It’s the Sugar, Not the Fat

Some of you know that I have been fighting to change my diet and weight because about three months ago my doctors suspected that I was diabetic (and had this partially confirmed with some blood work).

I have been trying to lose (and have lost) a significant amount of weight for about a year now. I have lost a total of about 40 pounds (it was 45 and then Thanksgiving happened and I can’t round down at the moment). For the first nine months, I did what amounts to a basic lifestyle change: I ate many of the same things but began limiting portions and attempting to be more active.

At this time I was already on two drugs: one for my blood pressure (which had been high in the past) and one for an irregular heartbeat and as a reaction to an episode of pericarditis that I had suffered in May of 2010.

After those first nine months, I had blood work performed. The results weren’t good.

The first test was by my cardiologist, who wanted a lipid profile and glucose reading (12-hour fasting). The results were:

(“Normal” healthy readings are in parentheses.)

  • Glucose: 200 mg/dL (65–99 mg/dL)
  • Triglycerides: 600+ mg/dL (<150 mg/dL)
  • LDL (“bad” cholesterol): 200+ mg-dL (<130 mg/dL)

The LDL number was considered to be “unreliable” due to the super-high triglycerides number. In any case, these numbers are bad. I also had what’s called a hemoglobin alpha-1 C test, which came back at 10% (which is solidly in the “WHOA YOU’RE DIABETIC” range).

It was at this point that I was put on a couple more drugs: one to suppress glucose production by my liver (this is why I can’t drink anymore) and the other to reduce my lipid levels (a fibrate).

I also changed my diet at this point to counting carbs and watching the sugar that I was taking in. Generally, I focused my dieting on changing carbs to between 45 and 60 grams per meal, with less in the morning. I paid less attention to the fat intake in my diet and probably ended up increasing it a bit with the increase in meat I was eating.

(In retrospect, I probably should have tracked this for curiosity’s sake.)

The medical “wisdom,” backed by the food pyramid and other aids, has been to pay more attention to the fats in your diet and eat more things that are starch and carb-heavy, such as grains and fruits (yes, fruits can be “bad” for you).

I am here to tell you that this is likely wrong.

Test results after a bit wore weight loss, change in diet to a more diabetic one (I’m not perfect), and drug therapy:

  • Glucose: 127 mg/dL (65–99 mg/dL)
  • Total Cholesterol: 145 mg/dL (125–200 mg/dL)
  • HDL (“good” cholesterol): 36 mg/dL (≥40 mg/dL)
  • Triglycerides: 218 mg/dL (<150 mg/dL)
  • LDL (“bad” cholesterol): 65 (<130 mg/dL)
  • Hemoglobin A1c: 6.2% (<5.7%)

I am looking forward to seeing what other changes will affect this, but I’m already debating limiting my carbs more to see the effects. I’m pretty sure that an overabundance of carbs and not fat in my diet was the cause of high levels of accepted heart disease factors.

Anecdotal evidence, I’m not a doctor, your health is your own risk, mileage may vary, blah blah blah.

Keeping Things Moving

As an Automattician, I spend the vast majority of my time working from home. This has its advantages and disadvantages, like anything else, but I didn’t think of my physical activity (or lack thereof) in quite the right way until I saw this tweet from my colleague Beau:

For reasons that I plan to write about soon, I have been taking a long-overdue look at my habits throughout the day in an effort to improve them and their effects on my overall health. It’s no secret that it’s not a great thing for you to be sitting down all day long.

I know this because the best shape I’ve been in for the last 10 years or so was when I was working retail at Circuit City. Being on your feet for 10 hours at a stretch and walking a store floor will do that to you. Once I shifted to a desk job, I quickly ballooned to over 300 pounds until I hit a high of around 325 in the last couple of years.

(I have since dropped a good amount of weight but that will need to wait for that other post I was talking about.)

What I have been using for about the last year or so to keep myself from getting leg cramps is a little utility called AntiRSI. It sits in your dock (and with the newest version, can sit in your menu bar instead) and has a configurable set of controls for taking breaks.

The options are pretty straightforward:

I don’t use it for the micro breaks as I don’t have any issues with strain (yet) and they were interrupting my flow a bit. Instead, I use it to force myself to take an eight-minute break every 50 minutes (so about every hour). When the 50 minutes of work are up, this appears and won’t go away unless I dismiss it, which I try very hard not to do:

When that appears, I do exactly what it says. The important part is that I stand up when prompted for a work break and walk around a bit. I check on how the kids are doing in school, take a biobreak, refill my water, or any one of a number of things, but (a) don’t work and (2) stay standing and moving as much as possible. Sometimes I will set an eight minute timer on my iPhone and take a walk outside. I walk past the desk every so often to see if the break is up, and when it is I sit back down and get to it.

Now I read tonight that I might not be getting up enough. And it’s possible that using a standing desk (which I have considered) is getting up too much. This is of course only one source of information on this, and you can always find a study or paper that agrees with you, but:

Sit to do computer work. Sit using a height-adjustable, downward titling keyboard tray for the best work posture, then every 20 minutes stand for 2 minutes AND MOVE. The absolute time isn’t critical but about every 20-30 minutes take a posture break and move for a couple of minutes.  Simply standing is insufficient. Movement is important to get blood circulation through the muscles. Research shows that you don’t need to do vigorous exercise (e.g. jumping jacks) to get the benefits, just walking around is sufficient. So build in a pattern of creating greater movement variety in the workplace (e.g. walk to a printer, water fountain, stand for a meeting, take the stairs, walk around the floor, park a bit further away from the building each day).

You can read the original text here.

So maybe I will give 30 minute intervals with smaller breaks a shot and see how it goes for a while. I’m thinking 5 minutes’ break every 30 minutes or so.

Do you have a method that works for you? Something you do to stay active throughout the day? I would love to hear about it.