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Dealing with Inflammation

In the body, to ‘inflame’ is to swell or agitate. Everything from a sun burn, knocking your big toe against the bed, to arriving at work to a boss chewing your head off results in inflammation. Taking your body out of its equilibrium and homeostatic environment will inflict inflammation.  The body uses inflammation as a way to correct and heal imbalances.  When you get a cut on the outside of your skin, that part of your body becomes inflamed in an attempt to deal with that injury.  This acute inflammation is necessary for your body to heal itself.  If there were no resulting inflammation from a burn wound, there would never be a scar to heal.

The same process happens on the inside of your body due in large part to your dietary habits.  Everybody is different in regards to what causes chronic low grade inflammation and what doesn’t. One who is lactose intolerant will deal with inflammation of the gut from dairy products while a celiac will be fine with cheese but grain products will rip apart their intestines. Just because a food is ‘real and whole’ does not automatically assume the body should be able to deal with its consumption on an everyday basis.

Different macronutrients have different inflammatory properties as well. Carbohydrates assist the healing process inside your body in instances of workout recovery by refilling spent glycogen. Sweet potatoes, bananas or white rice after workouts are a way of reconciling the imbalance (lifting heavy results in inflammation, good carbohydrate sources and timing increase absorption of glycogen and keep inflammation low which keeps healing high).  Eating protein is another way.  Both of which inflame your system in an attempt to heal it.  This periodic inflammation allows a maximum amount of healing. Muscles would not grow post work out if they did not get inflamed. The anti-inflammatory stage (recovery) is when muscle grow and become more dense.

The level of intensity, length, and episodic routine regarding weight lifting will determine your inflammation. The body’s breaking down and healing process is happening over and over all the time.  For those not working out, regularly eating foods causing inflammation does not allow your body to fully heal itself. Working out involves the process of breaking down tissue, some fat, some muscle.   Short, intense, heavy lifting requires more ‘healing’ and recovery time than a ‘runner’ who jogs for an hour every day. Their diets to de-flame their systems will differ as well. Often, you see heavy lifters perform best with only enough glucose post exercise to distress their hormonal system. Runners who spend hours on the elliptical and performing bodyweight workouts will function better with more carbohydrates in their diet simply because letting the body know it will be distressed (from fruit etc.) will allow it to optimize inflammation and its turnover.

In our inactive, desk job, long route to destination lifestyle, it becomes easy to see why the large carbohydrate intake of the standard diet is resulting in chronic low-grade inflammation. This exact inflammation, which is prolonged and never dealt with, plays a key role in the development of several chronic diseases. These include but are not limited to: as Alzheimer’s, arthritis, cancer, diabetes, heart disease, irritable bowel syndrome, Parkinson’s, and many others (http://www.achooallergy.com/chronic-inflammation-disease.asp).

Ridding your body of inflammation is quite simple

The three focal points of inflammation are what leave the body under prolonged pressure: mental stress; lack of sleep; and excessive exercise. Tackling these three aspects is tackling inflammation. Eating in a way to eliminate inflammation will allow for a better mind set, sounder sleep and short sweet to the point workouts.

Chronic inflammation is not acute inflammation. Chronic inflammation is best tackled with anti-inflammatory substances like oregano, turmeric, and a sound diet. When low grade chronic inflammation is present, learning to eat in a way to eliminate it is key. Attempting to lift heavy, run or endure any inflammatory activity on top of low grade inflammation is like getting a burn on a broken arm.  Said differently, starting a workout routine to deal with chronic inflammation should be part of the solution but the majority of that solution should come from your diet.

Understanding inflammatory responses will allow you to customize your own diet to benefit your lifestyle. If you just love you some cheesecake but are lactose intolerant, understand and realizing the cause and effect to eating a slice will allow you to set-up and deal with the situation as it arises. Having an idea of what inflames you will allow you to also realize what you need to get rid of it.  Assuming the lactose intolerant individual eats the cheesecake, he should expect water retention, bloating, gas and possible indigestion as well as skin breakouts or rashes. For each inflammatory intake, the body has to hold a certain amount of fluid as a way of processing.  The more fluid your holding, the more inflammation you have, and the more body fat you are likely to store because under stress the body likes to hold onto and store body fat (it is unhappy, so you’re going to also be mentally unhappy when you see what has accumulated in the mirror).  Once again, generally speaking, the more body fat you have will make the processing of these fluids more difficult.

Remember from the fat chapter, omega 6 fats serve as inflammatory agents while omega 3 fats serve as anti inflammatory agents. Both have their place, but need to be balanced for a homeostatic environment in your body. Excess inflammation from years of vegetable oil, excessive processed carbohydrate products and indoor living will often times benefit from extra omega 3.

Take two basic meals and compare inflammation. You will be able to see where people run into problems.

Meal one: Slow cooked rib roast and a salad including a dressing of vinegar and coconut oil (spiced with garlic and ginger) with spinach, shallots, carrots, and dried cranberries

Anti-inflammatory Properties: slow cooked meat allows easier digestion and assimilation, garlic, ginger and cranberries are full of antioxidants and a wide range of benefits relating to decreasing inflammation, coconut oil is an immediate energy source for the body and known for its anti-inflammatory effects.

Meal two: Char grilled chicken breast on stone ground wheat bun with tomato/pepper, side of potato salad (mayonnaise, mustard, vinegar, salt/pepper)

Inflammatory Properties: most people will digest white bread better than a stone ground wheat but both choices result in inflammation, char-grilled food leaves a burnt aspect to the outside of the food and will often lead to digestive troubles and dangerous by-products. Peppers and tomatoes are not a one size fits all in regards to inflammation as some people handle them well and others get inflamed joints, arthritis and other inflammatory symptoms. Potato salad, serves as an excessive carbohydrate intake coupled with the grainy bun, and made with store bought mayonnaise guarantees the omega 6 ratio in this meal as a whole is screaming inflammation.

A note to the chronically inflamed

Better awareness of your body is a means to an end in fixing chronic inflammation issues. Being in tune with your responses to food, sleep or lack thereof, and working out will all enhance your optimal health status.  A long term approach involves all three of working in unison for hormesis within the body. Lack of sleep will elicit a stress response and this response results in a low grade inflammation, as well as reduced insulin sensitivity and concentration. One other area worth looking into if you feel you may suffer from inflammation is the use of antibiotics. Balancing your bacteria in your gut means not flushing away bacteria through antibiotic use.  Antibiotic use, stress, and poor diet can all the balance of gut flora (and this is a delicate balance), resulting in undesirable bacteria overload that can lead to inflammation. You can tackle this with a good probiotic such as acidophilus or bifidus, and also by including naturally cultured foods in the diet.  The obvious ones include sauerkraut, kimchi, beet kvass, and kombucha (fermented tea) and also yogurt and some raw cheeses.

Why you should pack up your scale and mail it to your worst enemy

Scale weight is mostly irrelevant from a day to day basis.  Checking your weight occasionally is fine but many factors contribute to that number and it rarely represents the true nature of your body composition.  When the number is too high it rarely represents just fat, too low and it rarely represents lean mass.  Hence from this chapter, inflammation will play a big role in what the scale read on a day to day basis, even an hour to hour. Taking a weekly weight and noting progression or lack thereof will help you find an idea of what is working for you and what isn’t.

http://www.medterms.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=3979

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Immune_system#Inflammation

http://nutritiondata.self.com/foods-000992000000000000000.html

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20377753?dopt=AbstractPlus

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22329799

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22331646

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22332072

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22310233

Protein is Simple – The Basics Version

(Click here to jump to a summary of this article)

After water, there is nothing more abundant in the human body than protein.  Protein should serve as the foundation of your nutrition and be derived from food that delivers a wide variety of amino acids, especially the branch chain amino acids and essential amino acids. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein, and protein is required to keep your body together.  Meat is hands down the best source for amino acids and muscle repair.

The essential amino acids, which cannot be synthesized and must be obtained from food sources, are:

  • Leucine
  • Isoleucine
  • Valine
  • Lysine
  • Threonine
  • Tryptophan
  • Methionine
  • Phenylalanine
  • Histidine

On the other hand, non-essential amino acids can be made by the body from other amino acids.  The non-essential amino acids are:

  • Arginine
  • Alanine
  • Asparagine
  • Aspartic acid
  • Cysteine
  • Glutamine
  • Glutamic acid
  • Glycine
  • Proline
  • Serine
  • Tyrosine

Each amino serves a different purpose. All of the aminos are important in the biosyntheses of hormones, enzymes, membrane channels, and ion pumps. Protein also enhances the immune system and can be used in the production of energy.

Getting protein from real food instead of supplements, shakes or powders leads to a better satiety and decreased appetite.  Most liquid protein will only leave you satisfied as long as the mixture is in your stomach.  On the other hand, full digestion of solid food can take quite a long time to complete, leaving you feeling full for longer.  Protein intake from real food also produces less ghrelin (a hormone synthesized in your gut to signal hunger when your belly is growling) as opposed to carbohydrate or fat.  A prolonged suppression of ghrelin secretion leads to fewer cravings.  While carbohydrates and fat serve as very palatable foods, you lose your motivation to keep eating chicken breasts once you are full.  Butter poached chicken breasts are much more palatable, lending to an overall higher food consumption.

A general rule of thumb regarding protein consumption is to eat 1 gram per lb. of bodyweight you carry.  I personally prefer to go by lean body mass, so it’s slightly less than overall body weight.  An individual in need of more repair, or someone looking for increased muscle mass may want to add extra protein. The overall need for nitrogen and state of body composition may also factor into one’s protein requirements. When in a caloric deficit, the liver can use protein to make glucose.  This could lead to a lower muscle mass, slower metabolism, and elicit an overwhelming stress response, making weight loss or muscle gain incredibly hard.  All that said, the thought that protein is a simple way to add muscle is wrong, but I will delve more into that later.

Essentially, protein should not have to recycle itself to be useful.  The benefit of good protein sources would include the attachment of animal sourced dietary fat. These can be PUFA’s, MUFA’s or SFA. Most store bought meat will be higher than normal in Omega 6 PUFA, so going for leaner cuts may be wise.  If sourcing your meat and protein from a grocery store, using an 85/15 lean to fat ratio is about as high as one should go (remember also, in regards to grass fed beef, this turns a slight negative into a big positive). This should also be coupled with up to a pound of salmon a week, to balance the Omegas. Remember, balance is good; excess is bad.

