What’s In YOUR Yogurt?: Weight Loss & Probiotics

A few days ago I was having lunch with a friend of mine and I had brought a bottle of kombucha.  As she looked at the bottle, she commented that “everything has probiotics now!”  It’s true: there are a variety of foods you can get that have the words “live probiotics!” enthusiastically plastered all over the labels.  Pharmacies and health foods have entire aisles devoted to probiotics, prebiotics and combos of both. Obviously there is a huge market for these now, but in reality, probiotic foods have been around for centuries.

Pretty much everyone now knows that yogurt’s live bacterial cultures are actually probiotics.  That’s one of the reasons yogurt is good for you, aside from the calcium and protein in it.  Looking back at some of my most favorite foods, there are a lot of them that are probiotic: yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, pickles, kimchi, etc.  Essentially, these are foods which have been fermented in order to make them.  We add some bacteria to milk and let it sit in the right conditions: voila! yogurt or kefir! We do the same thing to cabbage and we end up with either sauerkraut or kimchi, and when we do it to cucumbers, we end up with pickles! Even if we don’t add the bacteria, by leaving it where bacteria can get in, we still end up with the same result.

I am sure there are some of you are thinking “Ewwwww!! Spoiled food!” The truth is that by fermenting the foods, we are preserving them. While the food will eventually spoil, the fermentation not only adds a little shelf life, but it provides some necessary and healthy bacteria.

But in today’s antibacterial world, the idea of bacteria can seem unhygienic.  On the surface it appears ironic: everything is antibacterial but everyone is taking probiotics! Unfortunately, there is more than a little correlation. But first: why is bacteria important to our health instead of bad for it?

The new buzzword for “healthy bacteria” is microbiome.  Our intestines and pretty much the rest of our bodies are covered with bacteria. (There is even a body wash being marketed as ‘good for your skin’s microbiome!’)  However, it’s the bacteria in our intestines which are necessary for our survival.  No exaggeration here: these bacteria break down the food we eat so our intestines can absorb it.  No bacteria= no breakdown= no absorption= no you. It’s that simple! They also protect us from some of the toxins we ingest as well. If our gut bacteria aren’t healthy, we aren’t healthy.  This is why the stores and internet are full of probiotics (healthy bacteria) and prebiotics (food for that healthy bacteria).  Everyone is very concerned with keeping our gut bacteria healthy because unfortunately, so many of us have problems with our gut bacteria aka digestive issues.

Remember: everything is antibacterial these days! Those antibacterial soaps, hand sanitizers and antibiotics do not discriminate against “good bacteria” and “bad bacteria.”  If you take something for an ear infection, you are killing not only the bacteria causing your infection, you are killing your gut bacteria too! We don’t seem to realize that when we are ‘waging war’ on bacteria, our healthy bacteria end up being collateral damage, but until we start having issues with our health, we don’t realize that we are also part of that collateral damage!

Some of you may know that many years ago, my sister worked at the law firm where I am now a legal assistant and while my sister was here, one of the assistants had to retire due to inflammatory bowel disease. When I came to work at the same firm years later, I was shocked to see giant bottles of hand sanitizer on practically every flat surface! Each desk, filing cabinet, table, counter and work space had an industrial sized bottle of the stuff. Even the table in our lobby had the giant version and the one pervasive scent in the building was ‘hand sanitizer.’ Once I saw everyone using hand sanitizer almost daily, it made me wonder if that assistant’s IBD had been triggered or aggravated by the constant use of antibacterial hand sanitizer.

I am not against antibiotics or antibacterials.  I have my own small bottle in my purse. I keep it for those situations where something I touched was gross and soap and water weren’t readily available but it still takes me forever to go through it. In fact, I usually lose it or it dries out before I finish off a bottle because I’d rather just wash my hands.  It’s not that I’m a slob or unhygienic but there is an advantage to being exposed to different bacteria.

While I didn’t exactly grow up on a farm (like my dad), I did live in the country for several years in addition to visiting my grandparents on their ranch.  The barn and orchards were my playgrounds most of the time and I think that was good for me.  Dr. Josh Axe in his book Eat Dirt [Eat Dirt book ] referenced a study involving Amish children and their non-Amish peers. The Amish children growing up in a mostly rural environment are exposed to all kinds of dirt, manure, plant pollen and animals.  As we all know, the country can be kinda dirty! The Amish children also ate far less processed foods than their non-Amish peers. What many researchers found surprising is that the Amish children had much lower rates of asthma, illness, infection and other diseases compared to their non-Amish peers living in an ‘hygienic’ urban environment and eating a modern diet. The researchers theorized that exposure to a variety of bacteria kept their immune systems healthier than those children whose immune systems have less  exposure and therefore less resistance.

