Now Trending: The Keto Diet and Vegan Documentaries!

Recently there has been a lot of noise in the fitness and nutrition world about some things: 1) the Keto diet; and 2) the What the Health documentary currently available on Netflix.  I’ll be honest and tell you that I’m usually pretty leery of the latest craze.  Whenever something is “super popular!” is usually reason enough for me to stay away from it.  Part of it is just because I’m rebel enough not to follow the crowd, and the other reason is people tend to do stupid things just to be like everyone else.  That doesn’t mean that every new or popular idea is bad or stupid, but it means until I’ve taken a good look at it, I’m not going to go along just to be one of the crowd.

One of the hot new trends is the ketogenic diet: “everyone is going keto!”  “Keto is so healthy!” “Keto is so much better because of blah blah blah!” I tried keto before after being Paleo for several months.  It wasn’t as hugely popular as it is now, but the reason I tried it is that it is very good for insulin resistance (one of my issues). Adjusting to a ketogenic diet is not the easiest transition: there are a whole lot of down-sides to it, and for some people, staying on a ketogenic diet is just as hard.  Ketosis, simply put, is a metabolic state in which your body gets its energy from fat, either dietary fat or body fat, instead of from glucose (carbs).  In order for that to happen, you have to eat no more than 20 grams of carbs a day.  In food that means, one slice of bread (whole wheat or white) plus one tall Starbucks latte will put you over the 20 grams.  The half cup of cashews I had with lunch today alone were 14 grams of carbs! So, that means you have to keep your carbs extremely low (most people eating Paleo eat about 100 grams of carbs and most people eating the Standard American Diet eat about 200.) Most people make the mistake of replacing all those carbs with protein, but too much protein will keep your body from converting the fat to the ketones it needs for fuel because your body can make glucose from excess protein (gluconeogenesis).  The trick is to keep the carbs low and keep your protein at a moderate level and fill the rest of your calories with healthy fats (key word is healthy).  And once you start eating keto, there is the transition phase, usually called ‘keto flu,’ or ‘carb withdrawal.’  This is usually a few weeks of feeling irritable, tired, and just pretty ugh due to headaches and brain fog.  I heard one person say this is how you know you are doing it right! Yay?? But the prize is that once you get over that transition period, you have much more energy than before and your body is much more efficient at burning body fat, i.e. you lose a lot of weight and tend not to gain it back.

So obviously, you can see why keto is so popular: everyone is looking at the results and not so much as the path to get there, which is not always so easy.  If you are seriously considering a keto diet, which really is good for a lot of health and digestive issues, I would suggest you read Keto Clarity by Jimmy Moore or The Keto Reset Diet by Mark Sisson (coming out in October).  Both of these authors have done their research and earned the respect of their peers. Both will let you know the limits of keto and any problems you may face; they don’t fudge the facts, even if they are unpleasant.

This is the problem with the What The Health documentary currently making waves in the nutrition world.  I’ve not seen the film and judging from all the critiques I’ve heard, I am not likely to waste my time.  The documentary is about the benefits of being vegan.  One of the critiques I’ve heard is that the producers and other experts behind the film are all vegans.  That is less important to me than the allegation that the information provided in the documentary is “cherry-picked” to bolster their viewpoint rather than giving us the whole story.  One of the ‘factoids’ put forth in the film is that people can get all the protein they need from about 2000 calories of rice.  It sounds good, but it’s not true. My family is Mexican, which means as a kid, I ate a whole lot of beans and rice! I can’t stand it now because I ate enough for a lifetime! I also learned- long before I was 12- why we eat them together: beans are an incomplete protein and so is rice, but when you eat them together, they complement each other and make a complete protein.  Eating rice will give you a whole lot of carbs and energy, but it won’t give you a complete protein! That factoid alone is enough to make me question the rest of their ‘facts.’  As I said, there are a lot of critiques being bandied about the fitness and nutrition arena, and none of the ones I heard were complimentary. Most of them were also from meat-eaters, except for the review by Laura Thomas I heard on the Food for Fitness podcast.  Laura Thomas is a London dietician/ nutritionist who is vegan.  She has been vegetarian since she was ten years old and went vegan in college, about ten years ago, so she has had some experience with the lifestyle, and she described this documentary as a “complete sh*tshow.”  She took issues with their “cherry-picked” research and incomplete explanations and overall felt this kind of “bad science” promotes fear-mongering rather than any of the true benefits of veganism.  I thought it was particularly interesting that the host of the Food for Fitness podcast, Scott Baptie, chose Dr. Thomas because of her qualifications and reputation and did not know she was vegan until they recorded the  actual podcast. Her less-than-stellar evaluation echoed the criticisms of the other reviewers, but because she was viewing the documentary as a vegan herself, it gave me all the information I needed to know: this really was “bad science.”

