Archive for December, 2011|Monthly archive page

Tai Chi, Yoga, and Walking: active rest, an important part of any training program: A fitness post.

Tai Chi, Yoga, and Walking: active rest, an important part of any training program: A fitness post.

Not every client a personal trainer has will really want to go to the gym or the track. Many simply want to get into some type of shape, before they go to the gym. Taking these people who have a fear of the gym into a gym runs the risk of the event being emotionally devastating for them. Besides what you really want is a client that is comfortable so that they can be in control of their movements and have better self-awareness. Remember, cortisol and other stress hormones are enemies to progress.

People’s anxiety problem is something you are going to have to deal with as a personal trainer. To be good at your job you must be capable of being personable, empathetic, understanding and caring. To excel at any job you have to care about what you do, but to become a top notch personal trainer you have to also care about your clients as individuals.

I do not ever actually SCREAM at my clients (I call doing this a jerk move; I try not to be a jerk). Some people need an elevated voice to feel motivated, but most do not.

Some clients are going to want and need to be pushed and perhaps even “screamed” at: I call these friendship screams. (Friendship screams are not true screams, but they are done with an elevated voice.) Emotionally sensitive clients can never be friendship screamed at; any amount of assertion can be a terrible experience for them. Some clients can only be guided. You don’t want to be a meanie pants. Never should a personal trainer insult you, if your personal trainer insults you go find a different trainer there are plenty of us out there. On the opposite side of the coin if your trainer does not find a way to guide you to your goals, find a new one.

Contrary to popular belief it is not best to “just do it.” Many people like to start out with a resistance training routine that is very intense, and many people like to start running by either long distance running or maybe even sprinting. Ex-athletes that are in decent shape can do this with less risk, but no matter what; starting your training program with intense exercise is not the safest nor is it the best for maximizing gains.

To maximize gains, injury should be avoided and intense exercise for non-athletes carries a high risk of injury. Don’t worry too much if you really want to do intense exercise (it’s a fun thing to do) all you have to do is: become an athlete. Everyone can become an athlete at any age, and with any starting level of fitness. The average person could train to become a marathon runner in 6 months to a year (I think we would all agree these people can be called athletes).I personally never recommend intense exercise for a client unless the client has been doing moderate training for 6 months. At that point it is best to slowly work up to intense exercise. Even one rep max lifting should be avoided for a month or two. Intense exercise is NEVER needed for weight loss.  

It is not just those with anxiety issues that should start out slowly with mild exercise. Some demographics: the morbidly obese, the elderly, the weak, children and pregnant women, to name a few; should start with mild exercise. Not all elderly clients need to start with mild exercise; many can safely start at a moderate level. A good portion of senior citizens these days are in better shape than the average American. EVERYONE including these demographics can eventually become an athlete (mothers should wait until after the baby is born).

Mild exercise is not just for those that need to start out with it, mild exercise is for everyone. The concept of active rest has been around for a long time but it likes to cycle in and out of popularity so don’t feel bad if you have never heard of active rest. These days some really cool things are being anecdotally discovered about active rest by a small portion of the body-building community.

I love following what these guys and girls do; they are often way ahead of the curve when it comes to techniques and tactics. I enjoy learning from every population and every source that I can learn from. Information from many sources including body-builders needs to be double and triple checked before it is personally tested. You should attempt and discover at least some hard science (not pseudoscience) behind why it would work, before you try things. I caution against using body building techniques, tactics and teachings for three reasons: 1. Myths almost never die inside of the body-building community, no matter how much they have been proven wrong. 2. Many body-builders do not care much about anything besides weather or not a tip or technique works. 3. Body-builders are elite athletes and their bodies are more capable of extreme exercise, extreme exercise is less risky for them.

A few months back I read a post off bodybuilding.com by personal trainer James Stettler about a client of his. This client (a body-builder) only resistance trains each muscle group once a month and only works out once a week, long story short his client experienced major gains. After reading this I decided to test my body and see just how much exercise with active rest I needed. Turns out for me if I work out once to a maximum of twice a week, it is optimal; I should take one day completely off and have an active rest activity for each day of the rest of the week. I have always believed that active rest was important for maintaining fitness. It has not been until recently that I have started to believe that active rest is important for gaining.

I advise everyone to try and do the same thing I did: discover how many days a week (or month) is optimal for you to experience gains. As a trainer, it is a matter of safety that my muscles be incredibly functional every time I am with a weight training client. A primary function as a trainer is that of spotter: someone who is there to grab all to most of the weight in the event that you fail to be capable of another lift. Due to this basic necessity of high functioning muscles, many trainers do not get to train more than once or twice a week anyway. I have personally discovered that a once to twice a week schedule can be optimized, using active rests, to achieve maximum gains.

Active rest is doing mild exercise and taking a day of rest from moderate or intense exercise.

Some guidelines for active rest:

  1. You should be capable of conversation at all times, even singing your favorite song should be easy. If you are in decent shape you should be able to recite your countries pledge of allegiance with only needing to inhale once beforehand (10-15 seconds of constant talking).
  2. If you are in shape, your heart rate should never be above 65-70% of your max heart rate (my opinion, some will advise never go above 60%). If you are out of shape your heart rate should never feel elevated, during active rest. (Max heart rate is often calculated as 220 minus your age)
  3. The activity should be of decent length.

Rest in general is very important, because it is during periods of rest that your body is actually making its physiological improvements and fitness gains. Current research supports active rest as superior to complete rest, but in my opinion more study is needed. I have personally found this conclusion of superiority to be true for me. Active rest actually does help reduce a muscle’s lactate build-up (lactic acid) faster than simply resting.  Lactic acid, it is a big cause of muscular soreness. During active rest blood flow to the muscles improves, blood is what carries nutrients that are needed to repair the muscles. Increasing blood flow to the muscles is a very good thing. Many find that active rest improves relaxation (for some active rest is the best way to avoid the temptation of working out).

Stress has been shown to slow recovery and healing, so anything you can do to avoid it is a good thing that will speed up your recovery.

My favorite active rest activities:

  1. Walking: walking is great and my dogs love going on long walks. Walking has all the benefits of exercise, and it is one of the easiest things you can do. Walking actually burns a good amount of calories (you can find your exact number pretty easy through the magic of the internet or smart phone apps). Walking is typically very safe (unless you trip or are in a bad part of town) and it is a great time for thinking.
  2. Biking: A gentle bike ride is fun and not very difficult or hard on the body. During an active rest, you should not try to go fast or climb hills on the bike. Biking is a favorite pass time of mine, and if you give it an honest try: it will probably become a favorite pass time of yours as well.
  3. Hiking: hiking is always an adventure and who doesn’t love an adventure… well some people hate adventure but beside those people, who does not love adventure?
  4. Yoga: it is important to remain flexible to reduce injury risk, there is two ways to do this stretching (which most consider very boring) or activities like yoga (which many people find fun and relaxing). Yoga is not for everyone, because many people simply can’t be entertained by yoga. Yoga is worth giving it a try because you might like it and it is very good for you.
  5. Flexing and isometric/dynamic tensioning exercises: I like to flex when I am alone, just as a means to monitor progress and well, I like the way I look. Flexing is great for monitoring progress, but it also counts as exercise. Flexing (a type of isometric exercise) will exercise muscles that your work-out routine missed, making flexing something that should be added to any work-out routine. Dynamic tension is a concept originally popularized in the 1920’s by a man named Charles Atlas. The basic concept is to move your muscles and use your own muscles as opposing resistance. These types of exercises might be less capable of producing quick muscular gains, but they are very safe. You are in complete control of the tension, because your muscles are providing the tension. Isometrics are clinically used in rehabilitation when movement has to be limited to prevent further injury.
  6. Tai-chi, keeps the body flexible like yoga does (yoga is a more effective as flexibility training). I find Tai-chi can be more entertaining for many people; after all it did originate as a combat martial art. It is easier to see the practicality in an exercise if it serves a purpose other than exercise; Tai-chi teaches you self-defense. All martial arts teach self-defense and have the potential to serve as mild exercise, but most do not have as great an impact on flexibility as Tai-chi. (Tai-chi is my current favorite martial art.)

Yoga:

Yoga is not something that I currently regularly do, but I have regularly done this in the past and I have enjoyed it. There are many types of yoga and I have enjoyed all of the types I have tried. One of the more “masculine” types of yoga that many guys may enjoy is Bikram Yoga; Bikram Yoga is arguably the most popular type of hot room yoga (yoga practiced in a hot room). If you know someone who does yoga, chances are if you ask them and they ask their instructor they can take you to one class for free. Doing any exercise program with a friend is a great way to provide mutual accountability to each other, and even if your friends quits you are more likely to stick with it because you started with a friend. If your friend tries to encourage you to stop exercising because they stopped exercising get a new friend.

Unfortunately, Yoga is often considered by guys to be a girly exercise. This is not true; yes the average yoga class is filled to the rafters with women, but yoga is neutral sex. These days’ body-builders are using yoga to improve their posing forms… I dare you call a body builder a girly man. (“Girly man” is a classic Arnold Schwarzenegger catch phrase.) It is sad but many machismo type guys will openly question the sexuality of their male friends when they their friends even friends they have known for years announce that they are doing yoga. Guys if your friend does this to you: they are a dumb friend. One should never guess a person’s sexuality for any reason including exercise habits; doing so will make you look ignorant and intolerant, two negative qualities not embraced by society at large.

How anyone could consider it gay to be in a room full of, mostly attractive, women stretching and sweating is beyond my ability to comprehend! Guys that are trying to get in shape to attract women… have you even considered trying a yoga class? If one class doesn’t work try another, but there are usually single women in these classes whom are looking for a good place to meet a guy. Yoga class is generally considered a good place to meet a romantic partner.

My wife and I met in class in 3rd grade; gym and recess were integral parts of us being each other’s first boyfriend and girlfriend. Yes this is/was as adorable as it sounds, and NO (talking mostly to parents of 3rd graders) you should not be frightened by this.            

Tai-chi:

I have a client for whom; Tai-chi is the best way for her to manage her Tietze’s syndrome. When I recommended Tai-chi to her, I had tried it and enjoyed it, but I am still not currently capable of teaching it. All exercise carries the benefits of exercise to some extent; Tai-chi is especially great for healing. I have known about the health benefits of Tai-chi for a long time, and the unique healing benefits of tai-chi have been well studied and are becoming close to medically proven. Tai-chi is often taught at hospitals all over the world and it is constantly gaining credibility for its ability to heal. Tai-chi is famous for being appropriate for all ages and fitness levels. It is likely that the senior center near you is hosting a tai-chi class, because it is becoming very popular amongst senior citizens.

