Antibiotics, Probiotics, Prebiotics

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There is a lot in the press about pro- and prebiotics at the moment and Tatu wanted to provide a more in-depth look at the topic. She also includes her killer kimchii recipe to give you an alternative form of probiotic.

Microflora and disease processes: the link

Each human has a vast number of bacteria and microbes that live within and on us. Some of them are welcome and we share a symbiotic, mutually beneficial relationship; others are not so welcome and cause unwanted disease.

It is estimated that there are approximately 1.3 bacteria for every human cell. However there are, of course, many other organisms including fungi, viruses and so on which would bring the non-self:self ratio to around 10:1. When we have an overgrowth or invasion of the less desirable ones we become unwell exhibiting symptoms associated with infection (elevated body temperature, fatigue, confusion, myalgias (pains) and so on).

With the discovery of penicillin in 1920s and the development of antibacterial medicines, we have been able to easily overcome bacterial infections which, prior to these developments, would have meant certain death to many.

One might wonder how it is possible for a pathogen or bacteria-killing drug to have negative effects on our health and lead to further infections. One published research piece highlighted that poorly absorbed and metabolised drugs may travel further through the digestive system into the colon (where we have a huge colony of helpful bacteria who aid us in a number of ways). When this occurs we start to see decimation of the ‘good bacteria’ populations whose function is not only to assist with the breakdown of food and fibres but also to prevent over population of ‘bad bacteria’.

Probiotics

Probiotic supplementation can be an excellent tool for individuals who have an altered microbiome as a result of, for example, virulent infection, poor diet, drug (antibiotic or recreational) and alcohol use. If the population numbers drop, introducing new colonies is extremely beneficial in order to maintain healthy numbers. The mutually beneficial commensal bacteria crowd out the pathogenic strains. They also have their own defence and offence systems including membrane targeting chemicals that act much like the antibiotics listed above.

Taking good care of yourself with good quality probiotics when they are needed is a great idea. There is plenty of research to support this approach however sensationalist headlines about probiotics are often based on one research paper that may have industry funding.

One clinical trial, for example, tested the effects of Actimel and balancing Th1 from Th2 dominance and showed positive results. However, it is important to note that the trial was on mice and they were fed only Actimel. There is no justification for extrapolating to suggest that if a human drank their daily caloric intake in Actimel they may exhibit lower levels of Th2 cytokines and Interlukin 10!

Prebiotics

The ‘good bacteria’ need to be fed to allow them to grow, much like feeding your pets or fertilising soil for plants. Each pet or plant thrives on a different diet and environment, and the owner must cater to their needs. Prebiotics are the beneficial bacteria’s food, an example being inulin. Inulin is an indigestible fibre found naturally in foods but can also be found in supplements.

In the immune system, we have little guys called T regulatory cells who modulate the immune response, swaying towards one end of its spectrum and to the other end. This is based on the Th1/Th2 Dominance theory (See P. Kidd for further reading on this theory). Most people have a dominance of one or another Th cell; Th2 is associated with allergies and intolerances and has higher risk of cancer development. Th1 is more associated with autoimmune diseases such as Rheumatoid Arthritis and Multiple Sclerosis and lower risk of cancer development, this being the rarer of the Th dominance. 90% of T regulatory cells are found in the immune system of the gut and therefore an imbalance in the commensal bacteria will inevitably lead to detrimental effects on the T-reg populations and functionality.

Therefore, we can see the links made by Park et al in regards to both anticancer and immune promotion as well as colorectal function. If the immune system is functioning optimally, the T-regulatory cells will have immediate inflammatory response and therefore reduce unneeded inflammation and the oxidative stress that arises as a result of it. Oxidative stress damaged telomeres (the end bits of chromosomes) which is the main driver of ageing of cells, organs and organisms. Once the immune system is working optimally it can create a clean and efficient working environment for Schwan cells to continue to create myelin sheaths around neuron axons in the brain as well as ensure the microglial cells in the brain are being good cleaners and sweeping away the mess inevitably caused by energy production and utilisation in the mitochondria of each cell.

In regards to anti-obesity, one might explain probiotics positive effect by reducing toxic load due to promotion of beneficial commensal bacteria, producing useful by-products instead of toxins. ,Toxins cause stress on the body resulting in the release of cortisol releasing hormone from the hypothalamus in the brain, that then tells the pituitary to release cortisol which has physiological effects on the peripheral cells of the body. Leptin is a hormone that is produced by fat cells when they are full of fat. Leptin acts on the hypothalamus, but if the hypothalamus is inundated with cortisol it is going to ignore leptin. In addition, the insulin receptors on individual cells are deactivated by cortisol. The cells then signal for the release of more insulin to ensure they get glucose in to make energy but the cortisol keeps blocking the receptors resulting in an excess of insulin. Eventually this leads to insulin resistance, which is also a driving factor behind obesity. Both physiological stress, in the form of toxins in the gut, and external mental and emotional stresses can drive these pathways.

Supplements vs Food Source

Post surgery, during the use of antibiotics, virulent GIT infections resulting in an imbalance in the microflora, periods of fasting and travelling are all good times to think about taking a good quality, high population probiotic, (billions not millions!) as well as adding fermented foods with live bacteria in them, to your diet. For most, probiotics will not be needed on a regular basis given a balanced diet and lifestyle. However a quick rebalance for 1-6 months may help when medications, stress, trauma, illness and fasting feature in a person’s life. Of all the products on the market Optibac is the most thoroughly researched with published trials available. T his doesn’t mean that others do not work, it just means that Optibac products are proven to work in trial.

For those who feel well, healthy and energised but want to maintain that feeling then considering probiotic foods would be sensible. Raw and live fermented products including kimchi, sauerkraut, kefir both lactose based and water based, raw fermented yoghurts and milks etc. There is a new movement of soil bacteria products emerging which, in theory, would be more closely related to the palaeolithic probiotic intakes available.

Tatu’s simple kimchi recipe

  • 1 heap of nappa/Chinese cabbage, sliced

  • 1 large red onion, sliced

  • 1 daikon cut into thin sticks or two large handfuls of regular radishes, sliced

  • 2 carrots, cut into thin strips

  • 2-3 cloves garlic, minced

  • 2 inches ginger, grated

  • 3 tbsp fish sauce

  • 1-2 tbsp sea salt

  • 1 tbsp raw honey/agave/maple syrup

  • Water to cover

Toss all the vegetables together so evenly mixed and set aside whilst you mix the garlic, ginger, cayenne pepper/chilli, fish sauce, salt and honey with ½ cup of warm water. Stuff the vegetable mix into a large pickling jar and pour over the liquid. Add more water to cover all the vegetables and leave to ferment for 3-7 days ensuring to check regularly that the water still covers the vegetables. Add to soups, curries, salads or scrambled eggs.

If you don’t fancy the faff of preparing your own, you can grab a jar of kimchi, sauerkraut or kefir yogurt from Biona or a Kaffir water drink from Bouncing Biotics.

Being Wild in the City

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Urban Wild

At Wildfitness our clients are inspired and energised not only by our passionate and creative coaches but also by the beauty of the natural environments that they are immersed in. Whether it's looking out across the Indian Ocean in Zanzibar or across the wild herbs and olive groves of the White Mountains in Crete, our vision, creativity and sense of possibility for movement seem endless in such environments. If you team this up with super nutritious and delicious food and lots of time to relax and we have the ingredients needed to bring us back to a state of harmony. So what happens when we get back to the urban sprawls that we call home and the hectic, time-restricted days that are the norm? This is what a lot of our clients struggle with but if we look at our environment from a different perspective then moving more closely to what our bodies expect can be easy and enjoyable, even in the city.

Movement

Cities such as London are a paradise for the generalist movement approach that we preach at Wildfitness. There are endless options and plenty of amazingly talented teachers out there to help you. Climbing, bouldering, martial arts, parkour, dance of all types, gymnastics and even specialist movement coaches are just a few suggestions.

Then you have the cities’ green spaces that provide a huge range of highly nutritious, natural movement opportunities. You can do a lot with a simple open space but throw in trees, hills, walls, benches… now we are talking! To identify a good spot you need to look at your environment from a movement perspective. Children are generally pretty amazing at this as it's very innate to them so if you need inspiration borrow a kid for the day or hire a Wildfitness coach, same difference! Look for opportunities to tap into a variety of natural movement patterns such as tree branches for brachiating, balancing and climbing, rocks and logs for lifting, dragging and throwing, fallen trees or walls for vaulting, jumping and crawling and so on! You can practice skills independently, put them into a sequence or be an opportunist and go for an exploratory run and see what presents itself. Your options are limited only by your imagination and learning to create each session is part of the fun. Bring a few friends to make it even more enjoyable.

