April 06 2015

Dear Mark: Moonlight and Melatonin, Exercise Non-Responders, and Is Weight Loss Impossible and Unhealthy?

By Mark Sisson
60 Comments

For today’s edition of Dear Mark, we’ve got three questions and three answers. First, the full moon sure is pretty and big and bright at night, but can it produce (or reflect, rather) enough light to disrupt our melatonin production? Should we be blocking out moonlight, too? Next, do exercise non-responders exist? If not, what else can explain the curious case of a lifelong heavy lifter who has nothing – physique-wise – to show for it? And finally, a recent article in Slate makes the claim that weight loss is basically impossible and not even all that good for you. Is the author right? Is the author wrong? See my thoughts on the matter down below.

Let’s go:

Hi Mark,

Completely blacking out a room for sleep seems to be all the rage these days, but we seem to be forgetting a large source of natural light at night – the full moon. I know that’s different to street lights etc, but the full moon (especially when it’s a supermoon) throws off A LOT of light. So is it really necessary to block out all light in our rooms when Grok would have had to sleep with a significant amount of light himself?

Pete

Yep, those crazy kids and their blackout curtains, eh?

Pete, I’m with you. It doesn’t make sense. The moon is always up there. There’s no escaping it when you go camping, and I just can’t see a paleolithic hunter gatherer scurrying around trying to block it out with animal hides. I’ve never found the moon, even a full moon, to bother me at night like a light on bothers me.

Now, if you’re a golden or seagrass rabbitfish (I hope there are at least few of you out there, because that would confirm I’ve finally broken into the ocean communities), moonlight can inhibit melatonin production. But as of now, there are no human studies showing evidence of melatonin inhibition in response to moonlight.

Is it possible, though? I doubt it.

One study sought to determine the relationship of light intensity to melatonin levels. At midnight, human subjects’ melatonin levels were measured after being exposed to an hour of light at 3000 lux, 1000 lux, 500 lux, 350 lux, or 250 lux. The brighter the light, the greater the suppression of melatonin. 3000 lux suppressed it by 71%, 1000 lux by 67%, 500 lux by 44%, 350 lux by 38%, and 200 lux by 16%. The very brightest the moon’s light can get is around 1 lux. And that’s a full moon on a clear night. Your garden variety moonlight will struggle to even reach a single lux.

However, full moons still can disrupt sleep, but not because of the light. In 2013, a sleep lab study found that the lunar phase can affect human sleep. What changed during the full moon?

  • A biomarker of deep sleep dropped by 30%.
  • Time to fall asleep increased by 5 minutes.
  • Sleep duration was reduced by 20 minutes.
  • Subjective sleep quality suffered.
  • Melatonin levels dropped.

Amazingly, the subjects weren’t exposed to any more or less light. They didn’t do any moon gazing. They didn’t even see the moon, as the lab conditions were strictly controlled. The researchers aren’t really sure what was going on. Neither am I.

But it’s not the light from the moon disrupting melatonin. So don’t lose sleep over it. Pun intended.

A couple final thoughts:

Blackout curtains can make sense if you live in an urban environment or otherwise need to block out street or car lights.

And finally, while it’s doubtful moonlight disrupts sleep, I’ve yet to find any evidence that a lack of moonlight has any effect either. In other words, there’s nothing wrong with blackout curtains.

Hi Mark

Thanks for all the information you share with us. I have lifted heavy things all my life (I am now 51) but look externally as if I do no exercise whatsoever. I also eat primally and have done so for 3 years now. My question is do you think there is a percentage of the population that does not respond to any exercise protocol? Thank you in advance for any comments.

Kevin

Hey, Kevin. You’re on the right track. There are genetic non-responders to exercise. Most of the research in this area has focused on endurance exercise, but genetic non-responders to strength training also exist. In a 2007 study, researchers placed 66 people on a lower body strength training regimen consisting of squats, leg presses, and leg extensions. Every subject was matched for effort based on their 1 RM max, so everyone worked equally hard. They trained for four months, after which the degree of hypertrophy was assessed and the group divided into three subsections: those whose thigh muscle fibers grew 50%, those whose grew 25%, and those whose didn’t grow at all. 17 subjects were hyper responders, 32 were moderate responders, and 17 were total non-responders. Further analysis of the same data revealed intrinsic differences between the subjects, with the hyper responders starting with higher baseline numbers of satellite cells (the precursors to muscle cells) than both the moderate responders and especially the non-responders.

