Friday, February 20, 2009

Interview: Dr Tamir Katz makes Paleo Practical

Time for another interview.
When I first started reading about evolutionary fitness / paleo diets etc, one of the first people that I came across was Tamir Katz. I'd seen his name on a couple of internet discussion boards, did a search and found his site -
The TBK Fitness Page, where he has a few really good articles on exercise and diet. I bought his book the TBK Fitness Program (also at Amazon UK) which is a straight-forward, well-written and accessible introduction to the science behind a paleo diet (reviewed here). As well as presenting a good range of exercises and routines, he also touches on some things that are often neglected in our health and fitness routines such as the need to minimise chronic stress and the benefits of adequate sunshine. This book was written back in 2003 and it is interesting to me to see so many of his ideas now coming to the fore in the various paleo blogs I read (e.g. Keith and Richard). Anyway I thought it would be good to get in touch with Tamir and ask him a few questions. He was kind enough to answer.....

Who is Tamir Katz? Can you tell us a little bit about your background and interest in health and fitness?

I am a family physician practising in Spring Valley, New York. I have been providing fitness education in some form or another for over 10 years, and continue to incorporate diet and exercise information when counselling patients regarding healthy lifestyle choices.

What influences led you to adopt and recommend a paleo / hunter gatherer diet?

The hunter-gatherer type diet makes the most scientific sense. The closer one's diet is to how things are found in nature, the healthier it is. That is true for animals as well. Of course today we cannot live exactly as hunter-gatherers (nor do we necessarily want to). However, by adopting a natural diet, free from processed food, we ensure that our bodies are much less likely to develop chronic diseases such as heart disease, certain cancers, diabetes, etc.

In the book you recommend a bodyweight exercise routine. How do you currently exercise yourself?

I still exercise almost daily for 20-45 minutes, using only bodyweight exercises. Roughly once or twice a week, I also punch a heavy bag. I have not lifted weights in roughly 9 years, and have felt great. I haven't even lost much raw strength. About a year ago while on vacation, I went to a hotel gym, and came close to matching many of my previous numbers on various weight lifting exercises. My endurance and muscular endurance are better than ever. For the past few years, I have not done any push-ups, sit-ups, or any other exercise from the floor. I have developed many new exercises which work many of the same muscles with less strain. I am planning on publishing a new book in the next few months depicting these exercises.

What is your typical diet like?

I am not as strict as I used to be, but during the week, most of my diet is fruits and vegetables, chicken, lean meat, fish, nuts, and some eggs. One day a week, I eat other things as well. I find that having an "off day" doesn't harm your fitness as long as it is done in moderation (e.g. I do not go splurge on ice cream and donuts, but I will eat some bread, potatoes, etc.)

Sometimes in those who recommend a paleo / hunter gatherer diet and exercise approach I detect a romantic, almost utopian view of the life of our ancestors. However, I for one am grateful for many of the comforts and benefits of 21st century life. How can we combine the best of today’s technology, food and medicine with the lessons of our Hunter Gatherer ancestors?

It's interesting - a lot of people who advocate a hunter-gatherer diet do so on the notion we evolved to eat in a certain way. I believe that at best, evolution is an inexact science, and a lot of reconstructing what a diet might have looked like a long time ago is mere conjecture. I look at things from a more pragmatic point of view. I tell people - if you were stuck on a deserted island or forest, what would or could you eat? This way, instead of ending up arguing about what plants might have existed in our diets thousands and thousands of years ago, we simply avoid processed food such as sugars, trans fats, etc. When I first started, there would be people on these discussion boards arguing whether a cashew is a nut (which would be okay to include in a hunter-gatherer diet) or a legume (which would not be okay to include), and I remember thinking to myself, who cares? If the worst thing that someone is eating is some cashews, is that really what's going to do him in? You have a large percent of the population living off of pizza, soda, fries, etc.

I agrees with you that there is a lot of good in 21st century living. We have effective medicine and treatments for many ailments. People are living longer than ever. If only we could take better care of our bodies than we would have a better quality of life. Living to 90 in a wheelchair full of aches, pains, shortness of breath, etc. is not the best we can strive for. There is no reason that we can't live to a ripe old age in good shape.

As a physician do you feel frustrated when you see patients with diseases that could perhaps have been avoided if those patients had adopted the sort of diet and exercise philosophy that you recommend?

It actually doesn't. Yes, ideally, everyone would take care of their bodies. However, I am a strong believer in personal choice. I am not here to judge or force my opinions on anyone. I am simply here to educate.

