March 2016 Reading Recommendations

There won’t be as many recommendations this month as usual because, due to my travel schedule, I haven’t been able to read as much as I usually do.

The Obesity Code: Unlocking the Secrets of Weight loss. Written by a friend of mine, Jason Fung, MD, this book is an easy-to-read overview of just about everything known about obesity. I try to read all the new diet books that come out because I invariably learn something new, and I ended up learning a lot from this one.  I love it when new low-carb books come out because I get to see the same evidence I’m already familiar with through different eyes.

If, because of all the blather from those who believe only in calories in vs calories out,  you wonder if insulin really drives fat storage, you have only to read The Obesity Code to find out how and why. And if you’ve ever wondered if calories are really the problem, Dr. Fung will disabuse you of that notion. In simple language, he explains what really causes obesity and gives his take on how to fix it.  He makes the strongest case for insulin and against the calorie theory of obesity that I’ve read.  And explains it all in such a stepwise fashion that it’s difficult to dispute.

Dr. Fung is a master in the use of analogies to explain concepts that are difficult for some to understand. For example, here is his explanation of glycogen storage versus fat storage:

Glycogen is like your wallet. Money goes in and out constantly. The wallet is easily accessible, but can only hold a limited amount of money. Fat, however is like the money in your bank account. It is harder to access that money, but there is an unlimited storage space for [money] there in your account. Like the wallet, glycogen is quickly able to provide glucose to the body. However, the supply of glycogen is limited. Like the bank account, fat stores contain an unlimited amount of energy, but they are harder to access.

He is also the master of the wonderful one liner. I love this one:

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day — for Big Food.

The Obesity Code contains an entire chapter on cortisol, one of the most overlooked hormones when considering weight loss.  Dr. Fung also goes into great detail on the importance of not only what we eat, but when we eat it.  In fact, one of his main goals is to get people to think about the timing of their eating.

Dr. Fung makes an excellent case that insulin increases fat storage, and that all foods raise insulin to some extent.  So, those wanting to lose weight, need to lower insulin levels.  And what better way of doing it than simply not eating.  That’s right.  Dr. Fung recommends fasting and makes a pretty valid case for it.

Although not exactly a low-carb diet book, The Obesity Code is filled with great insight and information I’ve never seen published in another book.  It’s a quick read, and I highly recommend it.

Here is the link to Dr. Fung’s talk at the recent Low Carb Conference in Vail, Colorado.

While on the subject of fasting, there is another excellent book that didn’t get a lot of play when it came out.

The Alternate-Day Diet Revised: The Original Up-Day, Down-Day Eating Plan to Turn on Your “Skinny Gene,” Shed the Pounds, and Live a Longer and Healthier Life written by Drs. James Johnson and Donald Laub, both plastic surgeons.  Dr. Laub was the former head of the plastic surgery department at Stanford when I did my plastic surgery rotation there during my senior year of medical school.  He was a great guy and kind of a mentor to me.

The Alternate-Day Diet is an excellent primer for following an intermittent fast.  It has a ton of information on nutrition in general and a fair amount on inflammation.  Unfortunately, the authors feel compelled to bad mouth saturated fats and low-carb, high-fat diets, which is too bad, but just do as I did and let your eyes glaze over as you read those words.  Instead focus on the excellent advice on how best to follow an intermittent fasting protocol and the benefits that will accrue should you do so.

While we’re on the subject, let’s not forget my blog post on intermittent fasting from ten years ago.  I have been taken with the notion for a long time, and posted on it way before any of these books came out.  I was especially interested in what intermittent fasting does to brain-derived neurotropic factor.  Here is a follow-up post on intermittent fasting and the Protein Power diet I put up after being inundated with questions about the first post.

Finally, here is an article (obviously translated from Italian) about the renown Dr. Valter Longo’s work with fasting and longevity.

I read an excellent article this week about how incredibly prolific was the scientist and writer Isaac Asimov.  Along with his professorial duties (he taught biochemistry at Boston University), Asimov wrote constantly, and over his long career cranked out 1600 essays and God only knows how many books on countless subjects.

I owe him a huge debt of gratitude.

Interviewers often ask famous people to name a book that changed their lives.  I always wonder about the responses.  I mean how many people (other than Mark Twain) have had their lives changed by reading Huckleberry Finn?  Or The Brothers Karamozov?  Two common answers.

There are a number of books in my lifetime of reading that influenced me greatly.  Two I read over thirty years ago, yet still think of almost daily are Robert Ringer’s Winning Through Intimidation (a much different book than the title would imply) and Harry Browne’s How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World spring to mind.  Another one I read just a few years ago, The Basic Laws of Human Stupidity, is on my mind a lot, especially during this election cycle.  But I couldn’t say that any of these books, wonderful though they are, truly changed the course of my life.

An Asimov series of three books did, however.  I am convinced that had I not stumbled on to his work, I would not be where I am today.

Isaac Asimov is most famous for his science fiction writing, but it was his non-fiction that gave me the life-changing help I needed.  Let me explain.

I was laboring away as an engineer when I decided to go to medical school. I don’t know about now, but back then it was extremely difficult to get into medical school.  You had to have almost perfect grades from college, pass the MCAT (Medical College Admission Test) with high scores, and not come off like an ax murderer in your interview.  And you were competing against thousands of applicants for a spot.

