Shawn Stevenson Story

I recently learnt about Shawn Stevenson on Living La Vida Low Carb Show and his story of recovery from a degenerative bone and spine disease is pretty amazing.

Below is a summary verbatim in Shawn’s own words from the podcast:

He was an athletic scholar , kind of performing at a high level for his school. At age of 16, he was doing a time trial for 200 metres when he broke his hip. This kind of phenomenon is reserved for 90 years old. The trainers managed to get him back on the track at the time but no one really asked the question “Why did this happen at all?”. But it all came full circle when he was 20 and was diagnosed with degenerative bone disease.  –  his spine  was degenerating. The doctor shows him MRI scan of his back and tells him “you have spine of an 8 year old.” Unfortunately the condition couldn’t be cured and can only be managed. Shawn remembers asking the doctor “Does this have anything to do with what I am eating?”. Doctor replied that this condition has nothing to do with what you put in your mouth but put these pills in your mouth anyways because they will help him deal with the pain. 2.5 year later, Shawn was sick and tired of being sick and tired and something moved in his consciousness. He took a decision that he will be in charge of his health and not focus on negativity.

Trivia – Decision derives from a Latin word which means to cut away (think incision), so he decided to cut away any thought of he is not going to be healed.

He put a plan into play and it worked in 3 phases:
1. Movement: Body needs to move to heal itself. Doctors were just recommending him bed rest and more bed rest. He came upon a study of horses , all of whom had broken a bone or two. So they were being supplemented with calcium to increase their bone density. The horses were divided into 2 groups: one were given calcium only and the second group was given calcium and were encouraged to move. The group which moved ended up with much higher bone density and the other group had negligible impact.

2. Body requires raw material to build itself: Just like if a house porch is broken, you will need raw materials to build it. Shawn asked an interesting question to himself : what is my spine actually made of ? He started to understand some big misnomers in convential medicine like doctors recommend calcium supplements to increase bone density but such individual end up with 33% higher chance of dying due to cardio vascular diseases. Shocker?  This is because of calcification – this is an end product (See my explanation below) Another one of the big end product is silica and Shawn was eating Papa Johns and chinese food every day. He realized he was deficient in silica, magnesium, vitamin C and sulphur. Vitamin C and sulphur through a process called Biological Transmutation, they create new tissues!!! So he stopped eating fast food, started cooking at home and using whole foods.
In 30 days, his pain vanished.

3. Sleep: As he was healing, his sleeping patterns changed. His circadian rhythms kicked in and he naturally started to go to bed earlier and started getting up earlier. Benefits of sleep have already been covered in a previous post.

So for Shawn, food was his medicine. And he went a step further and took supplements for his special situation when food wouldn’t suffice. I tend to support this view as well that we can’t entire rely on the food alone to get all micronutrients we need to thrive. Almost everyone is deficient in Vitamin D3 and Magnesium and it’s nearly impossible to get enough of these from the diet.

To understand what Shawn means by calcium supplementation increasing the risk of cardiovascular diseases – When certain supplements like calcium are taken without their co factors or activators, they don’t quite work like they should. For example in this case, you reason that Calcium is an essential raw material for bone formation so you supplement with  Calcium hoping it will increase your bone density but how do you know it’s going to stick on your bones and teeth and not end in your arteries. If calcium ends in your arteries, you end up with calcified arteries and now you are a higher risk of death due to cardio vascular diseases. The correct protocol is to have Vitamin D3, Vitamin K2 and Calcium together because they work synergistically. K2 acts like an activator for Calcium and Vitamin D3 and ensures that  calcium should end up on our bones and teeth and not in our arteries.

