Meet (and follow) my Health Sherpas

Lisa and I have been amazed at the results we have gotten through some pretty simple and basic diet and lifestyle changes over the last four years, but particularly in the last 18 months.

We’ve each lost more than 50 pounds. Lisa’s gone from a tight size 14 to a comfortable size 6, and instead of a 38-inch waist on my jeans I’m down to a 32.

My waist size in high school, 40 years ago, was 34 inches. I hadn’t dreamed I could get to that size again, so imagine my surprise when those jeans became a little baggy.

These results weren’t due to our own special insights. We have learned from some really smart people who have challenged deeply flawed dietary consensus and orthodoxy.

Some are physicians or scientists or other clinical professionals. Others are journalists, science writers or patient advocates.

I keep up with what they’re learning and sharing through my Health Sherpas Twitter list. It’s a public list you can follow.

I also have created a Health Sherpas page with some additional resources that you may find helpful, including links to blog posts I’ve done featuring them, to their YouTube channels, blogs and podcasts.

Sherpas helping climbers scale Mount Everest are familiar with the terrain and also physically adapted for the journey. My Health Sherpas have been savvy guides to weight loss, improved metabolic health, strength, conditioning and body remodeling. And lots of their guidance is free on Twitter.

Sherpas don’t climb the mountain for you. You still have to do the work. But they can save you from taking a futile, dead-end route, and they also have tips to make the journey easier.

I hope you’ll join our expedition. In addition to following my Twitter list, you can subscribe by email for my new blog posts, or catch them as I share on Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter.

If you have additional sherpa candidates to recommend, leave them in the comments below.

#BodyBabyStep One: Stop Sugar

Just as building a $1,000 starter emergency fund is Dave Ramsey’s indispensable first step toward financial freedom, eliminating sugar from your diet should be first in your #BodyBabySteps.

Why is this so important? I previously recommended a 2009 video from Dr. Robert Lustig, which does a great job of explaining the damage done by all kinds of sugar, and the special case of fructose. Here’s an updated version of Dr. Lustig’s talk, from 2013:

Stop the Sugar is #1 on my top 20 list as well, because sugar sabotages every other helpful behavior you attempt.

Sugar spikes your insulin, which causes your fat cells to accumulate energy instead of releasing it.

You cannot burn fat when your insulin is high, and as Dr. Lustig shows in the video, insulin also blocks leptin, the hormone that reduces appetite and increases energy expenditure.

In leptin resistance, as he describes it, your brain can’t see your leptin, and so you think you are starving and are driven to consume more fructose.

Every diet Lisa and I have used during the last four years, from Trim Healthy Mama to Tim Ferriss’ Slow-Carb diet to Dr. William Davis’ Undoctored plan to our current low-carb healthy fat diet, has called for limiting or eliminating sugar.

In fact, cutting sugar is the common thread in almost every popular diet that works.

So as you’re starting the #BodyBabySteps series, taking time to understand the sources of sugar in your diet will pay off in helping you to avoid self-sabotage. I’ll have more on how to do that, as well as insights from others I count among my Health Sherpas, in future posts.

If you think your friends might find this series helpful, I hope you’ll share by email or on your social networks using the buttons below.

You can subscribe by email, and I’ll also post links on FacebookTwitter and LinkedIn.

Body Baby Steps

My last post in the My Health Journey series was something of a summary of what I’ve learned so far, boiled down into a top-20 list. Even as I hit the “Publish…” button, however, I recognized two things:

  1. I had left off some important items, such as sleep hygiene, and
  2. A list of 20 things to do is overwhelming. With so many “keys” to remember, it’s easy to feel defeated and not make progress.

Dave Ramsey has understood this as he has helped millions through his radio show, his New York Times best-seller, The Total Money Makeover, and his Ramsey+ offering, which includes Financial Peace University.