In January, My client is scheduled to take a weekly tai-chi class that I will not be teaching. I have received permission to observe, and for the first class I am going to, as a means to help ensure she does not exacerbate her Tietze’s. She wanted to look somewhat experienced when she first took the class. So what we did was look up the type of Tai-chi being taught in the class and she got a DVD to learn it (this was her idea she is a smart women). I corrected her form based on the instructors form in the video (my idea). Luckily, she had a natural gift for tai-chi but all the same watching both the instructor and her at the same time made it so that I was able to correct her movements easily. She is currently studying the 12 postures for Arthritis form developed by Dr. Paul Lam (this is a commonly taught form). Anyone with a helpful friend or trainer can learn excellent form like this, rather quickly (and not just for Tai-chi).

I am currently personally studying the 24 posture simplified form known as Beijing form. This is theorized to be the most popular form of Tai-chi in the world. Oddly we have the Chinese government to thank for the development of this form. The Chinese Sports Committee in 1956 brought together four teachers to develop a form that most people could easily learn and use, these masters were: Cai Longyun, Chu Guiting, Fu Zhongwen, and Zhang Yu. Tai-chi is a very old martial art with a rich history, which started in China, making it a Chinese martial art. The martial art philosophy of Tai-chi is: If one uses hardness to resist force, then both sides are certain to be injured to at least some degree. I don’t like to get hurt so, Tai-chi has become my new favorite self-defense martial art.

Walking:  

                Walking is the primary mode of transportation designed into almost all animals, most insects, and many small life forms. Most birds are designed to use their wings to fly, but as far as I know there are no feetless birds and all birds can walk. As a man of faith, I have to trust that if God used the same design (walking) over and over again like he did, there really must be something awesome to it. Thank the lord for MP3 players because now walking is more enjoyable than ever. For those that are wheel chair bound, you should know the human body is quite well suited to using arm-power and wheel chairs; physiologically it is very similar to walking.

Walking along without a change in diet can gradually get you into better health, and most people have no fear of walking. Walking coupled with dieting is an amazing way to lose weight. Dieting results in the body having less food for energy then it is use to, this along can make exercise pretty difficult and much harder than it has to be. As long as you are consuming a safe amount of calories, walking always remains relatively easy. Make sure to get a general minimum of 50 grams of protein (200 calories) and 20 grams of polyunsaturated fat (180 calories). By far the easiest, most pain free and comfortable way to lose a lot of weight very quickly is by calorie restriction to 1300-1800 calories and WALKING.

The average human can perform mild exercise relatively safely for many hours; making mild exercise, if you are willing to put in the time, a superior way to burn calories. Not losing weight fast enough? Typically the best solution is to add more walking or mild exercise. Mild exercise is amazingly powerful, and its awesomeness should never be doubted.

                                         

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Vegetarianism and Veganism, switch to lose weight? Part 9 of the series: Dieting does it work for you.

Vegetarianism and Veganism, switch to lose weight? Part 9 of the series: Dieting does it work for you.

You really could switch to lose weight if you wanted to, many people switch for health reasons.

I am not going to take an ethical stance on vegetarianism and veganism. If ethics are your reason to go plant based eating, good for you, more power to you. I am not a vegan or vegetarian, nor do I plan on switching to a plant based diet. If you have ethical conflictions but have trouble switching to vegetarianism or veganism, consider organic meats as the animals are often treated a bit better.

There is a right way and a wrong way to follow a plant based diet, generally vegetarianism is easier to get right, but with a little effort veganism is not hard either. The big concern for a personal trainer with a vegan client is: are they getting enough protein? But, it is not all that hard to get enough protein for the average vegan.

What we trainers are truly afraid of is “bad” vegans and “bad” vegetarians. These plant based diets should largely consist of healthy food. Unfortunately many people do not really do this. Yes those cookies might be vegan, but should you eat them purely for that reason: no. Something being labeled “vegan” on the side of the package does not make it healthy, check the nutritional facts… is it mostly sugar? You are a “bad” vegan or vegetarian if your diet consists largely of white bread and or if you never bother to think, did I get some protein and some fat today?

A properly followed plant based diet is great for you. There are many religions and cultures that are vegetarians of some kind. (Veganism is technically a type of vegetarian). Plant based diets have been linked to a reduced risk of many diseases and cancers. People who follow plant based diets live longer and tend to be leaner. For those with some diseases like kidney problems and gout, switching to a plant based diet can drastically improve quality of life (This is primarily because of nitrogen compounds and purines in meat resulting in increased urea and ureic acid production.)

I am going to briefly discuss three popular plant based diets: Pescetarianism, Lacto-Ovo-Vegetarianism, and Veganism; and how to get enough protein from them. Protein is essential to life the Recommended Daily Intake (RDI’s are government recommendations) for men is 56 grams and for women it is 46grams with a general recommendation of 50 grams. Athletes and active people need more protein. Simply because someone is on one diet or another, does not change their protein requirements. Vegans and vegetarians are often led to believe that because they are on a plant based diet they do not need as much protein, this is simply untrue. In fact is it is more than just untrue; plant eaters have to worry more about protein, they also have to worry about amino acids. Wise vegans actual follow stricter requirements for protein intake like 1 gram per kilogram of body weight as compared to 0.8 grams per kilogram for meat eaters. This is done because plant proteins are often a little less bio-available (they are not as completely digested) than meat proteins.

Meat is a complete protein meaning it provides sufficient levels of all of the essential amino acids. Plants do not provide sufficient levels of all of the amino acids unless they are paired together or eaten in large quantities. Luckily they taste better mixed anyway. It is easier for vegetarians to get their protein because of dairy and eggs, complete proteins. It is even easier for Pescetarians to get their protein because of dairy, eggs, and fish, also complete proteins. If a pescetarian gets three servings of dairy and one serving of fish it is doubtful that they really have to worry much about their protein intake. A vegetarian is going to have to put a little more effort into getting their protein, but it is truly not that hard either.

Nutritional demands are easiest to meet with Pescetarianism (does not eat meat but does eat fish and often eats eggs and dairy).The Pescetarian diet is much easier to meet nutritional demands than most meat eating diets. This makes it very easy to calorie restrict with Pescetarianism, so if you are having trouble losing weight you could try a temporary switch. I warn you, many people that “temporarily” switched to this fishy diet ended up sticking with the diet after they lost the weight.  

Vegans have to put conscious effort into their protein intake and failing to do so can result in poor health and eventually malnutrition (can take years don’t worry you have time to fix this). When a vegan is eating a normal amount of calories as long as they are careful not to eat too much junk food, likely they are getting plenty of protein. Long time vegans and vegan children often can develop vitamin b-12, and zinc deficiencies. Supplementation that contains b-12 and zinc is by far the easiest way to avoid this. Zinc deficiency can be prevented with some grains, seeds and wheat germ. Iron is also a concern for vegans but vegetables like spinach some fruit like tomatoes and many legumes are a great source of iron. Calcium is a concern which is easily remedied by consuming calcium fortified foods.

Junk food is junk, it might be better to think of it as garbage food and no matter what else you are eating if a high percentage of your caloric intake is coming from junk… you will become unhealthy. Anyone calorie restricting should strongly avoid junk food as it will ruin your diet with its high calories and you will not get the nutrients you need from it. I eat junk food from time to time, because well it taste really good, but the key, as always, is moderation.

The human body is amazing and it does not require vegans to eat a variety of proteins in a single meal. It was long thought that certain pairs of foods which when paired provide sufficient levels of amino acids had to be eaten together. This became very popular in the 70’s and this misconception continues to this day. The body is very capable of completing the amino acids from these pairs of food in different meals. If you are getting a diverse diet rich in plant protein sources you are fine, but the key is diversity.

Calorie restriction on a vegan diet is another story. When a vegan calorie restricts to lose weight they must not follow their typical diet of about 10-12% protein. The protein should be bumped up to a minimum of 14% on a 1500 calorie diet and 16% on a 1300 calorie diet. Raising the amount of protein to 20-25% could help with satiety for a dieting vegan.

The bodies’ demands for protein (around 50 grams) need to be met regardless of calorie intake. The good news is this is not terribly difficult. Special attention to detail is needed that the vegan dieter gets 3-4 servings of legumes, at least one of nuts or seeds, and one whole grains (this will take up about 700 calories of the diet). The amino acid profile of legumes is complimented and completed by the amino acid profiles of seeds, nuts and whole grains. Sadly, there really is very little room for the occasional junk food cheat when a vegan is on a diet.

Dieting is not usually all that necessary for long time vegetarians as they tend to slowly become lean simply eating a plant based diet. Vegetarians are often on high carbohydrate, moderate protein and low fat diets. Plant fats are an excellent source of unsaturated fats and the omegas. Plants contain zero pre-formed DHA Docosahexaenoic acid; seafood is the only source of preformed DHA. Normally the body is able to biosynthesize DHA from ALA (alpha linolenic acid, an omega 3 and one of the two essential fatty acids); however some people are unable to. As a result Vegans often have to supplement with DHA.

Vegetarianism in children can cause stunted growth rates, but it does not necessarily have too. Vegetarian children and their parents need to pay extra close attention to the child’s nutritional needs. Children are more sensitive to nutritional deficiencies than adults are, and experience the consequences from them sooner. If you have a Vegetarian child you MUST supervise their eating habits and ensure that they are getting their nutrients and eating a balanced diet. Occasionally consulting a dietician on your child’s eating habits could really help.

Those who try veganism or vegetarianism as a temporary diet tend to lose weight. It is not necessarily a fast weight loss method, but aside from the occasional craving for meat it is fairly comfortable. This is largely because vegetables are less calorie dense allowing you to eat more but get less calories. Veggies and fruit are also packed with fiber, vitamins and minerals which help with satiety. For many their temporary switch to plant based eating is there first real exposure to a high fiber diet. Fiber helps you lose weight.

One warning that I feel I must leave you with, as foodie that loves the taste of meat: if you go Vegan your body will have to retrain before you can eat meat again without getting sick. Vegans are often very sensitive to meat, so much so that a vegan dish cooked on the same surface as a meat dish will make many vegans sick. I have seen this sickness and it looks really unpleasant, throwing-up and diarrhea.

Fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, whole grains and legumes are all great for you and most people could benefit from more of them in their diet.

How many meals a day should a dieter eat? Part 8 of the series: Dieting does it work for you?

How many meals a day should a dieter eat? Part 8 of the series: Dieting does it work for you?