If you really want to geek out on Vitamin K2 and how it took us 62 years to understand it’s role as an activator, check out this article from Chris Masterjohn.
On the trail of elusive X-factor

Shawn Stevenson has a pretty popular podcast called The Model Health Show

Here is TEDx talk by Shawn Stevenson and like me you will end up  becoming a big fan of cacao, the mother of chocolate. That’s raw cacao and not your Cadbury’s or Lindt milk chocolate.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uV2ynZ1VcnE

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My favourite sleeping well techniques or sleep hacks (Update2)

There are a few essentials pillars which are needed to build and maintain the structure of healthy and thriving body and brain. In computer talk, you have to have good hardware and software. No matter how good the software is, it’s not going to be as awesome on lousy piece of hardware.  And it’s a lot easier to fix the hardware – that is the physical aspects of our body and brain. Once you have a great working hardware or an energetic body and brain, then you have the energy to bring it on and go after what you really want in life.
To my mind, these are nutrient dense foods, sleep, stress and exercise. I would rate sleep nearly as high as eating a nutrient dense diet, if not higher and unfortunately it’s often sacrificed. An hour of extra browsing in the night or watching Netflix, we all do it. What I have learnt over the last year is that sleep is absolutely non-negotiable if you want to get anywhere close to your peak performance – whether that’s at work or in the gym or just feeling great. Both the quantity and quality of sleep matter. I like to get around 8 hours of sleep and for most people the range is somewhere between 7-9 hours. It’s better to err on the side of sleeping more than sleeping less. You know you have slept well when you can wake up naturally without an alarm clock and you feel refreshed.  

So why should you care about sleep? It’s the most deeply anabolic state. That’s just a fancy way of saying that this is when your body is healing, growing and recovering. Just about everything else we do during a day is catabolic (muscle wasting, tearing up tissues). Activities like mindful meditation and deep sleep are deeply anabolic. Think about this: When you walk out of a gym training session 1 hour later, you are in a much worse state than when you walked in. Yep, you heard that right. Your inflammatory markers will all be high. But if you give your body time to recover from this acute stress with good diet followed by good quality and long sleep, you will not only be better off but stronger too. So you build muscles not in the gym but later when you are recovering, especially in the deep sleep phase of the sleep.  The key is to train and then recover like hell and it’s nearly impossible without adequate and quality sleep.  Everyone needs adequate and quality sleep but you may need it even more if you like to train in the gym or have generally a busy and hectic lifestyle.

3 important things happen in sleep:

1.      Auto immune repair: In the deep-sleep phase of the sleep your body, brain and immune system work together to repair themselves. In fact immune system is learning about the stuff that has happened during the day to it and is figuring out which foods are friends and which are not or if mistakes were made in identifying harmless things as harmful and that could have triggered an auto immune reaction. So, deep sleep part of the sleep is absolutely critical.

2.  Mental cognition: Another important activity that goes on in sleep is re-arranging of memory like putting the books in the library back in order. Memories get organized, categorised. This stuff is not as important as the first part and unfortunately if you don’t get enough sleep or do not get enough quality sleep, the first part is given precedence over second part because it’s more relevant for survival and so it will steal time from the phase during which we dream. So, you may not feel as sharp or fluid the next day. It’s the difference between flash drive and hard drive, information is there but there is too much seek time.
3. Hormonal reset: Hormones are reset. Think of it like a computer reboot (I simplify of course).  For example, a good sleep makes you insulin sensitive and conversely a bad one would make you insulin resistant. Think about that for a second – if you want to lose excess weight, you should try to get really good sleep of 7-9 hours.
So here are a few tricks I have learnt to improve the quality of my sleep.
1. Timing matters – That’s true for both when you sleep and when you eat your evening meal.
Some of us are night owls but most of us should be asleep before 11 pm. I usually call it a day around 9 30 pm and hope to be asleep by 10 pm. If I try sleeping an hour later and even though I did get 8 hours of sleep, something still feels off. I track my sleep and I can see that I have had less deep sleep. So timing matters and as a basic rule of thumb, the earlier we sleep after the sunset, the better it is. It’s just how brain is hard wired and this is what we may have done for millions of years.
As for meal timing, it’s common sense to get done 3 or so hours before you really want to fall asleep. You don’t really want to be digesting a steak, as awesome as it is, as you are really trying to go to sleep.
No coffee after 2 pm: Seriously, no coffee after 2 pm, not even BulletProof coffee. Caffeine has a half-life of around 6 hours and so you will have still have plenty of it in your system around 10 pm if you have it late. 
2.  Cut down the lights– In my opinion there is way too much light in our lives especially in the second part of the day. Start turning down the lights 2 hours before you want to hit the bed. 
3.  F.lux: It will be naïve to think we won’t use our laptops and other gadgets in the evening. Well, just install f.lux on all the machines and devices you can. F.lux tracks the sun movement for your part of the world and will change the wavelength of the light being emanated from the device you are working on. Next point explain why this matters.
4.  Blue blockers: I have myself been guilty of watching Netflix shows right up to the point I want to sleep and in spite of nearly dark room, there is still way too much light coming off the TV. And f.lux is not available on all the devices we are consuming from. Well, that’s when blue blockers come in really handy – they basically block the blue spectrum part of the light. Blue light basically messes up with hormones like melatonin which help you go to sleep. Before electricity flooded our lives with light, for tens of thousands of years, all we had as a source of light was fire – be it from a fireplace or candles. There is a reason why fire feels so soothing in the night and it’s essentially red spectrum light with longer wavelengths.  I have 2 versions of blue blockers, ones that I can wear on top of my regular glasses or a Sports model (if I am still wearing contact lenses or when I don’t need to wear my glasses like when I am reading). These can be bought from here.