I have nothing against vegans or vegetarians.  Personally, I avoid looking at chickens and cows in the trucks I see on the road, because I know where they are going.  As much as I love animals, it bothers me to think that the food on my plate was probably something I’d have found adorable. I am sure the producers of What The Health were hoping to provoke more thought about animal rights and the benefits of a plant based diet, but bad science only hurts their cause. If they really want to promote animal ethics and their values, they need to show the world the truth, even the parts that don’t look good for vegans.

“If You Were Serious, You’d Make Changes”: How Scary Does It Have to Get?

This statement is actually in the opening of each episode of My 600 lb Life.  Dr. Nowzaradan has said it to many of his patients and it really is the truth.  The problem is that most of us don’t want to hear it because most of us are not serious.  Many of his patients are a minimum of 500 lbs when they show up at his door, and when they first arrive, he always asks them “what was your highest weight?” and they always answer “this is my highest weight.”  I used to wonder why is he asking that? I was thinking, “Duh! Of course this is their highest weight!” Then it finally dawned on me that he was really asking how hard they have tried on their own to lose weight.

The truth is that most of them haven’t tried.  There are some who have tried diets only to regain the weight plus more, just like the rest of us!  But many of them are in the same boat I know I was in for a very long time: I really really want to lose weight, but……. at the same time, I don’t want to do the work. Yes, I know that is so incredibly not-shocking! I’d love to be thin and fit and strong, but I still want to eat cookies and chips and bread by the actual loaf! I want to eat graham crackers and peanut butter and chocolate and cupcakes with mounds of frosting, and I want to be skinny too! Isn’t there some magic procedure that can make me skinny without having to give up all the junk I want to eat?

The other thing that took a while to sink in for me is that almost without fail, the patient shows up and steps on the scale for the first time usually in many months (if not years) and when they see their weight, they are always ‘shocked.’  It’s always higher than they thought it would be and some of them start crying.  They’re scared because their weight is way more out of control than they thought it was, as in 500+; 600+, 700+.  That’s some pretty scary weight, especially since some of the women are about my height and their weight is over 500 lbs (I am 5’4”- almost!)  So I know how heavy they are and I know how hard it was to move and get around at my highest weight (438).  What shocks me is that after consulting with Dr. Now and going over their new eating plan with him, they go home and eat fast food, or junk food, or whatever they want. They make excuses and justifications: “I’m tired of eating healthy stuff”; “I have to have something I enjoy”; or “Not every meal has to be the best choice.”  They are justifying eating what they want to eat because for most of them- and us, too!- they want to do the bare minimum in order to meet what they think is Dr. Now’s arbitrary (and ‘magic’) weight loss number so he will give them the ‘magic surgery’ that will let them eat what they want and be skinny too!

The problem is that obviously there is no ‘magic surgery or procedure’ that lets you eat all the things you want to eat and still be skinny, fit and strong.  When they show up at his office after having ‘tried as hard as I could but I wasn’t a hundred percent,’ they get angry and frustrated because, even though most have lost some weight, they didn’t hit Dr. Now’s goal- a goal they think is arbitrary.