Many ‘gut specialists’ note that bacterial diversity is important when it comes to the bugs in our guts.  The more good bacteria we have, the better! They give more digestive advantage and protective advantage, but because our environment has changed so much, we no longer have the wide diversity that older generations had.  Why? Antibiotics, antibacterials, environment and the change in diet have all taken their toll on our healthy gut bugs!  Foods like artificial sweeteners, pesticides in our foods (hello, Round Up!) and other modern chemicals can be toxic to our healthy gut bacteria.

There are some weight loss programs now touting probiotics as a new tool to help weight loss, but I believe the real weight loss advantage comes not from downing probiotic pills and supplements but in maintaining the health of your microbiome.  This means simple things like eating more fiber which feeds your healthy bacteria, eating more whole foods than the processed foods which can contain chemicals toxic to your bacteria and eating the healthy fermented foods you enjoy, such as yogurt, kombucha and kimchi.  By keeping a healthy microbiome which allows you to get all the vitamins and nutrients from the healthy whole foods you are eating, not only are you healthier overall, you will likely lose more weight! It’s a simple recipe: fewer processed foods, more fiber, less hand sanitizer and a little more exercise outdoors are not only good for your outsides, they’re good for your insides too!

 

Cheap Eats?: Weight Loss & The Real Meaning of Cheap

Sometimes when I’m in the mood, I will watch cooking shows on PBS, usually Martha Stewart Cooking Class or America’s Test Kitchen. The idea that I would attempt to make anything they demonstrate is absolutely laughable, partly because it’s usually far too complex for me but also because some of Martha’s ingredients are more than a little pricey! Also, where the heck am I supposed to find candied lemon rind in my podunk town?

While America’s Test Kitchen’s recipes are still too involved for me, they will let us know where we can skip a step or what we can use in place of a more pricey or hard to find ingredient without seriously bungling the recipe. When you go through all the steps to put together some of these recipes, the last thing you want to do is waste all that time and money!

Time and money are usually the biggest excuses when it comes to eating healthy. We have this idea that making healthy food is complicated and expensive, but in reality, it’s like anything else: we can make it as hard or as simple as we want it to be.

Example: my dad and I both love home-made enchiladas but making them the way my grandmother made them was an all-day job, so I figured out a quicker way to do without too much difference.  Granted, they weren’t quite as delicious as my grandmother’s, but they only took about an hour or so to do and it was good enough for us two!

I know from experience that we can google healthy whole food recipes that will take all day and require a long list of ingredients, some of them more than you want to spend on a weeknight dinner. Whether you are looking at dinner for one or two or even a family of four or more, a cart full of healthy whole food groceries starts looking more like a major investment!

I’ve seen the “it costs too much” excuse used a lot on My 600 lb Life.  Rather than buy whole food groceries, they run through the drive-thru. Listening to what they order, the cost of that fast food meal can run from $10 to $30 (for two). That’s not particularly cheap either! My groceries routinely include a $5 box of salad greens, bottle of salad dressing ($4) and package of meat which usually runs around $6.  The box of salad will last me at least five meals; the salad dressing about 10 meals and the meat at least two.  That means if I increase the meat for another three servings, I’ve got dinner for about five days which would run me about $24. That’s less than five dollars a meal! Yikes! That’s expensive–NOT!

What’s the real difference here? I had to make the dinner myself. That means I took out the skillet, put the meat on to cook, cooked it for about twenty minutes or so and then I dumped out the salad greens into a bowl and poured on some dressing.  Dinner usually takes me 30 minutes or less to make at home.  Granted, I eat pretty simply.  If I added some other veggies to my salad, it would obviously cost more, but even adding a few tomatoes, radishes, mushrooms or cucumbers, the cost per meal might go up as high as $7 dollars a meal! (Seriously, how many cucumbers do you put on a single salad?)

I eat pretty cheaply mainly because I like simple food (see that Martha Stewart remark above!) I get the box of salad greens because it’s cheap and it’ll last me until Friday.  I buy my meat in the Manager’s Special section of the meat department.  This is the meat that has a “best by” date in the coming week, so it’s been discounted by 30-50%. Since I either eat it or freeze it by the date, it’s no problem for me! Sometimes, I do spring for the tomatoes, mushrooms or avocados on my salad, or I opt for Brussels sprouts instead but the cost still isn’t exorbitant. Even if the meat isn’t ‘grass fed’ or ‘organic’ it is still fresh and even organic grass fed meat isn’t much more expensive than the ‘regular’ stuff if you know where to shop. (I like Trader Joe’s and Sprouts for good bargains on those!)