Muscle Gain or Retention

As someone who gets themselves tested at the University of Minnesota every couple of months, I keep very good track of both fat loss and muscle gain.  Both of those numbers can be manipulated greatly in a very short period of time.  Depleting your glycogen stores, drinking less water and taking away supplements can cause dramatic decrease in weight and lead to what’s referred to as “dry muscle”.  A beginner a month into lifting has “wet muscle” show up on a composition test, which is not muscle; it is simply water retention.  Gaining 3-5 lbs. of pure muscle (which is a very significant amount of mass to gain) in one month is just not possible by most standards.

Just as the food industry likes to promote their products with claims of health benefits, the supplement industry loves to jump with a slogan.  “Gain 15 pounds of muscle in one month or your money back!”  Like dieting, this is totally bunk. (There are of course situations where a person with very little muscle mass and no training background can accelerate the process, but I am speaking in more general terms.  I hear from people that say they gained 3 pounds of muscle in 2 months, and they feel disappointed when they should be elated.)

If you are a veteran weightlifter but have taken time off, your muscles do have a ‘memory’ so to speak, and you are likely to regain muscle quickly once you begin training again.  Gaining real, solid muscle is hard work and requires not only patience, but being in tune with your body.  You need to be able to tell when it’s ready to work and when it’s in need of rest. There are no “magic supplements” you can take to gain muscle.  The key to building muscle lies in the kitchen, your food choices, and lifting heavy stuff for many years.

Branch Chain Amino Acids (BCAA’s) are not magic either, but they can help you retain muscle and mobilize fat.  BCAA’s offer insurance against muscle catabolism.  Supplementation has been reported to decrease exercise-induced protein degradation and muscle enzyme release.  They can’t replace actual nutrition, but they can be a valuable addition to your regiment.

Protein Is Just Not That Complicated

I am not a fan of protein shakes.  Too many athletes believe they can drink protein as a way to build muscle and in turn make poor dietary decisions.  No matter what your goals are, success is met when the majority of your foods are whole.  Foods outside that parameter should be enjoyable; I doubt that a protein shake filled with enhanced synthetic vitamins, fillers and artificial sweeteners is all that satisfying to imbibe.  If you regularly drink more protein than you chew, it may be one of those situations where you ask yourself if it’s really any better than a Snickers bar.  In the end, a grass fed rib eye can’t be beat. 

Summary

  • Protein is comprised of amino acids.  There are essential aminos that cannot be synthesized by your body, and then there are non-essential aminos that your body can make itself.
  • Each amino acid has its own function; leucine is one of the most important aminos as far as building muscle goes. 
  • When protein comes from a whole source, it is very satisfying and goes a long way to help control hunger.  Most of your protein should be chewed; powders should be used as supplements around workouts.  You cannot live off of them.  Go for meat, fish and nuts!
  • The “golden rule” is to eat around 1 gram of protein per lb. of body weight. 
  • When you eat protein without carbohydrates, some of the protein you consume will be used to create glucose for your brain and organs to run on.  When you’re trying to build muscle or lose fat while preserving muscle mass, including some carbohydrate with your protein is a good strategy.
  • No matter how much protein you eat, gaining muscle is a slow, patient process.  The law of diminishing returns applies here.  While you’re new to weight lifting, gaining 15lbs. in a year isn’t out of the question, but gaining 1 lb. of muscle a month is a realistic goal beyond the initial stages of training.
  • Branch Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs) may be a valuable addition to your workout nutrition, whether you want to build muscle or just preserve what you have already.

Works Cited

  1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Protein_(nutrient)
  2. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism August 1, 2006 vol. 91 no. 8 2913-2919
  3. Int J Obes. 1990 Sep;14(9):743-51.Effects of a high-protein meal (meat) and a high-carbohydrate meal (vegetarian) on satiety measured by automated computerized monitoring of subsequent food intake, motivation to eat and food preferences. Barkeling BRössner SBjörvell H.Department of Internal Medicine, Karolinska Hospital, Stockholm, Sweden.
  4. EFFECTS OF PROTEIN AND AMINO-ACID SUPPLEMENTATION ON ATHLETIC PERFORMANCE. Richard B Kreider PhD . Exercise & Sport Nutrition Laboratory, Department of Human Movement Sciences & Education, The University of Memphis, Memphis, Tennessee 38152.
  5. Carli G,Bonifazi M, Lodi L et al (1992). Changes in exercise-induced hormoneresponse to branched chain amino acid administration. EuropeanJournal of Applied Physiology 64, 272-7

Preparation Over Precision

Precision

Preparing yourself for meals and one-off situations is a topic that comes up in the Science Lab a lot.  The Science Lab is a service I offer CrossFitters that are looking to reach their body composition goals.  The classes work in a similar fashion to the way WOD’s work; they are scheduled and our coaches walk you through what you need to do to achieve your goals. 

(Click here to jump to a summary of this article)

When determining what you should and should not put in your body, there seems to be never-ending confusion not only in deciding, but also in answering to other people who do not understand what real food is.  The messages we get are not always clear; what is real food?

In short, if you can pick it, grow it, or kill it, you should probably eat it. (Chia pets not included.)

  • Protein:  Chew it!  Protein should come mostly from real food and come bundled with Omega 3s.  Include grass fed/pastured livestock and wild-caught salmon, herring, or sardines.
  • Carbohydrates:  You need carbs to fuel your performance.  Glucose is king but you need your veggies as well.  A colorful diet will provide you with plenty of fiber and vitamins!
  • Fats:  Use them as a vehicle for vegetables, fruits and lean meats. It adds flavor, density, and libido!  Fatty meats obviously do not need to be covered in butter.

How to Get your Vitamins

Do not use a multi-vitamin as a blanket for a crappy diet.  Your body needs vitamins and minerals to function properly, and although a multi-vitamin taken with a meal can be effective, real food is where it’s at!

BEHOLD.

The Epic Humongous Salad (proper noun): It’s a bowl of everything:  lots of flavors, lots of colors, lots of textures.  Humongous salads are the best way to throw a ton of vitamins, minerals, and good fats into one big bowl.

¡WARNING!  You may need to purchase a new bowl specifically for epic-sized salads.  Eat To Perform.com cannot be held accountable for the mess you make trying to shove all of this vegetation into a less-than-epic-sized bowl. 

This is not a premixed bag of iceberg lettuce with a few shreds of carrots for appeal.  One of my favorite additions is roasted vegetables;  warm vegetables on cold salad greens is a win.  The list of possibilities is never-ending, but to get started:

  • Spinach
  • Kale
  • Red leaf, green leaf, romaine, butter lettuces
  • Red cabbage
  • Bacon crumbs
  • Grilled sirloin
  • Roasted chicken
  • Shrimp
  • Avocado slices
  • Sweet Peppers
  • Carrots
  • Tomatoes
  • Cucumber
  • Sesame seeds
  • Zucchini
  • Summer squash
  • Roasted vegetables
  • Onions
  • Garlic
  • Parsnips
  • Collards
  • Okra
  • Broccoli
  • Cauliflower
  • Figs
  • Dried fruit pieces
  • Hard boiled eggs
  • Almond slices
  • Jalapenos

Salad dressing options are endless as well. First, you need a fat source (olive oil, butter, tallow, bacon grease), vinegar if you like the kick (white, apple cider, wine vinaigrette, fresh squeezed lemon), and your spice assortment (chili, onion, garlic, fennel, paprika, cumin, coriander, sage…). Fresh herbs work wonders too (basil, thyme, marjoram, cilantro…).  Someone should program a salad generating app…

Now that’s a salad! Eat it for size; it might take a while too.  Time of day does not matter for this beast but I would suggest that your first meal should have a lot of substance.  A lot of people have trouble eating breakfast and most of us are told that breakfast is the most important meal so they start the day off with nutrient-deficient grains and very few foods that fill you up.

My suggestion is that if you do not feel hungry, do not eat.  When you feel hungry you should eat. The epitome of a healthy lifestyle is living in harmony with food.  Don’t fear it, and do not become inhumanely excited over it. I do not know anyone who is addicted to real food, but I know plenty who are addicted to junky, chemically laced and alerted food. You may be able to overeat on a 12-hour standing rib roast, but it is not the same as overeating on a triple family-sized bag of Doritos with a side of Big Gulp Slurpee and Twinkies for dessert. When you are FULL on the rib roast, and you know it- your body now requires time to assimilate and process all the vitamins and minerals in the meat. This is why your appetite is depressed for a long while. No questions asked, and you lose your interest in food. When you’re full on the junk, your stomach is huge and expanded, but your brain is not content. It keeps searching for something that isn’t there. Many overweight individuals are NOT addicted to food as they are led to believe; they are addicted to junk food. Your ghrelin receptors adjust to the crappy food you give your system, which alters your reward path to your brain from your gut. If it doesn’t get nutrients, it does not function properly.

Are you addicted to carrots? No.

Are you addicted to strawberries or oranges? No.

Are you addicted a piece of grilled salmon with broccoli? No.

Do not wallow in your own misery; the only change can be made by you when you accept the difference. You CAN go cold turkey, just like an alcoholic can. But you must eat, right? Yes, obviously you do but you don’t need moon pies and Little Debbie’s all day – you do not NEED them ever…But if you make the conscious choice to sit and enjoy one once a week with control and confidence in getting back to your regular routine, then use it to your advantage. Choose the real food the rest of the time.

After a while, your body will establish patterns that will make this process a lot easier.  Remember, you have no addiction to real food; you have an addiction to crappy food. Eat when you feel hunger, eat a lot, and make it real food. Do not be scared to prepare yourself a huge plate of real food. When you are full you are done, put it away but promise yourself when you get hungry again, the real food is coming out again in full force. It will ALWAYS be there, and there is nothing to fear or hold back on. Freeing, isn’t it? Don’t go around being a grumpy Buddha, you and only you have the power to change!

