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    Having fed to satiety - Thespianpythia's journal

    Hi all - I'm Alice, though I've been using the handle Thespianpythia since the mid-90s, mostly due to the fact that nobody else seems to have used it anywhere.

    I started seriously trying to get healthy and lose weight in September of 2010. Before then, I’d been struggling with my size since my “tween” years – I was an active kid, almost “free range”, back in the States, played a lot of soccer and baseball and pick-up games of whatever. My parents, bless them, rationed television to 1 hour maximum on weekdays (and then it had to either be at least slightly educational) and not much more at the weekends. If my brother and I whined that we were bored, we were told, “There’s a house full of books. If you don’t feel like reading, go play outside.” In between the extremes of upstate NY weather, there was plenty to do outside: snowball fights and sledding (and snow-shovelling for allowance money) in winter, running around barefoot with water pistols like maniacs in summer, particularly when the sprinkler was running, all the usual shenanigans that a pack of kids can get up to when their parents have given them free run of a set of parallel suburban streets that includes a little “wilderness” area, complete with trees to climb (and fall out of). I’m probably remembering it a bit more rose-tinted than it was, but it was a nice childhood, and I don’t remember feeling out of place, or thinking I was fat (judging by photos, I wasn’t). It’s sort of sad to think that what with the current crop of helicopter parents, and the expectations that their extreme behaviour puts onto other, potentially sane parents, that my generation might be the last to enjoy the benefits of “benign neglect” in terms of our outdoor habits.

    But I digress. My weight-related issues probably started when I was around 9 or 10. My parents moved to London, which in itself wasn’t the problem. I was kind of shy, though, and unused to being the “new kid”, and given that we were in an entirely different country, I’d effectively skipped a grade (the UK and US school systems don’t have the same birthday cut-off dates for year groups) and I felt a bit overwhelmed by it all. I missed my friends back home, and social expectations seemed very different in my new school; girls there were obsessing over Take That and playing with nail varnish as often as they were with actual toys, and I felt a bit like a babyish freak for not being interested in pop musicians, and still playing with dolls or Lego. I started faking an English accent at school and switching back at home; I’m told it was very convincing, and it’s a great party trick, but it probably didn’t do much for healthy psychological development. One of my main problems was that I was hitting the peri-pubertal period, which for so many of us, means getting a bit pudgy. I started stealing sweet things out of cupboards and sneaking up to my room with them, because I was ashamed that I was craving and eating them, which of course exacerbated the problem – a couple of pop tarts or similar every day on top of a fairly healthy, but CW-esque diet heavy in the pasta-and-potatoes department (my dad loves carbs, and he did a lot of the cooking), was doing me no favours.

    I’m lucky enough to have escaped serious eating disorders, and never precisely dieted as a teenager, but I always had a sense that my sneaking-of-junk-food habit was really bad, not just in a health sense, but in a moral sense – that I was failing to exert the kind of willpower I should. But I was almost always hungry, craving fat-laden carbohydrates, and going through a bit of a picky/squeamish phase (particularly regarding meat). Due to the wonders of a teenage metabolism, I managed to stay slightly pudgy rather than becoming really obese, despite my pop-tart habit, and was even in danger of being moderately slim in my late teens, helped along by the fact that I still enjoyed playing sports, and did a fair bit of walking.

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    University was less kind to my weight and overall health. For the first three years, I didn’t do much in the way of exercise, although fortunately Durham is full of steep hills, and is impractical to traverse except by walking (the buses were pretty pathetic). My first year, in halls, was pretty abysmal in terms of diet; institutional food usually is. My college served large portions of rice, potatoes and bread, a fair bit of “mystery meat” and junk food, and the vegetables were almost always cooked past recognition. Oh, and there was a lot of dessert on offer, but most of the fruit had seen decidedly better days. I decided that living out for the next few years would be far preferable, but in the meantime, supplemented my already pretty bad diet with bagels and cream cheese, and a good deal more alcohol than I should have been consuming (well, we’re all young once, eh?).