Except it’s not an arbitrary number.  It really isn’t some kind of formula, as in “if the patient weighs 500 lbs, he needs to lose 30 lbs, but if the patient is 600 lbs, he needs to lose 70.”  Whatever the number is, it’s enough weight to show the doctor that the patient can control his or her eating. If they can control their eating enough to lose weight for a sustained period of time, then the surgery will allow them to lose more weight faster while they can get help for whatever issues are driving them to eat.  Bariatric surgery sure isn’t magic, as Dr. Now plainly tells his patients.  While making the stomach smaller and bypassing part of the small intestine, patients are forced to limit the amount of food they eat at one time and fewer calories (and nutrients) are absorbed due to the shortened intestine; however patients can still eat all day long and can still gain weight!  Healthy weight loss is a team effort: both the doctor and the patient have to do their parts otherwise it’s not going to work, and unfortunately, most of the work falls on the patient.  The doctor functions much like the coach: he gives the patient-player the game plan and the patient has to put it into action.  If the patient follows the game plan correctly and it’s not working, then the doctor-coach needs to re-evaluate that plan.

The problem is that the patient-player expects to ‘win the game’ without implementing the game plan. These days, every kid on a team gets a ‘participation medal’ just for showing up, and while it’s a nice idea, it leads to the same kind of thinking.  These patients want their prize medal even though they didn’t win.  They didn’t do the work but they still think they deserve to win.  The problem is that weight loss doesn’t give you a participation medal- it’s an ‘all or nothing’ fight.  You want to win? Then you better fight harder than your cravings.  Think Rocky running up the steps to the Philadelphia museum- it’s freaking hard!!

I don’t mean that we have to view food and treats as the enemy, but when your health is so bad that you can hardly move, when walking to the car makes you sweat, and when you can’t stand for more than five minutes without leaning on something to support your weight, it’s an ‘all or nothing’ situation.  Even when your weight isn’t over 400 or 300 lbs, it it’s affecting your life in a negative way, how bad does it have to get before you change how you think about what you eat? Most people think of ‘life-threatening weight’ as 300+ lbs, but it doesn’t have to be.  These are what’s called ‘diseases of life style’ now and super obesity is only one symptom.  There are a lot of skinny people who have super high blood pressure or blood sugar or other metabolic problems that threaten their lives.  When how you eat or how little you move threatens your life, how scary does it have to get before you start making changes?  Elizabeth Benton (Primal Potential) frames it like this: “Do I want $5 now or do I want $50 next week?” Rationally, most of us think it’s a no brainer, but when it’s “do I want those chips now or do I want to lose 2 lbs next week?” most of us opt for the chips, even though it’s the same bargain: I can feel good for five minutes now or I can feel better for longer next week.

When I watch Dr. Now’s patients eat the donuts or the fries or whatever junk food they decided on, I hear Dr. Now’s voice in my head: “if you were serious, you’d make changes.” If you really want to lose weight or eat healthier or get more activity, you’d make the changes.  No one promised that it would be easy; the only promise anyone or anything can give you is that if you do the work- consistently- you will see the results, and if you don’t, then- and only then- you can go back to your doctor and ask them to change the game plan.

I think this is on my mind lately because I wasn’t doing the work.  I knew I wouldn’t get the results I wanted because I hadn’t followed the game plan: I was eating junk and I wasn’t going to my work outs.  I had reasons, and they were legitimate ones (I was taking care of my mom after her surgery), but weight loss doesn’t give out participation medals.  So, once I was able to get back to my regular life, I had been away from the game long enough to want bread again, and cookies, and other junk.  Walking through the stores, I could see the stuff I wanted on the shelves and looking at it, feeling the temptation (it’s just one!), I could hear Dr. Now’s voice in my head:”if you were serious, you’d make changes.”  I realized that yeah, I’m serious! Put me in, coach! I’m ready to get back in this game!

Fear of Missing Out, But What Should We Really Be Afraid Of?

I’ve never understood Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) when it comes to food. I think it’s because there are just some foods I really don’t like, so when they’re offered or available, I just automatically say No thanks.  Other than these particular foods, I’ve always been more than happy to sample, often and as much as possible!

Over the summer, I heard a lot about FOMO, maybe because it was wedding season or because of all the barbecues and parties.  I know at my sister’s wedding, I certainly sampled quite a few things that aren’t normally on my menu! (Some were pretty good, too!) But again, it wasn’t FOMO that put those items on my plate.  It would have been just as easy to leave them off, and there were quite a few items that didn’t make it on my plate too!

I’ve always been an adventurous eater.  It was one of the good things I learned from my mom: just because it looks weird or different doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try it out!  It’s one of the things I share with my best friend.  We’ll go to a restaurant for the first time and we’ll pick something we’ve never had before because hey- that looks different! Of course, not all of these experiments are winners, but we remain undeterred!

