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3 Month Check-in: Intermittent Fasting (reboot)

August 1, 2012

In preparation for my newly developed IF Paleo diet, and physical/mental exercise program, I’ve spent the last three weeks not doing any of them. I’ve been eating a basic SAD (Standard American Diet), meals and snacks around the clock whenever I want them, no meditation morning or night, and limited physical exercise. I did all this to try to set my body as close to the average American’s as a baseline.

It’s easy to understand that I’ve gained weight, feel out of shape, and mentally feel high strung. I am more than ready to get back to my old self again.

To test how effective the new diet and exercise plan is I’ll be posting a series of measures each month. For example:
– Body Metrics (Lean Body Mass, BMI, etc)
– Performance numbers (Pushups/Squats/Pullups-100m/400m/Mile times, etc)
– Blood Labs (Lipid panel, CMP, etc)
– Meditation (Depth and potential timing of duration)

In a nutshell the program will consist of:

    Intermittent Fasting with a 6 to 8 hour window.
    A Paleo diet modified specifically for IF, with low-glycemic and inflammatory levels considered
    Exercise pattern designed for IF and Paleo leading to an improved lean body mass and sustained long term quality of life
    Meditation techniques to lower stress levels, and improve the ability to stick with the IF, Paleo, and exercise habits.

Any suggestions on how to measure the program, or things I should consider please let me know.

Details of the program will come out as I have time to write. Thanks!

NOTE: My wife is expecting our second baby in September, and my current 17 month old is a handful so at this time bi-monthly posts may be the best I can do. But I’ll try to get in more when I can. The new site is still under construction.

My phone as my Ajahn

July 18, 2012

For some time now I’ve used my iPhone as a mental trainer. Because I am unable to practice in a monastery, I use simple tech available on any smart phone.

Mental training

One of the great aspects of monastic life is the ability to constantly train the mind to be compassionate, and still. I’ve talked much about the part of keeping it still, mindful meditation in the morning and evening. I’ve talked much less about training the mind to be more compassionate.

Like a muscle, causing your brain to feel empathy ‘flexes’ the neural connections for the emotion of compassion. The more you feel empathy, the more compassionate you become. I unfortunately do not have the links handy, but brain scans confirm the changes in both short term practitioners and the long trained monks.

My phone is set for the following mental reminders. Each time one pops-up I take a brief walk, or find a quiet place (lucky for me my work actually has meditation rooms) to exercise my brain.

8:00 AM – A positive fact IS a positive experience, savor it, and let it sink in.

We have a tendency to focus on the negative. If someone frowns at us, or does not say hello, we may let this bother us for a long time. We wonder why they would have done that, what we may have done to cause such a response.

But we do not focus on the positive experiences. If that same person smiles at us, and says hello, the good feeling that comes with it, if it comes at all since it seems to be expected, lasts briefly. We don’t recall it later that day and wonder what great thing we did to deserve it.

This reminder helps me to keep positive and negative experiences in balance. If someone opens the door for me, I let that feeling of their consideration seep in. If a coworker asks how may day went, or if most anyone is pleasant around me for any reason, I take as much pleasure from that as possible. These simple positive experiences, that are normally lost, need to be felt. This causes me to have a much more positive outlook on how my day is going.

12:00 PM – Recall Love – Recall Compassion for someone else – Extend that compassion to self – Feel that I am receiving compassion

This is a multistep practice that needs a little bit of time.

Step 1. Recall a time that you felt loving kindness. Try to recreate that warm feeling.
Step 2. Recall a time that you felt strong compassion and empathy for another being. This will reduce criticism of others.
Step 3. Extend that feeling of loving kindness to yourself. Remember that you must love and have empathy for yourself for no other particular reason. This will reduce self criticism.
Step 4. Pretend that you are receiving compassion from someone else. This helps reduce the amount of suspicion you have in the motives of others, as well as builds up you sense of self worth.

3:30 What lion are you feeding?

This is a reminder to feed that part of me that is loving kindness, empathetic, social, and compassionate. In each of lies two Lions, the aforementioned, as well as the self based, protective, instinctual side.

My thoughts, emotions and actions feed these lions and make them stronger. I want the Lion of compassion to be healthy and strong, well feed. I want the Lion of self centered instinct to be on a chain, kept in check, and not fed very well.