“But I Don’t Like Vegetables”

Okay let’s just be honest; acting like an adult entails eating like an adult.  When you chose real food, a whole new sensory pathway will open you up to new tastes and textures. You need to shut off the excitatory, over-enhanced, MSG-laden, chemically-pumped-and-altered, flavorless (in reality) parts of your brain that were predominant before.  You need to fill your cells with nutrients to appreciate the well-being that is possible. There are very few vegetables that do not taste good cooked in lard, or roasted with butter and a good seasoning blend, or natural spices. If you need to wean yourself into vegetables, try stuffed peppers with a Tex-Mex ground beef seasoning, or bacon fried cabbage. Two sure fire flavor-yum bombs.

Preparation Over Precision

Many people find comfort in precision and pay dearly for the privilege. Weight Watchers is an example, and so are many of the “boxed systems” that you can buy to help you lose weight.  They all work; the problem is that for many people, these diets leave them hungry and/or ill prepared once the box is gone. “Rules” become “limitations”; what if that 2 point bar doesn’t leave you satisfied and you have no points to spare? Sorry, but your appetite doesn’t run on points; it runs on neurochemical impulses.  What if the Nutri-System bean burrito tasted like crap?  You are left unsatisfied, and your brain is looking for something to fill that void. Even with such systems, you need to remember to bring the food or prepare your meals ahead of time.  Eating well will always entail this.

If you can nail the preparation part, the precision part should follow naturally.  It would be a very difficult argument to make that those people would not benefit extremely from preparation.  Preparation is the answer to succeeding in a lifestyle change. How can you eat a big ass salad with no vegetables?  How can you promise yourself to eat big when you are hungry if you do not have any food waiting for you? Preparation takes out the worry of making food choices; it leaves you calm and determined and in power. There is a confidence in looking into a refrigerator full of nourishing food, ready for when you are hungry. Again, promise to feed yourself well with such foods when you do get hungry. Preparation, execution, confidence.

“Breakfast” simply means the time in which you break your fast.  Anytime you are not eating, you are fasting.  Fasting has such a wide array of benefits that an entire book would need to be published simply to detail its benefits. Most people relate breakfast with eating upon rising – hunger or no hunger.  Others would prefer not to eat when they wake up.  There is no right or wrong here, no benefit or lack thereof; eat when you are hungry but do not allow yourself to become ravenous.  Preparation is the key.  Your first meal should be filled with nutrition.  If you are the type that says, “I cannot eat a lot when I first wake up.” then great.  You do not have to eat then.  If you choose to eat upon waking, be sure to get a good amount of protein and fats. Remember that if you prefer eating when rising, you need to remain consciously aware of this as night time draws. Instead of forgetting about hunger signals and going straight for your old couch-and-chips routine, remember that as soon as you wake up you’ll be eating again. This leaves nighttime and saying no to junk easier by rest assuring you hunger will be met.

What a small meal looks like:

2 egg omelet with a coconut milk smoothie.  If you followed that meal up with the humungous salad at noon, you are well on your way to a healthy nutritious day where your appetite is self regulated.

What a big meal looks like:

A 10 ounce grass-fed rib eye, big ass salad and sweet potatoes followed by a bowl of full fat greek yogurt with strawberries and cacao nibs.  It is extremely filling and since I delayed my meal timing it allowed my body to detox and heal a bit better, promoting cellular repair.

Getting fat has nothing to do with when you break your fast for breakfast; it has to do with learning to listen to your body and choosing real food. Most people like to go until they are ravenous and somehow justify pounding through a sleeve of Oreos dipped in milk.  “It’s okay, I was hungry…I really needed to eat!”

Going hungry inevitably leads to grabbing the most convenient options which also lack nutrition. Why? Hunger leads to low blood sugar levels, and low blood sugar levels force the brain to use less glucose, which is the only energy source the brain can use.  So, when you are hungry, your brain is lacking glucose or in need of it. A piece of junk candy bar or cookie will send a high to your brain of satisfaction, which lasts…maybe 5 minutes followed by the same scenario on repeat. Up, down, high, low. Behavior is a result of what the brain perceives (aka the reaction to unreal food). The behaviors you are addicted to, the bad patterns you get caught up in, are all direct results of the information you are giving your brain and how it reads such signals.  However, when hunger hits and you feed on protein and fat alongside some vegetables, your rise in the blood is slower, longer, and controlled. This is because both glucose and glucagon are released when protein is eaten. It leads to a steady supply of energy for the brain and a happy content body.

In the book “Nutrition Against Disease”, author Dr. Roger J. Williams points out that like all other living cells, brain cells often receive less than perfect nutrition. He goes on to observe that brain cells get nutrition from blood, which in turn gets its nutrients from the food we eat each day. At first, it takes a while to get past that and let your body readjust to a new way. Psychologically, your brain may want to get that rush back, even at the expense of feeling bad later. It’s the same reason why people like to smoke. They cultivate an addiction and then enjoy the pleasure of satiating that addiction.

So you need to deal with feelings of:

  • Stress
  • Anger
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Boredom
  • Futility
  • Fear of change
  • Nostalgia
  • Fear of deprivation
  • Denial
  • Obsession
  • Loathing
  • Hyper self-criticism

        It has to do with healthfulness, and mindfulness, and gratitude, and forgiveness.  It has to do with having a free mind, and using food to fuel that beautiful capacity.

        You get back whatever you put out, so don’t think about what you don’t have or what you didn’t get. That is unhealthy thinking in itself. Think about the possibilities because they are endless. Perhaps learning to let go of baseless misconceptions like ‘”artery clogging saturated fats” and the necessity of eating every other hour is the best thing to do. To be satisfied with what you have, and what you receive, are aspects of success not to be overlooked.

Summary

  • Although taking a multivitamin every day can help you get the vitamins and minerals your enzymes need to function properly, you can’t beat eating real food.
  • A great way to get your micronutrients is to have a humongous, colorful salad for lunch. 
  • Salads are also a great way to get some extra fat in.  Olive oil and vinegar is a common dressing choice, but don’t be afraid to throw in some seasonings and herbs like paprika and cilantro.
  • Making sure you have a kitchen stocked with nutritious, whole foods is one of the best ways to make sure that when you’re hungry, you don’t make bad decisions and go for convenience/junk foods. 
  • There’s a big difference between binging on a slow-cooked, bone-in roast and eating a whole bag of Doritos.  Real food will satisfy you whereas junk food will typically make you hungrier; don’t be afraid to eat when you’re hungry!
  • Don’t force yourself to eat breakfast if you’re not hungry in the morning.  Listen to your body, and break your fast with quality nutrition rather than processed foods! 
  • Cravings for junk food and relying upon poor food choices to fuel your body can lean to negative body composition changes as well psychological hang-ups that reinforce the bad eating behavior. 
  • Satisfy your nutritional requirements first, and then consider satisfying your taste buds.

Sleep Tutorial

Sleep Like a Baby

 

The role of sleep in terms of recovery can not be over stated.  Mike Nelson covered this heavily in his recent update to Met Flex for Fat Loss (it was on Metabolic Damage).

(Click here to jump to a summary of this article)

Sleep is a common problem for so many people, but few learn to tackle it like they do nutrition; they barely give the time of day.   The importance of adequate nightly rest is vastly underrated, but it’s a vital component of keeping yourself healthy.  Sleep is the body’s time to perform routine maintenance and set up the endocrine system up for the next day.  It’s also a valuable fat burning window.  Unfortunately, people waste years of their lives lying in bed, staring at the ceiling, wondering why they can’t catch some shut-eye.   From crying babies (or cats, let us not forget about cats) to stressing out over work the next day, sleep disturbances make a huge impact on the quality of your sleep.  On top of this, real sleep disorders like apnea (a condition where you stop breathing during sleep) exist that make every night a living hell.

No one should have the spend the night tossing and turning only to sneak in 15 minute naps during their lunch break when they should be eating.  You quickly reach a point where naps and caffeine don’t make a dent in your energy levels.  You become more and more stressed and fat starts hanging around your midsection.  You begin to look like a raccoon preparing for hibernation and walking to the other end of the office is a chore.  If mid-day fatigue, morning restlessness and a carton of 5 hour energy is your idea of making it through life, then you’re probably not going to look or feel very good.  Something must be done!

Cortisol and Sleep

A lack of sleep directly affects hormone function.  You begin to produce more of the hormone cortisol, at all the wrong times.  Cortisol is a key player in activating the sympathetic nervous system and stress responses.  When we’re scared or we feel threatened, cortisol jacks up our nervous output and helps us respond to the situation.  However, due to the way we live in modern society, this entire process is screwed up; we’re chronically stressed out.  We shouldn’t have to panic over our jobs, but we do.  We shouldn’t spend hours each night surrounding by lights, listening to cars racing in the distance, but we do.  As our stress response becomes overwhelmed, it becomes more and more difficult to function. Our appetite becomes ravenous and we need stimulants to get going in the morning because we are so worn out.  The system becomes overloaded and it crashes.

As you can see, at certain times of the day, you need elevated cortisol levels to get your blood flowing and stabilize plasma glucose levels.  One of the most easily predicted releases of cortisol occurs right as you wake up.  Low cortisol in the morning is usually tied to high morning blood sugar and low blood pressure.  Likewise, at night, when you should be enveloped in darkness, cortisol should be low.  Elevated cortisol at bed time interferes with growth hormone release, which will directly impact your ability to lose weight or gain muscle.

Top priority in resetting your sleep cycle is learning to react to natural external stimuli.  When you get up in the morning, immediately getting some sunlight is crucial to alerting your brain that its day time.  The same goes for bedtime; as the sun sets, you need to start turning lights down and turning electronics off.  If you don’t set up an environment that mimics our natural sleep and wake cycles, then it will be that much more difficult to establish a healthy sleep pattern.

Establish a Routine

A routine is key to getting good sleep.  That doesn’t mean living every day of the rest of your life in darkness from 6pm onward, but until you get a handle on your sleep, you need to follow a routine. It may seem boring going to bed early, but you’ll thank yourself later.  In the morning, open the windows and let the sun in.  It’s also a good idea to have a large, protein-dense breakfast.  When adjusting to a new sleep schedule, eating a lot of protein and exposing yourself to bright light will naturally balance cortisol levels.  This will also go a long way to stem cravings and hunger problems.