    Once I moved out of halls, I did all my grocery shopping on foot, using a 70 litre rucksack to carry it back, about a mile each way. My house was further away from the site where most lectures and classes took place, and had a large hill between the two, which meant that I was getting a decent walk (at least 3 miles) every day, but as we all know, exercise cannot make up for a poor diet. Although I’m a good cook and was making decent food for myself, it was still heavily carbohydrate-based, although much better than when I was in halls. For every evening that I caved in and had a frozen pizza after a long day in the lab, there were three other evenings when I’d make myself a 3-egg omelette stuffed with vegetables, cheese and maybe a bit of meat, or a stir-fry involving lots of fresh produce and meat. But I’d still eat all these things with bread or rice or noodles, and had trouble controlling my portion sizes because I was trying to not eat too many “fatty” things (and failing, I might add) and it took a lot of food to satisfy my appetite. It didn’t help that my friends liked to have parties, which of course involved a lot of sugary drinks laced with copious amounts of alcohol, crisps and sweets –and because we were students, the snacks would often be the cheapest and most processed crap available.

    At my worst, I got up to 168lb (I’m 5’3”), which is just a hair below the “obese” threshold on the BMI charts. This was after several more years at university, despite joining a martial arts club in my 4th year at Durham (I was doing an MSci, which unusually for the English system, is a 4-year course). Moreover, I was feeling run down and mentally foggy all the time, had trouble sleeping, and was drinking too much. I don’t think I was dependent on alcohol, but I sure was acting like it – a day rarely went by without me having a couple of drinks, which probably made my eating habits even worse. As I said, I’m an enthusiastic cook, and never ate very much processed food once I was cooking for myself (and had shaken the pop-tart habit!), but starches, particularly good breads, pastas and pizzas, were my main weakness. I felt like I was hungry all the time.

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    After my MSci, I moved back to London and stayed with my parents for a few years while studying for a PhD in neuroendocrinology (the rent is insane here, and I’d had a bad experience living with some crazy people in my 4th year at Durham) and eventually moved in with my boyfriend when he came back to London after more postgrad work at Durham. Whilst living with my folks, I ate what was provided, much as I had as a kid, although I contributed more to menu planning, shopping and cooking than I had as a teenager. Still, there were a great many risottos, pasta dishes and so on, and I hadn’t yet realised why it was that I was constantly hungry (in retrospect, someone doing a degree with “endocrinology” in the title probably should’ve seen the great big flashing INSULIN sign a lot sooner than I did...).

    After moving out, my boyfriend and I took turns cooking or made things together despite our tiny and frankly evil kitchen, and since he’s a better cook than I am, the food was always good, and usually very healthy by conventional wisdom standards. We’d moved into a flat with a friend of ours in order to save on rent costs, and had worked out an arrangement where we did most of the cooking, and accommodated her semi-vegetarian preferences (mostly meat-free meals, with the occasional bit for savour). We were also trying to use mostly whole grains, and I was cooking with lots of beans and odd grains, buying multi-seed or good sourdough bread, and consuming more of it than ever.

    In September of last year, I started keeping track of my weight daily using The Hacker’s Diet (The Hacker's Diet), which helpfully smoothes the values into a trend, although I wasn’t really following the advice on extreme calorie counting – I didn’t have the will to keep it up! I’d tried the set-point hack from the Shangri-La diet, but drinking shots of oil made me gag (and, on one memorable occasion, very unwell), and decided to just try to eat healthily and watch my portion sizes as best I could. I did pretty well at first, cutting down on my food and alcohol consumption with the aid of a lot of herbal tea (ordinary stuff, like mint, or fruit & spice infusions), and managed to get my weight down to 152lb by December. At that point, I decided to “give myself a holiday” from being hungry for a month, since there were so many parties and so on coming up. I never quite got back on that wagon – my boyfriend and I were still cooking healthily at home, but I wasn’t watching what I ate (or crucially, drank) as much, and stopped logging my weight for a while out of embarrassment.

    I’d been reading a lot of health and fitness blogs from around January onwards- including, mostly for amusement value, the execrable This, Not That! features on Women’s Health; I’d ignored almost everything it said, since I don’t buy “food products”, I make meals from fresh ingredients at home. I’ve been working from home on my thesis for a while, so I had even less excuse not to make a serious lifestyle change, now that I had better information about how to do so. Via some torturous chain of links (starting, I suspect, from A Black Girl’s Guide to Weight Loss, a helpful and interesting but still fairly CW-based blog) I stumbled onto Mark’s Daily Apple in early May, and started devouring the archive posts, and almost immediately stopped devouring bread.