5. Raw Honey – Brain uses liver glycogen (that’s sugar stored as glycogen in the liver) over muscle glycogen when we are sleep. Remember brains still pretty active while we are asleep (no rest for the wicked) and always needs a little bit of glucose for functioning. For me, especially on the days I work out, I will have a small spoon of raw unprocessed honey last thing before I go to bed. Since honey is mostly fructose, it will go to the liver where it will get metabolized as glycogen and brain should have a bit more glycogen available if it needs it. If you are someone who is trying to lose weight, use your common sense and this option may not work for you. And if it’s not raw unprocessed honey, then don’t bother.




Raw Comb Honey
This is also one of the reasons why I don’t mind a bit of starchy foods like sweet potato or white rice  in the night as they are easily digestible and brain can use this glucose because mostly my next proper meal with proteins-fats-carbs is not until 16 hours later (because most days it’s just BulletProof coffee in morning).

6.  Magnesium– Almost everyone is under nourished in this extremely vital element.  Magnesium is used in over 300 enzymatic processes, including all of those involved in ATP production.  It’s also vital for proper transcription of DNA and RNA. It’s also needed to enhance cognition and increase memory AND promote relaxation and improve quality sleep. Both Mark and Dave recommend chelated forms of magnesium, that is those ending in –ate. Here are best forms of magnesium as recommended by Mark and Dave.
BulletProof Exec – Forms: Citrate, malate, glycinate, threonate, or orotate                                    

Marks Daily Apple – Forms: citrate, glycinate, or taurate                     The 2 brands I have been consuming are Active Magnesium and MagTech.
                             

7.      Track your sleep – No, you don’t have to spend 100 bucks on a gimmicky device and it’s easier than you think it is. I am assuming of course that you have an iOS device like an iPhone or iPod touch or an Android device. Well, look no further than Sleep Cycle app. Start this app before you go to sleep, put it next to your pillow and it will your smartphone’s sensor to track your sleep. I am amazed how well this works. Without fail, put your phone in the flight mode. The worst thing you can do it sleep right next to a wifi mobile device, right next to your brain and you are aiming for good sleep.  Here is my chart from one of the nights and look at the amount of deep sleep that takes place in the first 3-5 hours of the sleep.
If you still aren’t convinced about the importance of sleep listen to Dr. Kirk Parsley on The Importance of Sleep. By the end of the video you will realize that sleep is more important than you think it is. A lot more important.

          

Understanding food and nutrition

 

Over last 14 or so month, my understanding and relationship to food has changed dramatically. From thinking of food as fuel or just calories, I now think of food as much more than fuel for this body. Food is biochemical information that interacts with the bio-chemistry of our bodies and our genes. I thought it will be fun and instructing to list the various steps and phases I went through in trying to understand food and what will work best for me.

Step 1. It’s all about the MACRO Nutrients

Step 2. To be or not to be, FAT is the question

Step 3.  Carbage, Garbage

Step 4. Gluten is not my friend

Step 5. FAT is the lord of the realm

Step 6. I discover Grok Man, Mr. Paleo himself, Mark Sisson and www.marksdailyapple.com , it’s not just about food alone

Step 7. FATs and Oils rule but which ones exactly

Step 8. Quality matters when it comes to MACRO nutrients

Step 9. Healthy gut is key to healthy body, your micro biome matters

Step 10. It’s not just about MACRO nutrients, MICRO nutrients matter too and so do supplements

Step 11. I go BULLETPROOF

1.       Dialling in macro nutrients: Jonathan Baylor was pretty much the first health author I listened to. After reading his ‘The Calorie Myth’, my takeaway was to eat high-water high-fibre high-protein food. I remember reading in the book that we must eat 30 gms of protein thrice a day. Book also explain relationship between insulin resistance and refined carbs and sugar. I remember eating heaps of salads and cans of chicken pieces and tuna. As long as there was enough protein in the can, I would eat it. I wasn’t too concerned with the quality of the protein itself.