Find some green and relax!

Our cities’ green spaces allow us to connect with nature and, even if this connection is just on a small scale, research has shown this to be highly beneficial to our health. Creating time for a biophilic (biophilia meaning our innate love and connection with nature) moment is just as, if not more, important for some of us than the movement aspect of achieving balance. City life can be stressful and we are often over stimulated and aroused by artificial stressors and visual landscapes. Sometimes intense exercise is not the answer to combat this; more so a gentle, mindful walk in a natural setting, resting under or in a tree, observing the movement of plants or simply lying back and looking at the sky are just a few ways we can connect with nature and all can be highly medicinal. It's simply going back to where our whole expects us to be so it has a hugely positive effect on our biology and psyche. Find what works for you and do it as consistently as possible to find that balance between arousal/challenge with relaxation/recovery.

Raw versus Cooked

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When is a raw food diet a good idea?

Ulcerative colitis, intestinal blockage, low stomach acid, SIBO and a number of other digestive complaints should be closely monitored by a specialist if a move towards raw foods is desired. If low stomach acid, low digestive enzymes, microflora imbalance along with slow transit time are seen in individuals then a high fruit and fibre diet (not the breakfast cereal) may encourage fermentation resulting in bloating, gas, pain, cramps and so forth. One should seek specialist help if reacting in this way to high volumes of raw foods.

Some foods contain compounds that can be unhelpful in SOME cases:

Goitrogens: substances that cause goiters, i.e., an enlargement of the thyroid gland. They are only a concern in those who have thyroid issues. Foods containing goitrogens include raw soya products and cruciferous vegetables. Slight cooking will destroy these compounds.

Tannins: complex plant compounds that are often bitter or astringent. They are most famously found in tea and will reduce the body’s ability to absorb nutrients, specifically minerals.

Phytoestrogens: plant analogues of the hormone oestrogen. The effects of phytoestrogens seem to be lessened by fermentation rather than heat. These compounds are not always a bad thing as in many cases they can be used therapeutically to help restore hormone imbalances and support the reduction of hormone driven health complications.

Flatus-producing oligosaccharides: carbohydrates that cause flatulence (gas). These are found often in brassicas and pulses. In the case of pulses, the act of germination will reduce these to a negligible level and can be easily done at home by soaking the pulse of choice in fresh water until the little ‘tails’ appear. For some pulses this will take a day.

Phytates: substances that bind to minerals preventing absorption. These are destroyed by heat and fermentation and, to a degree, by the addition of certain acidic compounds such as lemon juice and apple juice.

Raw food diets tend to contain fewer synthetic and processed foods. The toxicant load is often lower and so this approach can be useful for those whose immune systems are under strain. Raw food done properly will promote weight-loss however eating endless cashew and avocado raw cakes will not, so being wise about food choices even in this format is always advised.

Types of Cooking: Pros and Cons

Steaming

A great way to cook vegetables quickly without risk of leaching all the minerals out of them; brief steaming reduces damage to water-soluble vitamins as well.

Open flame cooking

Delicious and often preferred by those wanting to lose weight as it does not involve added oils or fats, the high temperature means carcinogenic compounds are formed on foods (the above mentioned heterocyclic amines and polyaromatic hydrocarbons).

Boiling/ Simmering

This is excellent for leaching minerals from bones and ideally done on a low heat for a long period of time.

Slow cooking

This is the healthiest way to prepare meats as it does not produce carcinogens. It is also a very easy cooking method. I would advise adding a generous portion of raw leaves/ vegetables at the end so you have undamaged phytonutrients and water soluble vitamins.

Frying

The high temperatures of frying can damage not only the food being cooked but, can also alter the molecular makeup of the fats being used to cook with. This is especially the case if they have numerous double bonds as polyunsaturated fats. If you must fry, then using a tiny amount of saturated fat is best and add the more fragile oils as flavour afterwards.

A combined natural approach

I would advise for most clients to adapt their diets to a combination of raw and cooked foods as the human biome has adapted to consume cooked foods and the low B12 levels seen in raw vegan blood tests suggests dangers of anaemia and issues with methylation of methionine and homocysteine.

Cooking meats at a temperature lower than 150 degree Centigrade will avoid the formation of heterocyclic amines and polyaromatic carbons in animal products. Inclusion of raw meats and fish from safe sources is good but be careful not to consume in too high quantities as proteins are not a good source of energy. The impact of excess protein on the uric acid cycle can be damaging to the organs, but also to the ability to easily transport nutrients through membranes as the by-products can alter the acidity of the body. Soaking pulses until they germinate helps reduce the phytate activity for both raw consumption and in the cooking process.

Steaming vegetables is the way to cook them although I would also advise incorporating a great deal of raw foods into the diet to reduce damage to water soluble vitamins and protective phytonutrients.

Eating made Easy

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Are you lost when it comes to thinking about what you will be eating for breakfast, lunch or dinner? Is it often quite a stressful process? Well, our resident chef, Tatu Bearcroft has the answers.

In this post Tatu shares 6 simple things to consider when choosing the best food fuel for you and your family.

6 tips to make fuelling your body simple & consistent

1. Just add green

As the nutrient levels in foods continue to dwindle, we are encouraged to eat more vegetables (Aune et al., 2017). This can be a struggle for many, especially those with smaller appetites or less digestive function with regards to fibre breakdown. Simply adding leafy greens such as kale, spring greens, calvelo nero, kalettes, savoy cabbage and so forth to each main meal is the simplest way to increase your consumption. You may choose to add a similar quantity as a snack or in a smoothie.

2. Chew and savour

In today’s mad rush to do a million things at once, we often push the task of eating and refuelling to the bottom of the priority list. Digestion of food begins with the secretion of salivary amylase in the mouth. If we are wolfing down our lunch whilst dashing between meetings, we will certainly have suboptimal digestion of that meal. (Ehlert, Nater and Böhmelt, 2017). It would be better to wait until it’s calm again to get the most from the meal.

3. Only eat when hungry

Think about your hunger next time it comes, assess whether it is hunger of the stomach or hunger of the mouth or perhaps even hunger of the mind. From a young age we are ingrained with eating behaviours by those around us from whom we learn. The most common will be placating a nervous, bored, angry, frustrated or sad child with a sweet treat. This programming has a profound impact on us as we grow up and becomes our instilled behaviour as adults. As you can imagine, a childhood of being given smarties every time tears threaten will likely end up in a subconscious belief that smarties will solve emotional upset. Equally so, some may mistake hunger for anxiety and vice versa due to the physiological actions of the stress hormones released by the pituitary gland and adrenals; butterflies in the tummy as we may have been told as children. This can create a cycle of stress eating which is unhelpful as it will often result in malabsorption of nutrients and therefore storage.

Eating when hungry ensures we consume the correct quantity of nutrients for our needs. Breaking the mental and emotional ties to the physiological process can free us from weight mismanagement and suboptimal nutrition.

4. Pay attention to sensible cravings

Many of us have somehow lost the ability to truly listen to our bodies. Cravings for certain things will indicate what our body needs; chocolate chip cookies and lemon drizzle cake are not true cravings, they are a learnt, addictive behaviours.

Cravings for red meat, dark chocolate, vinegar and red kidney beans can indicate a need for iron. Cravings for dark green leafy vegetables can indicate a need for fibre, potassium and magnesium. Cravings for red and orange foods may indicate a need for carotenes, beta, alpha and lycopene which are antioxidants and precursors to Vitamin A. Craving for ‘wet’ foods such as cucumber, cereal with milk, soups and so on may indicate low water in the cells as well as extracellular fluid. Cravings for earth and soil often seen during pregnancy are associated with low mineral status. Cravings for fish, particularly oil, may mean cell membranes are lacking in EPA and DHA found in fish oils. A craving for salt may indicate dehydration and/or low adrenal function. Craving for sweet foods can suggest low blood sugar. Pay attention to true, honest cravings and go with them if they are for whole foods and nutrient rich. Marmite on toast probably doesn’t count!