From what I’ve heard and seen, when it comes to FOMO, people are afraid they are missing Something Amazing.  Usually, they go out to a special event or restaurant and there is a food or drink that looks like it’s amazing or others who’ve tasted it have already said “It’s AMAZING!” and they are dying to try it!  I can sympathize:  I am not normally a beer drinker (or alcohol of any kind).  This is partly because alcoholism runs in my family and it’s partly because alcohol usually doesn’t taste good to me.  I concluded that if I’m going to drink beer (or alcohol), then it really is going to be amazing because otherwise it’s not worth the awful taste. Recently, my friends and I went out to a local microbrewery that has a reputation for making some awesome beers, and one of the items on the menu is a “Beer Sampler” where you choose five brews and you get a five ounce glass of each.  Two of my friends usually get that when we go, but honestly, that’s a lot of beer that I probably won’t finish!  I opted to choose two glasses of two different beers that I wanted to try.  One really was amazing, and the other was good and different, but not something I would order again. I normally don’t finish it, but it actually tasted better the warmer it got. FYI: I am a total beer snob- American beer tastes really really awful to me!

It wasn’t that I was ‘afraid’ of missing out on some great beer.  I’d been to this microbrewery before and not touched a drop of beer or any alcohol and I didn’t think I’d missed anything special or amazing.  This time, however, I felt like trying something new and so I did.  I had a good time, had one great beer and one a little better than average, and I don’t regret my choices (at least with the beer!)

There are a lot of times at my friends’ places, they’ll mix some great drinks or have some really amazing food (my friend is an awesome chef!) but I don’t feel that saying no thanks means I’m going to miss out on Something Amazing.  My friend knows I eat differently than she does and sometimes I will have a small taste to be polite (or if she wants to know if it’s missing something), but really, if I say no and pass on Something Amazing, what have I really missed out on?

That’s what it comes down to for me.  Bottom line: it’s food.  Even if it’s a food I probably won’t have an opportunity to try again (i.e. something at a resort or vacation spot I might not get back to), what have I really lost out on?  Tasting an amazing cheesecake/ pastry/ alcohol/ etc?  It’s FOOD! Tasting it is not going to change my life and it probably won’t add anything to it either, just like not tasting it isn’t going to take anything away from my life. It might be enjoyable; it might not be enjoyable, but either way missing out or not isn’t something that I should be afraid of.

Maybe that’s a little extreme, but when some people mention FOMO, they really are nervous and afraid.  I can understand it if others are pressuring you to try something.  I’ve tasted a lot of stuff just to be polite but that was because of FOOO (Fear of Offending Others), definitely not FOMO. There are some things that I am afraid of missing out on, and none of those things are food.  I’m afraid of missing out on a trip with friend or family; I’m afraid of not being able to do activities I want to do, like working out, walking or playing with my pets; I’m afraid of being too big to buy the clothes that I like or to fit in my car or drive for a long period of time because my legs or back hurts.  I am afraid of missing out on experiences, activities and time with people I care about; for me, missing out on food doesn’t even rate!

In 2012, I went on a trip to Disneyland with my friends, and that experience really hit home for me, because that was something that really meant a lot to me and because of my weight, it was not a good experience.  I essentially ‘missed out’ on doing a lot of things I wanted to do with them because I was too big to fit on the ride, fit in the seats or walk as far as they could.  That is something I really regret missing out on, so compared to that, food just doesn’t rate! Compared to running around Anaheim with my friends having a once in a lifetime experience, eating even Something Amazing doesn’t even come close! Missing out on an Amazing Cookie or an Amazing Meatloaf Sandwich or an Amazing Wine isn’t something to be afraid of; missing out on spending quality time doing Something You Love with People You Love is what we really need to fear.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Making Problems: White-Knuckling, Deadlines & Ultimatums with Weight Loss

For many years, I worked at a bankruptcy law firm aka The Job From Hell.  The job was great, but the boss was ‘Insert Expletives Here.’  One of the things I learned at that job was that most of our clients’ problems were problems they had made themselves.  I used to quip “our clients make their own problems, and they are good at what they do!”  It helped me realize that, yep! I’m also good at making my own troubles!

