Getting Started: Where Do I Begin?

A friend of mine recently decided to lose weight and eat healthier, and like most of us, she’s a little lost.  She knows what her goal is: being a healthier weight and healthier in general, but as to how to get there? It’s all a little vague. Most of us begin in the same situation.  The goal is usually pretty clear, but the path to take is like finding our way through a maze. Which route do we take and how do we know if we are making progress?

I think she has made a good start: she knows where she wants to go and she has an idea of how she wants to get there.  Although she wants to lose weight, her goal is to be healthier overall, so she began by making some realistic changes.  Instead of changing several habits all at once, she began by trying to eat more fruits and vegetables.  She said growing up, her family didn’t eat a lot of those, so she is making an effort to eat more of them.  She also joined My Fitness Pal and is logging her meals and exercise.  Although she’s just started changing her eating habits, she’s been exercising regularly for about a year now (I met her at the gym) so that habit is already firmly established!

As far as “choosing a diet plan,” she hasn’t really opted for a ‘packaged plan,’ which I think is a good thing.  Too often, I hear people trying to fit their lives and eating habits around the Rules for a diet. This is how people end up malnourished or becoming ill after following Rules carved in stone by someone they’ve never met.  (My all-time favorite is the college student who ‘went vegan’ and ended up almost dying in the emergency room because of B12 deficiency.) I don’t have anything against vegans (my cardio trainers are both vegan) but when we opt for following a way of eating, we need to make sure that it fits our nutritional needs and our own preferences.  I really love grapefruit and cabbage, but I’m sure not opting for the Grapefruit Diet or the Cabbage Soup Diet!

When people ask me if I have a diet, I usually tell them that I do a ‘version of Paleo/ Primal,’ because my ‘rules’ are going to be different from anyone else who also does Paleo/ Primal.  There are even disagreements over how to define Paleo and Primal, so following the rules is a little bit like choosing a religion!  This is why I’ve opted to make my own rules and follow my own version.  What I do may not work for my friend or for anyone else, so while it’s great to ask for advice, if it doesn’t work for you, then what’s the point?

As I mentioned above, my cardio trainers are both vegan and they are big fans of promoting veganism.  It really works for them: they are both healthy and fit 70 year olds (not a typo- they’re both in their 70s!)  Personally, I like eating animal products and I know I wouldn’t be very happy ‘eating vegan’ or even vegetarian!  At the same time, there are a few of my fitness and gym friends who eat keto, which is usually heavy on fat, mainly from animal products.  As much as I love things like butter, bacon, meat and dairy, the few times I’ve tried eating keto, it has not been very satisfying, even discounting carb withdrawal.  I hear repeatedly how healthy vegan/ vegetariansim/ keto are and I don’t doubt they work for a lot of people.  My sister was a happy vegetarian for several years before she opted to change her eating habit again.  None of those really made me feel good, so they’re off my list of eating plans!

My own version of Paleo means mainly whole natural foods as unprocessed as possible.  It also includes dairy (most hardcare Paleo followers insist that Paleo + dairy = Primal). It does not include starchy vegetables, grains/ grain products, cane sugar and some legumes.  Essentially, I started with a basic Paleo framework and adapted it to suit my metabolism and preferences. In fact, when I started, my diet did not include dairy for many months.  Eventually, I opted to include it again although I do think I need to limit it more than I do now.  The point is that the way I eat now makes me feel my best and I am getting the results that I want.

That is how we find the answers to those earlier questions: which route do we take to our goal and how do we know if we are making progress?  If you are feeling your best with your current eating plan and you are getting the results that you want, then that is the route to YOUR goal.  Most of us go into dieting with the general goal of ‘losing weight.’  Weight loss isn’t always healthy!  In fact, when I started losing weight, because I was so extremely obese, I lost a lot of weight in a short amount of time.  When I saw my doctor, her first reaction wasn’t “finally!”; it was “are you feeling alright? are you having health problems?” Rapid weight loss is an indicator of cancer, hormonal imbalance and intestinal/ digestive problems.  It also leads to malnutrition, i.e. the vegan college student with B12 deficiency.  What most of us really want is ‘fat loss,’ not just ‘weight loss,’ and while the distinction is lost on most people, it is an important distinction.  Losing weight can mean losing water weight (and becoming dehydrated) or it can mean losing lean body mass, i.e. losing muscle, among other things.  When the number goes down on the scale, most of us are really happy about it and keep doing what we are doing to keep the number going down.  But if we are doing something unhealthy, then we are only becoming thinner instead of healthier.  My friend made the observation that while most of her family was obese, all the people she knew who were diabetic were thin.  Just as being clinically obese doesn’t equal ‘unhealthy,’ being thin does not equal being ‘healthy.’

Getting the results you want, whether losing fat, building muscle or being fitter, is one way of knowing you are on the right path, but we must also not discount the ‘how am feeling’ part of the answer.  If you are getting the results that you want, like fat loss, but you hate the way you are feeling or eating, then that is NOT the right path for you!  If you hate the way you feel or you hate the way that you are eating, you are not going to sustain it for long. I tried both vegetarianism and keto a few times, and frankly, I hated both ways of eating.  I felt horrible, had terrible cravings and did not enjoy what I was eating. Although I’ve since learned that the cravings and the ‘keto flu will go away, I didn’t like what I was eating and overall, I didn’t like the way that felt. There are days when I eat more to a keto or veggie plan than other days, but those are the exception rather than the rule.  When I opted to include dairy again in my diet, one of the things I watched for was simply “how does it make me feel?”  If it made me feel awful or kept me from making my goals, then I would have kicked it back out again, but the truth is I like cream, butter and cheese and it doesn’t keep me from my goals.

We’ve all done diets where we strictly limit our foods, either the types or the amounts and yes, most of us have lost weight on those diets, but once we stop the limiting, we gain back fat and usually a bit more.  This is why it’s so important that we must enjoy the way that we are eating in order to be successful, otherwise any fat loss is going to be temporary!  Also, what is the point of looking great if we feel miserable?  Remember the last time you lost weight and showed up at a function like a holiday party where everyone commented on how great you look? That felt awesome…. until we reached the buffet table! There was all that food that either wasn’t on our diet or was simply too much! Instead of thinking, yum! what looks good to eat?, we were crying inside because it was all foods we were denying ourselves! I know from experience that situation is no fun at all! I know I don’t want to spend the rest of my life ‘looking great and feeling miserable!’  Even though there are a lot of foods that aren’t on my list, there are a lot of foods that are, and the last time I was at a buffet, there were still a lot of yummy foods that I could and did eat!  It was easy to choose those foods over the foods not on my list because I knew I felt better eating them and I knew I was going to keep making progress!

My friend is still in the early stages of her getting-healthier journey, but as I said, I think she is off to a great start. She is building good habits on a reasonable time line and she is asking herself the right questions. She mentioned it to me because even though she was enjoying her lunchtime salad with leafy greens and chicken, she was still getting hungry before dinner, so she was asking me about options for fixing that.  We discussed adding in some healthy fats (avocado, olives or more cheese) or more fibrous veggies (broccoli, cabbage or kale).  Obviously, what works for me won’t always work for her, but the important points are that you have to eat what you like eating and still get the results you want, because unless you do both, it doesn’t matter what you eat or how much weight you lose.

Flavor Boosters Boost Your Waistline, Not Your Health!

One of the things I’ve been noticing a lot is people complaining about eating healthy because “the food doesn’t taste that good!”  If it’s someone I can respond to, I usually let them know there’s a reason whole foods taste different: it’s because processed foods have been processed full of ‘flavor enhancers,’ among other things.  This is when they ‘boost’ the flavor by filling it full of chemicals, designed to overpower your taste buds and make you want more of it.  This is the manufacturer making sure you crave their product and want to eat/ buy as much of it as possible!