Just to torture the average person, “experts” like to make things as complicated as possible. I personally enjoy complicated but, I fear what these “experts” are doing ultimately hurts most of us. I view dietary timing as story time, because doing so makes the subject just a little less frustrating for me. Your average ethical trainer, doctor, nutritionist, dietician (etcetera) will fail to tell you much when it comes to dietary timing. Instead they will simply say: do what works for you! I have to agree with the phrase, people should do what works for them. If the three meals a day standard dietary timing (Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner) works for you and you want to stick with it; by all means do it. The truth is these complicated systems with PERFECT USE will at BEST have a slight impact on the speed of your weight loss. They can however have an amazing impact on the comfort level of your life while you are trying to lose weight. For those seeking the ultra-lean look, you might just have to use some dietary timing wizardry to get there.

Story number one: The tale as old as society (maybe?) Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner.

Proportions, contents, and when during the day we eat are all debated but one thing holds true: three satiating meals. By satiating I mean “full.” With a 2000-3000 calorie diet (most healthy weight non-dieters) can experience “full” three times a day. The feeling of full is comforting and cozy like a big hug that your meal just gave you… it’s great, just great. This feeling is so awesome that we become addicted to it and as with most addictions: we are always pursuing the more intense “full.” Thusly we slip from a healthy amount of calories to over eating.

A healthy amount of calories is simply how much you can eat without gaining weight. Guys can typically eat more without gaining weight than woman can. For me 2500-3000 is healthy on normal and rest days, and up to 5000 on training days, the average person would gain weight eating this much. The more muscle mass a person has the more calories they can eat in a day without gaining weight (one of the ways exercise increases your metabolism).   

When most people start a diet all they do is: keep the traditional Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner and switch from normal portions to “diet portions.” This portion switch does not typically work for people, because it is darn hard to feel a sensation of “full.” This lack of full and general feelings of misery leads to the average person quickly coming to the FALSE CONCLUSION that dieting does not work for them and they are bound to stay out of shape forever. (Out of shape in America is the average, so don’t beat yourself up too much. However, don’t be afraid to get in shape, you can do it, and it is good for you.)

DIET PORTIONS DO NOT = DIETING, this is true 9 times out of ten, for one reason: snacking. Dieters typically snack and when people that did not previously practice snacking start snacking everyday: Snacking becomes additional calories and additional calories are overeating not dieting. For God’s sake don’t ever consider simply reducing your portions to every meal, because it is a miserable way to diet: you have to be just a bit smarter than this.

The three meals a day dietary timing structure is not bad, it is often the traditional way to eat, and works for most people. Healthy people who eat three meals a day eat one big meal, one medium meal and a small meal. The big, medium, small template can be arranged in any order. I find it best for me to have breakfast be the medium meal, lunch is the smallest meal and dinner is the largest. Satiety is addictive so why fight the addiction and make your diet harder than it has to be.

I like to feel full after diner because “full” makes me a bit tired for a little while, giving me an unwind that is nice at the end of a day. I do not like to eat until I am full for breakfast and lunch to avoid the energy draining effect of large meals. This temporary lack of energy after a large meal is due to your body using more of its resources (namely blood oxygen and blood sugar). Large meals make you feel like you have lost a significant amount of blood because your body is using more of it on digestion than it normally does.

Just like the phrase you have to spend money to make money; your body must use blood sugar to get blood sugar. If the meal is balanced and the size is sensible the fluctuation in blood sugar level due to eating is mild. If the meal is a feast the fluctuation in blood sugar, no matter how balanced the meal is, will cause a steep dip in blood sugar. Your body responds to this meal induced low blood sugar by making you tired in the hope that you will take a nap. And yes all of this blood sugar stuff applies to non-diabetics as well. Blood sugar regulation is even harder for diabetics, but this stuff applies to everyone it is simply how the body works.

Low blood sugar is what stimulates you to take your after Thanksgiving Day feast nap. Tryptophan is an essential amino acid that you consume all of the time. It is prevalent in most of the protein you get. The level of Tryptophan in turkey is almost exactly the same as it is in chicken, and many food items have much higher levels: some nuts have twice as much and egg whites have nearly four times as much. Tryptophan is good news: Tryptophan as a precursor to serotonin synthesis thusly it may be in part responsible for the happy feelings after your thanksgiving day Turkey.            

Story number one has three big fairy tales that go along with it: Myth #1: Breakfast has to be eaten at breakfast time, no matter what. Myth #2: Eating right before bed makes you fat. Myth #3: Skipping meals is bad for you.

It is universal knowledge that eating when you are not hungry leads to overeating, you know this. Even if this is the first time you heard this, you know this. This is boredom eating or simply eating for entertainment. Both of which are either guilty pleasures or bad habits that induce guilty feelings. Boredom eating or entertainment eating (popcorn with a movie for example) every now and then is fine, but if you have a problem with boredom eating dieting can be extremely difficult for you. If you answer “Yes” to either of these questions: Do I automatically open the fridge when I walk past it? Do I eat just to eat? You perhaps have an issue with this type of eating. The good news is a little bit of self-awareness can go a long way with fighting this.

Myth # 1: Breakfast has to be eaten at breakfast time, no matter what.

People seem to believe that they must eat breakfast. This is simply not true, if your body is telling you that you are fine without breakfast than most likely you are fine without breakfast. There are some people who should never go without eating some small thing for breakfast (like those with really bad diabetes); most of us can safely skip it. Skipping breakfast has a risk: overeating later at lunch or causing you to snack too much. The average breakfast skipper gains weight or weights more for those two reasons; they have a tendency to make it worse with things like a sedentary, always on their butt, lifestyle. Breakfast skippers tend to eat carbohydrate packed snacks (most snacks are carb rich) before lunch or in place of a proper breakfast. If you eat donuts for breakfast you are the worst type of breakfast skipper, the kind that thinks they ate a breakfast.

Breakfast is breaking a fast, and breaking a fast should always be done with healthy foods and never be done with junk foods. If you simply must have donuts, have them for lunch (this is an unhealthy practice but it is not as bad as having them for breakfast). When you wake up you are in a “post absorptive” fasting state (unless you had a midnight snack). The last time you ate was many hours ago (dinner) and your body has been done absorbing the nutrients from that food for a while. Your body is not “running on empty.” Before you eat breakfast you are running on your bodies fat reserves. It takes calories to get the calories that are stored in your fat cells, just as it takes calories to get the calories that are stored in food. Essentially by eating breakfast you are stopping this process, but don’t worry that’s fine. Your body wants to eat and will, for better or worse, absorb more of the healthy good stuff or bad stuff of breakfast. (You will get more out of a once-a-day multivitamin taken with your first meal of the day). Eating a sensible healthy breakfast helps control hunger all day and never made anyone fat.

Breakfast has a ton of benefits but guess what, they don’t come from eating when the sun is rising out of sky. The benefits of breakfast come from us treating the meal as important… people who eat breakfast but don’t treat it as important experience none of the benefits of breakfast. It is not eating at breakfast time that lowers your cholesterol it is the soluble fiber of the whole grains. A good breakfast always has things like dietary fiber, vitamins, protein and even fat that makes you full and prevents hunger. If we were wise enough to treat every meal with importance regardless of WHEN we ate it, we could be getting these coveted breakfast benefits with every meal we ate. In case you were wondering about the breakfast for dinner thing it is just fine (it is often mistakenly thought to be unhealthy).

Myth #2: Eating right before bed makes you fat.

When you are asleep your metabolism is slower, because your heart rate is lower and simply put you are doing less stuff. Eating immediately before bed and then getting very little sleep does effectively prevent your body from entering into its’ fat-burning post absorptive state. This is generally not true if you are getting a full nights rest, but the amount of time you are in fat burn mode is still reduced. All of this sounds much worse than it actually is.

These are facts, and they are well established. However, your body if you are even slightly active does an amazing job of combating these facts.

This myth can be true if you are eating a non-healthy snack.

Body builders have known it for years if you get protein and nutrients right before bed your body will heal faster. When we sleep our bodies natural levels of human growth hormone are much higher, sleeping is our primary time for healing. Unfortunately, by the time we get to sleep after eating dinner at a normal time, our blood amino acids levels are already starting to fall. By the time we get a few hours into our slumber our blood amino acid levels and blood nutrient levels are too low to heal ourselves as best as we potentially could. Eating something healthy with protein, right before bed prevents low blood amino acid levels, and muscular catabolism. Catabolism is the breakdown of body tissue, and anabolism is the building of body tissue. Healing, anabolism, requires a good bit of calories, protein and other nutrients, so if you eat something healthy before bed it will all even out a bit.

If you are hungry before bed eat something! Preferably eat something healthy. Going to bed hungry is just strait uncomfortable, it sucks; being sent to bed without supper is an old-timey punishment for when children are bad. (This is not unhealthy for them but society and the law tends to look down upon the practice.)

                A huge cause of muscular catabolism is stress; stress hormones such as cortisol (and other glucocorticoids) have a catabolic action to them… So when you hear people say that their stressful job is eating them alive. Stress will quite literally eat you alive. For those in training, if you de-stress yourself and learn to relax a bit, you will see improved gains.

Myth #3: Skipping a meal is bad for you.

Your body has a ton of different coping mechanisms to handle different dietary timing. Cultures of the world have wildly different views on eating than we do and some of these cultures… only eat twice a day. (Some only eat once a day but it is considerably rarer). If you skip lunch most of the time you are just cutting calories from your diet and as long as you don’t eat more later on you will lose weight. Meal skipping is a very old method of dieting. If you skip breakfast, or breakfast and lunch you are intermittent fasting; skipping breakfast and lunch is something referred to as “warrior style” and it is growing in popularity amongst those following the Paleo diet. If you skip all three meals and eat nothing else you are fasting. All fasting has been shown to have health benefits.

The commonly talked about risk with skipping meals is low blood sugar, but this can (for most of us) be avoided with proper diet. If you skip lunch but had a proper breakfast your blood sugar should be just fine until dinner, perhaps have an early dinner. If you skip breakfast your body avoids low blood sugar by using your fat as fuel (as it has been for a few hours while you slept). Skipping dinner might be miserable because you will go to bed hungry but it really is not bad for you. When a person of moderate health skips dinner, their body copes by using its fat reserves sooner, this prevents low blood sugar.            

Story number 2: The lie of 4, 5, 6, and 7 meals a day        

I want to get one thing perfectly certain the 4, 5, 6, and seven meals a day dietary timing plans are absolute BS. If you are on one of these dietary timing plans stop, if your doctor told you to do this go to a new doctor. These plans are near impossible to follow perfectly and typical use is straight-up fattening. A typical person following these plans will over eat and over eating will always causes weight gain (body builders will over eat to gain muscle but most of us will just get fat). People who do manage to follow one of these plans and cut calories will lose weight, but they won’t do so any faster than other dieting techniques, and following these 4, 5, 6 and seven meals a day plans is MISERABLE. The studies that actually examine these plans (most typically 6 meals a day) find that there is not a significant difference for weight loss between 3 meals a day and 6. It is true that studies have shown that eating frequently can rev up your metabolism, but the studies that show this involve eating dozens of times a day (more on this later). Life should always be about enjoying life, and dieting does not have to be miserable. Eating six times a day is the most commonly practiced number, and it is often a terrible dieting experience.

