Cross Fit Gyms–A low carb community

One of the first things I did after I discovered how much better Juliana felt eating low carb was to go looking for a community for her.  The path was circuitous–Jimmy Moore’s livinlavidalowcarb blog had a list of “low-carb friendly” health practitioners, and Susan Jimenez was on it.  Turns out she is a nurse practitioner, but now she’s become a cross-fit trainer at the gym she runs with her husband Saul, Mad Dawg School of Fitness.  Cross-fit gyms recommend a Paleo, or Primal eating style–basically what we would have eaten before the advent of agriculture.  In other words, no grains, sugar, dairy, and limited fruit.  The eating plan consists mostly of animal protein in various forms and vegetables.  Paleo isn’t designed to be low carb, but it ends up being low carb.

A low carb gym sounded good to me, and we went to meet them.  Susan did a functional movement screen with Juliana, something they do at Cross Fit gyms to establish baseline mobility.  Then I joined them and poured out my questions–why hadn’t anyone ever told me carbs could be the problem for Juliana?  Was there a health care practitioner who could help me navigate this new environment?  Susan said it was unlikely we would find support for a low carb eating style amongst the health care establishment.  I knew from experience that my somewhat alternative family practice–they were willing to discuss the benefits and risks of commonly administered vaccines, unlike the pediatric practice I had left when Juliana was 2–would not know anything about it.

Juliana started training with Susan.  Even though she was a teenager in a gym for adults, she felt welcome and really enjoyed it.  She had to take a break over the summer and then for soccer season.  I started training there in September, and although I have historically disliked group exercise classes, cross-fit is totally different.  It’s the exercise equivalent of low carb eating–it does not recommend exhausting cardio sessions to control weight, as most other gyms do–rather cross-fit, generally speaking, recommends duplicating the likely physical feats of our ancient ancestors.

Lengthy cardio sessions leave you depleted and a tasty target for predators.  In cross-fit you do a lot of work on mobility, everywhere (hips, shoulders, wrists, ankles etc.) so that you become more agile and less prone to injury; you sometimes lift really heavy things; and you sometimes sprint really fast.  Cross fit may make it possible for me to succeed in my life-long project to get my shoulders to stay back instead of hunch forward.

Excellent resources to learn about Paleo/Primal eating and exercise are The Primal Blueprint, by Mark Sisson, and Mark’s blog:  Mark’s Daily Apple.


Juliana asked to stay in the soccer game

I was refereeing Juliana’s soccer game on Saturday.  I noticed that she played all four quarters, but I didn’t really think anything of it.  Then yesterday she told me that she was scheduled to be out in the fourth quarter, but she asked if anyone else wanted to sub out so that she could stay in.  It was a hot day, and Juliana’s team was getting crushed–the outcome wasn’t in doubt.  Juliana wanted more practice.

Parents of low energy kids–imagine your kid voluntarily staying in a soccer game–asking to stay in a soccer game through the fourth quarter.  That’s the miracle of low carb eating.

Juliana’s playing soccer at recess

Among the many transformations in Juliana on the low carb eating plan, one of the most amazing to me is that she is now voluntarily organizing and playing in soccer games at school during recess.  I have been trying to get her to do that for years, because, like most schools these days, she doesn’t have a lot of PE time.  The only way she can get in some movement during the day is to move at recess.

I didn’t push her to start playing soccer during recess.  On the contrary.  A few weeks ago she asked me to buy her a soccer ball to keep in her locker at school so she could play, since the school soccer balls are always getting lost.

As I explain here, she wasn’t getting fat because she was lazy and tired; she was lazy and tired because she was getting fat.  Now that process is reversed.  She’s full of energy because she’s getting thin, and all that stored energy is available to play soccer, every day.

Soccer practice–a whole new experience

Juliana has shed about 22 pounds from her highest weight.  I suspect she will lose 30 more, so she’s still carrying around a lot of excess weight.  Nonetheless, however, she can run faster than she ever has before and has a new level of stamina.  She just started soccer practice for the fall American Youth Soccer Organization (AYSO) season.  She was astonished by how much energy she had.

On a low carb eating plan, she can run hard the whole practice, and not worry about depleting her limited available energy.  Why is this so?

Carbohydrates require insulin to be processed by the body.  But insulin is also the fat storage hormone–it directs the body to store energy as fat.  In Juliana (and other people who can’t tolerate much carbohydrate), eating more than a minimal amount of carbohydrate causes so much insulin release that most of the energy in the food she consumes gets sequestered in fat cells, rather than being available for Juliana to use on physical activity.

This explanation of fat sequestration robbing the individual of usable energy made a lot of sense when I read it in Gary Taubes‘ “Good Calories, Bad Calories.”  (See: Taubes, Gary (2007-09-25). Good Calories, Bad Calories (Kindle Locations 7584-7587). Random House, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

It explained Juliana’s history of not wanting to move–I went to great lengths to keep her physically active.  It wasn’t just that she loves to read (although she does), it was that she had very little energy to move because her body was storing most of it as fat.

This year is her first soccer season ever at a normal energy level.  She is jazzed!

Not getting fat because she’s lazy, but lazy because she’s getting fat

We all associate overweight people with low energy, and there’s a good reason for this.  But it’s not the reason you think.  People don’t get fat because they don’t move much; they don’t move much because they are getting fat.  The energy they could use to be active is being diverted to storage as fat.  The culprit is insulin, which is released mostly in response to eating carbohydrate, much less so in response to eating protein or fat.

When you are a parent, this lethargic behavior is extremely frustrating.  I remember vividly once when Juliana was about 9 and we were on vacation and she didn’t move from the couch all day.  I actually remember wondering what was wrong with her.  She wasn’t sick, but she didn’t look like she felt well.  At 3 in the afternoon I insisted that she go outside and do something, anything.  She didn’t want to.  I had to really push her, and I was trying to hide my anger as I did it.  Eventually she did so, reluctantly.

Now I know that going outside and moving was actually a huge effort for her, because she didn’t have much energy for motion.  It was mostly being stored in fat cells.