You might try doing a bit more endurance work, though. I know, I know, it’s sacrilege around here, but the fact is that some people just respond better — much better — to endurance training. Don’t overdo it, and keep up with the strength training, too. Strength training isn’t a pointless endeavor even if you’re a non-responder. While the non-responders from the study didn’t get any bigger, they did make significant strength gains — a minimum of 46% over their starting strength by the end of the training. That’s real progress, objective strength that can’t be ignored. So even if you’re not massive or “ripped,” you are stronger than most of the population who hasn’t been training, and it’s clear that you’re getting something out of the training since you’ve kept up with it so long. Don’t be disheartened or dissuaded. Keep it up.

I’ll briefly summarize the endurance lit in case anyone reading this falls into that category. Whereas about 85% of the population experiences big improvements in VO2max after sustained endurance training, about 15% do not. They can work hard, about as hard as the others, and follow the same protocol yet experience almost no improvement to their oxygen consumption rates. In some people, endurance training can even degrade their health. They actually experience worsened insulin sensitivity, lower HDL, and elevated blood pressure when they train.

Another thing to look into is getting your testosterone levels checked. Do a full panel with your doctor and go from there. It may be that your levels are a little low, which is sometimes just a part of aging. If so, a little T replacement therapy can be hugely beneficial to your strength levels, your physique, and your overall quality of life. I’d at least rule that out before worrying too much.

Have you seen this?

The Weight of the Evidence: It’s time to stop telling fat people to become thin.

I about threw my computer across the room when I read it, but I’m not sure where to begin breaking it down. If you have the time, I’d greatly appreciate reading your response.

Collin

Let’s look at one of the claims: losing weight doesn’t actually confer any health benefits.

Except for a few totally inconsequential health benefits, that is:

Or how about another claim the author makes: being obese isn’t really that bad for you.

The author stresses the many recent epidemiological studies have observed that higher BMIs seem to be more protective against mortality than lower BMIs. Particularly in the elderly, who are, let’s remember, the ones doing most of the dying, a low body weight is often associated with earlier dying from all causes. This would seem to suggest that being overweight or even obese is perfectly safe, if not downright protective. So, is dieting dangerous?

No. Here’s the thing: many diseases cause weight loss. When an obese person develops cancer, they’ll often lose enough weight (from the disease itself and the treatments) to reach a normal or even underweight BMI. If they die from the disease, that death counts as a “normal BMI death.” But the thing that killed them happened when they were obese. A recent study examined this exact issue, using “maximum BMI” to control for the disease-induced weight loss confounder. What they found was extremely interesting:

The percentage of mortality attributable to overweight and obesity among never-smoking adults ages 50-84 was 33% when assessed using maximum BMI. The comparable figure obtained using BMI at time of survey was substantially smaller at 5%.

So, when you include the obese and overweight people who got sick and then lost weight before they died, obesity and overweight is responsible for a third of deaths in non-smoking elderly. When you don’t, obesity and overweight is only responsible for 5% of deaths. The guy who loses a hundred pounds going Primal is very different than the guy who loses a hundred pounds going through chemotherapy, but most studies examining weight loss and mortality don’t make this distinction. That makes all of them and their conclusions suspect, if not downright invalid.

And the biggest whopper of all: weight loss is impossible.

That’s the biggest load of self-deceiving malarkey in the entire article. The author’s proof of weight loss’ futility?

Research showing that half of all bariatric surgery patients keep the weight off. Research showing that “about half” of bariatric surgery patients regain some or all of the weight they lost, which is just the “glass half empty” way of saying that half of all bariatric surgery patients keep the weight off.

An anecdote of a woman who lost 55 pounds 10 years ago and only keeps it off with an 1800 calorie diet and regular exercise. Um, okay.

One of the studies she cites – the Look AHEAD study – actually confirms that sustained weight loss is possible and even likely. Among those participants who lost 10% of their starting weight in the first year, almost half had kept off 18% of their starting weight by year four. And among all participants, not just the ones with massive first year weight loss, 25% had lost and maintained 10% of their starting weight by year four. The most successful at keeping and maintaining the weight loss were the ones who ate well (whatever “well” means in that study) and exercised regularly. Hard? Yes. Futile? No.

Still, I can’t really get too upset at the author. Weight loss isn’t easy and keeping it off is even tougher. There’s no getting around that. People are frustrated because what the “obesity industrial complex” is prescribing doesn’t really work. Those who do lose weight may find it comes back twice as easily for reasons which I’ve covered quite recently. It’s hard. Everyone agrees with that.

But it’s also worth the effort. Anyone who’s gone from wheezing after a flight of stairs to bounding effortlessly up a ten story stairwell while carrying three boxes of paperback books for your buddy who’s moving into his new place and refuses to adopt eBooks can tell you that.

Whatever you do, try not to lose sleep over it. The article is annoying, but check out the comment section: people are getting it, even if the author isn’t. More people are calling her out than cheering her on, and that means we’re winning this thing.