If a person chooses to eat poorly, or smoke, or to not exercise, that is their prerogative. As long as I educate them about the consequences, and they are not harming anyone, then it is their business how they want to treat their bodies.

Judging from your book you keep well abreast of relevant scientific studies particularly about diet. Do you sense the tide turning at all among the scientists with more attention is being paid to a paleo / Hunter Gatherer diet?

There definitely is more evidence that backs a low carb diet, evidence that consumption of fruits, vegetables, nuts, and fish is healthy, and a steering away from the ridiculous low fat, high "complex carb" garbage from the 1980's and 1990's.

So overall, I do think that we are moving in the right direction.

In part 4 of your book you look at some things that rarely get mentioned by those promoting this way of eating and exercise: stress management, blood donation, hygiene, sunlight and massage. Do you have any thoughts on three other things that have recently gained some profile in the “paleo community”: adequate sleep, healthy posture and occasional/intermittent fasting?

Adequate sleep is very important - there have been studies linking too little sleep or poor quality sleep from sleep apnea and other causes to various ailments.

Occasional fasting has also been proven to have health benefits.

Correct exercises will result in a healthy posture that can reduce the incidence of chronic neck and back pain.

Most of the people who read this blog are amateurs: we are interested in health, fitness, diet and exercise but we have jobs, families and other interests. Do you have any thoughts about how best to integrate effective exercise and healthy eating with a busy and sometimes stressful life? Why do you think so many people find it so hard to adopt strictly this way of eating? What could make it easier?

I am very busy - working long hours and being married with three children. My advice to everyone is to make healthy living a top priority, and to take baby steps. Don't go from being a couch potato splurging on burgers and chips to an Olympic athlete subsisting on chicken and alfalfa. Start off slowly - for example do 5 minutes of exercise a day, and cut out soda. Slowly add positive things. Increase the duration of your exercise regimen by one minute a week until you are up to at least 20 minutes on most days. By doing bodyweight exercises at home, you save the trip back and forth to the gym. Likewise add small healthy changes to your diet. Maybe you won't be able to be very strict, but something is better than nothing. Having an occasional day off helps as well as long as you don't overdo it.

Thanks very much for taking the time to answer my questions, Tamir. There is some really interesting, motivational but practical advice in there - really helpful. I am already looking forward to your new book!

Thank you for the opportunity,


There is some great stuff there and I encourage you to check out Tamir's pages and buy his book


Anonymous said...

I had never heard of Tamir or TBK, so thanks for the link- and the interview, he seems very knowledgeable, plus I enjoy that his approach is somewhat laid back as I can relate to it. I'll be sure to check out his stuff.

I love finding out about new primal/paleo people!


Asclepius said...

Katz' book was one of the first documented sources that actually asked the simple yet profound question which gives a modern spin on the whole premise of paleo eating - the 'What Would You Eat On a Dessert Island?' question.

This idea REALLY rocked me and to see it in print was doubly profound.

I initially sought his book out for bodyweight exercises. But on reading it, it coverered so much more and was VERY enlightening.

Tamir, I hope you are reading this ... please let me thank you for a fantastic book. It is one of my most treasured paleo/fitness texts (although you CANNOT draw!)


Anonymous said...

Yeah, BW exercises are pretty good at preserving most of your strength from the gym.


Rannoch Donald said...

Excellent Stuff. Dr Katz book is the very essence of practical, simple strength.

People need to wake up to what they can do, today, to impact there wellness. We bolster ourselves with promises of grand changes and great resolutions when all that is required is the habitual application of the fundamentals.

Body weight is not @pretty good@. Bodyweight is key. as you get older it will ultimately become your key defence against the ravages of time. Sooner you get to grips with it, the better!

Asclepius said...

Rannoch - I would totally endorse you comments. With the planche it occurred to me that planching is simply a hard(er) variation of one of the VERY FIRST strength movements we learn as infants...that of learning to press up on to our knees and crawl.

There is a nice symmetry to the fact that the very first weight we train with as infants is the same as the very last weight we will train with in our old age! The bit in the middle can be equally well serviced with the appropriate choice of bedyweight exercise.

Chris said...

Some good comments there - cheers.

Anonymous said...

This advice packed into in this book is goldmine. It's simple, easy to follow and effective. No gym, no special equipment, it's all you'll ever need.

KK said...

I have been following his advice (book)for the last 3 years and have benefited greatly...and have been looking forward to his new book. Can you please update us. (his website has been down for sometime)