Interestingly, I remember switching from a breakfast of margarine on toast with a glass of milk to weetbix with milk. I am not sure what I was thinking of at the moment, but it seemed like a pretty good idea because weetbix is touted as energy for growing kids.  In reality it is highly processed and very carbohydrate intensive. It is made from whole grains which I basically consider toxic now.

 

2.       To be or not to be, FAT is the question: Next I listened to Dr. Perlmutter of The Grain Brain fame. For those who don’t know he is a brilliant brain surgeon, board certified neurologist and Fellow of the American College of Nutrition. I remember him being very pro FAT and explaining how keto-adapted body and brain is the most desirable state. I didn’t understand the word keto and realized after a few weeks that it meant being fat adapted. I still didn’t understand why we need to fat adapted or a fat burning beast but the message was clear  – FAT is your friend. Around this time I went a bit nuts on nuts. I didn’t realize the anti-nutrients load of nuts.

 
Contrary to the popular belief , 2 very important and then radical concepts I had to get my head around were:

i.                     Food is more than just calories. Focus should shift from calorie or quantity of the food to quality. And not all calories are born equal. A calorie of protein has very different impact from a calorie of FAT vs Carbs.

ii.                   FAT is your friend. So I recognized the role of FATs in our diet very quickly. What I didn’t realize at the time was that not all FATs are born equal too.


3.       Carbage, garbage – Both the books made it pretty clear to me that refined carbs and sugar were at the root of modern obesity epidemic. Understanding the hormonal effects of sugar and refined carbs on insulin and eventually making us insulin resistance and diabetic left a very deep impression on me. I would basically shun anything that had excessive carbs. Be it so-called energy foods like weetbix or safe starches like rice or potatoes.  Bread was out of my life and all its incarnations like pizza, bagels, and doughnuts.

 

4.       Gluten – You couldn’t help but hear about gluten and never in good light. It just seemed like a problematic protein to digest, something to be avoided. I think I more or less stopped having rotis (made from wheat), stuff I grew up on. I still didn’t know just how bad gluten was. I had pretty much switched to having eggs in the morning, free range eggs. At this point I also started experimenting with coconut oil in black coffee. I knew coconut oil in coffee felt awesome but it was not until I discovered BulletProof coffee that I understood the science behind mixing MCT oil in the coffee

Pastured  eggs being done in butter
 

.

 

5.       FAT is the lord of the seven kingdoms – As if I wasn’t already convinced that FAT was essential for good health, I ran into Nora T. Gedgaudas. I discovered Primal Body, Primal Mind and also ended up finding the now discontinued podcast by the same name. If it’s possible, she is even more pro FAT than Perlmutter and that’s saying a lot. She is totally against consuming pretty much any kinds of carbs and grains. Imagine the impact of below quotes on my mind:

 

There is no known carbohydrate nutritional deficiency.”

There are essential amino acids (proteins) and essential fatty acids (FAT), stuff body can’t live without but there is no such thing as essential carbs.”

“We are born in a state of ketosis (or fat burning)”

All the above 3 statements are true but not all carbs are equal. I now believe there is a role for certain carbohydrates or safe starches like sweet potato or rice in an active lifestyle. When you do heavy workouts, safe starches have a place in your diet and you can use them smartly as fuel with minimum impact on insulin.

 

6.       I discover Grok man, our beloved Cave man: I was introduced to www.marksdailyapple.com by a close friend who was an avoid paleo eater himself couple of years ago. Mark Sisson and his primal blueprint is the complete package. It’s not just about food. Primal living is a way of life. As Mark says “honouring the expectation of your hunter gatherer genes”. Yeah. Chew on that for a minute. It’s about eating foods that our genes expect and ones that will allow us to thrive and not just survive, it’s about getting adequate sleep, go out and play, lift heavy things and get in touch with nature. Primal living is not about living in the dark or hunting your neighbour’s pets. At the time I discovered Primal Blueprint, I also started listening to Robb Wolf podcast.

