  If you are staying within your calorie limits, but the majority of the food you consume is unhealthy or out of proportion, it will have negative effects on your health and you may still gain weight. One calorie is not like every other calorie!

So, if you decide to count calories or use something like the Weight Watchers point system, your first step should be to adjust to healthier foods in the correct ratios.  Then you can use a calorie counting tool to help control the portion sizes.

As always, feel free to contact me at daveb.uk@hotmail.com with any comments or questions not covered.  [Crew Dog: Or comment below.]