Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Book Review: S.P.E.E.D.

This book was sent to me by Matt Schoeneberger, who co-authored it with Jeff Thiboutot. Both have master's degrees in exercise science and health promotion. S.P.E.E.D. stands for Sleep, Psychology, Exercise, Environment and Diet. The authors have attempted to create a concise, comprehensive weight loss strategy based on what they feel is the most compelling scientific evidence available. It's subtitled "The Only Weight Loss Book Worth Reading". Despite the subtitle that's impossible to live up to, it was an interesting and well-researched book. It was a very fast read at 205 large-print pages including 32 pages of appendices and index.

I really appreciate the abundant in-text references the authors provided. I have a hard time taking a health and nutrition book seriously that doesn't provide any basis to evaluate its statements. There are already way too many people flapping their lips out there, without providing any outside support for their statements, for me to tolerate that sort of thing. Even well-referenced books can be a pain if the references aren't in the text itself. Schoeneberger and Thiboutot provided appropriate, accessible references for nearly every major statement in the book.

Chapter one, "What is a Healthy Weight", discusses the evidence for an association between body weight and health. They note that both underweight and obesity are associated with poor health outcomes, whereas moderate overweight isn't. While I agree, I continue to maintain that being fairly lean and appropriately muscled (which doesn't necessarily mean muscular) is probably optimal. The reason that people with a body mass index (BMI) considered to be "ideal" aren't healthier on average than people who are moderately overweight may have to do with the fact that many people with an "ideal" BMI are skinny-fat, i.e. have low muscle mass and too much abdominal fat.

Chapter 2, "Sleep", discusses the importance of sleep in weight regulation and overall health. They reference some good studies and I think they make a compelling case that it's important. Chapter 3, "Psychology", details psychological strategies to motivate and plan for effective weight loss.

Chapter 4, "Exercise", provides an exercise plan for weight loss. The main message: do it! I think they give a fair overview of the different categories of exercise and their relative merits, including high-intensity intermittent training (HIIT). However, the exercise regimen they suggest is intense and will probably lead to overtraining in many people. They recommend resistance training major, multi-joint exercises, 1-3 sets to muscular failure 2-4 days a week. I've been at the higher end of that recommendation and it made my joints hurt, plus I was weaker than when I strength trained less frequently. I think the lower end of their recommendation, 1 set of each exercise to failure twice a week, is more than sufficient to meet the goal of maximizing improvements in body composition in most people. My current routine is one brief strength training session and one sprint session per week (in addition to my leisurely cycle commute), which works well for me on a cost-benefit level. However, I was stronger when I was strength training twice a week and never going to muscular failure (a la Pavel Tsatsouline).

Chapter 5, "Environment", is an interesting discussion of different factors that promote excessive calorie intake, such as the setting of the meal, the company or lack thereof, and food presentation. While they support their statements very well with evidence from scientific studies, I do have a lingering doubt about these types of studies: as far as I know, they're all based on short-term interventions. Science would be a lot easier if short-term always translated to long term, but unfortunately that's not the case. For example, studies lasting one or two weeks show that low glycemic index foods cause a reduction in calorie intake and greater feelings of fullness. However, this effect disappears in the long term, and numerous controlled trials show that low glycemic index diets have no effect on food intake, body weight or insulin sensitivity in the long term. I reviewed those studies here.

The body has homeostatic mechanisms (homeostatic = maintains the status quo) that regulate long-term energy balance. Whether short-term changes in calorie intake based on environmental cues would translate into sustained changes that would have a significant impact on body fat, I don't know. For example, if you eat a meal with your extended family at a restaurant that serves massive portions, you might eat twice as much as you would by yourself in your own home. But the question is, will your body factor that huge meal into your subsequent calorie intake and energy expenditure over the following days? The answer is clearly yes, but the degree of compensation is unclear. Since I'm not aware of any trials indicating that changing meal context can actually lead to long-term weight loss, I can't put much faith in this strategy (if you know otherwise, please link to the study in the comments).

Chapter 6, "Diet", is a very brief discussion of what to eat for weight loss. They basically recommend a low-calorie, low-carb diet focused on whole, natural foods. I think low-carbohydrate diets can be useful for some overweight people trying to lose weight, if for no other reason than the fact that they make it easier to control appetite. In addition, a subset of people respond very well to carbohydrate restriction in terms of body composition, health and well-being. The authors emphasize nutrient density, but don't really explain how to achieve it. It would have been nice to see a discussion of a few topics such as organ meats, leafy greens, dairy quality (pastured vs. conventional) and vitamin D. These may not help you lose weight, but they will help keep you healthy, particularly on a calorie-restricted diet. The authors also recommend a few energy bars, powders and supplements that I don't support. They state that they have no financial connection to the manufacturers of the products they recommend.

I'm wary of their recommendation to deliberately restrict calorie intake. Although it will clearly cause fat loss if you restrict calories enough, it's been shown to be ineffective for sustainable, long-term fat loss over and over again. The only exception is the rare person with an iron will who is able to withstand misery indefinitely. I'm going to keep an open mind on this question though. There may be a place for deliberate calorie restriction in the right context. But at this point I'm going to require some pretty solid evidence that it's effective, sustainable, and doesn't have unacceptable side effects.

The book contains a nice bonus, an appendix titled "What is Quality Evidence"? It's a brief discussion of common logical pitfalls when evaluating evidence, and I think many people could benefit from reading it.

