Friday, October 16, 2009

Part II: October Interview - Mark Sisson

Mark Sisson joins us today for Part II of our interview.  Read for endless hours about every topic imagineable over at Mark's website, MDA.

What are your top 5 foods for effortless weight loss?

This is always changing, but I always come back to foods that are satisfying and delicious. In no particular order:

1. Big Ass Salad – just about everything you’d ever need to thrive and survive, all in a single (big-ass) serving

2. Grilled, grass-fed ribeye – a huge serving of protein and healthy fat (just don’t trim it off!) that will fill you up

3. Butter – makes everything better, and it’s a good way to maximize nutrient absorption (either by getting people to eat their vegetables or by increasing bioavailability of vegetable nutrients)

4. Eggs – the perfect food, nutritionally speaking, and full of healthy fats and protein

5. Berries – one of the lowest-sugar fruits, with the most antioxidant punch, berries make a great dessert when you’re cutting carbs to lose weight

What’s your opinion on supplements and the supplement industry?

Before you decide to take supplements, you’ve got to have a solid foundation to build from. That means eating a healthy (Primal) diet full of whole foods, meats, fats, and vegetables. Go organic and grass-fed if you can, and you’ve taken care of most of the fight. But if you want optimum health, a good multivitamin antioxidant formula can help. That said, a lot of the supplement industry is just a misguided (perhaps purposefully so) attempt to sell consumers a magic pill. There’s a ton of pseudoscientific claptrap out there masquerading as fact, and you have to be on your toes. This is a sensitive subject for me, because I sell an ultra high-potency multivitamin formula. I don’t like to mix my business with my blog content, but I am proud of the research I’ve put into developing my product – so, eys, there are good supplements out there. Just do the research and make sure the diet is solid, or you’ll probably end up disappointed. There are a few supplements that almost everyone can benefit from, however. A quality fish oil is always recommended, and vitamin D3 is important if you don’t get enough sun.

I did a recent blog post on intermittent fasting (IF), what’s your take?

The evidence is pretty clear. Our evolutionary history was punctuated by times of feast and times of famine. Grok didn’t always come home from the hunt with a deer slung over his shoulders; sometimes, he came home empty-handed. Luckily, our bodies developed an appropriate response to this situation. We conserve muscle, burn body fat (which is really just stored energy), and improve almost all health markers (lipid numbers, insulin sensitivity, etc) when we fast for brief periods. Of course, starvation is a different matter altogether, but the occasional 24-48 hour fast is highly beneficial. You might even say our bodies expect to go without food every once in awhile. I see IF as a quick, easy way to take advantage of a totally accidental benefit conferred on us by natural selection.

What are the most common mistakes that people make when trying to lose body fat?

They workout too much and eat too little. Excessive training makes you hungry, especially for all the carb-heavy foods that make weight loss difficult. Constant undereating leaves you weak and can seriously mess with your metabolism. If you’re ignoring your body’s cries for food, you’re doing it wrong.

There are many ways to lose weight. Some people eat a high-carbohydrate diet and get extremely lean. Others eat a low-carbohydrate diet and get extremely lean. Is it just all about calories in your opinion?

Calories play a role, but people have got to realize that our bodies treat macronutrients differently. In my opinion, the key to controlling body fat deposition is insulin. Too much insulin means calories get deposited as adipose tissue. Carbohydrates (and, to a lesser extent, protein) spike insulin. What doesn’t get converted into muscle glycogen gets stored as body fat. I was eating a lot of carbohydrates when I was training every day, and I was super-lean because most of those carbs were going toward refilling muscle gluycogen – but I wasn’t healthy. Most people lead sedentary lives nowadays, and what little muscle glycogen they have usually doesn’t get depleted, so when they eat carbs it just goes to body fat. A low-carb, high-fat (this is key, you need the fat) diet that controls insulin production is simply easier to maintain for most people.

What’s your take on 100% organic, whole grains?

They’re still grains, they’ve still got phytates that interfere with mineral absorption and lectins that damage the stomach lining, and – if you’re talking about wheat – gluten is still present. Contrary to popular belief, grains are simply unnecessary. There are ways to mitigate the grain-induced damage (soaking, sprouting, long-fermenting), but most people don’t bother. Besides, no matter how long you ferment or soak your grains, you can’t ever completely escape the inherent anti-nutrients. If you need carbs in your life, go for starchy roots and tubers instead. The “organic, whole, unrefined” labels don’t do much but make you feel better about eating something that’s bad for you.

Mark, let’s say I’m a person who has embraced a primal way of eating, but I caved today and pounded down a Papa John’s pizza, a dozen cookies, a Snickers bar, and 4 bagels. Should I beat myself up? Did I just ruin all my progress?

Your body will beat itself up enough without you adding guilt to the equation! Expect stomach pain, headaches, sluggish thoughts, and a bloated belly, with the symptoms worsening if you’ve been eating Primally for a long time. And no, you didn’t ruin all your progress. In fact, your inevitable pain is just a reminder that your metabolism is on the right track. Just make sure that cheat day doesn’t turn into a cheat week.

OK Mark, I hear what you're saying but I’m 35, fat, out-of-shape and haven’t done any form of exercise in years. Can I really get in shape? Where should I start?

You can absolutely get in shape. It’s never too late.

Start by cutting out sugars, grains, and legumes from your diet. This will effectively eliminate simple carbohydrates and reduce your insulin levels. Carbs drive insulin drives fat deposition, after all. Just reducing your carb intake to around 50g per day will start the weight loss in earnest.

Cut out all industrial vegetable oils (margarine, corn, canola, soybean, grapeseed) and replace them with natural fats, like butter, lard, olive oil, and coconut oil, along with a daily fish oil supplement. Avoid packaged foods with polysyllabic ingredients – or just avoid packaged foods period.

Walk as much as possible, at least a few hours per week. Mix things up by going for hikes, too. Launching full-bore into a hardcore training regimen can be disastrous for someone who’s overweight and out of shape; you might injure yourself and you’ll probably just get discouraged. Once you’ve cut the carbs and the weight’s beginning to come off, incorporate some body weight exercises. Push-ups, body weight squats, pull-ups (assisted to start), lunges – these are all great options for someone just starting out.


Thanks again to Mark for sharing his thoughts on important health & fitness topics.  Please feel free to share your thoughts and questions in the comments section below. 

Until next time...

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