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Caffeinated

Day 18 – June 16, 2011
Breakfast: salmon filet, spinach, macadamias
Lunch: green curry chicken with cauliflower
Dinner: 6-egg omelette with salsa
Other: 2 glasses red wine

Day 19 – June 17, 2011
Workout: Tabata running-up-the-stairs (got to 17th floor, fantastic!)
Breakfast: salmon filet, cabbage, macadamias
Lunch: Moe’s chicken fajita with guac
Dinner: green curry chicken with cauliflower
Other: 2 glasses red wine

The 4-hour body experiment continues to yield results. I feel like I’m putting on a pinch of muscle and losing a pinch of fat every time I check myself out in the mirror. My neck can once again fit into the ambitious size-small Express slim-fit shirts I bought a dozen of when I was 155 lbs. I’m 10lb heavier now, and have the same waist measurement I had back then. The major changes I made were all geared at cutting down my body’s excessive production of cortisol (listed from easiest to hardest to accomplish):

1) no met-con workouts longer than about 10 minutes
2) eat breakfast every morning
3) get 8 hours of sleep a day, preferably all at night from 10pm-6am
4) cut down on the caffeine (in fact, I went cold turkey for two weeks)
5) stop panicking about my unsatisfying sex life

What the hell is cortisol, anyway? Well, it’s the “stress hormone”. Great in tiny bursts in certain situations (like trying to run away from a bear, or fighting off a nasty infection). Your pituitary stimulates your adrenal glands to produce it in acute “fight or flight” responses, and its net effect is to shuttle free glucose to your bloodstream to give your cells the energy to get through a nightmare situation. It does this by breaking down liver glycogen (your long-term energy stores) and breaking down a bit of muscle (worth it, perhaps, if it’s a choice between a couple ounces of muscle mass and certain death from pneumonia).

The problem is that most of us produce cortisol at chronically high levels that yield terrible after-effects. All this free glucose, if it’s not used up immediately, stimulates insulin to sweep it up like a janitor and throw it in your garbage cans (fat cells). Chronically high cortisol levels cause bone density loss, abdominal fat accumulation, immune deficiency, and can eventually lead to high blood pressure and diabetes. So it seems like a good idea to prevent excess cortisol production as much as possible. And where are the everyday situations in which cortisol is over-secreted?

Working out way too hard: genetically, you don’t have a great reason to run 20 miles. Animals don’t do it to try and get a six-pack. They do it because they’re effing hungry and there is no food around. Cue panic mode and cue cortisol production. People have extrapolated this same logic to other long-duration moderate-to-high-intensity workouts, and there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence that people who have quit these activities cold turkey have amazingly lost belly fat and gotten fewer infections/injuries.

Eat breakfast: is it the most important meal of the day? Depends. A recent study showed that people who ate a small breakfast (30% total calories) and a big dinner lost more weight in a 2-month period than those who went the other way (each group doing two meals a day). Martin Berkhan may fast every morning and eat his first meal at 3pm (aside from amino acids in the morning before his lifts), and he maintains an envy-inducing level of muscle mass and body fat, but I also guess that he has very little ongoing stress in his life, and he is meticulous about his sleep habits. I try my best to sleep well, but I know I’m not perfect, and of course, I have loads of ongoing psychological stress in my life. So I eat breakfast. And it has made a world of difference.

I know there is *some* excess cortisol still coursing through my body when I wake up, so I have a couple options. If I skip breakfast and fast until lunch, I risk my cortisol levels going even higher from the stress of semi-starvation, especially if I didn’t sleep well. I don’t want to add stress upon stress upon stress. If I eat a bunch of carbs/fruits with my breakfast, it is sure to augment the insulin response and shuttle that energy to my fat cells. So I eat a low-carb low-glycemic load breakfast (a lot of protein, some fat, some leafy greens) and call it a morning. Sometimes I do a quick 5-minute high-intensity workout beforehand, to justify the early morning hyperglycemia I’m sure I have (though I haven’t checked… I’m sure if I were really obsessive, I could just buy a glucometer and test my theory out).