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60 thoughts on “Dear Mark: Moonlight and Melatonin, Exercise Non-Responders, and Is Weight Loss Impossible and Unhealthy?”

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  1. re: … melatonin inhibition in response to moonlight.

    My impression is that the intrinsically photosensitive retinal ganglion cells (ipRGCs) are responding to the blue of the day sky, which is caused by rayleigh scattering. They aren’t responding to any blue content of the direct solar spectral power distribution, which doesn’t have a peak in the blues anyway.

    The ipRGCs are all over the retina, and respond pretty much if the sky is anywhere in view. Grok could be focused on flaking a spear point, with the sky in his peripheral vision, and his ipRGCs would be strongly indicating daytime.

    Under moonlight, there may be no significant rayleigh scattering detected by the ipRGCs. The SPD of direct moonlight looks very much like the solar SPD, with no peak at the critical blue wavelengths, and of course a dramatically reduced overall intensity.

    It’s safe to assume that humans are adapted to moonlight, and the lunar cycle. One might say that’s it’s lunacy to assume otherwise.

    1. Well, the surface temperature of the sun is roughly 6000K (more like 5800, but for calculations sake…), and using the displacement law, ? = 2.898 mm·K / 6000 K = 483 nm, which is pretty <a href="Home“>blue.
      It’s true that Rayleigh scattering makes the sky appear blue, that effect is due to the nature of the wavelength of blue light. Rayleigh scattering preferentially scatters blue over red, which means that red light is passed more directly through the atmosphere, while blue is scattered. This makes it appear as though ambient blue light comes from the entire sky.
      I think that it is more likely that we aren’t triggered into alertness by moonlight because it is below the photopic vision limit in terms of luminosity.

      1. It just goes to show how these type of studies are just the beginning of research. It’s way to easy to draw conclusions and overlook things without some real controls.

    1. N=1 here. I lost 7 kg during surgery/radiotherapy for a malignancy (10% of my bodyweight). Fortunately, I didn’t die. A decade on, I’m still 5kgs short of what was my regular healthy weight.

  2. Question about a full moon and FSB: could the moon be affecting our FSB? Hubby’s FBS was 100 this morning, after eating a HFLC dinner about 3 hours prior to going to bed. We already figured out that weather affects his BG numbers (by causing the blood vessels to dilate, allowing more blood and circulating sugar to flow in the body), but I wonder if something like a Supermoon also does it?

  3. I don’t have black out curtains for the moon, but I did put a couple layers of duct tape over the little green light on the dimmer switch in my bedroom. That thing drove me crazy!!! It was like having an alien spacecraft landing in the bedroom every night! Way too bright for my taste.

    1. I too have covered green and blue lights or unplugged the devices. (I live in a rented room; there is nowhere else to put my computers, etc.) Can’t turn off the device that monitors my ICD/pacemaker though.

  4. Moonlight keeps me up, so I have to use blackout curtains. When I am camping, I rarely sleep while the moon is in the sky.

    I imagine that Grok stayed awake too. Probably the tribe had dancing or story telling. Plus a bright moon makes all things visible. They could travel, ambush their neighbors, have a ritual, and especially hunt. Animals blissfully hidden in the dark are vulnerable in the light of the moon.

    1. I really agree with this. I’m sure Grok and his tribe had well-planned protocols for when the full moon lit the night. That’s when the critters naturally roamed around. Grok likely slept during the day and afternoon and hunted at night, when he had an advantage.

  5. If the moon phases can control the ocean tides and a human body is 75% water, would the effect on our bodies and sleep patterns be effected more. Also I have noticed I tend to stay outdoors longer in the evenings because there is more light. Grok could hunt later in the day because of the light. Animal behavior patterns change due to full moon light. Very interesting topic!

    1. The moon’s phases don’t control the tides – the position of the moon around the earth does. Remember, there are two high and low tides per day, and only one full moon per every 4 weeks (give or take).

  6. I like sleeping with a little bit of light from open windows, pitch black does throw me off, but, then again my sleep could use improvement so who knows. Also where you live definitely impacts the amount of light outside your window! I could probably benefit from blackout shades actually.

