It’s amazing how you can do something most of your life and never consider the consequences of it until someone else points it out.
I recommend Arthur De Vany’s book, The New Evolution Diet. I don’t often read books twice, but I’m about half way through my third reading of it.
De Vany, an economist by trade, came to realize that our bodies are complex, dynamic systems, much like the economy. That perspective has allowed him to develop an interesting approach to diet and exercise. I’m experimenting with some of his advice now.
I first heard of De Vany when he was a guest on one of my favorite podcasts, EconTalk. In fact, I was listening to that podcast while I was jogging. In it, De Vany explained why jogging could be unhealthy. I was immediately skeptical.
I never had to worry about weight, until a few years after college when the weight started piling on.
After several years of trying to figure how to reverse the trend, I read Barry Sears’ book, A Week in the Zone. He provided advice on weight based on hormones, specifically insulin, that seemed logical. Based on his advice, I changed my diet from a low-fat, high carb diet to be more balanced with fat and protein and started seeing immediate results and have had good results since then.
But after reading De Vany’s book I’m reconsidering how I achieved those good results. I thought my success was primarily due to my diet and my consistent exercise routine.
The diet part, I might have right. As the name of his book suggests, De Vany’s diet recommendations are similar to the Paleo diet, which are also similar to other popular diets like the South Beach Diet, the Atkins Diet, the Zone diet and William Banting’s diet that he wrote about in 16 pages in 1863. Low carb. Specifically low in refined sugars and grains.
The reasoning De Vany gives for this diet is similar to the Paleo diet, that is the type of diet our bodies had evolved to accept and the refined sugars and carbs wreak havoc on our hormones and cause weight gain, high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease and cancer.
De Vany’s rendition on the low carb diet is worth the read. You will learn a lot.
But, it’s his advice on exercise that has really got me thinking. He believes that our bodies are not optimized for the daily, moderate intensity activity that we call exercise, like jogging or riding stationary equipment. Rather, again based on our ancestors and how they evolved for the conditions of about 40,000 years ago, our bodies require some high intensity activity and lots of rest.
The Afterword of De Vany’s book was written by Nassim Taleb, author of The Black Swan. It was something Taleb wrote that has me deeply reconsidering my exercise routine.
Taleb wrote that when he had an office in the burbs he commuted to it by bicycle. He then moved his office to the city and joined a gym to replace the physical activity he lost by giving up his bike commute. Even though he felt he was putting the same time into exercise at the gym as he did on his bike commute, he gained weight over the course of three years.
It was De Vany’s thoughts on exercise that made Taleb realize that it wasn’t the hours of bicycling he did every week that kept the fat off. Rather, it was the two or three “grueling hills” that pushed his heartbeat “past 210″ beats per minute that made the difference. When he switched to the gym, he kept his workouts steady, not realizing it was the effort he put out riding his bike up those hills that made the difference in how his body stored fat.
De Vany contends that activity that has you put out short bursts of high intensity effort helps keep your hormones in line to keep the fat off the body and keep your body a lean, mean rabbit-hunting machine. He recommends sports like basketball and soccer because of the natural sprinting that takes place.
After reading De Vany’s and Taleb’s words I realized that whenever I have had high intensity activity in my routine, I haven’t had a problem with weight.
In addition to playing all kinds of sports with my friends as a young man (basketball, soccer, frisbee, hiking, etc.) I also raced bicycles and rode up plenty of hills.
When I started picking up weight, those few years after college, I had been off the bike and replaced my physical activity that use to include high intensity efforts with the rhythmic, moderate drudgery of jogging and riding stationary equipment.
It just so happened that at the time I started eating a lower carb diet, I also started bike riding up again. My cycling coach from my youth was right. He called hills, “nature’s interval training”. No matter what shape you are in, hills test you and put you to your limit — even if you try to take it easy.
So, I happened to have integrated high intensity hill riding into my activity regimen right at the time I changed my diet. And, now when I think back over the years, when I have packed on a few extra pounds, it always seemed to be when I reduced my bike riding and didn’t have any other intense activity to replace those hills.
So, amazingly, all of those years one correlation I had not drawn in my life was the correlation between my weight and high intensity activity, not until De Vany and Taleb pointed it out. It fits. That’s the “intense observation.”
I’m experimenting now, by lowering the amount of the moderate intensity workouts, making sure I keep the high intensity efforts and resting more. Psychologically it’s tough. It’s hard to give up some of those exercise habits.
I’m just a few weeks in and so far, so good. I’ll report more results in the future.