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!

 

One Size Does Not Fit ALL!

The FDA lied to me (and everyone else)!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

Miscommunication: Not Understanding What Your Body is Telling You

One of the things I hear a lot of in My 600 lb Life is “I can’t exercise more because it hurts!” As easy as it would be to dismiss these patients being quitters or lazy or “insert negative comment here,” this one is actually something that makes sense.  Pain is our body’s way of telling us that whatever you’re doing is not a good thing.  It seems pretty obvious: you touch a hot pan, it hurts and you let go; you try lifting something that’s way too heavy, your back hurts, you put it down.  It seems pretty straightforward.  Even my workout instructors tell me “if it hurts, stop immediately,” but then there’s usually her little caveat: “discomfort is okay but pain is not.”  Discomfort??  Okay, so how do we tell the difference between pain and discomfort??

This is the key to the miscommunication with pain.  If you’ve been sitting on a plane (or car) for three hours straight and you finally arrive, you are going to be a little stiff getting up and walking.  (There is a pretty interesting explanation for this but it’s a whole different blog post!) Stiffness is pretty obviously discomfort, but when these patients tell Dr. Nowzaradan that it hurts to walk and they can’t walk because their knees/ legs hurt, they are honestly reporting the truth.  They are listening to their bodies but they are not understanding what their bodies are telling them.  What they are actually interpreting as pain is actually discomfort in most cases.  There are patients who do have knee damage (due to their weight usually but sometimes other reasons) and they need to have their joints replaced or repaired, but most of them are simply feeling the effects of being immobile for so long, like when you’ve been stuck in that car for 3 hours- only magnify it by several years!  Joints and muscles and tendons and other structural parts used to move the body have essentially rusted into position. Like any tool, the more you use it, the easier it is to use.  It’s used to moving and being flexible, but since these patients move as little as possible, their joints are used to disuse and any motion often feels like pain to them.  If you are normally a mobile person who has been stuck in a tiny plane seat for several hours, you know when you get up, you are going to be a little stiff.  If you play basketball for three hours straight, running and jumping up and down the court, you know your muscles are going to be sore afterwards.  This is normal and you know it’s discomfort and not pain because you are a mobile individual.  These patients are not normal mobile people.  For example, I recently had two workouts back to back which really concentrated on my upper arms and shoulders.  The muscles got really tired during the first workout and the next morning they were a little sore.  I didn’t think I’d hurt myself or that I was in pain because I knew it was from the workout; I was a little leery of working them out again that evening because I knew they would be very sore later on, but I didn’t think I was going to hurt myself. I’m definitely not a fit or athletic individual, but I move as much as I can. I knew I was feeling discomfort from having worked them hard when they are not used to it.  (If anything those two workouts convinced me that I definitely need to work on my upper arms more often!)

Dr. Now usually tells his patients that the more they move, the less they will hurt and many of them are surprised to find out this is the truth.  I know this is true for my arthritic knees; for me there is a sweet spot between moving them the way they need to be moved, moving them too much and causing actual pain and not moving them enough so they end up frozen.  This is an actual danger with my knees: immobility breeds immobility.  If I don’t use it, I’ll lose it- truly!  I had been using a treadmill, but while walking is good, the impact on my knees was causing pain and more damage, hence the water aerobics I do now.  Still lots of motion and use but much less impact.  In fact, many of Dr. Now’s patients end up in the pool in water aerobics.

This is one of the ways we misunderstand what our bodies are telling us.  For many of us who are getting back to being mobile, or starting different kinds of workouts for different muscle groups, it really is a tough call distinguishing between discomfort and pain.  I know in my case, I was mistaking the painful knees from the treadmill as just discomfort and one of the reasons I saw my doctor is “why isn’t it going away?  Am I doing something wrong?” (Yeah!! Hello!!) But sometimes this is what we have to do: if the “discomfort” isn’t going away or is getting worse, maybe it really is pain and you should see your doctor.  You need to find your dividing line between the two.