Mark Sisson and Robb Wolf are the original paleo masters.

This holistic approach took my understanding to a new level, I was also motivated to get active and put on some lean mass and basically get stronger.

Nutrition wise, it became crystal clear to me that gluten was not just not nice but very bad. It basically should have no place in my diet. It causes all sorts of gastro and neurological issues, even linked to auto-immune conditions like arthritis.

Secondly, no good could come out of ‘healthy whole grains’. Just rolls right of the tongue aye, healthy whole grains? Grains are so full of anti-nutrients and so damaging to the gut, only good thing you can say about them is that they are cheap and has helped humanity settle down and build the civilization. But they have made us very weak.

 Around this time I more or less went milk free. Just about the only milk I would take now is the organic, raw and unpasteurized type.

7.       FAT of the land but which FATs really rule the land – As I discovered this paleo and primal lifestyles, FAT again seemed like the star macro nutrient. I still had not paid much attention to the oils we were using to cook our food in, for instance canola oil. I didn’t realize until now that industrial vegetable oils and margarine have no place in our modern diet. Together with sugar, they are one of the big drivers of creating inflammation in the body. I think around this time, it finally started to dawn on me the importance of saturated fats. We switched to cold-pressed coconut oil, olive oil for salad dressings, ghee and butter for cooking.  I read about how grass fed lamb and beef were not only safe but best sources of protein and fat. They were not harmful for us but medicinal.

 

8.       MACRO nutrient quality – I knew for a while now that a healthy diet is built on good FATs and proteins but now is when I really started looking at the quality of macro-nutrients especially protein. For example, free range chicken is better than soy protein, pastured chicken is better than free range chicken, pastured eggs are better than pastured chicken, and pastured lamb and beef is da bomb. It’s not enough to have plenty of fats and moderate proteins in your meal. Quality of proteins and fat is everything. It matters what the chicken ate that you are eating. Same goes for the eggs you are eating or that steak. Pastured and organic meat would have lower level of omega-6 fats and more of omega-3. They will also be richer in micronutrients. Grass fed butter should be favoured over butter made from milk made from cows that ate whole grain. It’s a cycle, nutrition and life vitality flows from the soil to the animal to the milk to the butter.

 

Steak, salad, kumara, avodcado

 

9.       Microbiome and GUT – The topic of gut bacteria would come up again and again. Apparently we have 10 times as many bacteria in our gut than the cells in our body. And these bacteria have a DNA that is separate from our DNA. Put another way, you have 10 times the external DNA sitting in your system and so what impacts these gut micro-biomes directly impacts us and it’s not an ephemeral connection. Gut is like the root of the trees, this is where most of our immunity lives and decisions are taken where external entities are allowed to enter the system. If gut is compromised, so is your health. Imagine you have leaky gut because of lifelong consumption of grains and you have all sorts of toxins leaking in through your gut. Gut healing is what turned me onto bone broths where simmering of bones and ligaments releases all sorts of healing compounds for our joints, tissues and gut.

 

Chicken bone broth with and bok choy

10.   Micronutrients and supplements – Food is not just about MACRO nutrients or focussing solely on proteins, fats and carbs. There are vitamins and minerals that are essential for thriving. You could eat the cleanest protein power in the world but the reason why pastured eggs or grass fed lamb and beef will trump it is because they are loaded with micro-nutrients. This is why safe starch like sweet potato has a place in my diet now, especially on a day I have done heavy work out. It provides my muscles with the glycogen it needs and I choose it over regular white potato. Organic livers are extremely nutritionally dense in vitamins and minerals. So my focus now is eating nutritionally dense foods – foods high in micronutrients and essential vitamins and minerals. It’s why I choose Himalayan Sea Salt over regular white sea-salt. And this is where supplementation also becomes important. For example, it’s nearly impossible to get adequate vitamin d3 in the diet unless you are nudist and live close to the equator. One of the realities of living in 21st century and working in artificial and closed environments is that we are exposed to much more environmental stressors than what our genes have evolved for. Add to that the fact that soil and consequently food is not as nutritionally dense. So supplementation is not just nice to have but extremely important and critical.