These plans have too many lies in them to actually list them all but I will list a few.

LIE: Your stomach should not be stretched out to accommodate large meals, and the digestive system is not good at processing large meals.

The stomach is incredibly able to stretch out; in fact it is so capable of this it could be called a talent and it is a detriment to us. The average weight loss surgery these days often involves reducing the size of the stomach to impede the stomachs amazing ability to stretch out. Yes your stomach could rupture if you feasted too much, but it is very rare because it is very difficult and PAINFUL to eat that much.

When we eat large meals more of the bodies’ resources are used to process the meal and digestion is slowed down, so that we get the nutrients slowly over time. Eating large sugary/ carb rich meals can cause huge spikes in blood sugar, but eating small sugary meals will do the same thing. Just had a 100 calorie candy bar? Expect your blood sugar to shoot up shortly. (Most 100 calorie snack packs should be avoided and/or considered candy). When your blood sugar shoots up to high levels (140mg/dl and up) your body releases insulin and a few other hormones to lower your blood sugar which coincidentally stimulate fat storage.

The difference between eating a large sugary/ carb rich meal and a small similar snack is the large one will keep your blood sugar up longer. High blood sugar is bad, but a balanced typical size to large meal should not cause high blood sugar. (Feasting temporarily causes the opposite, low blood sugar).

Your blood glucose levels after 12 hours of fasting should be less than 100mg/dl, and random blood sugar testing taken at any time should not exceed 140mg/dl. You are considered pre-diabetic if your levels are higher than this. A fasting level over 125mg/dl and a random of 200mg/dl is powerful indicator of diabetes and you are likely a diabetic and you should go to a doctor to get treatment. You can buy the meters required to do these tests at nearly all pharmacies, they are not too pricy.         

LIE: Eating six meals a day speeds up your metabolism.

As proof of this statement proponents of these many meals a day diet plan actually point to Glycemic index studies… this makes me laugh. The basic format of a glycemic index study is: measure blood sugar levels than, feed someone and measure their blood sugar levels several times until the level returns to normal. A typical GI study uses 10-20 people as subjects. All these studies measure is how fast the sugar content of a food gets into your blood, so pointing to them as proof of anything is just plain silly. Any time, any diet points to these studies as evidence it should be considered a red flag.

Another thing pointed to is studies that involved bed ridden hospital patients who were fed very little at a time using an automatic machine through feeding tubes a dozen times a day or more… How the proponents of six meals a day people can call 12+ small liquid only feedings 6 meals; I am not sure. If you believe that 2+2 = 8, you were perhaps convinced that even though you can’t eat 12+ meals a day you should eat 6 meals a day. This kind of evidence is correlative evidence, correlative evidence is better known as happenstance, and this type of evidence is not admissible in a court for a good reason: it is often complete Bull poopy.

The six meals a day thing has been studied by respectable doctors and researchers many times. As it turns out there is no significant difference in weight loss for those following three meals as compared to those using six meals!

Diet can speed up your metabolism slightly; by eating a balanced diet with plenty of fiber you will avoid those nasty fattening blood sugar spikes. This is not truly a faster metabolism but for all practical purposes it can be considered as such. You can eat a SLIGHTLY higher amount of calories and not gain weight if you are on a balanced diet, but there is absolutely zero magic involved in this so don’t expect too much.

FRUAD: Eating six meals a day helps avoid hunger.

This is not exactly a lie because it is actually true if you are eating six nutritious balanced meals, but eating 3 nutritious balanced meals has the same hunger avoiding effect. The truth is there is no such thing as a magic hunger avoiding number of meals that you can eat. Many people can actually not be hungry all day by eating one really large dinner.

It should be stressed that with perfect use (which is darn hard to do) eating six meals a day is not bad for your health. For most it is less comfortable, less convenient, and generally less fun to eat six meals a day. However, if you find it easier to lose weight using six meals a day, you are a minority, but oh well keep doing it because it works for you.

Story number 3: A tale of two diet plans; constant snacking with no meals and intermittent fasting.

Both eating a very small amount dozens of times a day, a practice often called nibbling, and intermittent fasting have been shown to mildly to moderately improve the speed of your metabolism. I could not find consistent numbers that describe how much faster everything got. The honest truth is more study is needed. But the information we do currently understand to be earnestly established fact and what we in good faith currently theorize looks really promising.

Most of the science of these opposite concepts is well grounded. Both dietary timing techniques scientifically increase the speed of your metabolism; but don’t get your hopes up because it is not by much. These dietary timing techniques really are not meant for casual dieters, because they are hard and require more will power than the average dieter has. If you are serious about dieting and you need to lose the weight as fast as possible both of these techniques can give you the edge you have been looking for. If you want six pack abs or a “cut” appearance using one of these dietary timing techniques could really help. Again, be forewarned, they are difficult.

Nibbling:

The science of nibbling is mostly about preventing blood sugar spikes in either direction. Nibbling gives your body a constant supply of fuel, and when your body has a constant supply of anything it sees little need to conserve things. This is true of every nutrient, not just carbs. If you have a diet low in vitamins and minerals; your body will do its best to conserve any dietary vitamins and minerals and any that are already in you. The same is true of fat and proteins. (This is not an excuse to be on an unhealthy diet.)

The Inuit eat mainly meat and consequently get very low amounts of dietary vitamin C; however when tested their blood levels of vitamin C are normal. Vitamin C cannot be biosynthesized, but our body can and will conserve what we got and what we get.   

Nibbling keeps your blood sugar very stable; thusly your heart freely burns as many calories as it wants. Your heart will do this by either pumping slower and harder or slightly faster. This has primarily been shown with the heart but athletes of all kinds have seen improvement in performance of their skeletal muscles. Marathon runners commonly carb-load before races (get plenty of carbs from food) and drink sports drinks during races to maintain blood sugar and electrolyte levels.

Nibbling gives you a constant supply of fuel so your engine does not feel the need to go light on the accelerator. Nibbling indeed does with typical use give you more energy. The problem with nibbling is that you truly must eat 12+ times a day… this is very time consuming. It is extremely un-fun to never get a real mouthful of food. Although it is possible to experience very little or no hunger with nibbling; it is near impossible to feel full. The improbability of satiety on a typical nibbling schedule is reason enough for me to avoid the practice.

I am currently personally researching the possibility of modifying a typical nibbling dieting routine to include a real meal or hopefully two. I see a lot of hope with nibbling if it can be successfully modified. If I manage to successfully modify the practice of nibbling, I will post the results. I will test on myself first (all good trainers should self-test their techniques). When I have done what I feel is a significant amount of testing on myself. I do have a couple of clients that are really excited about trying out my modified nibbling program.

Poor nutrition in general is a personal trainer’s worst enemy because their client’s gains will be lessened by poor nutrition. When a client does not progress, they have a tendency to blame the trainer and the trainer’s techniques. Not all trainers or techniques are created equal, but most of the time if a client is not progressing like they should it is due to poor nutrition or not enough rest. (A real trainer will take some responsibility for this; it is our jobs after all to give you all the info and guidance we can.) I recommend consuming foods rich in protein shortly after your workout, as it has been shown to increase gains.

The idea behind the nibbling program I am trying to develop is to use foods that are safe enough and nutritious enough to be staples and turn them into no-bake cookies. Don’t worry I will post the recipes. One of the recipes should if all goes as it has been going be ready for posting on the first of January. The dozen no-bake cookies a day recipe that I am currently testing and perfecting meet the minimum requirements the body needs for fat and protein, while providing enough dietary fiber and calories to successfully prevent hunger. There are no protein powders in it, and it is very cheap and fairly easy to make an entire month’s supply. It is not vegan, but I am testing a vegan recipe so I will post it sometime probably around mid-February.

Anyway back to the article.

Truthfully if you are not interested in six-pack abs or being extremely lean you can skip to the final message at the end.

Intermittent Fasting: Intermittent fasting can be done in many ways but the basic premise is the same increase the amount of time your body is in a fasted state. Alternative day fasting (eating every other day) is the most widely studied of the types of intermittent fasting. Alternative day fasting has been shown to dramatically increase the lifespan of many types of laboratory animals, as compared to standard feeding and calorie restriction. (Calorie restriction has been shown to increase the lifespan of humans.) It is logical to guess that Alternative day fasting could increase the lifespan of humans but the truth is we don’t know yet if it does or not. What we do know is that fasting, like all calorie restriction, stimulates weight loss.

Other common intermittent fasting structures are periodic fasting (fasting for a day or two in a week for example) and 16 hour fasting. Traditional intermittent fasting is 16 hour fasting, meaning you only eat during 8 hours of the day.  

All fasting (juice fasting included but to a lesser extent) has a metabolic regulating effect, which for most means an increased metabolism. But intermittent fasting has been shown by the body-building community to help the body get extremely lean. Water fasting alone will bring the body down to about 10% body fat (skinny people are usually 15-20%). Most diets will not easily bring the body down past 15% body fat, this is fine for most. Without extreme levels of exercise, dieting past 15% body fat and water fasting past 10% body fat will result in additional muscle and other tissue loss, but fat content has a tendency to remain stable. It is obviously possible to get a six pack without intermittent fasting, but for all but the lucky few it requires a TON of exercise and pretty intense calorie restriction. It is rare that a person gets a six-pack easily, but intermittent fasting can really help.

It is likely that many, if not most, of the people reading this right now have what resembles a six pack… it is just hiding. To have a six pack to show you are going to need 4% to a max of about 7% body fat, this is the hard part. The muscles of the abdomen are simply shaped like that of the stomach of the guys on fitness magazine covers, so if you get to skinny you can “accidently” have six pack abs. Doing abdominal workouts are good for many reasons, except oddly for getting a six-pack. Working out can help them “pop” but dieting is the only way to actually get them. Intermittent fasting can help you get there much faster and easier.

Intermittent fasting, unlike other fasting which merely regulates, can truly speed up the metabolism. (Water fasting can temporarily speed up the metabolism.) The primary way intermittent fasting speeds up the metabolism is by reducing insulin residence. It is known that intermittent fasting does this, but why and how it does this is honestly still in the theory stage.

