Not much has changed in the previous ~month. Life still revolves around Monday chemotherapy sessions. The big blue recliner over by the windows at UPMC Hillman Cancer Center is my one throne to rule them all.
The side effects have been a bit worse over the previous two weeks. I could speculate on why, but will save it for asking the doc. At this point, there is definitely a bit of a learned response. Given recent history, just the sight of the infusion pump becomes enough to incite some queasiness. But there are a number of physiological responses that seem well beyond mere perception. The side effects now hit a peak on Monday evenings and slowly diminish through the week. I never feel normal, but by Wednesday or Thursday can do some things. By the time that I begin to feel substantially better, it’s time to go back in.
I hate to admit much less type this out. But in some respects, I’m passing time. Sure, I see and enjoy the many gifts around me, try to serve others and learn something every day, not waste (time) my most valuable resource, and grow closer to God. But most days, almost everything is a bit of a chore. …And those hours where all there is to do is press my knuckles to the back of my forehead, and pray. Did I mention that I never really feel normal ; ). Even on great days, a cloud looms. The future is still uncertain (more than it always is). I eagerly await the next CT scan. Not that I need a doctor to give permission to live a somewhat normal lifespan. But I keep hoping… At some point it would be nice to hear some indication that we have a decent long term plan and my chances are…good!
Thanks for hearing some gripes in my time of reflecting out loud.
“I just wanna stay in the sun where I find I know it’s hard sometimes Pieces of peace in the son’s peace of mind…”
[ Still a Twenty One Pilots fan ]
In the mean time, today, I will keep doing more of the things of the living. I’ll see the joy and seek out goodness, bring light to others, and trust the Lord with the process and outcomes.
I’m moving a few weights against gravity again, not pushing it. Despite the internal chemical environment, continued various losses, some strength and body weight is returning. With this I’m highly curious, as some of you would imagine. I just do the work of conservative progression, trying not to think too much of lesions in bone and red blood cells, among other things. “A little more iron than a week ago” is my own home remedy, unproven, alternative, cancer treatment. Anecdotally, it’s a most therapeutic offering! It’s also good, both physically and mentally, to move and hang out with my sons and the guys in the basement. I mostly sit around; do a little chiefing. Sometimes it’s hard not to do your job. Thankfully, I have plenty of work to do. Not just in the clinic or weight room.
Physical illness brings a lot of resting and sitting around. That’s more of a change for some than others, but it’s needed. Your friends and family understand and sincerely want to help. They have a story or know a story; something that helped them or another friend to navigate a major life challenge. They give you a book (or send you a song)! With anything like this hand-selected for you, the entire work is colored by the relationship and life of the giver. Well, for me it is.
A rather large stack of such books sits behind “my” chair in our living room.
This is great when you love to read and have the time. For years I’ve kept an informal reading cycle, three broad categories of something spiritual/devotional, something for health/wellness and professional development, and something fun, usually fiction. I’ve read approximately 3/4ths of the books given to me. Of those, I have learned something from all of them, and have enjoyed a little over half of them. Please don’t feel bad about that. The truly surprising and odd thing would be to report that I completely resonated with each and every one.
The difficult thing about this scenario is that the books are not all in agreement. Some commonalities and consistencies exist within any topic, but differ in many important details. Books about the best way to deal with cancer are especially contradictory. Unlike individual articles or social media posts, books provide plenty of context and explanation of the author’s journey and thought process. Because of that, this “worst thing” is also the best thing. It’s where true learning and better understanding happen! So thank you, and keep them coming.
Although I’d like to claim otherwise, it’s still impossible NOT to initially judge a book by it’s cover. There are books that I -wanted to like- based on the cover and person giving it, but did not. There are others that I initially -wanted to dislike-, but loved. For example, The Life Changing Science of Spontaneous Healing (by Dr. Jeff Rediger) is a bit mistitled because it actually gives many helpful, practical insight and fairly thorough understanding of the critical principles behind many systemic health problems. One friend had the audacity to hand me a book with a cover and title boldly proclaiming that our bodies are but a placebo and it’s only our beliefs that hold us back. Imagine reading that cover, having recently, fairly suddenly been nearly glued to a recliner, riddled with tumors and toxic medicines rendering you a fatigued and nauseous lump. But I know this long-term friend. There is a history, and I trust his heart. Because of that I forced the book open a crack, learned a few things, and largely enjoyed it!
Lastly are the books that I did not want to like and very much did not like. How to Starve Cancer (Jane McClelland) was not given to me, but was highly recommended by more than a few friends who have dealt with or are currently dealing with cancer. This one appears to be currently popular among this population. Explaining a few specifics should shed light on the general picture of what we’re all dealing with in so many health and wellness topics.
-Jane is far more of an entrepreneur than any kind of doctor or scientist. To me, this is obvious not only from her bio on the back cover, but also by her writing voice. I’m not sure “The award-winning creator of Bathrobics toiletries” is the most reliable and trustworthy source for such a complex and pervasive of a topic. Cancer is absolutely…emotional. Jane knows how to get a lot of mileage from that.
-Jane makes the assumption that her rather horrific and traumatic experience in the UK healthcare system is the rule for all patients. To deny or invalidate her experience would be wrong. Indeed, the system is far from perfect. But readers should be reminded that everything that she writes about mainstream medical systems and treatments are tainted by her personal trauma (and two or three burnt out, plain uncaring, and likely overworked oncologists). My personal experience so far is quite the opposite.
-The foundation of Jane’s work and recommendations sound quite scientific. I have no doubt that a large portion of it is rooted in -some- -good- science. But so many of her assumptions are, well, false. I declare “Fake News,” haha. The concept of “starving” cancer through diet or otherwise is highly misleading. While scientists at colleges and universities around the world say this and attempt to use various methods, from a wide variety of angles, to hone in on very specific answers to specific problems, Jane seems to think that she has arrived at better, clear-cut pathways as a one-person revolutionary. Though possible, it’s highly unlikely. Jane describes so many supplements, conventional and unconventional medicines, lifestyle changes, and other treatments that who really knows what treatment is doing what, for what!
Real science knows better, discovers differently, and has to ferret out complex details over a large variety of individuals. Or in other words, throwing a bunch of crap against the wall and seeing what sticks is different than real science.
-The entire “Why?” of the book is based on a great conspiracy. Pharmaceutical companies, colleges and universities, and almost all cancer centers and the doctors have all conspired to the benefit of pharmaceutical companies AND cancer foundations. Being reminded about the exact same problems of “Big Pharma” every three pages becomes tiresome. Using old and relatively safe drugs in new “off label” ways is not Jane’s unconventional idea, but is indeed a conventional treatment and area of study at legitimate research institutes.
-The companies that sink nearly incomprehensible amounts of money and manpower into developing and then approving an effective and safe drug will almost certainly charge a significant amount of money per dose. No conspiracy needed. That is how the system currently works, for better and for worse.
