More reasons to focus on building lean body mass, not losing weight and fat per se. The health benefits of maintaining and improving your muscle mass are many… watch this video and see what I mean:
Art by jacques gamelin
The USDA “Food Pyramid” has been around for 21 years, based on the dietary recommendations of the late 1950’s and official recommendations from the USDA in 1977. But data shows that the population of the world is the most obese that it has ever been. Seems that the low fat diet plan is not working (see the chart below), doesn’t it? Have you ever wondered why our grandparents ate all the bad stuff but weren’t obese? I did. As it turns out, there is a lot of new research that says they were right and that the low-fat, low cholesterol, and no saturated fat diet is actually causing the obesity epidemic along with several other modern problems.
My grandmother was a great cook, not a five-star restaurant chef, but she made foods that we all enjoyed and were better than you can find in any restaurant these days. Why? Because she used what she had, all natural foods including fish and game meats that my grandfather hunted, cooked in butter and lard. Lard? Yep. She made the best fried (in-lard) fish with corn-meal batter that I have ever had. Hands down! When her freezer got too full of fish, she would have a fish-fry and invite all the family and friends.
One of my favorite memories of her is the Thanksgiving dinners, where she would make each person’s favorite dish. All at the same time and all excellent. Sometimes for 11+ family members who came for the dinner. You would have thought that our family would be all overweight and in bad health from all that tasty, high-fat food. But that was not the case. My best description of my family’s diet philosophy was “everything is ok, just in moderation.” It was high in everything, low in nothing and all made from scratch. We hadn’t yet heard of the food pyramid. As it turns out, there is now a lot of good scientific research to say that the food pyramid is upside down. In this and later blog posts, I’ll explain.
I’ve been a follower of Dr. Tim Noake’s (University of Cape Town professor of exercise and sports physiology) books and writings for a couple of years now. Dr. Noakes is the author of several books that challenge the general notions and commercialized hype that rules the sports world. See the “Lore of Running” and “Waterlogged” which I have discussed before. His research into human performance and physiology is very well respected. He has debunked several widely-accepted ideas including the idea that you must drink to excess (promoted by the sports-drink industry) to be able to perform well in endurance events.
His latest research push is into the impact and efficacy of the low-fat dietary recommendations that were introduced in 1977 which promoted the following (from www.health.gov/dietaryguidelines): Increase carbohydrate intake to 55 to 60 percent of calories while decreasing dietary fat intake to no more than 30 percent of calories, with a reduction in intake of saturated fat, and recommended approximately equivalent distributions among saturated, polyunsaturated, and monounsaturated fats to meet the 30 percent target. They also recommended to decrease cholesterol intake to 300 mg per day, sugar intake to 15 percent of calories, and to decrease salt intake to 3 g per day.
In 1992 the USDA published the now famous “Food Pyramid” seen to the left. These recommendations have been adopted around the world and the words “low-fat” are on everything in the grocery store from cookies to yogurt to salad dressings. The result was the demonizing of several common foods including butter, lard, eggs, and full-fat dairy products. The push was towards grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables. Butter and lard were replaced with margarine (read: trans-fat), vegetable oils and polyunsaturated fats. Eggs and bacon were out. Lean turkey was in. Much of our food supply became wheat and corn-based because grains were subsidized by the USDA and therefore cheap and plentiful. Even the livestock are fed corn. Every product on the store shelf became labeled as low-fat and grain-based. Try to buy a non-low fat yogurt in your grocery store, there are one or two containers among the 100’s of low fat yogurts (which all have added sugar, by the way). Most low-fat products have added sugar to make them palatable, often in the form of the very cheap but very bad High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS).
Dr. Noakes became interested in the low fat vs low-carbohydrate diet issue when his own weight and pre-diabetic condition became a problem. Although he has run more than 70 marathons, as he aged he was unable to control his weight. In this article he explains his justification for moving to a Low-Carbohydrate High Fat (LCHF) diet. He is carbohydrate-resistant which makes him unable to tolerate high carbohydrate diet. It is ironice that LCHF was the recommended method of losing weight (called “Banting” after William Banting) from the 1860’s to 1959, when it was replaced by the Low-Fat High Carbohydrate (LFHC), so called “Heart Healthy” diet (due to Ancel Keys’ flawed analysis that led to the claim that cholesterol causes heart disease).
So how have the low-fat, low cholesterol, high carbohydrate recommendations worked out? A very compelling article summarizes the correlation and reasons why the “Low Fat War” was a mistake. The correlation is uncanny, but that is not proof. Recent scientific studies have shown that the Low-Fat guidelines are indeed wrong. In addition, many health problems that are epidemic these days are being attributed to the HCLF lifestyle.
I have never had a big problem with weight, but have always been annoyed that my weight would fluctuate 10 lbs (a lot on my small frame) when I stepped back from intensive training. The other issue is that no matter how many miles I would ride or run, I never seemed to lose that last bit of fat around my middle. In mid-September I decided to try reducing carbs in my diet and to keep track of the results. Studies have shown that weight can be easily maintained on 100-150 g/day and reduced on 50-100 g/day without restricting calories drastically. Going less than 50 g/day will make losing weight easy. Check out authoritynutrition.com‘s articles for good advice on this subject. In the US, many individuals get 40% of their calories from sugar, and eat more than 600 g/day of carbs. No wonder we are an obese society. Studies have shown low-carb diets are better at reducing fat than low-fat diets.