One of the most common miscommunications between our bodies and our brains is when we are “hungry.”  You would think this would be another easy lob, but it’s not.  (When you get right down to it, it’s a wonder we understand anything our bodies are telling us!) Most of us feel “hungry” for a variety of reasons:1) we really are hungry because our bodies need fuel;2) we smell food and our digestive tract starts preparing to digest it by secreting saliva and stomach acid, resulting in the feeling of hunger; 3) we’re actually thirsty but our brain is interpreting it as hunger; 4) our stomach/ body is used to being fed at a particular time and so it’s “preparing to be fed,” like when you end up eating a meal hours later than usual; 5) if you ate something with a lot of refined/ simple carbs and/ or sugar, once your blood sugar drops, sometimes lower than before you ate, so your body will usually signal that it wants to raise your blood sugar again, usually about 2 hours after you ate the carb-heavy food. This is where we need to decode the message our body is sending us.  For me, once I feel hungry or my stomach starts growling, I start asking myself questions: a) (if I’m at the office) did my cubicle neighbor just sit down with his lunch/ snack and am I reacting the aroma of his food? (usually YES!!); b) is it 10:30-11:00? This is when I tend to get coffee and I add a little cream, so my stomach is probably letting me know it’s expecting coffee (the same thing happens between 3:30-4:00 when I get something to drink on my way home); c) is it “lunchtime”?  I usually have breakfast around 7:00 a.m. , so by noon, it’s been about 5 hours since I ate & it could be a real request for fuel; d) did I eat a lot of carbs and not a lot of protein/ fat, so my body is reacting to the low blood sugar?  If that’s the case, I definitely ignore the hunger or I eat something high protein; e) have I had anything to drink other than the coffee at breakfast? If not, I have some water and wait a while to see if I’m still hungry.

This might sound like too much work for a simple growling stomach, but for me, one of my problems when I was living my fat default lifestyle was that I always felt hungry and I was always confused about should I eat or should I not.  I found out later it was because I was doing a lot of the “low fat- high carb” FDA approved (FEDERAL DISASTER ADVICE in my humble opinion!) dietary suggestions.  I was not getting any kind of fat (good or bad) as a fuel source in my diet and was eating a lot of the refined grain products (those simple carbs mentioned above) so my blood sugar kept spiking and tanking and my body was trying to keep it even, so eat carbs-get hungry-eat more carbs-get hungry again and the result was I gained weight and had constant blood sugar issues and fatigue. (Thanks, FDA!!)  Now when I feel hungry, I run through my little list, determine what the “hunger” message actually is as best I can and try to react appropriately.

One of the other ways our bodies talk to us is with food sensitivities and inflammation.  This is linked to a whole plethora of possible problems depending on how long the inflammation and sensitivities have been going on.  This is the biggest and most difficult problem of all to solve.  Doctors are discovering that inflammation is usually linked to a lot of autoimmune disorders, including things like rheumatoid arthritis, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), fibromyalgia and thyroid dysfunction, among others.  Usually it begins with leaky gut/ intestinal permeability.  The foods we ingest are absorbed in our small intestine.  If the lining of the small intestine becomes inflamed, undigested foods and other irritants can slip through the lining and end up in our blood stream, but since they haven’t been properly “absorbed,” our immune system treats them like invaders and over time, our immune system becomes hyper-reactive and starts attacking things it shouldn’t be attacking.  What’s worse is that some of the invaders it might be attacking look very similar to hormones or tissue that belong in our body and it starts attacking them.  This is very common in people who are sensitive to gluten: the protein that causes problems in gluten (gliaden) looks very similar in molecular structure to our thyroid hormones and eventually, the immune system can end up attacking your thyroid, ultimately causing problems there.

