Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Moving Back Outside (not about the bike, part 1)

This is the story of reconnecting with the outside by reconnecting with The Bike. Perhaps you've had this experience? Do you spend time moving out doors? i mean, outside a gym set up? And not a walking, running, biking commute, where the goal is transportation, a to b.
I mean - moving outside for the sake of? because it's OUTSIDE. in the elements.

Ya, i haven't much.
Beyond occasional/seasonal  pick up frisbee games (they're too unskilled to call them "ultimate" - more like "initial"). Once upon a time in grad school, i ran x-country. Prior to coming to the UK, i also rode a bike in Canada all the time everywhere as a commuter. Thinking about it, that's been a lifetime practice, from high school to real world work. Oh Canada.

The Rational Rationale of Making a Bug a Feature

And then i moved to the UK, and what passed for the roads freaked me out. I went from messenger cyclist rider crazy - where my goal was to get as far away from traffic as safely as possible, and as quickly as possible (love to pass other cars, cyclists, anything moving - terrible, eh?) -  to kinda terrified of the perceived lack of anywhere to ride. Where are the shoulders and sidewalks?  Hell, cars seemed to go both ways at once in one lane. It didn't help really when one of my first colleagues showed up rather wrecked from a failed encounter with a bus.

recent london cyclist die-in 
It was around this time that my partner suggested exploring the finer points of turbo trainers. Bike on blocks. I kept cycling, but it was all happening indoors. It became "cardio" instead of commuting and certainly not cycling.

In the intervening years, i've focused on working with weights; working on movement, learning more about same. My outdoor movement is that i walk or run to work. A kind of commuting. Not nothing, but not a Thing in Itself. You know? Going outside and moving across space for the sheer heck of it, that had rather been suspended.

And then the summer happened. I had a summer gig in a bike friendly UK town - i did not bring my bike because it was only supposed to be a month's stay, in and out, and work was another quicky run at about only 1.5 miles each way. Not worth a bike ride. Kettlebells, yes, brought a few of these. Natch. Bike. Nah.

Then 1 month turned into four. The summer was lovely. For the UK this means not pouring more than three days in a row. Bikes were everywhere. Like everywhere. When not in motion, many were parked on streets with signs on them beckoning to associated shops.

I recalled in grad school a guy in res being into cycling talking about fixed gear training in the winter. This was not the winter, but the training idea sounded good to me: i hadn't been on a bike on a real road in a long time; not worrying about gears, just focusing on getting better at this practice again seemed worth considering. And i kept hearing about fixed gear bikes. There seemed a lot of web pages and places that built these things. There was a fixed gear bike shop a stone's throw from the flat. The bikes were on sale.

Reader: i got one. These can be i've learned super expensive; but they can also be very reasonable. They are perhaps the quintessential bike. Two wheels on a frame with pedals. The bike moves when you move. There is no spinning of freewheel. Very Yoda. There is no spin; either pedal or do not pedal. Goodness. Very simple. Very Steel. Which, i was told, like my road bike back home, was real.

Pedal or Pedal Not: there is no Spin
And amazingly, to complement this reintroduction to the simplicity of movement over/through space, the area was flat, too. Prairie flat. Given to much flatness. In other words, if you're gonna have one gear and your goal is to roll rather than suffer at odd intervals with hills in re-introducing yourself to an ancient practice, it seems i'd hit the sweet spot.

And what's even more - this was not only a cycling kinda town (bikes v.much everywhere - many of them ridden by "people on bikes" - not "cyclists" - the ones who give cyclists a bad name for effectively mowing down pedestrians...i blame town planners, really, but that's an aside) - the UK it turns out has an incredible network of roads designated as cycling routes - this seems to mean they are perceived to be slightly less life threatening than the main drags. This routing may be utterly useless for most commuters,  as getting from a to b is not it seems the point, but if one has the inclination simply to cycle, there are routes that will accommodate this in various guises.

One of my routes happened to be a tow path, with a good chunk being pretty narrow track. I raise this point as again, for someone trying to get back into road riding with as little conflict with other moving bodies as possible during a period of acclimatisation, this route felt like a gift from - well from something.  And with kevlar in the tires, the bike handled these chalky, bumpy gravelly, thorny very solo paths with verve.
frighteningly bucolic and flat. Singlespeed/fixed gear, tough tire joy
I was cycling for the first time. again.  Benefits galore.

"Go blow the stink off you."

In terms of getting outside again, and moving in the real world, across space, there have been many rewards from this chance extended stay in a bike-opportunistic space.

bicycle...bicycle...bicycle races
i love to ride my bicycle 
it's just really nice to reconnect with biking again. That first test drive with this one gear bike was "oh yeah, this is it! this feels great...i think i can still do this."For whatever reason, i enjoy this strange way of being in space, rolled over and in the drops going up and down. I also enjoy the pedalling or not. Not sure why yet, but it's a kind of skill/awareness thing.

traffic - you ain't all that - sorta
To be in an environ with so many other cyclists that when i ventured out onto the roads for short commutes, i was not ever the sole cyclist was very helpful as threat inoculation to get my on a real road legs back.