Initially I just lowered the overall carb total, then after a couple of weeks I went to less than 150g/day. Initially, I was craving carbs, but then when I realized that I was having more motivation, less 10:00 AM sugar lows and cravings for cinnamon raisin bread I decided to get down to under 100 g/day of carbs. I have eliminated almost all breads, potatoes, pastas and other grain-based foods. Added sugar, honey and other forms of sugar are totally out. After a couple of weeks, the carb cravings went away and I actually was less hungry. Although this is not a scientific result, I have lost 5-6 lbs (~4% of starting weight) while eating more meats, eggs, cheese and generally higher fat foods. This is while at the same time not riding or running significantly since the end of September (my usual fall hiatus from training). In past years my weight would have been 7 to 8 lbs. higher during this time of year. So this year I am essentially 11-14 lbs lighter than last year when I took time off. I think that is very significant!
In future posts, I will talk about what my research into the literature on the LCHF lifestyle has found including the health benefits. I will cover sugar, grains, eating fat to lose fat and why a “calorie is not a calorie” among other topics. I think you will find it interesting and eye-opening. It has been for me.
I’ve never been into counting calories. I like to think that’s because my weight hasn’t varied too much through the years, but it’s more likely related to my math phobia. This is quite the stark contrast to my friend, who can rattle off the calorie count of my last meal within 20 seconds of me describing it. But the real question is should you count calories? I’ve been hearing more and more about not counting calories, but instead, “eating clean”, making smarter food choices, and increasing physical activity. All of those recommendations make sense and I support them, but can you actually ignore the calorie component? I don’t think so, at least not completely. Luckily for me, the formula for weight management is VERY simple: calories in – calories out! Which means consuming more calories (of even smart, clean foods and drinks) than your body expends each day, can result in weight gain.
Knowing where you fall in the “calories in – calories out” equation can help you make the right modifications to your current eating and exercise routines. Let’s have a look at this using my personal data to first establish what my actual daily energy needs are, and not what my stomach says, in order to maintain my current weight. I‘ll use the Mifflin-St. Jeor Equation which takes age, gender, weight, height and level of activity into consideration.
Energy Needs = Resting Metabolic Rate (breathing, circulation…) x Activity Level. Now here comes the math… RMR = 9.99 x weight (kg) + 6.25 x height (cm) – 4.92 x age – 161. (Men: replace the -161 with +5). My stats (116 lbs., 5’1”, and 51 yrs) yield an RMR of 1083. Multiply that by the appropriate activity level (Little = 1.2, Light = 1.375, Moderate = 1.55, Very Active = 1.725, Extra Active = 1.9). If I rate my activity as Moderate, then my daily caloric intake should be around 1600 calories. That number alone may surprise you, so it’s worth the calculation. The next step is to keep track of what you eat and drink for 1-2 weeks, then figure out the caloric value associated with it by going to www.MyPyramid.gov or any another reliable nutrition site.
According to the 2005 Dietary Guidelines, if you’re looking to avoid gaining weight as you age, you need to decrease daily intake by 50-100 calories, largely due to limited or more restrictive activity. If you’re looking to lose weight, creating a 500 calorie per day deficit via diet and/or exercise will do the trick.
Moral of the story – too many calories, even from good foods, is bad when you’re consuming more than your body expends. So don’t obsess over calorie counting, instead, understand what your intake should be, gauge each meal accordingly and maintain that active lifestyle!
I love it when I can translate some of the training and insights I’ve gained from my work to my personal life and interests. Take my current role in IBM, working on development transformation. Transformation is all about radically changing how you do things or what you do, to bring about a significant, positive change. But as we all know, change can be scary. It takes you out of your comfort zone. Change can be hard, especially when we try to change too many variables at the same time. In business, the more variables you change concurrently, the riskier your project is deemed to be. This business example can easily be applied to someone trying to make positive changes in their overall health and fitness. When a person suddenly says, “Enough is enough! I have to drop this 20lbs,” they’re highly motivated and looking to make big changes. They dust off the treadmill, buy some new dumbbells, swallow their last beer and swear they’ll never eat out again! They make it through their first week, feeling pretty good, though a little sore. The second week comes and goes… (that beer would really take the burn out of my quads right now), and week three… you know how the rest of the story goes.
Although some people can be successful introducing several changes at once around diet and exercise, I believe, just like the risky project, the more things you change, the more opportunities you create for failure. So what’s the solution? Well just like in business, you need to create small wins. Pick up most any resource on leadership or change management, and the concept of creating small wins – achievable interim goals – along the path to the primary objective (e.g. drop 20lbs.) is essential. Small wins are about creating opportunity for you to succeed. Feeling successful is what fuels your motivation to continue down the path to your goal.
Here’s an example. Rather than adopting some drastic change in your eating habits which will shock your system and be difficult to adhere to, you instead define your first goal. Change #1: focus on portion control for the next two weeks. Continue to eat all the foods you normally would, but eat the appropriate serving size. Since most Americans today simply eat too much, focusing on portion control alone will yield weight reduction benefits. By the end of two weeks you’ll feel successful and motivated to introduce your next change. Change #2: (in addition to portion control) eliminate two to three obvious enemies (high sugar, saturated fats), from your diet, such as soda and potato chips. Not sure what to eliminate? Consult myplate.gov. Then your next change could be around making smarter food choices…
And so the cycle of introducing smaller goals and allowing yourself to be successful changing one thing at a time, can significantly improve your chances of achieving your overall objective.
So whether you’re looking to eat healthier or adopt a more active lifestyle, get big results with small wins!