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    I'm still a postgrad student now, in the final throes of writing up my PhD, after which I'll be training as a science teacher. My thesis is to do with early-life stress and its effects on the female reproductive system (in rats, as a model for human disorders), especially on the timing of puberty, and through a roundabout route, is the reason I started taking the Primal lifestyle seriously. Some of my experiments were to alter the metabolic conditions under which my rats grew up, by either altering the litter size so they’d get more/less milk from their mothers, or feeding them a high fat diet rather than their normal lab chow (the rat version of the SAD, mostly soy-protein enriched dense pellets of wheat). The results were muddier than you’d expect – we had some pretty negative outcomes from making the young rats eat high fat diets, because frankly, it’s not a diet they evolved to cope with, but it was hard to get significant differences in certain measurements in comparison to the control group, since they were eating what was for them a heavily processed and unnatural diet (full of seed oils and grain by-products) as well.

    I have a lot of colleagues who work in diabetes research – gestational, Type 1 and Type 2 (though generally not all in the same group). Most of the conferences and seminars I’ve attended over the last three years have had a high proportion of the delegates presenting experimental or observational data on obesity. As I said, it’s kind of astonishing I didn’t put two and two together earlier, and realise what a number all the grain products I was consuming were doing on my system. But even in an academic setting where investigators are explicitly trying to figure out how to treat diabetes on a molecular level (several of them are concentrating on developing functional pancreatic beta cells from stem cells, for example) it's astonishing how ignorant we all seem to be on a fundamental level about how damaging chronically high levels of insulin due to carbohydrate consumption are. An awful lot of these researchers were still stuck on the “cafeteria diet” story, or worse still, basing their research on the lipid hypothesis, and receiving oodles of funding to look down dead ends accordingly. My supervisor, on the other hand, always had trouble getting funding to look into a side interest of his, the neural mechanism of menopausal hot flushes, which really is something worth looking into.

    Anyway, that’s enough science ranting for now (although I’ll probably do some more in the future), and back to the self-experimentation – most certainly not a controlled study, but one in which the results have been significant, as opposed to reaching statistical significance! Almost immediately after eliminating grains and most other starches from my diet in May, I started feeling more energetic, losing the post-prandial brain fog, and generally feeling healthier. I’ve stumbled from time to time, of course. My boyfriend still likes to bake bread, and has a pet sourdough starter in the fridge, but I’ve managed to convince him to only make things occasionally (and only when we’re expecting to share most of it out amongst other people), and I’ve found it surprisingly easy to give up on triple-cooked chips at the pub after kempo, to ignore starches served with meals at restaurants, and to eat curries without rice. In fact, I much prefer cauliflower “rice” to basmati, and have developed a kick-ass way to cook it in five minutes, to the point where I could happily eat it on its own. Vegetables and meat were never the problem, per se – but accepting that fat wasn’t what was making me fat, and kicking carbohydrates to the kerb, has been one of the most satisfying thing I’ve ever done. I'm hoping keeping a journal here will help keep me on track, and will be a useful place to rant and share recipes.

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    So, today's breakdown:

    Breakfast: 2 eggs scrambled in butter, 3 rashers streaky bacon, 3 grilled tomatoes with oregano. Black coffee.
    no lunch
    snack of freshly podded peas (probably about a handful; I like to eat them raw from the pods when they're in season)
    Dinner: Albondigas soup, made with: 24hr bone broth from marrowbones; meatballs containing beef, pork and chicken liver; fennel, onion, carrot and tomatoes. Large green salad with mustard vinaigrette, sprinkled with little bits of pork crackling.

    Kempo: quite an intense session, plus the warm-up involved lots of weird press-ups (like the kind where you have one hand and the opposite foot off the ground). Lots of repetitive fast motions for technical training, pair-work, and some free-form randori (sparring) for both goho (hard techniques: punching, kicking, blocking) and juho (soft techniques: grabs, releases, pins, evasions).

    Post-kempo snack: handful of fresh cherries.

    Overall, not too bad a day - I'm trying to cut down on my fruit intake, though it's such a nice time of year for stone fruits and berries, so that's difficult. But I'm also trying to cut down the grocery costs, so buying fewer things like cherries and peaches will definitely help with that.