Off to London to Visit the Queen (that's SW1, right?)
- thanks to cyclestreets.net
spatial map building Being on a bike - just to ride - is helping me develop a new cognitive practice. In order to find places that will let me cover x miles at a time, i have to figure out where i'm going: i need to get a sense of the space. THis is no small thing for me. I am what i could be considered directionally impaired. Zero sense of direction.

That said, in just about any other area of life, it seems most awarenesses are skills-based, or are skills accessible. Perhaps navigation and spatial awareness can be developed? Even Rats can learn dead reckoning. There are i'm learning payoffs for being a spatial map builder (rather than a landmark user). Apparently people who do spatial map building have more hippocampus activity when engaging in way-finding. Hippocampus activity is a good thing. More on this anon. Pragmatically, better coordination in space would be, personally, a very good thing.

bikes go nice with kettelbells. Biking can be very interval-ish. Endurance is an important part of strength. Working at 85% HRMax for most of a 60-90min ride or more can be very interesting.

It was delightful to have bike rides at a reasonable HR complement the strength workouts. Leaner, stronger, faster. Dialing in cycling to support strength or vice versa. Up to you. Oh ya, and it's wicked fun. Which leads to the next point.

Goodness, this makes me, er, happy. Fourth, but perhaps first: what my partner and i realised quickly is that i came back from rides in a better space than when i left. This effect lead to me being encouraged to ride more frequently This had not been the experience so much after a workout. I'm always glad to have done a workout, but that feeling of euphoria - no that's too intense - but just pleasure - dealing with a variety of threats to get to pleasure/joy - is just kinda exhilarating.

Threat, what's the threat of getting on a bike and going, some may say?

Well, there's death. 
No one who's been following any of the reports in London about five deaths in a row in city cycling traffic and the various die-ins there can can be so naive as to take travelling on city or even country roads as not on some level taking one's life in one's hands.

Then there's the cost of missing something in the road. There's a reason that there are helmets in pro racing. It's not about the cars.  Check out on wikipedia when and why helmets started at the tour de france for instance. A helmet won't save me from a car for pete's sake - but it may help me from my self.

Also there's getting lost.
Some people are fine with this. Men, for instance.
I'm not great with that. I am a frequent visitor to "where am i"? I am guaranteed when in doubt to turn in the wrong direction. I'm not kidding. So for me there's a sense of risk that if i go out i might not get back - with things like phones with maps, i'm learning to calm down a lot on that one, but it's a stressor, ok?

 And there's machine failure far away from aid
Having some basic bike skilz and a spare inner tube and pump, in an area that i knew, and a working phone tracking my ride, i felt pretty safe. The very worst case was a few mile drag to somewhere to get a taxi. Nothing was unpopulated.

Uncommon Common Cow En-cow-ter?
In other words, dealing with these experiences - taking the risk; achieving the reward of experiencing things like cows in the path (some commons in the UK are still used as commons) or dealing with Swans on the path (they can be so fierce) - or being in bucolic spaces - the outside! even though the highways sounds were never too remote - it's wonderful. I don't know why - it's just a different wonderful from pressing heavy bells overhead. Variety is good.

oh sure they look lovely now...

Moving - out of the sagittal plane?

One of my constant quests with movement is to ensure that i'm not getting stuck in the sagittal plane that is the most common path in the gym. up and down, up and down. Very little side to side. Likewise, challenging peripheral awareness and responsiveness to others. Sport, five a side football, that kind of thing where one has to strategies with one's own team while out manoeuvring another team seems the ideal combination of strengths.

And then there's the bike. Really, a road bike is pretty durn sagittal, isn't it? My current consolation is that it is very demanding of peripheral awareness and of balance, and when riding with others, awareness of them too. It's also a machine; an intervention. And while it's hugely efficient as a machine for people, it's just not natural to be in that position for hours is it?

And yes, i like it. Rather a lot.

What enables a Beginning: Making Skill Building Possible

This part of the story is about the circumstances that enabled what in zhealth is called threat reduction: making the space safe to explore and threat inoculation: building up skills so that one progressively can up the demand on the system and still perform at the same level.

Later i'd like to share some stuff about getting to the next level:

  • getting off the tow path and onto the roads again
  • the inestimable value of a path breaking buddy who is sufficiently confident in their own skills, self, and opportunities to workout at their pace/level that they're there for you, enjoying themselves, not making you feel like they're coming down to your level.

next time: randoneur buddy spirit

Best wishes for the New Year
Here's to your excellent health, strength and joyful practice - inside and out.