There is also something else that usually gets missed in comparing cheap eats and whole foods. How much of them do you eat in one sitting? One of the more interesting details about human anatomy is our satiety signals in our digestive tract. These are the hormones our bodies release to let us know that we have eaten enough. We have signals for protein, fat and fiber but none for carbohydrates.  That’s why I can eat half a bag of Brussels sprouts and feel like I can’t choke down another bite but could easily eat the family sized bag of Ruffles potato chips without even slowing down. Unfortunately, the only “sensor” we have that we’ve eaten too much ice cream, chips, crackers or cupcakes is the actual discomfort that comes from an overstuffed stomach! I am way too familiar with that one!

The Cheezits, chips, bread and rolls might seem cheaper but we don’t stop to think that we finish them off way more quickly than we do the whole foods. That box of salad greens isn’t any bigger ounce-wise than that family size bag of chips I used to polish off in one or two sittings, but there’s no way I can eat the whole box of spinach and butter lettuce at one go without throwing up! That’s because those whole foods aren’t just more ‘nutrient dense’– they are just plain dense! Let’s compare that bag of Brussels sprouts to that bag of Ruffles potato chips: The sprouts are 10.8 oz (Birdseye Steamfresh) and the chips are 9.5 (Ruffles Family Size).  There’s four 3/4 cup servings in the sprouts and ten in the bag of chips ( ~1 oz) but seriously do we only eat one ounce of chips at a time? Although they are about the same size, after eating about a cup and a half of sprouts, you would be getting the “stop eating” signal because your nutrition needs would be met. How long before your brain would tell you to stop eating the chips? Odds are, you’d be probably three fourths of the way through the bag before your stomach would be feeling full, and if you are me, you’d be polishing off the bag!

Honestly though, there are things that are missing from the sprouts: like preservatives, sodium and extra carbs, plus the vegetable oils that are fast coming under scrutiny. On the other hand, they do have lots more vitamins and fiber (that’s the stuff that makes you feel full!) I know for a lot of people, foods like sprouts, salad greens and other whole foods can taste pretty blah without all kinds of sauces to ‘dress them up.’ That’s because we have gotten so used to eating those additives and flavor enhancers in processed foods.  Those are the additives that don’t actually have to be made from food to be called “all natural.” Most pre-shredded cheeses have cellulose added to them to keep the cheese from sticking together.  Cellulose comes from wood pulp but because it comes from trees, they can call it “all natural.” Yummy!

It’s all a matter of taste and budget: you don’t have to eat as simply as I do, but think about what you are really buying. What is really in that burger and fries you ordered? It might be fast and it might be convenient, but what is the real price we pay for cheap eats?

 

 

Whole Foods are Habit Forming!: Weight Loss & Giving Up the Junk

We’ve all heard that junk food- and especially sugar- are addictive. To some extent that is true, but it’s true because we made it true! We’ve gotten accustomed to eating sugary junk food so that’s what our palates and subconscious have come to expect.  We are all familiar with Pavlov’s dog, only in our case we are the dog and sugar is the bell!

Anyone who has tried to make a New Year’s Resolution or build a new habit knows that it all comes down to repetition. You do it over and over and over again until it becomes lodged in our brains and we can do it without effort or even thinking about it.  It happened to me yesterday: I was leaving the office and as I got in my car, I reminded myself I had to pick up my dry cleaning and it had to be picked up that day. I put the claim ticket on my console, pulled out of the parking lot and got in the wrong lane out of habit! The dry cleaning was on the north and home was on the south so of course, like I do 95% of the time, I got in the south bound lane, after telling myself not to do it! What can I say? Habit won!

This same kind of repetition is how we end up craving sugar and junk food: we eat it over and over again! We aren’t born addicted to Hostess cupcakes and Lays potato chips, but because they end up in our mouths so often, we start to expect and then crave them. We don’t even taste them anymore: it’s just the sugar and carbs we are expecting!  Compared to sugar-rich snacks, foods like broccoli and spinach seem to come up short, but the same principles apply: if you eat them enough, eventually your palate and your subconscious will start to expect them!