  7. Well, I came away from the Slate article cheering the writer on! I really like her conclusion that shaming, blaming, guilt-tripping, and insulting those who struggle with their weight are not counter-productive but actually cruel. I think it’s good that she disassociates weight and health, because people will put themselves through seriously unhealthy regimens to get thinner; of course these people, when they regain weight, will be less healthy than before. Helping people to understand health markers other than the often faulty tools of the scale and tape-measure could lead to both better health and – as a byproduct – lower weight. Simply being at or below normal weight for height and age is not a guarantee of good health. FOTIs and TOFIs blur the picture (Fat Outside Thin Inside and Thin Outside Fat Inside). http://www.theguardian.com/science/2006/dec/10/medicineandhealth.health

    One can be normal weight or even thin (the two are different!) and still be carrying large amounts of visceral fat, still be diabetic, still die of heart disease. The Iceman Otzi, not a fat chap and clearly one who exercised a lot, had developing atherosclerosis and carried the genetic markers for heart disease. http://www.archaeology.org/issues/153-1411/trenches/2608-trenches-mummies-heart-disease. Of course, it could be argued that Otzi ate grains and that’s what did him in – but naturally mummified Aleutian Islanders didn’t ever see grains and they still developed heart disease. Getting back to the topic, though, I’m seeing a lot of positives in the Slate article.

    I particularly like the article’s ending: a woman stops hating herself, eats a hamburger and chips, the world doesn’t end, she doesn’t enter a weeks-long gorging session, and she doesn’t call herself names and otherwise punish herself. With this much healthier mindset, she’s more likely to continue developing a healthier lifestyle just because she enjoys it and because she’s no longer locked into a binary opposition paradigm in which every single bite of food determines her value as a person. She’s free to enjoy what she eats, and free to enjoy her life. I can go for that!

    1. I agree. One aspect of all this is the science, but the other component is all about the experience at the individual level, complete with the many many influences and variables each of us lives with. I am all about body acceptance – not to simply be “fat and happy” – but to be able to find happiness in whatever my life circumstances happen to be. This is not mutually exclusive with wanting to improve my health or having appearance or performance goals. I have been primal for over a year now and I’m still “overweight” – maybe 29/30% body fat – and I’m going to be overweight for a long time to come even if I do all the “right” things all the time. And if I ever reach a point of not being overweight, I’m still (hopefully!!) going to keep finding satisfaction and enjoyment in eating, walking, playing, etc primally.

      I am loving this process of working on my health and I love myself all the more for walking this path. But I didn’t choose primal to earn entrance into the Skinny People’s Club – I chose it as a tool to embrace a more fulfilling life.

    2. I also agree. I think our culture is over-obsessed with being unrealistically thin. The reality is that humans come in all kinds of sizes and shapes. Obesity is not healthy, but I would argue that mild to moderate “overweight” is not the horrible health threat that we make it out to be, and I think this is the major point of the article. People can get on with their lives and stop feeling so bad about those 10-20 extra pounds.

    3. I think that there’s a difference between what our minds think is ideal weight and what our bodies consider to be ideal weight. I sporadically record my weight and diet, sometimes for months at a time, so I had 15 years’ worth of records to analyze. I entered everything into an Excel spreadsheet and played with it for half a day, sorting the data different ways, and making graphs just for the fun of it. What I found is that, without taking extraordinary measures, I consistently weigh 132lb. As I’m 5′ 4.5″ tall, this is okay. My WHR runs around 0.77, and my waist-to-height ratio around 0.49. My fasting blood sugar is healthy and my lifetime risk of heart disease or diabetes less than 3%. That is jolly well good enough!

      Ideal weight may not be sustainable weight. For me, my sustainable weight, is 132lb, fluctuating 2lb in each direction. It’s been very hard to overcome the years of conditioning I’ve given myself, thinking my ideal weight should be 120lb. I can’t remember why I settled on this figure, but for the last 30 years, I’ve been failing to achieve it for more than a few months at a time.

      Yes, I’d like my stomach to be a little flatter and my hips not quite so, um, feminine, but I don’t want it badly enough to make it a high-priority goal. I don’t colour my greying hair or wear makeup. I can still look good by buying clothes that suit my body shape and are the right colours for my skin tone. I can be well-groomed. Ironically, I’m always being taken for much younger than my actual age (56 in a couple of months). And my health is far better than when I constantly strove to be thin, despite my always eating well.

  8. I think one of the problems with weight loss is people who think that once they reach their goal weight, they can eat like “normal” people, which is to say, they can eat the crap that their body turned to fat in the first place. The whole point of experimenting with food, in my mind, is to figure out what YOUR body needs. If it only needs 1400 calories a day, and none of that is carb, that’s what you give it to keep it healthy. What most people in the U.S. eat (and the volume they eat) is not normal.

  9. The more I read about weight loss, the more complicated it seems to me. Struggling along, not giving up yet, but sometimes I’d like to throw my hands in the air in frustration.

    1. I’m right there with you. I’ve read the information on how hard it is, and why, to create a long term weight loss but I’ve decided that how much I want it needs to determine whether I do it, not the odds. I keep trying to take more information in and adjusting what I’m trying. My goal is better health, not a number on the scale. One day, we’ll get there.