Some Bike-ish Related Posts:

Friday, September 13, 2013

Why (Not) Try Something New? Finding Optimal

Have you ever tried a new diet - not because you perceived you needed to, but just to find out what it might do for you? Have you tried that change for at least two weeks?  Or how about a new sleeping pattern just to see how it makes you feel? Or a different kind of social activity than what you normally do?

Why would you do that? You might feel like you have your eating, socializing or sleeping dialed in - so why change it?

Tried Liver Lately?
We are very good at finding routine (overview by Agre here). We develop our own patterns of routines quickly (there's even organizational routines - nice overview pdf here). Routines are part of our survival - we can only process so much information at a go suggests Agre- so having routines to fall back on can be very important.

We tend to work from a place of "if it ain't broke don't fix it" because - my bet is - we have other stuff that feels like it is broken, or at least needs our attention. Why add more demands to that attention?

Finding Optimal

Part of an answer may be that by occasionally taking PLANNED breaks from routine to explore something new we can FIND an even better practice that leads towards a more OPTIMAL performance, a better us, a better capacity to enjoy life.

If we don't test options, deliberately break our routines, how do we know what better is? 

Lift Weights usually? How about swapping in some field work?
We may find, for instance, that if we go a bit more towards less gluten we feel better; we may find if we have liver once a week, we feel better; we may find that having a bit more bread in the morning we feel thick, but if we have some at night we sleep better. It may be that if we add fish oil into our diet for a couple weeks to a month we see our weight change a little more easily, or we don't creak as much, or we're feeling sharper at work.

We may also find that being on a bike or playing football once a week instead of just lifting weights opens up a whole new feeling of joy and physicality to us.

Strategies For Exploration: What are Expected Changes?

we can measure effect of change
Different practices are associated with different benefits. For instance practicing breathing is supposed to help us feel more calm, reduce certain stress hormones, improve focus and potentially sleep as well.  One could find a breathing practice description online and just do that for two weeks, as many times per day as the program says, and just check in gosh i feel a difference no i don't feel a difference.

 Or one could look for targets to check: if the claim is better sleep, there are smart phone aps that let us measure how disturbed or not our sleep is, how many hours we get, just by putting the phone on the mattress. That's one way to see if two weeks without the habit vs two weeks with the practice makes a difference.

If gluten free or paleo is supposed to help shed fat and improve energy, well we have measures for fat shedding like waist, hips, neck. Measurements for energy can be checked by tests like stroop tests and general feel or alertness. Blood work is good here, but we'll skip that as out of most of our reach. Main thing is: have a reason to run the test and some way to check if there's a difference there.

Or perhaps there's a surprise unanticipated difference.
For instance, a couple of years ago, after a blood work assessment, it was recommended that i add essential amino acids and greens to the start of my day. I did. Within a month i felt a lot calmer. People commented. Now that may be because of other changes i can't put a finger on, but i'm pretty sure that ingest facilitated those changes. And considering how much amino acids have to do with hormone performance, i'm not surprised, and considering how much greens have co-factors for metabolic reactions, again, not surprised. Disappointed that my diet wasn't quite as dialed in as a i thought. (Here's an overview of some other surprises from change in my experience in terms of cholesterol)

So have a target for the change - what do we expect to see from the break?  What are we surprised to see from the break that maybe wasn't planned? This can be really fun - and can help bulletproof us should an unexpected routine break happen.

PLAN for Taking a Break

While it's likely awesome to break a routine deliberately and spontaneously from time to time, it may also be useful actually to PLAN a break to a routine.

To try to leap into change suddenly is fun for some of us; threatening for others. Make the break safe. Lack of planning can sometimes just doom something.

If the change is to explore intermittent fasting twice in the coming month to get that two week experience, this one may mean preparing some practice time to reduce the threat to the system and make it successful. This shift may mean that it takes some practice to get to the full test

If the idea is to explore endurance work rather than resistance work for awhile, what's the plan in terms of the activity and where it can fit in to complement what you're doing already and not fatigue you out? If you're not sure how to execute your plan, reach out to a coach. We're here!

Why Breaks Usually Happen: IT is broke
Most of us only break our routines if something else breaks and we have to figure out what's going on. Like i'm seeing my weight crawl up - what's with that. Oh heck, it's the dam desert that's been getting a little bigger or longer each night from the wonderful summer market. I have to pull back. And that's going to hurt. Dam. How do i make this valuable to me change to my current routine so i can succeed and not break myself in the process.