-Just because a cheaper drug or other treatment does not pay “Big Pharma” does not mean that it’s not highly valuable and sought after. Many groups and individual have great personal interest in using anything at our disposal to solve this riddle. A prime example are the insurance companies! A friend who is a distinguished PhD and cancer researcher at the University of Buffalo recently advised me that “It’s important for you to remain comfortable, warm…don’t let yourself get cold for long.” This is scientific, literally based off her team’s fascinating research in mice and humans, looking deep into various stress-induced responses of cancer stem cells. Pharmaceutical companies do not benefit one ounce from this cutting edge “treatment.”
-Lastly, Jane’s tone is highly authoritative, without real credentials, and to the point of being prideful. There is nearly zero humility in her laments or criticisms, much less her victories. Maybe it’s just me and my own pride issue. To some people, her sort of tone may demand respect and confidence. But I’m not impressed by it.
Let the reader beware…even right now ; ) . As always, thanks for taking the time to read my journey and thoughts. I hope and pray that you learn something. Keep reading, and growing!
Part 1 was a fairly broad look at the importance of targeted training and recovery as essential components of gaining muscle. This entry delves only into diet. But it is important to understand the big picture mentioned in the first entry.
Broaching the topic of diet is touchy. Genetics are not all the same. Socioeconomics differ, and largely impact what is practical. Our cultural and even family customs and values are different. At the end of the day, different means and methods do work and fail for different people. Keep that in mind when anyone tells you precisely “What you need to do.” With that being said, here are some essential components for many, possibly the majority of athletes, to gaining muscle. Think of it as an informed starting point for you own journey.
Food Quality and Quantity
You do not need a Four-year degree or the next diet book to know what healthy food looks like. In kindergarten we learned the difference between an “anytime food” and a “sometimes” food. Naturally occurring fats in unprocessed foods like eggs, cheese, fish, unprocessed meat and seeds are GOOD. Minimally processed carbs are GOOD. For athletes -some- extra dietary protein is GOOD above what is advised for the average person. Ignore anyone who tells you that apples, bananas, blueberries, tomatoes and beans are bad. And yes, I understand the idea of the strict two-week “keto” carb watch. These extremes are almost always unnecessary, especially for weight gain. Designer packaged foods that advertise “no/low carb,” “paleo,” “keto,” “vegan,” and “organic” are not always good, and often are some of the worst things for you.
Grandpa’s old fashion advice to eat “natural, less processed foods most of the time” applies to everyone.
Now, it’s the quantity of food that needs to vary. Much of the fitness and diet industry is tailored to the middle aged, fairly sedentary desk worker looking to lose weight. Ignore all of that advice. Athletes who are growing and / or training and competing with consistency have different needs than the average person wanting to maintain or lose weight. Just like training and practice, focus on consistency. Pound something quick and easily digested immediately upon awakening and after training. Add some real food where and when you can, an extra half sandwich and the bowl of soup. It is not hard to consistently add a little, two to three times per day. Over the weeks and months, this provides for the type of “good” weight gain we are after.
The body can process a limited amount of protein at any single feeding. This depends on a number of factors, but 20 to 30% of overall calories (or about 30 grams per meal) is usually more than enough. Anything beyond that is excreted or stored as fat. And when you calculate out how much lean tissue (muscle and connective tissue thickness, greater bone density, etc) a human can actually accrue over a given time, it turns out that 2 to 4 pounds of lean tissue PER MONTH is the absolute best you’re going to get. Detailed nitrogen retention studies support this.
Too much, too quickly
Don’t be impressed when someone says they gained 50 pounds in a school semester. Unless they were a collegiate linemen, they would have been far better off in both the short- and long-term to have gained around half of that. Gaining 20 pounds of muscle and 20 pounds of fat every 4 to 6 months costs you more than it’s worth in terms of both performance and long-term health. You should not throw down food like a Scandinavian strong man, sumo wrestler, or the “average American diet” of fries and Cheetos, in order to put on some muscle.
Too little, too precise.
In my (and others) experience, athletes who seek the Holy Grail of simultaneous fat loss and muscle gain wind up doing neither very well. Again, the body systems function as a unit. Our hormones are literally shifted into either “breaking down” mode -or- “building up” mode, and trying to ride the thin line between the two is almost always counterproductive. Please forget the various notions and iterations of “underfeeds” on off days and “overfeeds” on training days. Your goal is to provide a reasonable surplus of nutrients over all days, whether training or recovering. To drastically change your food intake on off days shows a lack of understanding of human physiology and an under-appreciation for the role of recovery. Under- and over-feeds are unnecessary at best, especially for teen/twentysomething athletes who lack decades of experience to know their body well.
In theory, it is possible to simultaneously gain muscle and lose fat. But instead of gaining, say 20-30 total pounds over 6-8 months, the thin athlete adds (maybe) a few pounds of muscle in the same time period. And that is precisely “How to not be a game-changer.” The far majority of people claiming to have lost fat AND gained muscle are those who were very overweight to begin with AND they have either never trained before or are coming back after a long period off. Mostly, these individuals have maintained or slightly improved their muscle mass while dropping a lot of fat around the muscles. The appearance appears “more muscular.” But they have spent time in “breaking down” mode. As an athlete, none of those are ideal. Establish good habits and gain a reasonable amount of weight to begin with.
In reality, when the body gains muscle, it almost always gains some fat as well. I like to think that, in theory, one or two pounds of fat is absolutely normal and acceptable for every three to four pounds of muscle gain. That leaves you with a reasonable and easy-to-track goal; gain approximately 5 pounds on the scale per month. If you gain that much over six months, while eating mostly minimally processed foods and hitting the weights intelligently and consistently, you should assume that you’re doing it RIGHT! Most will probably find the first 5 to 10 pounds fairly easily, but the next 10 to 20 will require much effort and discipline in nutrition, training, and rest/recovery.
For weight gain, it’s helpful to see a little less black and white. Just like training and competition, planning ahead is a major part of this. Having a knowledgeable and “into it” parent absolutely helps in terms of meal planning and prep. But these are not always an option or available. Surprises will still come, especially with the simple nature of life as a teenager, with varying academic and sport schedules, with hopefully a balance of both spontaneity and independence in figuring things out. College students are still figuring things out (parents are too!) and also have to deal with major moves and multiple schedule changes three times every year! So be ready to not always be ready!
Getting every ounce of your food from specialty and boutique grocery stores may be you (or your parents) preference, but it is just not necessary for better performance or wellness. You should probably disregard the advice from those who do, for they are living in a different world than the other 95% of us. It’s simply not practical to think that you are going to manage to eat from only one source for very long. With the amount of mostly healthy food you’re eating, your few supplements, your training plus any travel/competition, your investment will be plenty high enough. Of course, I think this is a worthy process and investment, as I have shown through the life of my kids and myself.
