Grass Roots Health Hacking. I Haven’t Felt this Good in 20 years
I seem to be going through a phase at present where I’m writing posts a little different from those that normally appear in this blog. However, while this one may appear a bit out of the ordinary, it does have a blindness connection and a technology connection.
Technology has changed the way we engage with medical professionals, particularly general practitioners. When I was a kid, we’d visit our family doctor when the need arose. He actually brought me into the world, and knew our family history well. We might have a consumer-friendly guide or two at home, and of course a lot of knowledge was passed on from generation to generation. Some of that information and advice was not based on any science, some of it actually worked wonders. But in the end, if things got bad enough, our doctor would be consulted, and his pronouncements were always accepted without question. Doctors back then were generally very much revered.
Things are different now. If a medical condition is causing concern, we’ll look it up using various sites and apps, seeking wherever possible to make sure we’re consulting credible sources. We may still have to go to the doctor for the prescription of antibiotics or something else, but we’ll go there in possession of a lot of knowledge about what we may be dealing with.
The fact that so much knowledge is online and accessible is great news for blind parents like me, and also for anyone who takes an interest in maintaining their own health.
I don’t think I’m unduly obsessed with, or neurotic about my health, but I have been interested in information about how to stay healthy since I was a young adult. As I get older, that interest has become more significant, and I know I can no longer afford to ignore compelling evidence. It’s an interest that stems from some traumatic personal experiences.
When I was 18, I was woken up one morning by my Dad being rushed into hospital, having a heart attack. I remember vividly him asking me to look after my mother if anything happened to him.
In 2001, my parents both had quintuple heart bypasses within a day of each other.
Heart disease and diabetes are prevalent in my family.
So I’ve read a lot about various theories of how to reduce the risk of those diseases. I would like to do all I can to ensure that I can live a quality life. I want to live a good life, but I also know I have the responsibility of supporting my family.
I’ve tried following various eating lifestyles, some of them quite extreme, and journaling the results so I can try and understand what works for me.
I began like many others by trying plans such as Weight Watchers, which at least in their traditional form are calorie-centric. I lost weight with them, but found them hard to sustain long-term.
After reading “The China Study”, I went vegan for a few months, and found that I felt listless and even gained a tiny bit of weight. Plus, much as I really do sympathise with the moral argument about the way animals are exploited, sometimes in atrocious conditions, I am partial to a good steak and a lamb roast. I try to be careful now about where my meat comes from, but the vegan lifestyle didn’t work for me.
I then started to explore the increasing body of literature questioning the notion that eating fat makes you fat. They say “you are what you eat”, right? So it seemed ridiculous and counterintuitive to me that you could lose weight by increasing the amount of fatty food you eat. Plus, I had been programmed to almost feel a sense of revulsion whenever fat was mentioned. The idea that anything fatty could be healthy seemed to me to be just stupid. Low fat products were the healthy choice. People would ridicule the late Robert Atkins, even spreading the utter falsehood that he had died from heart disease when he had in fact slipped on an icy New York sidewalk.
The first book I read that really got me questioning all I’d previously accepted about the food I ate was called “Good Calories, Bad Calories“, by the science journalist Gary Taubes. It was a thorough document, full of medical theory and references, and at times I found it very heavy reading. But this guy clearly knew his stuff and had conducted meticulous research. I think it’s fair to say that he was seeking to convince a sceptical medical profession that some of the studies they had come to rely on regarding the evils of fat were in fact flawed science.
Thankfully, Taubes followed up with a much more consumer-friendly book called “Why We Get Fat, and What to do about it”.
I can’t recommend this book enough. In it, he makes the compelling case that good eating isn’t just about expending more calories than you consume. That’s not to say you can or should eat like a pig, but by eating plenty of fresh vegetables, fatty meats, and reducing bad carbs like sugar, including certain types of fruit rich in natural sugar, you can cause your body to burn fat for fuel. This is a process known as ketosis.