As he helps people achieve financial fitness, he recommends 7 Baby Steps, which proceed in a logical order:

  1. Save $1,000 for your starter emergency fund.
  2. Pay off all debt (except the house) using the debt snowball.
  3. Save 3-6 months of expenses in a fully funded emergency fund.
  4. Invest 15% of your household income in retirement.
  5. Save for your children’s college fund.
  6. Pay off your home early.
  7. Build wealth and give.

To create the starter emergency fund, you have to begin spending less on a daily basis. Once you’re reached that goal and you’re moving on to Baby Step 2, that emergency fund protects you from having to use a credit card.

If you do need to dip into the emergency fund, you shift back to Baby Step 1 and build it back up to $1,000 before continuing to attack debt.

The idea behind the baby steps is to build momentum and a reality-based sense of accomplishment. You feel better because you are better.

The way you do that is through focus.

If you’re paying a little of your credit card debt each month and putting a few dollars into retirement, regular savings and the kids’ college fund, it’s likely you won’t make noticeable progress on any of them, and then when an emergency arises (like the water heater breaking down) you’ll need to borrow still more to meet that urgent need.

That’s why Ramsey recommends pausing retirement contributions for a time while pursuing the first step with gazelle-like intensity. Then you start paying off your non-mortgage debts, smallest to largest, without regard to interest rates. Go for the first debt you can totally eliminate.

When you pay off that debt, you roll the amount you had been paying on it into the next smallest debt payment, increasing your and repeat the cycle until they’re all gone.

That’s the debt snowball. That’s momentum.

The key is to get a quick win with the starter emergency fund, and then to continue getting positive reinforcement.

I think Ramsey’s Baby Steps metaphor for a personal finance makeover is helpful in thinking about a process for improving health and fitness, too.

The individual tips in my top 20 list are good on their own, but trying to do them all at once could be self-defeating.

I didn’t make all of those changes at the same time; it’s been a four-year journey.

But I did find that having made some changes and finding success gave me confidence to try the next thing.

I just didn’t know at the time what that next thing would be.

Now, looking back on what has worked for Lisa and me, I think I can outline a process that would make sense and help you build momentum toward a healthier 2021…and beyond.

So tomorrow I’m going to start a new series called #BodyBabySteps.

Like Ramsey’s money recommendations, the first few will be foundational, and I’ll spend a week or so looking at each of them from various angles.

Because we’re pursuing behavior change, we need that reinforcement. You don’t change habits in a single day.

I hope you’ll join the journey. You can subscribe by email, and I’ll also post links on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

If you think your friends might find this series helpful, I hope you’ll share by email or on your social networks using the buttons below.

Top 20 weight loss and health tips

My goal in this series on My Health Journey has been to share what Lisa and I have learned in the last four years as we’ve each lost more than 50 pounds.

We’ve gone from being doubtful we could lose weight (and not even knowing how) to where we can confidently say we have a sustainable lifestyle that will help us maintain a healthy weight.

In blogging about this, I’ve wanted to explain how our thinking has evolved, while pointing readers to the original sources of our information…and inspiration.

But then a friend commented in a recent post, “Lee – I want to know your plan!” So I decided it would be helpful now to summarize what has been most important and helpful to us.

Here is my top 20 list:

My typical first meal of the day: Four eggs, bacon, guacamole and salsa. This “breakfast” meal is often at noon to help me maintain my 6-8 hour eating window.
  1. Stop the Sugar. Avoid fructose, sucrose, lactose or pretty much anything else that ends in -ose. Sugar causes blood glucose spikes, which raises your levels of insulin, the main fat-storage hormone. Especially avoid high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS).
  2. Limit net carbohydrates to 50g or less daily. Lower is even better, shooting for 15g per meal. Calculate net carbs by subtracting grams of fiber from total carbs. As I say in #13 below, don’t count calories, but do count your carbs.
  3. Avoid processed carbohydrates, which convert rapidly to sugar as you digest them, quickly raising your blood glucose and insulin levels.
  4. Avoid starchy vegetables. This was a hard one for me because I really enjoy potatoes in all their forms. But just as processed carbs convert quickly to sugar, so do these starches.
  5. Avoid grains. Get your carbs from something other than the seeds of grasses. This guidance came from Dr. Bill Davis, author of Wheat Belly and Undoctored. This was a relatively easy change for me because I had been diagnosed with celiac disease several years earlier, which meant I needed to be gluten-free. Going grain-free meant avoiding rice and corn, too. That was tougher, but it helped me to accomplish #2.
  6. Supplement smartly. As Dr. Davis recommends, instead of taking a scattershot multivitamin that gives a little bit of everything but doesn’t contain enough of what’s missing in the modern diet, focus on a few key difference-makers. Supplements we take daily include fish oil (3,000 mg of EPA and DHA), Kelp (for Iodine), Magnesium, Turmeric, Zinc, and vitamins C, D3 (5,000 IU) and K2. Interestingly, lots of research on COVID-19 has pointed to Zinc and Vitamin D as factors in fighting the coronavirus.
  7. Boost NAD+. I learned this from David Sinclair, Ph.D., who I first encountered in Dr. Peter Attia’s podcast. This is the most expensive change Lisa and I have made, at about $45 per month for each of us. I’ll do a future post about Dr. Sinclair’s research and NAD+, but for now I’m just putting it on my list as a preview.
  8. Optimize your gut microbiome. As Dr. Davis suggests, a one-month course of probiotics and prebiotic fiber lays a good foundation for gut health.
  9. When you consume dairy products, make them full-fat. Skim milk is the worst because it has all of the sugar (lactose) and none of the fat. Fat is satisfying. So have heavy whipping cream (or butter) in your coffee instead of half-and-half, when you’re not drinking it black. We hardly ever drink milk, but if we did it would be whole (4%) milk. Eat full-fat cheeses, too.
  10. Enjoy creamy homemade yogurt. As I previously described, L. reuteri yogurt, which I make with roughly equal portions of heavy whipping cream and half-and-half, is delicious, filling and has significant health benefits. Another recommendation from Dr. Davis.
  11. Drink water instead of milk or sweetened beverages. Don’t drink your calories. Fruit juice can have nearly as much sugar as soda. And even though drinks with artificial sweeteners don’t have calories, their taste can trigger release of insulin.
  12. Eat like your grandparents did. That means eating real food instead of something that came out of a box. Have eggs for breakfast instead of cereal. Don’t eat between meals, and eliminate after-dinner snacks.
  13. Don’t count calories. Eat until you feel satisfied. Beef, chicken, fish, eggs, bacon, ham, butter and other foods that contain both fat and protein “stick to your ribs,” as grandma used to say. Vegetables are fine too, because they tend to contain complex carbohydrates and fiber that blunt the rise in blood sugar.
  14. Eat fruit in moderation. Our ancestors didn’t have fresh fruit year-round. Fruit has fructose (see #1), so I eat it mostly in season, or mixed in my homemade yogurt (see #10).
  15. Eat dark chocolate. I have a 25g Moser Roth® Dark 85% bar as a healthy, delicious treat after my last meal most days, sometimes with a glass of cabernet or merlot. Having broken the sugar habit, even dark chocolate seems sweet.
  16. Weigh daily. I bought a bluetooth scale in Feb. 2018, which automatically syncs to an app in my iPhone and also to Apple Health, and in the first five months I lost 22 lbs. Then we went on vacation, and when I came back the bluetooth sync was somehow disrupted. Because I felt like I had essentially reached my goal, and wasn’t getting daily feedback, I lost focus and regained about 20 lbs. But since Feb. 2019 I have weighed almost every morning, including the last 259 in a row since my travels have been curtailed due to COVID-19. I’m down 38 lbs. since then, to 199. I weigh first thing every morning, and this constant feedback will alert me if I ever creep over 205.
  17. When you eat matters as much as what you eat. By confining your eating to a 6-8 hour window each day, you ensure that you will have an extended period of lower insulin levels, which is essential to getting into fat-burning mode. Dr. Jason Fung is the leading medical champion of fasting, and has helped thousands of patients reverse their type II diabetes. Lisa and I became big believers with 10 weeks of alternate daily fasting. The Zero app is a helpful tool to manage fasting and time-restricted feeding.
  18. Lift weights. Building muscle is good for your overall health and vitality, and it also increases your metabolism. Free weights are best because they involve the whole body in natural movements. My go-to exercises using a barbell are the bench press, squat and deadlift on alternate days.
  19. Do some cardiovascular exercise. I’ve been doing 20 45 minutes of cardio most days lately using a Water Rower. In my tubby days I was doing 30 minutes of cardio on an elliptical machine six days a week, without making appreciable weight loss progress. As many have noted, you can’t outrun a bad diet. I think my combination of resistance training with free weights strikes a good balance for overall health and fitness, and Lisa’s going to start working on these now too as we head into winter.
  20. Avoidance isn’t always. I still occasionally have a baked potato, pizza, pasta or my favorite ice cream dessert with fudge and an oreo-cookie base (gluten-free because of my celiac disease) that I typically enjoy for one or two weeks per year. As Dr. Fung says, “Eat that birthday cake!” When you get your metabolic health in order, you can enjoy those treats without guilt, and knowing that you’re not committing to avoiding them forever makes it easier to stick with the general plan. In fact, we’ve had pizza three times in the last two weeks, and we’re still right at our target weights.