Cut the caffeine: and then there was this article from 1990, a study on caffeine’s effect on cortisol production after a stressful event (a pop quiz math test). Caffeine, compared to placebo, caused increased situational cortisol production and those levels continued to rise even an hour after the test was over. Of course, I adore coffee, and I adore coffeeshops. There is a good chance I will meet my future wife in a random cafe as I’m working on this blog and sipping on an iced Americano. Daily coffee consumption has been shown to reduce the risk of Alzheimers, and caffeine is an independent fat-burner due to its epinephrine-boosting effects. So what’s an addict to do? My ideas:

1) Don’t use caffeine to wake you up after poor sleep, just like you wouldn’t use alcohol as a sleeping pill (You wouldn’t, would you? I have. Not anymore.)
2) Don’t drink more than 2 cups a day, and none after 12pm. Amazing how the rules for moderation in booze and coffee are almost the same.
3) Have a caffeine-free week every month or two, so you get re-sensitized to its stimulatory effects. Preferably with Tylenol on hand, so the detox headaches aren’t too too bad.
4) Make your caffeine work for you. Drink it right before a weightlifting or short-cardio-burst workout for more intensity and to potentiate fat-burning effects.

Stop panicking: the hardest thing to do. After hearing about my horror story with the Jetsetter, my friends staged an impromptu dating “intervention” for me, to give me a new angle on how to approach women in a comfortable, effective manner. A part of me, until I see results, is going to remain skeptical about all this, but I trust my friends (especially my female friends), so I decide to put the following to the test:

1) Be less nice. I’m still going to be nice, of course, just not a doormat. I guess I have to strike a balance between being my usual gracious, friendly self and being the kind of aloof, disinterested fella that women who enjoy casual sex would be more likely to pursue.
2) Be less touchy. A big block in my thinking, perpetuated by many a dating guru, pick-up artist, and swinging bachelor friend, is the idea that the only way to show a woman I am interested in her, or interested in escalating the chemistry of a conversation from ‘let’s bee friends’ to ‘I want to drill you in an unoccupied bathroom stall’ is to be as touchy and flirty as possible.

 

(The dilemma. Still my favorite Simpsons episode ever. Best line, courtesy of Bart, as he runs a videotape in slow motion: “You can actually pin-point the second when [Ralph Wiggum’s] heart rips in half.”)

3. Be myself. Stop envisioning the romantic story of what could be as soon as you see the girl. She is never as perfect and put-together as you think, no matter how she looks on the surface. She’s just another punk like you. Don’t pretend she’s Helen of Troy, Audrey Hepburn, and Andie MacDowell (long story) all in one.

I tested this out at a party last night, and I will do the same tonight. I won’t lie, I was stressed a bit, and got frustrated a couple times when the first two women I assertively introduced myself to just dissed me altogether (meaning, they walked past me without holding eye contact or responding to my “how are things going?”) Also, a couple of my old non-flames (The Impossibly Tall Blonde, The African Girl Who Tried To Convert Me To Christianity When All I Invited Her Over For Was A Fucking Drink, and The Elfin Lawyer) were there. But I persisted, where Cancun Sri would have stood in a corner and quietly had a panic attack. I did good. I talked to strangers. And somehow, I ran into The Novelist. She was walking around aimlessly for a while, and I had checked her out a couple times because of her stunning red dress, which I fear made her a bit hotter than she would be in any other outfit. Still, she was tall, blonde, cute, and well-endowed, so I made my move.

“Hi, how’s it going? I love your dress.”
“Thanks, that’s so nice of you, I really appreciate it!” (Who the hell *says* that?) Either way, I knew that a conversation of probably very short length would ensue, after which she would bail and balk at my request to “hang out again sometime”. She’d reveal herself to be married, a saleswoman of something or other, or militantly Christian. But here’s the weird thing: none of the above happened. She’s writing a novel (my ears immediately perk up), she’s a passionate traveler, we shared fun stories about our vacations, she asked me to sit at a table with her to actually continue our conversation when she could have broken it off, and best of all, I did not lay a hand on her. I told The Novelist I would call her on Saturday as soon as my weekend plans materialized, and she gave me her number.

So what now, dear readers? I am Wile E. Coyote. I caught a roadrunner… and I want to proceed the way that a Supremely Confident Sri would. Drinks at a bar, yes? How do I set the table for a take-it-or-leave-it sexual relationship? When do I start flirting with her? How?

To twist a quote from the great Rowdy Roddy Piper, just when I think I have all the answers, life changes the questions. Next time, I explore a couple different weightlifting regimens and settle all Dinner Party / Jetsetter business by eating every leftover truffle, macadamia nut, sweet potato, and mahi fillet in my house on Cheat Day Saturday.

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