The Pre-Game Snack

Now for the evening; a huge protein meal won’t be beneficial in relation to sleep like it is in the morning.  In the evening, you’ll be winding down, so a different strategy is required. Fat can assist in regulating blood sugar levels throughout the night, and a slow digesting carbohydrate source will allow serotonin to level up with dopamine in the brain. A sweet potato with coconut butter is a surefire win here.  Trust me on this; when your hormones are up and running, your dreams will inform you that something is right.

This is an update from what I previously wrote.  In May of 2013 I started using Progenex’s Cocoon, it’s a slow acting protein with a key ingredient as a sleep aid L-tryptophan.  If you can afford it I would HIGHLY recommend this product.  I have used melatonin in the past but L-tryptophan gives me more “restorative” sleep and I wake up refreshed. When you order it through our site you get 10% off.

 

Don’t Go To Bed Hungry!

Hunger stresses you out, you produce more cortisol, and you wake up.  See where I am going with this?  The chain reaction of hormones that wake you up in the morning will also keep you awake at night.  You’re making your life a lot harder if you’re avoiding food (and particularly carbs) at night so you can lose weight.  You brain will be unable to shut down for sleep if you’re hungry.  A hungry brain is a never ending brain of revolving thoughts.

One Hour Before Bed

Start your nightly routine; wash your face, brush your teeth and dim the lights.  No distractions, no electronic devices.  This is the perfect time to look out the window at the stars, stretch, meditate, or read a book by candle light.  Make falling asleep at least as big of a priority as your favorite television show and give it one hour nightly.

30 Minutes Before Bed

Decaffeinated tea can help you wind down, as well as spending some quality time with your family or roommates.  It’s likely that if your children were asked whether they’d like to spend the last 30 minutes of the day with mom and dad, or watch an all new episode of a hit Disney show, they’d want the television. Tough cookies though, they also need to eat their vegetables regardless of the fuss. This works the same way.  My wife will often read poems from Shel Silverstein.  Sometimes, we have the kids read to us.  It is optional activity though; you have to want to be there and they do too.

Bedtime Means Lights Out!

I mean complete darkness.  That little light blinking in the corner or your DVD player?  Get rid of it.  Get new curtains if the street lights are shining in.  Darkness tells your brain to produce natural melatonin.  When first starting the routine, you may feel uncomfortable and squirmy in bed. It takes the body and mind a little bit of time to synchronize. Don’t expect everything to resolve itself over night.  Instead of being anxious about getting to sleep, think of this as “me time”.  This is where you can clear your thoughts, close your eyes and just enjoy the cozy comforts of your bed.

You should be setting aside 10 hours for this; one hour to get to bed, and nine hours for sleep.  You may not think you can sleep for nine hours, but give it time and you will.  Even if you only sleep 6 or 7 straight hours, that is six or seven restful hours.  The worst thing that can happen is that you simply wake up early and get some extra work done.

If You Still Can’t Sleep

If none of this stuff works, it might be time to see a doctor and ask for a 24 hour cortisol saliva reading.  A greater degree of hormonal derangement may require assistance from a sleep specialist.  You can put a band aid on the sore, but since sleep is such a big deal, you’re better off covering all your bases and getting sleep help from someone who helps people for a living.

My Trial

I gave up coffee for 30 days when I started this; I just needed to know if coffee was the problem.   I slept better and it seemed, at the time, that coffee was indeed to blame.  It was uncomfortable for a while, but I adjusted after a week or so and I was getting nine hours of sleep regularly.  I eventually re-introduced coffee and found that I was okay now.  In the long run, everyone is different.  I definitely believe that reducing my caffeine intake played a role in reducing my cortisol levels overall, and that was a good thing.

Mental Games We Play With Ourselves

The messages we send ourselves when alone need to change.  If you get five hours sleep one night, do not sweat it. You may want to lay off the five espressos to get you through the day though, because the routine will start again that night when you’re still wired from caffeine. That is sending your brain mixed signals.  I know people think they can drink coffee up until noon and “half-life caffeine.”  You will never truly know, until you are less reliant upon stimulants, if they really are affecting you.  I am drinking espresso right now because I have established my routine but when you are first starting off, you might want to try and lose the stimulants.  Lastly if you take a stimulant BECAUSE you are tired, ask yourself if you really want that added stress on top of an already stressful situation.

Summary

  • Sleep is one of the most underlooked aspects of achieving health and recovering from stress.  The importance of a good night’s sleep in regulating hormone function cannot be disregarded.  It’s also a great time to burn fat! 
  • Dysfunctional sleep can lead to chronically elevated cortisol levels and low levels of growth hormone, resulting in poor body composition and overall health.
  • Exposure to light and dark can help you establish a more natural sleep cycle.  Get some sun during the day and try to spend less time on the computer at night.
  • Eat protein and good fats during the day to keep insulin levels low, your blood sugar stable, and growth hormone up.
  • Eat carbohydrates at night to maximize fat burning and anabolic signaling during sleep.  Don’t go to bed hungry!
  • Once you’ve developed a routine, stick to it and eventually it will become second nature.
  • Cut back on stimulants (like caffeine and energy drinks) when you’re trying to regulate your sleep cycles.  Excessive use can really aggravate the problem.  In general, try to avoid coffee after the morning is over and make sure you drink plenty of water.

The Hardest Negotiation, navigating your child’s nutrition

 

Nutrition and kids is a difficult topic and seemingly everyone has an opinion on what YOUR children should and should not eat.  Heck, even most daycare systems these days do not allow a child through the door whose lunch box does not meet their ‘fruit and vegetables with whole grains’ guideline. My kids take a great deal of pride in the fact that they eat well. It should be a reminiscent reaction to seeing healthy parents who also take pride in their food choices. Children have a more naturally regulating appetite center, so know when they are hungry and full a bit better than adults because we have outdone our appetite centers with poor sleep, stimulants and junk food.

 

Our family challenge- a short story

 

My gym hosted  a 30 day Paleo Challenge- meaning while there were no food restrictions just following of the Paleo Diet.  Since my family and I already ate in a fashion similar to this ,  it really was not going to be that big of a deal for me.  Other than the occasional ice cream or cheesecake daily, I would be cutting out a small amount of fruit juice, greek yogurt and dark chocolate.  So as you can see not that big of a deal for me.  So I viewed the challenge as a fun thing.  My wife and my eleven year old  viewed it similarly, though admittedly I am a nutrition geek and finding new and interesting ways to fuel my body is more fun for me than them.

 

For my ten year old it was pretty clear from the start she did not think of it as fun even though she was the first of the “core four” (what we call our family team) to sign up.  After the first meal she wanted out, expressing that she did not think she could go thirty days without greek yogurt, that put a little smile on my face. If the worst thing your kid can imagine living without is greek yogurt, you are already far down the path.  I do however think I missed the point very early on and therefore I missed a big opportunity for this to be fun for her.  Everyone else in the family had something they could cling to as help but she did not, my wife added a Kombucha Tea, my oldest ate more chicken sausage and I decided to have a grass fed ribeye a day.  She had nothing, in fact, it was even worse, I took away a couple of protein sources without replacing them.  By day eight she was ready to be done and I felt like I had failed, not because I wanted her to restrict her intake in any way, shape or form but because one of my team members was hurting and she clearly did not want to let us down.  Trust me when your ten year old comes into your room crying your first thought is “screw this, get this kid some Jolly Ranchers”. Clearly you see where this is going. The little things like comfort foods just started to add up and because she did not have any new comfort foods, it was starting to take a toll on her.  In addition to that the weekends at our house tend to be a bit of a free for all in terms of meals, at the end of the second weekend it was very noticeable this approach was not going to work during this challenge because many of the foods my kids would normally choose to make for themselves were no longer in the refrigerator or cupboard.

 

The my way or the highway approach is not my thing

 

Normally the way we do nutrition for our children is to give in a bit. We want them to eat wild caught fish, they do not want to eat wild caught fish, the compromise is wild caught fish sticks.  Yes they are breaded but in general I do not live in fear of bread, I simply avoid it and so do my children, under normal circumstances.  Another example is that on Monday’s as a family we eat Mongolian Bar-B-Que. My girls typically get the pasta, they do not normally eat pasta so this is a good treat for them and they recognize it as such.  We also have ice cream as a family on Monday’s.

 

Challenge Defined

 

A challenge is often viewed as something hard or maybe even impossible.  Keeping my children engaged and listening to their concerns is the core of a healthy family relationship with one another and with food.

Fats Could Be Called Skinnies

This is part of the information I teach in the “Science Lab” seminars that we offer free when you purchase things that support our site (it’s mostly stuff you would buy anyway).  Supporting our site allows us to provide you with cool tools like the calculator.  Click the link and it will give you more details.  

(Click here to jump to a summary of this article)

Ah, fat.  Of the three major macronutrients, it is probably the most misunderstood.  Did you know that fat keeps us interested in sex?  Do I have your attention yet?  That’s not all…Fat keeps your skin soft and smooth.  Fat allows you to control your temper when your 5 year old son knocks over the 100 year old family dinnerware.  Fat is what enables you to ‘go’ on a daily basis and what protects your vital organs.  Fat lets you to go from morning to night without daydreaming about Teddy Grahams.  Let it be known, also, that fat tastes damn good!  If this is all news to you, I wouldn’t be surprised.  Where in the world did fat get such a bad reputation?

Well, you can blame math (in part).  Since fat provides 9 calories per gram, health officials assumed that limiting its intake would result in lower rates of obesity and improved cardiovascular health.  Since it’s the most energy-dense macro, “the experts” assumed that eating too much causes higher body weight, higher blood cholesterol and heart attacks.  However, modern nutrition science has proven that such an idea is detrimental to our health.  It does make you wonder, given that fat provides us with so much energy, that they didn’t come to consider it a more sustainable food source.  We can thank modern agriculture for that one; carbs were more profitable.

Natural Fat vs. Manufactured Fat

Of course, fats done wrong will really screw you up.  Your body cannot effectively metabolize man-made hydrogenated or trans-fats.  They contribute to the development of all sorts of disorders, from Alzheimer’s to cancer.  Fats done right, however, enhance weight loss and keep your hormones functioning properly.  Your best bet is to correlate natural fat with good fat; a beautiful marbling on the side of a porter house steak?  Natural.  A 3- day ripened avocado?  That’s natural as well.   What about the runny yolk of a fresh fried egg?  Again, it’s natural.  The natural fat you eat blunts insulin secretion and keeps appetite at bay, shifting your metabolism towards a preference of fat burning.  Keeping insulin levels within a relatively tight range, rather than spiking them and bottoming out, is a great way to reduce systemic inflammation as well.