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    B: scrambled eggs, streaky bacon, grilled tomatoes, bit of grilled halloumi.
    L: salad - 2 types lettuce, celery, avocado, smoked salmon w/ mustard vinaigrette.

    Kempo: yep, another session. Normally don't do two nights running, but we started at a new dojo on Tuesdays, in addition to the usual Wednesday and Friday classes. Quite an intense session as well, though fewer press-ups. Mostly lots of technical training, fair bit of kata.

    D, post-kempo at the local gastropub: burger (bunless) with cheese, bacon, salsa. Lettuce & tomato salad with fresh herbs. 2 glasses red wine.

    Unfortunately, I was still hungry after dinner (not enough fat? or perhaps just too small a portion after 2+ hours of kempo?) and had to have a snack upon getting home. Consisted of a (small) nectarine, some freshly podded peas, and a handful of walnuts - though I wish I'd had something more protein-rich after reading today's MDA post! (How Often Should You Eat? | Mark's Daily Apple)

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    Had a lazy-ish day today, wrists and shoulders aching a bit after 2 consecutive kempo days; plus, it's that time of the month, and I'm feeling a bit self-indulgent.

    B: omelet with smoked salmon, little bit of leftover butternut squash, red pepper & bacon soup
    Skipped lunch (does green tea count? :P)
    D: Primal jambalaya (Primal Jambalaya | Mark's Daily Apple) with a few tweaks - 150g chorizo instead of andouille, leftover roast chicken breast & leg meat tossed in at same time as shrimp, a few celery stalks tossed in with the other veg. Very tasty indeed! Wish I'd had a larger cauliflower, though. Parfait for dessert made from raspberries, homemade applesauce, cinnamon, Greek yoghurt, almond butter.

    My bad: had a couple of gin and (diet) tonics, one with and one after dinner. We just bought some Hendricks, and it's really nice with some slices of cucumber. Problem is, tonic water is either full of sugar (ick) or artificial sweeteners (even more ick). I'd be happier with quinine-soda water sans the sweetener, but it doesn't exist, presumably because quinine is pretty bitter without any sweetener, and it probably wouldn't sell. Going to have to find a new way to drink my lovely gin. Maybe I should just make martinis (we have some dry vermouth which mostly gets used as a dry sherry/white wine substitute in cooking - makes for great sauteed mushrooms), but I find them a bit too strong as a sipping drink, plus I take too long drinking them and they get warm.

    Any suggestions on ways to enjoy gin in the evening that don't involve sugar? Or perhaps I should just pretend it's not there except on special (martini) occasions; I know that alcohol isn't really something one should indulge in too much.
    Last edited by Thespianpythia; 07-14-2011 at 05:04 PM.

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    Got home too late last night to update (I try to turn in before midnight on Fridays, since the boyfriend and I volunteer at a kids' kempo class on Saturday mornings), but I think it was an okay day, consumption-and-exercise-wise. Weight was up a bit this morning, though. I know it's a little OCD to weigh myself every day, but using https://www.fourmilab.ch/cgi-bin/HackDiet makes it easy to spot trends. So I think the "extra" weight is mostly water-retention, due to menstrual cyclicity. Hope so, anyway!

    Yesterday -

    Breakfast: Black coffee. 2-egg omelette with smoked salmon, 3 rashers streaky bacon, 3 grilled tomatoes, 1 slice grilled halloumi.
    No lunch
    Pre-kempo snack: raw carrot with peanut butter (I know! I was trying to use up the last in the jar, though, and will buy better nut butters from now on), little bit of mature cheddar cheese. Travel mug full of black coffee on the way to training.

    Kempo: a weird sort of black belt master class, because turnout was unusually low, even for a Friday. The only people there were myself and the boyfriend (both 1st dan), one other (2nd dan) kenshi, and our Sensei (4th dan). It was a really useful session, since we got in a lot of kicking practice with pads, and did some techniques we normally wouldn't have time for - in most classes, black belts are put to work teaching the more junior grades, for at least some of the session. Plus, the "basics" bit of class was a bit more intense as a result of only having black belts. We also had a little spectator, a boy of about 5, whose mother was doing an African dance class next door. The drumming and singing they do are excellent percussion for a workout, especially sparring, but makes zazen meditation a little difficult!