A lot of these ‘flavor boosters’ show up on the ingredients as ‘natural flavors.’  That does not mean that these ‘flavors’ come from food: it just means they are not ‘man-made’ and come from “Nature” whether that can mean it’s something derived from wood by-products, coal tar manufacturing by-products or something else.  It does NOT mean it comes from FOOD!  Seriously, the artificial sweetener saccharin was originally a by-product of coal-tar manufacturing.  Incidentally, that is NOT the reason it’s banned in Canada: the Sugar Industry lobbied long and hard to ban saccharin because of the competition in both the US and Canada.  In the US, they managed to get it labeled as a carcinogen after feeding it to lab rats at mega-high dosages (like it’s all they fed the rats for weeks on end and wow! some of them developed cancer!) If humans ate that much saccharin, they would probably throw up long before they got cancer, the same way we would throw up after eating the same amounts of sugar, if we didn’t fall into a diabetic coma first!

In all honesty, the food manufacturers have a vested interest in keeping you buying their products, so they make the products as enjoyable and addictive as possible.  The more you buy them, the more you want them and the more money in their pockets.  By contrast, the more unhealthy you get!  Processed foods like chips, snack cakes, fast foods and other things that come with an ingredient list, have been tested to determine what flavors light up our brains’ pleasure centers the most.  Taste testers rate the different combinations and additives according to how much they want to keep eating it, the mouth feel, the smell, and everything else that makes food taste “so delicious!”

By comparison, whole unprocessed foods are going to taste different, because they don’t have all the chemicals processed into them.  They haven’t been processed (I think of it as ‘pre-digested’ personally!) so they are going to have a different mouth-feel.  This is the term food manufacturers use to describe literally the way food feels when you put it in your mouth, as in chips should be crunchy but not too crunchy; mashed potatoes should be soft but still have some texture; burgers should be a little chewy; hot dogs should have a little snap to them, etc.  Products are actually tested to see what ‘mouth-feel’ rates highest.  Most of us do this on our own when we make foods from scratch: I like my ground beef to have a little spring in it and not be completely charred; when I used to make mashed potatoes from scratch, I left a few lumps in them because I like to taste and feel the actual potato!  We know how we like our foods to feel as we chew on them!

Whole foods, by comparison, don’t have the chemical additives to boost the flavor and keep us eating more.  So when you’re eating the ground beef burger you made from grass fed beef (hopefully), it only has the flavors and spices you put on it, such as salt, pepper and maybe some onion or garlic powder.  The same goes for the broccoli you steamed yourself, the spinach you sauteed yourself or whatever else you’ve made from whole foods.  It’s not going to have the ‘natural flavors’ or the MSG (monosodium glutamate) unless you put it on the food.  If you’ve been eating mainly processed foods most of your life, like most of us have, whole foods will taste a little bland at first, but our taste buds change depending on what we eat. When we stop eating processed foods in favor of the whole natural foods, we get used to the way they taste, especially once we learn how to prepare them in a way we really enjoy (for me, this includes not walking away from the stove and turning the beef into a charcoal briquet as I usually do!) I like my stronger tasting meats like beef and lamb with a curry powder I mix myself, but milder meats like chicken I usually just roast.  I’ve learned to prepare my vegetables with olive oil dressings or just a little salt and ghee.  It might sound kind of boring compared to garlic mashed potatoes or Kansas City spare ribs from the freezer section or a restaurant, but I know what’s in the food I’m eating, and it’s not ‘flavor boosters’ and chemicals, and that is important to me!

Another way that processed foods boost your waistline is that the chemical ingredients can really mess with your intestinal bacteria (your microbiome).  We in the Western industrialized world eat mainly processed foods.  No surprise there!  But there is a direct correlation between the rise in consumption of processed foods and the rise in metabolic disorders such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease, neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimers, depression, and autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis and arthritis.  There are people who say it’s because we’re living longer and we’re exposed to chemicals in our environment.  Both of those are true, but what is also true is that we are exposed to chemicals in our food, and these are chemical compounds that we as a species have never eaten before and were probably not meant to eat (such as a coal-tar by product like saccharin!)  These additives and preservatives are designed to boost taste and mouth feel, not our health.  They keep us fat and unhealthy rather than promoting good nutrition and healthy bodies.  When did the whole point of eating become satisfying our taste buds rather than fueling our bodies?

These chemicals were never part of the human diet before industrialization, the same way polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), what Dr. David Perlmutter calls “factory fats,” were never part of the human diet.  Because they are ‘derived’ from a plant product or ‘Nature’ they are allowed to be called ‘natural,’ but they are not naturally occurring in nature the way an olive, an egg, a fish or a cow are naturally occurring.  These are foods humans and other animals have eaten for millenia and are pretty much recognized in all societies as something to eat. Monosodium glutamate, cottonseed oil and disodium phosphate, not so much! (Incidentally, cottonseed oil has to be processed to make it edible.  That’s really something I don’t want to eat!)  Most of these PUFAs are also high in omega-6 fatty acids which are pro-inflammatory and unstable.  They are not fully metabolized by the body either and those unstable fats become a part of every cell in our bodies!

Besides the fact that most processed foods are full of pro-inflammatory “factory fats” that really mess with our absorption of healthy omega-3 fatty acids, they are also full of highly processed carbohydrates that spike our blood sugar.  This is why I usually refer to processed foods as ‘pre-digested.’  The foods have been broken down into the simplest compounds possible for fast easy digestion in our system, so the corn chips we ate 20 minutes ago are already metabolized while the cabbage we ate an hour ago is just getting there. Processed foods have almost no fiber, fewer vitamins (unless it’s been fortified and had them added back in) but are full of quick carbs, artificial flavors, preservatives and unstable factory fats.  When these products hit our microbiome in our small intestine, the beneficial bacteria that break down our food so we can absorb it usually take a hit in that the fiber that some of them eat isn’t there, while some of the chemical ingredients are toxic to them. Remember the last time you tried a new food and it sent you running to bathroom and/ or kept you there for the next couple of days?  That’s your microbiome telling you that food didn’t agree with them! More and more health professionals are realizing that an unhealthy microbiome leads to more than just digestion problems: they are making stronger connections to a lot of the diseases mentioned above like Alzheimers, ADHD, MS, arthritis, diabetes and others.  Many of what we used to think of as ‘brain-only hormones’ like serotonin, dopamine and tryptophan are linked to our microbiome: the same microbiome we are attacking daily with processed foods full of chemical flavor boosters!

Realistically, no one is going to eat something that tastes bad, but we forget that our tastes change over time. As a child, most of us made a face the first time we tasted beer or coffee or blue cheese, but as adults, we’ve learned to like those things.  We refer to them as ‘acquired tastes.’  Maybe it’s time we ditch the kiddie junk food in favor of a healthier subtle but sophisticated palate of whole foods?

Oops! Thanks A Lot, WordPress!! Starting from Scratch- Recalculating……

This is NOT the post I had intended to put up, but apparently, WordPress lied to me when I posted my blog on its regular date (Tuesday 6/20/2017).  I would be less unhappy if the post had not just disappeared into the ether, so I could post it again, but it’s apparently VANISHED so, we start again from scratch!  Ironically, that was the subject of the post for tomorrow: starting your fitness/ weight loss/ health journey from scratch, so other than losing a couple of days of work on my other post, it’s not a total loss.

Most of us have started this journey over and over again.  We want to lose weight/ be healthier/ be more fit and so we embark on some plan, usually set up by someone else and get to work.  Depending on how ambitious our plan is, we either go some distance before we start having problems, or if we or the plan are too ambitious, we can stumble out of the gate.  Either way, once we encounter problems and/ or it gets really hard, we want to “start over.”

