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 Hardly anyone eats to satisfy hunger. Hunger is the craving for nutrients, including but not limited to calories. We do, almost all of us, have weeks and weeks worth of extra nutrients stored in our tissues -- minerals and vitamins, essential fats and amino acids -- and of course plain old calories. Calories are the least of our worries. We could fast for longer than we'd believe. But eating is such a habit -- we miss our habits. Which is the point. We don't eat from hunger. Hardly at all.

Fat is about stored energy. This energy is represented by calories, a unit of heat measurement. So it's about heat. We maintain our temperature by balancing heat production with heat loss. Much of our heat comes from deep tissue organs -- brain, liver, heart -- and skeletal muscle. Some thermogenesis (body heat generation) takes place in fat cells -- one of the reasons we call ourselves warm blooded. We preserve our heat with skin, and fat, and subcutaneous-tissue. Insulation. We lose that heat through the metabolic reduction of heat generation, through perspiration (evaporation cools), and through vasodilation (widening of blood vessels). We increase our temperature via the hypothalamus, which causes vasoconstriction (tighter blood veins means more friction), shivering and piloerection (goosebumps).

Why talk about heat? The majority of our daily calories go, generally, to generate body heat. Body heat, body heat, body heat. So what we eat turns either into work energy, heat, or fat. Speaking simplistically. The food choices we make, then, would be important. Some will tend to make us fat. Some will tend to make us healthy. It's not always about nutrition. Sometimes it's about energy efficiency.

For comparison, cars are about 21% fuel efficient -- the amount of actual BTUs that are used to turn the wheels. Electric power plants and the grid distribution system has about 13% overall thermal efficiency. Plant photosynthesis is 1% to 2% efficient at using sunlight as energy. Humans have an average of up to about a 25% maximal work efficiency usage for their total energy intake. But of even that small percentage, only a few percent are devoted to the actual work -- most goes to body temperature and other metabolic functions. Just keeping us alive.

Obviously there's a lot of waste. In terms of food, we digest different foods differently, and some are just more calorically available. Sugar should have about a 100% thermal efficiency rate. It just pours into the bloodstream. Genetics plays its role of course, but the foods themselves are determinative. Some of us might recall the ghastly kindergarten discovery that corn needs to be thoroughly chewed or it shows up whole in the toilet. Brrr.

There is little, perhaps no systematic scientific data on the actual usage-efficiencies of various foods. We know the number of calories in foods because those foods are burned in a crucible and the released heat is measured. It seems reasonable to suppose that the crucible of digestion burns with a more variable efficiency. No? A hundred calories of sucrose and a hundred calories of broccoli won't show up in the body as the same hundred calories. But we can see the results. Simple carbohydrates are called simple because they turn into sugar quickly and easily. Complex carbs are harder, slower to digest, and much of their actual caloric value is lost as cellulose and fiber. This is actually a good thing. Bulky. It fills you up, supplies essential nutrients, and provides a steady supply of energy like an I.V. drip, rather than an overwhelming surge. A good thing.

As for heat, some black body radiation calculations tell us that an average of 20 square feet of skin (200 pound male) under normal (cool, sedentary) conditions will radiate about 25 calories per hour. All those precious calories, wasted. Such a pity. Under windless and otherwise normal conditions, convection will remove, say, 60 calories per hour from a clothed body. Ball park. Heat loss purely through exhalation is negligible, but the vapor in breath loses about 10 calories per hour. Call it 100 calories per hour of lost body heat; sleeping, say 75 calories per hour. There are oddments, of course. For an hour or so after eating, you generate about 10% more heat than with an empty stomach. Shivering burns up to 400 calories per hour. But no one should shiver for an hour.

Ah well. That was a lot of boring information. So dry. People are so much more interesting. One of those interesting things is that some vices show. You can't hide an eating disorder that has led to obesity. It is an addiction. It is an out-of-control behavior. It's not a function of will. It's emotional. Emotions are not rational. And up to a point it is so innocent. Just a hundred too many calories a day, and in a year you're 12 pounds fatter. No big deal. We see the dysfunction, the addiction, when it continues, year after year, for 15 years.

How much easier it is for us, whose vices remain entirely hidden from public scrutiny. Our secret drinking. Our sexual excess. The bitterness of our spirit. We can hide these things. We can pretend to be virtuous. The fat guy is the clown we can laugh at. He has a pleasant smile. He takes up a lot of space, where ever he is. Sometimes he sucks the air out of the room. But we only have to look at him, to make our judgments. It's so easy.