Wendy’s and the like are not ideal. But if the team is stopping there, or sometimes (not always) you are just in the mood for it, is it really better to always skip it or eat nothing? Going by the general advice outlined above, you absolutely can have something decent and still get your fix. Avoid the deep fried stuff as much as possible, for that is some of the worst of the worst for your health and performance. Rather than a double Baconator (or really any extreme sandwich), fries, and soda, go with a double burger, a grilled chicken wrap, and water. In the morning, skip the pancakes and hash browns and instead have an egg Mcmuffin or two. This is by no mean health food. But please, it’s not – alwaysprimarily – about that. There are plenty of simple yet tasty and filling options that at least won’t hold you back, and are compatible with your goals.
Black and white – “All fast food is of the devil and Trader Joes is always good.”
Seeing the grey – “Let me be mindful of any selections, see the big picture, and find something that fits with my goals.”
The far majority of supplements are fairly worthless. One handful of trail mix before you train would serve you much better than designer “amino acids.” Chromium Picolonate slightly helps older diabetic patients regulate blood sugar, but does nothing (just for example) for the performance of athletes. Nitric oxide is one of the most hyped and trendy supplements that does practically nothing for strength/speed/power athletes.
Some supplements are not necessary, but they are convenient. Protein powder is usually helpful. Keep in mind that loads of extra protein are not necessary when your diet is generally in check, and natural sources are generally better than powders and mixes. But as an athlete, sometimes you wake up without a big appetite and/or just need to get moving on the day without cooking a veggie omelet. I know what it feels like to finish a challenging training or practice sessions, need to refuel, but NOT feel like immediately sitting down to roast chicken or steak stir fry. I understand that while salads and veggie-based, balanced meals are ultra healthy and do need to be part of a weight gain diet, they make it difficult to have enough room and appetite to take in enough total calories. Go ahead and try to get your three to four thousand calories per day in a strict “clean bulk” of all whole foods and no supplements. Get ready to constantly feel stuffed and make trips to the bathroom. Some supplements and a little high glycemic (sugary) type drinks and supplements can help with this.
So, immediately when you wake up, blend some fruit and protein powder into a liquid of your choice and pound it. If that’s asking too much, just go with the liquid and a shaker cup. Do not make this an “all protein” type event, for the body greatly benefits from some carbs to run on. You really need to get some quick, tolerable, quality calories AND still be able to eat a “real” breakfast in an hour or two. Immediately after training or practice, have another smoothie, quick shake, or even chocolate milk. At this time after training, the easily digested protein and sugary carbohydrates are actually BETTER for your recovery (muscular protein and glycogen synthesis) than sitting down to a “healthy meal” of real food. And again, this should leave you feeling hungry rather than stuffed in an hour or so when it is time to eat a normal healthy lunch or dinner. Again, the supplements are still not necessary. But they usually help you to fit in a few more feedings (quantity) of quality calories – exactly what’s needed for “good” weight gain.
Lastly, there are the rare, the few, the proud supplements that actually work. When in doubt, please check out examine.com for some of the most clear cut, scientific, and bias-free reviews in this realm. Vitamin D, omega-3 fatty acids, and creatine are a few of the most researched, proven safe, and -actually- effective supplements out there. I always tell young men and women not to even bother with creatine until they can honestly say that their diet and training is consistently on point for at least five months. If you are mindful of your overall caffeine intake and begin to think of it as a sports performance aid, it is absolutely one of the most effective supplements out there. But just like the space devoted in this article, supplements are at best 5% of what truly matters.
Working as a physical therapist and sports performance coach, I’ve received many questions about gaining muscle over the years. Just like the athletes and parents asking, I have been a bit overwhelmed by the overload of information out there. I have absolutely failed to realize that I have something to offer in this realm. While never claiming to be an authority in areas like diet, I have witnessed many successes and failure by those who are committed to this process. Also, I have lived sports performance and training for over 25 years -without bias. That is, I’ve been able to follow the evidence over a long haul, with absolutely no need to grow an audience or sell a product other than physical rehabilitation and training.
The main problem with many entries about weight gain and loss is that they lack perspective or are just plain impractical. So many of them focus on the minutia of diet OR exercise. While bringing much truth and some enlightenment in terms of the legitimate science, they often wholly fail to acknowledge other factors. Athletes asking how to gain weight are at a point in life where carrying more size is not natural or easy. Creating real, lasting change, without risking long-term health, requires a practical knowledge and concerted effort in both diet and exercise, plus one more critical component. There is a whole separate level of impracticality as well: All of the diet and recovery methods that necessitate an athlete or family member with a huge bankroll for designer supplements and boutique groceries, and/or a 40-hour per week commitment to planning and cooking. For 90% of even the most committed athletes, it’s just not going to happen -for very long-.
Rock Paper Scissors
As an athlete, the first thing that you can and should understand is that the absolute best weight gaining diet customized for you is of little use if you fail to train specifically toward your goals -or- if you fail to recover well. The absolute best weight gaining, sport-specific and customized training program is of little use if you fail to recover well -or- fail to make it happen with your diet. You can use every bit of know-how and technology to help you manage your busy schedule, sleep well, and monitor your vital signs with precision. But that will be of little use if you fail to manage your nutrition -and- train consistently and specifically.
[They need to be on point AND in balance.]
Recovering well means devoting some degree of time and effort to thinking ahead and planning your schedule. Athletes, certainly seek input from the coach or trainer and mom and dad. But honestly, this matter of how you manage your time and what you put into your body is one hundred percent your responsibility. If you don’t fully own it; if you see it as anyone’s choice but your own, you are going to decide against making the harder, health promoting choice, or going to bed on-time versus goofing off on-line or another round of Fortnight.
You don’t need an app, grandiose plan or fancy algorithm to turn the phone or TV off and get to bed. There is no food, nutritional supplement, bit of technology or recovery aid that does what good “sleep hygiene” and a good nights sleep will achieve.
Recovering well means saying -mostly- goodbye to the pre-workout, Red Bull, and Monster. Seriously people – if you need that much of a brain jolt to wake up, to get through the day, or to do what’s needed in the weight room or practice field, then go home and take a nap. Then, spend that 60-90 minutes of training time in a quiet room, evaluating your schedule and priorities. Because that Hyperberzerk drink is doing nothing for your gain in quality weight.
Your various physiological systems that make up “you” all function as a unit and are not independent of each other. That 3:30 chemically induced Beast of Rage can easily translate to suppressing your appetite and fidgety restless evenings. Beside, for most serious and committed athletes, the ability to generate “mind blowing pumps” and 110% intensity during the workout is not at all the limiting factor for creating sustained and long-term growth. [More on this below]. At best, it’s just not necessary.
Creating a dependence (mild or moderate addiction) should be a major concern. As the weeks go by, you will need more of the stuff to feel the same effect. And above all, please keep in mind, that training is TRAINING.