When the body eats, the pancreases produces insulin, the cells respond to this insulin. Eventually, the cells of the body can become resistant to insulin (often but not always indirectly as a result of inactivity and poor diet). This means the pancreases must make more insulin and this complicated little hormone does more than just regulate blood sugar it also triggers fat storage.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about intermittent fasting is that people find they can slightly over eat when they are not fasting to make up for the calories that would be eaten.

I have tried most types of intermittent fasting, and they all are very effective for me. They are all hard to do. The body does eventually stop being so hungry and hunger becomes a non-issue with intermittent fasting (for me it happens very quickly about 2 days). People often have good experiences with intermittent fasting, but just the same it is not really for the casual dieter.

A final message:

The casual dieter should do just what “casual dieter” would imply: they should diet casually. Have patience and allow the weight loss to come at the speed it comes. If you are not satisfied with the speed of weight loss try new things: different diets, different exercises. Extremism is never safe, so if it sounds too good to be true… well you know how the saying goes. A diet that advertises as ultra-fast is likely either a lie or a bit dangerous.

Super Foods and Dieting: Part 7 of the series: Dieting does it work for you?

Super Foods and Dieting: Part 7 of the series: Dieting does it work for you?

There are so many foods labeled “super” these days it seems like it is just about silly. There are a couple of problems that I have with the concept of “s” is for super in super-foods. The biggest problem with these foods is how people treat them. They really can help you with your diet and make losing weight faster, but chances are you are doing it all wrong.

People like to pick a favorite super-food and focus all or most of their healthy eating abilities on one or two foods. I see this all the time. These days I most commonly see people choose almonds and egg whites. Both almonds and egg whites certainly count as a super-food; but guess what… by themselves they are nowhere close to as awesome as they are when mixed with other foods. Nuts always have a better amino acid profile when they are mixed with other nuts and or seeds (the better the amino acid profile the more useful a food is for the body). Egg whites have almost no fat in them, but that is not really good news. 2-6 Egg whites mixed with 1-2 yolks fill you up faster and taste better which in my opinion this alone make this the best way to add egg whites to a diet. However this is not the only benefit to egg yolks. If you are trying to add muscle like the average person using egg whites… get ready for it. Muscle building NEEDS fats and having some dietary cholesterol tremendously helps build muscle (but don’t get crazy). Body builders have been able to tell you this cholesterol and muscle building link for years but current science and scientific studies are catching up with their anecdotally obtained knowledge.

A favorite activity of dieters is simply “adding” super-foods… because as we all know super-foods have super magic calories in them that don’t count (sarcasm). The bad guy I really like for this (cop lingo) is whole grains. Whole grains and oats still are packed with calories, and carbohydrate calories at that (they do have more fiber and lower GI scores). In the case of brown rice vs. white rice; brown rice has more protein, dietary fiber and fat all of which are good things and wild rice is even better but not worth the added cost. People that go whole grain crazy are often accidently on an extremely high carbohydrate, high calorie diet, and on their way to an expanding waist line.

People overeat “health” food simply because we believe that the food being a health food give us a pass. This phenomenon is taken to an extreme with super-foods. You may have done this, most of us have: it is easy to feel okay with eating a huge amount of a super-food. Huge and food should never really go together (but it can be sinfully delicious when they do I must admit).

Recommended dose is something never really followed and sometimes it is never even bothered to be estimated or calculated by anyone with this ONE food category. Recommended daily intake (RDI) values are something that Americans have known for most of our lives, they came about in 1968. Before RDI there was RDA and many different cultural systems before that. There is rarely a guide for how much of a super-food we should eat. This means we must fall back on the guide that is given for macronutrients or for the food’s category. Doing this can lead us to eating higher amounts of super-food than we have to = expensive.

Toxicity is relative!!! Everything has the potential to be toxic if over consumed or in many cases under consumed. Water is not in the slightest bit traditionally toxic however if you drink too much water you can experience water intoxication, too little and you get dehydration. Moderation is the lesson here, for some foods it is worse or cost prohibitive to eat more than an average value and consuming just a small amount might be just fine. For most super-foods a little bit goes a long way.

Toxic and the concept of toxins, makes me laugh sometimes, because most people and even some people who really should know what they are talking about get this concept incredibly wrong. The cleansing of toxins and free radicals is often touted as the biggest reason to consume antioxidant rich super-foods. But why no one ever asks if they really need to do this or how much super-foods can really help is beyond me (they can help but they are not medicines). Before we talk about cleansing let’s get something perfectly clear: YOUR BODY NEEDS SOME TRACE AMOUNTS OF “TOXICINS.” Some things that are literally poisons your body might not need, but chances are as long as the amount is small enough it is probably not that bad for you, and could even potentially be good for you.

Time for some fun with the super-food: apples. I love apples, they taste great they are very filling and they are just easy to eat. “An apple a day keeps the doctor away…” this old saying is very true. Apples and this saying have specifically been studied many times and every time the saying holds true, apples (and most fruit for that matter) are amazingly good for you. But did you know that people have used apple seeds to slowly build up a tolerance to cyanide, bet you didn’t. The pits and seeds of many fruits including: cherries, peaches, plums, pears, and apricots; have trace amounts to just over trace amounts of cyanogenic acids, cyanogenic glycocides and CYANIDE compounds in them. Pretty much any pit or seed that is not commonly eaten in large quantities has been at one point labeled mildly poisonous and perhaps might still have this distinction (like apple seeds and cherry pits).

Your body can detoxify small quantities of these compounds and most other toxins. Surprise!!! doing some of this detoxifying is good for the body, but that does not mean go out and eat a ton of apple seeds. The levels of these compounds that are in one piece of fruit or for that matter several pieces of fruit worth of seeds should, for a healthy person cause no real harm. I often eat the seeds of an apple and I occasionally accidentally swallow cherry pits this has never given me an issue. However if your body is bad at detoxifying itself it just might be very bad to eat these seeds (children and the elderly commonly are bad at detoxifying much of anything).

(About the Arsenic in apple juice debate: There is also sometimes arsenic found in fruits, seeds and pits usually this in not natural and is from the use of pesticides and herbicides in other countries. Natural forms of arsenic can be found in metal ores and soils and can get into fruits that way this type of contamination is called geological contamination and it is a common concern for drinking water. Elemental Arsenic, atomic number 33 As, is also used to strengthen copper… sorry if all this scares you but it shouldn’t.)

Oh good there can be bad things in good things yay… hip hip… wait is this really a bad thing: NO. They help our bodies learn to fight the truly terrible stuff that is out there in the world like pollution and cigarette smoke. Make no mistake anytime there is a substance in one part of the plant or animal, it is in all parts of the plant or animal but in a different typically much lower amount. Think about it this way, if you just randomly decide to be a boxer and step into a ring one day with a world class athlete… you will get you butt kicked. Apples and many super-foods train your body on how to fight toxins by essentially letting you practice on the extraordinarily low amount of toxins in them. This is perhaps the most interesting way in which super-foods help you; they train your body in the art of detoxifying and cleansing.

Note: Your body needs and will not function properly without a small amount of many things that are traditionally considered very bad. Your body needs some sodium, some heavy metals, and some sulfur to name a few. 

I told you this “toxins” information so that you would believe me when I say that you can overdo it with super foods. Many people even some doctors will tell you that you can’t really overdo it with super-foods, they are wrong. Everything that is helpful will reach a point where it becomes less helpful than unhelpful, and eventually will become harmful (think water intoxication).

Super-foods work to help your body using many mechanisms: Antioxidants, Fiber, Highly Digestible Vitamins, Heart Healthy Fatty Acids, Enzymes, Probiotics, Proteins, Rare Amino Acids and specific compounds like capsaicin which is found in peppers of the genus capsicum. Thinking of the nutrients of super-foods like a sports team to improve your health can be helpful. A specific food may not really “use” all of these mechanisms and might be lacking in certain players but usually has a “star” on its nutritional value team. Mixing super-foods creates a stronger “team.”

Antioxidants function by combating substances in your body known as free radicals. Oxidation is a term used in science to describe a certain type of chemical reaction where one substance becomes oxidized and loses electrons and the other becomes reduced and gains electrons. A popular mnemonic is OIL RIG (Oxidation Is Loss, Reduction Is Gained). The antioxidant works to neutralize free radicals and create inert compounds that can be filtered out of the blood by the kidneys and excreted out of the body in urine (type of cleansing). Free radicals will feed their electron addiction like any addict would: by any means necessary. These nasty substances age our body by removing bound electrons that are intended to stay put or be used for something else, which reduces the functionality of the part of your body that got stolen from. Antioxidants really do slow down aging (not really anti-aging, but they can slow stuff down). Antioxidants are essentially sacrificial in nature and thus we need to regularly get them in our diet. Not getting enough antioxidants can eventually kill you, think Scurvy and vitamin C.

When you get too high a concentration of antioxidants they start acting like bad guys and they stimulate the production of the very scary sounding TOXIC OXYGEN SPECIES (a type of free radical). Luckily it is hard and expensive to get too much antioxidant from food. Supplementing is a different story. I do not suggest supplementing for antioxidants. However if you are going to, try and use your brain. A good rule of thumb is: if you can’t naturally get that much of something from your diet, never try and get it from supplements. Think oranges. A great example of this is so called Super C supplements which tend to have 2800-5000mg of vitamin C with the average orange having about 70mg this is similar to eating 40-70 oranges. Can you eat 40-70 oranges in a sitting? If you can (and manage not to hurt yourself) perhaps you should put this feat up on the internet and become the next viral video sensation. The Japanese have a very antioxidant rich diet, but they also smoke more cigarettes than Americans, it has been proposed that their lower lung cancer rates are due to antioxidant consumption, coupled with a healthier diet and lifestyle.

Taking a multivitamins is generally considered safe and the level of antioxidants in them should not be extreme amounts, don’t take multivitamins that are labeled extreme or maximum!

Fiber is good for you, and humans of the past use to get extremely high levels of fiber from their diets. Humans of other “healthier” cultures and societies get more fiber than Americans and perhaps this could also be a reason why they have lower disease rates. Modernization has led to less fiber being in our diet because more of our foods are refined and processed. There are two types of fiber: soluble fiber and insoluble fiber. Insoluble fiber cannot be broken down by water or our digestive system. Insoluble fiber triggers water to be retained in stools making them easier to pass (most PC way to say helps you poop… pooping = a type of cleansing). Soluble fiber can be broken down by water and our digestive system; this is the type of fiber that has been shown to help lower cholesterol and regulate blood sugar.

