Taking a Short Cut?: Weight Loss & Real Food

Weight loss is a very lucrative industry, especially in America.  As we become less and less mobile and food continues to be more and more easily obtainable, we keep getting more and more obese.  You would think food would become healthier, and in some cases, it has, but overall, the more food is processed, the more nutrition is lost.

In most cases, manufacturers enrich their finished products with vitamins, minerals and other essentials to make them healthier.  In some cases, it’s the result of a government campaign, as in breads, cereals and milk, which are routinely fortified. While these fortified products are better than the unfortified version, there are still questions about how healthy highly processed foods are for us.  Yes, they may have “all the required vitamins” to satisfy the recommended daily allowances, but what else is in there?

One of the commercials I’ve been seeing a lot is for a vegetable juice drink which compares itself to a banana.  The commercial asserts that the little can of juice drink has as much potassium as the banana, claiming “it’s a post work out snack you don’t have to peel.”  This statement makes me roll my eyes every time I hear it.  I am not claiming the commercial is lying about the potassium levels, but we’re comparing juice to a whole food. Something which is as highly processed as juice is likely not as nutrient dense as a whole food, especially when it comes to fiber.

It’s bad enough that nutrition and fiber are taken out of foods in processing: other things are added in to make them more shelf-stable, to preserve “freshness” and taste and to make them look prettier. That can of vegetable juice has less fiber, likely less nutrition from the vegetables themselves and way more sodium than the vegetables it was made from, since the vitamin C and betacarotene are added. However, it is much easier to carry around a little can of veggie juice than the actual vegetables!

That is the primary reason people choose processed foods over whole natural foods: convenience!  How many times have we bought fresh fruits and veggies only to have them spoil in our fridge? (Raising my hand here!) It happens more than I like with spinach, lettuce and cabbage.  It happens to me most often with milk, and in fact, it happened–again!-– last weekend! I love coffee but I only drink it with cream.  I also only drink coffee at home on the weekend (since that’s when I spend the most time there), so I went about making coffee only to realize right before I turned on the machine that the cream in the fridge had spoiled. No cream, no coffee! As I added it to the grocery list, I considered buying something shelf-stable that wouldn’t spoil for weeks so this wouldn’t keep happening to me.

How much easier it would be for me to have powdered cream sitting in my cupboard for me to use whenever I needed it!  I wouldn’t have to worry about spoilage and I could have coffee without first checking to make sure I have cream.  Wow, wouldn’t that be great! Except the list of ingredients on the powdered creamer reads like a chemistry experiment because it really is more chemicals than actual food! Does it taste good? Most definitely! I admit it: I love the stuff and used it for years for mainly because it’s convenient and good tasting.

Unfortunately, in addition to being shelf-stable and delicious, it also has so many things that I don’t like, such as preservatives, corn syrup solids and trans fat.  Yes, if you look on the labels of many of these, they say they are “free of trans fats.”  They are allowed to say that if the serving size is very small. Even though you are getting only a small amount of trans fats with each serving, let’s consider how much of that stuff you, or rather I, consume! I don’t put in one or two tablespoons (1 serving) mainly because I drink great big mugs of coffee and usually more than one daily.  So over the course of a weekend, I’m going to have probably six or eight tablespoons each day.  That’s a lot of “little amounts” which build up into a real number! (Seriously, I think all the trans fats & saccharin I’ve eaten over the years have become part of my DNA–ugh!)

Then there are all the extra calories that come with that shelf-stable powdered creamer! Once I reminded myself of why I stopped using that stuff, I ended up putting a small carton of half and half in my shopping cart.  I know what’s in that and most importantly, my body knows what’s in it too! This is the problem with chemical preservatives and additives: some of these things were invented in the last century and our organs don’t know what to do with these things, especially trans fats! As a result, these unstable compounds just get stored in our bodies. Some chemical compounds can really disrupt your gut bacteria, resulting in poor nutrient absorption or even a more serious disorder such Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO).  Anyone who has had any kind of digestive disorder knows what kind of havoc they can wreak not only on your health but on your daily life. The last time I had a stomach bug was bad enough for me!

Not all processed foods are unhealthy but they should not be the majority of your meals. The best way to minimize your intake of trans fats, preservatives or other unhealthy chemicals is to eat as few processed foods as possible. I occasionally buy refrigerated or frozen foods out of the sheer convenience.  They are mostly fruit or vegetables and they tend to be minimally processed. Usually they are raw frozen foods and the ingredient labels read” sweet potatoes” or “green cabbage,” but I do buy the occasional frozen entree or other processed bagged item. However, these items are “occasional.”  The majority of what I eat doesn’t come in a bag or a can: it comes in butcher paper from the meat counter or in its own natural (and sometimes edible) wrapper.  There’s something to be said for the vitamins and nutrition in those natural vegetable wrappers: I can guarantee you they taste better than that juice can!




A Variety of Hobgoblins: Consistency Doesn’t Have to Be Boring!

One of the quotes I used to hear a lot is the “consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds”  by Ralph Waldo Emerson (the complete quote actually says “a foolish consistency”).  I think most people use it to mean getting stuck in a rut is easier than thinking of solutions all day.  Why use your brain all day long when you can follow the same little track?  In other words, consistency is for boring stupid people.  Remember, “variety is the spice of life!”

You can see the problem when it comes to weight loss: we are constantly being told by others to be consistent when it comes to our healthy eating habits, and we are constantly (consistently??) being told by others that we need variety in our lives to keep us from getting bored with the ‘healthy stuff.’  Some of the complaints I hear a lot is that ‘healthy food doesn’t taste so great’ and ‘I get bored fast eating healthy.’  I’m not going to lie: I can eat the same thing over and over again and rarely get bored with it, and it doesn’t matter if it’s the ‘healthy stuff’ or not.  I used to eat the same Jack in the Box meal night after night, and that’s just one example.  It has nothing to do with how yummy or not-yummy something is; for me, it’s usually how hungry or not-hungry I am and whether I ‘want to eat’ or not. So, for me, while I understand what they mean, it’s never been much of a problem for me.

The exception was processed foods vs whole foods.  The more processed a food is, the more chemicals and ‘flavor boosters’ it has in it.  These foods are designed to keep you eating more of them by being ‘highly palatable.’  That’s a nice way of saying they are addictive (‘betcha can’t eat just one!’) So when you taste something that’s processed, it never tastes like something made from a whole food.  I recently saw a salsa taste test on America’s Test Kitchen where the tester tried to fool the host: along with the sample of jarred processed salsas for her to taste was a homemade sample made right there in the test kitchen. It tasted different, obviously (she used the word ‘fresh’ to describe it).  What she wasn’t tasting were all the chemicals and preservatives used in the jarred salsa to keep it from spoiling or to ‘boost the flavor.’  For me, when I stopped eating processed foods and started eating more whole foods, the blandness was the most noticeable change.  Although I knew why it tasted blander and was kind of expecting it, it was still an adjustment. However, eating more whole and nutrient dense foods was more important to me than just taste, so I stuck with it.  I was boringly consistent!

And it paid off! In that first year, I lost almost 100 lbs by not starving myself, not exercising myself to death (hardly exercised at all, really!) and by not eating ‘weird diet food.’ I simply stopped eating high carb processed foods for more low carb whole foods (veggies).  In that first year, I stopped two diabetes medications and in the second year I stopped my hypertension medication too!  Still not killing myself with exercise or starving or eating weird diet food! Being healthy and losing weight has more to do with giving your body the right nutrition rather than counting calories or macros or killing yourself with kettlebells.  Eating real nutrient dense food instead of something that comes in a box or a can or a powder will do more for your weight loss than doing seven workouts a week!

When it came to eating healthy food, I was boringly consistent (that hobgoblin is now my pet!) and I used it to my advantage. I ate a lot of the same kinds of foods over and over again: things like spinach, salad greens, shredded cabbage, broccoli, brussels sprouts (not so much cauliflower) and a lot of different unprocessed meats like roasted chicken, beef, lamb, and pork.  On weekends, it’s a lot of bacon or sausage and eggs for breakfast.  So while it may look pretty boring, I do spice it up with what I like! I used to make my own simple salad dressing: balsamic or apple cider vinegar, olive or avocado oil and Trader Joes 21 Seasoning Salute or any other spice blend that I like.  (Now, honestly I use mainly Primal Kitchen brand salad dressings because they are made with avocado oil.)  I also make my own spice blend for my meats. I sprinkle on a mix of garlic powder, onion powder, salt, pepper, curry powder and sometimes a little red pepper flakes.  Trader Joes just came out with a garlic salt blend that works pretty good too!  As for the salads, I add in things like avocados, onions (green, red or white), peppers of all colors, sprouts, radishes, carrot shreds, heirloom tomatoes and anything else that looks good in the produce department!

Another thing happened while I was being boringly consistent with healthy eating choices: when I tasted the processed foods I used to enjoy so much, they just tasted weird to me.  When I started eating whole foods, I noticed the absence of all those chemicals in the natural foods, but when I ate the processed foods again, I could really taste them!  And it wasn’t just ‘fake cherry flavor’ that I was tasting: I was tasting all the chemicals and additives they put in during processing.  It’s as if all those ‘flavor boosters’ are there to hide the chemical taste in the food.  It doesn’t taste good to me anymore, which makes it easier to give up.  Remember when you were a kid and the first time you tasted coffee or beer and you probably made a face or spit it out? “Why do grownups drink that yuck?!” Because grownups get used to the taste! Just like we get used to the taste of the sugary sweet jarred pasta sauce and the fake mapley taste in the fake maple syrup (personally, I used the real stuff when I made pancakes- another acquired taste!)

While my menus may look like the same boring thing night after night (“I had salad and rotisserie chicken again last night”), there is quite a lot of variety in there!  Think about it: long before people began processing food in factories, all their foods were ‘whole foods’ and we developed as many different ways of cooking it as there are people on the planet! If you are tired of Mexican, how about Chinese? Tired of Chinese? Then how about Moroccan? That plain piece of beef can be Italian, Indonesian, or Southwestern! Whole foods don’t have to be boring, unless you want them to be.








Down and Dirty: How Clean Living Can Make You Sick

I recently finished Eat Dirt: Why Leaky Gut May Be at the Root Cause of Your Health Problems and 5 Surprising Steps to Cure it by Josh Axe. (Yeah, that’s a long title!) While audio books aren’t my preferred format, I think this book is worth the effort. Dr. Axe makes a few interesting correlations between the relatively sudden rise in autoimmune diseases and other disorders, our sanitized society and our microbiome.  While he defines the terms ‘leaky gut,’ ‘microbiome’ and ‘microbiota’ in his book, I will give you the short version: our digestive tract is full of bacteria, both good and bad.  This symbiotic relationship is necessary to our own individual survival: we need this bacteria in our digestive tract to break down the food we eat.  Once it has been broken down by the bacteria, our body is able to absorb the nutrients through the lining in our intestines.  The integrity of our intestinal lining is dependent on the health of these bacteria (microbiota).  The microbiome is the environment these bacteria inhabit: essentially our digestive tract.  Leaky gut (Increased Intestinal Permeability) is what happens to our digestive tract when we don’t take good care of our microbiome: the integrity of the intestinal lining becomes compromised, allowing not only foods we’ve eaten to enter our bloodstream and body but also some of the toxins that should have been expelled.  Sometimes it’s not that the food particles which enter are bad for us: they are not as broken down as they should be, and that causes problems.  When foods we’ve eaten before without problems begin giving us problems, it’s usually because our microbiome has been compromised.