7:00 PM Beware the second date and the three poisons – greed, hatred, and ignorance

This is less a mental break and more of a quick reminder than the others. To explain:

When you are hurt physically or psychologically, there are always two darts of pain. The first is the actual pain you feel. I yell out in shock and recoil from the bee sting. Or perhaps I feel hurt of being disrespected by someone I care about. This is a normal and appropriate reaction.

The second dart are the echos of that pain, intentional or not. I could go throughout the day recalling the bee sting, remembering how bad it felt, making myself relive that pain. Or worse yet, I grow angry with that bee, or the person who disrespected me. I relive the event over and over again, growing angry each time and feeling that pain over and over. This is the second dart that we have control over. It is also natural, but only as an instinctual teaching aid to help the animalistic side of us remember to not step on those hot rocks, or mess with that porcupine, or challenge the powerful tribe leader too often.

Unfortunately, when that process gets into psychological warfare of ‘how dare he/she do this to me!’ then we obsess, make things worse, make ourselves miserable, as well as those around us since we are in a miserable mood.

As for the three poisons. I’ve heard it said that “Anger is a misunderstanding of human nature.” Misunderstanding is a form of ignorance. Which when combined with greed and hatred give us the three poisons.

Ignorance, Greed, Hatred. All negative karma stems from these three poisons. If I can be aware of, and eliminate these I’ll be in good shape.

Positive Review – Refuge

This is a great way to wrap up my day. I’ve usually mediated by now, and feeling good about myself. While laying in bed I’ll consider all of the positive experiences I had in the day. This reinforces the first mental training of “Positive fact is a positive experience”. This review nearly always reveals to me that there were far more positive facts that I should feel good about, than negative ones that my ‘other lion’ would like to be fed a second helping of.

We have to notice and remember these positive events as our brain is strongly biased towards avoiding negative things.

Taking refuge. This is the step of remembering where my heart and thoughts are safe. In Buddhism this is your buddhist community, the monks and nuns, and the Buddha’s teachings. For Christians,Muslims, or even atheists there are parallels.

There is a comfort in knowing that you belong to a community that believes and acts like you do.

Intermittent Fasting – Paleo Breakthrough

July 18, 2012

Low-GI Mini-Update

In short, I was not losing weight on the low GI intermittent fasting plan for this month. This was because of two reasons.

    One. The little bit of bread I allowed myself was quite addictive. Several times I went over my 40% carb limit. So going from previous months of 10% carbs was like I was living in a whole wheat bakery.

    Two. I found it very difficult to maintain my fast between dinner and bedtime. I was much more hungry than usual.

This resulted in just too many calories being eaten. IF works well, but you’re still going to gain weight if you eat too much. And thus I have stopped the low GI IF testing.

A modification of practice

I’ve studied much this past two weeks to modify my traditional primal diet to best fit my desire to do intermittent fasting every day. These last two days I’ve tested the theory and it has yielded exceptionally promising results.

My plan from here is to tweak and develop the details of the diet and later open a website dedicated to specifically IF and Paleo eating. Exercise for the body and mind will be included as well, but the meditative aspects will remain on this blog foremost.

I feel it’s best to split the two communities as based on reader statistics there are those interested in buddhism, and those in IF/paleo, but it’s rare to see a combination of the two.

I will keep you posted on the address of the new site when it becomes available!

Grounded exercise for the mind and body

July 11, 2012

I’ve been working from home more often lately which allows me to do much more fun things for a break than when at the office. Two of those things are meditating or exercising in the forest park near my home, or on the grass in my backyard.

Not only is doing these activities outside a great change of pace, but it is also arguably enhances the experience both mentally and physically.

“Grounding”

Grounding is the theory that the negatively charged earth can pass electrons to the body through physical contact. There have been a handful of studies demonstrating reduced inflammation and decreased pain levels after exercise among several others.

Though the theory of why these improvements are happening seems silly to me (we are constantly grounding with objects all around us), the results of studies are intriguing. Especially when considered in the light of how spending time in the forest effects us.