    2. Hang in there, Monika. You’re on the right track just by being on this web site. Paleo/Primal isn’t complicated. Sometimes you just need to do a little detective work to find out if you’re sabotaging yourself somehow.

  10. Saying obesity is not harmful is like saying smoking isn’t bad for you. There’s no such thing as being “healthy obese.” Over the long haul, it catches up with you. Fat people already know this; they don’t need to hear it from every Joe Blow who thinks they have a right to criticize. They also know how hard it is to lose weight and keep it off without a method that will absolutely work.

    Doctors in general have become too pushy. They need to be asking, with gentle concern, “Would you like to lose some weight?” instead of being obnoxiously critical. (How many fat people are going to say no if approached in this manner?) And then they need to provide a way to do so that will work in the shortest amount of time possible with the least amount of deprivation. They aren’t doing this. Neither do most dieticians and nutritionists. They are too worried about eliminating “essential” food groups to recommend Atkins or, better yet, Paleo, which does work for most people.

    What these professionals completely overlook is that calorie counting or exchanges, etc. don’t work. It’s probably possible to eat half a chocolate layer cake with ice cream and still remain within your allotted calorie range if you don’t eat anything else all day. But how is that healthy? How is it going to eliminate the cravings that will sabotage any diet?

    As I see it, to lose weight there must (1) be a desire and determination to do so, followed by (2) a working knowledge of good nutrition in order to know what is fattening and/or unhealthy, and (3) a lifestyle plan (versus a “diet”) that will melt off the weight and keep it off. If any of those factors are missing, obesity is likely to remain an ongoing problem.

    1. People forget that “food groups” are a man-made concept, as are the recommendations on how much of each we should have. That’s always my first thought when I hear or read a nutritionist say “it’s not healthy to eliminate an entire food group” but it tends to only apply to what they’ve been taught is healthy or not. So they WOULD recommend eliminating alcohol or eliminating red meat, but not grains? Funny how the advice only applies when it fits their paradigm.

      1. That’s pretty annoying- the assertion from dietitians and nutritionists that “food groups” are some kind of natural imperative and not something grain and dairy producers made up to push their wares 😉 I’ve read articles where they actually say it’s *dangerous* to try avoiding grains! I’m surprised they don’t warn of Acute Wheat Deficiency or Cereal Avoidance Disorder.

  11. Does anyone remember when vampires, mostly just Dracula, couldn’t go about in daylight? Well, if you’re under 50 you probably don’t. But Dracula didn’t have a problem with moonlight, even the full moon. Then it occurred to me that moonlight, being reflected sunlight, should have had a negative effect on Dracula and vampires in general. 😉

    1. And the part about them not appearing in mirrors and (later) photographs? It’s because they were too unholy to reflect light. In which case, they should have been both blind (because light has to reflect off the retina to the optic nerve) and invisible.

  12. To me, from reading that Slate article, it just seems that some of the obesity-associated changes to your body are permanent and irreversible. If you are obese and then lose weight, you won’t be at the same place as a thin person who had never gained the weight to begin with.

    Which means that obesity prevention is vitally important.

    1. Meepster, don’t you ever read the success stories on MDA? Very few things are permanent and irreversible. A thin person who never gained excess weight in the first place might have a slight advantage when it comes to maintaining a normal weight, but that falls mostly into the mental/emotional category. Physically, the body has an amazing ability to repair itself when given the opportunity and the proper tools.

  13. Yes, that’s the point, I think. Preventing obesity in the first place is much better than trying to correct it later.

    So much thanks to Mark and company for straightening out all these conflicting messages!! It makes life so much better for those of us who have lost weight healthfully and kept it off, but still need to lose more.

    In other words, it takes a lifelong commitment. That’s the only thing that can work and Mark is right on when he says its not easy, but is very much worth it. There is no scientific evidence that can dispute that fact.

  14. Could another confounding factor in the overweight living longer studies be the increased muscle mass it takes to move an overweight body around? Just a thought.

  15. There seems to be a major push in all sorts of media to normalize obesity, to make being overweight not just more socially acceptable, but beautiful in its own right. This goes beyond helping people feel comfortable in their own skin, and it goes against common sense.

    I started following the PB last May, and as of today I have lost 90 pounds eating primally. Granted I had a bit more motivation than most to lose the weight. I had an end stage lung disease and the Transplant Team required me to lose weight to receive new lungs. Good news is that I lost the weight, actually got healthier, and received my new lungs on January 1st. There is no way I am going to regain my weight, I owe my donors family more than that. How am I going to beat the odds and keep my weight off? First by continue to follow the PB as I can. Removing grains and sugars from my diet has had many, many positive health benefits over and above the weight loss. I also document my foods to help ensure I am keeping my macros in line. MyFitnessPal is great for this. And probably most important is keeping myself accountable to my MDA friends by journaling my progress in the MDA forum. Poor decisions are harder to make when you know that you will have to share them in a public forum.