Fiber slows digestion down which allows for more complete nutrient absorption, but largely does not affect the total amount of calories absorbed. Fiber’s slowing of digestion prevents blood sugar spikes. Preventing blood sugar spikes consequently prevents insulin spikes; insulin spikes cause fat to be stored as a means of lowering blood sugar. How fast a food’s sugar content gets to your blood is what the glycemic index is all about: Strait glucose is the typical marker and is given a GI value of 100, except when other foods like white bread are used as a marker than the GI of glucose becomes over 100. Fruit will raise your blood sugar but not nearly as much fruit juices (much higher GI) which are known to cause blood sugar spikes. Juicing is a process that removes most pulp and therefor fiber, thusly increasing GI. For those on a diet, fiber helps you stay full longer and get more nutrients from your food, reducing your desire to eat which means less calories and more weight loss.

Vitamins and minerals have a satiating effect, less than that of fat, protein and fiber but anything that can make you full faster or keep you full longer will help you lose weight simply for that reason. Vitamins in supplements are typically not in the form that is most commonly found in nature. Natural forms of vitamins are bound into the food, while vitamins within supplements are bound to a “binder.” Supplemental vitamins that are “free of binders and fillers” must through some means, usually a chemical reaction, make the vitamins chemically inert (non-reactive). The vitamins in food are made inert by being part of the food, so as the food digests the vitamins are released. This paring makes vitamins from food more digestible and by happenstance the natural form of vitamins is usually easier for the body to use once it is digested.

Heart healthy fatty acids, the Omegas seem to be everywhere and in everything that even resembles healthy… but they are not in anything FAT FREE fat free super foods have zero Omega’s. Omega fatty acids are the first group of fats to get a great reputation. Omega fatty acids are often marketed as essential fatty acids EFAs, but in reality only two of the Omega fatty acids are essential one from the group of fatty acids called Omega 3’s and the other from the Omega 6’s. The essential fatty acids are alpha-linolenic acid (an Omega 3) and linolenic acid (an Omega 6). The good news is these are very common; most of the polyunsaturated fat we eat is from EFAs. This means that if you are getting a sufficient amount of polyunsaturated fat in your diet you likely don’t have to supplement even naturally with things like flax seed and fish oil.

If you were wondering the difference between Omega 3’s and Omega 6’s aside from function, they are named such because of the location of the double carbon bond with relation to the methyl carbon: 3’s are three carbon bonds away before the double carbon bond and 6’s are six carbon bonds away. But really you did not need to know all that, just remember to get more Omega 3’s than you get Omega 6’s.  

In my experience supplementing Omegas can be really beneficial but I seriously doubt this has much to do with any potential pseudo drug like properties. Omegas are not drugs or medicine and should not be treated like they are. That being said, I use flax seed because regular milled flax is cheap and you don’t need very much to be effective. I do not use pills (except a multi-vitamin) what I am doing with milled flax is not truly dietary supplementation; because I am using whole food not a supplement. On days when I am going to eat fish I don’t have flax. I have found that even a half dose is effective for me thus halving the cost. On day’s when I don’t get my milled flax seed, I get hungry easier and have less energy and am less peppy. Aside from being shown to be good for the heart Omega’s have been shown to be good for mood balancing and combating depression. The big reason Omega’s are good for the heart (when you consume the right ratio which is simply more 3’s than 6’s) because they combat and prevent inflammation inside of your heart, veins and arteries.

Consuming extreme levels of polyunsaturated fats has been shown to increase the risk of cancer spreading (largely shown in mice but still). I have to stress that eating an extreme amount of polyunsaturated fat would be difficult to do, so just be sensible and you will be fine. High amounts are still good, but remember everything helpful reaches a point of unhelpfulness than past that harmfulness.

Enzymes do a fun little trick of helping the body digest protein. Enzymes are not technically alive and therefor they are a vegan food. Vegans use this trick to not need as much total protein in their diets. Those who are sensitive to protein consumption for medical reasons that usually involve the kidneys, also often use enzymes for this reason. Enzymes like those that are found in sprouts help the body digest food, mostly protein. Enzymes are also found in most raw foods, but when you cook food the enzymes are destroyed. This is the big reasoning behind the raw food diet keeping everything raw.

Well cooking also helps breakdown food and makes food easier for the body to digest, so in reality the only true benefit of enzymes is that they up the bio-availability of protein thus meaning you need less of it. Enzyme supplements are almost always a waste of money, as the enzymes in them are typically inactive even when they advertise that they are active: don’t buy the pills for this reason. The best way to get Enzymes into your diet is with sprouts like bean sprouts. Chances are you do not need enzymes in your diet, and you should not be stressing out about trying to add them.

Probiotics are another thing that chances are you do not need. Most of us have healthy levels of beneficial bacterial flora in our digestive track (probiotic populations), so taking probiotics will do nothing to close to nothing.  A probiotic is a live bacterial culture that will continue to live inside of you when you consume them. These cultures help you digest food and can help you regulate your digestive system. They also have the added benefit of competing for food with non-helpful bacteria that live in your digestive system, thusly causing a decrease in harmful bacteria in your digestive system.

Probiotics are often prescribed for those who are on antibiotics, because the drugs can kill the bacteria that naturally exist in or digestive track. When prescribed they are typically covered by good health insurance despite being an OTC supplement, so it does not hurt to ask your health care provider if they will pay for them. We need these beneficial bacterial cultures in our digestive system in order for everything to work properly, but chances are you do not need to supplement with them. The good news, most products that advertise that they have live probiotics actually have live probiotics. This is another thing that you do not need a lot of if you do choose to use them (bacteria will reproduce and reach the numbers that are needed). Probiotics are strictly speaking NOT vegan, because they are alive, but it is typically safe for vegans to use them. Probiotics have also been shown to increase the bioavailability of protein. Adding a little live culture yogurt (a super-food) to your next protein shake might be a good idea, also it tastes good.

Additional protein and rare amino acids are an excellent reason to eat a super-food rich diet. I must however tell you there is truly no such thing as “rare” amino acids. Most of the 22 amino acids that we need are easy to find in food, but this is where you must pay attention to amino acid profiles. A “complete” protein like all meats and dairy products is a protein that has sufficient levels of the essential amino acids. There are 10 essential amino acids (this is a currently debated topic) which our body is not able to biosynthesize in sufficient levels. In earnest all of the 22 amino acids can be considered conditionally essential. Amongst other things our bodies use essential amino acids to biosynthesize the “non-essential” ones meaning: If we do not get enough of the non-essential amino acids we must compensate by getting more essential amino acids.

Non-meat protein sources must be paired with other non-meat foods with complimenting amino acid profiles in order to produce a “complete” protein, in other words they shouldn’t be eaten by themselves. (It has been shown protein pairing does not have to be done in the same meal for the effect to work) Legumes, like beans and lentils, when paired with grains or nuts or seeds can make a complete protein (full amino acid profile.) Using legumes as a staple and then pairing them is by far the easiest way for vegans to get enough protein, but many parings exist and feel free to get creative. Mixing and eating a diverse diet almost always improves the bioavailability and amino acid profile of food.

The essential amino acids: Any Help In Learning These Little Molecules Proves Truly Valuable: Arginine, Histidine, Isoleucine, Lysine, Tryptophan, Leucine, Methionine, Phenylalanine, Threonine, Valine; no matter what mnemonic you use these are hard to learn.

Increased protein content can be a great indicator of a food’s status as “super,” but there are other indicators as well. There are super foods in every food category imaginable including sweets: dark chocolate and cinnamon are both super-foods. Memorizing all of the super foods that exist would be daunting and completely unnecessary, because all you really have to do is remember a few indicators. These indicators are not always accurate as some super-foods contradict them but they are really good I would say they are right 9 out of 10 times.

These are my favorite 5 INDICATORS of a food’s “super” status:

  1. Increased Protein Content: example brown rice vs. white rice. Brown rice is super-food white rice is not; brown rice has about 1.5 times the protein of white rice and about double the fiber. (Wild rice is even better, but way to pricy, I don’t consider it super because it cost so much compared to brown rice.) Increased protein content is the best indicator for meats.
  2. Increased Fiber Content: example whole grains vs. traditionally processed grains. Whole grain foods have typically double or more the fiber content of their counterparts. Whole grains as a category vaguely count as super but there are certainly stars, my favorite whole grain is oats. Quinoa is great and all but again it is too pricy for me to consider it super (and it is not that much different nutritionally than oats and oats are cheap).
  3. Vibrant or Dark Colors: Foods that are lightly colored tend to have less nutrition in them. An extreme example of this is: Ice Berg Lettuce vs. Spinach. Ice Berg Lettuce is very light in color, and it is also very light in everything else too: including vitamins, minerals and protein. Spinach is the opposite it has a rich deep green and packs plenty of protein, vitamins and minerals: Spinach is a super-food. Brightly colored fruit tend to be super-food. Black beans are more super than pinto. The list goes on and on. The reason nature does this is because these colors are attractive and thus things want to eat them, when the foods get eaten their seeds are spread (because they get pooped out) and the plant thrives.
  4. Small Size: example lentils are the front runner of the super category legumes, sesame seeds are the front runner of the super seeds. Small packages in nature tend to be more nutritionally dense because they still have the same job to do as larger packages. A small little lentil or sesame seed still has to sprout and grow into an adult plant.
  5. Intense Flavor: Anything that awakens the mouth is likely to be good for you and is perhaps a super-food. Herbs and spices are used in non-traditional medicine for a reason: they are good for you. Almost all herbs and spices can be overused and reach a point of not being helpful rather quickly. However, as far as I know, none of them are bad for you in the amounts that are used to flavor foods, and most of them reach a level effective for health benefits at this point. For example think about garlic pills one pill worth of garlic could easily have been used on a meal to season it. One pill is usually all you need to experience benefits from garlic as a super-food. In fact all members of the same genius of garlic (allium) have been called a super-food including: onions, leeks and chives. Something truly great about herbs and spices is they are extremely low in calories. This makes them one of the only super-foods that you can just add to your diet without taking away anything. This intense flavor indicator works for every food category: Hot Peppers, Dark Chocolate, Peas, Kiwi, Yogurt they all have intense flavors and they are all super-foods.