It seems silly but it’s true.  A couple of years ago, I was out with friends celebrating a birthday and the guest of honor had chosen a pizza place.  There were lots of appetizers on the table like fried cheese and beer battered shrimp.  I had chosen an antipasto salad for my entree and after politely declining all the appetizers, when my entree arrived, I actually said “yay, salad!” out loud and I meant it when I said it. It still surprises me, because while I don’t hate veggies or salad, I didn’t realize until I saw it how much I was looking forward to the salad! I’d taught myself that salad was delicious.

Something similar happened just last week at the grocery store: I wanted Brussels sprouts for dinner.  I had salad greens in the fridge but on the way home, I started wanting (dare I say “craving”?) Brussels sprouts and I was so disappointed that the store was out of the fresh ones that I like! When I was a kid, you’d have to pay me to eat them, and now I was craving the dang things!

It’s all about repetition: we want the foods we are used to eating.  Our brains and our palates expect them on a regular basis. Dinner for me is usually salad, veggies or both along with some kind of meat: chicken, beef, lamb or pork.  When I get hungry, this is what my palate and my brain start looking for! Without thinking about it, I end up in the produce section of the stores looking at the lettuces: “baby spinach mix? butter lettuce?” Some times I mix it up with other produce like tomatoes, mushrooms, etc., but dinner for me usually begins with a big pile of green leaves!

Compared to what I used to eat regularly, salad can seem pretty blah. This is one of the biggest complaints when it comes to eating whole natural foods: “they don’t taste great.” Actually, it’s not that baby spinach, broccoli and Brussels sprouts don’t taste good: it’s that you aren’t used to eating them! Once you get used to eating whole foods, you develop a taste for them the way you developed a taste for those boxes of cupcakes and bags of potato chips.

Example: remember the first time you tasted beer? I am pretty sure you made a face! That first sip of beer is universally awful but as an adult, you certainly don’t think it tastes horrible.  You probably have your favorite brands and brews, but that first time? Ugh! So how did you get used to the taste of beer? By drinking it over and over, of course! (In high school, one of my sister’s friends got busted by her dad when he let her taste his beer and the fact that she didn’t make that face told him this wasn’t her first beer!)

The same thing happens in reverse: when you stop eating the junk food and sugar, it stops tasting good. You lose your taste for them. I used to eat a lot of fast food on a regular basis. I was seriously on a first name basis with the Jack in the Box drive-thru guy (his name was Dennis.) Once I stopped eating it for a few months, I decided to ‘treat’ myself to the same dinner I’d had several times a week for months. Same meal; same drive-thru, but what a difference! It certainly didn’t taste delicious and in truth it just tasted really weird to me! It wasn’t the food that changed: it was me!

It wasn’t just my palate that changed either. Not only did the fast food not taste good to me: it made me feel bad. It’s cliche to say ‘you are what you eat,’ but we all know how true that is. Changing what I ate not only changed my taste buds: it changed how I felt and how I looked. Not only did I lose 40 lbs by just giving up junk food, my skin looked better and I felt a whole lot better, emotionally and physically. It was a combination of not eating junk and eating more nutritious whole foods instead. Why eat the weird fast food that makes me feel like a blob when I can eat the fresh vegetables that make me feel good?

It is a lot like Pavlov’s dog: a learned response to stimulus. The sound of the bell is the sound of a treat! If we rang the bell and gave the dog something that tastes bad each time, he’s not going care how often you ring that bell! What you’ve got, he doesn’t want! Does all that junk food really taste good? Or are we just used to eating it?

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!

 

 

 

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!

 

 

A Bad Aftertaste: Dealing with Emotional Eating 

Emotional (or stress) eating is one of the biggest stumbling blocks for those of us trying to lose weight. It’s the proverbial sneak attack straight out of left field, the unseen pothole on the path to success, the sucker punch to our healthy eating plan. We can make provisions for just about everything else: the treats that come into the office/ home; the impromptu lunch/ dinner date; the dinner party full of unhealthy choices, but emotional eating? That’s not our heads talking: that’s something more primal, more visceral and more out of control.

All of us develop coping mechanisms to deal with difficult situations and emotional eating is one of many possibilities. Emotions and stress are part of everyday living. We have a fight with a family member; our boss gets on our case; unexpected bills or bad news: our anxiety and stress levels hit the stratosphere and we turn instinctively to our pressure release valve. Some of us chew our fingernails, pace, smoke, go for a run or eat our emotions. It’s a distraction like all of the other stress relievers: we’re so busy being focused on what we’re doing, we aren’t thinking of the problem that just got dumped on us that we don’t want to deal with. That’s the whole purpose: I’m avoiding my problem as fast as I can! All of these avoidance behaviors have drawbacks, some worse than others, but for those of trying to lose weight, emotional eating is a major pitfall.