This is the reason that so many people have problems like Crohn’s Disease, Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Celiac Disease, among others.  The helpful bacteria in the gut has been compromised either by highly processed foods, toxins we’ve ingested (sometimes in the form of medication) and our squeaky clean sanitized society.  Not only are we failing to feed and care for our microbiota the way we should, we are actively attacking it with antibiotics, toxic foods, preservatives, chemicals and hand sanitizers.  While being clean is a good thing and no one is saying don’t wash your hands, there is such a thing as being toxically clean. Not everything needs to be disinfected and that disinfectant you just used to kill the benign bacteria on your counter or desk could be making you sick instead of keeping you healthy. Most of the bacteria in our environment is not harmful and some of it is actually beneficial and necessary to our survival. Being ‘clean and sanitary’ the way we think of it now is killing us through digestive disorders, autoimmune disease, malnutrition and possibly cancer.

The cure for this? Eat dirt. Really. If you were to swab your skin and look at it under a microscope, you would see thousands of bacteria.  Dr. Axe reports that we are probably more bacteria than human since we have them inside us and on us all the time.  We are walking bacteria colonies! The naturally occurring bacteria in our environment helps us to break down the foods that come from that environment.  When humans foraged for food, the bacterias on the foods like roots and berries became part of our microbiome.  Since most of them lived on the foods and broke them down to metabolize them, they continued to do the same thing in our intestines.  Therefore, when that farmer plucked an apple in his orchard and ate it after wiping it on his shirt, the bacteria on the apple skin became part of his microbiome and helped him digest the apple he just ate.  The bacteria take up residence and multiply in our intestines, so it becomes easier to digest the local foods.  When we kill those bacteria before they can get to our intestines, we are killing our ability to digest some of these foods.  This is why we sometimes get a little sick when we eat something we’ve never eaten before: the bacteria needed to digest it isn’t in our microbiome.

Humans- and other animals- have developed this way and it’s not a optional condition.  Without these bacteria, we will die, probably a horrible painful death.  We would be ravaged by disease and illness and be unable to derive any nutrients from anything we ate.  Our microbiome not only feeds us, it protects us from illness: our gut is our immune system’s first line of defense.  If our gut is sick, odds are we are sick too!

Some of you know that I work in the same building as my sister, who’s known the attorneys I now work with for many years. In fact, I heard about many of these people for years before I ever met them, and one of the secretaries was forced to retire because of her Crohn’s disease.  When I first met this poor woman at a social gathering a few years ago, I could not believe how thin and frail she looked.  When I came to work here, a little over a year ago, one of the things that really shocked me was how much hand sanitizer they had in the office.  Seriously, they have Costco size bottles every fifty feet and in every room in the building- NOT KIDDING! After reading Dr. Axe’s book, I think I may have an idea about what contributed to this poor woman’s Crohn’s disease. While I have hand sanitizer in my purse and on my desk (little 99 cent bottles), I don’t often use it.  I also have disinfectant wipes that I rarely use.  If I think I need them, I do (mainly to clean off sticky stuff), but there are a lot of people in this building who consistently smell like hand sanitizer.

I don’t want to give the impression that I’m an unsanitary dirty slob (I come from a family of farmers so a little dirt is a way of life), and years ago, I listened to a report about ‘Super Viruses’ and how we were making them ourselves by overuse of antibiotics and anti-bacterial everything.  Every time we take an antibiotic or use an antibacterial, we do not kill all the bugs: some are resistant, survive and then when they reproduce, all the new bugs have their parents’ resistance to antibiotics/ antibacterials.  This is how we end up with killer bacteria like MRSA (methilicillin-resistant staph aureus)  and VRSA (vancomycin-resistant staph aureus) just to name a couple.  These killer bacteria are resistant to most of the drugs used to treat the ‘normal’ staph infections, and if not treated correctly, they will kill you.  (No kidding: I’ve the MRSA and it’s not fun.) The doctor quoted in the report advised not taking an antibiotic every time we think we get a cold or flu, and when we wash our hands, regular soap and warm/ hot water is enough. This advice stuck with me and my sister and so while I do keep the antibacterial stuff around for times when I think it’s needed, most of the time I just use the soap and water.  I’ve never been a fan of gulping medications of any kind (the only reason I went to the doctor for the MRSA was because it was MRSA.) I get a cold, I’m miserable for about a week and I get over it.  Maybe I’m just old fashioned, but I figure if we consistently hide from dirt and germs, when we do run across them, we have no resistance to them.  As a kid, I played in the sandbox, ran around barefoot and, according to my mom, was a big fan of making mud pies when I was a baby.  I’ve also had pets all my life and they sit on my lap, lick my face and hands, and sleep right next me. (If what Dr. Axe says is true, my pets and I have a lot of the same microbiota!)

Dr. Axe’s philosophy regarding bacteria and germs is fairly similar to my own: micro-exposure.  Basically, my philosophy has been to treat my immune system like a car and keep the battery charged and fuel lines in good shape by using it.  If your car just sits idle in the garage, your battery loses its charge and if it sits too long, the oil and gas start to lacquer.  The tires and fuel lines start to crack and lose flexibility.  In other words, your car falls apart and your immune system isn’t much different.  If your immune system gets triggered periodically by a cut, a cold or some mildly unpleasant stomach bug, it swings into action, takes care of it and then goes back to ‘stand-by.’  If your immune system doesn’t get triggered regularly, then it can overreact and start attacking everything, including your own body.  Or, if it’s constantly triggered because you eat foods you are sensitive to, then it can also start ignoring the triggers, the way you hit the snooze button on your alarm clock when you’re half asleep.  Later, when you wake up after oversleeping, you’re in real trouble! Getting small exposures to bacteria on a regular basis keeps everything functioning normally.  Your immune system knows what’s a real threat and what isn’t and you can pick up additional healthy bugs!

By contrast, not being exposed to different bacteria does not keep you any healthier, and in fact, can make you sick.  Dr. Axe mentions a comparison study done of Amish children and ‘mainstream’ children regarding allergies, food sensitivities and asthma. The Amish children, most living in rural areas surrounded by animals, pollen and dirt, were much healthier with fewer allergies, sensitivities and breathing problems, while the ‘mainstream’ children had higher rates of all these problems.  Dr. Axe’s theory is that being constantly exposed to a myriad of different bacteria kept the Amish children immune to these problems. Again, microexposures to bacteria were keeping their immune system and digestive tracts in good working order.

Obviously, we need to use a little common sense when it comes to bacteria.  Trying to kill off every bacterium and germ we come across is a bad idea, as well as being pretty unfeasible! But we still need to be sensible about things: if you’re in a public restroom, maybe using the hand sanitizer after washing isn’t a bad idea, and if you have a cut on your hand, you might want to use gloves when you’re out in the yard cleaning up the doggie doo.  Using the hand sanitizer after finishing lunch at your own house or your own desk might be a bit overkill, literally. Washing up is a good idea, but warm water instead of soap with triclosan or another antibacterial agent probably isn’t necessary every time.

Besides not killing our microbiota, Dr. Axe gives some advice on the ‘care and feeding of our microbiome.’  They are living organisms and they need an hospitable environment to live and reproduce (our intestines) as well as plenty of food (our food is their food).  Most of those unhealthy bugs also like the junk food we like, and when we eat more of it than we do the healthy foods, the bad bugs crowd out the good bugs. This is a problem for us, because the bad bacteria (ideally about 15% of our microbiome) can cause many of the digestive disorders mentioned above. When the bad bacteria take over our intestines, we lose the ability to digest certain foods, and these are usually the foods with higher nutrients, so even though we are eating the healthy vegetables, fruits and proteins, our intestines and our bodies never get the nutrients because the bugs in our guts that break those down for us aren’t there to break them down.  It’s like having a flashlight with dead batteries: no good batteries, no light and the flashlight is useless to you.  If you have no good bugs in your digestive tract, all that healthy food is useless to you.  Even just feeding the bad bugs more often than feeding the good bugs can cause a population shift favoring the bacteria that cause us problems.

So don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty.  Don’t be afraid to hug your dog or cat, even if they’re a little grungy from the yard.  Eat more local organic veggies.  One of the sayings in my family is “God made dirt so dirt don’t hurt.”  I really believe a little dirt isn’t a bad thing any more than getting a little sweaty is a bad thing: they both keep us healthy!




Buying Trouble? Supplements, Probiotics, and Protein Powders

These are topics that make the rounds periodically: “what supplements should I be taking? What do I look for in a probiotic? Are whey protein shakes better or should I get a plant based one?” The problem with these questions is that almost anyone you ask can’t answer them for you. The operative phrase in that sentence is “for you.” I’m not trying to be clever here because, unless that person is your doctor or nutritionist, you are the only one who knows what works best for you.  Products like supplements, protein powders and probiotics/ prebiotics are extremely personalized: they depend on what your body and what you are eating.  There are some health professionals who will say things like “everyone should be taking vitamin D/ B/ multivitamin, etc.” (I heard one say it again today!) While I think most people would benefit from those, especially if they are eating the Standard American Diet, the fact is there are some people who don’t need them or should not be taking them.   In general, I think most people would be okay taking a multivitamin but I also think taking supplements “because everyone needs them” can be harmful, especially if they are electrolytes or a fat soluble vitamin.  [Again, I am not a doctor; this is just my regular person opinion.]

Electrolytes are vitamins and minerals that conduct electricity in the body: they are necessary to make our muscles contract, our nerves function and pretty much every other biochemical reaction in our bodies work smoothly.  Examples of electrolytes are potassium, magnesium, sodium chloride, calcium and phosphates.  I learned about electrolytes when I was in middle school because I used to get really really nasty leg cramps at night and it was usually because I was low on one of the above.  Most sports drinks like Gatorade or Powerade are designed to replace the electrolytes we lose through sweating.  The problems can come when our electrolytes get seriously out of whack, usually because- like me- we don’t eat/ drink the right things or because we are loading up on ‘healthy supplements.’ Just a small reminder: your heart is a muscle! and it is as liable as any other muscle in your body to be affected by an electrolyte imbalance!  Too much potassium or magnesium or vitamin D can cause the serious problems.  (Example: whenever I eat a lot of potassium rich foods like spinach or sweet potatoes, I get really nasty leg cramps.) I remember seeing one “True Stories of the ER” episode where the patient was a kid who’d drunk an entire bottle of antacid (a magnesium, sodium bicarbonate mix) and the doctors had to give an antagonist lest he have a heart attack.  [FYI: when prisoners are executed by lethal injection, it’s usually potassium chloride, which stops the heart.]