This is why we end up in a vicious cycle of starting-stumbling-starting.  #1: whatever plan we start on, it needs to be OUR plan.  WE need to be the author/ designer of whatever plan WE decide to follow.  Too many of the weight loss and fitness plans we buy online, off tv or get in a book are made for the “general population.” Never met General Population, but apparently, he’s really popular with these health coaches!  One of the trainers whose podcast I listen to regularly even commented that when he started his own fitness journey, he bought a popular exercise dvd and it was really painful.  The day after starting the program, he woke up really sore and in pain.  A little soreness is not a bad thing- it means you gave your body a workout, but pain is NOT a good thing- it means you hurt yourself! Granted, this trainer was not a trainer when he bought this workout dvd, but then you shouldn’t have to be a certified trainer in order to improve your own health and fitness.

Most of us tend to overestimate our physical abilities when we begin a health plan, or we go the other way and we underestimate what we are capable of doing.  This is a case where I think underestimating is the best of the two.  Overestimating, especially when you are doing a work out, can really hurt you as the trainer above found out.  In his case, it was just a strain, but you can really hurt yourself if you try something “you think you can do.”  If we underestimate our abilities, we can always add more or increase our range, and any workout we do, even if it doesn’t stretch our capabilities, it is still a work out and it keeps our muscles and joints in practice.  For example, if you don’t normally walk a lot or run on a regular basis, trying to run a mile once a week may not be a good idea.  You might be able to do it, but if you can’t, you don’t want to injure yourself trying.  Begin by walking a mile and see how you feel.  If it was easy, then next time try running for part of it.  It’s easier to build up to running a mile a week than trying to run, hurting yourself and then having to recover.  Besides hurting yourself, thinking you’ve “failed to run a mile” is discouraging.  On the other hand, each time you build up to a new level- walking- running- running regularly and increasing your length or duration- leads not only increased capabilities, but also feelings of success: “I’m getting stronger and doing” more rather than “I failed.”

The same holds when you start a new eating/ weight loss plan: build up to your full potential. A lot of us are really enthusiastic when we start a new weight loss plan and we go full steam ahead: “I’m going to give up sugar!” “I’m going to eat five servings of veggies a day!” and then, by the time we’ve read the label on our sixth product that has sugar or it’s time for veggie number 4, we start “feeling the burn!” What the heck did we sign up for??

When I started with Paleo, I gave it a long hard look, and at the time, I thought I was going super-conservative when I opted to give up one grain product at a time.  It turns out that I was way more into bread than even I knew!  Potatoes and pasta weren’t problems but bread (any kind of bread!) was and is still a temptation.  But I made one change at a time. Some of them, like the pasta and potatoes, were pretty easy but others like rice and oatmeal took a little longer.  Bread got easier but there are still days when I really have remind myself that it’s not good for me.

And it’s not just about giving up foods: it’s about eating more of the healthy stuff like the veggies.  So it’s two changes that you are making when it comes to eating healthier: eat less processed food and eat more whole foods.  It takes some time to make the changes especially if you are going to make the changes last.

This goes for any activities you are adding in as well.  We may think that these changes are not really “big changes”- it’s not like you’re moving or changing jobs!  You may think these are little things, but have you ever noticed that when you trip over something and fall, it’s the inch high bit of concrete that you trip on and not the two foot stack of bricks? That’s because you notice the two feet of bricks but your eye misses the inch bit of concrete! We screw up on the little changes because “we forgot,” “it’s not a big deal,” “I can do that later.” This is why they take time to become fully incorporated into your routine- the more we do them, the more they become normal and then we do them out of habit. We also tend to overload ourselves because they are just little changes, but again, most of us can carry a couple of bricks easily, but carrying four or five or more?? That gets heavy! So when we make these little changes, we need to make one or two at a time until we make them part of our habit.  Going small and steady results in long lasting permanent changes while going big and fast usually leads to starting over.

#2: you don’t need to “start over” each time. That’s the other fallacy that traps us in the vicious cycle. This is a lifestyle change, not an afghan we are crocheting! If we screw the beginning of an afghan, yeah, undoing it so we can start over is a good idea, otherwise, every one is going to notice those few inches that look really goofed up.  But this is a lifestyle change and no one is going to see that you spent the first three weeks missing your scheduled workouts and eating more carbs or whatever than you planned on!  So you missed your workout- just schedule another one! So you forgot to order the burrito bowl and ate a burrito instead! Some people will use these screw ups as an out- an excuse to push off their healthy change until next week or tomorrow, as in “today is a bust, so I’ll start fresh tomorrow/ Monday/ next week.”  Why????  One of the things I really like about Dr. Nowzaradan (TLC My 600 lb Life) is that he’ll call the patients on it when they try to push off being active.  He comes in and asks them if they’ve walked today and when they say they’ll do it tomorrow or they’ll do it on Sunday, he always asks them “what’s going to change between now and then?” Most of the time, they don’t have an answer for him. We need to be our version of Dr. Now when we want to push off our planned changes: you ate the burrito at lunch- big deal! So make dinner a better choice! Even if today does end up being a bust and we’ve eaten more bad food than good or we missed our workout, salvage the rest of the day/ week! Even with the poor food and work out choices, keep moving forward to make the best you can out of the day or week!

It really is like you are on a journey, and when you take a wrong turn, you don’t drive all the way back home to start over! You pull over, pull out your phone and get new directions from where you are!  We’re all familiar with the Garmin joke: “recalculating…. recalculating…..” but it usually gets us where we need to go.  When we take a wrong turn on our fitness/ weight loss journey, we may need to do some recalculating.  It may be that our work out schedule needs some adjusting or that our eating plan isn’t the best for us and it needs to be recalculated, but we don’t have to start from scratch every time.  We just need to keep what works and dump the rest.  It’s a little harder figuring it out on your own. It takes more time to show progress but the truth is finding your own way usually means the progress is permanent and you eventually become your own expert on you.  This last time you start over will be the last time you start over!

 

“No Thanks! I Choose Life!” Weight Loss Starts with You

Every now and then, I hear people talking about how it’s nearly impossible to lose weight once you get ‘older.’  I have been overweight pretty much all my life.  I was a pudgy kid and then when I was in 6th grade (thereabouts) my weight really began getting out of control.  I was around 200 when I was in my 20s and for each decade thereafter, I added roughly another 100 lbs.  By the time I was in my mid-forties, I was about 375, +/- 10 lbs.  I’d lose some weight, gain it back, gain some more, lose a bit, and repeat the process.  I’d gained and lost the same 40 lbs for several years.  Most people would be thrilled at losing 40 lbs, and frankly, I was too, but when you’re going from 375 to 335, it’s a little less thrilling: “Yay! I’m under 350!” Essentially, I’m still sinking, just not as fast as before.  Unfortunately, even that little glimmer of hope soon faded away.

Most of us chronic dieters are pretty good at making bargains with ourselves and rationalizing our choices.  I remember when I realized that I had been over 350 for so long that even if I lost weight, I would need surgery to remove my excess skin.  “I don’t want surgery, so I won’t lose weight.” Great! Now I no longer need to worry about losing weight! Except….. my weight was still a problem.  I remember thinking “not everyone is cut out to be skinny, so I guess I’m just destined to be fat.”  Great! Now I no longer need to worry about losing weight! Except…. I still kept gaining weight.  “I’m still happy and fairly active even though I’m overweight.” Except…. I wasn’t happy and I wasn’t very active.

Honestly, I spent about ten years or so- most of thirties and the first half of my forties- being about 375, and for most of those years, that last rationalization was true.  Despite being so overweight, I was independent and fairly problem-free.  I could do just about anything I wanted to do and knew how to get around the activities that were a little more problematic.  If I wasn’t truly happy being 375, it wasn’t a big issue in my life.  But unfortunately, I was still gaining weight and so every year or so, I would add a couple more pounds or so.  I think if it hadn’t been for the changes in my job, I would probably have kept gaining about that same rate and probably would have hit fifty closer to the 400 lb mark but still under.