But the severely obese person could severely restrict his caloric intake and not lose one single ounce. He's got 200 pounds of insulation wrapped around him, complete with a prodigious panniculum. That's why there was all that talk about body temperature. The fat man's hypothalamus reads the insulation as not having to send out any signals to generate extra heat, burn extra calories. Plenty of heat there already, and it's not radiating, not convecting -- hardly at all. It's very calorie efficient that way, no? He gets to keep his fat even when he eats less. Hurrah for him.

And then there's that psycho-physical gauge located somewhere no doubt in the limbic system -- everything we don't understand is located there -- that has this image, this mental template about what he should look like. A very conservative process, so that if anything threatens that unconscious self-image, why, the brain knows simply to lower the temperature. Turn down the thermostat. Save on energy. Save those calories. Keep the weight up. This is how we have to look, after all. Your body knows its outline, its waistline, and thinks that's how it should be. The mechanism of course is hyperinsulinemia and insulin resistance.

Even encouragement isn't enough. As for constructive criticism, what good would a vocal observation of those extra globs of sour cream do? He'll leave them on the plate now, but when he gets home he'll eat twice as much. Because what he's feeding is not about hunger. It's not hopeless, because there are remediating behaviors. But it is profound.

The problem isn't really calories. The problem is fat. How to get rid of it. The easiest way, of course, is to eat fewer bad carb calories. But that's the hardest easy thing there is in the world. We all have our compulsions after all, so we understand. The harder way is to increase activity. Exercise. This will work for those who are not prediabletic. For those who are, its the carbs. Then exercise. A little isn't enough. Breathing hard for a while isn't enough. It's not about lung capacity or fitness level only. It's about burning those calories that the body wants to save -- there might be a famine, after all. What kind of exercise?

For those who are getting their hormones in line, by cutting back on the poisonous carbs: walking. Two hours a day. Three 45-minute sessions. Too much? Fine. Do less. But do something that approximates it. It's not like there aren't iPods and radios and books on tape and just plain old books. Two thousand calories is enough to generate three horse power for an hour. Unless someone does the work of three horses, he should not eat that much.

And strength training. Every pound of muscle you add burns an average of 100 calories sedentary per day. It's only a pound a month, or 12 pounds a year. But the walking will make that extra pound burn hotter for those couple of hours. Not to mention the hormonal benefits. Muscle is good.

And meditation, or visualization, or self-talk or whatever technique you choose to use, that will reset the brain-gauge, if there is one, and the attitude that strengthens a radical change in behavior. Rework the template. Reshape it. Recreate yourself. Wanting it won't do it. Dreams only reinforce existing conditions. Apply the technology of the mind. Use it, instead of being used. There are victims, but most of them volunteer for the job.

And a few supplements. CoQ 10 actualizes our mitochondria, the little cellular power plants that do the actual calorie burning in our bodies. The energy that becomes available is then used either to generate heat or to synthesize ATP (which lets us think, exercise, repair, etc). Sounds like it would be really good to have high-functioning mitochondria, right? Omega 3. Alpha lipoic acid. Because even an excellent diet can use some help -- and most folks don't have an excellent diet.

And keeping a written record. Otherwise you're trusting emotion, and remembering what you feel like remembering. Write it down. Maybe it will help and maybe not. But it will remove doubt, and if you're doing lots of right things and still not getting where you want to be, you can figure out what other things you need to start doing. Because what you're doing isn't enough, if you're serious about making a change. If you're not serious, well, you must understand that for all the talk, there are very real benefits and advantages to being the biggest man around. You can always embrace that fact, and live with it, for a while. Life is after all a banquette.

And food selection. Sour cream? Mercy. Who has even tasted sour cream. Why would someone put sour cream in his mouth? There must be some sort of difference between sour cream and rancid fat. A chemical difference of some sort. There's not a difference in terms of calories. And salad dressing? It seems sort of counterproductive. You're eating good food, so you should add something more, out of a bottle from a factory? High, useless dietary fat in combination with quickly digested calorie carbs is a toxic combination.

The compulsion isn't about salad dressing, is it? But go ahead and fill up. Eat absolutely as much as you want. Once in a very long while. But make most of what you eat the sort of nutrient-rich, calorie-poor foods that will not only make you slimmer, but really, really healthy. Food selection. Super important.

Food is either for nutrition or for emotion. If it's for nutrition, we call it health. If it's for emotion, we call it slow poison. It's not about being perfect. We don't want to feel like we're  in a communist reeducation camp. We want to enjoy life, and that includes the foods we like. But we should enjoy all of our body, rather than just our taste buds. So, moderation, in the things that in excess can harm us.

That's a part of it all. Diet. For health. The rest of it is effective exercise, and finding the willpower, the motivation to do what needs to be done.  It's about physical competence. Seems like a pretty good goal.