These are my favorite 5 super-foods:

  1. Lentils: Legumes, are a super category my current favorite of them is lentils, but to be honest my favorite legume changes from time to time. Lentils pack a crazy amount of protein into a tiny package, the side of the package I am staring at right now says: 10 grams of protein, 11 grams of dietary fiber, and only 80 calories in ONE serving. They require no soaking (but soaking can remove purines, some people are sensitive to purines) so they are easier and faster to cook than most legumes. I like them so much because they are a great way to add protein to a vegan diet. As a personal trainer I want to see all my clients get plenty of protein, but I worry about vegan clients because veganism can be a low protein diet with typical use. All legumes have to be paired with grains or nuts or seeds, to complete their amino acid profile. The classic pairing is one serving of beans to one serving of white rice (you can use less rice if you use brown), but as a general rule when pairing you need as much grains less nuts and even less seeds to complete the protein profile. Runner ups in this category are chickpeas and black beans because of taste. I like black beans to make never fried beans (they are the consistency of refried pinto beans) and I may always love hummus which is made from chickpeas. Many legumes can be made into flours at home or bought (including lentils) and used for gluten free baking.
  2. Berries: I am leaving this one vague even though my favorite berry is blueberries (I love the taste). You really can’t go wrong with berries and mixed berries are a fun snack. I hardly ever eat exotic berries because they are expensive, and they are harder to get fresh. Frozen berries often count as fresh because they retain their nutrients. Even frozen exotic berries are hard to find whole. I do not believe in berry extracts and supplements, and I would never advise a client to use them. If you want the benefits of berries eat them whole, and you do not need much, about an ounce will do just fine.
  3. MIXED NUTS: You do not have to always eat your nuts mixed, but getting a variety of nuts is better for you and much less boring. All nuts are good for you. I eat honey roasted nuts and oil roasted nuts, they may not be as good for you as over roasted or raw but they are freaking tasty, and when you are snacking taste matters. There are safety reasons to roast nuts, but most nuts can be eaten raw if they have been washed, some nuts don’t taste good raw. Nut butters are easy to make at home, with a blender some nuts and the occasional added bit of heart healthy oil like canola.
  4. Fruit: Most fruit could really be considered a super-food but my favorite is bananas followed by apples followed closely by oranges. Exotic fruits are nice and I do enjoy them as an occasional treat, but most of the time I just want something simple easy and relatively cheap. I have used bananas for years to help with exercise related soreness, they help restore glucose stores and some potassium and they taste great doing it.
  5. Sushi: I love going out to eat sushi; this is by far my favorite way to get fish. If you have never tried sushi because you are grossed out, I would suggest trying to get over it. Fish is good for you in general… so if you can’t handle the raw fish of sushi or sashimi, still eat your fish. When you eat fish raw it has the added benefit of having some bacteria for your system to fight, doing this boosts the immune system. Most raw food including fish retains more antioxidants, and has active enzymes present which aide in digestion. Sushi is generally considered safe, but going to a reputable establishment decreases risk even further. It is currently recommended by the FDA that pregnant women, nursing mothers and young children eat no more than 12 ounces of fish a week, to avoid excess mercury.

Some suggestions for eating super foods:

  1. A little bit goes a long way; you really do not need much of a super-food. I often suggest using half super-food with half regular good for you food like mixed greens salads.
  2. Avoid gimmicky things, they are often way over priced and sometimes they hardly have much of the advertised food in them at all. Don’t eat something just because it is trendy or exotic, you can stick with the tried and true classics and still be eating a super diet.
  3. Don’t ever treat food of any kind like a drug or expect it to act like medicine, if you have a medical problem go to the doctors, not the grocery store.
  4. Super-food based supplements are usually just plain silly; may not have much of the advertised food in them, and could be much less nutritious than the actual food. Just eat the food.

Refining and processing can involve chemicals, complicated equipment and processes, or some other spooky voodoo; but it can also be as simple as cooking. Pre-cooked food generally, but not always, has less nutrients than if you cooked it fresh yourself. Sometimes you really should not be cooking the food like with most fruits, because it is safe and more nutritious to leave it raw. Cooking removes most to the entire vitamin C content of food. Other times food has to be cooked for safety; eating raw pork might be obviously risky but did you know you should not eat raw Soy beans! Raw soy beans are toxic to all monogastric animals (including us) and must be cooked with a “wet” heat to destroy something called trypsin inhibitors. Sometimes cooking can unlock nutrients that would not be available to us: cooking drastically increases the lycopene content of tomatoes.

Breast milk is the best super-food of all time, you should feel very lucky if your mother breastfed you. She permanently reduced your chances of many things including but not limited to: most types of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. Your immune system is better because of her sacrifice, and chances are you are a bit smarter because of it too.

Mothers your breast milk is a perfect food! (It contains all essential amino acids, fatty acids and vitamins) and your body will do everything that it must to keep your breast milk that way. Essential amino acids and fatty acids are labeled as such because they cannot be biosynthesized de novo meaning inside of the body. However, mammary glands are amazing and it has been shown that even mothers that are fasting or suffering from famine produce nutritionally viable breast milk. Breast milk is far and away the single most amazing super-food. More than any other food the benefits of breast milk and breast feeding have been clinically shown time and time again. You should breastfeed your baby for as long as you can.  Your baby will be just fine pretty much regardless of your diet (alcohol consumption and a few other exceptions aside… don’t drink and breast feed). You need to pay special attention to nutrition so that your health does not suffer; eating a nutritious diet will make your breast milk even better. In the womb the baby does not have the benefit of breast milk; and the body is less capable of providing complete nutrition with a poor diet. Pregnant women need to be especially careful of their diets, and getting enough Omegas’ should be part of this care.

A big thanks to breastfeeding Mom’s and Mom’s that breastfeed!

Diet Supplements: Part 6 of the series: Dieting does it work for you?

Diet Supplements: Part 6 of the series: Dieting does it work for you?

Before I explore diet supplements (some can be helpful I will tell you which ones, most suck I will list some but I could not possibly list all the bad ones). I want to explore the emotional aspect of dieting. When I interact with those who have chosen to take diet pills, do a crash diet or get surgery, no matter what their rhymes or reasons are, I always get “you would not understand your skinny.” Well I am not naturally skinny and yes I would understand because I have been fat and many of us understand, because a history of fatness is a common thing: even amongst the skinny. Skinny people want to change their weight also; often they battle with trying to gain weight for years. The reaction is often the same when a person has the financial means to rapidly change their weight; they turn to medical intervention for answers.

There are rare instances when weight loss surgery and prescription diet pills are appropriate. When a person has been on a downward path for years, either gaining or losing way to much weight, a medical intervention is often needed and is the safest route to take. You should only pursue a medical intervention when it’s the safest thing you could do. A reasonable diet and moderate exercise is most likely your safest bet. Diet and exercise have some risks no matter what the intensity but the risks should always be minor in comparison to the risks of being unhealthy. A good personal trainer can lower the risks of exercise by helping their client follow proper form and encouraging exercise of appropriate intensities, which will also maximize fitness gains.

Extreme intensity exercise is ONLY for elite athletes, if you are not yet an elite athlete you have no business doing extreme intensity exercise (I will dive deep into this topic in a future article.)

It should be acknowledged that supplements even seemingly harmless ones are in fact, a self-prescribed medical intervention, and should be discussed with an HONEST DOCTOR. Supplements and potions are sold over-the-counter and can be bought without a prescription. Just because they can be bought, does not mean that they should be bought. DO NOT EVER BUY anything that labels itself a “potion,” (unless you happen to be in Diagon Alley*). While some supplements can be useful and are fairly safe others can be completely useless or even dangerous.

With weight-loss doctors, honesty is something you must always look for, and always second guess your judgment especially when there is substantial risk involved… it is better to be safe than sorry. Doctors make money off of their patients, so when you ask for a diet pill which you probably don’t need a dishonest doctor will GIVE YOU A POTENTIALLY EXTREMELY DANGERIOUS PERSCRIPTION. They do this simply because the more patients they have coming back to them the more money they make.

I understand what it is like to be fat; the segment below is a story and can be skipped if you are only interested in the meat and potatoes science-e stuff of this article.         

I have come upon the shocking revelation of Fatness twice in my life.  For most of us that come upon the realization of fatness it comes on like a brick to the face. Causing all kinds of “all of sudden” pain, shock, and maybe even horror and disgust. We wake up one day and hate what we see in the mirror, wonder how it happened, and want it to change back to “normal” NOW!!! I came upon this shocking revelation; once in seventh grade and once in adulthood. It is the rare exception that someone will realize they gained 5 pounds and make slight changes to their diet and exercise to lose it; most have much more weight to lose than this, when they experience the shocking revelation.

This sudden awareness happens to those who gain very little weight too. I have personally seen a woman FREAK OUT over two pounds… This very skinny woman was crying as she left the woman’s locker room complaining to her normal looking friend about gaining TWO pounds. Most likely this woman was anorexic, but that and her small weight gain does not make her emotions any less real. All of us have a threshold, most of us would not mind so much if we saw a couple extra pounds on the scale, and perhaps we would think nothing of it. But for everyone there is an emotional breaking point, be it five, ten, twenty pounds or more. The existence of breaking points is why it is usually so shocking when we come across the revelation and finally feel like we are fat.

There are a number of ways to handle feeling fat that I have seen or experienced personally. The first time was in seventh grade. I was wearing a tank top to school and a much larger and older kid snuck up and pinched a fat roll beneath my underarm, proceeded to taunt me and then he RAN away. I honestly can’t remember what he said, but I remember thinking to myself “If I wanted to kick this kid’s butt it would be very difficult, because I’m fat and can’t RUN after him.” I was AMAZINGLY infuriated, and it would have been very easy for me to head down a few different wrong paths and just fall into a cycle of self-destruction complete with loathing, feeding and declining health and mood. I did not respond like this. I decided that I would stay comfortable in my own skin, but that I would change it to something more practical: I would become “Fit.”

In seventh grade, I became very physically fit it took me about six months to go from my blob self to a star athlete; (I remained that way through high school). I was not transforming because I hated myself and wanted to change: it was being done because I loved myself and desired a more functional body. I was a kid and it is common that parents will not support their kid doing an actual diet. My parents did not support or for that matter allow me to be on a “diet.”  I started eating rationally (I was an overeater before), and I started exercising.

My parents for all intents and purposes gave me a place to do this: the garage. They took a TV (I think it may have actually been from their room) and a VCR put them on a self in the garage then started parking outside. (They made other improvements as funds became available, they were very supportive.) I would use Billy Blanks Tae bo tapes (kickboxing) two times a day during the week before as well as after school and sometimes as much as three to four times a day on the weekends. I started on the “basic-level” tape and slowly worked my way up to advanced. Eventually I started lifting weights on Friday nights. I would take days off when I was sore, and I would always make sure to get enough protein and fat. I was less concerned about weight loss and more concerned about physical improvement. School itself was incredibly easy for me. I really did not have to worry about studying, because if I did my homework I would get A’s on the tests anyway. I started looking into the science of fitness in middle school, and doing so has changed my life. I played sports in high school and I quickly started personally training my teammates after practice and on the weekends.