5. Don’t even look at processed or ready made foods

Processed foods are contrary to the paleo way and our ethos at Wildfitness and we would always encourage real, natural whole foods instead. Processed foods tend to have higher calorific contents as well as lower fibre, lower phytonutrients and water soluble vitamins and have synthetic additives including folic acid, iron sulphate and other obscure molecules that are damaging to our systems. Next time you have a moment, look at the ingredients of a hot cross bun, a loaf of supermarket own brand sliced bread, a packet of Doritos. Many of these ingredients, although branded natural, are so processed and refined that they are largely unrecognisable to the body.

6. Think about your meal composition and your daily food intake

Not each meal has to have the same composition of macronutrients but taking into consideration the food types you are consuming each day helps you to make wise choices.

One way to think about it is to imagine you are strolling through the forests of Europe in mid spring - what might you find to eat? A small handful of nuts, a few strawberries, a tuber or two? Plenty of wild garlic, nettles, sorrel, a wild cabbage and some wild carrots. You might stumble upon a bird’s nest and enjoy a few eggs or catch a trout or salmon in a stream. Perhaps you may even find a fox feeding off a discarded carcass and chase it away to crack the bones for marrow. You might spy a wild mushroom or two and, on a really good day, a bee hive might provide you with a little waxy honey.

Manhattan to Mohonk Preserve

From Manhattan to Mohonk Preserve: re-wilding in Upstate New York

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Darting between yellow cabs, pedestrians and pedigree dogs with coffee in hand demands dexterity and nimble footwork. It does not, however, qualify as ‘natural movement’ within the Wildfitness philosophy. As I leave Manhattan’s skyline behind me for the weekend, I realise how much I’m looking forward to de-caffeinating and re-wilding in the forests of Upstate New York.

Entering the Hudson Valley, my mind is already energised. Released from the urban jungle, my body will soon follow. Wildfitness coaches Nala, Hannah and Josh welcome our weekend tribe to Minnewaska Lodge and allow us to glimpse our luxuriously expansive accommodation before we gather outside and the barefoot games begin. Our heart rates are soon up as we 'rough-house' (a form of play-fighting designed to improve one’s balance while knocking others off theirs) and master the core elements of wild combat.

Then it’s time to unleash our inner animals. We limber up with some ‘structural hygiene’, before acquainting ourselves with the 'bear scramble', 'bunny hop', 'crab crawl', and 'duck walk'. A potential recipe for chaos - not to mention the odd confused, hopping bear - but we have the space to roam free and no animals are harmed in the making of this spectacle.

The next treat in store for us is Brooklyn-based chef Sarah Chianese. Passionate about sourcing local ingredients, as well as sky-diving and other thrill-seeking ventures, she immediately wins us over. As for her culinary creations, these are something to behold. Tender barbecued meat, succulent smoked fish and fresh grilled seafood are marinated to perfection. Colourful, flavoursome vegetable dishes pose as accompaniments yet compete as classy centrepieces. Even the food-photo-phobic amongst us can’t resist snapping the happy salads adorned with edible flowers. Sarah reveals to us her key ingredient: love. Whatever love is, it tastes divine and we devour it.

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My weekend highlight is our expedition into the Lost City of the Mohonk Preserve, whose towering rock formations and sprawling forest become our playground. We swing, crawl and vault using movements based on Parkour (free-running). Soon enough we are testing some personal boundaries. Alas, my body continues to tell my brain that attempting the ‘kong’ jump to clear a log at waist height is destined to end in a face-plant and some quality time in the local trauma ward. We all have our nemesis and mine remains the kong (though having nailed the duck walk, I sleep easier in my luxury bed that night).

With a professional mountaineer as a coach, we are guaranteed a superior scrambling and climbing experience on the Mohonk rocks. The sense of achievement after scaling the trickier climbs - with Josh generously stepping up as a human rock in the absence of a foothold - spurs us on to the summit of the Reserve. From a sunny peak above the forest canopy, we overlook a stunning vista as we enjoy our picnic brunch. This is the first of two hearty meals that day and the switch from three daily feeds is surprisingly comfortable. As we take a moment to meditate, the tranquility is broken only by the dulcet snoring of those who take their relaxation particularly seriously. The day ends with a technical yet energetic session on lifting and carrying: boulders, logs and then each other. Whether our tribal ancestors would have attempted this with their eyes closed, just for a laugh (or was it to hone our sensory perception?), we shall never know.

On Saturday, the heavens open. They stay open all day, ensuring a magnificently wet and muddy experience. But our skin is waterproof and the prospect of hot showers and a Swedish massage awaits us. Throwing ourselves - quite literally - into our woodland obstacle course, we test our resilience, skill and ability not to tumble off slippery logs into the river below. When the coaches challenge us to design an obstacle course for them, combining the various movements and skills we’ve explored, we do so with relish. The professionals observe as we show them how it's done. We then observe as they show us how it's really done, but are delighted when even they cross the finish line caked in mud.

Later, clean and ready for my massage, I try to forewarn the lovely masseuse.

‘Oh my!’ she remarks on seeing my fine collection of scrapes and bruises. ‘Are you… enjoying your vacation?’

‘Absolutely!’ I enthuse. ‘Can you please make my legs work again?’

Fully relaxed and functioning again as regular bipeds, we settle in for Head Coach Nala’s presentation and a discussion of the Wildfitness philosophy, followed by a last delicious supper and a deep sleep in preparation for our ultimate movement session.

Sunday morning’s ‘lactic lift-off’ is true to its name. Suffice it to say that if muscle burn truly generates anti-ageing growth hormone, I estimate that I take off a good 10 years in as many minutes. Our closing relaxation exercise, designed to calm the adrenaline and dispel any remaining tension, turns out to be as entertaining as it is restorative. Any unsuspecting guests at the Lodge, taking the morning air on their balconies, may believe they are witness to something between a joyful hokey-cokey and an exorcism. But for the uninhibited participants on the grassy lawn below, it is marvellously therapeutic. It is also a fitting finale to a weekend of adventure, exhilaration, play, rest and reflection, infused with positive energy from our excellent coaches and the tribe.

Back in the city, I pass glass-fronted gyms full of whirring treadmills and head to Central Park where I survey my surroundings. I select a sturdy hand rail as a balancing beam, plot a stretch to showcase my duck walk, pick my climbing tree and plan a finishing flourish of wild combat punches and shoulder rolls. I confirm to myself that I am the ninja of natural movement. A pair of nearby ducks regard me with expressions that beg to differ, but I meet their gaze and stare them down. They are about to see who walks the walk around here.

Should I fast?

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A question that seems to be asked with increasing frequency. And one for which the answer is never a straightforward yes or no.

Intermittent fasting

Intermittent fasting can be extremely useful in weight loss and therefore hormone balancing as fat is metabolically and endocrinologically active. The reason for this in the combined reduction in calories as well as stimulating the metabolism to switch gears to fat burning. The mechanism behind this is multifaceted but can be explained without too much difficulty.

During periods of extended fasting the body will adapt and reduce its energy expenditure by slowing enzymatic function and prioritising usage in the most important areas such as the brain. Shorter periods of fasting will switch the body from burning the available glucose into burning fats in adipose tissue, love handles to you and me, but it will not down-regulate overall metabolism and reduce energy expenditure dramatically. This switch can be further influenced by upregulating metabolism through movement and exercise; having a workout session just before eating.

After we have utilised a certain amount of stored glucose in the form of glucagon, the body will realise that stores are running low by means of hormone signalling. The brain can run on two forms of energy, ketones and glucose. Many people will say they can reach a fully ketogenic state however research shows that the brain always requires glucose as well.

Insulin is the hormone that knocks on the door of each cell requesting that the gates are opened to allow glucose in, to be utilised by the mitochondria for energy production. It only knocks if there is a rise in blood glucose. In some cases of chronically high blood glucose due to high dietary intake, the insulin must constantly knock on the doors of each cell hassling them to let the glucose in The cells become fed up with insulin interminably harassing them and start to ignore insulin as they do not need any more glucose. This can become a dangerous cycle driving both insulin and blood glucose higher as the glucose cannot get into cells for utilisation.

When there is a lot of glucose in the bloodstream it can start sticking to other molecules creating glycated proteins from LDL and other transport proteins. These are large sticky molecules that bump around in the blood stream creating havoc on blood vessel linings in the form of oxidative stress, which can lead to a number of health complications and chronic inflammatory disease states.