Foresting

Foresting is the theory that the spending time in nature will improve ones physical and mental health. Studies have indeed shown in improvement in immunity and cancer fighting T-cells after spending as little as 20 minutes in a natural setting, up to a full months worth of boosted NK cell activity. link

My exercise experience while grounding or foresting

When I do get these work from home opportunities, and just before I break my fasting with a late lunch, I’ll exercise out on my grass or go for a run in the forest. The body weight exercises that I do are higher rep and often produce more delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) than my gym workouts do. I have noticed that when I do these exercises in the dirt and grass I have less soreness than usual. Ofcourse this could be placebo, but due to the two studies noted in above about lower inflammation and decreased post exercise pain, I can buy into the grounding theory that much more. I suggest you try it once or twice.

My runs while in the forest are just plain more fun. I’m more motivated, I’m more distracted but the nature around me, the weather, smells and terrain change constantly making the entire effort that much more fun. Some of the immune boosting effects noted above have been attributed to phytoncides present in trees, and I wouldn’t be surprised to come across the study that gives the mind euphoric sense as well.

My meditation experience while grounding or foresting

This has been a relatively new endeavor for me. But in either setting I’ve found a great way to alter my meditation for the better. When meditating in the grass of my back yard, the most difficult thing to overcome are the sounds. I can hear distant cars, birds, wind, and sometimes my neighbors if they are at home. These were, at first, unpleasant distractions. But, they became natural aspects of the world. The distracting noises were no more unnatural than the hum of the air conditioner inside my home, the tick-tock of clock, or the sounds of the house settling. In time I am able to let these noises go, I hear them but am not distracted. They actually become a pleasant part of the experience as they settle into the back of my mind.

The second most difficult aspect was the tactile sense change. Grass or dirt on my legs is much more distracting, again at first, than the carpet of my home. The breeze can also be an erratic irritant. Both the breeze, and the ground become a point of focus for me. I try to feel every blade of grass or every grain of dirt, as the breeze passes I try to feel each hair on my skin move. In these cases my meditation can feel even deeper than usual as I become ‘one’ with the nature around me.

For the non-buddhists that read, it is said that when the Buddha reached enlightenment during meditation he reached down and touched the ground with a single finger noting his unity with the earth surpassing temptation and distraction once and for all.

Injured? Anti-Inflammatory foods

July 2, 2012

I recently sprained my LCL and CLCL in my right knee. There has been more pain and inflammation than I had anticipated, especially at night. Though R.I.C.E (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation) can’t be beat by anything you ingest, I thought I’d look into some of the best, and worst, foods for inflammation.

“The IF (Inflammation Factor) Rating” calculates the net effect of different nutritional factors of individual foods that either have a negative or positive effect (glycemic index/load, antioxidants, fatty acids, etc).My primary resource for IF Ratings come from NutritionData.com, which is also an excellent resource for most any other nutrition info you might be looking for.

Though you can chose to eat inflammatory foods, it’s best to have an overall positive net count. Nutrition Data.com will give you actual IF Values, and track them, for all the foods that you eat. But in general:

Anti-Inflammatory Foods – Berries, Greens, Olive Oil, Salmon, Almonds, Onion, Garlic, Avocado, Hot Peppers, Sweet Potatoes, Ginger….

Inflammatory Foods – High Fructose Corn Syrup, Wheat, Hydrogentaed Oils, Polyunsaturated Vegetables oils (sunflower, corn, safflower, etc.), Sugar, White rice, and Fried foods.

Supplements – For anti-inflammatory properties I would also recommend a good multivitamin, or at least Vitamin D and Omega 3 supplements. I take 6,000 mU of Vitamin D a day, and 1g of Omega 3.

2 Month Check-in: Intermittent Fasting

June 29, 2012

Well this month didn’t go quite as planned. First week went well, but after that it all fell apart.

I spent ten days in Utah visiting friends and family. Nobody there eats like I do, and since I don’t want to insult my hosts, I eat what I’m offered. This meant cereals and pancakes for breakfasts, and eating out for lunch and dinner. I went to The Cheesecake Factory three times (each time someone got me a slice of cheesecake ‘for my birthday’), and also a trip to Benihana’s. Eating around the clock combined with no exercise was the MO here.

The morning after I returned I went on a week long business trip. Though I was able to skip breakfast, the food provided for lunch was not great, and each night one team or another had me out to dinner with them. There was a swimming pool, which I took advantage of as often as I could, but there wasn’t a weight room in sight, and the weather was not nice enough for a jog outside.

After I got back, I overzealously went and played basketball leading to a sprained LCL. So more sitting around, even less exercise, and an expanded eating window of 8-10 hours.