Why Breaks CAN happen: a little better here can have lots better effects everywhere else
If we do take the leap to explore something different - to break our routine to try something new, not because we have to but because we're curious to find better, it's important to get that a SMALL change/break in one place can have much larger side effects elsewhere. A little better sleep - slightly more sleep - can lead to completing an entire sleep cycle - it may be just 15 more minutes and you'll be able to wake up without the alarm - and that apparently has HUGE benefits for performance throughout the day.

It's amazing however how much energy it takes for us to think about exploring even a small change to routine like that - a change to our beliefs and practices of Good Enough to find out if we can be Even Better and if Even Better is closer to Optimal.

But sometimes, if we initiate the exploration rather than waiting till something breaks, we can get ahead of the curve, and add real delight to our lives.


  1. A little Better can Go a Long Way None of our routines may be broken and so may not demand a fix, but most of us could likely explore a deliberate change in a routine to see if that enhances our lives - can we go from Good Enough to Really Great?
  2. We can choose the size of break: We can explore these changes in small ways (add fish oil and sufficient vitamin d pills daily for a month) or more challenging ways (learn to swim)
  3. We can measure effects: No matter the size of the exploration/tweak we can look for the effects: this is supposed to make me sleep better and help me lose weight - i'll measure now for two weeks; then measure doing it for two weeks.
  4. We can target what we want to optimize and choose where we want to explore: for instance, if we want more energy, we could explore changes in food or movement or sleep or social engagement or cognitive engagement.  We are complex systems: there are many paths that interrelate and can get us closer to Optimal.
  5. WE can plan our routine break and limit it: one month from now i mark on the calendar i'm going to try a whole day fast and then do it again a week or two later. To prep for that, in two weeks i'm going to do a half day fast next week, then a 3/4 day fast the week later. To prep for all that i'm going to read eat stop eat or check out other trusted people's experience of different approaches to IF
With a little easy but continually exploration of pushing our own boundaries, we'll get to know ourselves better - maybe exploration/challenge becomes a new routine in itself.

It's really awful to meet folks who are not well, not healthy and you ask "have you ever felt better than you do now" - and they say "no not really" - and you know that they could. How do i know i'm not in exactly the same place? What haven't i checked? And why would i? If i can find a tactic to make it easier to perform better, have more joy, then i can be more present to my life, and to the people in it, and perhaps to the great people who could be in it if i were more effective, open, energized, present, etc.  And that's a good thing, right?

Have a great weekend.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

How do you FEEL? How do you KNOW? - (or the start of What i did with my summer - non-vacation.)

hi guys - thanks for checking in on b2d - so sorry it's been rather quiet over the summer - have a bunch of blog posts in the hopper around fixed gear bikes, amazingly under known clipless pedals, the surprising delights of chamois cream, and how a saddle design can work for men and women even without funny shorts for serious riding. Yes, there's been a bit of biking this summer. and hot sauce. WHo knew, cambridge (the uk one) was a hot bed of hot sauce?
m.c. - happy in her summer office thinking wellbeing thoughts

But mostly there's been research. I've been working at a Lab in Cambridge, UK, collaborating on stuff that has my full attention and passion.

The survey i've posted over on facebook is part of that. If you haven't tried it, please give it a go this week. We could use your help. There will be cake.

The research i've been futon wrestling this summer  is around the design of wellbeing applications - and asking questions like:

  • what the heck is a fitbit supposed to do? - i mean, really. 
  • - and for how long? 
  • i have one i'm using right now. Do i know what i'm doing with it? 
(Do you have one of these devices? Do you use it? Please answer the survey - we NEED you.

So, health and healthiness
do we wake up at the start of our day and say, i can hardly wait to clock one more step than yesterday?

(Ok i wake up and do some stuff and check my ithlete HRV - it's true...but i'm an uber geek who sees data collection as a kind of organ donation of the future - i wish i'd called it that but that's natasa millic-frayling's categorisation of my data gathering penchant - love it - a math genius who's been bending her thoughts with us to consider models of interaction for wellbeing).

Anyway, part of the question has been - who of us have a weird obsession with sleep data such that when your partner asks "how'd you sleep, hon" - you look at your zeo to find out?

Do we Feel as Great as We Could?
or do some folks just sleep? and wake up?
And is our culture so messed up that the likelihood of doing well on something seemingly so basic - and let's face it - beyond our control; eventually, as the wife of  Mithradates said to her hubby, honey, you have to sleep sometime - how do we know we're doing ok? Especially if we don't really know what "feeling better" than we do now - feels like?

and if we do just sleep or eat, what do we wake up thinking?
where do our aspirations fit into our daily practice? do we arise thinking today i'm on step X of my path to aspiration Y? or do we think, sh*t i'm late! gotta dash, and forget to tell our honey and little bees of our love for them?

Where does being in a body (and the brain is in the body) fit into how we make sense of the world?