When natural fat is abundant in the diet, it is accompanied by a powerhouse of nutrition. The incredible, edible egg is one of the best foods you can put in your body. Fats are either accompanied by vitamins (A, D, K and E) and minerals (iron, magnesium and calcium) your body needs, or in the very least will help make sure they’re delivered where they need to go.  On top of that, fat is usually carrying protein along with it (and vice versa), which will help regulate your appetite.  Two of your best sources of fat, coconut milk and coconut oil, are two of the most highly saturated fats on earth.  They’re commonly regarded as very healthy, not to mention tasty (Who doesn’t love curry?).  Although it may appear all of a sudden that endless amounts of fat would be great, remember that too much of anything is probably bad.  Grab a stick of butter and attempt to eat the whole thing; see how far you get (Hopefully not too far from a toilet…).  Too much fat can still make you sick!  You have to pay attention to how much and what kind of fat you’re eating.

Many Types of Fat

There are two ‘classes’ of fats, if you will:  Saturated and unsaturated fat.  Two important polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA’s) are linoleic acid and alpha-linolenic acid. Linoleic acid builds Omega 6 fatty acids, and alpha-linolenic acid builds Omega 3 fatty acids (O3 and O6).  These are essential fatty acids that your body needs to work properly.  As a whole, keeping polyunsaturated fatty acids low is a good idea.  Monounsaturated fat (MUFA) provides Omega 9 (oleic acid), which is not an essential fatty acid like O3 and O6, because the body can produce limited amounts from any unsaturated fat.

“Saturated fat” is fat with hydrogen stuffed between the carbon atoms that it’s comprised of.  It comes in many different forms, both plant and animal.  The saturated fat in a coconut and the saturated fat in grain fed beef are a little different.  Remember, natural fats are good. The fat in grain fed beef has a skewed ratio of PUFA’s, highly favoring the Omega 6, which is inflammatory. In contrast, Omega 3’s are anti-inflammatory.  The Omegas need to be balanced in the diet to achieve good health; most people suffer from an overabundance of Omega 6 without adequate Omega 3, leaving them chronically inflamed.  (We talk about this in greater detail later.)

Omega 6

Omega3TeeterTotter

Omega 3

NOTE:  Omega 3 and 6 are considered essential fatty acids (EFA’s) because your body can not produce them.  Incidentally, if you have fat cravings while dieting, it is often a result of being deficient in EFA’s.

Omega 9′s can be found in olive oil, but we don’t need to worry about how much we eat because the body can produce them as necessary.  MUFA’s are found in a variety of nuts, avocados, as well as grass fed beef and other livestock.  They’re a good source of fat for a person coming off a low fat nutrition plan.  The body will more easily use them for energy as you adjust to a higher saturated fat intake.

As I mentioned earlier, an imbalanced ratio of Omega 3 and 6 in your diet leads to chronic inflammation.  This is very similar to what happens with excessive carbohydrate consumption (though admittedly to a lesser degree).  Inflammation due to an excessive intake of the wrong kind of fat, combined with excessive carbohydrate intake, is inviting for disaster.   The bad news is that practically everyone you know eats this way.

The Good News

When fats are properly balanced, they will not inflame your system.  Interesting enough, since vegetable oil (full of Omega 6) started being promoted in the 1950’s, the incidence of heart disease and cholesterol has skyrocketed.  Correlation?  I think so.   You want to focus on lowering Omega 6 in your diet and increasing Omega 3’s.  The best way to do this is to pay attention to the quality of your food sources.  “You are what you eat” applies to the animals you eat too.  Wild-caught fish have better lipid profiles.  A grain fed cow is gradually being made sick through an inappropriate balance of Omega fatty acids in its diet, and so are you.  As you probably understand now, grass fed beef is the way to go.  It may be expensive or hard to find in some areas, but it’s worth it.  Eat healthy cows, and you’ll be a healthy human.

If you can’t afford, or cannot locate grass fed meat, you can clean up your fat intake by sticking to leaner cuts of meat and adding in your own favorable cooking oil (ghee, butter, tallow).  Remember that the issue is related to fat stored in animals fed nutritionally void diets.  Unfortunately, perfect meat and perfect food financial allowances are not always an option, but chicken breasts and tuna are almost always on sale.  You can make it work.

Supplementing EFA’s

As a last resort, it is possible to fortify and supplement your otherwise not-complimentary diet.  The rate of supplement absorption is greatly enhanced when taken with food.  “Enhanced” must not be mistaken for “better”.  You want to chew and swallow whole, real food with good fats, but when that is not an option, eating foods fortified with Omega 3′s or taking fish oil supplements can serve as a backup plan.  To note, fish oil and O3 supplements are not required on an otherwise adequate diet.  When selecting a product, choose one heavy on EPA’s and DHA’s (two beneficial Omega 3’s).  If there is no mention of either on the label, don’t buy it.  Going with a molecularly distilled supplement will guarantee a superior product; rancid fish oil is the leading cause of fish burps so shop wisely!

Fats Don’t Make You Fat; Your Eating Patterns Do

As you can see, in regards to which side of the fat argument you are on and how your Omega balance is handled, the ever-popular but difficult-to-follow Atkins diet could be either a miracle or the worst thing to ever happen to dieting.  The initial phase of Atkins entails limiting your daily dietary carbohydrate intake to below 20 grams.  You could blow that after 2-3 cups of leafy salad greens.  This first phase drains the glycogen storage in your body; if you’re coming from a “standard” diet, these stores are beyond topped off. Limiting carbohydrates forces your liver to use protein to produce glucose (gluconeogenesis).  Because you’re eating more protein than you normally would, your appetite will be suppressed.  The liver also begins to turn fat into ketone bodies, an alternative energy source to glucose that your organs can run on.  This “fat burning” adaptation (ketosis) takes you from running on carbohydrates (we’ll call this a “sugar metabolism”) to running on fats.  By supplying adequate dietary fat, body fat is mobilized to be used for energy as well.  It unquestionably works to reduce body fat, but like most certainties in life, it comes with a cost.

Ketogenic diets like Atkins can be taxing on an active individual.  During stressful periods, the body breaks down muscle for amino acids to rebuild cells.  Eating a high protein diet will spare some of that muscle, but will also lead to erratic circadian rhythms like waking up at 3 a.m. and feeling exhausted in the mid afternoon.  If lying in bed all day is your idea of living life, then this may be for you.  For those of us who enjoy sports or any other recreation, a constant state of ketosis is stressful at least and unhealthy at best.  Once you power through the sugar withdrawal and initial shift from sugar to fat metabolism, such a way of life becomes relatively easy; appetite and cravings are greatly reduced and the body is flushed of excessive inflammatory stores of PUFA’s and carbohydrates.

Assuming you don’t gorge on deep fried bacon, health markers are almost always improved initially.  Note the word “initially”, as the point of the induction phase is to set the body up for long term health.  That does not equate to living off of 20 carbohydrates a day forever; it entails building up from “scratch” with the right foods.  Mobilizing fat for energy is the selling point of Atkins, but eventually you reintroduce carbs and you run upon the biggest issue relating to the diet.  After you go back to eating relatively “normal” amounts of carbs again, you’ll start to regain weight (with interest!)  Your body is extremely sensitive to insulin at this point and it soaks up all the water and glucose that it can.  Your appetite comes back, you over eat and while this is kind of a good thing, the net loss of fat isn’t really worth all the frustration.

What If There Was a Happy Medium?

The fact that surviving on fats and proteins alone is possible does not imply that it’s optimal. It just means that dietary carbohydrates are not essential.  Periods of our evolution involved unavailable carbohydrates and also periods of incredible carbohydrate intake. Regardless of what you eat, your body is going to produce glucose, because it needs to.  Can you eat in a way that not only takes advantage of fats and proteins to keep you full, but also allows enough carbohydrates so that life doesn’t suck and food is still tasty?  Well, of course!  It’s brilliant actually.  The key is to eat enough fats from the right sources to achieve a good balance of Omega 3′s and 6′s and consume enough protein while ingesting the majority of your carbohydrates in the form of nutrient-dense vegetables and starches.  As it turns out, mama had it right.  You should eat your vegetables, and lard should never go to waste.

I realize this is not too sexy.  It doesn’t involve copious amounts of pasta followed by whole cheesecakes for dessert, but you have a lot more “wiggle room” if you put what you need over what you want.  An adequate intake of vitamins and minerals from vegetables, along with the fats needed to make them bioavaliable, as well as the protein required to maintain muscle mass and repair your body is necessary for proper metabolic function.  The right sources of meat and fats are a key component in achieving overall health, and once you get it right, you need not worry; there is no reason to avoid all of the good carbohydrates or fat. There is a way to put it all together so you can create a plan that works for you.

Summary

  • Fat plays a vital role in many bodily functions, and doesn’t deserve most of the bad press it receives.
  • The kind of fat you eat is extremely important.  Man-made hydrogenated and trans fats are linked to many diseases, but natural fats provide valuable nutrition.
  • Polyunsaturated fats provide lineolic and alpha-lineolic acid are “essential fatty acids” that your body cannot synthesize.  They make Omega 3 (anti-inflammatory) and Omega 6 (inflammatory) fatty acids.
  • A balanced ratio of Omega 3 and 6 in your diet will help control systemic inflammation.
  • Monounsaturated fat and saturated fat are a great source of energy in your diet but they aren’t essential fats.
  • While low carb/ketogenic diets can render quick weight loss, most of the loss comes from cellular dehydration.  High carb diets are inflammatory and when you cut carbs from your nutrition, you become less inflamed.
  • Improved body composition and health are possible on a diet consisting of good fats, nutrient-dense carbs and high-quality protein.  There’s no need to go to extremes.

Veggies and the moderation myth

Most people equate carbohydrate dense foods with gluttony. Mention chocolate and biscuits, and most people will mention their waistlines don’t need that. The list is pretty easy to rattle off: pasta, ice cream, cake etc.  We know common sense tells us to avoid such carbohydrates, but that is not their real problem.  Pasta and biscuits, to begin with are not a natural food source any way you look at it. Both are refined and processed foods.