When it comes to fitness and weight loss- especially- we need to face this reality: most of our problems are problems we made.  Part of it really is our own manufacturing and I think part of it is problem-solving mentality.  We’ve all heard the expression “if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem,” and I’d like to change that to “if you’re focusing on the problem, you’re not looking for the solution.”  I was talking to another legal assistant recently whose boss was on his way back from a cross-country flight.  Part of their practice requires that they publish legal notices and, short version, they need to pick up the court filing in one city (not where their office is) and submit it in yet another city, none of which are close to their home office, so the assistant was saying: “that will be an entire day on the road right after he’s back from his trip and he has a court appearance that morning.”  I asked him about sending a messenger. (Court runners/ messengers are an entire industry for just that very reason.)  “Oh, yeah, that’s a good idea!”  The assistant was so focused on the problem that he was missing a very obvious solution (anyone not so involved would have suggested a runner.)

We do the same thing: we focus on the problem to the point that we can’t see any solutions that present themselves. Some people will do it out of a need for drama.  They like being frantic or being the center of attention: look at me! I have so many problems! Just FYI: no one gets points for being a drama queen/ king! In order to find a solution, you have to step back from Drama Mode and start looking at ways around or through the problem. Sometimes it really is hard, because the problems can cause anxiety (the cause of the drama) and it’s hard to remain objective. This is where you might want to talk to someone who isn’t emotionally invested in the problem and get some objective opinions (like my fellow legal assistant did).  Sometimes it’s embarrassing to admit your problem to someone else (“Every time I fight with my mom, I eat a pint of ice cream or all the cookies or anything that’s left in the house.”) No one likes sharing dirty laundry but if you really want a solution to the problem that you are too close to, then you need to get an objective opinion from someone who is: 1) not going to point fingers; 2) not emotionally invested; 3) can offer a reasonable solution.  If your spouse is tired of listening to you complain about fighting with your mom or your eating everything in sight or is just going to tell you to ‘deal with it,’ then do not ask your spouse.  This might be one of those problems that you post on My Fitness Pal or you ask a level-headed friend about.

Then there are the Problems We Make Ourselves.  (I’m not including mom in here because ’emotional eating due to mom’ is kind of a reaction that we can learn to get a handle on once we’re feeling more confident.)  The Problems We Make Ourselves are things like white-knuckling it or creating deadlines and ultimatums. These largely come from Dieting Mentality aka tunnel-vision.  Dieting Mentality is thinking along the lines of “I just need to get to X date or X goal, and then I’m done!”  I see this a lot on My 600 lb Life, but we’ve all done it: “I only have to hang on until I lose 20 lbs and then I’m good!”  In the case of Dr. Nowzaradan’s patients on the show, prior to scheduling them for weight loss surgery, he always has his patients lose a certain amount of weight to prove they can control their eating habit.  Many times the patients fall right into Dieting Mentality: I only need to control myself long enough to get the surgery and then the surgery will solve everything!  NOT SO! and Dr. Nowzaradan is the first to tell them that the surgery will only limit the amount of food they can eat at one time; they can still eat all day and still gain weight after the surgery! Dieting Mentality is pretty much the default mentality for a lot of us when it comes to losing weight or changing our eating habits.  It’s natural, and not just for weight loss.  We do the same thing when it comes to money also: I can’t buy anything until after payday, and then I can go shopping!  But weight loss, fitness or money, it’s all the same thinking and it’s that thinking that gets us into trouble with eating, going to the gym and draining the bank account.

Dieting Mentality has a deadline attached to it: this current way of eating ‘ends’ either on this date or when you reach this weight, so we just need to white-knuckle it until we ‘get there.’  This tunnel-vision thinking keeps us from looking at our situation any other way, which keeps us in the same vicious cycle: “I need to lose 20 lbs for Special Occasion, so I’m going to white-knuckle it until I reach Deadline and then I’m done!  I have to make my Goal or I’ve failed!” With Dr. Nowzaradan’s patients, it’s much more drastic, since they need to lose hundreds of pounds because their health is at serious risk, and I think it contributes to much of their Dieting Mentality, but 20 lbs or 220 lbs, when we approach weight loss, working out and better nutrition, we all tend to have the same focus on an End Point, whether a Goal Weight or a Date. We go into the process thinking that I only have to ‘be good’ until the End Point, and then I can go back to eating the way I like to eat.