However during short periods (12-24hrs) of fasting, when blood sugar levels drop, there is no use for insulin so the production is reduced. This is a key factor for those with insulin resistance and diabetes type 2 (not type 1) (Barnosky et al., 2017). With less insulin circulating, the cells become more sensitive to its presence which reduces insulin resistance and improves sensitivity. This helps to explain the use for intermittent fasting in cases of chronic diseases including that of the liver (Vanhorebeek et al., 2017), inflammatory diseases such as Rheumatoid arthritis, oxidative stress, diabetes mellitis type 2, blood lipid imbalances and atherosclerosis.

Extended Water Fasting

Supervised water fasting has not been studied in depth however anecdotal data indicate positive effects of metastatic growths, gastrointestinal permeability reduction and therefore food sensitivities. Dr Goldhamer of TrueNorth in California has suggested that patients have normalised blood pressure, cholesterol, blood glucose levels, musculoskeletal issues and many more alongside removing lifelong dependency on medicines. Published data are hard to find, however.

Unsafe and Unsupervised Fasting

As you now know, with low levels of insulin and blood glucose, the body starts to burn fats through a process called beta oxidation. Adipose tissue or adipocyte store excess energy in the form of fats, adipose tissue also stores fat soluble chemicals and toxicants. Water soluble ones are quickly excreted, in many instances they were once fat soluble but are made more water soluble in the phase two of liver detoxification. If phase two is suboptimal one has a build up of fat soluble toxins which must be stored. Fat soluble molecules can more easily traverse across cell membranes which can be dangerous whereas water soluble ones must be transported by energy dependant transport proteins.

This may happen in the case of illness that requires medical intervention and drugs, exposure to pollution and organophosphates (fertilisers) as well as the more well known, alcohol use. The liver becomes overburdened and shunts what it cannot metabolise into storage in adipocytes to be dealt with at a later date. If that person then decides to go on a liver cleanse or a strong fast, the fat is mobilised to be burnt for energy and with that the stored toxins are released. If those toxins are potent enough, they can cause serious damage and, in very extreme cases, death. This is why gentle build ups and wise detoxification is advised before any prolonged fast.

Juice and Smoothie Fasting

A discussion that certainly stimulates heated debate. Choosing between each is highly dependant on the aim of the fast.

Smoothies include the whole vegetable and fruit. Done correctly, these are excellent however many slip up by making them into sugar based high fat litres of liquid that are not so dissimilar to just having a slice of iced cake. A mostly vegetable smoothie with a little fruit and small amounts of good fats gives an excellent source of fibre along with the ease of being able to consume a large quantity of plant foods in a quick drink. The fibre is excellent for manually cleansing the digestive system removing unwanted excess toxins, hormones and stuck foods as well as feeding the commensal bacteria in the colon, the is in relation to the enterohepatic circulation (Roberts MS, 2017).

Juices generally have a higher concentration of nutrients but lack fibre. This means less work for the digestive system as well as potentially higher sugar content per volume. This approach would be excellent for those who are trying to increase micronutrient consumption but may have digestive complaints. This would not be advised for those who suffer from constipation as the lack of fibre can slow transit time.

If you have no major health concerns or complications combining the two can be a great middle ground although if you have low blood pressure it is advised to supplement small amounts of sea salt or use sodium rich vegetables.

Conclusion

The advantages and disadvantages of any form of fasting will depend on the individual’s physiology, underlying diseases and metabolic variants. If you have a history of prolonged drug use, medicinally or otherwise, approach extreme fasting with caution. However a gradual introduction of intermittent fasting combined with antioxidant and liver supportive foods would be an excellent starting place. If you have any liver, kidney or lung problems seek the advice of a medical practitioner and look to have blood tests prior. Those with diabetes should approach longer term fasting with caution and seek medical supervision.

Although research may be a little thin on the ground, there is some evidence that various forms of fasting have beneficial health effects. When considering a fast, pose yourself a few questions to be sure you are making the right choices.

Do I have any serious health conditions that may be contraindicated for the fast I am considering?

Have I prepared properly in advance to reduce the risk of recycling excessive stored toxins?

Am I in a safe and relaxed environment to enjoy my fast and glean the most benefit from it?

Muscat Wadi Run

Explorative runs can be fun. A venture into Qurum Wadi in Muscat puts this theory to the test.

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In the heart of Muscat, surrounded by roads and office blocks, lies a wadi that is driven over but rarely glanced at. As dawn breaks, I now eye it carefully as I pick a route across its cracked earth terrain. I venture in and embark along my unfamiliar running track, passing under highways and by half-finished construction projects. Three wild dogs scare the life out of me but resist biting and keep me moving. A lady and her son are tending to their goats and sheep, who are foraging the last morsels of quickly drying acacia bush - a flash back to the real Oman before the Starbucks and McDonald’s invasion that is slowly concealing it. We wave at each other, both of us odd and out of place in our own ways.

The landscape is hardly one of unspoiled nature. Wadis are dried river beds. For 360 days a year, that is. For the other few days, heavy rains in the mountains produce flash floods that the wadi, and the surrounding area, cannot cope with. Rather than a gentle, meandering river that gradually erodes the banks, this form of river does nothing and then plays catch-up by moving vast amounts of earth, rocks and boulders the size of cars (as well as any cars, trucks and people in its way) down through Muscat and out to sea in a matter of hours. The persevering people at Muscat Municipality have made various attempts to control this, but the inevitable wave of destruction that follows each attempt is clearly visible: concrete barricades the size of mountain huts are upturned to reveal their foundations, while water pipes ripped from their casings protrude erratically from the ground.

Muscat currently hovers around 40 degrees centigrade in the shade. At 6am, it is a more like a refreshing 37. The sweat pours quickly and oxygen seems oddly hard to come by, as if I were training at altitude when in reality I am one, perhaps two metres above sea level.

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But this is not an arduous run, by any means. It is perhaps better described as an explorative run, a term used frequently in Wildfitness. Not only am I running, but I am needing to think: about where to place my feet next on the uneven, rocky ground; about where I am actually going; perhaps most importantly, about how far I can go before I need to head back home to rehydrate.

At the opposite end of the running spectrum is the sterile treadmill in a gym. There is no thinking required; the terrain is consistently compliant; the destination is clear and you can just stop if you get a little tired.

There is, of course, challenge in any form of running. But, wherever you find yourself, you may discover that the challenge of an exploratory run - in a wadi, on a disused railway or off the beaten track in a local city park - can be infinitely more rewarding.

The Paleo Diet Explained

The diet you will abide by on our retreats may sound unimaginable to some but in this blog Tatu, our chef in residence hopes to enlighten you and break it down so that you can see why we implement it and how it can help you!

Wildfitness has adopted an adapted paleo approach to allow for realistic approach of what is achievable in a modern, urban environment. We encourage all natural foods alongside ergonomic wild movement filled with exploration of the internal and external world with awareness and gentleness to ourselves to manage the stresses of modern day life. At the very core of the Wildfitness philosophy is the principle of reconnection; to nature, playfulness, ourselves as humans and one another.

Many think of the paleo approach as being huge hunks of meat at each meal, more akin to the diet of a carnivore, which has been a point of contention through the years. This is not the case and one can even adopt a vegetarian adapted paleo diet although specific food groups must be carefully considered.

“True paleo means eating approximately 75 percent plant based food, non-starchy vegetables, fruit, seeds and tree nuts with the addition of compassionately reared/ free-range meat, fish and eggs.”
Dr Kim Lloyd, founder of the Paleo Society.

An interesting three-week study of obese diabetic patients showed improved total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL) control in patients on a paleo diet of similar caloric intake to that of those with a Normal American Diet. The calories were split in the same way in each diet, meaning both groups of patients consumed approximately 54% from carbohydrates, 28% from protein and the remainder from fats. In the discussion the researchers noted that the group on the paleo diet struggled with the quantity of food needed to achieve the required calorie goal to match the control group and therefore, had they not been made to eat the same calorific equivalent, weight-loss would have been significant. This would have undoubtedly in the long term had a further positive effect on blood serum markers such as Glycated Haemoglobin and fasting blood glucose, the two major markers used for diabetes diagnostics and monitoring.

A further study of paleo diet adoption showed slightly different results, most likely based on the difference of macro nutrient percentages (40% fat, 30% protein, 30% carbohydrates) although it was agreed that the diet did have overall positive results for reducing risk factors for chronic disease development. This trial highlighted that an aspect often overlooked is the subjective wellbeing of the participants, a point we feel is important to note in the context of what Wildfitness advocates.