Vitamins are generally either fat soluble vitamin, which means it is stored in your body fat or water soluble.  Most of the vitamins we take, like B or C, are water soluble and anything our body doesn’t use is flushed out fairly quickly. (This is why your urine is bright yellow after you take B.) That makes it almost impossible to overdose on water soluble vitamins, but fat soluble vitamins build up in your body and you can overdose on those.  Fat soluble vitamins are D, A, K, and E.  This is by no means a comprehensive list of vitamins and minerals that can be stored or can cause problems if you take too many. Before you go out and load up on any supplements, please look at what you are already taking. If you have a nutritionist, meet with him/ her and ask their opinion.  If you want to talk to your doctor, have bloodwork done and ask him/ her if there are any vitamins or supplements they would recommend, and when you do that, please make sure their list of what you are already taking is current! I review this list with my doctor at least twice a year so she knows what I’m taking.  Just another FYI: if your doc gives you a new prescription (or even if refill a current one), PLEASE READ THE INFORMATIONAL PAMPHLET THAT COMES WITH IT. I know most pharmacies will put a sticker on them, but even with supplements, you need to read the pamphlet to 1) make sure you don’t have a drug interaction (which can be serious), and; 2) to make sure you aren’t wasting your time & money!  A close friend of mine was told by her doctor that her D3 levels were very low, so she should take vitamin D twice a day, which she did every morning on an empty stomach. After 3 months, she went back for a follow up and her levels had barely changed; she didn’t understand it until she read the instructions on the bottle: ‘take with food.’  It wasn’t being absorbed.

As for the other “biggies” like probiotics, prebiotics, and protein powders, it’s all about you: what are you eating? Most people want a protein powder because either they: a) don’t think they are getting enough protein; b) think protein is a ‘free food’ so they want a lot of it to lose weight; c) are trying to build muscle.  Protein will help you build muscle if you are actually working out and doing strength training.  If your goal is building muscle, hopefully you are working with a trainer who can advise you, because your diet, body type and strength training experience are a lot more important to your success (and not hurting yourself) than whether you are drinking a pea-based protein shake or a whey-based protein shake.  (If you need some guidance getting a trainer, check out Metabolic Radio.)

If you are looking at protein shakes because you think it’s a ‘free food,’ sorry but it’s not.  All foods have calories and if you eat/ drink too much of anything, it’s still too much.  Many people think that fat and carbs are stored as body fat but ‘protein builds muscle.’  It’s true: it builds muscle, but since protein can’t be stored as ‘protein,’ if you eat/ drink too much of it, surprise! your body turns it into glucose (a carb) through gluconeogenesis and it’s stored as fat or glycogen.  End result: too much protein can make you fat just like carbs and fat. It can also make you sick; people who consistently get more than 35% of their calories from protein can suffer from protein toxicity, so protein is definitely NOT a free food.

Most people get protein powders because they think they are not getting enough protein.  While they can be good supplements to a healthy diet, you should focus on the ‘healthy diet’ part first.  If most of what you eat comes from a bag, box or a restaurant, focus on more whole foods. Even though they’re ‘healthy,’ protein powders are still processed, which means there can be some nutrients and other necessary factors that aren’t included in them. Most whole foods are nutritious not because they are high in protein, fiber or vitamin/ mineral XYZ, but because they usually have more than just the one thing in them.  Spinach for example is high in vitamins K, A , B2, B1, B6, C, E, manganese, folate, magnesium, iron, copper, calcium, potassium and is a good source of dietary fiber, phosphorus, choline, and yes, protein! All of these things are in a serving of spinach, so you not only get a good dose of protein, you get the fiber, mineral and boatload of vitamins that come with it. This is why even the highest quality protein powders can’t beat eating whole foods. If you are eating a whole food diet and still think you aren’t getting enough protein, then yes, a quality protein shake can be a shortcut to give you more of what you want without eating a truckload of food.  If you are transitioning to a whole food/ healthier diet, then a protein shake can be great boost, but please bear in mind that ‘shortcuts’ also cut corners: while you may be getting more protein, you aren’t really doing yourself any favors missing out on the rest of the healthy nutrition that goes with the whole foods.

What’s often missing from protein powders (and meal replacement shakes/ bars) are the co-factors that help you metabolize the nutrients that are in them.  This is called bio-availability.  Example: calcium cannot be absorbed by your body without vitamin D and magnesium.  These bind to the calcium and ‘escort’ it into your cells, so if you are taking a calcium supplement without the D & magnesium either in the supplement or in your diet, your body is not absorbing the calcium and you aren’t getting much benefit from what you are taking.  This is why some powders/ shakes/ bars will say they have 20 grams of protein (or whatever) but it’s either in a form your body can’t absorb or because there aren’t the necessary co-factors that allow your body to use it. This is what happened with my friend and the vitamin D and is the biggest reason whole foods are better than just supplements.

Beyond the quality of the product, the choice of plant v whey/ animal protein pretty much depends on you: is vegetarian/ plant based important to you?  Do you have digestive problems with milk (whey is a milk product)? There are other options out there: egg, bone broth, collagens, hemp, etc.  Obviously you want to aim for quality, so check them out.  Read some reviews and see if any are endorsed by an organization you trust.  Organic and non-GMO (genetically modified organisms) are important to me.  But again, it’s all about you and your preferences. Since almost all of them are expensive, try getting a sample packet if you can. I like Ancient Nutrition Bone Broth Protein.  It’s chicken bone broth based, organic, non-GMO and ‘gut friendly.’  They also have a variety of flavors: so far I like the chocolate and banana creme the best.  As far as what you mix it with, again that’s up to you.  I’m not a big fan of coconut, so I opt for Almond Breeze Unsweetened Original or Vanilla (hey, I’m from California- home of Blue Diamond Almonds!) I usually drink it for breakfast especially since I’ve been skipping lunch lately.

As for probiotics and prebiotics, most of what I learned comes from Josh Axe’s book Eat Dirt. (A review is forthcoming!) Definitions first: probiotics are the bacteria themselves and prebiotics are food for the little bugs.  If you didn’t already know, our intestinal tracts are home to millions of bacteria which we need to survive.  These bacteria break down the foods we eat (they eat them too) which allows our intestines to absorb the nutrients.  Problems happen when we don’t feed our little ‘pets’ the right foods, or we feed the bad bacteria that’s also there instead of the good guys.  What happens when we starve the good guys or overfeed the bad guys is that the bad guys out-number the good guys and we literally feel it in our guts: foods are not being digested or we have serious digestive issues.  This is why we have problems like irritable bowel, constipation/ diarrhea, gas/ bloating, etc.- all the fun stuff! This can also happen when we take antibiotics: we kill whatever bug is making us sick but we also kill the bugs in our bowels which we need.  Because so many people have digestive issues, probiotics/ prebiotics are getting a lot of attention: it’s an ‘easy fix’ for most digestive problems, or at least it looks like one! The biggest issues with probiotics are: 1) the bugs in your pill are dead; 2) the bugs are alive but don’t make it to the bowel; 3) they’re the ‘wrong’ bugs; or 4) you don’t need them!

I know most people don’t like talking poop, but it’s a fact of life.  As a life-long pet-parent, I’m always checking on my pets: is everything going in okay and is it all coming out okay? Like pets, people’s digestion is usually the first indicator that something is wrong, and as they say, if it ain’t broke, don’t ‘fix’ it! If you are not having digestive issues, ie you are eating healthy foods and everything is going down, staying down and coming out without any problems on a fairly regular (and frequent) basis (pun intended!), then don’t try fixing anything.  You don’t need it.  But if you are eating healthy and having issues, then probiotics and prebiotics may be options for you, but you need to eat living bugs and they need to make it to your bowels where they can take up residence.  Most of the time, the bugs that come in those little capsules are dead by the time you pick the box off the shelf or, if they are alive, the ‘protective’ capsule dissolves in the stomach and so do the bugs, so they don’t help you.  The other issue has to do with the type of bugs that are in the capsules: different bugs eat different things, so if you are having an issue with fiber for example, the bugs that you buy at the corner happy & healthy pharmacy may not be the ones that you need.  The best advice I’ve heard is to get a probiotic with as many different organisms as possible and look for something ‘enteric coated’ so it will survive your stomach acid.  Also important- once you get the good guys re-established in your bowels, you need to feed the little guys! Give them plenty of healthy whole foods to keep them thriving! Eat healthy whole foods with as little processing as possible and eat a variety of them.  When nutritionists say ‘eat the rainbow of fruits and veggies,’ they are not wrong- all the different whole foods feed all the different good bugs in your bowels.  The bad bugs have a tendency to like the junk food and so do we. This is why we as a nation have so many digestive trouble: our highly processed diet is feeding the wrong bacteria in our guts so they are overpowering & crowding out the good guys who keep everything running smoothly. Bottom line: if the good bugs are not thriving and happy, neither are you!

The most important thing to remember about supplements is that they are supplements, which means they are ‘in addition to’ what you are already eating/ drinking.  Gulping them down by the handful is not going to solve the underlying diet issues. Eat better, move more, get plenty of quality sleep and manage your stress: then ask yourself how you are feeling.  If you are still having issues, then start looking at some health professionals or some supplements- then you can start ‘adding on.’ Until then, don’t buy trouble because “everyone” says so!



Failure is NOT an Option: Healthier Eating Plans for Weight Loss & Nutrition

This is probably the biggest time of the entire year for the weight loss and fitness industry.  Summer is another big time, but the start of the new year always has people trying to capitalize on starting new healthy habits and losing weight, so it’s not surprising that I’m seeing way more commercials for fitness and weight loss equipment and diet plans.

The sad part is that everyone really wants to improve their lives and health but most of those who try will give up by the end of February.  Not because they aren’t sincere, but because they are frustrated and overwhelmed.  They are trying to change too much too soon, usually and it’s not surprising that they lose focus and start feeling like a failure.  Elizabeth Benton (Primal Potential) usually compares this to teaching a child to read: she says you start with the alphabet, not The Iliad!  I usually think of weight lifting: you don’t walk into the gym on the first day and load up the bar with 150 lbs! You start with maybe 10, or just the empty bar!  You know you can’t deadlift 150 lbs- you’ll hurt yourself!  But when we start new fitness/ eating plans, we do the equivalent of 150 lbs and then we wonder why we failed: “what’s wrong with me?!”  There’s nothing wrong with YOU– it’s your method! I recently did a post on New Year’s resolutions and how to succeed at them (Making a List and Checking It Twice: Those Nagging New Year’s Resolutions).  This post is about what healthy eating plan you want to do!

There are a lot of diets out there and new ones coming out every day.  The truth is everyone is different and your way of eating for optimal health is not going to be like anyone else’s.  This is why the weight loss industry is pretty much always booming: people try to fit into someone else’s diet and when it doesn’t work- or work fast enough- they drop it and start shopping for another one!  The key to success with healthy weight, healthy nutrition and fitness is to find your own diet! Easier said than done, but that’s what this post is going to help you with!  Once you find what works for you, you’re there. You just have to keep doing what you’re doing. Little tip: if you aren’t happy doing what you’re doing, it isn’t the right plan for you!  Anyone can lose weight eating chicken breast and steamed broccoli 365 days a year but if it makes you miserable, you won’t keep doing it (and even if you stuck with it, you didn’t get ‘healthy’ so you can be miserable!)

There are a variety of healthy eating plans or Ways of Eating (WOE) that don’t require you to buy pre-packaged foods or attend meetings or do anything other than maybe download a list of foods or a short outline of the plan.  Having tried a few of the other more restrictive eating plans (buying their packaged foods from a service), I personally think these less restrictive WOEs are a better option: you can buy the food anywhere and they are a lot more flexible if you run into an unforeseen situation.  Some of the healthy eating plans I considered are: Mediterranean diet; ketogenic/ keto diet (not really flexible); High Fat Low Carb (HFLC); Atkins; Whole 30; Whole Foods; Paleo/ Primal (what I eat); Intermittent Fasting (IF);  and vegetarian (& related forms); vegan;.  There are also the various diets put out there by certain professionals such as the Autoimmune Protocol (AIP); the Wahls Protocol; Dr. Hyman’s Eat Fat Get Thin diet; Dr. Ludwig’s Always Hungry? diet; and Elle Russ’ Thyroid Solution diet. (Some of these are obviously trying to fix health problems other than just weight, but that might be part of why you’re looking to improve your health.)  Some of these diets are really similar and it’s only the details that matter, but it’s the devil in those details that can make all the difference!