The problem with food sensitivities and inflammation of your small intestine is that you don’t usually feel that inflammation.  It doesn’t give you a stomachache or cramps or abdominal pain (usually). It manifests in other ways: usually something not related to your bowels becomes inflamed.  I know in my case, my knees were causing me pain and I wasn’t doing anything different activity-wise.  I was doing my regular water aerobics, walking the same amount of steps, not taking stairs, so I was a little confused.  Then, I remembered that I had started taking fish oil supplements again.  There have been recent reports that since fish oil supplements (Omega-3 fatty acids) aren’t well regulated, some of the supplements on the market are actually rancid, which creates the inflammation they are supposed to suppress.  I stopped taking them for two weeks, my knees got better; I started them up again, and within a week, my knees were hurting again.  I stopped and threw them out and no more knee pain.  If I hadn’t heard those reports, I would probably still be taking the fish oil, still having painful knees and probably just be thinking it’s my arthritis.

This is where a lot of people are: they have something that hurts and they don’t know it’s something they ate.  In some cases, it’s pretty easy to notice: every time you eat dairy and you have gas and cramping and diarrhea.  My sister is sensitive to cherries: she eats them and she starts coughing usually within a few minutes. But most things are like my fish oil.  There’s no direct link between me taking my fish oil every morning or evening and my knees hurting all day.  Even worse, unless the reaction is something serious or extremely disruptive, we don’t go see the doctor to see if we do have a food sensitivity.  This situation is compounded by the regular and continued irritation of the small bowel.  We all know what happens if you have a cut that goes not only untreated, but is continually aggravated.  You cut your hand and don’t clean it or put a bandage on it and every day, you use your hand, re-opening the wound and getting it dirty and still don’t treat it.  It becomes infected and only once it’s a real problem do you seek treatment for it.  The problem with that scenario is by then it is a major health issue, which in the case of leaky gut can be a thyroid condition or an autoimmune disorder

I’m not telling you to run to the doctor to take a food sensitivity test.  You have to be the judge of your own health situation.  If you aren’t having any problems or something that you think might be a problem, then there’s no need to worry.  You can do your own little experiment if you want by simply eliminating some of the common food allergens out of your diet for two to four weeks (unfortunately it has to be a complete elimination- code for “no cheating!”) and see if you notice any changes.  If you feel better or something does change, add one thing back for a couple weeks and see if you feel any different.  If your headaches or whatever symptom comes back, you are probably sensitive to whatever you added back.  Make a note, eliminate it again (like my fish oil experiment) and move forward with another one.  Some of the most common allergens are gluten (wheat), dairy, eggs, nuts, seeds, legumes (including peanuts), caffeine, corn, and  GMOs (genetically modified foods/ organisms).  This is not comprehensive list, so if you want to try this, try googling common food allergens.  A lot of times people who are sensitive to gluten are sensitive to other foods that have similar-looking proteins, like in corn and dairy, so if you are sensitive to gluten, you may have to give up those as well.  Sometimes, after you have stopped the constant irritation of your intestinal lining and your immune system calms down, you can go back to eating these foods (maybe the dairy and corn but not the gluten), and other times you can’t.  You need to decide what is best for you.  In my case, I’m a little lactose intolerant,(yeah, totally not fudging there -eye roll!) and when I went Paleo I stopped eating any dairy months (even the cream in my coffee- which nearly killed me!) and eventually, months later, I found I could have small amounts of it, but when I had more than a few ounces every day, I started feeling the effects again.  I know that I really should eliminate it entirely, but what can I say? I like living dangerously! (And it may come back to bite me in the end!)

I’m doing the best I can to decode my body’s messages to me.  Some of them are still pretty mysterious and I have no idea what it’s trying to tell me, but I’m still trying! The only way we really know if we’re doing what’s right for us and our health is to listen to our body.  It’d be a whole lot easier if it spoke in a language we can easily understand, but it’s doing the best it can.  The least we can do it is listen and not ignore the signals it’s sending us!