Current Happenings

Plains & Pastures Bike Tour (2013)

I'm so proud to live here! Fredericton folks are just AMAZING!!!  Thank you one and all!!  My team raised over $2000.  The support was humbling.  What a great place to be!!!

Mind you, the journey isn't about me - it's about people who fight this horrible disease on a daily basis.  If you're reading this now, I hope you'll come back and sponsor me in the ride next time. 


Bike for Breath

Many thanks to everyone and their generosity.  The amazing people in my life supported me to the tune of $377.  Some days it is just great to be here!   (Fall 2012)


Entries in Science (3)


Calories In vs Calories Out where n=1

Today is a good day to recap.  Today is the 100th consecutive day of using a free daily food log app called My Fitness Pal.  This is not to be confused with the total journey: October is month 17 of meltdown.  

What’s the big deal about this confuser-ized food log?  Meghann's new mantra: "You can’t improve what you don’t manage, and you can’t manage what you don’t measure." 

Armed with better knowledge of our “pre-diabetic” state and the carb/insulin circus, I shifted from a paper diary to the confuser.  Alan is a chemist so the concept of measuring to the microgramme is second nature to him.  Me, well, I generally cook with a “pinch” of salt whereas Alan will take a knife and level off the teaspoon!!!  Needless to say we rarely cook anything together if it  requires a cookbook.  I digress .....

My first month or so was really a learning phase.  Initially the target was to have less than 50 net carbs (total less fibre).  I was finding that even though refined starch/sugar foods were completely replaced with fruits and vegetables, they still weren’t low enough in carbs to prevent the peaks & crashes & mood swings.  ((I often noticed that Alan was less reasonable during these time periods.  His moods appear to have leveled out lately - just like my blood sugar.  LOL))  The second month or so was a bit easier to manage with the new elimination of naturally high sugar fruits like bananas.  Focus switched to having a daily total carb less than 50 which meant that net carbs are even lower.

Further learning on protein led me increase that in my diet.  At my weight I really would not have considered myself a “proper athlete”.  However, in good summer weather I bike to & from work, and swim every workday lunch.  (Average 150 kms biking & around 7.5 kms swimming per week.)  My new daily targets are now 2200 calories, less than 50 grams of total carbs, and 120 grams of protein.  For those who really like the numbers, that is 10% of calories from carbs, 20% of calories from protein and the rest from fats.

All in all, this hasn’t worked out too badly.  

However, I am just not the kind that can leave well enough alone.  I’ve gotta figure things out for myself.

Many different authors have eloquently described how different sources of calories have vastly different impact in your body.  A calorie is not a calorie.  Fine: I understand that.  Hence this low carb lifestyle improvement.  Many of the same authors have also waxed eloquent about how “Eat less & Exercize more” doesn’t work.  Again fine: I get it.  I do remember snippets of those physiology and nutrition courses.

But when the rubber hits the road, there HAS to be a point where EXCESS calories have an impact.  Which leads me to question the point where those calories-in balance with calories-out.  And that led me to the tracking of not just food intake but also activity expenditures.

Yeah, yeah, before anybody starts whirring out the comments below.....  I am painfully aware that my body never got the memo about actual digestibility and published nutritional information.  I am also very much aware that any and all calorie expenditure numbers are just wag’s.  So is the magic number of 1 pound = 3500 calories.  But why let the truth interfere with a good story??

Using the food data from the app, exercize data from my exercize log and guesstimates of metabolic needs I started comparing what the caloric deficit would lead you to expect for weight loss versus the actual recorded weight loss.  I was shocked.  I would have been suitably impressed if the numbers were in the same order of magnitude.  I didn’t expect them to track so closely!

My target weight loss is 1.5 pounds per week.  You can see that I had a lot of trouble balancing the exercize and the calories.  I had to consciously eat more and eventually exercize less.  Summer is probably not a good time to try and run such an experiment since there are just SO many things to do!!!!  For example I took a Tracking course with my dog so the number of steps per day skyrocketed over the 8 week period.  It was actually great weather this summer so biking to & from the grocery store was a regular occurrence too.  

So in short: Where n=1, and the fundamental assumption of the test is that calories in equals calories out, I have failed to reject the null hypothesis. 

And of course, the picture: into the skylight of Sedgewick Underground Library - UBC.



On my own - nutritional common sense.

A friend sent me an article from the journal "Nutrition" the other day.  It was a commentary posted by a collection of nutition experts which contradicted the government sanctioned report on nutritional guidelines.

The article is called "In the face of contradictory evidence: Report of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans Committee" by Adele H. Hite, M.A.T.,Richard David Feinman, Ph.D., Gabriel E. Guzman, Ph.D., Morton Satin, M.Sc., Pamela A. Schoenfeld, R.D., Richard J. Wood, Ph.D.