The more generic diets (diet here means “foods an individual habitually consumes”) tend to be a little more flexible than the “sponsored” diets. I think that’s because these are the ways communities ate for generations and someone finally noticed and wrote a book about it!  For me,  that lends a little more credibility to them since generations of people ate that way and remained relatively healthy. [Disclaimer time:I am not affiliated with anyone but me and I make no money off of any of these diets/ WOEs. I am not a health professional: just another informed consumer!]

The Mediterranean Diet: As the name implies, this is the diet consumed by communities around the Mediterranean and its big focus is on fruits, veggies, grain & grain products (breads, pastas), legumes, olives & olive oils, and nuts/ seeds. It also advocates eating fish and seafood a few times a week, dairy and eggs in moderate amounts more often/ daily and meats and sweets the least. The focus is on whole unprocessed foods and limits red meats, emphasizing proteins from seafood and even though it does advocate eating pasta and grains, the idea is that they are not a big portion of the diet and are to be balanced out by the vegetables, legumes and proteins.

High Fat Low Carb (HFLC): In a lot of ways, this is kind of a freestyle version of the more regimented Atkins diet.  It promotes exactly what it says: you eat high amounts of healthy fats, moderate to high amounts of proteins and keep your carbs low.  The trick here is “healthy fats.”  Generally, there are still a lot of people out there who are afraid of saturated fats from red meats. Healthy fats are foods such as avocados, coconut oil/ butter, olives/ olive oil, and fats from proteins like fish, meat and eggs.  The prevailing thought is that if it’s a naturally occurring fat, it’s healthy in the right proportions.  Man-made fats like trans fats and polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs) from crop oils (soybean, corn, canola, safflower, etc) are generally unstable and cannot be used by the body or expelled, so they are there inside you forever doing nothing good. This is what scares most people away from this diet, but in healthy amounts, I don’t think they are harmful: it’s the “healthy amounts” again that are the issue. I tend to keep my fats higher than my carbs and protein in my diet by a small margin, and I do this by eating only natural fats and I limit the saturated fats from red meats.  By keeping the carbs low (and hopefully limiting them to complex carbs from vegetables), you can maximize your weight loss and nutrition.

Atkins diet: This is again much like the HFLC diet described above except it’s broken down into 4 “phases” in which you limit your intake of the macros (fat, protein, carbohydrate). For those of you who don’t know, this diet was created by the late Dr. Robert Atkins.  It starts you off by severely limiting your carbs, and then you begin phasing in more carbs from vegetables and nuts.  The bulk of your calories come from healthy fats and proteins.  This is a “sponsored” diet with a website, community and a line of packaged foods following the diet protocol. Initially, this diet took a lot of abuse for advocating high fat at a time when fat=death, but studies continue to bear out Dr. Atkins’ findings.

Whole 30: This is a WOE that obviously focuses on eating whole natural foods.  The term Whole 30 is actually another sponsored diet (see Whole30.com) with a list of rules for their eating program, focusing on whole foods (minus certain foods like sugars/sweeteners, grains, alcohols, dairy, legumes, etc) and it’s “30” because it’s a month long program.  This program has had a lot of success, and like the Atkins site, it offers books, communities and support to help you succeed. It also has rules like no measuring, no weighing, and no analyzing body composition during the program (but it’s okay to do before and after.)

Whole foods: A less stringent version focuses simply on eating whole foods.  (This has nothing to do with the grocery store chain of the same name!) Basically, you eat foods that are as close to their natural state as possible before you prepare them. For example, when you eat sweet potato fries, you buy the sweet potatoes and cut them up into fries yourself; the flash frozen bag of sweet potato fries is not a whole food. Apples are a whole food; applesauce is processed.  The point of this WOE is that you are not getting any (hopefully) of the chemical additives, preservatives and PUFAs that come in processed foods and are getting more of the natural vitamins, nutrients and fiber that comes in the unprocessed foods naturally.  This WOE isn’t focused on the macros but more on the natural state of the foods, and it also emphasizes organic and non-GMO foods.  This WOE is focused on nutrition, which is a good thing!

Paleo/ Primal: This is the WOE that I follow, so it’s the one I know best! Paleo gets it’s name from the supposed diet eaten by Paleolithic (hunter-gatherer) peoples, so it focuses on whole natural foods, but it initially took a lot of heat because it’s low carb and specifically avoids grains (including rice & corn), grain-products, legumes (including soy & peanuts), starchy vegetables (white potatoes, taro), refined sugars, dairy, and crop oils (canola, corn, vegetable).  This WOE focuses on vegetables, proteins (meats, eggs, seafood, poultry), good fats (coconut, olive, avocado), and nuts, seeds and fruit in moderation. The big difference between Paleo and Primal is the dairy: Primal allows it. Other than that,  I have not found any differences.  The focus of this diet is to avoid grains and processed foods in general.  Like the Whole Foods diet above, if you want sweet potato fries, they enter your house as the raw tubers from the produce section.

Ketogenic/ keto diet:  This diet is not very flexible and I have to say some people have a lot of difficulty with it, but those that manage to stick with it have had some fabulous results with weight loss, nutrition, energy levels and insulin resistance especially. Keto is extremely low carb, and by that I mean like 20 grams or less. By comparison, on Paleo, my carbs are generally around 100 grams per day, so keto has you eating almost no carbohydrates at all, either simple (bread) or complex (ie spinach).  The idea is that the body turns carbs into glucose which is used as fuel, but our bodies can also use ketones which are made from fat, so if you don’t eat carbs/ glucose, your body is forced to use fat/ ketones, either from what you eat or your body fat.  Most of the calories on the keto diet come either from fat or protein and you need to be careful not to eat too much protein because your body can turn protein into glucose (gluconeogenesis) which will be used as fuel. When you stop eating carbs/ glucose, your body will go into a state called ketosis, which means it’s burning fat.  Sometimes you hear people talk about “sugar burners” and “fat burners.”  If your body is using mainly glucose & carbs, you are a sugar burner; if it’s using mainly ketones, you’re a fat burner and if you can go back and forth between the two, you’re metabolically flexible (way too much terminology for me!)  FYI: sometimes this diet gets confused with ketoacidosis, which is a dangerous condition for diabetics.  It means your blood sugar and ketones are high and you need to get to a hospital ASAP.  This diet is really great for people who are reversing type 2 diabetes since it drastically reduces your blood sugar and increases your sensitivity to insulin (kind of the opposite of diabetes). People have difficulty keeping away from carbs, increasing their fat intake, and when you first start reducing your carbs that low, you generally feel pretty awful for the first couple of weeks (they call it “keto flu” because it’s so similar).  Personally, I have MFP friends who love this way of eating, but I have never been able to 1) keep my carbs that low; and 2) make it past the keto flu.

Intermittent Fasting (IF): This is not so much a diet about what you eat but about how you eat.  It’s fairly similar to Paleo/ Primal/ Ketogenic in that it’s great for reversing insulin resistance.  Just like it says, you fast for either several hours or several days.  The idea is not to starve yourself or drastically lower your calories (which can tank your Basic Metabolic Rate- think Biggest Losers who gained it back).  Apparently, when you fast, your body switches to burning fat like in ketosis.  There are studies which show IF has quite a few health benefits besides increasing insulin sensitivity and proponents say that instead of being tired and hungry all the time, like people would expect, the opposite is true: they have more energy and aren’t hungry.  When you fast, you do need to increase your water intake and also your sodium and electrolytes (they get flushed out with the urine at a higher rate). You can fast for either a few hours (12 hour eating window and 12 hour fasting is usually the starting times) or you can fast for a few days or longer. Proponents also state that the first two days of fasting are the hardest and after that, your body has made the transition and it’s pretty easy.  It is advisable that you don’t try IF unless you are in reasonably good health, not suffering from any illnesses and definitely not if you are pregnant.

Vegetarian/ Vegan diets: These diets, while also about health and nutrition, usually have a moral component as well.  Most people who follow these diets do so not only out of a desire to be healthier but because they don’t believe in eating animals (vegetarianism) or using products from animals (veganism). There are a lot of health benefits to a plant based diet, especially when it comes to reducing saturated fat and some of the less than positive attributes of meat. There are some different types of vegetarianism, such as people who only eat fish (pescetarians) and people who eat eggs and milk (lacto-ovo vegetarians) and other forms.  Vegans don’t use anything that comes from an animal: no milk, eggs, leather, or gelatin, etc, if it uses parts of an animal or is produced by an animal.  I do want to caution that there can be health concerns with this diet, as one of the essential vitamins we need is B12, which is very hard to get in sufficient quantities from plants alone. Those of you who have read past posts may recall I spoke about a college student who ended up in the ER because she was B12 deficient.  This deficiency can kill you since you need the B12 for your body to use oxygen: no B12= no life= no you!  If you do elect a vegan/ vegetarian diet and are not already taking a B12 supplement, you may want to consider it. There are possible other concerns, as with any WOE, so be sure to research all eating plans thoroughly and if you can’t find the answers to your questions, please see a nutritionist or dietician.

As for the remaining “sponsored diets,” they tend to run from the fairly complex and regimented (designed help you recover from a specific condition) such as the Autoimmune Protocol to the mildly structured such as the Always Hungry diet. Most of these have books and websites, like Atkins and Whole30, to help guide you through them.  Dr. Ludwig’s website has a lot of free info.  I have read Dr. Ludwig’s Always Hungry? book and it offers a great comparison with the Atkins and Mediterranean diets.  Almost all of these ways of eating have books or websites available to you.  Some of the sites I like are Primal Potential (site & podcast with more free info), Paleo Leap, Dr. Jason Fung’s Intensive Dietary Management blog, Jimmy Moore’s Living La Vida Low Carb (site & podcast).  Some of the books I like in addition to Dr. Ludwig’s are Living Paleo for Dummies, Vegetarianism for Dummies, Mediterranean Diet for Dummies, Keto Clarity by Jimmy Moore, The Obesity Code by Dr. Jason Fung and The Complete Guide to Fasting by Dr. Jason Fung and Jimmy Moore.  These are only a few of the books and websites available. A note about the Dummies books: I like them because they assume you know absolutely nothing about the topic.  Even if you are familiar with it, it doesn’t hurt to at least review what you think you know, because I have come across info that was new to me, even though I’d already researched the topic.  It turns out I was less thorough than I thought!

It’s important to be an informed consumer and learn about a diet/ nutrition/ fitness plan before you start (remember the vegan college student!), but don’t get so caught up in learning “everything about all of them” that you don’t start any of them!  It’s also not a one-shot deal: if you start Whole30, decide it’s not for you and you want to try IF, you don’t have to wait until next year or the end of the month or any date in particular.  Give it a fair test run (remember keto and IF take a few days to get through the “flu”) but if you don’t like it, try something else! Also, don’t let anyone tell you what’s right or wrong for your way of eating and lifestyle.  Unless it’s something horribly unhealthy (like starving yourself, bingeing/ purging, etc), you are the one who knows yourself best.  My only requirements are: 1) does it provide a solid nutritional foundation?; and 2) is it something I will enjoy doing long term?  If the answer to either of those questions is ‘no,’ then I would keep looking.  If you have any questions, you can leave a comment here or send me an email at takingthelongweightoskinny@gmail.com.