But, when I was about 46, things changed at my job, which led to changes in my lifestyle, which led to me gaining about 65 lbs over the course of two years.  I remember being 48 and realizing I was not only over 400 lbs now, I was beginning to make some serious progress into that weight range: I was 438. That is some serious weight. Even worse, I was completely miserable.  I couldn’t walk for any distance or stand for any length of time.  It hurt to move around, to sit, or lie down.  While being 375 is far from healthy, those additional 65 lbs really put extra stress on my body physically and I started having health issues I’d never had before.  Family and friends started talking to me about getting a gastric bypass.

Frankly, I hated this idea.  I’ve never been a fan of surgery but having your guts rearranged seemed crazy.  I remember meeting with a bariatric surgeon (mainly just to tell others I’d considered it) but the idea was always a no.  [FYI: that surgeon was a real butthead!]

So what happened? Long story short: I decided to make myself a priority.  One of those goofy movie lines that sticks in my head sometimes: Ice Age– Sid looking at Diego’s ‘short cut’ and saying “No thanks! I choose life!” Yeah, it’s goofy, but it’s pretty much what happened to me.  I was looking down the barrel of a very short and painful future, and “no thanks! I choose life!” I quit the Job From Hell and that was the first of a series of choices that put my welfare first.  That lifestyle change led to others: no more fast food; eating healthier; slowly being more active; getting more rest; and those small changes alone had huge consequences.

And I mean Really    Huge    Consequences.  Like the small changes in my job that led to my being so unhealthy and so utterly miserable, those small decisions to eat less processed foods, eat more whole foods, get more sleep and be more active led to my losing roughly 100 lbs in about a year.  No surgery. No weird diets.  Nothing extreme.  I just decided to eat more whole foods, be more active and put my health first.  I picked a food and lifestyle plan that I liked that was also sustainable and I followed it.  If this were a movie, it’d be easy and my weight loss would have been consistently linear and there would have been no cravings, no difficulties (and I’d be happily married to a great guy who looks shockingly like Russell Crowe,) but- alas!- it’s not a movie.  There were lots of cravings at first.  It was hard work following the diet (Paleo), learning what works better for me and what frankly does not work at all.  I did a lot of research, mainly because that’s one of the things that works to keep me focused and I just like it.  It also gives me access to some new ideas, but while people will fret that “it’s impossible to lose weight after 40!”, I am here to tell you that it is not impossible.  I’ve not only lost the equivalent of an entire large sized adult, I am still losing weight.  I didn’t even start losing weight until I was nearly 50! Yes, it was a lot of work at first, but it gets easier the longer you stay with it!  It’s just like any other habit you learn: harder at first, then you learn the little hacks and it’s not so hard anymore.

I’ve lost 184 lbs and I now weigh about 250 lbs.  I am much more active and I feel so much better physically and mentally.  Yes, I do have some excess skin, but it’s not a problem right now.  Maybe eventually, when I either stop losing weight or it becomes a problem, I might have to deal with it surgically.  But the excess skin is less of a problem than my weight ever was! I know this isn’t a movie, but it still has a happy ending for me, and I know that there can still be a happy ending for everyone else who is over 40, overweight and thinks they are destined to be the ‘fat guy/ girl.’  You don’t need a fairy godmother, but you do need to choose yourself first.  (And if you’re a great single guy who looks shockingly like Russell Crowe, give me a call!)

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!

 

 

Book Review: Wired To Eat by Robb Wolf

A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned that I was listening to Robb’s new book (thank you, Audible!)  Generally, I don’t like to ‘read’ books this way, but his book sounded a lot like an extended version of his podcast.  Even though it was not read by him, Robb’s personality definitely came through and I believe one of his best attributes is that he explains some really technical info in terms that everyone can understand.  Not only did I finish his audio book in record time, but while listening to it, my attention did not wander! (Minor miracle!)

I’m not going to go into chapter and verse here, but I will give you a quick overview. In 2011, Robb published his first book The Paleo Solution: The Original Human Diet and it was a resounding success.  Paleo was already being discussed by the weight loss/ fitness community and most people fell into one of two camps: either they thought it was another goofy fad diet or they were firm believers.  Most people today still fall into those two camps, but the Firm Believer camp is growing fairly steadily, mainly because more and more health professionals (including doctors and nutritionists) are finding that even if they don’t buy the complete ‘Paleo premise,’ the fact that the lifestyle emphasizes whole unprocessed foods, healthy movement and quality sleep is enough to merit a hearty endorsement.

In Wired to Eat: Turn Off Cravings, Rewire Your Appetite to Lose Weight and Discover the Foods That Work for You (really really long title, dude!), Robb is taking the Paleo diet and individualizing it for you.  He’s developing the idea of Personalized Nutrition by first laying a strong foundation of healthy eating, movement, sleep and community and then taking it one step further by helping you find what foods are better for you and which foods you should be avoiding.

One of the things I like best about Robb (and I think it’s a big factor in his success helping people eat healthier and be more active) is that he has no illusions about the weight loss/ fitness community and industry.  He tells you a few times in the first few chapters that this is basically a ‘diet book’ and the fact that we are reading it at all instead of “killing it with fire!” is a small miracle on its own.  Robb understands that most of his readers are going to be looking for a quick fix and that many won’t make lasting changes unless the program isn’t complicated and they see some positive results fairly quickly.

Robb begins with his 30 day Reset, which is essentially a Paleo diet plan.  He admits he chose Paleo because it’s a whole food diet, emphasizing what he calls the four pillars of good health: nutrition, sleep, movement and community.  By focusing on eating whole unprocessed foods, we give our bodies the best materials we can to repair and refuel itself.  By getting enough quality sleep (and those two adjectives are important!), we give our minds and bodies the time it needs to repair and refresh themselves.  By getting enough healthy movement, we keep our body in good working order, which is also good for the mind, and by maintaining positive healthy relationships, we also keep our bodies, minds and spirits healthy and vibrant.

Robb gives us a little background on our basic human wiring.  Humans evolved to move.  As a species we walked on an average more than five miles a day, pretty much consuming everything edible that crossed our path and we rose and slept with the sun in an extended family unit or tribe.  This paradigm served us pretty well until the last hundred years or so.  Even after the agricultural revolution, we were still doing okay until the invention of cheap electric light, industrial foods and antibiotics.  We began eating highly processed but nutritionally barren foods, using broad spectrum antibiotics which wiped out our healthy intestinal bacteria (which allowed us to eat the nutrient rich foods) and started sleeping less and less and becoming more and more cut off from society. As a result, over the last century, we’ve become steadily more unhealthy, increasingly obese and much less active, and- a much more frightening statistic- the rates of digestive and autoimmune diseases have skyrocketed.  Under the current functional medicine point of view, most of our rampant health issues stem from the lack of good nutrition, lack of activity, lack of sleep, and growing social isolation.

Most of Robb’s book focuses on getting us through the 30 Day Reset, in which we stop eating the Standard American Diet of processed foods and high glycemic load carbs.  We start moving more, getting more sleep and building or maintaining our social connections.  He essentially talks the reader through why these things are important to our success not only as a species but as an individual.  He also has some quick easy meal planning tips for those who are intimidated by the idea of cooking most of their own food as well as some tips for what happens when the reader goes out to eat.  A lot of them are pretty common sense to me, but I grew up in front of a stove, cooking for my family. When I got older, I elected not to cook (with amazingly disastrous results, BTW!) When I mention cooking to others, I am frankly shocked by how little most people know about cooking and how resistant they are to the idea.  Many of them think making dinner involves hours of meal prep and slaving away over the hot stove.  They also think meal planning takes hours of complex menu convolutions.  Robb gives a few ingredients and menu variations with those few basic ingredients that only take about 30 minutes to prepare.  Most of them sounded really good too!