In addition to distracting us from whatever our problems are, eating just plain tastes good. We aren’t focusing on whatever is upsetting us and we’re enjoying (usually) what we’re eating, so it’s a double benefit to us. The first and most obvious drawback is that avoiding the problem does not solve it, so even after we’ve finished the donuts, potato chips or whatever, we’re still stuck with whatever stress inducing issue triggered the eating in the first place; the second drawback is now we’ve probably overeaten and as result, we feel guilty, so the vicious cycle continues. The third drawback is that when we eat our emotions on top of what we normally eat, we have a tendency to gain weight, and the more problems we have, the more we stress-eat, and unfortunately the poor health that comes with obesity becomes one more trigger: we’re worried about our health, so we eat to relieve stress and the vicious cycle gets even more vicious.

Emotional eating is almost uncontrollable for a lot of us. Even if we try to be aware, how many of us find ourselves staring into an open fridge or pantry looking for anything to eat just because something stressful happened? If we become aware of our behavior at that point, we’re actually doing okay- we still have time to stop ourselves from mindlessly putting food in our mouths, but how many times have we suddenly found ourselves staring at the bottom of an empty carton of ice cream or an empty box of donuts? It’s almost an instinctive behavior that’s become ingrained in us over many years. It’s how we

console/ distract ourselves, when something bad has happened and how we reward or celebrate happy news. Food is our trusty go-to sidekick and even though we know that it’s hurting us to eat our emotions, breaking this deeply ingrained habit is not at all easy. Quitting emotional eating is on par with quitting smoking or any other addiction. Again, we’re running in circles: stress triggers the eating and the guilt over eating triggers the stress which triggers the eating. The band-aid approach is to replace the eating with something less harmful like walking or meditating, but ultimately, we have to find a way to deal with our emotions. Positive action is always the best way: a problem comes up and we move to solve the problem rather than avoiding it, i.e. the boss jumps all over us about

a project, and instead of not dealing with it, we take steps to move forward on the project. Unfortunately not all problems can be solved by us or anyone, i.e. a family member becomes seriously ill. This is the unpleasant truth and we have to learn to deal with unpleasant truths. Bad things happen; it sucks but there’s nothing we can do about it. Eating our emotions isn’t going to change this and it’s only going to compound our problems. Of course anyone who has ever had to deal with emotional eating knows it’s waay easier to say “deal with it!” than actually dealing with it! It’s like telling a lifelong smoker “ stop smoking!” and expecting them to quit cold turkey the next day. “Stop shoving donuts in your face and deal with whatever nasty issue is driving you to eat!” Not terribly effective, is it? Again, it’s a process. The first step is being aware that you are an emotional eater. How can you not be aware that you eat your emotions? Because even though there is the emotional connection (bad feeling + food = feeling better), there may not be the mental connection. I had never really considered myself an emotional eater. I was aware that I ate out of boredom and I took steps to change that behavior (this blog was actually one of those steps), but it wasn’t until I found myself staring into the open fridge after an angry phone call with my mom that I realized emotion was the only reason I was even looking for something to eat (I wasn’t hungry or bored, just upset).
Once you make the connection, it makes it a little easier to catch yourself before you finish the Ben & Jerry’s. When something emotional happens (especially something stressful), you know the urge to eat is coming and this is where you can begin taking steps to counteract it. The band-aid approach is usually the easiest way to begin tackling it: find something else to distract yourself from the negative situation. In my case, after the phone call with my mom, and I realized was looking into the fridge to avoid dealing with the stress, I knew I had to substitute something else for eating. Since I had already done a similar process with evening boredom, I used one of those techniques: blogging, journaling, doing my nails, posting online, etc. Finding an enjoyable new (or not so new) distraction is the key. It’s a baby step, but it gives you a stable if temporary place where you can feel safe while you begin to do the real work of learning to deal with your emotions. When you feel the stress and emotions building and there’s the urge to find something to eat, that’s when you make the switch: instead of eating, open up Facebook, take a long hot shower, practice deep breathing or yoga, Tai Chi or whatever your safe substitute is. If you miss that moment and catch yourself in the middle of a cookie or bag of chips, don’t berate yourself, because learning a new habit takes time. Getting down on yourself is just one more stress that will drive you back to the chips and cookies. When you do catch yourself, put away the food and dig out the yoga mat (if your life is really emotional, just leave it out! I have my go-to MFP on all of my devices, so it’s easy for me to log on!) Awareness is the most important step because you can’t fix a problem if you don’t know what the problem is! Once you are aware of your emotional triggers, that’s when you start making the positive changes. Start substituting the better behavior for the emotional eating. Once your emotions start making the connection (stress + yoga = feel better), emotional eating becomes less and less of the go-to pressure release valve. Then you can start dealing with your emotions from a safer place. Instead of feeling guilty for eating, you are actually doing something positive. For example, yoga has its own benefits aside from keeping you from overeating. It really is a good way to center your mind and body, strengthen your core and relieve stress, but sooner or later, you are going to have to deal with whatever problems you have. That may require counseling or some kind of therapy or maybe just a lot of yoga and meditation. Only you can make that decision, but one thing is certain: eating your stress and negative emotions just creates more problems than solutions.