I had always done well in achievement type tests, so I figured the MCAT wouldn’t be a big hurdle for me.  I got a practice book, set the timer (the test is timed) and took the practice test.  As I got into it, I realized that I was screwed.  The MCAT wasn’t an SAT type achievement test, but was instead a test of your actual knowledge.  There were four parts: verbal, math, science and general interest.  It was common knowledge that no medical school admissions officers cared about the common knowledge section, so everyone (including yours truly) blew it off.  But the other three were extremely important.  When I completed my first practice test and scored it, I realized I had turned in a pitiful performance.

My math scores were excellent, which I knew they would be since I had had a ton of advanced math in engineering school.  But my science scores sucked and, much to my surprise, so did my verbal scores.  Which was a huge eye-opener to me.  I had read voraciously all my life, so I figured I had a pretty good vocabulary.  Turns out I didn’t – at least not by MCAT standards.

The MCAT prep book containing all the practice tests also had tips on how to improve your scores.  It said to get vocabulary cards and memorize them.  I did so and went to all my engineering field projects with little rubber banded stacks of them.  I was pissed because I thought learning all these words I didn’t know (and my vocabulary was better than that of almost everyone I know) was a waste of time.  Sure, I had to do it to score well on the test, but beyond that, who cares?  No one uses these words.  Turned out to be one of the best things I had ever done.  Once I learned these words, I saw them everywhere in my reading.

I wondered why I had never noticed them before.  I realized that if I were reading along and came across a word I didn’t know, I must have read right on by it.  And had no knowledge of ever seeing it.  Now, thanks to my MCAT efforts, whenever I come across an unfamiliar word, I always write it down, put the page number of the book next to the word, and look it up when I get the chance.  Then go back to the book and see the word in context.

I studied the practice book and took a few more tests.  My scores came up markedly in the verbal section, stayed up in the math, but continued to suck in science.  I discovered it was easy to carry around stacks of vocabulary cards and memorize them, but not so easy to learn all the science I needed to learn.

When I broke down my practice scores, I discovered that most of the questions I missed involved physics.  I was surprised because I had taken a fair amount of physics along with math in engineering school.  A deeper analysis showed me that most of the stuff I was missing involved electricity, magnetism, light waves, and sound, which made sense since most of the physics I had studied for engineering involved Newton’s laws of motion.

Despite my mediocre performance on the practice tests, I decided to take the real MCAT due to some wishful thinking (fantastical thinking, more like). I had determined that the practice tests were probably more difficult than the real thing.  I told myself that it was in the best interest of the people selling the practice book to make those buying the books believe the test was horrifically difficult in an effort to keep them buying practice books.

During the actual test, I realized I was in trouble.  When I got my scores, I realized just how much.  I did great in both math and verbal, but got a score on the science part that would’ve gotten me laughed out of any med school admissions office. In my defense, the scores weren’t all that bad, but they weren’t way out on the right end of the bell-shaped curve where they needed to be to ensure acceptance into medical school.

This is where Isaac Asimov comes in.

I can’t remember now how I discovered them, but I found that he had written a series of three books on basic physics.  The first one was on motion, sound and heat; the second on light, magnetism and electricity, and the third on the electron, the proton and the neutron.

I started on the first and read them all from cover to cover.  As I read, I kept coming across the answers to questions I had blown on the MCAT.  There were a bunch of questions on the test on relativistic physics about which I was totally clueless, and Asimov provided the best description of Einstein’s work on relativity I have seen even to this day.

I signed up for the MCAT again, and on test day, filled to the brim with physics knowledge courtesy of Isaac Asimov’s explanatory skills, I blew the top off the test.

So, doubtless I owe my medical career to Dr. Asimov.  After reading the essay on him and remembering all this, I dug out my dog-eared paperback volumes and flipped through them.  A bit of the stuff is a little dated, but not much.  I would recommend these books to anyone who wants to learn a ton of basic physics in short time in an extremely readable format.  Especially anyone wanting to learn about relativity.  As I said above, Asimov’s explanation is the best I’ve ever read.

Now these three books are in one volume titled Understanding Physics.  It comes with my absolute highest recommendation.

Snobs.  For those of you who need a Downton Abbey fix now that the series is over, grab a copy of Snobs by Julian Fellowes, the man who wrote and produced Downton Abbey.

Snobs, Fellowes first novel, is a more modern version of Downton Abbey, and was undoubtably the seed for the series.  In this book Edith Lavery, an attractive young woman, comes to one of the large estates on a tour and strikes up a conversation with the heir to the Marquess of Uckfield.  He is smitten with her, and a romance ensues.  Against the wishes of his mother, Lady Uckfield, aka Googie, the two end up marrying.

The married state of the two portrays what happens when people from two totally different classes are thrown together in close quarters.  Lady Uckfield, who is a younger version of Violet, the Dowager Countess in Downton Abbey, keeps a close eye on the situation and becomes concerned when the estate is used as the set for a movie and Edith becomes besotted with an actor.  Then the fun begins.

So, if you are bereft that Downton Abbey is over, you can read this engaging book and discover what life is like in one of the great English houses in more modern times.  Many of the same characters, warts and all, in a more modern world.  A great read.

That’s about it this month.  Things have started to slow down for me a bit, so I should have more recommendations in April.  Happy reading!

 

 

 

 

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