He also goes through some healthy advice on movement, community and sleep. He outlines ideas on getting more quality sleep and its benefits.  Some of these sounded a little ‘out-there’ to me, but I’m pretty atypical in this arena.  What works best for me and some of my friends is a sleep/ relaxation app, a warm cozy blanket and my pets.  Robb emphasizes the benefits of sleep and how it not only restores our brains and bodies, but it also helps us recover from the stress of the day.  We are not a society that values relaxation and stress management any more than we value sleep and this shows in our lack of good health.  Even though we live in a high tech, food-rich society, we are generally more unhealthy than our grandparents because, although food is plentiful, it has fewer nutrients than the food our grandparents ate, and thanks to our modern lifestyle, we isolate ourselves in front of our devices for hours on end, without moving or sleeping.  None of this behavior is healthy.

As far as movement goes, his advice is pretty basic: choose an activity you enjoy and do it as much as possible.  If you don’t enjoy it, you won’t do it.  As a coach and a gym owner, he gives some background on endurance and your mitochondria, but the bottom line is even if you choose the healthiest activity there is, if you don’t do it, it doesn’t matter.  I really like water aerobics and while it may not be the healthiest activity, it’s one that I do as often as I can because I like it and I like hanging with my friends in the class. That makes it a successful workout regimen for me.

Community is also something that is overlooked by our high tech high stress society.  In the past, we lived and worked in communities with strong social ties. Being isolated increases stress and depression, among other things, while shortening our lives.  Social isolation ranks with cigarette smoking when it comes to shortened life span. Humans are social creatures so maintaining and developing social ties are important to our stress relief, mental and physical health. Again, I am atypical in this regard, in that I am happily single and living with others actually increases my stress.  Let me clarify that: living with other humans increases my stress and irritation.  I have a strong social human network  with whom I interact nearly every day, but at the end of the day, I go home to my furry family.  Although I am the only human in my household, I certainly do not think of myself as ‘living alone.’

After laying a pretty solid foundation for healthy living in his 30 day Reset, Robb goes the extra step and tells us how to customize our eating plans through the 7 day Carb Test. By the time you’ve gone through the 30 day Reset, you’ll have noticed that most of the carbs in the menus are low carb, unprocessed and/ or fiber rich.  It is Paleo after all, so there’s not a lot of things like pasta, breads, rice, white potatoes, wheat, corn or other grains on there.  The 7 day Carb Test is where he explains how we can get some of those back in our diet.  The 30 day Reset is to help you establish a healthy baseline and healthy habits.  It gets you off the crazy carb roller coaster and other unhealthy habits and once you’ve done that (and probably lost a few pounds, are feeling more rested and focused), he shows you how to figure out what foods work better for you than others.  He suggests getting a glucose monitor to test your blood sugar.  What most people don’t realize about blood sugar is that cravings, hunger, headaches, low energy and weight gain, not to mention diabetes and other diseases are related to your blood sugar, which is pretty much dictated by what you eat.  If you want to ride the blood sugar roller coaster, start with bagels and juice for breakfast, a sandwich and chips for lunch, a grande mocha in the afternoon, pasta marinara for dinner and a scoop of ice cream for dessert.  Even if you add in some extra protein, that menu will have most of us going up and down with mood, energy and hunger all day, with the accompanying weight gain.  But not all carbs are bad for everyone, and that’s what Robb’s 7 day Carb Test helps you figure out.  He outlines a program to let you test yourself on some of the carbs you like and want to add back and then you can determine if you are too sensitive to them. Even if you aren’t really sensitive to them, some foods may just make you feel worse or better than others.

While the 7 day Carb Test isn’t complicated, there are a few caveats: if you have never tested your blood sugar, it means sticking your finger to draw a bit of blood.  Most glucose monitors will run you about $10-20 and you need to check to see if they include batteries and the lancing device and the actual lancets.  Some of them don’t and the lancing device and lancets will run about another $10 or so.  The device is reloadable: it’s the lancets that you need to change out each time and a box of those is fairly cheap.  Most lancing devices have a little dial at the tip: this controls how deeply the lancet sticks you to make you bleed.  Start with the most shallow number and do NOT lancet the tip/ pad of your finger! Too many nerve endings and it will hurt like an SOB! Stick the side of your finger tip and stick a different finger each time.  What is NOT cheap are the test strips.  Most reliable test strips will cost about a dollar a strip and they are usually sold in boxes of 50 or 100 (you may be able to get a box of 25 depending on the brand).  Should you opt to do the 7 day Carb Test, you MUST make sure that the test strips you get are compatible with your monitor.  Even if you get an off-brand that says it’s compatible with XYZ brand monitors, there is usually some discrepancy, like plus/ minus 10 points. Depending on how much you want to invest in your carb tolerance and your diet, the 7 day Carb Test may be worth it for you.  If you have pre-diabetes, D2, or another weight loss condition, your doctor might be able to give you a prescription for the monitor and the strips, etc but you will need to discuss it with him/ her and see if your insurance will cover it.  Personally, I’ve stuck my fingers too many times to be interested in doing it again.  I know what carbs I like and what works better for me, or at least is worth the ride on the roller coaster.

If you are interested in Robb’s book or anything else about Robb, his website is Robbwolf.com.  (The book is available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble if you want to skip his site.)  At his website, you can find info on his other book (The Paleo Solution), his podcast and a host of other resources.  Robb’s a real pro and I’m not kidding when I say he is a fitness and nutrition guru. [Obligatory disclaimer: I have absolutely no affiliation with him.  I just think he’s a great resource for anyone interested in eating better and getting healthier.] I hope you enjoy his book as much as I do and feel free to let me know what you think!

 

 

 

Potayto- Potahto: Diet v Lifestyle

The summer is rapidly approaching and so is the second wave of “diet season.”  There’s the first wave at New Year’s, the second wave at summertime and a smaller third wave around the holidays (“look good for New Year’s parties!”)  Of course along with all the new diet programs and services, there’s a whole new wave of exercise gizmos designed to burn fat and give you rock hard to-die-for abs.  I’ve looked at a lot of these kinds of diets and doodads, mainly because my mom bought them and shoved them at me.  I didn’t try all of them but the ones I did try obviously didn’t work.  Not the magic ‘fat-binding powder’ or the deck of food cards to keep me from eating too much or even the food delivery program I picked out and bought myself.  After so many years, I finally know why they didn’t work: simply put, diets are temporary and temporary by definition does not last!

When I started losing weight and began looking for a long term solution, I found Paleo.  Most people know this as the “Paleo diet” or the “Cave Man diet.”  In the Paleo community, most followers call it the “Paleo lifestyle,” because a diet is temporary and many of us will not be going back to the way we ate before.  For most of us who adopt a certain way of eating and living, it is by definition a ‘lifestyle.’  I’m not going to go all militant Paleo Stormtrooper on you and insist you call it a lifestyle, but I have learned that so much of the success with losing weight and getting healthier has to do with mindset as much as it does nutrition.  This isn’t just a semantics or a ‘label’ issue: I think this is fundamentally why diets don’t work: instead of the diet mentality (I can go back to my old eating habits once I’ve lost weight), we need to change our thinking to “I am living a healthier life now.”  By thinking this is a temporary situation until we reach X goal, we are setting ourselves up for disappointment.  I know how wonderful it feels when you finally lose weight: something is finally working! Hallelujah! And I also know how utterly hopeless it feels when you gain the weight back.  This is why so many of us just give up and resign ourselves to being the ‘fat woman’ or the ‘fat guy.’  Obviously, there’s something wrong with us, since ‘Diet Program XYZ’ didn’t work for us.  It works for everyone else, but either we did it wrong or we’re just destined to be fat forever.