I ask because if we are going to  use all this smart mobile computing power to make a difference to the stats we in my world claim to care about (the effects of sedentary lifestyles, for instance), we might want to know something about ourselves, and how we think about ourselves as well, bodies, in the world.

And there's more: death to change!? how bout just better?
Why do so many people talk about "needing to change" ?? in terms of health goals.
We all eat, sleep, engage with other, think, move. Change sounds like to be better we need to do something other than those things. Like no, sleep is so 1990's; now is the era of standing on our heads. Really?



When not doing that kind of cogitating, and trying to figure out how to fit that into a framework designers/researchers can use to situate wellbeing artefacts, i've been using bands for assisting one arm push up work for full range of motion reps and it's wicked.

 I've also discovered when chamois cream can be fun. and that fixed gear bikes with track bars are just an awesome, fun and affordable way back into biking hard outside instead of on a trainer -  esp. in a flat land. I am learning both to track stand and skid stop, thanks to Sam at bicycle ambulance in Cambridge. Skilz. i so don't got 'em. but i will!

Thanks for listening, and hanging in. More to come.
let me know how your summer's been.

soon to replenish the dearth of cambridge chill sauce co.
ones i really dig - they just taste rich and lovely - not just of heat.
the wee list:
ghost pepper 10, luck (yellow pot) 7, voodoo chocolate habenaro (i think that is my overall fave, having done two bottles of it in two months, with the lucky 7 next; they mix really well too), trinidad scorpion mustard (awesome - really rich, fruity taste from the whole grain mustard) and some smokey scotch bonnet. Wicked that most of these peppers are grown by these guys in the UK.

sadly empty or nigh empty bottles.
Sample Application
Morning Ghost Pick Me Up
Here's one way i've been using the sauce like the ghost pepper 10:
with greens i have reheated in the morning - like curly kale cooked for dinner the night before:
i'll put a couple good squirts in a bowl, add in a bit of water and pour that into a hot pan, then put the kale or whatever green into that. Stir it around, let it simmer till the water's gone but the hot stuff is now all over the leaves. Oh wow, there's a kick in the AM - gets those endorphins gearing up.

Again, thanks for your patience over the summer. Do give the survey a go, and let me know of your sumer.

RElated Posts

Saturday, June 8, 2013

A Taste for Lean? A Role for the Senses in Weight Control

Being overweight is not simple. Lest anyone say "just eat less" you have my permission to punch them in the arm (gently, or maybe not so much: use your discretion).

Being Overweight: Complex Interactions. When we get overweight a whole lot of complex interactions happen to make it harder to lose weight.

One of the factors seems to be we become increasingly, hormonally and sensually numb. By hormonally numb, we can think about things like insulin resistance, chronic fatigue, sometimes not being able to feel full, not being able to concentrate (here's an overview of what hormones are).

Sensually numb can be that our awareness of any of our five senses get diminished. At the extreme end, if we think about certain stages of type II diabetes, often associated with obesity, feet losing sensation is a not uncommon side effect.

PLASTICITY: we can be BETTER. The happy thing about our bodies is that they are incredible resilient; we can recover our sensitivity, and often, our sensitivity comes back on line as we get our weight under control. The inverse may also be true. In other words, helping our senses come back on line might just help us modulate our behaviours around food and so help us get our weight back in line with where we'd be happier.

Making Taste work for Lean Advantage: 
Knowing more about how we can get at our weight via different pathways can be a great way into addressing fat. In this piece we're going to look at some work connecting smell awareness and obesity, and propose a way to tune that sense up to our advantage for fat loss.

Taste Awareness and Weight Management

The many hormonal interactions of
(image source)
A recent paper proposed a correlation (not causation) between obesity and taste perception. It seems that obese kids and teens had a lessened taste acuity compared with their non-obese peers [1]. Sensitivity to salty, umami and bitter were particularly low for the obese, but sweet was not great either.

TASTE IS COMPLEX. The authors don't go into why some folks have better taste discrimination than others, but the interesting thing? They note that taste sensitivity is multifactorial, that is there are many components at play that inform taste acuity. Culture is one factor: consider what tastes do we encounter? what quality?

Hormones are also influential. Leptin  seems to have a taste influence. Intriguingly leptin acts to give a the shut off signal to the brain (the hypothalamus) to say "don't need to eat now."(Nice research overview of Leptin in [2]; lay overview of Leptin here).