Although performed as an animal trial, specific outcomes of this trial have massively positive implications for immunomodulation and chronic disease states. ‘The geometric mean of C-reactive protein was 82% lower and intra-arterial diastolic blood pressure was 13% lower in the Palaeolithic group.’ (Jönsson et al., 2017). You might ask: what on earth this means and why the excitement? C-Reactive protein is a diagnostic marker used to identify presence or absence of chronic inflammation as well as to monitor inflammatory autoimmune diseases such as Multiple Sclerosis and Lupus. The demonstrated reduction of this in a short term trial strongly indicates that adoption of this eating habit will reduce the risk and expression of inflammation and complications that arise as a result. Longer duration trials would be useful to assess accurately the long term effects of adopting the paleo diet on diagnostic health markers and general feelings of wellness.

One review paper explored the true paleo diet as seen in hunter-gatherers in remote parts of sub-Saharan Africa. One of the concerns in the modern western adaptation of the palaeolithic diet (and all western diets in fact) is the Omega 3 to Omega 6 ratio which has been shown to be part of the drive of the chronic inflammatory diseases we see in practice. This paper highlighted that bone marrow and brain would have been consumed in reasonable amounts and both these parts of the carcass would be an excellent source of Omega 3 fatty acids. Currently our population is supplementing with high dose EPA fish oils or the vegan alternatives to combat our high Omega 6 intake from grains and animal products. Following a paleo diet high in red meat can lead to a string imbalance of Omega 3:6 which can then lead to inflammation and system damage. Reducing Omega 6 rich foods whilst incrementally increasing ethically sourced Omega 3 sources would be advisable to ensure that immune, nervous and cardiovascular system health is maintained.

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Taking into consideration these findings, adopting a more palaeolithic approach to food is advisable so long as you don’t chose to eat a steak for each meal as you can cause yourself harm through over consumption as red meats contain carcinogens, this will be discussed in more detail in another blog post: Raw vs Cooked.

An extension from a paleo diet is a more general adoption of a paleo lifestyle. Specifically relating to food, it suggests eating locally grown produce and certainly airfreighted acai berries and avocados. Eating locally in season reduces the impact on the planet and also on the water supplies of poorer countries working to supply the western nations with exotic superfoods grown to the detriment of a dwindling water supply.

Have a look at what locally grown produce is available; it will be picked later and therefore have a higher nutrient concentration for your health whilst you consider the health of the planet too. You can find more information about seasonal foods here: eattheseasons.co.uk

We hope this has helped and if you have any further questions - keep checking back to our blog as Tatu will be shedding light on new topics each month. The next one will be on Fasting.

The Diaries: Barcelona

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Food, glorious food

In the past, as a young tourist in Barcelona, I was taken in by overpriced restaurants and deals that catered to my naivety. Like the classic claim of ‘Best Paella in Spain’ which was, more accurately, best within a 10 minute walk. They used black food colouring rather than real squid ink.

As a result, I haven’t had the opportunity to ever try good paella. And I didn’t think I ever would. Thankfully, this time round, Paul, the Wildfitness head coach on the retreat, introduced me to some unique restaurants in Barcelona. Each of them had their own individual flare and concept, be it a tasting menu, a selection of vegan cheeses to try or a fresh fish counter and grill. At El Robador we tried a proper Catalunyan dish; the simple combination of Pa amb Tomàquet aka tomato on bread. Yes, on the Urban Retreats we indulge in grains, even fried white bait, croquettes and chocolate! Wildfitness believe that paying attention to what you eat over a longer period of time is beneficial but we realise that birthdays require cake and Barcelona requires culinary indulgence!

The Spanish have created many beautiful dishes but a favourite of mine has to be croquettes. The mushrooms croquettes just melt in the mouth and nothing tastes better than a lovely meal after a day of vigorous movement. To be honest, we laughed so much that my core muscles hurt anyway, so the feeling that indulging in a single croquette would be detrimental to my diet seemed absurd.

Not only do these Urban Retreats give you the opportunity to explore wonderful cities but they make you feel like you belong there. You know the streets and would feel confident revisiting the city with friends or family to show off some of best spots in town!

The Restaurants

  • Llamber (Tasting menu)

  • Picnic (Brunch)

  • El Robador (Diner)

  • Blue project (Vegan)

  • Beach Lunch provided by local chef Keiira Cabera

  • La Paradeta (Fish stall and grill)

Move!

I felt that my training had become boring and mundane. I was exercising a lot but not moving well and was not seeing it make any difference. This experience was enlightening; it showed that fun, nutritious movement was not at odds with living in a city - it was totally do-able!

As I woke on the Monday morning after the retreat, I didn’t feel the holiday blues. I wasn’t daunted by the idea of getting up. In fact, I was awake ahead of my alarm, full of endorphins and practically glowing from a well-needed supplement of vitamin D. I thought to myself, why don’t I find a place in London to move that doesn’t make me distressed by the idea of sweating or conscious of myself while lifting weights? While on the retreat I realised that this was exactly how the gym made me feel. The retreat had made me feel better about my body as a result of varied activities spanning the city. There wasn’t a chance of catching myself in a mirror looking disheveled and out of place amongst tight t-shirts and groans of fellow gymers on their 3rd set of 20 reps. Being in a group of fellow movers helped to dissipate any feeling of self-consciousness but it also made it that much more fun. Giggling is a great movement practice!

The weekend was intense but not purely physically. I had absorbed so much information from the people I was surrounded by, each of whom was able to share their experiences and suggest ideas for what could make novel movement fun in urban environments. The talent was humbling and the creativity inspiring.

I have always been limited by my own rigidity. As a child, I unsuccessfully pursued various forms of dance; tap, ballet, jazz. I enjoyed it but I never quite excelled. Finally, after a few of movement sessions in stunning locations in Barcelona, some handstand training with local coach Carl and an introduction to parkour with Farid, I was able to access the fluidity of movement that I so desperately lacked as a child.

The Result

The Urban Retreats let local coaches at the height of their ability share their favourite activities with us, from bouldering to handstands, parkour to paddle boarding. Whatever the discipline, Wildfitness brings passionate experts to teach you how they move and in turn give you a new skill or ignite inspiration to try something new.

Onto the Roof of the World (Part 6 of 6)

Evening view from Lobuche East high camp

Evening view from Lobuche East high camp

Sitting bolt upright in the darkness, I worm my way quickly out of the breathing hole of my -30-degree sleeping bag, a trick that my jumpy, light sleeping tendencies have mastered over years of sleeping inside the synthetic cocoons. Andy is already awake next to me, fiddling with his climbing gear. “Is it 1:00am already?” I ask.

Oster, the head Sherpa, appears suddenly from the dark, lighting the ceremonial Nepalese fire of juniper and sage atop the altar built of rocks next to our tent. A grim fate awaits in the afterlife for any Nepalese who perish above the snow line, so the fire is meant to ensure a safe climb.

Not a superstitions man, I place my safety above the snow-line in my own head and hands. Yet as one with great reverence for the traditions of others, I appreciate the symbolism and ambience of the fire that casts an eerie orange across the milky, starlit night.

And then, without an ounce of ceremony at all, the climb begins. Behind us are a father and son from the UK, and with us are Oster, Pemba, and Lhakpa. However, given that the team has been reduced to simply Andy and I, it has become more of a pair of friends climbing with company than anything that feels like a team ascent.

The stiff, clunky mountaineering boots represent the starkest departure from the freedom of motion enjoyed by a barefoot trail runner, not to mention the balance and sensory reception. The thick, double layers of plastic and cushioning, designed to protect the feet from everything between frostbite to ankle twists also prevents all normal bending, pivoting, and all other circular motions.

As I mentioned before, boring though it may sound, moving with balance and efficiency in such boots is an art in itself, a dance between placement of foot, axe, hand, and the draw of breath. And while it may lack the flash and fun of my wild runs across the cliffs of High Rocks Vista, it is a no less practiced art.

Lobuche East from the village of Dingboche, Nepal

Lobuche East from the village of Dingboche, Nepal

The first half of the climb is across 45-degree to 60-degree rock slopes and scree, and include a few Class 4 scrambles, requiring extra precise balance on the thick rubber of the boots. Andy expresses his uncertainty with the climb as we work our way up the treacherous rock. I encourage him to push on to crampon point before he abandons the climb, hoping he will find the rhythm that I know he has.

The air is thin, but my breathing is well practiced at this point, from tramping up and down the stairs of my mother’s apartment building, to the odd looks received for hiking up and down the Water Gap in double boots holding an ice axe in the middle of July. Everything has built to this moment, and while I am expecting for the growing altitude to eventually have its effect, thus far all movement has been the epitome of flow.