Which of these practices have you found helpful?

What other tips do you have?

You can’t do everything at once; that’s setting you up for failure. So for a step-by-step approach to how I would make these changes if I were doing it over again knowing what I know now, see my #BodyBabySteps page.

See the whole series about my health journey. Follow along on FacebookTwitter and LinkedIn.

Zero: Better than Nothing

As I have described in several previous posts in this series, intermittent fasting, or time-restricted feeding, is a key to sustainable weight loss.

As I wrote earlier, Dr. Jason Fung has been an important advocate, as he has helped thousands of patients reverse Type 2 diabetes and overcome obesity through fasting.

His simple message: insulin is the hormone that regulates fat storage, and to lose weight and keep it off you need to have prolonged periods with low insulin levels.

That enables your body to switch from fat storage to fat burning. Otherwise you’re always just adding fat.

About a year ago, my daughter Rachel introduced me to a fasting app she had been using, called Zero. As it turns out, the chief medical officer for Zero is Peter Attia, M.D., who is among my most trusted online thought leaders on health and longevity issues. I’ll be talking about him a lot in future posts.

So I started using Zero, and it’s essence is really simple: when you’re done eating for the day, you pick a fasting goal and start the countdown timer.

When you reach your goal, instead of counting down the timer flips to counting up, telling you how long your fast has gone.

The next time you eat, you stop the timer, which records the length of your fast. Then the timer starts again, only now it’s tracking the time since your last fast. (If you forget to stop or start the timer, you can go back and edit your start or end times.)

Here’s how it looks when you’re counting down before reaching your goal, counting up after you’ve passed it, and then tracking how long it’s been since your last fast.

I found the free version of Zero really helpful, so I decided to spring for the premium offering, Zero Plus. It includes lots of video tips as well as well as data about my fasts, like how much time I’m in the various fasting zones, including:

  • Anabolic: the first 0-4 hours after a meal
  • Catabolic: 4-16 hours
  • Fat Burning: 16-24 hours
  • Ketosis: 24-72 hours
  • Deep Ketosis: 72 hours+

My history tab tells me I have logged 293 fasts, including a streak of 202 straight days of fasting at least 13 hours, although most days I go for at least a 16-18 hour fast with an eating window of 6-8 hours or less.

I would encourage you to give Zero a try. I was fasting before I got the app, but using it gave me a little extra nudge to keep that fasting streak going, and taught me a lot about my metabolism. Data can sync with Apple Health or Google Fit, too.

See the whole series about my health journey, and follow along on FacebookTwitter or LinkedIn.