Watch Out for the Free Range Twinkies!

In light of the upcoming holidays and all the goodies that will be available to munch on and share, I thought this would be a timely warning as well as a little bit of humor.  It’s almost time for those annual make-them-and-break-them New Year’s Resolutions, so we can add this to the list of things we want to get done in 2017!

One of the newest podcasts I’ve been listening to is Alan Misner’s 40+ Fitness.  (Yep, I fit that demographic! Yikes!) It was episode 181 with Jeff Scot Philips, author of Big Fat Food Fraud and it was an enlightening look at the health food industry. Years ago, I read Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser and it was a long time before I could even look at a fast food restaurant! Unfortunately, I got over that, but I do eat much less of it now than I did before. (FYI: the book is way more informative than the movie- not really about the book, I think!) I am ordering Mr. Philips’ book: I think it will be a great complement to Schlosser’s fast food exposé.

Of the many shocking topics discussed on this podcast, the one I found most frustrating was the fact that food labels lie to us.  The manufacturer designs the labels and lists the ingredients and there is no agency (according to what I heard in the podcast) that regulates the accuracy of the ingredients list.  This is the label that we consumers RELY ON to decide if this is something we want to consume! Mr. Philips made the comment that a lot of consumers are trying to avoid MSG (monosodium glutamate) and so instead of putting it on the label as MSG, they call it something else (like “hydrolyzed vegetable protein”) put that on instead.  Joe Consumer comes along, reads the label: “cool! no MSG!” and buys it.  Except that he is getting MSG because the label lied to him.

Labels are designed for marketing, as Mr. Philips pointed out.  Cereals always say they are low-fat, because they want you to focus on that instead of the fact that they usually have a lot of sugar in them.  Alan Misner made a joke about “free range Twinkies” because it’s accurate: the Twinkies haven’t been caged up.  It’s silly, but it’s also like pointing out that your milk is gluten-free or that your cabbage was raised on an all-vegetarian diet.  Really?!  Yes, these are silly but they are not that much of a stretch from what manufacturers really do put on the labels.  They are designed to catch your attention and, like the magician on stage, divert your attention from what they are actually doing and getting you to focus on what they want you to see.  Yes, chocolate bars are gluten free, but they are full of sugar.  Yes, the pasta is low-fat, but it’s full of starch (essentially sugar once it hits your GI tract).  The same is true for the pasta sauce: they might point out that it’s got healthy olive oil, but it also has a lot of corn syrup (more sugar).

One of the other ways manufacturers fudge the labels is by changing the portion size. If they want to lower the calories per serving (Less than 300 calories per serving!), they make the servings smaller.  Instead of 12 ounces of juice, it’s 8 ounces.  I noticed it when the yogurt containers went from 8 oz to 6 oz to 5.3 oz.  Calories per serving dropped as low as 120, but then it’s almost three ounces less yogurt.  The amount of “sugar” also dropped.

I was really not surprised that manufacturers change the names of the ingredients to shy away from putting a hot button food ‘bad guy’ on the label.  (The latest is high fructose corn syrup.)  I’ve had friends with allergies who carefully peruse labels for their allergens and all the ways it can be hidden on a label.  The yogurt is another good example.  My dog likes it and when I buy it, I usually give him a little, but the artificial sweeteners aren’t good for dogs (like sugar alcohols, aspartame and sucralose) so I was checking the label to see if it had any.  I was initially looking for those products and not finding them, I noticed I didn’t see “sugar.”  What I did see was “evaporated cane juice”- sugar.

The practice of re-packaging the truth is particularly distressing when it comes to transfats.  As the host Alan pointed out on the podcast, transfats are man-made fats that your body cannot expel.  Once you eat them, they are stuck in your body FOREVER.  Every transfat you’ve ever eaten is still in your body, and now that the government has realized they are unhealthy, they are getting manufacturers away from them.  Once the amount of transfat is less than one gram per serving (<0), the manufacturer is allowed to say it has “No Transfats!” but what they may not point out to you is that the package of whatever you are looking at contains 4 servings, so you could be getting almost 4 grams of transfats if you consume the entire package.

Whenever you buy something packaged you are taking the risk that the manufacturer is telling you the truth. You should not have to be a food detective to determine if something is safe or healthy for you to eat.  This is one more reason to eat as much whole, non-GMO, and organic foods as possible.  Eggs, even though they come in a box and have a label, are essentially a whole food.  The same is true for your fruits, vegetables, and most meats. Choosing foods that are non-GMO, grass-fed, free-range/ cage-free, hormone & anti-biotic are all good, but the bottom line is anything that doesn’t come in a package is probably healthier than something that does.  Broccoli doesn’t have to tell you it’s hormone-free and is low fat. Even when it does come in a bag, the only thing on the ingredients list should be: broccoli.  Opting for whole foods is a small step towards being healthier and you don’t have to wait for the new year to start.  Learning to be a savvy label detective is something else you can do, whether you decide to eat more whole foods or not.  Next time you go to the grocery store, watch out for the lies on the labels, and watch out for those free-range Twinkies, too!


One Size Does Not Fit ALL!

The FDA lied to me (and everyone else)!

I am the first to admit that I am not any kind of health/ fitness expert.  I never have been and one look at my medical records would verify that! But like most people out there, I think, I tried to follow the best advice for healthy living and healthy eating.  So when everyone was freaking out about high fat, high meat diets, and all the benefits of whole grains, I followed their advice.  For years, I could not figure out what I was doing wrong as I continued to gain weight through college and grad school and somewhere towards the early 2000’s, I came to the conclusion, that whatever it was I was doing wrong was way beyond me and I was just doomed to be fat all my life.

About that point, I pretty much stopped paying attention to what I was eating and just ate what I wanted, though I tried to keep it in some kind of moderation (usually failing miserably), and it wasn’t until the end of 2014 (about this time two years ago) that I FINALLY figured out what I was doing wrong, began to lose weight and began to feel like an actual human being who had a chance to live a healthy lifestyle.  As some of you know, it was a complete and total accident that I stumbled onto my huge (no pun intended- well, maybe) diet problem:  I had been following the FDA guidelines on their Food Pyramid.

In the early 1990’s (1992 to be exact) the FDA’s Food Pyramid recommended eating daily 6-11 servings of grains, rice, cereals & pastas, 3-5 servings of vegetables, 2-4 servings of fruits, 2-3 servings of meats & fish, 2-3 servings of dairy and to eat fats and sugars “sparingly.”  (They update these guidelines every 5 years or so.) In 1992, I was in college and literally my weight gain started to soar.  It was seriously out of control and the more I kept eating the low fat, high carb/ high “whole grain” diet everyone was pushing at me, the more weight I kept gaining.  Like I said, eventually I just gave up.

It turns out that everyone else following the same diet was also gaining weight at a high rate too.  We had an epidemic of obesity and type II diabetes by the time I finished college.  It kept right on rising (I think it still is) and now the doctors know why: it was the low fat, high carb/ high whole grain diet that everyone was eating– at their recommendation!!  Now the best doctors are telling us something very different than what they told us 25 years ago. Now they are telling us that high fat does not cause heart disease; it’s sugar that causes the most damage in the body.  What they are not explaining fully is that all those “whole grains” & grain products (this includes rice, cereals, pastas, corn & corn products, etc) turns into sugar in the body.  When you eat a candy bar, your body breaks it down into glucose, which is a sugar, and the body releases insulin to remove it from the blood stream and it is stored in the body as fat or glycogen for later use as a fuel.  What the doctors aren’t telling you is that all those grain/ grain products they were advising us to eat 6-11 servings of each day, are made up of starches, which are long strings of sugar, and are turned just as quickly into glucose by the body and the body goes through the same routine.  It doesn’t matter if it’s a bowl of pasta, a bagel, an ear of corn or a candy bar: it all turns into glucose pretty fast in the body and it’s stored as fat or glycogen.  (They may as well have told us to have 6 candy bars daily- the effect would have been the same!)

So there we all were: eating lots of grains, cereals and pastas like they said to do, and we were gaining weight, and becoming insulin resistant to boot too!  I figured out (22 years later!) that one of the reasons I was gaining weight was that all of those carbs were being stored as fat in my body, and they weren’t being burned later on because in order to burn fat, the blood stream needs to be cleared of insulin.  If there is glucose in the blood, there is insulin in the blood and the body can only store fat when insulin is present.  It’s an either-or situation: either the body is storing fat (insulin is present) or it is burning fat (insulin is not present). There was always insulin and glucose in my blood stream because I was eating those recommended grain products for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks: bagels, cereals,  breakfast sandwich, pasta, sandwiches, granola bars; cereal bars, etc.  (Does this sound like the stuff everyone else was eating??) My body was clearing the glucose from breakfast only to have it replaced with the glucose from lunch and then once that was cleared, there was the snack glucose and then the dinner glucose and knowing me, probably dessert glucose as well!!

You know that old saying that  if you have Chinese food, you’ll only be hungry again in an hour? This is why:once your body clears the glucose from your blood stream, obviously your blood glucose is low, and it’s usually lower than it was before you ate whatever it was you ate, so your brain sends out a signal that you need to raise your blood glucose, and that signal is hunger.  This creates a vicious cycle: you eat carbs (either because they’re “good for you” or you like them- whatever reason); your blood sugar spikes; your body releases insulin to clear the glucose; your blood sugar bottoms out once the glucose is cleared and your brain tells you that you need to eat.  This is why you can eat a huge meal of pork fried rice, chicken chow mein and broccoli beef over rice chased down with a fortune cookie and be hungry an hour later.  You know you just ate, but your brain says you’re hungry.  This is how you can have a breakfast full of good for you whole grains and then munch on a granola bar about an hour and half later.  You have a sandwich and whole wheat crackers for lunch and then munch on a bunch more crackers a couple hours later.  You have pasta and shrimp for dinner and then have a couple of cookies while watching tv an hour or so later.  By the time your body has cleared the glucose from the prior meal or snack, you’re dumping more glucose into the system!  It’s not your fault- this is what we were all told and this is not unusual for most people!  That is a perfectly reasonable daily diet laid out above and it’s a diet that will most probably keep you gaining weight.  It’s not that different from the diet I was on for most of my college years and I kept steadily gaining weight, until I just gave up and ate all kinds of junk food because NOTHING WAS WORKING FOR ME!!

As much as I would love to lay all the blame on the FDA, I can’t.  They meant well.  Even though I was following their guidelines, which were made with the best of intentions for everyone, I was simply eating too much and it was too much of the wrong things, so it was a perfect storm of weight loss chaos for me (and everyone else it turns out as well)! After I reached around the 370 mark, my weight pretty much stayed in that neighborhood for several years.  I would periodically try dieting, again using the low fat high carb model, and I would lose weight and then slowly gain it all back.  It wasn’t until things got really bad with my job and my eating habits that it really began to rise again, and it took a major life crisis to stop it.  The only good thing out of that crisis (aside from leaving the job from hell) was that I learned how to eat for weight loss and overall health.  It involved making permanent lifestyle and eating changes.