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.

 

 

 

 

Blame It on the Rain (or the Bad Day or the Fussy Kids, etc)! Making Excuses for Emotional Eating

As many of you know, I am a zealous fan of My 600 lb Life and bariatric surgeon Dr. Younan Nowzaradan.  [FYI: the new season premieres January 4, 2017!] When he first meets with a patient, he always asks about how they came to weigh as much as they do.  Occasionally, the patient is someone who just admits they have bad eating habits but many of them have some kind of excuse and do their best to fob off responsibility on something or someone else: “I’m an emotional eater” or “I never feel full.”  I know in my case it was just bad eating habits: too much of whatever I wanted all the time.  I had tried losing weight but it always came back and it wasn’t until I found the right eating plan for me that I was finally able to lose weight and keep it off.

I often joke with my family and friends that the tv show functions as my version of a 12 step program.  It keeps me focused on my goals and reminds me where I came from.  Many times it also brings me face to face with my own problems and excuses.  On a recent rerun, the patient was having a lot of issues with excuses.  She admitted that she dealt with problems by eating: it was her coping mechanism but at the same time, her kids were her excuse for her being overweight (she was 654 lbs).  When Dr. Nowzaradan asked her how she got to be this weight, her immediate response was ‘because of having two kids and having to stay home and take care of them and one is disabled.’  Basically, it was all because of the kids. She was under a lot of stress with her oldest son, who was severely disabled and her youngest was only a year old. They depended on her and no one could take care of them like she could, but at the same time, she was using them as an excuse to eat whatever she wanted as much as she wanted.  When her oldest ended up hospitalized, she justified eating whatever she wanted by saying “she had to put her son first.”  Maybe I’m just heartless, but I fail to see how her son being in the hospital means she has to eat fries, pizza, burgers and pie in enormous amounts.

I realize food is her coping mechanism.  For those few minutes while she is eating, she is not thinking about whatever stressful situation she is in.  At the same time, she also knows that her weight is putting her life at risk and if for nothing else, she needs to take care of her own health or her sons will grow up without their mother.  While her son was in the hospital for 5 weeks, she managed to gain another 30 lbs and kept repeating how she had to put her son first because he was her top priority.  Her health had to come second to his.  He needs her to eat huge amounts of fast food while he lies in the hospital bed on the ventilator?  She wasn’t being asked to go out of town or to attend classes or anything except to monitor her food intake and stay on her diet.  She can eat vegetables at the hospital the same as the burgers and fries.  The veggies won’t have the same soporific effect as the fast food and sweets but her husband can bring her a salad the same as he can bring her pizza.  She was choosing to make poor eating choices because she didn’t want to deal with her stressful situation.  I can understand that but it’s not until she understands it that she can make progress.

This particular patient finally understood that if she didn’t put her own health first, she wasn’t going to be around to take care of her family.  If they mean as much to her as she says they do, then she had to lose weight or her children will be growing up without a mother.  (She was able to make the changes and was well on her way to her goal weight at the show’s conclusion.)

