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.
Have you ever noticed that when we write things down they somehow become more real? The transcription of a thought or idea to paper can transform a mere intention to a commitment. The written word is enduring. We can come back to it and stare at it. It can be a constant reminder. This is exactly what I found when I started my 2 week food log. Recording every little thing I ate or drank, everyday achieved two things. First, it laid out my intake in black and white – there was no escaping the reality of my diet “quality and quantity”. Secondly, it made me think twice ( Ask Why?) about eating something because I knew I had to record it. I could look at the record for a day, see that I had made good choices for breakfast and lunch. Did I really want my next entry to be “Snickers bar”? (What if someone walked by and read my log? Yikes!) Tip #9 – Monitor Intake, is a highly effective and proven strategy for helping you maintain the healthy lifestyle and eating habits you’ve adopted. Yes, it can be tedious, so focus on the benefit – and no excuses! If you’re not the pencil & paper type, you can always download your favorite food log app ensuring quick and easy logging wherever you and your SmartPhone go.
Completing our list, coming in at the tenth spot, is Be Real. Start Now. It’s great that you’ve decided to abandon you current routine of skipping breakfast, super-sizing your fast food lunch and chugging a litre soda at dinner. But don’t think you can just flip a switch and replace those meals with some green puree from the blender! BE REAL! Everybody could do something like that for a week, perhaps a month, which can easily result in weight loss. But the question is, can you sustain that change? You don’t just want to lose weight, you want to make permanent lifestyle changes that will carry you well into the future. A plan that constantly denies you of certain foods typically results in a plan you can’t adhere to! Don’t be a saboteur! And Start Now. No time like the present. Don’t wait until after the wedding feast. Don’t start after you get back from vacation, or once Thanksgiving is over. Start now, with realistic changes and you’ll find managing your diet and exercise throughout the calendar year will be surprisingly doable!
Did you miss the other tips in this weight loss series? Jump to them now using the links, and let us know what tips you would add to the list!
Find tip #8-Be Optimistic! and #7-Know Thy Friend in Lose weight with Tips 7 & 8, #6-Turn Off the TV and #5-Ask Why? in Tips 5 and 6 on the weight loss list, and tip #4-Eat Breakfast! #3-Check the Scale, #2-Portion Control, and #1-Exercise, in Weight Loss Tips – can you name all 10?
Remember when you were a kid, and your mother gave you a hard time about one of your friends? “I don’t want you hanging out with him. He’s a bad influence!” she’d say. Or what about all those “dull programs” your dad wanted you to be part of because the “smart, good kids” belong to those. We’d be annoyed because “our friend wasn’t like that”, and our parents were simply judging the book by its cover. On the other hand, the parental view was simply about promoting positive social associations, to best of their ability. And this brings us to weight loss Tip #7 – Know Thy Friend. In a 2007 report on a study conducted by Cristakis and Fowler which followed 12,000 people over a 30 year period, they concluded that obesity spreads through social ties. That is, overweight people tend to have overweight friends. The report attributes this to the person’s perception of the acceptability of obesity. So the thought process works like this – “if my best friend is obese and my sister is overweight, but I love each of them… maybe it’s not so bad if I gain weight or if I’m obese too.” If your overweight friends are inactive, eat out a lot or eat too much, then it is more likely you’ll do the same. At least when you are with them. So what can you do? Stick by your friends, but encourage some new behaviors. Invite your friend to join a gym with you. Become workout buddies. Introduce more walking or biking when you get together. Walk to the movie theater or bike to a park for some Ultimate Frisbee!
Whether you’re talking about adding more activity into your daily routine or modifying your diet – Change is hard. Tip #8 – Be Optimistic! reminds us that maintaining a positive, can-do, attitude will make you successful. Set smaller, realistic goals for yourself so you can easily see your progress and feel the success. When you maintain control and a fighting spirit, eliminating negative behaviors and losing weight will be your new reality!
Only two more tips to go. Don’t jeopardize the healthy, active life you want to live! Be sure to review tip #6-Turn Off the TV and #5-Ask Why? in Tips 5 and 6 on the weight loss list, and tip #4-Eat Breakfast! #3-Check the Scale, #2-Portion Control, and #1-Exercise, in Weight Loss Tips – can you name all 10?
Until next Friday, … keep your body in motion!
Last week in Weight Loss Tips – can you name all 10?, we covered #1-Exercise, #2-Portion Control, #3-Check the Scale and my favorite, #4-Eat Breakfast!
This brings us to Tip #5. Imagine for a moment that fueling your body is like a manufacturing process. Successful businesses understand the value and benefit of lean, optimized processes. They strive to eliminate the “muda” or waste because it simply drives their costs up. Lean thinkers have learned to look at processes and ask “why”? Why is so much scrap produced in step 5? Why is material sitting in the queue for 5 hours? Why does it take 5 days to transport parts? Why this? Why that? Why??
And by now you have surely guessed that Tip #5 is… Ask Why? Why am I eating right now? Is it because I’m bored? Am I eating because I’m stressed or frustrated? Am I depressed? If your answer frequently matches one of these, then congratulations! You’ve identified waste (emotional eating) in your process that has been wreaking havoc on your weight management plan! We need to eat when we are hungry and stop when we are full. And find other forms of relief, preferably legal ones, for stress, boredom and sadness that don’t include food. Becoming mindful, lean thinkers when it comes to eating can quickly translate into a leaner you!
Tip #6 – Turn Off the TV, is closely related to 5. Unless your doing sit-ups or jumping jacks during Modern Family, typical TV time is sedentary time, where minimal calories are being burned. And compounding the problem, TV time is snacking time. Being glued to the tube results in mindless consumption of food. Mindless because your fixation on the program causes you to lose track of why you’re eating and how much you have eaten. Even if you started eating because you were hungry, you’ll continue eating simply due to distraction. According to the National Weight Control Registry (NWCR) people who have successfully managed their weight watched, on average, less than 10 hours of TV a week.
Now you’re armed with 6 out of 10 tips to help you manage your weight. Check back next Friday, when we explore 7 & 8!
Until then, … keep your body in motion!
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!