    So no, weight loss and weight loss maintenance is not impossible..

  16. Wow Jrosto, way to go.
    Recently my GP and I had a bizarre conversation where she said obesity is not a value judgement and that my efforts on weight loss meant that I was being too hard on myself? I was stunned, and mad!
    Weight gain for me is the canary in the coal mine, it tells me I need to address a factor in my well being, whether it’s sleep, sun, activity, stress, hormones, or even food.
    For me it was my thyroid that was sabotaging my efforts and only a debilitating flare late last year finally revealed its hand. Now addressing all the other factors, plus T3, I am gradually losing weight, with only light activity, and it will be a revelation to me to see where I end up. I don’t know what my normal weight is, I am sure my body will let me know.
    There is no way I am going to take the GPs path of giving up and taking a medication, for every symptom of malnutrition that presents itself. I’m worth more than that.

  17. Anyone who has worked in a hospital or care facility knows that the full moon influences human behavior! Perhaps it is the decrease in deep sleep?

  18. Just an observation on my part – if you have a pool and/or live by water, the reflection of the moon will create twice as much light. It took me a while to figure out why the moon was so much brighter at a house with a pool by a pond.

    Blackouts definitely required.

  19. OMG, I read that article, the “doctors know the holy trinity of obesity treatments—diet, exercise, and medication—don’t work” – that’s it, you need the medication part, apparently its part of the “holy trinity” of weight loss, forget Marks mantra of Primal exercise, diet and lifestyle.

  20. I like your reaction to that amazingly brainfarted article on weightloss. It seems weird that people even think that being obese isn’t all that bad for you.
    However a question comes to mind…

    With so many being obese won’t the obesity affect the genes? Won’t your genes mutate (adept) to ensure a balance in the body? If so won’t the offspring of obese parents be more adept to being overweight?

    Just a thought and surely not trying to find a way to explain why obese kids are healthy…

  21. Something overlooked in the obesity discussion is choice—If someone chooses to be unhealthy, that’s their right, but we somehow feel justified passing judgement and telling them how to live. I live primally and love it, but frankly if someone is “fat and happy,” it’s none of my business if they don’t want to change. Why would I try to ram my lifestyle down his/her throat?

    1. I believe people can and should always be able to choose their freedoms – as long as they don’t impact others – if they allow themselves to be obese then by that very nature, they are imposing on others freedom’s.

      Being obese puts extra strain on the health system, which could be both a good and bad thing, by having a lot of sick people, this does provide a continual stream of “live guinea pigs” to test medications and surgical practices on, and for new doctors to get experience.

      On the other hand, it puts a load on the carer of these people – try having to pick up, dress, and clean an overweight person is very hard.

      1. Interesting point about healthcare costs. I’ve thought about this before. Have you come across any articles about that topic specifically? I’d be curious to see what the discussion focuses on.

        1. unfortunately, no specific article comes to mind, more of a collection of observation and reading over time. As mentioned, what struck me is the concept of “what if everyone was healthy and at the ideal weight and diseases reduced as a result” – would this be less cost ?, is it actually saving costs in the long run by pushing medical science to higher and higher levels due to the “demand” from people being sick, but then if people weren’t sick as much, we wouldn’t need higher levels of medical science ?

  22. I never have understood the need to block out all possible light when sleeping. Maybe I’m ahead of the curve, but I have discovered eyelids, I close them, and it seems plenty dark to me!

  23. Re: lifting heavy and not gaining muscle

    High intensity, low rep lifting is not the best way to make hypertrophy gains (i.e., put on muscle mass). Most agree that the largest hypertrophy gains are to be had with reps in the 8-12 range, with 60-90 seconds between sets. Sets of 5, especially on compound exercises like squat and deadlift, will also cause hypertrophy.

    But the big reason most people don’t put on as much muscle as they would like is that they don’t eat enough. Simply put, if you’re a man, and you’re trying to pack on muscle, you need to eat A LOT. If you ever feel hungry, you are failing miserably. Eating should be a chore (then you know you might be having enough). This isn’t the answer most want to hear, but it’s the truth.

    Now, as a 51 year-old man, you have to eat REALLY clean to avoid getting really fat. But if you want to put on significantly more muscle, you will have to gain some fat. Just think of it as an investment, and remember, losing fat is the easy part.