 Here is the abstract of that article (verbatum):

Concerns that were raised with the first dietary recommendations 30 y ago have yet to be adequately addressed.  The initial Dietary Goals for Americans (1977) proposed increases in carbohydrate intake and decreases in fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, and salt consumption that are carried further in the 2010 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) Report.  Important aspects of these recommendations remain unproven, yet a dietary shift in this direction has already taken place even as overweight/obesity and diabetes have increased.  Although appealing to an evidence-based methodology, the DGAC Report demonstrates several critical weaknesses, including use of an incomplete body of relevant science; inaccurately representing, interpreting, or summarizing the literature; and drawing conclusions and/or making recommendations that do not reflect the limitations or controversies in the science.  An objective assessment of evidence in the DGAC Report does not suggest a conclusive proscription against low-carbohydrate diets.  The DGAC Report does not provide sufficient evidence to conclude that increases in whole grain and fiber and decreases in dietary saturated fat, salt, and animal protein will lead to positive health outcomes.  Lack of supporting evidence limits the value of the proposed recommendations as guidance for consumers or as the basis for public health policy.  It is time to reexamine how US dietary guidelines are created and ask whether the current process is still appropriate for our needs.

Starting from the first line:  Concerns raised 30 years ago have yet to be addressed??  Well then what pray tell, was the basis for the recommendations at all??   Then there's the kicker in the middle of the text: Although appealing to an evidence-based methodology, the DGAC Report demonstrates several critical weaknesses, including use of an incomplete body of relevant science; inaccurately representing, interpreting, or summarizing the literature; and drawing conclusions and/or making recommendations that do not reflect the limitations or controversies in the science. 

Technical reference: Nutrition 26 (2010) 915-924.

The website I used:

Holy Cow.  I'm thinking these folks have got something important to pay attention to!!!  Considering the recent CBC articles on the Canada Food Guide which pointed out the shaky scientific foundations for that piece of "common knowledge", now I'm questionning EVERYTHING. 

Which leads me back to my personal experiment, sample size of one.  I pay attention to what I eat, reduce those nutrients that I have a lot of trouble with (i.e. carbohydrates), and apply my own version of common sense to the rest.  I can tell by my present lack of headaches, shakes, cravings (and even mood swings) that my system is stabilizing.  Today is 86 pounds down and counting.  You can't argue with success.


The Canada Food Guide

Today is a day in history - at least for Canada's Food Guide.  It is 70 years old today.  Why is this important to me?  Because I have literally organized myself to eat, sleep and breath according to those principles.  I have mentally planned my daily consumption around the Canada Food Guide for decades.  

My personal move away from the guide was in keeping with what I have learned by trial and error about my own unique physiology.  It never occurred to me to question the guide itself.  I mean -- the science behind it is based on the average person right?  Ummmmm.... as it turns out: maybe not.

CBC website news had a article today called "The politics of food guides".  The food guide in Canada started as a response to malnutrition associated with poverty and the Great Depression.  At the time, government has set relief rations well below "nutrional adequacy" for budget reasons.  It was estimated that 60% of Canadians at the time had inadequate nutrition and that was a big problem for the military.  "Over 43% of the first 50,000 military recruits had been rejected for medical reasons."  The whole story will apparently be published next December in a book called Edible Histories, Cultural Politics by a historian named Ian Mosby.  I will be looking for that book!!!

The impact of lobby groups for the food manufacturers and agricultural producer groups successfully influenced the recommendations over the years and managed to increase the recommended servings for several goods.  Say what?????  That's right -- lobbyists increased allotments for their represented group.  WHAT???  I have always assumed that the food guide was based on sound nutritional science: Bona fide science.

As a consumer this really really annoys me.  I placed my health in the hands of lobby groups??  Then I thought about all the farmers in my life.  Those around me growing up on a farm, the dozens who welcomed me in their kitchens as a professional, the hundreds I worked with over the years, and hopefully thousands I served at least indirectly in some way.  Honest, hard working farmers doing their best to produce healthy food and put their kids through school.  I wonder how many of them know that the much-heralded food guide recommending their products is the result of arm twisting, sabre rattling & drum beating?  It makes me really, really angry.  Surely honest folk deserve the truth?

I read the blog of a nutritionist named Zoe Harcombe (see references page).  She did research into the background for the "Five-a-day" fruit & vegetable recommendations in the US.  Where did it start?  It turns out that it started with a partnership in 1991 between the US National Cancer Institute and the US Produce for Better Health Foundation.  Well that sounds OK.  Right?  It turns out that the sponsors of that foundation are farm product organizations as well as some other interesting ones like BASF (world leader in agricultural chemicals), GLAD products (yep - plastic bags and other stuff), and McDonalds.  Not a single dietary or nutritional advice-type organization in the mix.  In essence, the Five A Day campaign, trademarked and adopted across many countries, was one of the most successful agricultural marketing campaigns every mounted.  Really?  So the US food reccomendations aren't based in bona-fide, replicated, refereed and peer-reviewed research???  A marketing campaign??  Really.  

Bummer.  Shows ta go ya.  I didn't learn it all in university.  Mind you .... I don't remember this aspect EVER coming up in Food Science either.  In fact, my best memory of Food Science was when the poor professor had a memory blank talking about post-harvest losses in grain and the word "silo" disappeared on him.  I am often reminded of his sage observation that "having insects in your thing is baaad news".