Overall, S.P.E.E.D. was a worthwhile read, definitely superior to 95% of fat loss books. With some caveats mentioned above, I think it could be a useful resource for someone interested in fat loss.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

How to Review Your Homeowners Insurance Renewal Statement

For most of us, our home is our single largest and most important investment. Many of us have poured thousands of dollars and countless hours into maintaining, improving and (hopefully) paying off our homes. Many people own their homes free of any mortgage. These assets are pure equity. Certainly its worthwhile to invest 15 minutes a year to be sure it's properly insured.

Thankfully, the insurance company offers you a perfect reminder and opportunity in sending out your annual renewal statement. Even if your insurance is paid by your mortgage company as part of your impound account, the insurance company still mails you a statement of renewal every year to update you with your current coverage limits and deductible.

Here's a few important steps you can take to be sure that HOME SWEET HOME is properly protected.

1. Check the basics. Check your name, address and any other description of the insured property. Make sure there's been no change of vesting or ownership that needs to be updated. Check your address to be sure no numbers are transposed.

2. Check the mortgagee clause. Here's where you can be sure that the current mortagee on your home is listed correctly. Check the lender, address and your loan number. Be sure there's no old information there. Maybe you had a HELOC (Home Equity Line of Credit) or a second mortgage that no longer applies. Be sure to get them removed.

HEADS UP: Whenever you have a significant claim, the mortgage company will be one of the payees on your claim settlement check. Just that alone can be an inconvenience. But it becomes a major hassle when one of the institutions listed no longer has a vested interest in your home. The insurance company is bound by contract to include the mortgage company on all settlement checks beyond a stated threshold.

*3. Check the coverage on your home (dwelling or building). This is without question the single most important coverage to examine, consider and adjust whenever necessary. Having been an agent during the two raging firestorms in San Diego, CA in this decade, I can tell you that underinsured homes are just NO FUN! Two of my clients lost their homes in the 2003 fires and fortunately they were both adequately insured. (we call all our homeowner clients once a year to review their coverages and suggest improvements and adjustments) But I can tell you that there were literally hundreds of people in the area that were not so fortunate. Many were underinsured by over $100,000! Contractors were giving rebuilding bids on homes for $400,000 with insurance policies with limits less than $300,000. See if that doesn't tweak your financial well-being just a little. Here's the solution.

Get an accurate rendering of the square footage of your home. Check county records, take a look at zillow.com, call your favorite Realtor, or get a tape measure and do your thing. Usually you don't include the garage in this calculation. Once you get your square footage, then you need to determine the building cost per square foot in your area for a home like yours. Call a local contractor for a quick estimate or you can call your insurance agent. Average costs in San Diego run about $200 per square foot. With that, a 2000 square foot would take about $400,000 to rebuild. Custom homes can be significantlly more. For a more complete discussion of this, check out: How Much Homeowners Insurance Do You REALLY Need?

Your contents coverage is usually 75% of the amount you have on your home. For example, if you have $400,000 on your home, you'll have an additional $300,000 to cover your personal property (furniture, clothing, dishes, TV, collections, shoes, tools, etc) Usually this is enough, but think through it anyway. If you have antiques, art, collections of any kind then you may need more. Ask your agent for help if you need to.

4. Look at your Personal Liability Coverage. This is the coverage you need when you get sued. Little Johnny runs across your front yard and trips on one of your sprinklers and ruins his chances to become America's Next Top Model and his parents sue your for $250,000. Make sure you don't scrimp here. It's not too expensive to get $500,000 or even $1 Million of liability coverage. If you have $100,000 or less, you could be setting yourself up for a mess just waiting to happen. Put a really big checkbook between your assets and someone who sees an injury as a lifetime paycheck. You might even consider a Liability Umbrella.

5. Check your 'special limits'. This is a REALLY BROAD subject that I just can't do justice to here in this post. Simply stated, there's limits on many things such as cash, computers, cameras, jewelry, furs, goldware, silverware, tools, etc. Call your company and ask for a review. You can increase many of these limits for just a few dollars a year. Sometimes the available increase isn't enough. That's the perfect time to consider a Personal Articles Floater (or it's called many different names) It's a policy that's designed to place stated amounts of coverage on many items from jewelry, business tools, iPods, hearing aids, cameras, musical instruments and on and on. If you have more than 'the average Joe' of ANYTHING, then check this out FOR SURE!

6. Check your deductible! This can be a tremendous cost-control tool in your insurance spending. Simply stated: The larger your deductible, the greater your savings. Usually you can save close to $100 per year just by going from a $500 deductible to $1000. Pick the largest number you can stand without losing sleep at night and ask your agent or company the savings you'd realize by changing. If you have a $250 or smaller deductible, it's definitely time to change it UP! Keep in mind that you usually hit a point of 'diminishing returns' once you get to $4000 or more. This means that you'll save less and less for each additional $1000 you choose. It might make sense to go from $1000 to $2000 if you save $85 a year by doing so, but not from $5000 to $6000 if you only save another $21 by making that jump.

Monitoring your insurance costs and coverages can result in a lot of savings AND peace of mind. Be sure you keep notes and file your thoughts and changes from year to year. These recoreds will make your annual call quicker and easier each year.

Feel free to contact me anytime if you have questions.

Till next time...

dv
It's a Good Life !