    As Mark alluded to, at your age, you should also make sure your testosterone is at reasonable levels. And you should know you’re not going to make progress the way a 20 year-old would. And you need to make sure you recover fully, meaning plenty of rest days and plenty of sleep. I wouldn’t lift more than 3 days a week if I were you (and I would greatly limit other exercise besides walking or LIGHT swimming/cycling). On each of your three days of lifting, be sure to include one big compound lift (e.g., squat, deadlift) to get the anabolic hormones flowing. This advice is geared toward putting on muscle mass. If that’s not your goal, ignore it.

    1. Solid stuff, Doug. As a 50-year-old male having spent several years sloooowly building body mass, I concur with your post and would only add that each individual needs the patience to experiment over time — safely — and find what works best for them. Personally, I seem to do best by including near-maximum sets of 3-5 with moderate rest (to maintain/build strength) and volume sets of 5-8 with shorter rest periods for hypertrophy. Nothing to failure, and with workouts lasting about an hour, I can manage four days a week, three weeks hard, one week easy(deload). Home gym consists of a squat rack, bar, plates, bench and a pullup bar, total cost about $500.
      I suppose if I wished to get up to 200 pounds bodyweight, I might need to do different things, but 165 is fine for me. I started at 135.

      1. I’m the type of person mentioned in the article that has a pretty low cap on my potential to gain mass. When my cousin and I started working out in high school we both ate like crazy ( six full meals a day…yes, it was a chore) and made quick gains in strength and size. However my mass building slowed down rather quickly one I hit this invisible set point, although continued to gain strength. My cousin on the other hand kept building mass and he went on to compete in natural bodybuilding competitions.

        To this day, thirty plus years later, he can still put on the mass very easily (he mainly road bikes now but will lift in the winter months), where I have to earn every last one of my 150 pounds on my 5″10″ frame.

        I gave up the weights a long time ago when I took up surfing (too hard on my body to also lift and surf hard everyday) and I’ve discovered that my muscle mass more or less stays the same no matter what physical activity I devote myself too. Sure, I was a little bigger when I was lifting, but not enough for anyone to actually tell that how serious I was about bodybuilding at the time. I just looked like a fit guy.

  24. Re: Weight, BMI, and Health

    There problem with using BMI as a substitute measure for fat or not fat (which the Slate article does):

    First, the BMI formula is based on the square of the height. That’s terrible math; weight is correlated with volume, which, all things being equal, is based on the cube of the height. That’s why most NBA players are “overweight” according to BMI; they are, on average, very tall.

    Second, BMI doesn’t take into account the natural build of the individual. Olympic 100 meter sprinters tend to be much heavier and stockier than Olympic distance runners. But both groups of athletes have very low body fat compared with the general public. These differences in natural build (associated with different ethnic groups, genotypes, muscle fiber types, and exercise patterns – all of which might effect health independently) confuse the issue.

    Thirdly, BMI doesn’t distinguish between lean body mass and total body mass. In age ranges where mortality is higher, there’s a strong correlation between higher lean body mass, good functioning, and survival. And loss of lean body mass is, to some extent, a symptom of aging, like wrinkles or gray hair. Additionally, there’s a correlation between high levels of physical activity and higher lean body mass.

    The claim that “being fat is healthy” could only be fairly supported by a life-long study measuring body fat percentages (like with a DEXA scan). But that would be complicated and expensive, whereas height and weight data is readily available. As is too often the case in science, the easy measure is used instead of the valid measure.

    BMI conflates what’s almost certainly, among older people, a good number (lean body mass), with what is probably a bad number (fat body mass).

  25. An implication of the Slate article is a fairly high body fat percentage is simply the normal state for many people, and there’s really no environmental change people can make that will change that.

    However, different modern societies have fairly different body fat levels (think Japan vs. the US), and almost all traditional and primitive societies had/have a lower body fat level than most neolithic societies.

    What we’ve seen is that some environments produce weight gain (regardless of efforts to restrict calories, in many cases), and others don’t. If you want to lose body fat percentage, change your environment!

    The workers who pick up our garbage every week by hand, lifting hundreds or thousands of heavy cans, always look trim and fit. Eight hours of hard exercise a day will do that. I’ll bet when they get promoted to a desk job, they put on weight.

  26. Mark has taught us about leptin and leptin resistance. Any scientific article regarding obesity and body fat management that fails to address this physiologic process has little credibility.

  27. Kevin – some tips which may help to gain muscle size. I see many people going to the gym / park, and month in month out put in a lot of effort, and seem to get nowhere. I can tell you straight away what the problem is – bad form. They will do heaps of “half chin ups”, throwing themselves up, and not work the “full range of motion in a controlled fashion.

    Whatever your doing, weights, calisthenics, or both, focus on form first and foremost, forget weight, forget reps.