Do energy drinks and pre-workout increase your ability to train? They do. But only so much can be achieved in a single workout, no matter how epic. For athletes interested in weight gain, you are making real sacrifices, in effect losing the “war” in order to achieve 5% more in a fairly inconsequential “battle.” Unless you’re competing in a weightlifting type event, nobody cares what weight you unofficially completed for how many reps during TRAINING.
There may be an appropriate use for energy drinks: the actual battle! This would apply to military personnel literally going into life and death situations when sleep and recovery are far less than optimal. For sporting competition, can you afford (much less benefit from) the extra level of mental hype and arousal? For a limited time, these may actually help if you’re testing out max effort pulldowns (throwing velocity into a wide open net), sprinting 400 meters, or about to repeatedly bash with a middle linebacker. But if you need to compete with a sound mind, mixing strategies and pitches and shots on goal with calm collection and motor control precision, you may want to reconsider that Beast of Rage preworkout.
Just don’t be surprised when you walk the bases loaded or blow the penalty kick.
Frequency is almost always an issue for serious athletes, and many coaches as well. These days, nobody would claim that more is better. But that’s exactly how they act. More is just…more! You may claim that you’re training different qualities or parts of the anatomy, but the body absolutely recovers as a unit. Even young men full of testosterone and other various zeal hit a point of diminishing returns where Thursdays speed and conditioning day absolutely interferes with adaptations from Tuesday or Wednesdays weight training session. Your lack of progress (in body weight) could actually be due to your dedicated six day per week training plan.
The details are beyond the scope of this entry, and definitely depend on the sport and the athlete. But depending on whether strength/size versus power/efficiency is the athletes focus, the far majority would benefit greatly from 1 to 3 days of speed/power training and 2-3 days in the weight room (per week) AT MOST.
Power/efficiency focus –> Two relatively heavy days of weight training and 2-3 of speed and power training per week. Size focus –>Three relatively heavy days of weight training and 1-2 days of speed/power training per week. That is PLENTY, especially when added to various team and skill practice and team work.
Intensity – Most advertisers and popular media either blatantly state or imply that more training intensity is the primary factor needed to build size and strength. In reality, the key to gaining quality weight is long-term progress in the big lifts. Believe it or not, this does not happen optimally with white hot intensity and training “as many reps as possible,” or as hard as you can possibly go to failure. Sure, you have to train with great effort. It’s not going to feel great in the moment. But keep in mind that simply putting the muscle under tension is what primarily stimulates the body to add muscle. And more weight on the bar, with good form and other factors being equal, absolutely translates to more size.
Only so much can be achieved in a given workout. Five- or even three gut-busting epic workouts per week is not optimal for gaining size. Making intensity of effort the holy grail eventually runs you into the ground, and that’s when you feel the need for the week or month layoff. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Too much intensity is another example of winning the days battle but losing the war. It took me years to realize this and achieve something near an optimal balance of both factors, a practical rhythm of consistent hard work AND optimal recovery.
Gear – Going insane with snappy movements like hang cleans is not best. Most Olympic lifts require explosive, total body effort. While this is worthwhile for some sports/athletes, it is far from ideal from the perspective of weight gain (again putting muscle under high tension through a full range of motion). Battling ropes and the seated shoulder lateral raise machine and dumbbell bicep curl drop sets do practically nothing for athletes who are NOT bodybuilders and who have already built, often chemically assisted (steroids) size and strength.
While upper- and lower body plyometrics, water bag, and various instability training, etc are often worthwhile for creating various neurological adaptations, they do very little for gaining quality pounds. There is absolutely a certain genetic variant that can add muscle by using 30-100 lb kettlebells well. Kettlebells just do not offer enough -loading- for the majority of athletes to stimulate appreciable size gains. It may surprise you that kettlebells are actually a great tool for improving body control, joint mobility, and stability. But for weight gain, barbells and traditional dumbells are really where it’s at!
Unstructured Exercise – A common non-training mistake is simply doing too much physical activity. Pick-up basketball and landscaping and long walks in the moonlight are all great. But too much of them will cost you in terms of weight gain. For the far majority of athletes, running (or other conditioning) is not compatible with gaining quality muscle. Speed work is compatible if you are careful about the what and when. Coaches concerned with their athletes size, strength, and power, should make sure their speed and sprint work is truly that and not just more grinding type conditioning.
Questions? Comments? Certainly let me know.
The next installment will broach the subject of eating for quality weight gain.
Most of us have heard this in the context of how it feels to be a parent. Involved parents certainly affirm it’s validity. The old saying changes a bit when you’re diagnosed with a terminal illness. It seems as though time itself has shifted.
[For those who do not know or simply forgot, all stage IV cancer is labeled terminal. Eh. I do not deny reality. But I still consider God soverign over labels, medical or otherwise. I do not consider myself an average, and have intentionally avoided looking up the particulars such as how long to “expect.” ]
And now the hours are long but the days are short.
When I think on recent days and weeks, they seem to have flown by. But in the moment, everything takes l o n g. The standard ~90-minute movie seems like an entire evening. It does make me selective about what I commit to watching. Twenty minutes of walking or reading, vacuuming, or talking on the phone feels like an hour.
Many of us are probably feeling some degree of this due to everything associated with quarantine.
Now is a great time to reflect on the fact that hours, minutes, and seconds are based on a man-made construct.* Our understanding of time has changed over the years, with the scientists themselves showing how the pieces do not fit into a nice unified picture. Atomic clocks can accurately hold pace to within one second of error every hundred million years. It seems a little odd to even worry about that when time itself is not a constant that precise.
Time is not a constant at all. Speed and gravity both will independently change the passage of time! And while 24 hours is the average of days over a year, any single day (as defined by a full rotation of the earth) varies by up to ~30 seconds plus or minus 24 hours. The written definition of time** intentionally omits the words “stable” and “constant,” and now includes phrases like “conscious experience.”
Doesn’t that make you raise an eyebrow?
What if our experience means something? What if we trusted our perception? That’s a bad idea if we’re trying to calculate how to land a fancy remote control car on mars. But we probably should at least some of the time. The way we usually think of time probably has an up- as well as a down-side. Maybe the “second” is unnatural, somewhat like a bag of Doritoes, like Weed & Feed lawn fertilizer, or a composite baseball bat.
Imagine a world with no precise ways to track time. The hours, minutes, seconds blur into each other, analog style, with no man-made divisions. The best you can do is go by the imprecise observation of shadows, and knowing that the day destroys the night; night divides the day. As anyone who has tried to build or use a sundial can attest, even this can be confusing unless you live near the equator. After that, you have to go with something that approximates the lunar cycle. Months!
“I’ll be coming off the plane through terminal E. Meet me there in a half moon.”
“With this specific weight training and plyometric throwing program, I’m hoping to get my fastball up to 2,160 miles/day.”
“Google Maps is saying that it’s a two-moon trip by foot, but that’s walking non-stop. By horseback it’s only 6 days.”