As the title of this post states, one size does not fit everyone.  The FDA, in putting out guidelines, is trying to help people eat better, which is to be commended, and obviously they cannot tailor a plan to fit each individual: that’s why they are called “guidelines.” It would be a whole lot easier if we could just take a simple test and get an easy to follow instruction manual on how to eat for our body type & lifestyle, but unfortunately we have to find out through trial and error, mostly.  What works for one person may not work for someone else, even if you are related.  My sister is a vegetarian and she is also losing weight eating a lot of the foods that I don’t eat.  The same is true for me: I eat a Paleo/ Primal diet now which includes a lot of animal products she doesn’t eat and I am also losing weight.  My sister’s diet includes a lot of starches and simple carbs and mine includes a lot of meat & fish.  Pretty much the only things we have in common are dairy (although mine is much less than hers) and non-starchy vegetables.

You would think it would be easy to figure out what to eat.  I mean, if you have a cat, you know you don’t feed it oats and grass, just like you don’t feed your rabbit meat and eggs.  Because humans are omnivores (meaning we eat everything), we think our diet must include “everything.”  Humans have been trying to figure out what we eat for as long as we have been humans; basically, we eat something and if it makes us sick, we cross it off the list and don’t eat it again.  This is fine if you are a caveman (or cave person) but with our big brains and modern conveniences, we techno-savvy homo sapiens think we should know better.  We can literally touch the stars but we can’t figure out what we should be eating?! As a wise and savvy engineer once remarked, “the more you overhaul the plumbing, the easier it is to stop up the drain” (Mr. Scott).  He was right: just because we can make computers that fit in our palms doesn’t mean we should be eating “super techno franken foods.”  The shortest distance between points A & B is still a straight line.  1 + 1 is still 2.  One of the other things my Paleo/ Primal “cave man” diet has in  common with my sister’s animal-friendly vegetarian diet is that we both eat very few processed foods.  Most of what we eat is pretty close to its natural state: the vegetables are as fresh and organic as they can be and so are the eggs, dairy and in my case, the meats too.

I can’t tell you that “eating Paleo/ Primal” is the way to go anymore than I can say “eating vegetarian” or keto or low fat or any other diet is the way to go.  All I can tell you is what works for me.  Before I starting eating Paleo, my weight was out of control, I had high blood sugar and I was always hungry, always tired and felt pretty awful in general.  Now that I eat very few processed foods and grain products, my blood sugar is completely normal, I’ve lost 163 lbs and I have a lot more energy and feel pretty good overall. I wish I could tell everyone that I found the magic potion that makes us all feel wonderful and lose weight, but, alas, not so.  I honestly believe that some things I’ve learned are true: that too many processed starchy foods cause high blood glucose which prohibits fat burning and that processed foods are less healthy for you than organic whole foods.  Beyond those, I think everyone needs to decide for themselves what works best, and we need to remember that what works for one does not work for all.  I’ve had many people tell me that “keto is the way to go!” and I know that keto is too hard for me and it does not make me feel good.  I’ve also had a lot of people tell me that Paleo did not fix my blood sugar problem because “I bet if you ate a bagel, your blood sugar would go up!” Duh!!! That’s how blood sugar works! When anyone eats anything, your blood sugar goes up!! (That’s why you test it 2 hours after eating- if it’s still high after 2 hours, then you have a problem!) Some people really don’t enjoy eating Paleo/ Primal even if they lose weight. I know when I tried going vegetarian in college, I really didn’t like it. I like veggies but not that much! My sister on the other hand doesn’t like eating meat or fish (especially fish!)

I think the most important thing I learned after this lifelong struggle is that when someone tells you they have The Answer, don’t believe them!  Either they are flat out lying to you or they are making a good faith honest mistake. This is why the weight loss & fitness industries flourish: every few months someone has The Answer and they’ll be happy to share it with you for $19.99 plus shipping and handling! All I’m going to do is tell you to listen to your body (for free!) and be patient.  Take notes in your diet journal about what you are eating and how it makes you feel.  Record your measurements and/ or weight every couple of weeks.  Take notes about your activities/ exercises and how they make you feel (same journal).  If you like how you feel, if you are losing weight, getting fitter, then keep going.  It doesn’t matter if it’s a specialized “diet with a name;” what matters is that you feel better! But the one caveat I’m going to put out there is that you need to be patient and give your body some time to adjust and time to lose weight and quite possibly heal.  I had to stop eating dairy for a long time before I could eat it again without feeling wretched from lactose intolerance.  I still have to be careful not to have too much too often, but a little is okay for me.  I know I was really addicted to starches and I’d really crave bread for days after eating one piece of toast.  It was a long time before I could see it and not want it.  I’ve learned that while bread tastes really good, it’s not good for me.  My sister on the other hand enjoys it without feeling awful afterwards.

It’s a little ironic that humans pride ourselves on our individuality, but when it comes to eating and exercising, we still look for the One Size Fits All approach.  Most of us go through the majority of our lives crammed into the One Size diet- and we all know how well those One Size sweatshirts fit: some of us have to roll up the sleeves and the some of us end up ripping a seam! It’s not comfortable wearing someone else’s clothes, so why would you want to eat someone else’s food?





Food as Your Healthy Foundation

I personally think this is such an obvious idea that it hardly bears discussing, but it’s been to my attention that some consider my thinking a little left of center.  One of the things I see on a fairly regular basis on My 600 lb Life is patients who are given a general medical exam and are malnourished.  You wouldn’t think someone weighing 650 lbs would be malnourished but it’s not about the quantity of food or caloric intake- it’s about quality.  If all you needed to be healthy is a lot of calories, then these patients would be in tip top physical condition, but their diets are generally just an overblown version of what we all eat: processed foods, fast food, sugar and simple refined carbs, essentially, things like pizza, burgers, fries, packaged/ boxed foods, sodas, pastas, breads, crackers and cookies.  This is what the majority of the American public eats: stuff they can get easily at the supermarket or fast food restaurants.  The problem is that there isn’t a lot of nutrition in that list above.  How much nutrition is in the pasta?  Honestly, most of it comes from whatever sauce is on the pasta, because the pasta itself is generally just white flour, water, a little fat and maybe a couple eggs.  How much nutrition is in the pizza?  Again, depending on the toppings, maybe some meat, some veggies, the tomato sauce and then it’s the crust, which is again white flour, water, a little fat and maybe an egg.  Don’t get me started on the soda!

Our diet is making us sick.  I hear a lot on 600 lb Life: “what I’ve depended on all my life [for comfort] is killing me.”  Food is a comfort and a pleasant distraction for a lot of people.  I am no different: many times I’d watch my favorite tv show with a pint of my favorite ice cream or another favorite treat.  It was great watching a show I really enjoyed with foods I loved.  The problem was that not only did it happen too often, but I was feeding my body junk.  This is important because we’ve all heard the expression “we are what we eat;” think about what that really means, because as trite as it is, it’s really true.  What we eat is taken into our bodies and into our cells and that’s what our bodies use to repair, to grow and to fuel our minds and our bodies.  Remember the last time you put cheap gas in your car?  Remember knocking, pinging, the motor missing and the crappy mileage?  We are giving our bodies the equivalent of cheap gas and expecting premium performance.  You aren’t going to get it on pizza, tortilla chips and burgers.

When I was a kid, the idea of food sensitivity wasn’t as widely discussed as it is now.  There were people who were “allergic” to some things, mainly peanuts and shellfish, but the idea of being sensitive to gluten was unheard of.  The “milk allergies” I heard about sometimes eventually became lactose intolerance, but generally, people who had problems with things like milk, cheese or gluten were just thought of as having “digestive problems” and were sent to their doctors, who usually prescribed all kinds of medications.  The whole idea that maybe people should change what they are eating was just weird, like those people who don’t eat meat (generally for some religious reason) or those who don’t use any kind of animal product (vegans).  The idea of using food as the basis for your health was another one of those extremist ideas.  Modern medical thought holds that food is food and medicine is medicine, and they should not be confused with each other.  The idea of treating your digestive issues such as cramping, bloating, diarrhea or constipation by changing what you’re eating was bizarre- go to the doctor, man, and get a pill!!

I have to admit this whole idea of food being the basis of being healthy was really weird to me too, and it wasn’t until I started eating healthier and paying more attention to ideas like Paleo living, ancestral health and other ideas that more conventional people (hi, mom!) think are on the fringe or just plain quackery that it occurred to me that maybe they aren’t nutters- maybe they know what they are talking about.  The idea that what you eat makes you healthier is a pretty basic idea, but no one really stops to think about things that basic, especially since we all see the labels on the food packages we buy: “Fortified with 11 vitamins and minerals!”; “Vitamin D fortified!”; “100% of Your Daily Vitamin C!”  Our food is healthy and full of vitamins and if we eat these foods, we’ll be getting all of our vitamins and nutrients and we’ll be healthy- right? Ummmm….. I’m not really sure anymore.  I don’t think it’s that eating a Standard American Diet will make you unhealthy (unless you eat too much or eat only the junk food, which- let’s face it- is most of us), but I think now that eating less processed foods and more whole foods can make you healthier.  If you eat the way the most Americans who are trying to be healthy eat, then yes, you do eat some processed foods and some junk foods, but most of the time, you are trying to eat the healthy stuff: salads, vegetables, fresh foods and fresh meats. Most people I know, with families especially, are trying to feed their children fresh healthy foods, but the problem is that they are looking at the labels and think that they are giving their kids lots of nutrient dense foods.  In that peanut butter and jelly sandwich, how much nutrition is there?  Maybe it’s a ham and cheese sandwich, but how much nutrition is actually in it?  What about the rest of the lunch?  Is there an apple or carrot sticks or a bag of chips? Milk to drink or juice or a “juice drink”? How about what’s for dinner? Spaghetti with meat sauce and salad or veggies?  What about breakfast?  The healthy breakfast we see on the cereal commercials: a bowl of cereal, milk, toast/ bagel, and juice?  That sounds pretty standard for the “ideal” American family meal plan.  Seriously, that sounds like what I wished I got to eat when I was a kid- my “family meal plan” growing up was no breakfast, sandwich (PB&J or pimiento loaf), chips, juice drink and dinner was usually hamburger with rice-a-roni.  While I may not have grown up malnourished, I definitely grew up fat.

Once I started paying more attention to what I was eating, it made perfect sense that I could be eating better.  One of the ideas that made me want to do the Homer Simpson head slap (D’oh!!!) was that idea that “we eat what we eats eats,” and maybe that’s not so healthy for us either.  This is the idea that yeah, I’m eating lean hamburger, so that’s healthy, right?  Well, if the steer was fed grains and corns which were treated with chemicals or were GMO, the chemicals and GMOs became part of the steer which became the hamburger I ate that becomes part of me.  Hmmm- let me think about that.  So now the GMO corn treated with herbicides and pesticides is now part of me, via the “healthy lean hamburger.” It’s also lacking in all the Omega-3 vitamins and nutrients that grassfed cattle eat.  I am however getting a boat-load (or steer-load) of the lectins in the grains that the steer ate and whatever other inflammatories come with the grains.  It’s all part of the food chain.  (If you really want to hear a horror story about food chains, read Pearl S. Buck’s Silent Spring!) The  grass grows untreated on the prairie and the steer eats the grass and we eat the cow, so the nutrients that make up the grass end up in us as well.  This is the benefit to the grassfed beef over the grain fed beef.  This is the benefit to the free range eggs, because the chickens that make the eggs are making them out of a healthier diet (usually free range chickens eat all vegetarian diets with some bugs and some grass mixed in- not always, but it’s the idea).