Even when it forces extra work to draw breath, I am enjoying every second of the exertion, and welcome the scrambles as they bring many of the stemming and balancing moves from a season of rock climbing out to play, and with them the movement takes on much more of its wild identity.

More important is the fact that even though it is extra work to draw breath at points, my heart rate remains steadily below what I have established as the threshold for oxygen debt, and my energy levels feel as steady as they would during a casual stroll down the sidewalk. It is not that the climb is not challenging, but simply that the body feels naturally geared towards the challenge.

So far, the madness seems to be paying dividends by way of method. By the time we reach Crampon Point, the landmark beyond which we will be climbing on snow and ice, I am sweating and have my layers opened down to my base layer. Yet I am full of oxygen and energy.

View of the Lobuche East Summit

View of the Lobuche East Summit

Several gulps of water later, I finish strapping metal spikes onto my feet, and the climb continues. Though it is dark, the moon and stars light the night brightly, clearly displaying the various crevasses, lips, and drop offs that plummet hundreds or thousands of feet to various places in various directions around us. They share a single common trait: a closing chapter ending as a stain on the deck.

Above us, Orion’s Belt sits in perfect alignment with the west-to-east ridge of Lobuche Peak, as if signalling in the direction from which the sun will soon liberate our frozen world with light and warmth. It is here that the movement truly goes from the flash of the wildest to the subtlety of each step, yet with no less power, precision, or importance.

As we ascend, the air grows thinner, the temperature colder, and the incline steeper. Each step is a delicate placement of the foot to ensure optimal grip of all the spikes, followed by the placement of the axe, the inhale, the exhale, and the constant state of balance, when done right is as precise as a metronome.
The art of movement takes many forms.

To the east, the slightest slivers of light betray the steady rise of the coming sun. At last we reach the final section of pitches, the steepest inclines of the climb. Fixed rope anchors have been built, allowing climbers to clip in with an ascending device called a Jummar.

The climb has flowed as smoothly as one could hope thus far, and yet now, so close to the top I begin to wrestle with sudden reservations. I am accustomed to climbing tied to one or two other well-known and trusted climbers, on anchors that either they or I built ourselves. I realize it is my own mistrusting nature speaking from inside, yet all the same every ounce of me wishes to forsake the ropes and climb solely on the comfort of my own axe and feet.

I mute the inner discussion with the quiet vow to check each anchor as I pass it, and clip into the rope, not wishing to create discord. Even if I am fine without the rope, by not using it I would be setting an example for other climbers who might not be, and inadvertently risking a life. Besides, Jake, though not here, is a climber that I wholly trust, and he knows this operation.

The breathing and movement has now fallen into such a rhythm that it feels as steady as a drum beat. The route grows steadily more steep, as the sun ever so slowly climbs alongside us, seemingly at an identical pace. I continue to wait for the oxygen wall, the moment where my present acclimatization level is no longer a match for the height to which I have ascended. Yet though the air is thin, the moment never comes, and

instead I suddenly pull my body up and over the steep lip of the last ridge, and realize that I am standing on the summit.

Himalayan Sunrise

Himalayan Sunrise

Other than water, I have consumed nothing since my breakfast of a boiled egg. Not eating was by no means intentional, it simply happened. We made the summit in less than half the suggested time, and at no point did I find myself hungry or slightly lacking in energy. This bit did not surprise me, after three months of toying with this fat-for-fuel concept, I have grown quite adjusted to the results.

Yet I am pleasantly surprised by the fact that even at nearly 21,000ft, the training and acclimatization has sufficed to keep my breathing below oxygen debt levels for the entire climb. I am certainly no scientist, nor do I have any instruments to measure for sure, but from everything I can tell by what my body is telling me now, and what I have learned from it over the last three months, I have climbed a mountain completely without using sugar for fuel.

Well, not completely. . . any climber will tell you that the summit is only the halfway mark, and getting down is frequently where things go wrong. Yet I feel immensely strong, with far more in the tank than I had been counting on.

Before I address the descent, I pause to breathe in the fact that after a lifetime of dreaming about this moment, I am standing on top of a mountain in the middle of the Himalayas. Across from me are many of the famed 8,000 meter peaks, the 14 tallest in the world. Nuptse. Makalu. Pumori. Lhotse. And of course, Everest herself, the thick cloud clinging to her summit glowing such an intense orange from the sunrise that it appears as a literal ball of fire.

Mt Everest Sunrise

Mt Everest Sunrise

I pull a flag from my pack, commemorating my best friend and his team of special operatives that went down in a chopper crash nearly two years ago. Where the line between the emotions about him and the fact that I’m actually standing here lies I don’t know. Instead I keep it all to myself, and uncertain whether to choose between the shadowy orange fire on Everest or the bluish-purple line across the western horizon behind the row of nameless, jagged Himalayan peaks, I commission countless pictures from both.

We are back at high camp shortly after, settling into a meal around the time we were told we would just be rounding the summit. The mission is complete, and the experiment worked. Time now for the long trudge back to Lukla, and the tiny, cliff-diving flight back to Kathmandu.

View from high camp

View from high camp

Timing will find me back in the U.S. the day before Thanksgiving, the entire weekend of which I intend to eat and drink every single thing in sight. I have lost so much weight that I am not terribly far from my high school wrestling weight at this point. No amount of assuring my mother that I feel fine is going to assuage her assumptions that I am on the verge of expiration, so again, I won’t bother trying.

The plan is to just keep eating. Once I’ve sufficiently gorged myself, perhaps then I’ll actually talk to a professional nutritionist about this little experiment of mine, and see where things go from there.

By the time I find myself instructing again for Wildfitness this coming year, I’ll have plenty concrete to share. Hopefully I’ll be lucky enough to see some of you there, be it at our U.S. debut in the Hudson Valley of New York, Scotland, or perhaps another one of our overseas locations.

Hudson Valley

Hudson Valley

In the meantime, don’t go rushing out to try this just because I did, talk to someone who knows better first. Just because it worked for me doesn’t mean it will for you, and just because I did it CERTAINLY doesn’t make it a great idea!!!! Remember, it’s far from the worst idea I’ve ever gone along with.

Just ask my ankle.

Slap Dash Lunch with Tatu Bearcroft

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Tatu recently stepped up to the role of Resident Chef, to work closely with our other talented chefs to ensure every one of our guests has a delicious experience based on taste and backed by sound evidence.

Over a delicious lunch prepared by Tatu, I was able to quiz her about her food secrets. My questions were slap dash; her lunch was certainly anything but!

With a flare for wild in her food and having grown up close to nature she pulls inspiration from her nomadic upbringing, nutritional knowledge and passion to see delight on guests faces as they share meals around our social tables. I am here to introduce you to the woman behind the food.

Where are you currently based?

Chelsea, London.

Have you led a nomadic lifestyle?

I grew up in Kenya, Thailand, Bali, France, Tanzania and the UK mainly but spent time in many other places including Mozambique, Qatar, Spain, Australia and a few others here and there. So yes would be the answer.

If you could present your food to anybody in the world who would it be?

Anyone who loves good and interesting food, appreciates their health and is hungry. No one in particular comes to mind.

What is your favourite travel destination?

Any place with warm sunshine, sweet mangoes, salty sea and big space.

Do you have a go-to ingredient that can transform a dish?

Oh, this changes from month to month, year to year. Some simple saviours along the way have included the zingy taste of citrus fruits, handfuls of the herb in season, although dill still confuses me, pomegranate seeds, a generous sprinkle of cumin, a hint of tahini, toasted pine kernels, rich flavours of Croatian olive oil... it goes on!

If you were to sit down with friends to watch a movie, what snack would be on offer?

Possibly home made toasted spiced nuts and seeds, tahini marinated kale with sweet smoked paprika and sea salt flakes, or a delightful trio of spiced hummus, homemade chilli baba ganoush and crushed avocado.

What is your guilty pleasure, be it the type of music you listen to while cooking or a delicious treat that defies your food philosophy?

Guilty pleasures... I could drink maple syrup! Heavily buttered marmite and honey toast.

How would you describe the state of the modern man’s relationship with food?