Well, odds are, we didn’t ‘do it wrong’ nor is there something in our genes compelling our bodies to be fat forever.  Diets are temporary solutions to life-long issues.  By the time most of us reach our thirties, we have been dieting on and off for years, and despite that, we are still overweight. Many of us find as we get older that it’s harder to lose weight, the weight comes back faster and each time we regain the weight, we gain back more than before.  As a result, not only are we not losing weight, we are getting progressively more obese.  This is a result of dieting and the metabolic damage that it causes.  The diets have made us fat.  These ‘temporary solutions’ have definitely had a permanent effect on our bodies and metabolisms, but not the one we wanted.

As a result of constant yo-yo dieting, we cause long term (and sometimes permanent) harm to our metabolism.  The more you restrict your calorie intake, the slower your metabolism becomes.  Your body triggers you to eat more because it’s recognizing that it’s not getting enough fuel to sustain it as it is.  So not only do you become tired and lethargic, you are hungry all the time.  This is your body lowering your energy level to conserve the fuel (body fat) that it has and it’s telling you that the tank is running dry, so eat something, buddy! This is why people find dieting so hard: you are starving your body, but in a diet battle between you and your body, the body wins every time!  Even if you do lose weight, the reason you gain back faster is because your body is used to functioning at the lower metabolic level, so even if you go back to eating what you used to eat, say 2000 calories, your body is still functioning at the 1200 calorie level you were at on your diet. As far as your body is concerned, you are eating 800 calories above what it takes to maintain your current body, so you gain weight.  That means the next time you diet, eating 1200 calories is going to keep you right where you are, so now you need to lower your calories to 1000 or lower. This is how people end up gaining weight on 1000 calorie diets.  [FYI: fasting is not the same as dieting.  Fasting has beneficial qualities and does not cause the same kind of metabolic damage.]

So how can we lose weight without tanking our metabolism and spending the rest of our lives eating rice cakes and plain tuna? We change our lifestyle instead of dieting.  Changing your lifestyle starts with changing what you are eating rather than how much you are eating.  Yes, you will have to eat less than what your body needs in order to burn fat, but your body was originally programmed to burn the excess body fat when necessary.  That’s why the fat gets stored to start with! But we have been really bad care-takers of our bodies and we have jacked up the wiring (to use the technical terminology) and so now our body is used to periods of extreme deprivation aka dieting and so it hangs onto as much fat reserves as it can because it doesn’t know how long this extreme deprivation will last.  What we need to do is feed it enough good nutrition so that it starts letting go of some of the fat reserves because not only is it getting enough to survive, it’s getting a lot of really good stuff that allows it to function at a higher level.  Personally, I think it’s a little ironic that most people who will go out of their way to feed their pets the best food and treats and make sure they get enough exercise won’t do the same thing with their own bodies.  I confess to doing this myself: I made sure my pets had high quality food while I was eating Jack in the Box.  My first clue should have been when My Yorkie refused to eat the McDonald’s burger patty I offered him (and he was not the picky eater I have now!) Some people use a technique called ‘reverse-dieting’ to repair metabolic damage. I am not sure how this works, or if it is effective. (Metabolic Radio did a podcast on it if you want to find out more.)

For myself, I began by viewing this as a lifestyle change, not a diet. I decided- before I started- that whatever eating plan I was going to follow was going to be a life-long plan and not something temporary.  The changes I made were going to be permanent, so that did two things for my mindset: 1) there was no expectation of ‘this is only until [insert goal here]; and 2) there was no pressure to hurry.  Since I intended to do this for the rest of my life, it didn’t matter if I made 6 changes in one week (NOT a good idea) or if I made one change a month (much more doable). It also gave me a little more freedom to experiment: if I tried eating more kale instead of something like rice, there was no penalty if the kale didn’t work for me (FYI: I discovered I really really hate kale!)  So nix the kale, stick with broccoli! No harm, no foul! Since this is a lifestyle, there is no ‘doing it wrong’ unless I am forcing myself to eat the kale (or something else I don’t like) because it is ‘the healthy choice.’  Being healthy doesn’t mean that we are miserable.  I really think this is part of the dieting mentality: we feel like we are making sacrifices to gain the weight loss prize, so we put up with the suffering but as soon as we get the prize (or close to it), we stop torturing ourselves and go back to eating what we like.  This is pretty much how a diet works: no sugar, no chips, nothing that we like until we lose X lbs, and then- relief!! No more kale, rice cakes or dried out chicken breast!……..and the weight comes back!

This is the difference between a lifestyle and a diet: because I am making permanent changes, my focus is on eating things that I enjoy, that are healthy for me and that don’t leave me starving.  My criteria isn’t the calorie count, but the nutritional value.  If it’s a whole food I like with good nutritional value, ie strawberries, broccoli, or sweet potatoes, I eat as much of it as I like.  Portion control at the beginning was a bit of a struggle, but after a while, I got used to eating normal sized portions mainly because whole foods are more filling than processed stuff and the body takes longer to digest them.  So instead of feeling bloated and sluggish after dinner, I feel pretty good.  That’s because dinner used to be a sourdough jack, fries, jalapeno poppers, diet soda and maybe cheesecake.  Now dinner is a lamb shoulder chop, sweet potato fries and strawberries.  Not only do I feel a whole lot better, it tastes a whole lot better too. I am also not hungry all the time, either.  Eating processed foods used to make me feel like a blob right after eating them, then I’d be hungry and tired in a couple of hours or so.  My energy level was always either ‘okay’ or ‘about to fall asleep.’  Now my energy level is pretty even throughout the day and at the end of the day, I am hungry for dinner, but I’m not starving.  If I have to run a few errands before I get home and make dinner, I’m still okay.

Although my goal was- and still is- losing weight, my focus isn’t on eating low calorie foods that I don’t like and don’t make me feel good just so I can lose more weight faster.  I don’t want to be thinner and miserable any more than I wanted to be fat and miserable.  I want to feel good no matter what my weight is.  For me, this is the most important difference between a diet and a lifestyle: I want to enjoy my food and my life for the rest of my life; I don’t want to be miserable for a few weeks so I can be thinner for a few more weeks until the weight comes back.  Tried it and frankly, it sucked! Once I decided to make being healthier a lifestyle, I have been losing weight for the last two and a half years and I have been enjoying myself doing it.  It’s not a hassle; there’s no drudgery involved and there’s no fear of gaining the weight back.  There is also no deprivation involved: if I want to eat popcorn, cake and frappacinos, I have them.  I make a point not to have them a lot, not because they’re ‘fattening,’ but they don’t really taste great anymore and sometimes they give me a rocketing sugar high followed by the accompanying blood sugar plummet.  I stress way less about my weight and health now than I have since I was ten years old and never thought about it at all. Instead of scrutinizing everything I eat, I eat what I like, because now I know that what I like is good for me. This is the second most important difference between a diet and a lifestyle.  The most important difference is that a lifestyle actually works for a lifetime.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hyperpalatability: The New Taste Sensations!

Hyper: a prefix appearing in loanwords from Greek, where it meant “over,” usually implying excess or exaggeration

Palatable: acceptable or agreeable to the palate (the sense of taste); adj. palatability

Just so we are clear from the start, hyperpalatability is NOT  a good thing.  We have all had hyperpalatable foods: they are the super yummy delicious foods that make you want to eat them over and over again until either you run out or you can’t eat another bite without throwing up.  Seriously.  These are foods that were created in laboratories, not nature.  It’s not enough that we grind the corn into a paste, toast it in little triangles and sprinkle them with some salt; now we coat them in all kinds of chemical flavors designed to light up the pleasure centers of our brains so we eat them over and over again.  This is called the Dorito Effect (from the book of the same name by Mark Schatzker.)