WHITE FAT TALKS TO US Leptin is a really intriguing switch because of where this hormone is generated. It is produced in adipose tissue (white fat). Most of us tend to think of fat as rather innert squishy stuff. On the contrary: there's a lot going on in this live tissue, including hormone production. The relationship of leptin secretion to fat is seemingly simple:  less fat, less leptin circulating.

white adipose tissue (image source)
Go on a weight loss program, leptin levels decrease as fat goes away. Great that fat goes, but might feel hungry for more reasons than well, hunger.  Depending on the speed of the fat loss created, the body may scream a little louder as it rebalances hormonal sensitivity perhaps. Hence the goal of slower, steady fat loss perhaps rather than rapid - which puts more hormonal and emotional stress on the body (and aside: once again, time needed to drop fat and adjust hormonally may help explain why set point theory is crap)

Leptin and Taste: The consequence of this loss of fat/lower leptin levels seem to be an increased taste awareness -- especially (and perhaps not surprisingly) for Sweet tasting stuff - that would be stuff that is usually high in fast energy sources, like sugar, and sugary starchy carbs [3]. On the plus side again, it seems the sharper our senses of taste, we see from the research sited about that we're (a) likely leaner and (b) possibly leaner because sharper tastes which mean not needing to eat of a sweet taste to get a satisfying hit from taste. We can potentially perceive the sweetness better in more nutrient dense calorie lighter foods. Indeed, one researcher argues that if we upped not so much the sweet, but the savory/umami flavour of foods, we'd get better nutrient balanced meals,  and better regulation of food intake [4].

Aside: Amusing facts about Smell vs Taste

Smell and Taste? Taste just to be über clear is something more separate from smell than most of us think.  These senses are separately wired in the brain. Smell has its own dedicated cranial nerve in the brain (CN I). Taste, however, is fed by several of these cranial nerves. So the brain shares taste accross several important information channels.

But what about when we have a cold, and can't taste anything or smell anything? It may be tastes are muted because less combined with the smell bits and strong associations of smells with tastes (remember taste is multifactorial)- BUT - it may also be the cold simply affecting our taste buds.
According to Brainfacts, when taste and smell come together, we get flavour. Now you know.

Fasting and Heightened Smell Awareness. You may have noticed that if you fast for any period of time, your sense of smell goes up. Recent research [5] suggests this is not us hallucinating from lack of food.  When you think about it, it almost makes a kind of sense: hunger may sharpen precision for detecting sources of nutrients.  How about that as a story? Love that smell of a bakery in the early morning before one's first coffee? That may be us on the hunt, and keen to source out our Carb Prey.

How Boost the Taste for Lean?

 Whether or not putting scent crystals on food to tun on smell and so reduce intake actually has about zero research support. Taste on the other hand, as we've seen above, does. There does seem to be a relation between taste perception and dietary intake, where better taste awareness seems to be associated with leanliness. So might their be some value especially if we're overweight in attempting to  boost taste perception?

zinc (and copper) foods
ZINC CHECK One observation in the literature is that poorer taste acuity is associated with low levels of zinc [6]. Get zinc at healthy levels, both taste AND cognitive function improve. Double win.  Just 30mg a day seems to make a taste-y difference. A list of "top ten" zinc foods is here. These include oysters, veal liver (other types of liver have it too), peanuts, and of course, dark chocolate. 

Movement Based Taste Assists 

Fuel is super critical to our wellbeing. Getting the right nutrients, like Zinc, more of the time takes care of a worls of ills.

Another part of  getting systems back online is to activate the nerves that communicate with those systems. Taste is a physiological system. Our systems are plastic (overview of what that means): we are use it or lose it systems. The more we practice something, often the better we get at it.

Since taste is multifactorial - influenced by a variety of factors - we can practice of taste as a skill. Consider Chefs who deliberately practice discerning tastes of various kinds of items that are very different and very similar. Or likewise there are various tasting clubs for everything from olive oils to wines to chocolate.

Something more immediate as a practice tool may be to stimulate the nerves that are engaged in taste.
CNVII aka Facial Nerve (source)

There are three big nerves in the head (cranial nerves) that are involved in taste: cranial nerves VII, IX and X - by convention the nerves are labelled with Roman numerals. You can see how these nerves map on this list.). 

Without going into too much detail, these nerves are mapped to parts of the face, to a lot of swalliwing and well, gagging (the epiglotis has taste receptors on it). So we can actually excite taste buds by association of triggering those nerves.

The Master of Facial Nerve Symmetry,
Jazz horn impresaro, Dizzy Gillespie
(Is the left side higher than the right?)
Image Source
To activate the facial nerves, we can blow up our cheeks as big as possible. Take a look in the mirror and see if one side semms like it's better able to do it than the other - this may indicate a place where we could practice to get better symmetry.

Swallowing is another thing we can check. With our tongue tip pressed to the roof of our mouth, see how many times we can swallow in a row before we have to quit. If after the second swallow we need a break or it's hard, that may indicate that those nerves don't get much work. Practice can be a real benefit.

Swallowing is really important to the brain, too. At some point we can talk about central pattern generators. But for now, if you find that swallowing repeatedly doesn't get better with practice, think about checking in with your doc.