Our thoughts and our focus are creating these problems.  If we don’t approach weight loss, good nutrition and fitness with a Dieting Mentality, how much easier would it be? How does not having an End Point change our thinking about losing weight, eating better and being more active? For some of us, it is pure panic: “Aack!! I have to eat like this forever?!?”  Yeah, that’s kind of what I’m telling you, and that’s why I’m also telling you- as several much more educated health professionals will also tell you- that diets don’t work for this very reason!  If you only want to lose enough weight to fit into an outfit you’re going to wear once at the aforementioned Special Occasion, then follow the diet.  But, if you want to improve your health overall by losing weight, being more active and getting better nutrition, a diet may get you there temporarily.  Staying there means sticking to the diet forever.  The problem is that most diets- as we all know- are pretty extreme, which makes them impossible to stick with long term.  This is why Dieting Mentality is the curse that keeps us trapped in the vicious cycle of constant dieting: we lose the weight, gain it back off the diet, go back on the diet, lose the weight, gain it back, ad infinitum. 

Try looking at it this way: we didn’t gain that 60 lbs because we went to Disneyland and ate all the treats or we went on that cruise and at two desserts every night.  Those probably contributed a few pounds to the 60, but the real cause of those 60 lbs on our butt and thighs is eating a bag of Cheetos during The Walking Dead each week and half a bag of Oreos during Survivor, and grabbing a donut in the break room each Friday and scrolling through Facebook and Instagram all day on the weekends. Those 60 lbs are the product of a LIFESTYLE, not an event like a Queen of the South binge with pizza and beer.  Dieting Mentality is focused on the ‘events;’ real permanent change comes with a lifestyle. If we approach weight loss, fitness and nutrition like a new lifestyle (as in smaller healthy changes that are permanent), then we don’t have to worry about white-knuckling it, deadlines or any ultimatums, because there are none!  How many of us beat ourselves up when we get emotional (as in ‘fight with mom’) and eat all the Cheez-its? (Me, raising my hand here!) Same goes for the donuts in the break room on Friday or going to a friend’s for a Game of Thrones binge with burgers and beer. We don’t have to white-knuckle it and bring our veggie coconut wrap and lime-infused water so we can ‘be good.’ (I’m also not saying eat five double cheeseburgers and finish off a six-pack!)  But if we approach this as a lifestyle of choosing healthier foods and activities that is on-going rather than an extreme race with a finish line, then we can have a burger and a beer and maybe even some chips without beating ourselves up.  We can have half a donut or even a whole one and we can enjoy a scoop of ice cream as we’re watching zombies get blown away.  The biggest problem with weight loss and good nutrition isn’t what to eat or how much to eat; it’s the problems we make ourselves by putting a deadline on it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Perspective: Seeing the Elephant in the Room

One of the best things about being an eminently employable English major is that I come across a lot of different literature from many different cultures.  One of my favorites is “The Blind Men and the Elephant.”  It’s an Indian parable about perspectives found in Hindu, Buddhist and Jain texts, so all we really know about its origins is that it is ancient.  The story goes that six blind men learn that an elephant was brought to their village and having not experienced one before, they go to “see” the animal with their hands.  Each man touches a different part of the elephant and comes away with a different viewpoint than the others.  One feels the tusk and determines that an elephant is like a spear; another feels its tail and concludes it looks like a rope; another feels the ear and thinks it looks like a fan; another feels its leg and says it looks like a tree trunk; one feels its side and believes an elephant is like a wall; and the last touches its trunk and believes the elephant is like a snake.  From there, the story varies with the text but the point is that each is seeing only one part and one perspective of the elephant. In order to really determine what an elephant looks like, they need to see the whole creature or at least compare their findings, because each of them is correct about the part that they touched, but none of them is correct in what an elephant truly looks like.