I’m sure our lives would be much different in this hypothetical scenario. But Galileo and his gravity driven pendulum arrived for better and for worse. It wasn’t long until the clean, divided passage of time would order rule our days and nights.
” I’ll set the alarm for 6:15.”
“What time do we get there?”
“When is the Zoom meeting?”
“Did he really run a 4.46?”
“It sounds like a good hourly rate until you find that you’re working 10-hour days.”
Time perception is not the only thing changing for me. We’re all changing to some extent. But I notice fundamental changes in…the mystery that is Robert Walter Gorinski. Yes, Walter, after my great uncle. They’re not all good or bad.
Much of the time I see little need for playfulness (like Luna, our mild mannered huskie). Shenanigans like flips and jumping in the creek, even on hot days, seem unnecessary. There is less patience from me toward and then between the kids. My natural handwriting is different…neater. I wear out easier both physically and mentally, and this absolutely translates to more introverted tendencies. But I can sit still and focus for greater periods. People write and talk about stress being one factor in getting cancer. But I’m certain that my -perceived- stress was a good deal less before having it.
Sure…we all need to go easy on ourselves, with less getting out, more cabin fever, the thinking about the virus and the economy and an uncertain future. I surely have some of that, second to a tiring diagnosis, chemical, hormonal, and plenty of external and internal changes. For these I need God for his mercy and strength and hope!
There are plenty of things that I hope for; things to be restored. But definitely not all of it. How much of “before” do you really want back? How much should we really expect to be fully restored?
Time will tell.
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**The second is the duration of 9,192,631,770 periods of the radiation corresponding to the transition between the two hyperfine levels of the ground state of the caesium-133 atom.
-13th official meeting of the International Committee of Weights and Measures, 1967
**Time is the indefinite continued progress of existence and events that occur in an apparently irreversible succession from the past, through the present, into the future. Time is a component quantity of various measurements used to sequence events, to compare the duration of events or the intervals between them, and to quantify rates of change of quantities or in the conscious experience.
One of my favorite pastimes as a boy was turning over rocks in the various creeks and woodland streams near my Southwestern PA home. I was in search of salamanders, crayfish, frogs, and any other treasures that inhabited those areas.
I realized that I was quite limited in the size and number of rocks that could be moved. Muscles adapt and strengthen to an extent, but even fifteen minutes of this labor of love began to feel like backbreaking work. I was sure that larger prizes lay under the larger rocks, if only my 10-year-old frame could move them.
It is counter-intuitive that a person may lift something without using their arms. But one day, I realized that if I could straddle a larger rock and establish a solid grip, I could then stiffen my arms and torso but otherwise not really use them. The arms and torso were simply a conduit from my lower body to my hands. This way, relatively larger muscles in the hips and legs could do the heavy moving.
I was amazed to find that my rock turning limits did indeed immediately triple, and I did not tire nearly as easy. My creature finding abilities soared (well, in my mind). I had unintentionally stumbled into what adult physical therapy and strength coaches of today call functional training.
For athletes and adults of all ages, functional training involves building strength in a manner that optimizes efficient, graceful movement among all body segments. Gaining muscle size may or may not be an additional goal, but a combination of strength and flexibility is always a result. Functional training makes use of open space and basic free weights such as barbells, dumbbells, and kettlebells. This is opposed to training methods that involve the trainee usually seated on and supported by various weight training machines that work one or two muscles at a time. In Functional Training, the body is exercised as an integrated unit with no machine-guided path to balance and stabilize the resistance.
As a side note, cardiovascular type training such as treadmills, stationary bikes, and ellipticals do provide health benefits. But these do not substantially change the coordination of body segments, literally how you move, when your body is called upon to pick up a bag of mulch, reach high overhead to catch a ball, or pick an apple from a tree. Long duration stretching and dance-y type circuit training will not do much to keep our humerus from dislocating when we miss the bottom stair (fall) or our dog surprises with our shoulder with a sudden tug at the leash.
Functional training and its tools are not new. They were first used by old time weightlifters and strong men who were part of circuses or simply strength hobbyists. Most people didn’t identify with that image, and the fitness industry responded by creating gyms and gym culture filled with many of the technology dependent training that rose to popularity in the 1970s through 1990s. In recent years, many if not most gyms have incorporated a Functional Training section that includes free weights, various semi firm boxes, and other basic (but effective) equipment.
What is relatively new in functional training, however, is the known benefit of individual evaluation and exercise prescription. While functional training sparks significant improvement in our resiliency and ability to move well outside of the gym, without the fixed guidance and other limitation that exercise machines have to offer, there are certainly risks involved. Many individuals suffer injury when they jump into the wrong exercises for their body type and abilities, or use unrealistic progression (too much too soon).
Some individuals benefit from 2 to 6 weeks of light posture and targeted mobility work before they are able to safely perform body weight squats or press even a light weight overhead with the correct form. For more advance athletes and fitness minded folks, please understand that the elite level competitions and tests that you see on TV and social media are not how you (or any athlete) needs to train on a regular basis. Outstanding improvements outside of the gym can absolutely be achieved without taking workouts to those extreme levels. Even athletes are beginning to learn that -too much- tearing the body down leaves no room for recovery and growth.
Qualified physical therapists and personal trainers will be able to assist you with a comprehensive movement screen and create a training program that is appropriate for you. See a physical therapist to address any areas of pain or significant restriction that you have been dealing with before beginning a functional training program.
Now I’m digging up a grave, from my past But I’m a whole different person And it’s a gift and a curse But I cannot reverse it… -J World
Working through this diagnosis is a learning process. The previous post mentioned that it certainly keeps me on my toes. I’ve described some of the side effects. They are wearing and seem to be progressive. At the same time, I do notice unmistakable physical improvement in the original, direct effects of the cancer.
The seasons are currently on my side. I’ve always been one who thrives on the idea of summer. The transition to warmer weather along with literal, measurable improvements in blood and marrow, has lifted me. It’s nice to not constantly fight off the frigid : \ 20- and 45-degree weather.
Being stirred to more activity is a very real sign of healing. Today cannot be compared to what was being felt and left undone in February. Yesterday I walked continuously for 45 minutes at a -decent- clip. Before, 200 meters down to and back from the cul de sac was really pushing it. But this improved capacity, simply being out more, has also brought desire. The beautiful weather, which I have not witnessed since my health was fine, has been a reminder. It has revealed many…reversals.
Yesterday’s walk contained a great deal of heavy breathing and dragging my …feet… up a hill that for years was jumped and sprinted with the guys. Amy and I returned home, and then I sat down. I vacuumed some of the basement, picked up fallen sticks in the back yard. And then I sat down. I prepped the weed eater, tested it out for less than 10 minutes. And then… That session of sitting was topped with a snack and retreat to the couch.