Pre / Post Taste Test

Here's the thing: it's great to do these exercises, but even better to check their effect. We can see a difference pretty immediately.

To check effect, we need to do a pre and post assessment. Remember salty, umami, bitter and to a lesser degree, sweet, were the tastes found affected. So, before doing the exercises, try checking something with one of these tastes - in any individual one taste may be more "numb" than another.

Here are some blends (pdf here for more) for preparing some taste tests.

  • Sweet: table sugar: ½ teaspoon dissolved in 2 tablespoons water
  • Salt: table salt: 1/8 teaspoon dissolved in 2 tablespoons water
  • Bitter: coffee, brewed or made from instant:

An approach to test salty for instance might be, taste the salty, rinse the mouth out with water; do one of the exercises for about 5 reps; re-taste. Any difference? If not, try the next exercise; re-test. Take a break, come back try another taste.

If one of those movements helped improve taste, think about incorporating it into your daily activities. Do it throughout the day; do some more reps before you eat.

If NONE of the movements help your taste buds, check out how your diet is in terms of zinc foods, and think about upping these for at least two weeks consistently, and retest.

Concept: Better Taste Sensation, More Alive to Food Flavour, Head to Leaner Being? 

The authors of the study we started with did not offer a functional application of their findings; they simply noted the correlation between taste and body composition.

In this post, the suggestion is: let's see if nudging taste may also help with moving towards better awareness, and perhaps therefore better satiety that leads from better appreciation of food in the mouth. IT's easier to enjoy food more mindfully if we can appreciate the nuances of its taste (about mindful eating).

On another high point: there's no down side to practicing the activation of those cranial nerves targeted by swallowing or blowing up our cheeks: doing so stimulates many associated Good Things in our brains. Likewise, zinc is really important in our diet and often quite low.

No matter our body comp, therefore, using nutrition and movement to affect our brains and bodies to help us move towards optimal wellbeing is a Good Thing.

If you try the above tests, please let me know how your taste improves.
You can post here, to @begin2dig on twitter or begin2dig on facebook.
Look forward to hearing from you.

Research Cited

  1. Overberg J, Hummel T, Krude H, & Wiegand S (2012). Differences in taste sensitivity between obese and non-obese children and adolescents. Archives of disease in childhood, 97 (12), 1048-52 PMID: 22995095 
  2. Harris RB (2013). Direct and indirect effects of leptin on adipocyte metabolism. Biochimica et biophysica acta PMID: 23685313 
  3. Harris RB (2013). Direct and indirect effects of leptin on adipocyte metabolism. Biochimica et biophysica acta PMID: 23685313 
  4. Mouritsen OG (2012). Umami flavour as a means of regulating food intake and improving nutrition and health. Nutrition and health, 21 (1), 56-75 PMID: 22544776 
  5. Cameron JD, Goldfield GS, & Doucet É (2012). Fasting for 24 h improves nasal chemosensory performance and food palatability in a related manner. Appetite, 58 (3), 978-81 PMID: 22387713 
  6. Tupe RP, & Chiplonkar SA (2009). Zinc supplementation improved cognitive performance and taste acuity in Indian adolescent girls. Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 28 (4), 388-96 PMID: 20368377

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Eat meat, why not eat beast complete? Explore offal (like liver)

Do you eat meat? Ok, let's assume you've got the grass fed/free range thing down. Now, do you eat Liver? How about kidneys, heart, related giblets?
If not why not? Bad childhood aroma memories? Time for a taste sensation re-education.

After being vegetarian for a long time, and dealing with some health issues about 18m ago i think i started eating meat. It's not till this last month and reading T.C. Luoma's Zombie Diet article that i began to explore organ meat in the diet - memories of early childhood not withstanding.

What on earth has been keeping people away from this stuff? It's amazing!

If you're gonna eat meat, be complete. If you're gonna eat an animal, dam it EAT THE ANIMAL.

As Luoama writes in Zombie Diet about the nutritional value of liver, just for instance:
one may see "ox liver" as interchangeable with beef liver
Look at this comparison between the Vitamin C content of 100 grams of apple, 100 grams of carrots, 100 grams of red meat, and 100 grams of beef liver.
The apple has 7.0 grams of Vitamin C, the carrots have 6.0 grams, the red meat has 0 grams, and the beef liver has 27.0 grams.
Let's do the same thing with Vitamin B12.
The apple has no measurable B12 and neither do the carrots. The red meat has 1.84 mcg., but the beef liver has 111.3 mcg.
It's no contest.
And it's not much different when you look at other nutrients like phosphorus, magnesium, potassium, iron, zinc, copper, Vitamins A, D, and E, thiamin, riboflavin, pantothenic acid, folic acid, biotin, and Vitamin B6 – beef liver beats them all almost every time. (bold emphasis mine - mc)
Choline is another good nutrient for the brain, recommended especially for pregnant gals,  and beef and chicken liver is high in this. More goodness.