Most of us don’t get anywhere near her weight or mine, but many of us do the same things: there’s always a reason for why we’re eating and what we’re eating and none of those reasons are “I just want to do it.”  Eating for a lot of us is a form of escapism: we don’t want to deal with our reality and this is how we choose to get away.  For some people, it’s tv shows or gaming or drinking/ drugs or gambling or anything else.  When we feel stress, we run to to our release valve, our crutch, our escape hatch. This is one of the biggest pitfalls we have to learn to sidestep once we decide we’re going to lose weight or get healthier.  We can have all the healthy groceries and food/ eating plans we need; we can hit the gym regularly and get our 10,000 daily steps, but when stress comes knocking on our doors (and it always does!), we revert right back to escape hatch!  Even once we realize “it’s stress that’s making me eat/ gain weight!”, there’s still the question “if not food as a stress release, then what?”  That’s our challenge: we need to learn to replace the ‘food escape hatch’ with something healthier (or at least not food)!  Anything in excess is not healthy, even if it’s something like exercise, so we need to learn to deal with our stressful situations in ways that don’t hurt us, either through excess exercise, eating, sleep or medications.  For most of us, realizing we are stress eaters is the easy part; we try to outsmart ourselves by not keeping the junk food- the stress defusing food- in the house, but how many times have we found ourselves munching something we’re not really fond of us (like walnuts or candied yams) simply because it was there and we just had a huge fight with someone we care about and now we’re all wound up and stressed and what’s in the pantry?!? It’s really not about the food itself.  Brownies are always great when we’re stressed and the chocolate is so yummy but it’s the act of eating that is usually what relieves our stress: like Dr. Now’s patient above, for those few minutes, we’re feeling the pleasure of eating and not the stressful situation we’re in.  Even though my biggest trigger was boredom in the evenings (and tv), whenever I had a fight with my mom or sister, I’d find myself staring into the fridge, looking for whatever was quick and available! (I see you there, avocado!)

I’d love to tell you “just do XYZ and that’ll take care of the stress!” but that’s not happening.  All of us process stress differently, despite being stress/ emotional eaters.  The eating is a distraction; our choices are either to learn to deal with the stressful situation or at the very least find another healthier distraction.  Ideally, learning to handle the stress is the best way, but that may require the services of a trained professional.  In the interim, finding a healthier distraction is still an option. I often see my friends on MFP (My Fitness Pal) urging others who are stressed out to exercise their way through it.  This is not a bad option: physical exertion is a great way to deal with stress/ anxiety and it has a few bonuses: burning calories, toning muscles and the endorphin boost.  But again, anything in excess is not healthy, so if there is a lot of stress in your life (and that’s everyone, right?) then you need to find more than way of dealing with it.  Exercise can always be one way, but there are others.

Some people like to journal: get all the anger and anxiety and confusion out on paper.  This also has the benefit of letting you think through your situation, maybe getting some clarity on it and getting a little distance.  I remember reading about one author who used to write vicious and scathing letters to the object of his anger, seal them up complete with postage, ready to go in the mail and then would rip them up the next day.  One of the things I do is similar: I have a shouting fit and stomp around the house for about five minutes, and once I’ve vented, it’s done- moving on! Some people accomplish the same thing by posting a rant on MFP/ Facebook/ etc: someone has done X to me and this is what I think of them! It has the same effect as lancing an infected wound: left to fester, the negative emotions grow and spread, but once they’ve been expelled, the wound is clean and healing can begin.

Another thing I like to do when I’m stressed is spend time with my pets.  I had a fight with someone I care about, they made me angry and now instead of eating my anger and anxiety, I am distracting myself with one of my furry children.  They offer unconditional affection (at least the dog does- the cats I’m pretty sure have some prerequisites attached!) and they are pretty soothing.  Not only are they get some attention and some exercise, but I am too!

The point is you need to find out what works for you when the stress hits.  There is always going to be some kind of stress or situation which is going to try and derail your progress, so you need to find a way to defuse or reduce the emotion driving you to eat.  Whether you opt for hitting the gym, getting outside, journaling, yoga, meditation, posting online, a nice long soak in the tub or playing with the dog, as long as it relieves your stress without hurting you or filling you full of calories and poor nutrition, that’s all that matters. The best solution of course is to fix whatever the stressful situation is (if it can be fixed of course) but there are always those situations which can’t be fixed (an injured or sick loved one, for example) but the problems will still be there when you’re done with whatever you choose, so we all need to learn to deal with them in healthy ways.