The food industry has spent billions developing chemical flavors and food textures designed to keep you eating and getting the maximum enjoyment from your food.  They run tests on human lab rats to determine what flavors and textures excite the brain more than others and then figure out how to get those into our food.  It would be great to think that they just wanted us to enjoy what we are eating but we all know the truth: the more we eat, the more we buy and the richer they get while we just get fatter and unhealthier.  This is why we have loaded baked potato flavored potato chips, salted caramel everything and ice cream with pretzels and peanut butter in it.  Food manufacturers have realized what many of us have known for years: different flavors taste good together and switching from one to another makes us eat more.  How many of you remember the old joke about pregnant women craving pickles and ice cream?  It’s because sweet and salty taste good together.  When I was in college, my favorite trail mix was sunflower seeds, M&Ms and raisins and almonds: it was the Sweet & Salty Mix.  The idea of taste diversity (ie, sweet + salty) is now being mixed with more hyperpalatable foods and the result is a disaster for us consumers.  We are getting fatter and more unhealthy by leaps and bounds, and more of us are losing control of our eating.  Experts go back and forth about whether “food addiction” is a real thing, but frankly if you get urges to eat mindlessly until you are bloated and nauseated and still feel the urge to eat, I think that qualifies as an addiction for me!

The combination of these two new food trends, taste diversity and hyperpalatability, is now all over the media and worse, in our supermarkets.

Taste diversity: This is the idea of pairing two foods together to complement each other.  We do this when we put salty nuts on our ice cream sundaes, pair fried chicken and waffles, or pair a sharp cheddar with apple pie.  These pairings, among others, have long been traditions in our culture, but now food manufacturers are finding ways to market similar combinations (like the sweet & salty trail mix I frequently bought during college).

Hyperpalatablity: This is how food manufacturers to hook our taste buds.  They develop flavors and food textures (it’s called ‘mouth-feel’) to trigger the pleasure centers in our brains.  This is the same thing that happens when we engage in almost any kind of addictive behavior.  This is literally what causes addiction, whether to drugs, alcohol, video games, sex, shopping, cigarettes or salted caramel peanut butter fudge brownies.  When that pleasure center lights up, we feel the urge to keep lighting it up again and again and again. Food manufacturers are designing the foods chemically.  It’s not just a matter of adding more butter to make the cookies taste richer; they are adding in chemicals that most of us would not recognize as food.  Most of recognize things like cheese, corn, wheat or butter as a food, and even things like oil, salt, spices and roots like ginger or turmeric as food, but disodium inosinate? Disodium guanylate? Acesulfame potassium?  That sounds more like a chemistry test, but these are now common ingredients in our foods and they are designed to either enhance flavor or add sweetness. These aren’t just the chemical names for food, like calling lemon juice “citric acid.”  These are actual chemicals which were developed by scientists.  (Incidentally, saccharine was originally a by-product from coal mining and its sweetness was discovered by accident by a scientist who didn’t wash his hands when he went home to dinner. Yay…..?)

In the past, most of us would buy a bag of pretzels, a jar of peanut butter and a pint (or gallon) of chocolate ice cream and we would mix the three things together at home to make a chocolate peanut butter pretzel ice cream sundae.  There was a little work involved and for most of us, it was an indulgence.  What food manufacturers are doing now is packaging that ice cream for us, so now we just need to go to the freezer section and buy it already mixed for us.  We just scoop it into our bowls, or eat it out of the carton- let’s be honest here! We buy chips with the flavors already on them, so we don’t even need to make a seven-layer dip anymore.  For most consumers, it’s a great thing: we get all the tasty indulgent treats we like with little work and little extra cost (no more having to buy an entire bag of pretzels, jars of salsa or peanut butter or marshmallows- whatever we are going to put on our chips or ice cream.) I confess, it was easier for me to buy the bags of Sweet & Salty trail mix rather than mixing it up myself (and trail mix sure isn’t brain surgery, but it’s a bit expensive making it yourself!) Yay for convenience!….. Until, it’s not only too convenient, but it’s addictive as well.

This is something that I believe food manufacturers were counting on.  I have no evidence to support this allegation; it’s just my opinion, but I think it’s a reasonable conclusion. When you are given a choice between plain ice cream and a more taste diverse/ hyperpalatable ice cream, which one do you choose?  Remember the last time you bought ice cream? What flavor did you buy?  This was the actual choice you had: in that store’s freezer, you had a choice between plain vanilla, chocolate, strawberry (at least) and the more complex flavors like raspberry cheesecake, rocky road, and many other flavors with other tastes mixed in, such as marshmallow topping, nuts, chocolate chunks, pretzel pieces, toffee bits, cookie dough and cookie pieces.  Which one ended up in your freezer?  Even if you were buying it for someone else in your family, they chose it over plain vanilla, chocolate or strawberry.  I will confess, when I used to buy ice cream, my favorites were Ben & Jerry’s New York Superfudge Chunk or their Brownie Batter. Now when I buy ice cream, I buy another brand because it comes in single serve cups and I usually buy plain vanilla or strawberry since I share it with my dog (his favorite is strawberry.)

One of the major problems with hyperpalatability is that is overstimulation.  It’s similar to what happens with violence in tv and movies: the more graphic violence and gore you see in the movies, the less it shocks you, so if the next film maker wants to shock their audience, they have to add in more violence and gore to get the same shocked reactions the previous film gave the audience. Example: when I was a kid, absolutely no one used profanity on tv.  I distinctly remember the first time I heard it because it was such a shock (Alan Alda said ‘son of a b*tch’ on a M*A*S*H episode).  Now, I can’t tell you how many times I have heard worse on regular tv, not ‘late night’ or something I streamed or downloaded.  It has lost its shock value.

This happens with our food: when we are used to eating sugar sweetened anything all day long, when we eat a banana or orange or apricot, it doesn’t taste sweet to us.  The natural sugar in the fruit cannot compare with the artificially sweetened whatever we had before.  All processed foods have ‘natural flavors’ that have been added to enhance the taste, in addition to some of those other additives mentioned above (disodium inosinate is a flavor enhancer found in nacho flavored Doritos). [Incidentally, just because it says ‘natural flavors’ on the label doesn’t mean it came from food: some ‘natural flavors’ come from wood products or other ‘natural’ sources.  To qualify as ‘natural’ it can’t be something man-made, even though it is ‘man-derived’ from whatever natural source it started in.] So the more processed, ‘super flavor boosted’ foods we eat, the more bland, boring and tasteless whole unprocessed foods taste to us.  Most of us notice it most with things like sugar and salt, but it affects our entire palate. We get used to complex flavor combinations boosted by sugar, salt and chemical enhancers and then to get more flavor, more pleasure, more excitement out of the foods, we have to keep pursuing more and more, like an addict chasing the high they crave.

This behavior not only keeps us eating hyperpalatable foods but keeps us away from eating whole foods.  After eating pepperjack burgers on onion rolls with cheesy garlic fries, roasted chicken and sweet potatoes seem really really bland, and they don’t have the same ‘flavor pop’ in your mouth as the processed food.  The pleasure center in your brain doesn’t light up like a Christmas tree, so there isn’t a big draw to have the chicken and sweet potatoes again. But, wow, that pepperjack burger was yummy! So were those garlicky cheesy fries!! This is why so many people give up on eating whole healthier foods after a few days or so: “it tastes awful”; “it’s boring;” “I don’t like it.” (Try getting kids to eat broccoli after garlicky cheesy fries! Ugh!)