To change the gluttonous attachment we mentally have to carbohydrates means changing what we view as a source of carbohydrates.  Foods like spinach, sweet peppers, tomato sauce and kale all have carbohydrates.  Vegetables are a dietary source of carbohydrates that not only fill you up but provide you with big allotment of micronutrients to add to your body’s bank account of vitamins and minerals. Such foods are very difficult to overeat simply because nature provides you with foods to eat, not gorge on so they are going to be self limiting. Try to overeat kale or broccoli tomorrow, it cannot be done without some incredibly uncomfortable side effects, at which point you are obviously not listening to the signals your body is sending.

Eating a colorful salad with spinach, sautéed skirt steak, peppers, and carrots is going to leave you satisfied from good nutrition, the crunch of fresh vegetables, taste from spices and herbs, fiber and fat to enhance digestion…but, it will never taste like a bowl of ice cream. There’s no illusion there. Learning to feel your body’s response to nutritious food is very important however, and that response will be had after such a meal. Satisfaction is feeling good mentally and physically about the food you eat feeling confident it will carry over for a long period of time. Eating in a way that leaves you feeling genuinely well and energetic will always be superior to feeding the  mental addiction and taste of overly flavor enhanced food.

It is ironic when people question where fiber comes from with when processed grains are reduced as a result of eating more whole foods. Vegetables believe it or not are chock full of fiber calorie for calorie and ounce for ounce. There is a reason you use the bathroom after eating a salad heavy meal… fiber.  Clearly I am having a little fun here  but often people do know fruit and vegetables have fiber and still make the shocking assumption that somehow it is lacking. The nutrient density of vegetables also provide lasting satisfaction.  When you eat a diet that consists of mostly vegetables and protein you are full a lot, so the temptation to overeat is much less. Becoming full happens because you give the body what it wants and needs so little room is left for mental temptations and cravings.

“But I don’t like vegetables”

So, if you are reading this you are probably an adult so let’s quit acting like a child.  Every family can have occasional candy or sweets, but access in the house to such foods is unnecessary. Leaving the house to go as a family to enjoy an ice cream cone is different than the nightly 3 sleeves of Oreo’s while sitting on the couch watching TV shows.  If you ‘need’ something sweet have an apple. Add some nuts with the apple to make it go further and last longer.  The whole family should have confidence in being able to eat anything in the house they want because all the food provided should be healthy – there are no ‘bad foods’ ‘cheat foods’ or foods off-hands.  At every meal you should try and have a vegetable, and it doesn’t always have to be the ‘best’ vegetable. Eating spinach and collard greens is not necessary every day.  More often than not though, you will get the best bang for the buck with common hearty vegetables.  Besides if you want to have ice cream it’s just best to have it after having a big nutritious meal, that way the likelihood and tendency to overeat is reduced.

Starches

The long and short of starches is that they are higher in calories than in nutrition.  Even the few considered to be good for you like sweet potatoes and squash do not offer a wide variety of nutrients.  Starches that are good for you tend to be good for you because of the vitamins they have.  Most of those vitamins you can get from foods besides starch and will usually accompany many more minerals.  In the case of athletes starches can be a very valuable tool and we will talk more about that in a later chapter.

The case for Pasta

I love Bolognese and while I could certainly eat it with no pasta it is just better with it.  So that is how I eat it.  The difference between the way I eat it and the way that others eat it is the difference between being lean and not.  For instance, there is a local joint that serves adequate portion sizes, meaning small and worth every bite- think French cuisine, fantastic but allowing for only a few bites.  When choosing to eat for mental satisfaction, like pasta and similar empty foods, going for quality is superior to quantity. There is no point in eating empty food for size. A restaurant is a good place to allow for a treat- you get a serving and there is no going back for seconds, thirds…and then a binge.

An appetizer with meat or salad of some sort makes for less room to attempt to meet all your satisfaction with an empty food course, like my favorite pasta Bolognese.  Of course it is more expensive, but I could have eaten at home for cheaper so I am not going to use eating out as an excuse for eating bad.  Another strategy might be to have a steak with the pasta. Don’t be above ordering two entrees, not only will the waiter love you, you’ll allow less stomach room to be spent on junk. As a normal size guy I eat pretty big, so it’s always amusing to order 2 entrées.  I am pretty active and getting most of my food  from real natural sources allows me to eat more due to the efficient processing of my metabolism. My body is in tune to expecting good food and is ready to put it to use.

Moderation?

Do not get twisted what is being said with ‘moderation is key.’  The point is your waistline will expand when you do not provide an environment of nutrient dense foods.

Moderation looks like for a lot of people:

Breakfast: Lowfat Yogurt (carb) and Oatmeal (carb) with some fruit (carb)

Mid morning snack: Kashi Bar

Lunch: Subway 6 inch turkey (low fat everything with some spinach instead of lettuce because Jared lost weight this way) with baked chips

Dinner: Chicken Breast, Brown Rice and Broccoli

See how this person is left gutting it out from lunch to dinner having provided no long lasting source of dietary fat. This will leave an individual ready to eat his arm off and by dinnertime appear to be a possessed raving lunatic. This is a good set up for failure.  So the answer is not eating less of the foods you might be eating now, the answer more likely is replacing those foods with more whole unprocessed foods and eating those foods occasionally.

Oprah once told her audience not to have a single grape after 6pm so they listen, after all, she is Oprah (this example was me). Actually the original advice came from Bob Green (because who should take advice from Oprah…but that Bob Green guy seemed fit).  By 11 pm I was straight starving and choking down Melatonin, known for drowsiness, just to get to bed. Of course I usually awoke around 3am with a rumbling and furious stomach.

Following the bad diet day example and notorious night hunger, it should be obvious that regardless of what you’re eating, if you’re not eating enough you’re going to be hungry. No one should go hungry; it is the worst slap-you-in-the-back way to lose weight because it will always result in the opposite effect once you are fed up with a loud noisy stomach as your body eats away all your muscle. While sending insulin through the roof and crashing down hard is unhealthy, it is not nearly as deterring to mental well being and enjoyment in life as starving all the time. If you believe going hungry is the only way to lose weight, then you are reading the wrong book.

How Moderation Looks now

On Monday’s as a family we have ice cream.

There will be multiple examples of the meals forthcoming, but needless to say I am not dieting.  Food is a big priority in my life as well as my family’s- food has been and will always be social.  I not only enjoy cooking and eating it but I love how it fuels my body.  The majority of the time I eat things that churn the machine. In the instances where I have a treat it is not excessive because I know the results- the ill stomach, the bloat and the loss of energy all for a measly minute of tasting something my tongue wants to taste. Excessive overeating makes you sick- it is really as bad a feeling as under eating. Listening to your body and its reaction to food should be front and center when finding a way of fueling your body that will work for you, forever.

The Take Home

Although all fruits and vegetables likely contribute to offer variety in nutrients, green leafy vegetables such as spinach, Swiss chard, collards and mustard greens are superior. Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, bok choy, and kale and excellent and citrus fruits such as oranges, lemons, limes, and grapefruit all contribute to overall health in a positive way.

Vegetables and fruits are clearly an important part of everyday health. Almost everyone can benefit from eating more of them, but variety and color is as important as quantity. No single fruit or vegetable provides all of the nutrients you need to be healthy. From cancer, vision and gastrointestinal health to blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and skin aging, your carbohydrate intake should always be based around a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables- an no worries, you will get plenty of fiber this way. Experiment and try new dishes, exotic fruits and seasonal vegetables- you may surprise yourself!


Carbohydrates Part 1 – A Sugar Tutorial

Carbohydrates or Carbs is the new boogie man of nutrition, even more so than fats though there are groups on both sides that disdain both of them with equal fervor.  Most of the time though there is some type of qualifier and in the case of carbs that would be simple versus complex.  Simple carbs are things like sugar, you know the real bad stuff in a super refined state.  On the other side complex carbs are things like Spinach.  That is a pretty wide spectrum to paint with a very broad brush.  That is where diets lose me and ultimately lose most people.  This is also where I very noticeably depart from people that think my approach is similar to the Paleo Diet, well that and the fact that the word diet implies restriction but I digress.  While the Paleo Diet proponents might suggest they are not against carbs and have a heavy vegetable component to their diet there is one vegetable that is clearly Paleo that they lose their mind over, that vegetable is the potato.  That is because the potato is very high in carbs.  Certainly if Paleolithic man had come across a potato he would not have hesitated to eat it.  Which is where all this Paleolithic Man and Caveman talk falls apart.  So let’s be clear, the Paleo Diet, especially for people without a lot of activity is a decidedly low carb approach.  Which is fine but it’s really just a version of Atkins with a few more vegetables.  Fair? I think the Paleo Diet is a fine diet if you want to be on a diet and you want to restrict your intake by eating certain foods (it needs a few tweaks for active people), I do not personally think that is necessary but if you are in pain as it relates to weight issues and you would rather not count calories many people have had great success restricting what they eat using those rules.  That group includes me at one point.

Or, you can eat lean meats (or meats high in Omega 3′s), vegetables and some fruit.  Even the dreaded potato can be eaten on occasion given those parameters without a great deal of consequence, I can assure you that is very difficult to become obese eating like that.  That said if you start your day eating hash browns, eat some potato chips with lunch and mashed potatoes for dinner the issue is not the potato it is that you are a moron.  You are eating a nutrient deficient diet and unless your head has been underwater for the last thirty years you are likely well aware of that fact.

So now that we have cleared that up let’s move on.

While there are no bad foods, excessive intake of sugar is close

Sugar has no nutrients and depletes your body of vital nutrients because it requires your body to hold excessive fluid without the value of added vitamins (micronutrients).

Feel free to hit me with any questions in the comments on this point but I think this is fairly clear and should allow us to move on relatively easily.

Anything that ends in ‘Ose is a sugar, it is the delivery method that matters

Sucrose is what is commonly thought of as “table sugar”, Lactose is the sugar in milk, Fructose is the sugar in fruit and Dextrose is sugar that is exclusively glucose.  All sugars are inflammation foods because they generate a lot of insulin and to process them your body retains fluids, this is just a natural process within the body, it only becomes problematic when it happens too often.  On a side note when you have sugar cravings it is typically a symptom of protein deficiency, I would personally make the argument that it is nutrient deficiency in general that is causing the cravings but it is pretty clear that when you eat protein in most instances where you have sugar cravings they go away.  You are welcome, now you know one of the biggest ways to control your weight.  With that said if you are a highly active individual exercising with intensity and your carbohydrate intake is excessively low it can cause you hormonal problems that will result in using your muscle for energy and retention of fat.