Be excellent.


CrossFit Burbank

Long Life, Prospering

Usually those Yahoo or Hotmail homepage health articles are pretty useless. Don't eat a lot of cupcakes! they breathlessly inform us. Um, yeah? But a quick survey of their info certainly can't hurt. There's one up about longevity, which they define as "living longer than you think". Obviously there are some things you can change, and some things that are beyond our reach.

If your mother was under 25 when you were born you're twice as likely to live to a hundred. Younger eggs are more vital, it's supposed. And having had a healthy weight in your teens is an indicator of future health. Pretty obvious -- having been healthy is an indicator of continuing that way. Having had any college adds to the lifespan as well. Education correlates to more healthful habits, in particular non-smoking. Just works out that way. Smoking is the new chewing tobacco -- more of a blue collar, or no-collar sort of thing.

Alas, we can't change the past, pick a younger mother or do retroactive dieting or get better grades to get scholarships with. But the present is controllable, in terms of our own actions and reactions to the world. Mental attitude, for example. Maintaining a positive outlook, dispositionally, makes us live longer. Optimists deserve to live longer. And having close friendships increases lifespan. Humans are a gregarious species, and being happy makes us live longer. Somehow that seems obvious. The habits of our friends matter, of course. If they're overweight, we're more likely to absorb some of that -- some of their habits. Maybe we'll help them, but maybe they'll influences us too. Sort of works out as the latter, statistically: we're 57% more likely to be overweight if our friends are. On the dark side, being around disapproval without any positive counterbalance can take 8 years off your life. Chronic stress ages cells faster, and all life is cellular. Stress undermines the immune system as well.

In terms of diet, which is, objectively, utterly controllable, drinking fresh-brewed tea every day, without added dairy, increases lifespan -- the catechins in it relax the heart. Likewise, eating darkly colored fruits and vegetables. Good for the heart, protective against Alzheimer's -- turns out that what's good for the brain is good for the heart. Seems logical, somehow. The colors represent protective factors with which the plant fights off sun and other environmental damage. It's transferable to us. Nutrition is about more than the big three nutrients, the macronutrients -- protein, carbs and fat. It's even about more than the vitamins and minerals. The slightly more modern understanding is about polyphenols, phytonutrients, plant nutrients, bioflavenoids and lignins and the like. Anti-oxidants and other protective factors. Life comes from food. Health comes from good food.

Skipping sodas, including diet sodas. Especially diet sodas, in fact. Even one a day doubles your chance of metabolic syndrome -- high BP, high insulin levels (pre-diabetes), lots of gutfat (the poisonous kind). The behavioral downside to sodas and other such toxins is that they condition your to crave even more sweets. Mild just won't do anymore. It's like any addiction.

Another thing to skip is the burgers. Can't live without your burgers? Well, maybe that's your choice, and maybe it's your addiction. But you can't live with them either. Not for as long as otherwise, that is. Moderation is fine -- no downside to moderation. But burgers are not a meal -- just a part of a meal. More than 19 ounces a week of beef, pork or lamb correlates to gravely increased risk of colo-rectal cancer -- up 42% for every additional three and a half ounces of processed meat per day. Moderation means once in a while, not daily.

Don't eat things that have no nutrition. The digestion involved doesn't count as exercise. It counts as damage. Necessary biochems are used up and aren't being replaced. Sound like a good thing? And then there's all the hormonal chaos eating non-nutritive sweets causes. Like wildfire.

Just burning a few hundred calories doing chores is beneficial. It's not so much about the exercise benefit, which is minor, as about the actual burning of the calories. Of course, not having eaten those calories in the first place would have been better, but we take what we can get. A daily hour of such activity, mopping, vacuuming, lowers risk of death some 30% for people in their 70s and 80s. As for actual exercise, getting in some sort of, uh, cardio everyday for about a half hour is huge. Accelerated heartrate, not just puttering. Even 10 minutes of fast heartrate have a fair benefit. But if you benefit from only 10 minutes, you are VERY sedentary. There is a heart benefit, but the standard for improvement is very low.

Having strong legs is an indicator of high vitality. Balance, flexibility and endurance all cluster together. Frailty and broken hips do, too. Indeed, about 20% of older people who break a hip die within a year. The break isn't the cause, it's an indicator of general decline. Sad, but preventable. If you know an older person, you might do them a favor and help them with some air squats. Start with repeatedly getting up off a chair, and down again. Repeated difficult actions are called exercise. It's a start.

Living long is a good thing. Living long, and well, is better.

Be excellent.


CrossFit Burbank
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