I was in Paris at a conference when i started exploring this space. There is pretty much literally a butcher on every corner there. So getting liver - calves liver in particular [nutrition info]- and one shop was quite open about only having horses liver (!) - is pretty much simple. That's grass fed, too, natch.

Soaked in milk a few hours, sauted rare with tons of onions and shallots (and maybe some bacon), served with fresh greens and sweet potato, lots of spices, it's amazing. Super super tender, and so just oddly satisfying this is just not your mama's liver.

Today, rather than liver, it was lamb's heart (high in iron) and sweetbreads (high in vitamin c)  (this is the thymus/pancreas, not brains) [nutrition info]. Wow. That was lunch. and again, after eating this uber fast and lovely and easy to prepare food, i felt incredibly restored AND energised. And that without a morning shot of joe. What's in this stuff?

What's not to like? Fat? Cholesterol? Misinformation?
TO folks who are concerned about cholesterol and saturated fat: suck it up. No really, it's ok. Let us liberate ourselves from our "fat is evil" place and understand Balance. The move to liver being safe again - indeed healthy again - shows how our understanding of fat and food is improving.

First, eating dietary cholesterol doesn't increase cholesterol in our blood, and saturated fat is not bad. Saturated Fat does many good things. It's all about balance (overview on balancing fats here). If you're curious about cholesterol, take a peak at this article on cholesterol doing low carb eating.

I'm one with Michael Pollan about "eat less; mostly plants" - and if eating animals, let me add by extension, eat the healthiest types possible like free range & grass fed, and eat as much of the beast as possible. That includes the squishy bits. As Alison Ford writes
Although some people are still squeamish about eating offal, it provides legitimate social and environmental benefits, as well as the nutritional ones. Eating offal shows respect to animals, discourages waste, and fosters a more understanding and intimate relationship between an eater and his food. Plus, as many chefs have pointed out, much processed commercial meat—including ground beef, hot dogs, lunch meat, and sausage—is of indeterminate origin, but offal is impossible to fake—while it can be hard to know exactly what’s in a hot dog, there’s no mistaking that a kidney is a kidney, so you always know exactly what you’re getting. 
It feels GRRReat! Three things about liver and related offal: taste is awesome; nutrition profile is incredible - in fact unbelievable - but the biggest and most consistent surprise so far has been energy. I have not probed far enough into the goods to get why there is such satisfaction that's incomparable - stake doesn't do it; neither does carrot cake. What is with this stuff? Have you had that experience? we know there's saturated fat, true, and saturated fats seem to be higher in satiety (see this 2013 paper, for example) than other kinds of fats - especially monounsaturated, but heh, i've done high fat coffee and it doesn't have this feel. you know? So what's the nutrient profile that's doing this happy joy post prandial delight? Maybe its shock that offal is so un-offal.

If you eat meat, be complete: Give Liver and Offal a try 

free range chickies (source of image) - good to the last giblet
CAVEAT: winner winner chicken liver - not - While chicken livers [nutrition info] have much to offer nutritionally (and also lower on vitamin a, which is perhaps important if considering od'ing on liver - just remember to get as much vitamin d) I have had one poor experience with a recipe suggesting chicken livers could be cooked rare, like bigger animal liver. Do NOT take that advice.

 - or go ahead, try it, and see how long before you hit campylobacter -- you know how we have to cook chicken so it's not pink? same apparently with chicken liver. Here's a recipe that gets them cooked for about 5-7 minutes total (there's two times into the pan). You can also use a thermometer to make sure the innards are at a safe piping temperature (>70C).

If ya don't take this care, Let me tell ya, it's a very special type of reaction - great taste - horrible experience post eating. Again, maybe you'll be lucky and find undercooking chicken livers is grand. Me? i think i'll be making pate with well cooked chicken livers and go rare with other critters.  Pate Recipes Here's a Mark's Apple version of chicken pate.  And better (as it's blender based) a chicken paleo inspired version or two. irony: chickens are domesticated, so perhaps not paleo beasties? i'm just saying.

Cooking is FUN and CHEAP. This stuff is really straight forward to cook. It can all be done in a pan. A cast iron one if you like (i like).

Where else get this kind of vitamin and mineral and nutrient profile for this price? I'm shocked.

If you eat meat: why not get in on this amazing value - on every level of the term value: taste, nutrition, price, satiety and energy.

Feeling Groovy?
If you've started doing liver and associated organs and you feel jazzed and energised and satisfied after eating this stuff, please let me know. It would be great to understand why this is such an effect - assuming it's occurring in more than just me.

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