A further very well-argued case against what has become the medical orthodoxy surrounding fat is called “The Big Fat Surprise. Why butter, meat and cheese belong in a healthy diet”, by Nina Teicholz. This is a really gripping read. Yes, I know that sounds unlikely given the heavy subject matter, but she makes the story of how fat became the devil-incarnate a fascinating read by telling us about the people behind the science.
Now clearly, I’m not a medical professional, but I know which approach has produced the results for me personally, and it’s the discussion about that on Twitter which has prompted me to write all this down for anyone interested.
I’m now thirty pounds lighter than I was when I was at my heaviest, and the weight is still coming off. I eat plenty of fresh vegetables, the occasional fruit low in sugar such as berries, and all the meat, butter and cheese I want, although it doesn’t take a lot to make me feel full now. I eat no bread or grain.
As I’ve blogged previously, meditation is really important to me. There is a strong link, not just between what we put in our bodies and how we feel, but the things we put into our mind as well. If we consciously keep a gratitude journal, are kind to ourselves, and make a conscious effort to replace a negative thought with a positive one, it slowly but surely becomes habitual. I’m certainly not saying I’m fully there yet or that it’s easy, but it really helps. Meditation is something I now look forward to doing for between 20 and 60 minutes a day.
As I became more aware of how I was feeling, I knew that eventually, I’d have to take up a really big challenge, and that was giving up alcohol. New Zealanders tend to drink quite a lot of it, and I suppose there is an element of ritual about enjoying a few beers with mates, or sharing a bottle of wine with someone you love.
But at least for me, alcohol would make me hungry for carbs. I’d have a perfectly healthy meal, get partying, and after a while, the beer or wine would make me hungry for a pizza.
So six months ago, I just gave it up. Occasionally I miss it, but I feel absolutely terrific, and I’ve saved a lot of money. I reward myself by seeing a massage therapist once a month, which I fund with some of the money that would once have gone on the juice. That makes me feel fantastic too.
There is one other really crazy change I’ve made that has made me feel on top form. I now drink a cup of Bulletproof Coffee every morning. The main ingredients in this miraculous concoction are a high quality coffee, and grass-fed butter. You can find the complete recipe on the website I linked to above.
I’ve never been a big coffee drinker, I’m not a huge fan of the taste. But after reading the book about the Bulletproof Diet, I thought I had nothing to lose by giving it a shot.
The results have been crazily miraculous. I can focus for longer, I no longer have a dip in energy in the early afternoon. I’m more motivated to exercise because of how good I’m feeling, and have become better friends with the seven minute work-out app I’ve had on my phone for a couple of years.
It puts my body into ketosis easily, so I’m burning fat for fuel.
What I like about the Bulletproof coffee, and some of the approaches suggested by people like Tim Ferriss who wrote “The Four-Hour Body”, is that they are data-driven. They may well be personal data-driven so one needs to accept that not everything that works for them will work for all of us, but these guys have a computing background. They are evidence-driven. They’ve done the experiments and crunched the numbers. It really is a democratisation of health. When one looks at the obesity epidemic right across the western world, it’s hard not to concede that some alternative approaches may be in order.
Of course, there’s a lot of quackery out there, and some may argue that things like bulletproof coffee are just that. Genuine testimonials are important to seek out, and that’s one of the reasons I am writing this post.
The combination of a low-carb diet, daily meditation, alcohol abstinence and bulletproof coffee has been truly life-changing.
When I’ve talked to friends about this, some of them have said that life’s too short not to enjoy yourself. I agree. But enjoyment shouldn’t be viewed merely in the short-term. Maybe I was enjoying myself for a while over a few beers, but I didn’t enjoy being sluggish the next day. Maybe I might enjoy a Big Mac now, but will I be glad I ate it while strapped to machines in the cardiac unit? In any case, I eat Big Macs without the bun, and that’s not really so bad.
We never know what’s around the corner. Maybe tomorrow, I’ll be run over by a van full of soup cans, or stricken with some sort of nasty virus. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t seek to minimise risk.
I’m also glad to be feeling so full of vitality, enjoying life and feeling in the best health I’ve felt in a long time. It really is no sacrifice at all.