Perspective is massively important when it comes to weight loss, health and fitness, and it’s where so many of us get in trouble.  It’s easy to lose weight if you don’t care about being healthy, and the same is true about fitness. Most of us think in terms of “losing weight” or “getting fit,” but neither of those are important if we don’t think in terms of Being Healthy (the whole elephant.)  When I was in college, I had a roommate who was also overweight.  We really commiserated over it because we both liked a lot of the same foods and we both tried being vegetarian and both of us ended up gaining weight.  I ran into her a few years after she moved out (both of us were in the pharmacy line, FYI) and I didn’t recognize her because she had lost so much weight.  Unfortunately, it was due to Type I diabetes.  Her pancreas had stopped functioning and now she was insulin dependent. She had to check her blood sugar several times a day and inject insulin before every meal to control her blood sugar. I remember her telling me she had always dreamed of losing weight, but this was not how she thought it would happen.  She was over a hundred pounds thinner than she had been when she lived with me but she certainly was not healthy.  Even worse, she was pregnant with her second child which put both her life and her baby’s at risk!

When we approach weight loss or fitness, we can’t just focus on the one aspect that we want to prioritize, otherwise we lose sight of the whole elephant. “Being thin” or “being muscular” is of no importance if you aren’t healthy also.  Some of you know that I lost an aunt in 2003 due to complications from anorexia.  She’d had a gastric bypass, which in my opinion she did not need as she barely weighed 200 lbs, but the end result was that she stopped eating, which is not an uncommon side effect of the bypass.  Ultimately, she ended up collapsing, catching an infection and dying. She was the same age as I am now, and while I’m not exactly young anymore, I have a lot to look forward to and so did she. But she had also always dreamed of being thin, and for months prior to her death, family members had been begging her to see a doctor, because it was so painfully obvious that she was not healthy or happy.  Unfortunately, no one could help her.

Some of us do the same thing with exercise: we lose sight of our overall health, which is what really matters.  We’ve all heard the stories of people who over-exercise, or eat and then work out super hard to burn off all the calories they ate.  Some of us try to “out exercise” a bad diet, but most nutritionists and doctors will tell you that 90% of weight loss comes through your food choices and the remaining 10% is your activity. Basically, you can exercise until your arms fall off but if you’re eating donuts and drinking Pepsi every morning for breakfast, you’re not going to be accomplishing much!

Most of us are in a hurry to reach our goals- I know I am! But over-training and starving ourselves isn’t the way to “get cut” and/ or “get thin.”  Drastically cutting calories and working out really really hard are stressors on the body, so our body goes into conservation mode if we stick with these practices for a long time.  We will probably lose some weight and maybe build some muscle at first, but the longer we stick with it, the more the body begins to conserve its fat stores.  This looks like it might be a famine or some kind of catastrophe: basically a lot of hard work and not a lot of calories coming in.  The body’s first priority is survival: nothing else matters if it (i.e. YOU) don’t survive another day, so it takes steps to make sure you last as long as possible.  This is why Biggest Loser ‘winners’ end up gaining weight eating 1000 calories a day: their bodies have slowed their metabolisms so much after a prolonged period of starvation and hard exercise (i.e. the tv show), that now any calories coming in over the subsistence level gets stored! The body is trying to protect itself against another catastrophe where it (the ‘winner’) drastically lost weight.

Obviously, that is not a healthy situation to be in.  I really want to lose a lot of weight and I’d really like to have more muscles, especially as I’m getting older.  I don’t want to be the helpless old lady (with the zillion cats!) but I also know that it’s going to take some time to lose weight and gain muscle in a healthy way.  That means growing long term healthy habits like eating for nutrition without starving myself and being more active without over-training or injuring myself.  Both of those mean that it’s going to take some time, since my body and metabolism are going to make slow healthy adaptations to my new lifestyle.  I need to keep my eye on the ultimate goal of Being Healthy rather than my chosen perspective of Being Thin.  As I’ve learned the hard way, being thin doesn’t count for much if you’re too sick to enjoy it.

Sugar: The White Death

It is no secret that we are addicted to sugar.  Most of us are pretty good at recognizing the obvious sources of sugars in our diets: candy, soda, sweetened coffee drinks and sweet pastries.  We all know they’re bad for us and so most of us try to limit those.