Where does this leave me? 12.4% body fat, and 187 pounds. Basically I’m back to where I started at the beginning of last month!

I did read this latest study that compares a low-glycemic index diet, versus a low-carb paleo style diet, versus a low-fat diet. Needless to say, the low-fat diet lost badly. What was interesting was the low-gi diet having similar metabolic benefits to the low-carb diet, without the increased cortisol. Though total energy expenditure was by far the best with the low-carb paleo diet.

The low-carb diet only allowed 10% of calories from carbs, while the low-gi diet allowed 40%. Also, the paleo diet was 60% fat, which is too high in my opinion. I’m normally 45-50% fat, 30% protein, 20-25% carbs.

So my plan for the next month is try a a low-gi diet combined with the fasting and compare that to the first month of low-carb paleo and fasting. Stay tuned.

Meat and the First Precept

June 21, 2012

Note: I apologize for the delay in posting. I’ve been away on business

A common accusation
I often get asked how I can ‘murder animals’ be eating meat, while claiming to be Buddhist. Conventional wisdom tells us that the Buddhist First Precept of ‘Do no harm’ would prevent us from eating animals.

Fortunately, being a vegetarian, or vegan, is not a universally held view among Buddhists. Meat eating varies by tradition and often culture. The Theravada, perspective is that meat eating is of personal preferences. Mahayana traditions lean toward vegetarian, as opposed to Tibetan where meat eating is seen as necessary due to the difficulty of growing crops in their region.

Life and Death
It is impossible to live without accidentally or unintentionally causing harm or death to some beings. Accidentally stepping on an ant hill while on a hike, or being unable to swerve around a squirrel while driving are simple examples. But when we take into consideration the amount of death that is complicit to all forms of eating, the ‘Meat is murder’ argument falls away.

Killing a cow or fish for food makes many people feel uncomfortably close to the harm being done to those animals. Understandably, the compassion we feel for these beings makes many people turn to vegetarianism.

Unfortunately, the mass production of vegetables and grains also causes great harm and death to the field animals and insects when it is time to harvest. For anyone who has not worked on one of these farms, they are sufficiently removed from the pain of these beings and don’t feel the same compassion they do to the more visible meat giving animals.

In short, animals (including humans) must kill other animals directly or indirectly to survive. By nature we are born into carnivorous, omnivorous, or herbivorous types and consumption for survival shouldn’t be held against a being karmically.

Levels of suffering

We can certainly control or persuade what kind of suffering the animals we eat endure. When I purchase meat I look for organic, free range, and wild options. This way I know that I’m not supporting those that are causing undue suffering to the animals.

Though it is clear that killing your own food (hunting, fishing, butchering), or having it specifically killed for you (lobster at restaurant) breaks the first precept, there is no clarity on purchasing meat that was killed by someone else.

As I see it, eating meat breaks down to something like this; moving from inappropriate to appropriate:

– Directly killing an animal by self.
– Having animal killed for you.
– Purchasing mass produced, minimally regulated produce and meat.
– Purchasing regulated organic, wild caught, free range, etc produce and meat
– Only eating meat when offered or has died of natural causes
– Running your own self sufficient farm, taking all precautions to minimize harm.

Dealing with the expectations of other Buddhists

As mentioned by reader Dennis, there can be an increased degree of judgement or expectation from Western Buddhists to be vegetarian.Though this is not a universal feeling, my experience has shown that such strong expectations come from those that were vegetarian first, and then became Buddhist due to the First Precept.

Since I see vegetarianism as a choice, and that no form of consumption comes without a form of complicit suffering I am comfortable with both their and my decisions on what to eat. I luckily spend most of my time with Therevadan and Tibetan buddhists who have yet to show any concern over what I eat. Probably because they also eat meat as well.

According to the Blue Zones research it is important to surround yourself routinely with those that share your life philosophy or faith. I suggest finding a community of like minded Buddhists, or buddhist philosophists to enjoy time with. I also would not get hung up on labels, or being 100% Buddhist in order to call oneself as such.

It is said that the Buddha’s final words were “Work out your own salvation with diligence.” It is best to analyze the impact of your actions, and live accordingly to what you understand to be the most beneficial for yourself and other beings.

What do you think
I’m always interested in hearing what others have to say, and I know this can be a hot topic for some.

Regards