There comes a time in the life of the far majority of young men when they physically surpass their father. The measure of the man varies by family. For some it is something like a foot race, bench press, or wrestling match. For others, unfortunately, it culminates in an actual fight. But whatever the amount of love and respect involved, no active and able 13- to 25-year old misses that day.
For our family, that event has no doubt passed this previous winter. The boys without question, and even their younger sisters can run circles around me. Not only has the torch been passed, but roles have been remarkedly reversed.
“Dad don’t lift that. I got it.”
“Just wait here – I’ll run over and get it.”
“Will you make some eggs for (dad) as well?”
“Dad – here we can get off our bikes and push up the hill. It’s going to be tuff, but take your time and you’ll make it.”
Hearing this last one from a concerned young daughter will stop any dad in his slow tracks. “Thanks M. I need a minute.” Ugh. It seems like just yesterday…
There are other obvious reversals. Recovering from cancer and it’s treatment is a 180 from my mode of opertion. There are no efficiencies. I’m not serving or providing for anyone (in a tangible way, anyway). I have little fight, and instead need to roll with what strikes me at the moment. This is foreign territory.
Routine, structure, and knowing (somewhat) what to expect on a daily and weekly basis are the foundations of being purposeful and efficient in just about everything. It is the oppositve of mindless, aimless drifting. Many authors and even scientists have express how it’s not motivation or willpower, but “being a slave to good habits,” that is the real secret to reaching your goals.
We lean heavily on our habits and routine, for better and for worse. As years pass, it has the potential to make us stuck in our ways. But this should be reframed to say that it leads to real freedom. It enables our minds to examine what’s happening, to progress, and stick with a commitment without having to attend to a thousand small decisions. It also allows us to truly enjoy times of more leisure and spontaneity.
You want to count on naturally waking up early, having some coffee, read the news and accomplish a few things around the home or online? Bam – let coffee be suddenly disgusting and the after-breakfast period exhausting. If that’s the case, lets roll into a routine of helping the kids with math in the early afternoon, followed by a nap and then some light exercise. Bam – let the chemo fog and nausea hit in the early afternoon, and extend the nap by an hour or three.
This type of experience continues to the point where the only thing I can count on is being mentally checked out by about 9:00 pm, sometimes in chemo fog. At best I’m just plain tired and inpatient with the kids who still have plenty of energy and need to raid the kitchen.
Thanks to so much support, I can afford this rest and what it entails, being largely inefficient and sometimes aimless. I don’t like it. Yet I’m immensely greatful to have the option of sitting or laying down to rest. This is every bit as important as the cancer specialist, so says the cancer specialist. I can usually count on being able to read, and I read far more than ever. I enjoy watching too much TV, though you would be shocked at what you’re in no mood for when under these circumstances.
Finally, the very real ways that I have learned and grown are a blessing. I will continue to try and roll with these reversals, because I really am coming out as a different person. I’m thankful to have some time and faculties to type out a few of such things.
This is a follow-up to a previous post that discussed some issues regarding sugar. I’m not an endocronoligist, registered dietician, or even a nutritionist. Why the need to comment further? Sugar is one of those topics that is often misunderstood and seems to pop up around every turn. Sugar and associated matters do indeed occupy our mental space and even dictate daily decisions. Just today I had to repeatedly tell no less than three kids “After you eat lunch.” Right now I’m a bit groggy for having dumped most of my tea, which is fairly gross with no sugar.
There is nothing magically bad about sugar.
“Okay chief. But if sugar is not so bad for cancer and in general, then why is everyone always saying it’s bad?”
Sugar is vilified but undeniably loved. For many reasons, eating too much of it is as easy as breathing. Eating even reasonable amounts requires deliberate, inconvenient action. Our biology…exists. Our culture and environment betray common sense long-term health. There ARE ultra powerful lobbying groups. Manufacturers DO answer to wall street, mega-advertise, and hyper-engineer foods. As humans, we DO misprioritize and plain make poor choices. Yet at the end of the day, we DO have to eat.
I know little about all of that. I do know some things about physiology. This, with personal life interests and experience, begat a fascination with further learning. There are plenty of excellent, evidence based places to find that information. Most of us could use a few months refresher in biology and chemistry before even thinking about physiology. And of course, there are even more pseudoscientific, mostly quack-ish places to be misled. The real science can be tedious. Skipping steps and taking in pseudoscience is…costly.
What would I write if I wanted to avoid most of the above, but hoped to show something like “how it is” with sugar? Hmm. That would be an entirely separate writing.
– – – – – – – – – –
Lane grew up in the small town suburbs. His backyard ended in a patch of unkept woods and around the corner was a township park. Venturing outside was safe enough, and Lane had freedom and plenty of room to move. Mostly, he benefitted from having working class parents that hoped to lead by example. They exercised sporadically, did their own house and yard work, and made good on most of their attempts at moderation. They provided imperfectly balanced meals and didn’t obsess with a new diet every other year.
As a boy, Lane had an active temperament. He was blessed with a handful of neighborhood friends who enjoyed the outdoors and their bikes. Lane ate what he liked of what was offered. At times he ate what was required to get to the snacks or desserts. Lane knew plenty enough about nutrition. Even a child can perform the truly lifetime skill of deciphering an “anytime” versus a “sometimes” food. But in practice, he rarely thought much about it. Lane gradually became serious about training and competing in athletics. As a teenager, Lane felt a sense of obligation regarding what should be eaten. But this was easily long forgotten in light of very real cravings and social gatherings.
Through all those years, there was stability and structure to Lane’s days, weeks, and months. A consistent rhythm to life, supportive environment, and active lifestyle left him strong and fit. Sugar was plentiful, but kept reasonable by equally plentiful checks and balances. It was absolutely no threat to his health or well being.
At eighteen, Lane left for college. After settling in, he remained physically active with a part time job, plenty of pick-up sports, and lifting some weights. But there was X-box and plenty of young adult friends more than eager to learn about freedom and sleep and time management the long, difficult way. The peers who previously had diets and lives tightly controlled by their parents were often (but not always) the worst. Lane managed just fine, but did lose sight of his previous life rhythm. He was busy. The convenient snacks and fast foods were no longer tempered by home cooked and mostly healthy meals. Lane often felt exhausted but was still riding the wave of youth. Sugar was -still- no real threat to his physiology. But the patterns and times, they were a’changin’.
By his mid twenties, Lane fell into a well paying but sedentary job. He made some effort to eat better but depended on snacks and drinks and take-out to get through the day. He usually missed playing and instead biked or jogged at the gym for 30- minutes three times per week. There was Netflix and sports on TV and still, X box. On average, the calories in far exceeded the calories out. The years of sugary and hyper engineered snacks that his body once easily processed added up. In some ways, he was malnourished and always hungry for more. Sugar was now a legitimate problem, but by no means was it the entire picture.