 

Chicken livers and hearts


B12, Folate and Vitamin k2

 

11.   I go BulletProof – BulletProof coffee has been the gateway drug to BulletProof lifestyle. It has been the next breakthrough after discovering Mark Sisson’s primal blueprint. Quoting Dave Asprey from the BulletProof Diet book: “A good diet is supposed to provide you with these five things – fuel for your body, energy for your brain, nourishment for your cells, low toxin load and most importantly satisfaction.’ Think about not just macro nutrients and micro nutrients but anti nutrients too. In fact cognitive enhancement is a very important goal of my diet now. Pastured eggs and wild bacon, both done in butter was my stock breakfast before I got hooked onto BulletProof coffee. There is something amazing about a pure fat breakfast of BulletProof coffee which give constant energy and focus for several hours. It’s like turning on the brain and most days I am not tempted to have proteins in my breakfast anymore. This makes intermittent fasting so much easier and there are very important advantages of taking a break from proteins. Not only is quality of proteins is important, it’s also important once every week or 10 days to do protein fasting – that is don’t have proteins for 24 hours.


BulletProof coffee, done right

 



 

Hola – I discover food

Hola!

In the final months of 2013 I decided to do something about a bit of belly fat. I was lean overall , some would say even underweight and so I desired a lean stomach too but that wasn’t the case.  And how did I go about fixing the issue: like every one thinks this issue should be solved. Exercise more, eat less. In other words, watch the calories and because we are heat engines and nothing more and nothing less, calories in – calories out == weight gain. I had been on this path for only a few days when out of sheer good luck* after a lunch of wheat rotis and Indian curry, which naturally make you feel very sleepy, as I lay on bed for an afternoon sleep, I happened to listen  to Jonathan Bailor of “The Calory Myth” on Fat Burning Man podcast. It kind of blew my mind as Jonathan explained how a calorie of food itself doesn’t have any context. How the impact of 100 gms of PROTEIN is very different from that of 100 gms of CARBS and which again is very different from that of FAT. They elicit different hormonal response.
In fact Jonathan seemed to be suggesting that we basically need lots of good FAT and good PROTEIN. 

/*
I call it good luck because in hindsight by focussing on just calories I could have damaged my brain, thyroid, cells and suffer muscle loss.
*/

This made me very curious and next I listened to Dr. Perlmutter of The Grain Brain fame. Dr. Perlmutter is very pro FAT and he went on to explain how FAT is the fuel your brain desires and keto adapted (which I didn’t understand at the time) state is ideally what you want. You should become a FAT burner from a sugar\glucose burner. I think at the time it sent my brain into a tizzy because I couldn’t wrap my mind around the fact that it’s not FAT which makes you fat but rather a combination of refined carbs and sugar mixed with FAT in the food. Grains were also pooh-poohed in the podcast and I couldn’t believe the wheat rotis I grew up on were not the health food I thought they were.

I kept listening to as many Fat Burning podcasts as I could even though I wouldn’t understand half of it.  However, a few things started to crystalize in my head like

– Not all calories are equal. They have very different impact on our bodies. So, quality of food is much more important than focussing on quantity of food.
– Being FAT adapted or KETO adapted seemed like a good thing. In fact, it seemed that good FATs were very important for us.
– Grains and sugars seemed to be big issue in causing modern diseases.

Over next few months I read books like ‘The Calorie Myth’, ‘The Grain Brain’, ‘Primal Body, Primal Mind’. Soon thereafter I discovered the works of Mark Sisson, then Robb Wolf and finally The BulletProof Executive podcast.  Because I kept feeling better and started putting on some lean muscle mass, it kept me very thirsty to constantly learn new things. When I look back over the last 14 months, I have gone from a typical westernized India diet built on bread, sugar, grains-beans-legumes curries to a diet of whole foods like vegetables, salads, meats, eggs etc. In fact, food is only a small part of this primal\bulletproof lifestyle equation. Sleep, stress, inflammation, fitness, movement, primal connection with nature are equally important aspects of the equations.

Food
 

In my next post I should talk about how I went through different stages of food-nutrition enlightenment.