Sucrose is a disaccharide composed of the monosaccharides glucose and fructose.  It offers you nothing from a nutrient perspective but it does enhance the flavor of things that do provide your body good nutrients, the brain also REALLY likes sucrose and it can be a quick energy source if you are lethargic.  That comes with some additional costs but temporarily it can provide you with some joy.  Denying the fact that sugar makes things taste better is one of the problems with diets because none of them really embrace sugar.  I personally do not eat a lot of sugar but I do eat it, it is literally in everything from salad dressings to mayonnaise and of course the obvious sweets we all enjoy so much.

Lactose is the sugar in milk, Lactose is a disaccharide derived from the condensation of galactose and glucose.  You could really argue that it is a worse sugar than Sucrose because it has more issues.  Many people are intolerant towards Lactose and do not know it, I personally am not lactose intolerant but if I consume a decent amount of milk I definitely feel run down.  I have recently been diagnosed with an allergy towards milk protein, while the symptosms aren’t extreme and don’t require me to abstain from dairy completely I suspect there are many people walking around without this knowledge.  Milk is commonly thought to be good for you because, well, they have pretty good marketers that tell you this over and over.  Add Vitamin D supplementation and the dairy industry looks like a knight in shining armor.  Another often overlooked issue with lactose as it relates to sugar is how easy it is to consume, while people have been distracted by the low fat versus 2% vs whole debate the sugar element is completely overlooked.  Think of how silly that is, people are focused on drinking low fat milk with no regard at all for the sugar in milk.  I will talk more about insulin sensitivity in a later chapter but as a short primer insulin is a building hormone, when your insulin levels are raised your body is more likely to build, sometimes this means fat storage but can also mean muscle building.  This is one of the reasons chocolate milk is often recommended as a good post workout option.

Fructose is the sugar that you get from fruit.  The debate on whether or it is better or worse for you is almost irrelevant because it is the delivery method of the sugar that takes precedence here.  In the case of sucrose you have sugar totally refined, lactose is not dissimilar in the way it gets you the sugar.  Fruit is different because your body in an effort to get you the sugar first needs to break down the food part with all of those extra vitamins and nutrients, do not misunderstand me, the sugar is still not great for you but the other parts of the food provide you benefits that make fruit worth eating (I feel like I need to say on occasion here but I will talk more about this in the next section on carbohydrates).

High Fructose Corn Syrup is a very powerful form of sugar derived from corn, many people mistakenly believe that corn is good for you because they think it is a vegetable.  In fact, corn is a grain and the syrup derived from this grain is an insulin nightmare.

You should notice that all sugars have some combination of glucose (or in the case of Dextrose exclusively glucose), this is an important sugar as it relates to muscle energy and I will talk further about it in the chapters on activity.  It alternatively is called Dextrose or any of it’s derivatives.  As a teaser I will say that for athletes all sugars do not act equally, as an example fructose refills liver glycogen as a priority while glucose (or dextrose, one of the sugars in gatorade) has a more direct relationship with muscle glycogen.

I tried to stay unbiased as it relates to sugar but if you can become pretty conscious of your sugar intake that will go a long way to controlling your waistline, energy and overall health.  Sugar of course is not the problem for most people because they are well aware that too much sugar intake could have bad results.  So in that way people naturally regulate their sugar intake in a lot of ways, some of those ways unfortunately end up with other consequences.

Malnourished With Cravings: Lessons Every Crossfitter Should Know

Nutrients

This is the first chapter of the “Foundations” PDF that science lab members get.  The “Science Lab” is a service I offer Crossfitters that are looking to reach their body composition goals.  The classes work in a similar fashion to the way Crossfit WOD’s work, they are scheduled and our coaches walk you through what you need to do to achieve your optimal physique.  It is free for most people buy simply purchasing items through our links on this site.  For a list of our free options click here.  

I:  Malnourishment and Why a Lack of Nutrients is the Real Problem

(Click here to jump to a summary of this article)

            What would you say if I told you that diets have it backwards; what if eating less was actually preventing you from losing weight and attaining your goals?  What if the solution was not to eat less, but to eat more, and better?  It may not make sense at first, judging from the prevalence of obesity in the United States and other developed nations, but most of us live in a state of malnourishment; we eat too much of the wrong kinds of food and we’re just not getting enough of the right nutrients to function optimally or lose weight.  This is the main reason our bodies send us confusing, nonsensical signals.  When we eat a balanced diet composed of wholesome, nutrient dense foods (foods rich in vitamins, minerals and other micronutrients) we give our body what it needs and we are no longer hungry; we’re no longer a slave to cravings.  But the body’s needs are ever changing – hour to hour and week to week.  Eating the same food day in and day out at the same caloric intake sets your body up for deficiencies. You just can’t supply everything you need with 5 foods, even if they are the most healthful foods in the world.

Nourishment is of course not the reality for most people because their diets are full of nutrient deficient foods.  Instead of eating less, your new goal should be to eat in a manner that adds more to the body system than it takes away and helps balance your hormones naturally.  Eating a bowl of cereal which touts ‘100%’ the daily value of a rack of vitamins and minerals is all great in theory, except for the fact that your body can’t absorb and put use to all that synthetically engineered ‘nutrition’.  Thus, you are left off worse than you started; this is where diets get it all wrong.  The term “dieting” implies a level of restriction, and for anyone that has a teenager out there, you know that when you restrict someone from anything the consequences tend to be fairly catastrophic.

Cravings

Cravings are a normal response; when you cut out foods from your nutrition that you’ve developed a mental attachment to, you’ll miss them in the same way you’d miss a friend.  On top of that, the foods you eat, no matter how processed, are still supplying your body with energy that it needs.  Over time, they have literally become a part of your physiology, and when they’re gone, it’s as though a piece of you is missing.  There are, however, alternatives to many of the foods we crave that will give us the nutrition we need without all of the chemicals, additives and guilt.  Before we go any further and discuss how you can put this into action, we need to talk about some of the habits that make cravings worse.  Here are a few messages drilled in our heads:

“Breakfast is the most important meal of the day!”

“Your body runs on sugar, so make sure you eat a lot of it all the time!

“Just get something in your stomach and get that metabolism going!”

“Look, if you’re serious about losing weight, the rules are simple.  A whole grain breakfast is necessary.

We’ve all been told over and over again about breakfast and all its perks.  Part of this is true; eating breakfast can be a great way to kick off your day, but it doesn’t have to happen immediately after you wake up.  Even more of a problem is that in the absence of a nutritionist who designs a meal plan for you (Actually, a lot of nutritionists preach this crap.), we go for the “ready now”, pre-packaged convenience foods.  Really, who has time these days?  A cinnamon raisin bagel topped with low fat double whipped cream cheese and black coffee was my go-to, “choke-it-down”, quick and easy breakfast. Heck, if the bagel has some heart healthy whole wheat in it, it’s a win-win scenario, a healthy “breakfast of champions.”  I would typically eat this around 6 a.m.  By 8:00, I was usually headed face-first into a bowl of oatmeal because the bagel didn’t sate my appetite; I was ravenous.  In fact, I was usually so hungry that I had to have two packets of oatmeal.  It’s a good thing oatmeal is full of fiber, because already the calories are starting to sort of pile up (if only I knew what I know…) and it’s only half past eight!  I would spend the rest of the morning figuring out how to eat a light, low calorie lunch.  This double breakfast, “bottomless-pit-of-a-stomach” was the story of my life (or at least my mornings) for years.  I was no daily gym junkie either, because ya know, “Who has the time or energy for that!?”  I was already preoccupied with tallying off a light lunch after downing two breakfasts!  It was all a big mental game.

If this scenario sounds familiar to you, then we have a lot to talk about, but first I want to clear this up:  the aim of this blog is not to preach; my experience may not match up with yours and you’re going to have to figure a lot of this out for yourself (With my help of course!).  Think of it as though you’re being taught to fish, rather than having somebody fish for you.  There is no “best” way to eat for all people; in fact, the point of this collection of texts is to highlight that nutrient-dense, whole foods should make up the base of nutrition for everyone, from sedentary people to high-level athletes.  No matter what your lifestyle, when you give your body what it needs and leave out the junk, you are less susceptible to cravings and you’ll be able to listen to the messages your body is sending you.  I’m a fairly athletic guy, so my body demands a bit more from me than yours might.

Here’s what my breakfast looks like nowadays.  It’s important to note that I eat breakfast around noon rather than shoveling food into my mouth at 8 a.m.:

10 ounces of grass-fed rib eye in a little clarified butter and sea salt

4 fresh eggs

A raw kale and spinach salad with carrots and peppers, chopped macadamia nuts and a little olive oil

Can you see the difference between this first meal and the bagel and oatmeal from above? This meal provides real foods packed with real nutrients.  A meal such as this carries a high degree of satiety; it leaves me feeling full and energetic.  It gives me the ability to tackle the day without worrying about being hungry. If you are eating the bagel and oatmeal combo like I was, you are not providing your body with the quality and composition of fuel it needs to get going.   It’s akin to putting regular unleaded in a car that runs on super; the engine is going to go through hell.  This is not an ode to a “Grass-fed Rib Eye Revolution Breakfast”.  It’s just my experience.  Your scenario may be completely different, but regardless of our differences, we all have the same basic requirement for nutrient-dense foods that provide us with energy and a sense of well-being.  Many of those diet ‘rules’ you have heard and believe are just wrong. Small tweaks, like switching out the convenient, pre-made food for real, satisfying meals make a big difference.

I meet and talk with people every single day, and I can confidently say that I believe, by-and-large, that most folks are trying to do the right thing.  People do care what they put into their body and would gladly eat steak and eggs with a spinach salad for breakfast if they only knew that it was okay.  In terms of bang-for-your-buck, spinach and eggs won’t render dramatic weight loss like caloric restriction will, which is why Charles Barkley can sell you Weight Watchers, but your natural instincts get ignored.  Product marketing and convenience play a big role in how we eat and quick fixes are extremely attractive, especially when a celebrity is telling us how well it all works.  As someone who lost sixty pounds in one year, I completely understand the motivation to lose weight as fast as possible, but if I had to do it all over again it would be a whole lot easier if I’d just listened to my body.