I think we can all benefit not only from making sure we eat foods as close to their origin as possible (ie whole apples instead of applesauce) but also paying more attention to what that food eats.  It’s the difference between grassfed and conventional meats, organic broccoli and broccoli grown with herbicides and pesticides. This is where healthy starts.  If you eat the healthier foods, they become a part of you and your muscles, bones, and cells are stronger for it.  If you’re eating the poor quality foods, how much longer will it take you to reach “healthy” if you’re starting with a substandard framework?  If you build a house with crumbly bricks, you are always going to be repairing the crumbling brickwork.  Anything good you eat is going to go to shore up the deficiencies in the less than stellar foods you’re eating.  I’m not telling you to ditch the Top Ramen and start eating only organic vegetables and wild caught salmon, but that wouldn’t be a bad idea, if it sounds good to you.  I am saying that paying more attention and making the better choices can really benefit you in ways you may not have thought about.  I recently heard a podcast about protecting your thyroid (hypo thyroid is another genetic gift in my family) and I was a little concerned when the podcaster (Elizabeth Benton) said that in first world countries (like the USA) we often get too much iodine which can adversely affect the thyroid but she also said diets high in selenium can be beneficial.  Oh great! What the heck do I eat that has lots of selenium in it?!  Turns out that the lamb I eat usually more than once a week has lots of selenium, as does the chicken I usually eat for lunch and the eggs I eat on weekends.  Between those three foods alone, I probably get a lot of selenium.  Not that I was trying to, but I was glad to hear that by focusing on eating healthier I was already benefiting my body and possibly cutting off a potential problem before it became one.  (Only time will tell there!) This is a good example that supports my decision to eat healthier foods and I think it helps to justify the costs.  Yes, my grocery bill has gone up but the food is better quality and it is offset by the lack of junk food I don’t buy anymore.  Yes, six boxes of rice-a-roni are cheaper than six bags of broccoli, but the broccoli is a lot better for me.  I’m also full longer after eating the broccoli and not eating a bag of chips and salsa afterwards.

Maybe 20 years from now, everyone will recognize that I was wasting my money on expensive stuff that I didn’t need or maybe everyone will realize that cheap processed foods make you sick. We just have to wait to find out where that arrow hits! All of us can only make the best decisions we can with the information we have.  For myself, I’ve eaten a whole lot of processed foods and I eat more whole natural things now.  I know from experience when I do go back and eat the processed stuff again, it doesn’t taste as good as it used to and I don’t feel as good afterwards.  That alone is enough for me.  I like the way I feel and I like knowing that I’m not only building better healthier habits, I’m building a better healthier me (hopefully, with a healthy functioning thyroid too!)

Processed Foods as a Whole (or Should That Be ‘Hole’?)

When I was a kid, I got a cookbook for Christmas one year and I was pretty excited.  (It was the Betty Crocker cookbook, FYI & before I finally killed it, it was covered with all kinds of spills and notes!) It seems kind of funny now to think that I used to cook regularly and I never thought twice about it.  Making pancakes on Sunday mornings consisted of milk, oil, eggs, baking powder, whole wheat and all purpose flour.  I think there was a little salt in there too!  People would look at me funny sometimes when I said that I did things like make tapioca pudding from scratch as well as the pancakes and other things most people make out of boxes and mixes.  It’s not that I’m some master chef– Hah! Hardly! I had these things on hand because I used them regularly (the tapioca also went in apple pies), and in retrospect, I think they tasted better than the stuff you get packaged and already made.  But more importantly, now that I look back, even though the food I was making may not have been the healthiest, it started mostly with whole foods: apples, butter, whole wheat flour, eggs, milk.

I’m going to take a page from the Oldster’s Handbook here: I remember when microwaves first came out.  I was a kid, maybe about 8 or so, and the 7-11 store near my house had one.  It was about as big as a conventional oven and no one was allowed to touch it except the store clerk.  If you wanted something that had to be microwaved like popcorn or a burrito (FYI: even the microwave popcorn was kept frozen back then!), you paid for it at the counter and then the clerk nuked it for you.  It was amazing! (My mom was convinced you got cancer from the microwaves, of course.) The idea of making food in minutes instead of hours was something out of Star Trek.  We were used to food taking, if not hours to prepare, at least a fair amount of time.  Processed food in the 1970’s mainly consisted of canned foods like soups, stews, chili beans, sardines, etc, and boxed items like pasta (mainly spaghetti back then) and rice.  There weren’t a lot of jarred sauces and certainly nothing in aseptic packaging or MREs.  If it wasn’t frozen or canned, your choices were limited.  (FYI: the bagels we got as kids were also frozen! And they weren’t the size of softballs, either!)  Most of us still made food that started out as something fresh from the meat counter or the produce section.

Of course as technology got better, processed foods became more prevalent.  I suppose consumers would say the quality of the product improved as well.  The TV dinners I had as a kid were definitely not high quality, usually consisting of overdone mystery meat, a puffed up mashed potatoey substance, shriveled peas and carrots, and a sticky gluey sugary mess.  They were pretty bad and they took almost an hour to cook but to us they were the height of technology and we ate them because we didn’t have anything else. We were more concerned with how they tasted rather than whether they were good for us.  We didn’t look at them as a regular part of our diet either: they were something on hand because we couldn’t get to the grocery store and make a real dinner before bedtime.  We knew that our “real” food was stuff like roasted chicken and homemade mashed potatoes, or spaghetti and salad.  But sometime in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, that changed.  Meals became something that started with a box of flavored rice or flavored pasta mix.  We still cooked it in a pan or a pot but it began and consisted mostly of something processed that came from a box or a jar.  We might add something else to is, like mushrooms or vegetables or meat, but the bulk of it was now something processed. And it proceeded to get more processed from there.

Listening to a podcast the other day (Paleo Solution & Katy Bowman was the guest), she said schools had put whole apples on the menu for the kids’ lunches and the kids were complaining that the apples were not only hard to hold, they were hard to eat because they had to bite into them and chew them.  I guess apples today for most kids come sliced up in plastic bags.  (Frankly, it’s a little scary to me to think that people don’t know what raw food looks like.) I guess for them oranges come in cans, unless they are the super sweet easy peel seedless mandarins.

The point of Ms. Bowman’s episode was really about movement, and how we are becoming a completely sedentary culture (I would use the word “lazy”) but my point is real food takes time to cook and to digest.  There’s a big movement now towards “slow food” and “whole food” but I would just call it “real food.”  That’s what it is: it’s food that has been as unaltered and unadulterated as possible.  It used to make me chuckle a little when I’d read the label on the loaf  of white bread: it had vitamins and nutrients added to it because the processing destroyed whatever vitamins, fiber and nutrients were in the whole food ingredients.  The reason processed food takes less time to cook is because it’s pre-cooked and for the most part, pre-digested.  There’s less work for your body to do because the work is half-done in the factory.  The food has been broken down into an easily accessible and easy to use form and then the manufacturers have mixed it with preservatives or whatever system they are using to extend the shelf-life so it can be shipped off to a store or a warehouse for however long it takes before someone decides to “heat and eat.” The farther the food is away from its natural state, the easier it is for the body to break down (meaning metabolize) and the fewer nutrients it has in it because most of them are destroyed during the processing (that’s kind of what the word means).  Some companies add nutrients to the food after processing, but there are issues with what’s known as “bio-availability.” (Just because your protein powder has x grams of protein per serving doesn’t mean that your body can actually absorb that protein!)

When experts and doctors and other health gurus talk about the obesity epidemic and the type 2 diabetes epidemic, they are quick to point the finger at sugar, trans fat, fast food & junk food (the “usual suspects”), but they are missing the rest of the gang.  These usual suspects are only the more visible culprits in the “bad food” mafia.  It’s processed foods in general that are the real guilty parties.  The sugar, trans fats, fast food & junk food are part of it, but it’s also the boxes of macaroni & cheese, the microwavable ready to eat meals, the canned soups, stews and meats, the frozen dinners, pies and cakes and the processed bakery goods. Basically, if it has an “ingredients” list and comes in a box or a bag, it’s been processed. That means the food has been broken down in some way, had chemicals/ preservatives added to it and probably things taken out. The more processed a food is, the farther away it is from its natural state and that’s what is making us unhealthy.  When you eat a processed food, like a bagel and cream cheese, the wheat has been broken down into a powder (flour) and it’s in an easily digestible form, so instead of getting all the nutrients from the wheat berry (as well as the indigestible fiber that goes through your body), your body only gets the starch, which is quickly turned into glucose which causes a rapid spike in your blood sugar, which causes a rapid spike in insulin, which then leads to a blood sugar crash once the glucose from the bagel is cleared from your blood.  Your body does not have to work for the glucose- it’s like getting dessert without having your dinner.  When you eat a whole food, even something like those big troublesome crunchy apples, you do get the natural sugar in the fruit, but you also get the fiber and the nutrients, since it’s a raw apple.  The fiber in the apple takes longer to process than the bagel, so the glucose hits your blood stream more slowly than the bagel’s starch.  There is less of a spike in your insulin secretion and that means your blood glucose levels stay steadier longer.  That’s a good thing, because one of the reasons we get hungry after eating a big plate of spaghetti or a bowl of cereal, or a bagel, is because once the blood sugar crashes, your body wants to raise it (in an effort to keep it steady) and it triggers your hunger.

This is how eating a lot of processed foods can cause weight gain: you eat the pasta, the potato chips, the crackers, insert processed food here, and then you get hungry an hour or so later, so you eat something else.  You are usually consuming way more calories than you need because your body is always trying to keep your blood sugar steady, but the processed foods keep causing  highs and lows: bagel= spike= crash; chips= spike = crash; fries= spike= crash.  You keep getting hungry, you keep eating, your body gains weight.  And worse yet, you’re getting fewer nutrients in the processed foods.  This is how overweight people end up suffering from malnutrition, because, really, how much nutrition is there in burgers, fries, and soda?

In addition to consuming more calories than you need, you never get a chance to burn off the fat your body is storing from the processed foods, because your body can’t burn fat and store it at the same time, and it only burns fat when there is no insulin in the blood, but if you are always eating easily metabolized starchy foods (like rice, pasta and chips), there is almost always insulin in the blood to clear the glucose the digestive system is pulling out of the processed foods.  So, you keep eating, keep getting hungry and keep putting on weight.  It’s a difficult and frustrating vicious cycle to get out of : you keep eating but you keep feeling hungry! (I was trapped there for most of my adult life! It’s hell!!)