But there are other sugars in our diet beyond the mochas, cookies and Pepsi: they are the orange juice and bagel we had with breakfast, the whole wheat bread in our turkey sandwich and the pasta we have with dinner.  “But,” you say “there was no jam on the bagel and nothing at all sweet in any of those!”  That is true but there was still sugar just the same, in the form of starches.  This is where most of us make our mistakes (including me) because we haven’t learned how the body processes what we eat.  We’re told to eat low fat and avoid “sugar” so we think we are “eating healthy” when we have juice instead of soda and a whole wheat turkey sandwich or whole wheat pasta with marinara sauce: “I’m eating my healthy whole grains with lots of fruits and vegetables!” But you are still getting sugars in every bite.

Most of us have been told that we can eat better if we give up anything “white,” like cream, whole milk, cheeses, white flour, bread, potatoes, pasta and sugar. While it’s true that “white” usually means highly processed, which is not the best for you, it’s also true that whole wheat breads and pastas are also made up of the similar starches that make up the “white” varieties.  What most of us don’t know is that starches are simply long chains of sugars (polysaccharides)  and while they may not taste as sweet as more recognizable forms (monosaccharides and disaccharides), the body treats them the same way.

[This is where I remind everyone that I am not a doctor or a nutritionist. I just did my own research to educate myself and I’m sharing what I’ve learned.]

I recently read The Case Against Sugar by Gary Taubes, mainly because I wanted to learn more about what sugar is and some of the problems it causes.  His book is quite shocking: health professionals have been complaining about sugar since before we even started refining it into the granulated white crystals we are familiar with! He mentions how Hindu doctors in the 4th Century noted how those who ate more sweet foods were more obese, had bad teeth and more health problems.  Since then, he points out how, as sugar usage continued to grow across the world and people began using more and more of it, so did health problems like obesity, heart disease, gout, dental caries, and of course diabetes. Most Americans are used to demonizing the Tobacco Industry for their concerted campaigns to defend tobacco usage as healthy and not harmful despite the overwhelming evidence; what we should be demonizing the is the Sugar Industry because their concerted offensive to keep us believing that sugar is healthy and nutritious has worked despite the mounting evidence that sugar causes all the problems listed above: heart disease, dental caries, obesity, gout, and diabetes.  Doctors as far back as the 16th Century were telling people to limit sugar usage, but because the Sugar Industry was and still is profitable and powerful, these facts were suppressed.  FYI: several of the studies that ‘proved’ saturated fat causes heart disease were funded by the Sugar Industry, which successfully buried the studies that showed heart disease was more closely linked to carbohydrates (such as sugar). Another FYI: the Sugar Industry actually taught the Tobacco Industry how to launch successful ad campaigns; the head of one sugar research association went to work for Big Tobacco.  They were already in bed together: those blended American cigarettes that became so popular after WWII are a blend of sugar soaked tobacco and air cured tobacco.  The sugar allows the smoker to inhale the smoke more deeply: without the sugar, the smoke is too irritating to be inhaled as deeply into the lungs.  Less smoke, less nicotine, less chance of becoming addicted.  Talk about a Demonic Duo! 

The aspect of The Case Against Sugar that was so shocking was the coordinated effort by The Sugar Industry to hide the harmful effects of sugar consumption from the public and at the same time, encourage increased consumption as a “healthy energy source.”  Most of us know that sugar isn’t good for us, but it’s the different ‘hidden’ forms of sugar that trip up most of us. The three easiest ways to limit sugar in your diet is to: 1) avoid processed foods; 2) avoid fruit; and 3) avoid starches. 

Avoiding processed foods is the easiest  way of avoiding sugar and while I’m a huge fan of fruit (“Nature’s candy”), the sugar in fruit is fructose which isn’t metabolized like glucose & sucrose (table sugar) and doesn’t trigger the satiety hormone leptin. Starches, whether natural like rice,  potatoes, etc or man-made like breads or cereals, are actually just long chains of sugar and the body treats them like sugar. 

While I highly recommend everyone read Gary Taubes’ book The Case Against Sugar, I have to say it reads like a history book, outlining sugar’s continued spread into our diet across the world, mainly fueled by greed/ economic gain and status. The scary part is how every attempt is made to keep us buying sugar despite its dangers.