    A proper rep: start at the bottom of the movement, 2 seconds up, hold for a 1 second at “top” of movement, 2 seconds down, hold for 1 second at “bottom”, no bouncing, no full lockout – keep tension on at all times, full range of motion. If you can’t do this, the weight is too heavy, so cut it back. If its say chin ups, move back to Australian chin-ups, for example, if its too easy, try archer or one handed chin-ups. With weight – simple, adjust the weight.

    YOU HAVE TO WORK LEGS ! – this means, deadlifts, squats, pistol squats, etc, whatever you need to work those legs hard. Forget the sissy cable and leg press machines – legs help build abs !

    sets: For size – you want to aim for 8-10 reps, for strength 4-6 reps, for endurance 12-30+ reps – in your case you want to 8-10 rep range, do multiple sets until you form fails, and you cant meet the required reps (say 2-4 sets), and then move onto another exercise.

    Rest: CRITICAL – allow 48 hours at least between lifting workouts – you only grow when your resting, not when you work out.

  28. Mark, you state in your article “Weight loss isn’t easy and keeping it off is even tougher. There’s no getting around that.”
    I have to disagree. Deciding to go Primal isn’t easy, but once you make the decision and stick to it weight loss is easy.

    1. I’d say they are both “easy”. By easy I mean if you actually make the commitment and do it for real, it won’t be that difficult. However, if you pine for your former eating habits, or get all worked up over what you are missing or sacrificing, then yeah, it will be very difficult.

      Drug addicts and alcoholics have the same issue. The ones that obsess about temptation, who defuse to truly break from the past, fail. The ones that simply decide they will no longer be that way and their former habits are no longer even an option, do just fine.

      I know that’s an oversimplification, but anyone who’s ever reversed a destructive force in their life will say the same thing. When they finally decided that the current way of being was unacceptable, they just changed course and lived their life another way. Once they fully committed, the pieces just fell into place.

  29. As far as the moonlight, I’ve never had a problem with sleeping with the moon shining down on me.

    I’ve also found another natural form of light that doesn’t bother me to sleep with is candle light (though don’t try this unless you have a very safe way of burning one ‘unattended’).

    I’d like to think Grok wouldn’t have minded his firelight at night either, since it would probably have kept him and family safer and warmer than without (depending on situations and location of course).

  30. I can’t remember where now, but I read once about light at night and it’s influence on a woman’s fertility. It said that for women struggling to conceive, blocking out all light at night could often help to regulate their hormones to help them get pregnant. If that did not help, then they were advised to try using a nightlight for a few days at a certain point in their cycle to simulate the full moon. If you consider how long our species lived without artificial light, it makes sense that our bodies would be expecting to be in sync with the natural cycle of light and darkness.

  31. All I know is that when I used to be a bouncer in a bar and it was a full moon it seemed that all the customers turned into crazies. We were unusually busy throwing people out for all sorts of craziness on those nights. I used to hate going in on those nights and they almost always seemed to be on the weekends, go figure!

  32. On the question of weight, I do think many of us, particularly women, have an unhealthy obsession with our jeans size in a way that has nothing to do with health, and this motivates many women to pursue extreme and unhealthy dieting practices that may produce results in the short term, but have health-damaging yo-yo effects in the long term.

    One healthy role model for me has been my mother. She was overweight most of my life, due, I think, to hormonal changes that came when she got her tubes tied. I know she would have preferred to be slender, but I never once heard the word “diet” from her lips. She maintained an active lifestyle through gardening and farm chores (no gym membership or exercise routine). She ate three healthy meals a day, and didn’t bring junk food into the house. She enjoyed a serving of dessert when it was offered on special occasions, but didn’t routinely prepare desserts at home. When she was in her sixties, after a lifetime of normal healthy habits, she would go to the doctor for a routine physical and he would tell her she was “boring”–all the test results were in the normal range. She was overweight, yes, but healthy. And content.

    I am convinced that if she had spent all those years worrying about weight, trying to count calories, moving from one fad diet to the next, as most women do today, she would have been a lot less happy and a lot less healthy.

    There’s a lot of healthy advice we can share with each other that has nothing to do with weight: maintain good sleep hygiene, exercise regularly, meditate, reduce stress, get out of your chair and move regularly, learn to enjoy your fruits and veggies and whole grains and fish and healthy fats, reduce meat consumption, eat three balanced meals a day, stop eating when you’re full, give up smoking and alcohol and junk food and soda, give up after dinner snacking, etc.

    People who live this way may lose weight or they may not–depending on physiological factors outside of their control. But regardless of weight, these habits are going to make them healthier and happier. Without ever “going on a diet”. Without ever setting a target weight. Without ever counting calories. We need to talk about health in terms of lifestyle choices rather than jeans size. This is the legacy I want to share with my daughter.