So how do you get out of this metabolic nightmare? Eat as few processed foods as possible! That’s not to say you can’t ever have a bagel or a donut or pasta again; you just have to be a savvy consumer (literally)! If you do eat the bagel or the pasta, make sure you eat it with something that is not a simple or refined carb (that would be the bagel/ pasta), like broccoli or cheese or meat.  So if you have the pasta, have pasta primavera with lots of veggies and some meat, or have the bagel as part of a sandwich with meat or cheese or veggies.  The protein, fat and fiber in the non-processed foods help to delay and even out the metabolism of the processed foods.  If you eat the donut without a protein, fat or fiber, just remember that once the insulin clears the glucose from your blood, there’s going to be a crash and you’ll probably be hungry, not to mention low energy and maybe even drowsy. The best thing to do is to get away from eating things that are processed: no boxed foods, no refined carbs, no canned or frozen prepared foods.  The farther away it is from its natural state, the less nutrition it has and less time it’s going to take for your body to break it down. That’s not to say all things in boxes or bags are bad; I remember the last time I bought a bag of frozen cherries.  When I looked on the back the ingredients list read: “dark sweet cherries (may contain pits).” Your goal is to keep food as natural as possible. It’ll have more nutrition and take longer for your body to metabolize.  This is what you want because the longer it takes to hit your bloodstream, the steadier your blood glucose stays.  No spikes mean no crashes and that means your body can clear the glucose and move out of storage mode and into fat burning mode.  It means more nutrition for your body and less calories that get stored as fat.

This is how I finally managed to get out of that vicious carb cycle of hell: I phased the processed foods out of my diet. You don’t have to go cold-turkey all at once (I’m really not a fan of cold turkey, figuratively or otherwise!) It’s not difficult at all to do: when you run out of whatever processed food you had at home, buy a whole food instead when you go shopping! So if you are out of pancake mix or cereal or oatmeal, buy a whole breakfast food instead like eggs, bacon, sausage, yogurt or cottage cheese.  When you run out of pasta, buy veggies instead.  It takes a little meal planning and usually weekly shopping because whole foods tend not to have the same shelf life, but over time, you wind up with very few processed foods and more whole foods.  I buy a lot of bagged salad kits personally, because it’s just me at home and a whole bunch of salad greens are is too expensive besides the fact that they would probably go bad before I ate all of them (even eating salad five days a week like I usually do!) Even the bottle of salad dressing tends to go bad because I am not a fan of vinegar & oil.  I also buy sausages, bacon and cheese, but that’s about as processed as I get.  Everything else is fresh meat, fruits or veggies.  When you make this a practice over time, you transition slowly so it’s not a huge shift and it becomes a new habit, a healthier one.  If you want some great whole food meal ideas, there are a lot of websites with great information: Elizabeth Benton’s Primal Potential; Dr. David Ludwig’s Always Hungry; Paleo Leap; and Mark Sisson’s Mark’s Daily Apple. If you want to read more on this topic (from an actual professional with letters after his name), there is the aforementioned Dr. David Ludwig’s Always Hungry?; Robb Wolf’s Paleo Solution; Mark Sisson’s Primal Blueprint; and Jason Fung’s Obesity Code as well as  Living Paleo for Dummies (which is what I started with).

Honestly, when I went looking for a more nutritious lifestyle, I had no intention of moving away from processed foods (I seriously had about 10 boxes of mac & cheese in my cupboard).  I decided on Paleo because it was the simplest and it used real “normal”food. I thought it was something I could enjoy long term, and so far, I am! Over the course of the last year and a half, what I have learned is that processed foods (not carbs or fat or red meat, or sugar, etc) are the real problem.  We eat too much of them because they are too easy to prepare and they are cheap and last forever on the shelf! I have had a few processed foods since I went Paleo, but the majority of what I eat now are whole natural foods.  I’ve learned not only do they taste better, but they are better for me and the health benefits I’ve gained from them are monumental to me: I have lost 160 lbs, no longer take medication for my blood sugar and my mobility is far better than it ever was at 438 lbs. FYI: I threw out the last two boxes of mac & cheese!


HOT DOG!! Are You One?

When I was younger, I ate a lot of hot dogs.  It wasn’t that I really liked them: they were cheap. You could mix them with chili beans, mac and cheese, put them in scrambled eggs or just eat them on a bun.  You could boil them, bake them, or put them in a stew (isn’t that a nursery rhyme?). I think I overdosed on them because now I avoid them like the plague and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

One of the hottest issues in the health/ weight loss industry is “clean eating.”  According to “the experts,” this means eating whole foods or minimally processed foods.  That definitely leaves out hot dogs! You don’t get much more processed than that! But, while the realist is telling me that this fad, too, shall pass, there is merit in it.  Quality is important, especially when it comes to what you put in your body.  We all know the saying, so I’m not going to repeat it here, but food, along with supplements and medications, are ingested.  They have a profound impact on you and it’s one that really can’t be reversed.  The body breaks these compounds down into molecules and imports them into your cells- your blood, your body, your organs- all of these things are made up of what you ate/ ingested and what your mother ate/ ingested when she was carrying you.  One of my personal jokes has to do with eggs: I really hate egg yolks.  If (and it’s a big if) I eat them, they are scrambled and drowned in enough hot sauce to kill the “egg taste” because if I can taste them, there’s not enough hot sauce! Ugh! My mom knows I hate eggs and always says (plaintive voice here) “when I was carrying you, I ate an egg a day,” to which I reply, “so I’ve had enough for a lifetime!” (There may be some truth to this as doctors are finding correlations between infants’ preferences and moms’ diets while pregnant.)

My own egg aversion aside, the sad truth is that eggs are clean eating, and quality eggs are even better.  You know how you can tell if you’re eating clean? There is no “ingredient list!” There’s a commercial about “what’s in your coffee’s creamer?” and I tell the tv “milk and cream” since I use plain unflavored unsweetened half and half. The more chemicals there are in your food, the more chemicals there are in you! You would think that eating whole foods would be easier and cheaper, but thanks to our modernized, mechanized society, no such luck! The more processed the food, generally, the cheaper it is.  My own personal belief is because it’s made up of leftover parts the manufacturers could not use elsewhere, so any profit they make on it is a bonus!  (Ack! food manufacturers?!)  But because it’s mass produced, processed food is cheap.  Think about it: how much do you pay for a bag of potato chips or a box of macaroni and cheese? About $3 for the chips, depending on the size of the bag, and about $1 for the box of mac and cheese (the last time I looked anyway).  How much does it cost to make a salad from scratch? Lettuce: $3; cabbage: $3; carrots: $2; radishes: $1.50; tomatoes: $2; cucumbers: ??; salad dressing:?? You can see it adds up fast.  You can buy a “salad kit” for about $3-4 (I usually do) and it’s about two or three servings depending on what you buy.  That’s a minimally processed food due to the dressing and whatever toppings may be in the kit that you elect to use. You can just use the vegetables without the dressing/ toppings packets.  That’s about as cheap as it gets without just buying individual vegetables, but the catch is that salad greens don’t last, so you’ll need to eat them fast.  Potato chips and mac & cheese last forever!  Buy them now, put them in the cupboard and next year, they’ll still be good while your salad greens will be a sticky smelly smear in your fridge by the end of the month.

Think about your meat and your meal.  You can get a combo meal at most fast food places for between $5-7 dollars depending on where you go and what you get. Most of them are a burger, fries and a drink and run on the cheaper side.  That’s about your day’s allotment of fat, calories and sodium if you’re following a 2000 calorie diet.  If you were to make something similar at home, it would cost you way more: beef, buns, lettuce, tomato, condiments, potatoes, oil, and whatever soda you choose.  Because it’s processed and mass produced, it’s cheaper. You eat it and it goes into your cells and becomes part of you: the beef, the bread, the chemicals, the preservatives, every little part of it.  How much nutrition is in there?  There’s lots of calories, sure, but how much actual nutrition? (Homer Simpson voice here) “well, the hamburger is protein, and it had lettuce and tomato, so those are vegetables, and the fries are vegetables, and I think the white bread in the bun is kind of good for you, even if it’s not wheat bread…” DOHHH!! Is that really the best you can do for yourself?

As a pet owner, I want to make sure my pets are healthy and happy, so I sort of pay attention to the pet food commercials.  (My pets are my kids and I’m an overprotective mom!) One of the latest commercials is a pet owner reading the labels on their dogs’ food and getting appalled at what they have been feeding their pets.  When was the last time you read the label on what you eat? Did it say things like guar gum, soy lecithin and hydrolyzed vegetable protein? Does that sound like something you want to feed to your pet, let alone you? Most of what I put in my body (and my pets’ because they eat a lot of what I eat) is as minimally processed as possible. The salad kit is probably about as processed as it gets (unless you’re counting the hot sauce for the eggs!).  I buy raw meat, fresh fruits and veggies, salad kits, and yes, eggs, yuck! I try not to buy a lot of dairy products (doesn’t really agree with me) and I opt for canned fish simply because fish spoils so easily.  That’s pretty much my grocery list.  I’m not doing this to brag about “how I eat so clean,” but because the farther the food gets from its source, the fewer the nutrients it retains.  When something is processed, things are removed from it.  Think of the difference between white flour and wheat flour: the bran is removed to make it white. The irony is because things are taken out of the food during processing, the manufacturers (there’s that word again!) have to put things back into the food to boost its nutritional value! Read the label on most of your white flour products: folic acid/ folate has been added to most of them.  Most of the milk in the United States has had vitamin D added to it.  Most processed cereals now have a “vitamin label” on the front to let you know how many vitamins have been added to it.  The word the manufacturers use is “fortified.”  And those are just the vitamins. Think of the preservatives that go into the processed foods to make them “shelf stable.” What else is going into what you are eating?

I’m not trying to scare you all into going out and harvesting your own groceries, but I do want you to stop and think about what you eat, and I don’t just mean the calories that are in it. (If you really want to get scared, google the “Dorito effect!”) Think of how many steps it took to get from being grown or butchered to where it is on your kitchen counter.  Generally, the fewer steps the better.  There’s less opportunity for preservatives and additives to go into it.  I’m the first to admit that I’m no gardener, and I don’t get out to the farmer’s markets, so I’m stuck with mostly the organic produce from the market (Trader Joe’s mostly!), but my friend grows tomatoes and zucchini in the summer, so much of the summer, I get treated to it’s-so-fresh-I-wash-off-the-dirt zucchini (my dad gets the tomatoes)! There’s something to be said for growing your own, because farming has now become “agribusiness.” We’ve all heard the stories from our parents and grandparents about how food tasted better when they were kids and they aren’t wrong.  The meat and vegetables we eat now really are different on a genetic level.  Take a look at the varieties of fruits and vegetables there are; they have been hybridized to make more colorful, faster growing, sweeter, longer lasting- whatever the “designer” wanted to select for “improvement.”  Usually taste and nutrition went by the wayside.  This is one of the reasons we find produce labeled as “heirloom” because it’s usually the older version which maybe didn’t look so hot or didn’t package or ship well.  I have a mariposa plum tree in my backyard.  They are the green skinned plums with dark purple flesh and I really like them.  Good luck finding them in the supermarket, because they don’t ship well or last long once picked! A lot of what we find in the grocery stores is what someone else decided should be grown, because it’s easier or cheaper to grow, it lasts longer after being picked or it sells quickly.  If you are one of those lucky people who can grow produce, I’d suggest giving it a go.  Not only do you know for sure that it’s organic, but you decide when to pick it so you know that it’s fresh! You provide the soil and the nutrients, so all that goodness goes into the vegetable and subsequently, into you and your family.  If you’re like me and helpless when it comes to plants, there’s always the organic section at the market (frozen is also an option and better than canned).

So the next time you are at the market, whatever you decide to buy, think about it before you put it in your cart and in your body.  You can be a brussels sprout or you can be a hot dog; a box of mac & cheese or an organic hormone free chicken leg.  Which one do you want to be?