Why Caloric Restriction is The Wrong Approach

Let me make sure I’m clear:  if you eat in an unrestricted way without respect for food choices, the consequences are obvious; you will get fat and you’ll feel like crap.  This is an adult conversation where I assume you will keep practicality and individual experience in mind.  Also, I am not suggesting that you might not at some point consider a deficit strategy that specifically targets fat, but calorie restriction alone often wastes as much muscle as it does fat.  Since muscle is important as it relates to staying alive and looking good (even for women), it’s kind of a big deal.  Since most of us embark upon diets to improve our appearance as much as our health, calorie deprivation is full of holes.  Let’s go over the scenario I talked about earlier and examine how it relates to a calorie counting scheme.

In the first scenario, I presented a standard breakfast from before I learned what I was doing. These choices took more from my body than they provided; they were “empty calories.”  You could really make a case against every single thing I ate, even the coffee. (By the way I love coffee and I have some thoughts that I will get to later; it might surprise you how much coffee I drink.).  Eating the typical low calorie “diet foods” and follow the standard suggestion of gobbling all these tiny little meals left me engaged  in a battle royale against my body’s hunger signals.  I was keeping my metabolism “stoked”, just to lose a pound!  Clearly the violent cravings were an indicator of my success.  Or not!  Let’s be clear about this:  no matter how many times you eat, your metabolism will only burn through as many calories as it needs to.  There are cases that can be made for both sides of the argument, so rest assured; if you want to eat 18 meals a day, by utilizing the knowledge I provide you with, you will be giving your body with what it needs.  That is the secret.  No shortcuts, no bullshit.

Cravings and hunger are a good sign that you are stressing your body out.  I do not know about most of you, but I have enough things stressing me out; I do not need to add food restriction or mental images of dancing cupcakes taunting me onto that list.  When your body is stressed, it breaks down muscle for energy at an accelerated rate.  This leads to poor muscle tone or your typical ‘skinny fat’ appearance.  What we eat aids in the repair of our body from the wear and tear we put it through on a daily basis.  Mental stress is just as damaging to your body as physical stress is, leading to even more hunger. Additionally, when you do not provide your body with the nutrients it’s clearly signaling for, you’re left with lethargy and fatigue.  But that’s fine, right?  That’s when you grab a 5 hour energy or another coffee like you’ve always done!  Those are stimulants, and using them to make up for a lack of food is one of the worst ideas that we commonly put into practice. The nature of these “perk-me-ups” is to stress the body for a specific result; it is like pouring gas on a fire.  Stress hormones run rampant and while you do get the energy they promised, a lot of it comes from muscle.

Remember this all started because you did not provide your body with what it wanted and one of two things are going to happen come nighttime:  you are either going to negate whatever potential weight loss you could have achieved through calorie restriction and binge, or you’ll gut it out and go to bed starving (which isn’t favorable as far as maintain muscle mass goes).  If you tough it out, well…Good luck sleeping that night.  This is no way to go on, but this is the standard prescription we’re offered by the media and the mainstream weight loss industry.

Weight Watchers or calorie counting is a tool; it’s not inherently evil.  Later in the blog, we’ll go over some calorie counting strategies that can set you on the right track if you use them correctly.  No, the tool isn’t to blame; the way it’s used, however, ignores what your body is saying by trying to fit a lot of pieces into the puzzle that just don’t line up.  Said another way, “No matter how few nachos you eat, it’s still not as effective as eating a nutrient dense salad.”  You need to acknowledge and react to your body’s signals. That is why broccoli is a low point Weight Watchers food, and worked well until food manufacturers got wind of the diet and decided to capitalize with “one point” pastries and candy. This is essentially what all calorie restriction systems are; they allow you to disregard the natural signals your body gives you so you can “fit in” junk food.  Now, I’m not saying you can’t have some junk food here and there.  You can eat beer and nachos as long as you understand what it does to your body.  My goal is to educate you so that you can get to a point where you’re eating right 80% of the time and that you understand some of the science, so beer or nachos can be guilt free.  I want you to come full circle, from relying upon these foods, to enjoying them in context with your healthy nutrition plan.

What if there were no bad foods?

Ask yourself this question:  “If you did not place judgments upon food as either bad or good, how would that change your perspective as it relates to food choices?  Would your life be more difficult, or easy?”  I have been ragging on oatmeal a bit, partly because it is considered to be a food that is “good for you”, and therefore “safe” to eat.  Conversely everyone knows ice cream is “bad for you”, so it’s one of the first things they tend to drop when they start changing their nutrition.  I want you to try and look at all foods with a level of scrutiny, but our goal is lose the attributions of “bad” or “good”.  Food is not inherently good or bad for you; it’s how you apply it to your individual lifestyle that renders either a favorable or undesirable result.  Those kinds of judgments don’t take you into context, and they have no place in the way we’re going to think about foods from now on.  Demonizing food you love leads to bad decisions justified by a misunderstanding of basic principles; you can eat what you want as long as you make sure to eat what you need, and best of all, you can make it work to your advantage.

But What If I’m Not Fat?

For whatever reason, everyone responds differently to food, but in general everybody requires proper nutrients.  If you’re 9% body fat and you want to get 5% body fat, understanding the basics I’ll lay out will help you simplify the process and make your life easier.  Whether fat or skinny, it is important to understand the messages your body is sending you.  Once you know what these signals mean, you will have cracked the code that has baffled you for so long, no matter what your goals are.

Summary

  • Most of us are malnourished; we either eat too much of the wrong foods, or too little of the right ones.  Both scenarios lead to dysfunction
  • Cravings are a normal response when you remove foods from your diet.  Getting the timing, composition, and size of your meals right is more important than restricting your caloric intake.
  • Calorie restriction without regard for the composition of the food you eat (carbs, fat, and protein) results in unmitigated weight loss of bone, muscle and fat.  The resultant outcome is a reduced quality of life.
  • You can eat healthy and still have your favorite foods.  There are no bad foods.
  • A balanced, flexible approach to nutrition can benefit anyone, from sedentary individuals to athletes.  There’s no need to drive yourself crazy to maintain health and a lean body composition.

Introduction

What a judgmental jerk, right? The title suggests that a statement can be made regarding what to eat that serves a universal purpose, to serve all.  Jerk however, is the first thought when health, and to a certain extent fitness, is brought up. The word “diet” does not represent food choices, but implies caloric reduction. Just the word implies you’re already worrying about less of something (like food) and more of another (like exercise). It certainly is not common for someone to say the word “diet” without some type of judgment.

The word sucks from a couple of standpoints.  Firstly people should already be on a diet because their body inherently knows what and when to eat. Certainly there are foods that confuse this issue and we will have that discussion, but in general if you eat the right foods at the right times, your body will naturally lose the fat suit it is carrying.  Secondly, and more specifically, your diet MAY suck because foods have been demonized as bad or good, or at the very least manipulated by the marketing of nutrient deficient foods.  If sugars are bad for you, then 16 bananas a day just might not be a good thing.  Believe it or not, oatmeal is not providing any more usable fiber than a carrot. General Mills wants society, and more specifically you, to think oatmeal holds the power of fiber reducing cholesterol and five star health.  Perfectly reasonable people have become parrots of a marketing tool that makes no sense at all.  People actually ask where to get fiber from as if fruits and vegetables are somehow fiber deficient.  So while I realize most people are not going to exchange their oatmeal for spinach, acknowledging the superiority of the nutrients in spinach over oatmeal is understanding how to change your health.

Let’s pretend we are adults here and that oatmeal is not the secret answer to life (you might think I feel bad picking on a food endorsed by Wilfred Brimley but I do not) so a big bowl with brown sugar and raisins is not one of  life’s top necessities.  Also factor in that there may be other things throughout the day that we might want as a treat making the brown sugar bowl this morning a waste. Perhaps after passing the McDonalds billboard or walking past Burger King and smelling that flame broiled breeze your brain is enlightened. This is how diabolical food marketers are. They convince people that oatmeal with brown sugar and raisins is good for them, and that is the problem.  The equivalent of oatmeal in reality is eating a bowl of ice cream for breakfast and actually a favorable argument for ice cream over oatmeal can be made. Now that I have your attention speaking of ice cream’s potential benefits…

Not only do I like pancakes, pizza and yes oatmeal and eat them regularly, but I am under no illusion that any of them are good for me.  Maybe marginally bad is best put for me but that is okay.  Life deserves to be enjoyed, not just subsisted. Effective strategies for eating these foods while allowing the body and mind to function, using the experience of a million years of evolution is where knowledge meets power.  That is key, as your body already knows how to function well. The majority of people are simply sending confusing signals.

It starts with the metabolism. As a certified personal trainer, I have heard countless times that I should eat five to six small meals a day to “stoke my metabolism.”  This is a bullshit lie that has been told so many times it seems like fact. Just like it is ingrained in many that oatmeal equates to health, eating all day to keep the body running must be the end all be all as well. Of course it is possible to achieve your health goals eating five to six meals, clearly many people have done that.  What is not promoted is that you can get a similar result eating one meal a day.  Personally I eat two meals a day most days, and I usually have a small snack in between the two.  I am not going to get ahead of myself explaining exactly why that schedule works for me and can for you, but that will be part of what we will explore in upcoming pages. Each person is different and ultimate success needs to meet your preferences. If your preference is six meals a day knock yourself out, but there should be general rules about what those meals look like so you do not end up destroying millions of years of evolution.

Like most people reading this, I became an authority on diets from Weight Watchers and Slimfast to eat-like-a-caveman Paleo and The Zone. Many people hold these diets in high regard.  Your ultimate goal for life is to not overeat relative to your activity level but also not count calories, and with the right knowledge to meet that goal you will be set for life.

There are always arguments for more precision and more or less activity.  The point is not to convince you everything laid out is always going to be gospel truth, but to lay out guidelines which will allow you to understand how to make your own decisions and prosper in your own body, mind and life. Let’s turn the chaos into confidence and the unexpected into perfect timing.


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