These situations won’t always be ‘dire straits’ either.  We are all aware of those: a family member gets hurt; job problems; moving, etc.  Those are the problems we think of when we think of stress, but it’s the little stresses that also drive us to eat our emotions: coming home and finding out the cat has cleaned off the entryway table; the kids are fighting with each other over something trivial; the boss is nagging about the filing piling up; there’s construction on your route to work/ home and now it takes longer.  All of these are pretty normal every day aggravations but they can also influence how we eat.  These are the stresses that we can fix! We know it takes longer to get to work so we don’t make anything healthy at home so we can stop at the fast food place next to the gas station since you have to get gas anyway- I’ll just hit the drive thru! I had to work a little late to finish up with the filing so I’ll get a latte on the way home- it’s going to be late when I get dinner done! Since the kids are out of control, I’m just going to order in some pizza so they’ll be quiet and leave me alone for two minutes! All of these are some of the little ways that stress sabotages your healthy eating.  The key with these little “naggravations” is to take charge and adjust your schedule and attitude.  Since you know it takes longer to get to work, get up a little earlier so you can fix your healthy breakfast, or make something the night before that you can take with you. I usually bring something I can eat in the car and set up the coffee maker and my travel mug the night before.  All I have to do is pour the coffee and grab the lunch bag (with my breakfast already in it) and go out the door. If I stop for a latte on the way home, I just adjust my dinner to account for the no sugar latte I get, or I opt for coffee or tea instead of the dessert-drink.  If the kids are fighting, how about disciplining the kids?  Or get them the pizza and get yourself a salad or veggies to go with one slice of pizza for you?

For most of us, food is comforting.  It’s a pleasant distraction that relieves our daily stress and gives us a few moments of relaxation, but when we abuse it, it goes from being our friend to being our enemy.  I know for me, it became a vicious cycle: I really need to lose weight because everything hurts; oooh! cheesecake!! dang it, I shouldn’t have had that cheesecake- I need to lose weight because everything hurts!  oooh! brownies!…….Taking charge of the situational naggravations not only defuses them and gives you a healthy out, it also builds your confidence so the next one gets easier to handle. The more you learn to deal with them in healthier ways, the easier they are to handle.  For example: I came home the last week to find out that the cat had cleaned off my entry way table and dumped over my little shelving unit (I could hardly open the front door!)  After throwing my stomping/ shouting tantrum, I put everything back together, and eventually calmed down enough to have my regular dinner and I started thinking about options for keeping her off the table. Four days ago, I came home and saw she had cleaned off the window sill in the kitchen.  There was less of a stomping tantrum and a lot more double sided tape (Sticky Paws brand) which was put down on the window sill and on the edges of the entry way table.  With any luck, that problem is solved! No emotional “I had a bad day” eating; just a lot of venting (to everyone in sight too)! The point is that the second time this problem came up, I was a lot less emotional and more invested in finding a solution.

The catch is that this is one more process we have to learn.  That’s what makes the emotional eating such a quick and easy fix: our only issue is what are we going to eat?  We eat it, feel better for five or ten minutes and then we have to deal with the aftermath, but we don’t usually think of the aftermath until we’ve swallowed the last bite of whatever we ate!  It’s something we learned as children usually so it’s deeply ingrained and automatic: aack! we had a fight! I need chocolate!  Learning to do something else when we’re stressed takes not only finding out what helps with the stress, but then stopping the auto pilot eating response and choosing to do the new routine.  It takes time, practice and patience! This is important: I know everyone says this and “yeah, yeah I know that!” but when we blow it the next time the boss has a screaming fit at work and eat a pint of Cherry Garcia in front of the tv that night, we’re going to come down on ourselves like a ton of bricks for not following our new routine of deep breathing or yoga or whatever we chose.  Changing our behavior takes time and effort (it’s why so many people give up on new healthy habits!) So give yourself a break when you’re beating yourself up as you stare into the empty Cherry Garcia carton. A big tip that worked for me when I found myself standing in front of the open fridge after fighting with my mom: STOP!! Realize what you are doing (stress eating) and make a choice to do something different (pets, yoga, computer game, etc).  It took a bit of practice and for a while, it wasn’t as effective as eating a pint of Ben & Jerry’s, but what also helped reinforce my new behavior was telling myself: X already screwed up my mood/ day/ plans and I’m not going to let X screw up my healthy weight loss! Imagine if after all the anxiety and stress over whatever happened and eating your emotions, you get on the scale next week and see you’ve gained weight! Talk about adding insult to injury! When you go off track with the stress eating, make a note of what happened after the stress occurred (hindsight is always 20/20!) and the next time something happens, STOP!! Think about what your next choice is, and make it a good one! Then you can congratulate yourself on handling the negative situation better, staying on your healthy plan and you’ll have more confidence for the next time something comes up!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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!