Fortunately for us, our palates change over time. We got used to eating hyperpalatable processed foods, and we can get used to eating whole unprocessed foods again too.  It takes some time to reset your taste buds, but you can do it, and once you do, I think you’ll be a little surprised.  (I know I was!)  As some of you may know, I was on first name basis with the Jack in the Box drive thru guy and after several months of not visiting, I happened to drive thru and I ordered the burger I used to get regularly: what a change!  I was expecting the yummy crunchy delicious burger I remembered, and it was just barely edible.  It tasted nothing like I remembered and I haven’t been back since (going on two years now). For the months in between, I had been eating whole foods and I had gotten used to them.  The whole foods taste good to me now and the processed foods just taste really weird and a little gross, some of them.

I don’t miss eating the super flavor boosted processed foods: now they all taste really sweet, salty, chemical-ly and just ‘off.’  They don’t taste right anymore and knowing that they are full of chemicals, preservatives, additives and ‘food-like’ substances doesn’t make them more attractive, or delicious.  On the other hand, eating fresh plain strawberries is a real treat, especially since they aren’t available all year round. They also taste a lot better than anything ‘strawberry-flavored.’  It takes a little getting used to, but the real food flavors are worth the effort, and they are better for you too.

 

 

Beating the Clock: “I Don’t Have Time to Work on my Diet!”

This is going to be a little bit of a rant hopefully mixed with a little common sense.  One of the excuses I hear a lot (and that I personally used myself!) is “I don’t have time to work on my diet!”  The idea that a diet “takes time” comes mostly from the diet industry.  I think people genuinely believe that it takes a lot of time and preparation to “work on a diet.”  Part of it I think really is just an excuse to keep putting it off, but I blame most of this wrong-headed approach on the diet industry.  When you look at the programs that are advertised all over the media, it usually comes as some kind of package, either with food you have to pick out and order, or some kind of food list and meal prep instructions and all kinds of things you need to read, set up and/ or shop for.  They have to sell you something for the hefty amounts of money you are paying them!

In reality, “working on your diet” takes no more time than the way you are eating now.  You do not need to order any pre-packaged food off a website; you do not need a long list of special powders, pills, specialty foods or equipment.  All you need to work on your diet you most likely already have at home right now.  It’s not about doing anything special: you don’t need hours to do “meal prep” or create a “diet menu.”  There is really one thing you need to do to “work on your diet”: Make Better Choices.  It takes no more time than what you do already.  I know this for a fact, because it takes me no more time to make better choices now than it took for me to make really awful choices two years ago.

Pretty much anywhere you go to eat, whether in your job’s cafeteria, fast food or the grocery store, even a gas station mini-mart, you choose what you eat, and all you have to do is make a better choice than you did before!  Most cafeterias have some kind of salads, vegetables, cheeses, or yogurt in addition to whatever processed foods they have.  Some of the better ones can make you a wrap or you can always get the burger/ chicken breast sandwich and ask them to leave off the bun/ bread (you can always just throw it away yourself!)  Just because you are in the cafeteria doesn’t mean you have to have the burger, fries or spaghetti or whatever.  While you are there on your regular lunch hour, choose something healthier!

The same goes for eating at fast food or even a regular restaurant.  Salads are available at almost all fast food places, and certainly at a sit-down restaurant.  The same thing goes with the fast food burger (take off the bread and skip the fries!).  Some of them now have the “low carb burger” wrapped in lettuce.  You don’t have to have fries and the soda.  Get a bottle of water or if you want something sweet, get the diet soda.  Your eating doesn’t have to be perfect- it just has to be an improvement for you! You will still lose weight and be eating healthier!

The same goes when you are shopping at the grocery store: you don’t have to buy the packaged foods.  Most supermarkets have salad kits and steam-in-the-bag veggies.  They take no more time to prepare than the boxes of packaged foods you make now, whether on the stove or in the microwave. Most of them are 5 minutes or less, and if all you are doing is pouring the salad in the bowl and adding the seeds/ nuts and dressing, it’s maybe a couple of minutes at most! As for the rest of the meal, it doesn’t have to be complicated.  There are a variety of slow cookers and pressure cookers (Instant Pot comes to mind) that greatly simplify “meal prep.” You can either set up your entree to cook while you are at work or using an Instant Pot, cut the meal prep down to a few minutes.  Personally, I use my cast iron skillet, toaster oven or get the prepared meat out of the deli (usually rotisserie chicken or roast beef).  Making dinner for me takes no more time than hitting the drive-thru, and it has the extra bonus of already being at home.  I get a lot of stuff done at home while the dinner is on the stove/ in the oven: letting the pup out; feeding the cats; putting the laundry in, etc.  Instead of sitting in a smoggy smelly drive-thru, I’m at home taking care of things I need to take care of whether I make my own dinner or not.

It’s not any more difficult to make a “healthy” grocery list than it is to make an unhealthy one.  Instead of getting seven frozen dinners or seven boxes of rice or pasta mix, I get seven days worth of protein,  veggies, fruits (my preference is for fresh or frozen, but canned work too).  Instead of buying a box of frozen waffles, I buy a carton of eggs.  Instead of boxed mixes, I get vegetables:  Instead of processed foods, I get fresh meats, eggs, cheeses, etc.  It’s simply about choosing things that are minimally processed or healthier rather than things that not so great for you.  Shopping takes the same time whatever I am buying. Cooking doesn’t have to be some long complicated recipe out of a book: it can be throwing some pork chops or burgers on the stove and heating up some veggies.  Most of the time it’s 30 minutes or less, which is about what it takes to hit the drive thru and get home.

The same goes when you stop at the gas station for a snack: instead of getting the chips or the candy, get a cheese stick or some jerky.  They also have nuts, which are a great snack! Instead of the soda, get a bottle of water or a diet soda.

If you decide you want to buy a “diet book,” go for it!  I would also suggest you buy a book on nutrition, simply to give you an objective point of view.  There are a lot of books with solid weight loss/ healthy eating plans and many of them contain recipes.  If you don’t want to buy a book, there are a lot of websites that offer free information on nutrition and recipes.  One of my favorite sites is Primal Potential.  It has 100 Fat Loss Friendly Meal Ideas for free and she also did a podcast on healthy meals under $1.99 per serving.  Another of my favorite sites is Paleo Leap (I eat Paleo if you haven’t guessed!) I’m also a fan of Nom Nom Paleo, but her recipes are bit more involved, although extremely delicious!

A few words on meal prep: I know there are a lot of people who live and die by the meal prep idea.  They make a batch of soup, stew or meat on one day and eat it during the week.  There are just as many people who spend several hours cutting up their fruits, veggies, meats, etc and pack it all in the fridge or the freezer so they can heat it up in a couple of minutes or have them ready in the fridge.  That’s up to you: if that works for you and makes it easier, then it’s worth the investment.  For me, it’s too much of a hassle and it usually doesn’t work out for me.  My idea of quick and easy snacks are usually a bag of nuts or some Epic bars in my desk.  Personally, I think they keep better and last longer than the cut of celery or cucumbers, although I will prep radishes when I buy them.

The whole point is that “working on your diet” isn’t any more work than what you are doing now.  If you think that the way you are eating now is “working for you,” just ask yourself how you are feeling?  Are you happy with how you look and feel?  Do your clothes fit the way you want them to?  Do you have the energy you need and want?  Your diet doesn’t have to be perfect: it just has to be better. And ‘better’ is relative! Make a better choice this week and then when you feel a little more comfortable, make another better choice.  Your body will notice the improvements and you will start losing weight, without doing a lot of extra work.

You don’t need to do hours of meal prep or menu planning and your schedule doesn’t have to change: the only thing that changes are the choices you make regarding the foods you are eating.  Obviously, the diet industry does not like to tell you this, because they have a vested interest in selling you their products.  If you don’t buy their little food prep boxes, equipment, books or meal service, then they don’t make money.  Eating healthier doesn’t need a big investment of time or money, but it does require a little bit of common sense and careful thought.  You can work on eating better or you can work on staying where you are: it’s your choice.