Internally, Lane was losing muscle, which has long been recognized as a part of both the endocrine system and as a pancreatic organ. He was getting slightly soft in the middle. Less muscle meant less capacity, “a smaller bucket,” to burn and store energy [Energy = blood glucose]. The added adipose tissue subtly tipped off a series of fairly complex hormonal and metabolic changes that caused all the cells of his body to be less efficient in receiving the energy they need. With a few YEARS of this, his blood glucose and triglycerides levels did indeed rise, especially after unhealthy foods and even after somewhat “normal” meals. Sugar was definitely an issue, but far from the only issue.
Though Lane made efforts to squeeze in some formal exercise, his days were busy and largely missing in fresh air and general, unstructured m o v m e n t. Taking in more energy than he spent was, for the most part, still due to a diet that consisted largely of easy-to-inhale starchy carbs. In former years, his body and lifestyle easily handled a bagel, a turkey sub, a plate of spaghetti, and after-dinner bowl of Honey Nut Cheerios. But now, all such things caused a mild but far too frequent internal, cellular level injury. This, in combination with malnutrition and lack of sufficient sleep, further threw off the fine-tuned hormonal balance. The slightly soft middle accumulated rather quickly despite efforts to ramp up a formal exercise program. A few not well thought-out efforts to “really buckle down” on diet stalled rather quickly.
At this point, any extra sugar or even typically “good” carbohydrate entering Lane’s system from the diet caused an abnormal in the blood response. Due to various factors mentioned above, increased amounts of insulin were needed to shuttle energy from the blood into working cells. Would Lane’s pancreas be up to task? It turns out that his had limits; simply not genetically capable of picking up the slack for the years of what had been set in motion. Sugar was a major problem, but by no means the sole villain. Lane suspected that why he was tired and achy and so often feeling bleh. A strict no carb, ketogenic diet seemed to help but for many reasons did not last. This was followed by a focus on some minutia the type of dietary sugar, gluten, and then organics, all of which did very little other than temporarily, expensively, force him to eat less. But they were a step toward turning the ship around.
Lane felt stuck until he saw a doctor who sat down for a while to take in the big picture. He may or may not need to -really watch his diet- for the longer term, and take a mild to moderate does of medication. Lane realized the need for a change in life patterns and habits. He would simplify and focus on getting more unprocessed foods, getting adequate rest, weight training to build back some muscle, and making time for some of the active labor and leisure of his youth. He had plenty of time, but it would be a long-term committment. In time, Lane found that so long as he mostly kept up with his overall lifestyle changes, he did not always have to eat -perfectly- to manage his condition. He would do well with eating the right stuff ~90% of the time.
Dietary sugar would be a relevant factor in that simple calculation, but by no means the only factor. Unless the wheels really start falling off the cart, that’s how it is with sugar.
Here are final thoughts in reflecting on some of the why and how a healthy middle aged guy comes down with a sudden and rare stage 4 cancer. In retrospect, I did -mostly- take my own advice. And there is not always a rhyme or reason to life. But there were absolutely gaps that are generally known and backed by quality science. To summarize-
1. Shortchanging sleep.
2. Not enough vegetables and practically zero omega-3 fats in the diet.
These are two dietary issues. Everyone wants to fixate on diet for every ailment when evidence shows that’s not the entire issue. The two points above describe many adults who don’t come down with major autoimmune problems. Hmmm.
The final gap, I believe, has to do with stress. I do not believe myself a high strung person. Ask my wife, or anyone who has worked along side me for the last twenty years. The illusion of control and amount of involvement seems to be a sliding scale depending on temperament and values. History has shown that I tend to generally know when to step in and when to be quiet, when to be concerned and when to say “not my monkeys, not my circus.”
I enjoy making the most of my time, nothing wasted. And I enjoy a lot of things. And there was a lot going on. Five kids that ARE my monkeys, self employment, and managing a home. I looked forward to two to three weight training sessions per week. I would regularly stay up reading, some praying, some plain goofing off, decompressing. Weekends were spent attempting to stay organized, enjoying a lot of soccer games, usually a little work, church, sporadically mountain biking, and if there was spare time, making time to just hang with friends.
In retrospect, it was just far too many “ands.” Too much mental processing, even on good things. Too much physical stress. For this season of life, cutting a few things would have been fruitful. But what? Just because you enjoy the work and play does not mean that it’s stress free on the system.
This issues of systemic stress is another trip down the many routes to inflammation. Dr. Rediger, quoted above, and so many others in this field point to chronic inflammation as the common culprit behind so many chronic diseases, especially those having to do with the autoimmune system.
Dietary insufficiencies lead to systemic internal inflammation. Being in constant “go” mode without enough “rest and relax” mode, inadequate sleep, and too much stress from any source is all additive. Through many avenues (not only diet) this leads to a hormonal balance that promotes chronic inflammation.
Dr. Rediger writes extensively about the importance of managing weight/body composition, bitterness/unforgiveness, having deep connections with a community, and the true health benefit of holding brotherly affection for others. His chapter on the latest evidence pointing to “survival of the kindest, as opposed to “survival of the fittest,” was one of the most eye opening things that I have read in a while. I honestly do not think these were gaps in my life. My childhood was like a dream, no trauma and minimal drama. I have no bitterness to revisit.
Oh, but the inflammation. I swear that at times, I could feel it.
My very first blood test prior to being diagnosed showed a (blood level) C-reactive protein of 90-something. The normal range is less than10. Elevated CRP is a non-specific finding especially associated with liver function, but can come from a number of issues. However, that degree of inflammation was literally off the charts, especially in someone without suspected metabolic disease, or literally in the process of having a heart attack.
By the time of that blood test, I did have a rather huge metastases involved directly in and around my liver. I had history of very limited Tylenol or alcohol use, nothing that primarily causes extra stress to the liver.
The liver and gall bladder still went haywire. Was this a cause or a reaction to the massive amount of inflammation? At this point, it doesn’t matter. But I do know that changes will need to be made when and if I get a chance to get back to “normal.” There will be zero intake of drink or medicine that stress the liver. No big deal.
There will be a general cutting back of mental and physical workload. I read (and believe) that for some, managing this type of disease to the greatest extent possible truly hangs on cutting back, even on “good” stress. In my current state of mind, the previous schedule seems exhausting. But I know that if and when the time comes for returning to “normal,” this cutting will be a challenge.
At the moment, stressors for me include watching the news for too long, lots of noise and jostling immediately around me, and sometimes the school day. It helps me to have quiet recovery mixed with every occasion of noise in the home and socializing with others (even from a distance). Focusing on tasks and challenges of the day is helpful, and thinking in terms of prognosis and percentages and Google is not good for me. Reviewing things with my medical team is helpful. Reading my own imaging reports is brutal. This diagnosis in itself is pretty brutal. For now at least, it’s better that I stick with the outlook and expectations that I have established.