Distanced, unfamiliar and lacking in gentle gratitude of its growth and creation. Many do not cook, let alone grow food, understand the magic and the hard work it takes to feed one human - let alone a city. We eat selfishly, we eat more protein so we can have big muscles; we do not consider the energy needed to grow that protein nor recognise the research that shows we need not eat so much of it. We eat for our own health, vanity and greed without acknowledging the impact it is having on the planet. Exotic health foods flood our markets, yet have been flown half way across the world, grown by people who struggle to feed their families on land claimed from life-giving forests. Then we all dash off to the gym to burn the excess we consume - what a strange existence we live. I am not exempt from this. I would say all humans should attempt to grow something, even if it's a chilli plant on their kitchen counter.

Is there a typically British ingredient that is priceless to you?

The trusty turnip, the sexy swede and the beautiful beetroot bring me great delight! Mustard greens in a salad, sorrel, chervil, dandelion leaves, the lost flavours of old. I love to make oriental inspired spiralised turnip salads, spiralised swedes with raw nut Bolognese, grated beetroot with tahini to accompany a fillet of sea-bass. Plus each of these dishes are all so wonderfully good for you!

Finally, can you give 3 of your top cooking tips?

  1. Taste your vegetables individually raw before you cook them, allow the flavour to flow over your tongue, close your eyes and savour the emerging tastes as they change influence by your pH levels, salivary amylase, hydration and mental and emotional state. Knowing your ingredients will give you the tools to play with tastes and textures.

  2. Cook less, prepare more. Avoid cooking where possible for two reasons - 1. makes the washing up a doddle, 2. reduces phytonutrient and damage and fibre breakdown.

  3. Keep it creative, remember the perfect recipe is often someone else’s perfection, be yourself. If at a loss lemon saves most disasters... except over cooked pasta, nothing will save that.

Peanuts & Yak Cheese (Part 5 of 6)

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“Jesus Josh, would you please eat a sandwich or something?” Helen remarks as we stand in the early morning dark outside Kathmandu airport. “You’re starting to look like a stick figure!” I grin in response, and explain to her that she shares my mother’s opinion. As I help her husband Jake unload our bags from the van we just arrived in, I begin to explain to her the basis of my little experiment, and how it will face its final test between now and nearly two weeks later, when we attempt the 20,075ft summit of Lobuche East.

As we wait in a crowded line of other non-Nepalese, all in the customary down, Gore-Tex, and fleece, looking like an advertisement in Outside Magazine and complete with stuffed North Face duffels just like ours, my story continues. Beside me Jake discusses details of our upcoming flights with Rabindra, who is our head Sherpa for the journey ahead. Jake is the team leader, and the owner of Juggernaut Adventures, the company that has brought me to Nepal. Along with the four of us are Andy, Ken, and Brian, the three enthusiastic clients that round out our team. And as soon as this massive line of other trekkers, climbers, and assorted thrill seekers are allowed to filter through the closed doors in front of us, we will board flights to Lukla airport, billed as the most dangerous in the world. As we land, it’s not terribly difficult to see where Lukla gets its notoriety. It’s not so much the altitude of the place, clocking in at 9,383ft above sea level, nor the fact that it feels as though were flying inside a maraca every time the wind broadsides us. It’s more the fact that the tiny plane dives without warning and lands suddenly on a small strip of asphalt about half the size of your average Starbucks drive through, carved right out of the jagged mountainside.

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In fairness to the pilot, it was a textbook landing.

After a stop for tea in the winding, stone built town of Lukla, which is carved literally out of the mountainside as well, we meet the rest of Rabindra’s team, and then set off for the town of Phakding. For the next 16 days, we will trek slowly towards our eventual rendezvous with Everest Base Camp, stopping in the remote alpine villages each night to slowly acclimatize to the increasing altitude and decreasing oxygen. From EBC we will make our way to our climbing high camp, leaving around midnight that night to summit Lobuche Peak, before picking our way back to Lukla and eventually Kathmandu.

Each day is a slow and steady trod through the dusty landscape of a small country that contains every different type of climate zone on earth. It’s certainly not the most “wild” of movements. When compared with all the running, jumping, and swinging that has become such a large part of my recent training, trudging slowly and steadily uphill day after day seems rather dull. Yet the towering, snow capped peaks of the world’s greatest mountain range make for an environment that is the epitome of wild, and this is the movement they require.

I am here to gauge how my body acts and feels in this massive world of rock and snow as a result of all this varied training, and as each day passes, I am consistently happier with the results. My legs and lungs have responded exactly as I had hoped. It feels easy to pull ahead, and tempting though it is, I do my best to remain with the group.

With each day, we wind our way up steep, rocky mountain trails, past porters, trekkers, and yak herds clanging with neck bells. Around every bend is a view more mind blowing than the last. The Himalayas are truly a sight the likes of which I have never seen, every bit as vast and rugged as one would expect from a wilderness that was created as a result of the Indian subcontinent smashing into the rest of Asia.

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By day two we have gotten our first glimpse of Everest herself. With each passing day, I find myself staring at the jagged, snow covered mountains I know so well from years of reading, Googling, and dreaming about them. Lhotse. Ama Dablam. Makalu. The list goes on. They are more than any photo has ever done justice, yet somehow every bit as legendary as all the famous stories about them imply. Each one keeps me at a loss for words. Instead I simply stare, as though my grasp of the English language never existed to begin with.

Alongside my awe, I am happy to find that as we grow progressively higher in altitude, and as my body acclimatizes to the thinning air, so does my experiment seem to be working. My energy levels remain stable, devoid of spikes and crashes. The hills and heights become more intense, and while there is certainly tiredness experienced, everything seems to remain stable. It is an experiment, however, that is not above the need for some adjustments on the fly.

Maintaining my fat based, non-sugar diet is difficult in a place where every menu is dominated by boiled potatoes, noodles, and rice, and every store filled with soda, chocolates, and candies as we make our way steadily higher towards the roof of the world. Bringing in nutrients seems quickly dismissed as misplaced optimism.

I found it unavoidable to ask myself why I managed to ensure a full supply of vitamins and other nutrients for the two months I spent gallivanting across Southeast Asia a year ago. Certainly we experienced our fair share of culture and adventure, between climbing, hiking, and taking in the sights. Yet admittedly the trip was a vacation, not a mission, and thus included its fair share of drinking tequila shots, getting wild with other travellers, and riding motorbikes as fast as possible through the madness of traffic in Vietnam, Thailand, and Cambodia.

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Yet here, a place I had spent a lifetime dreaming of visiting to pursue some actual physical objectives, I had somehow managed to leave supplemental nutrients behind. Well, I tell myself, if this was meant to be a bare bones experiment, it will certainly be authentic.

I am consequently forced quickly to make a few adaptations as all good adventures require. How my decided adaptations will live up to the hard science behind the Maffetone Method, I’m not certain. But seeing as I have been my own guinea pig for this long, it seems only fitting. Morning meals will consist of as much fat and protein as I can ingest: boiled eggs, the occasional wedge of yak cheese, and my ever-steady diet of peanuts. As the trek progresses, I refuel only with fat for energy. The slower going makes it easy to stay well within the threshold for oxygen debt, despite the steadily decreasing presence of oxygen in the air. I am counting on the two months of training my body to become a fat engine to carry through now.

Each night, we sit in alpine lodge rooms built around a small, circular furnace, heating our bodies by burning patties of dried yak dung. I consume my reasonable share of the rice, fried noodles, or boiled potatoes. The need to refuel the body is not a question but a fact, and while it may shake some of the purity that this little experiment had in its initial stage, my theory seems to be working. The hope is that everything consumed at the end of the day that will be inadvertently converted to fat can still be tapped as fuel in its fat form the following morning.

With each day, we gain altitude, and as my body acclimatizes to the thinning air, so does my experiment seem to be working. The influx of simple carbs is welcomed nightly by my battered body, seemingly on board with my last-minute adjustment, and eager to convert the evening meal into tomorrow’s fuel.

Now before I go any further, and some nutritionist, or trainer, or other mountaineer has my head for writing this blog, I feel the need to clarify something with utmost specificity: I am not suggesting that I have discovered the revolutionary climbing diet, nor do I claim to be evidence of some newly discovered form of athleticism. I am just some guy that lives in a van who likes climbing things, did some reading, and was stubborn (or stupid) enough to test these concepts out on himself. I’m certainly not suggesting you fast track your climbing career based off this page. I can’t tell you how your body will react to this, or how many things will be different once I get around to working with an actual nutritionist on whatever the next stage of training this all evolves into. What I can tell you, however is this:

All the way to Everest Base Camp, my experiment proves a success. My energy is stable and consistent, despite that I continue to grow thinner, as evidenced by Helen’s occasional reminder that I look like a stick figure.