    Post-kempo: went to pub, had two glasses red wine and some green olives.

    Dinner: remains of primal jambalaya, green salad with mustard vinaigrette.

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    Yesterday's account, since it's been a bit busy here:

    B: Scrambled eggs, 2 (pastured) pork sausages, 3 grilled tomatoes. Black coffee.

    Kempo: the usual Saturday morning kids' class - energetic, chaotic, and over surprisingly quickly. There were, for once, enough adults (four of us) to kids (ten of them; it's the end of term, so attendance is about half of usual) that we could split them up for some grade-appropriate training.

    No lunch
    D: Barbecued ribs, stir-fried savoy cabbage, carrot and bok choi. G&T.

    I was quite bad yesterday, though, in that I was baking cookies for a going-away party for my flatmate - it was a good excuse to use up a bunch of the ingredients that we almost never use any more, like flour and sugar, and I had some dark chocolate M&Ms and Reese's Pieces that I'd brought back from the US that I just wanted to get rid of, so I made 4 dozen chocolate chip cookies, only with the candy instead of the chips. And, weak-willed girl that I am, I licked the spoon to taste the batter, and ate a cookie after baking.

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    Primal Blueprint Expert Certification
    Today was even worse than yesterday - I think I'm going to call it a "fall of the wagon" day, and get back to being properly Primal tomorrow.

    You see, my flatmate, a good friend of mine, has recently been offered a job with an NGO that she's really excited about. She's trained as an accountant, and then went on to study developing economies at uni, and has been working at a job recently that just wasn't what she'd hoped it could be. The place she's been offered is as the financial officer for Skateistan, which would be a mixture of financial stuff and teaching, and basically a brilliant opportunity (to learn how to skateboard, if nothing else!). Problem is, it's in Kabul. Now, she's 26, and perfectly able to make her own choices, but her parents are (understandably) worried, as are her friends - we think she'll most likely be fine, but it's still in a war-torn country in which the situation is very volatile. And while Kabul isn't as unsafe as other parts of Afghanistan, that's not really saying very much.

    So, we were having a going-away/birthday party for her, a sort of "we'll be at home in the afternoon and will provide tea and Pimm's and cakes and cookies" shindig. My flatmate's an absolute sugarholic, and while normally I try to avoid things like that, we really wanted to make today's party special for her, so I was baking very sugary cookies, and my boyfriend made lemonade, and we concocted a pretty serious Pimm's cocktail involving lots of fruit, cucumbers, gin, tonic water, lemonade etc. Plus, everyone who dropped by seemed to come with some flour-based confection - cakes, cookies, scones, you name it. When people left, we urged goody bags on them, but we've still got sweet stuff left over (it'll be going to work with the boyfriend and flatmate tomorrow). I tried to stick to the fruit, but ended up having one of my cookies, and one made by a friend (which was a coconut cookie, at least - only eggs, coconut and palm sugar involved, but still pretty carby) in addition to the cherries, strawberries and raspberries. Oh, and the Pimm's.

    So, here's the damage:
    B: "pancake" made with 2 eggs + 1 egg white (left over from baking) and leftover stir-fried vegetables, streaky bacon. Black coffee.
    L: the bad things mentioned above - 2 cookies, lots of cherries, raspberries, strawberries, Pimm's cocktails.

    Theatre! We saw Richard III at the Old Vic, with Kevin Spacey playing the eponymous role, and boy was it brilliant .

    D: out at a restaurant - scallops, squid, roast tomatoes as a starter; haddock and lemon sole as mains, with mangetout and spinach cooked in butter, and some chips. The boyfriend and I figured we'd just call today a cheat day; both of us rather wanted fish and chips, but went for half the damage by me ordering the "good" option of grilled lemon sole with veg, and him ordering haddock and chips, and splitting them both between us.

    So, today was definitely a stumbling day. But we both know that this is something to do once in a very great while. And actually, the cookies I made tasted very sickly sweet to both of us, even though they didn't all the other times that I made them before we went Primal. They were so sweet I was kind of put off, and only had one, which would have been very difficult for me before, so I guess that's progress!
    Last edited by Thespianpythia; 07-17-2011 at 04:07 PM.

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