I’m not putting this on display for entertainment. I hate being the guy known for having cancer. I hope this retrospection will help you to take a brutally honest inventory as only you can do. What gaps, if any, do you have in “natural” temperament and lifestyle? Is there bitterness? Do you mis prioritize the time it would take to create some quiet space to reflect on the unconditional love of God? Or get in some structured exercise, or just play with the kids? Perhaps you are one who holds on to your diet, your regimen, your work life, or even your own family far too tightly?
Please understand that I do not intend to be a bit preachy or judgmental. I believe there is definitely a time for judgement, but that’s not my job, especially not here. But this holistic picture is where the evidence lies. Our lives, at least in part, depend on exploring these gaps. I absolutely understand that it is not easy to make adjustments.
We are all dealt a different hand, and I do not believe things like cancer and lymes and car accidents are -given- from God. But God is with us. And hindsight is not always 20/20.
In retrospect, I did -mostly- take my own advice. But there were absolutely gaps in diet and lifestyle that could have caused my immune system to miss a rogue mutated cell and allowed it to replicate and spread.
Work, household responsibilities and errands, kid responsibilities and quality time…welcome to adulthood. By the time you sit down with a little free time to think at 9:30 or later, you usually don’t march straight to bed. Sleep debt would be restored on most weekends, so I thought. Like many parents, I was mostly happy to keep this routine going for years.
Inadequate sleep over periods of time causes multiple hormonal changes that can lead to chronic inflammation and a weak immune system. Again we’re probably describing 90% of the middle aged world.
Past Medical History
In my mid twenties there were some GI issues that were initially diagnosed as autoimmune in nature. Ironically, this nearly coincided with the period that I was otherwise feeling great from having significantly lightened the training and nutrition load. When the specialist observed that imaging and blood tests were clear, he seemed genuinely happy. I gladly accepted his explanation. “This autoimmune issue is definitely not something that goes away, especially when you have long stopped taking any medication. It must have been an incorrect diagnosis.”
At my initial consultation, the specialist at Hopkins grilled for every detail regarding this. Paraphrasing the doc: “It’s a fairly common pattern, though by no means always, and most people do not get a complete ~15-year respite.”
Eating a reasonable amount of fruit has never been a problem. But I disliked most vegetables as a kid and almost definitely ate too little as an adult. There was some effort. You know…need to lead the kids by example. Nearly everyone -thinks- they eat fairly healthy. The single shard of lettuce and 1/8th of a tomato on my turkey sandwich were not cutting it.
When you spend much of the work day on your feet, have a three day per week habit of fairly intense training, enjoy some yardwork and yard play, you cannot get stronger or even meet your caloric needs by eating a lot of salads and brussel sprouts. Well, including them may be possible with a shift in mindset, but I had little impetus for taking the time and effort.
I should have made better effort in the vegetable department.
Drastically lacking healthy Omega-3 fatty acids is certainly another gap. Again, this is much of America. As an adult, I knew the benefits but rarely if ever ate foods that contained them. I’m just not the type of guy who goes with the Mahi Mahi, throws on some sardines, or grills salmon that neither he nor five fairly picky eaters at home are crazy about. I was going to get around to eating more fish or taking a supplement for at least ten years. I had little reason to remember to add in the chia seeds.
Over the years I have largely made good on what I believe are still good guidelines: saturated fats, especially those in relatively unprocessed foods, are not to worry about for most (but not all) of us. Trans- and unsaturated fats should be limited as much as possible. I’ll have two burgers, no fries please. And that brings us to…
I have observed that a person’s claims about carbs, or knowing how sucrose, glucose, and fructose differ structurally and in their metabolic pathways, often matters very little when celebrating, partying, undergoing stress or fatigue, or watching night time TV and pounding m&ms. ; )
Now the part that seems to keep coming up.
Does eating sugar cause or selectively “feed” cancer growth?
I have asked 4 highly respected medical doctors, 3 local and 1 a world renowned cancer specialist. Some of them I have pestered twice regarding this. All of them carry a reputation well known for practicing medicine with a holistic approach, taking time to learn with an open mind as well as listen to patients and prod the soft, traditionally unscientific edges. All have conveyed the same message. Here I summarize most what they have said, wrote, or sent me to read:
-Sugar **in the diet** neither causes nor accelerates cancer. It does not feed cancer any more than it feeds our healthy cells. -Cancer cannot be “starved” of **blood sugar** with a low-carb diet, although it can “steal” that which normally goes to the rest of the body. -In a few ways, cancer can cause our metabolism to change in ways that mostly break down the body’s own fat and muscle in order to supply **blood sugar** to the organs that need it most, especially the brain. -Taking in a lot of sugary drinks and foods is never a great idea. Everyone, and especially cancer patients, needs the nutrients that are missed if we routinely fill up with junk.
I was neither a sugar addict nor a sugar Nazi. Desserts were usually social in nature. I could take it or leave it, and usually left it. Sugar does sneak into so many non-dessert foods, but I never really had the time or inclination to patrol that realm because I -was- healthy and active. That, and it has long been known that for nondiabetics, sugar ingested in a mixed meal (with protein, fat, and/or fiber) does not create the same blood sugar “swing” that pure sugar or starchy foods create.
Here I’m going to add something that I wish every lay person would keep in mind.
Sugar in our diet is absolutely not the same as **blood glucose** levels after the sugar is absorbed in the intestines, which depends on a LOT of fairly complex factors. The body -normally- has a number of ways to maintain, and needs to maintain blood glucose within a fairly narrow window.
Many of the claims that alternative healthcare providers want to make about sugar are in fact due to metabolic syndrome (obesity, high blood pressure, insulin resistance, and dislipidemia) that causes **blood sugar** levels to go haywire and cause problems, even WITH a diet that would normally be considered healthy.
High sugar intake over a long period of time (among other factors like inactivity) is definitely associated with the development of metabolic syndrome, and those who are even moderately “overweight” are indeed at greater risk of various cancers.
I have managed to largely avoid Google “research,” outside of this delectable issue. The vast majority of well established, reputable and purely informative web sites (not selling a process or product) reiterate the same message. Here is one of the most informative yet clear and concise pieces that I have seen. It comes from the Lymphoma and Leukemia Society:
Lastly, I’ve recently read two cancer/healing books by Dr. Jeffrey Rediger, M.D., M. Div, faculty at Harvard Medical School, who now routinely leads research teams in the areas of neuroscience and integrative medicine. I leave you with a paragraph from his book Cured.
“My deep dive into the study of how nutrition can roll this back had been illuminating. It was clear that for a lot of people, changes in diet were like a doorway into healing. But they were not nearly all the same changes. And here’s the hitch: I kept seeing cases where the individual made no real diet changes and still experienced healing. Or conversely, there were those who made all the right dietary changes and didn’t make a dent in their illness. I knew diet was often a piece of the puzzle…But I couldn’t ignore the evidence: diet wasn’t the whole picture. The diet changes often came with a rippling outward of other meaningful changes in their lives.”
Tomorrow I hope to write briefly on two possible gaps such that Dr. Rediger speaks of, and summarize.