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Yet now the biggest test looms: the 20,075ft summit of Lobuche Peak. Here begins the mountaineering, and the stretch of the feat that above all else I have come here for. As we part with the members of our team who are not climbing, I ask myself why I would choose my first shot at a Himalayan Summit, something I have spent my whole existence dreaming of, to attempt some zany and otherwise inadvisable dietary experiment upon myself. Saying it aloud makes it seem all the more unreasonable: keep the body functioning below the oxygen debt threshold in a sport whose central pillar is performing under heavy oxygen debt. For all I know, it is an impossibility, and for this reason I have packed a couple of Twix Bars purchased at twice their cost in the US, and a bag of date and nut rolls kindly given to me by a friend’s parent before I set off.

Looking down at my ankle, I am reminded of my unavoidable inclination to take things too far.

Well, I tell myself. I guess we’re about to find out.

Natural Born Antics (Part 4 of 6)

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It doesn’t matter how many different books, papers, blogs, or testimonials out there touting the benefits of this high fat, low carb science called ketogenic that my Natural Born Heroes journey has started me down the path of exploring. No matter how much I read about it, there is still nothing that will ever make eating bacon feel like a healthy, athletic dietary choice to me.

Yet one of the startling, seemingly paradoxical aspects of my foray into the Maffetone Method is precisely that: high fat, high cholesterol things like bacon, long thought to be the bane of arteries and aortas worldwide, is suddenly back on the menu. There is of course a whole new set of precautions that comes with it, such as finding bacon without nitrates, or cured in sugar, which apparently, EVERYTHING is.

Still, every time I prepare it, I find myself doing so in disbelief that I’m actually eating this salty, fatty piece of pork as part of an athletic training diet.

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One would think the sudden inclusion of bacon almost limitlessly into what is being billed as the ideal diet for an all-around adventure athlete would be a gift grand enough to outshine any other food consequently taken away. The truth is, I would trade all the cured pork on earth for a dish of rice and beans.

Yet if I am to truly test the results of the Maffetone Method, my beloved rice and beans are off the menu, at least for now. You see, to complete this experiment in its most extreme form, I have not only gotten rid of processed sugar, but also of any substance that BECOMES sugar once the body consumes it, such as bread, grains, and so on. And in trying to fill the caloric space left behind by our tragic divorce, bacon is one of the resources I have been forced to turn to. In fact, I have eaten more of it in the last two months than I have in the last five years.

Aside from losing the rice and beans, and the trouble not questioning the inclusion of fattier meats like bacon and sausage, my diet has largely remained the same. Vast quantities of greens, lean meat, avocado, and oils represent much less of a departure from what I have always eaten, albeit now in even larger quantities. Peanuts have become a daily staple, specifically the Hampton Farms brand, as I was to learn that even the vast majority of packaged nuts are coated with sugared gelatin.

I have refined things to the point of even making my own salad dressing, because, much like everything else I have looked at, it is not easy to find a dressing not loaded with the same sneaky additive as everything else. The sugar industry, just as the book has claimed, quite literally has its hand in everything. That vanilla powder in your caffeinated beverage? Full of sugar. Pickles? Sugar. Ground Turkey? Injected with sugar. Go have a look if you don’t believe me. It’s infuriating once you’re actually aware of it. Yet I finally seem to have it dialed.

The last item to go has been alcohol. While there is no denying my soft spot for IPA and good tequila, this was not a massive change either. I had put drinking aside well before this experiment, while simply preparing to return to Rainier.

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I have lost a noticeable amount of weight, an unintended side effect of the experiment. Already naturally wiry, I have become thinner than I have been in many years. My mother, an alarmist by nature, is convinced I am dying, and clamoring to hospitalize me each time we cross paths. No amount of research or explanation is capable of assuaging her, so before long I give up and resort instead to claiming that I have intentionally ingested an entire jar of living tapeworms as part of a low paying college science experiment. She does not seem to see the same humor in it that I do.

My affinity for sarcasm and dwindling waistline aside, there is no denying the effect the experiment has had upon both my athleticism and energy levels. Just as the book claimed, they have become stable and seemingly endless, allowing me to function at a high capacity for an entire day off a single big meal if need be. As a survivalist, I have long taught clients that food is at the bottom of the list of priorities when stuck in a life or death situation, as the body can go three weeks or more without it. It is something that takes on a whole fresh realm of understanding now that I have trained my body to go straight for its own fat reserves. It sounds extreme, and there are points where it feels that way too. Yet if ever there was a better sign, a report surfaces admitting that major sugar companies paid off researchers to blame heart disease on fat, when in reality sugar was an equal, if not far more major contributor.

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One of the side effects of the Maffetone Method is supposed to be that as your body adapts to burning primarily off of fat, your hunger levels should stabilize and lessen. I suppose they have, yet I still find myself almost constantly hungry. Admittedly not as often as I was when rice and beans where the driving foundation of what I ate. But still hungry.

Dammit do I miss rice and beans.

More challenging than their dismissal, however, is by far the heart rate training, or at least it was at first. The basic science is as simple as understanding that the body is content to burn fat as a fuel source so long as the body remains below the oxygen debt threshold, a fancy way of saying getting enough oxygen into your blood stream with each breath.

The other step, aside from removing the sugar is going back to training slow, keeping your body below a certain heart rate. While my (over) confidence suggests that my oxygen debt threshold should be higher than the number Maffetone’s formula grants me, I have committed to testing the project from scratch. The goal is to steadily increase that number over time, which if done correctly, will allow greater levels of intense movement for longer periods of time on less breath, creating the sought-after effect of a high efficiency, fat burning mountain machine.

So I adhere strictly to the number, stopping and letting my heart rate recover each time I perceive it being too high. It is at times stymying, as my natural inclination to take everything too far leaves every ounce of me wanting to hammer at full speed.

I do so without a heart rate monitor, stopping and checking my pulse at my carotid while counting a minute on my watch. I have committed to this method in hopes of developing a natural, subconscious awareness as to when my body is approaching oxygen debt, programming a silent, internal alarm in place of the shrill beep of a heart rate monitor.

At times, particularly in the beginning, it feels like going back to a crawl after a lifetime of running. But the crawl becomes a walk, the walk a jog, the jog a sprint, and before I know it, I am back to hammering.

At one point, I find myself getting back to New Jersey around midnight, after a late flight home from teaching a survival course in the Colorado Back Range. Instead of sleep, I throw on my Vibrams and run ten miles. I haven’t eaten in over six hours, and have been up since 6am, yet I scarcely notice the exertion. Instead of the suffer-fest sections of a long run, the motion seems fluid and endless, and feels as though stopping at ten miles is by no means mandatory. Often I wake in the morning with the sun, my van backed into the same shady corner of the Delaware Water Gap trailhead that I always park in. Within minutes of shaking the sleep from my eyes, I feel energized and ready to move.

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Depending on the morning, I am either in just my Vibram Barefoots, jetting up my training mountain along a trail run that finds me approximating the “Cretan Skitter” described in the book, leaping and bouncing from rock to rock and drawing everything from odd looks to pleas for caution from the other early morning hikers. Other days the movement work is focused upon the more finite series of foot placements that comprise the art of mountaineering. This draws equal looks, as I am wearing full climbing boots and basketball shorts, carrying my ice axe and a full-size pack loaded with a hundred pounds worth of weighted vest and Poland Spring water bottles.

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On days that I can’t make the Water Gap, I show up at my mother’s apartment building shortly after sun up, clomping up and down the multiple flights of stairs in the same half winter/half summer getup. Before long, the neighbors don’t even bat an eye.

Yet just as it was back in Alladale, my favorite bit of training has been turning what was once trail running through the woods into one fast moving, haywire, adult jungle gym. High Rocks Vista, long my local climbing crag, has taken on a whole new identity, and when I’m not climbing the faces, I’m hurtling through the place leaping, ducking, or swinging from everything I can get my hands on.

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There is a special meditation to the madness, particularly as I get better at the moves, or bolder with leaping the gaps between the cliffs, at times seventy feet or higher off the deck. The intense demand for complete concentration blocks out every distraction, as any hesitation that leads to a stumble could find me winding up a stain on the deck below.

If there is such a thing as a wild athlete, I can’t help but feel that I’m well along my way to becoming one. As November approaches, and my looming date with the final stage of this test in the Nepalese Himalaya grows steadily closer, I wonder again how all of this is going to apply once high altitude is thrown into the mix.

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