In adulthood, I was not a personal trainer when the fatness and out-of-shape realization hit me. I had a great job, but one day the car was not working when I had to get to work later that afternoon. So I biked 14 miles to get to work, something that would have been really easy for “athlete” me… made me feel like “fat” me was dying. Suffice to say: the realization hit me on the way to work that day and I took the same approach I did as a kid: get healthy and do it safely. The second time around I used biking as my primary form of weight loss.

               For those that were wondering that kid that picked on me never picked on me again after that day (not that I was not picked on by others). However, he did pick on the wrong kid one day towards the end of the year. I had gotten into really good shape by the time this happened.  I am not sure of the whole story, but I know that through some awkward twist of fate I came to his rescue. He was unconscious and being beaten-up in the boy’s bathroom. It was in between periods, and I got a hall pass to go to the bathroom. My instincts told me to do something weird, I screamed like a girl as loud as I could and charged in to help my tormentor.  To this day I call screaming like a girl my “War Cry.” The war cry was loud enough to get the attention of my Civics teacher, who came in and finished the job of saving the day. Later I actually made a recorded testimony that was used in a court case against the attackers.

Back to the nitty-gritty science stuff!

There are some supplements that you can buy that can be helpful. But none of them will work like a medication and not even a medication will work like a magic potion. (If you do find Diagon Alley you tell me where it is or I will stop being your friend.*)There is no such thing as a magic diet potion, sorry. Below is a list of typically good supplements and typically bad supplements:

The good guys:

  1. Vitamins: nutritional supplementing multi-vitamins have been shown to help with weight loss. There is a simple reason for this: they make you feel full and naturally have some appetite suppressing qualities. Vitamins suppress appetite best (and your body absorbs them better) when taken with food. Many different vitamins have been touted as good for weight loss and most of these claims have some truth to them, but that is not good reason to go out and buy a ton of different vitamins. If you are taking more than just a simple multi-vitamin chances are you are taking too much. Overloading with these “good for you” vitamin pills depending on how much and of what, could be at best a waste of money and at worst potentially dangerous.
  2. Fiber, be it fiber pills or powder or drinks, fiber works. Fiber can and will help with weight loss. Fiber is the primary thing in vegetables that make you full; interestingly it is the part we can’t digest. Fiber makes you full almost as good as fat and protein, but the amount of calories in Fiber is very little to none. Fiber pills, in my experiences and most anecdotal personal experience related reviews I have found, are not very effective taken alone. Fiber pills work better to make you full faster if they are taken shortly before a meal. I find that fiber powders work better than fiber pills and fiber powders that are added into foods work better than when fiber powders are used as drink mixes. Fiber requires that you drink more water, and not doing so can cause constipation. Fiber is however often prescribed to relieve constipation because it stimulates more water to be retained into stool, making it a little softer. Fiber has many claimed health benefits which (while probably are exaggerated by the side of the box or bottle), are real, fiber is good for you. Eating a high fiber diet and getting fiber from food is better than supplementation, but supplementing with fiber products is easy. A word of caution: fiber NEEDS to be increased gradually and used with plenty of fluids. The use of fiber is subjective; the amount that works for you works for you, but never use over the instructed amount. It is often just as effective to use less than the recommended dose, doing this therefor makes taking fiber cheaper.
  3. Protein powders: protein powders are not just for body builders, they are for dieters as well. Protein powders are very low in calories, fat and carbohydrates. Protein powders are very satiating because of the protein in them but they also typically have plenty of vitamins and some even naturally have or add fiber. You almost never need a full serving, most protein powder servings can be halved and be just as effective for decreasing hunger. Protein powders and dietary protein both decrease hunger rather well, but dietary protein does a better job of keeping you from hunger. Protein from food digests slower. Protein powders are made from whole foods that have had the protein “isolated” out of them meaning most of the natural carbohydrates and fats are not present. Foods like milk, rice, soy, peas, hemp, and grains have been used to make protein powders.
  4. The coffee diet, sometimes called the caffeine diet or the coffee and tea diet. The premise is simple, drink as much black coffee (and or caffeinated tea) as possible. Un-caffeinated teas and green teas have also been shown to reduce appetite. The bad news: large amounts of caffeine have never been shown to be good for you. The good news it is effective. It works by raising your resting heart rate and thusly increasing your resting metabolic rate. Caffeine gives you calorie free energy, and consuming a glass of tea with almost every meal is common in many cultures for this reason. The bad news, it is easy to overdo it, potentially addictive, and for those that need to sweeten their caffeinated beverages it is downright fattening. I dare you to look into how many calories are in your mocha latte. The lesson here is moderation, moderate amounts of caffeine and caffeinated beverages have been shown to have health benefits… too much on the other hand is bad. Oh and Green tea claims are greatly exaggerated. If you are sensitive to caffeine avoid caffeine, if it gives you problems avoid it… but I mean really did you need me to tell you that.

The Bad guys and big fat phonies:

  1. Antioxidant supplements, my vote is: don’t bother taking them. I am not alone in being on the fence with this one, the Food and Drug Administration (the FDA of the U. S. government) does not recognize some “antioxidants” that are in supplements. For example Green Tea is an antioxidant supplement that the FDA does not currently recognize. There is a general air of distrust with the claims that antioxidant supplements make about weight loss, in many communities including the personal fitness community. If you tell your personal trainer that you are taking this super dupper high impact vitamin c pill to help you lose weight, they will probably tell you two things. 1. You will be told you are wasting your money, and 2. You should be told that high levels of antioxidants can be bad for you. Vitamin C it has been shown to help you fight colds hooray… don’t take it for weight loss. Berries like Acai and blueberry have been shown have benefits two (if you like the taste eat them for taste); again don’t take them for weight loss. Also on the list are green and other tea extracts, and for that matter all “antioxidant” extracts. I really have to wonder about why anyone would take any of these, often expensive, food derived antioxidant supplements for dieting reasons when most of the time the food they come from is cheaper; almost always low in calories, and typically tastes good.
  2. “Cleansing” supplements: these make me laugh. They are often glorified laxatives. That is correct the average “cleansing” supplement is bought and paid for to induce uncontrollable pooping. If you do lose weight it is water weight, which you will quickly gain back. The entire premise behind these products is false, your colon can clean itself and it would appreciate it if you did not mess-up what it is doing. Guess what happens if your colon gets too clean, you risk killing yourself with water. Yeah it sounds made up but it is true, a “cleansed” colon absorbs more water, meaning it can give you extreme constipation and you are in danger of water intoxication. Many of these products work by first giving you diarrhea and then when they are done working you get constipation. Don’t just don’t, I have no clue why you would want to risk dookie in your pants or not going at all (or for that matter potential DEATH). My real problem with these crappy products is they give some actually helpful things some bad names: probiotics, fiber, Omega 3’s and fish oils to name a few. Probiotics, fiber and Omega 3’s and fish oils are all good to very good for you in reasonable amounts. Heavy metals are the thing these products claim to remove… but they can’t. If you have heavy metal poisoning (you most likely don’t) you have to be hospitalized and you are given drugs for chelation therapy. These chelation therapy drugs work by binding to the heavy metals to form complexes which are filtered out of the blood by the kidneys. Then excreted in the urine; your bum is not at all involved.
  3. Energizing weight loss supplements: not all of them will label themselves as energizing, but if it gives you energy it counts. These things are typically dangerous stimulants, but unfortunately they do work. They work for the same reason caffeine works and indeed sometimes all these really are is extremely high doses of caffeine with some herbs, vitamins and sometimes a basically useless chemical. The other non-stimulant chemicals in these are there to sell the product to you as healthy, it is not healthy. These energizing supplements drastically raise your resting heart rate and blood pressure which does increase your resting metabolic rate, but also can be really dangerous. A high resting heart rate is a sign of poor health and high blood pressure is arguably the best indicator of heart disease, basically you are volunteering to have hypertension when you take these things. Exercise TEMPORARILY raises your heart rate and blood pressure giving your heart, arteries and veins a work out and a good stretch. When you are done exercising your heart gets to rest and now has an easier time pumping blood. For those that take these supplements their heart never gets to rest, and just like anything that never gets to rest they are risking breaking things. Don’t take energizing supplements. I from time to time I will get an extra shot of espresso, but I never use these supplements. I was given a free sample of one of these supplements once, and perhaps I had a bad reaction, but I was twacked: there is not enough espresso in the world to make me feel that spun out… it was scary.
  4. Illegal drugs… you would be surprised how often I hear people say things like only if I could get some ____ illegal drug I could lose weight. This is unfortunate and could also have the opposite effect; it could cause you to gain weight. The illegal drugs that people use for weight loss are typically extreme stimulants and thus all of the dangers of stimulants are intensified. If you are on an extreme stimulant and you get hungry the chance of you greatly overeating is rather elevated. Aside from the chance that they will actually make you gain weight, they are still ILLEGAL. All illegal drugs are dangerous to your standard of living just because of them being illegal. Illegal drugs that are of a stimulant nature are always very dangerous and typically highly addictive. You don’t want to end up the hospital or jail because you wanted to lose weight. In the immortal words of Mr. Mackey “Don’t do drugs because drugs are bad.”

Don’t waste your money on “diet” supplements, most of them do not work. However, do get your body the vitamins and fiber it needs; this will help your diet and if you need supplements to do it, feel free. Using protein powder is a neat little trick that can give you a feeling of full with fewer calories than most food thus helping you diet and lose weight. Coffee and teas are another neat little trick that can help you feel fuller and give you some energy, but these have no or very little calories. Anything you use to supplement your diet of natural food should be considered a “trick” and tricks don’t always work.

 

A word of warning:         

Dietary supplements do not have to go through a premarket review by the FDA, they have to be “safe” but the relative safety is the responsibility of the manufacture… and here in lays an ethics problem. If the manufacture is unethical they can, will, have and are currently putting products on the market that are not safe or not in the slightest bit effective, or worse contain adulterants. The reason that they get away with this is: the burden of proof is on the prosecution in legal cases of liability. Basically what all that boils down to is: supplement manufactures are often lying to you. The FDA has a nasty habit of getting involved when it is already too late, when there has been what they term as “adverse event reports.” These reports sometimes do include deaths as in with the well-publicized ephedrine deaths of the 90’s. It is not even slightly possible to have direct governmental regulation for every facet of existence, nor would such a thing be good news. It would be astronomically expensive for the FDA to test everything before it hit the market, but Dietary supplements are sometimes tested by the FDA (usually after bad things happen). It is not uncommon for the FDA to find drugs that are diuretics and stimulants in weight loss supplements. Most of the time it is found that if the “active” ingredient is there it is in trace amounts; most diet pills are simply caffeine pills.

Trends:   

Ever herd the phrase: “don’t do it just because it’s trendy!” well don’t it’s that simple. Trends happen all of the time, when they come out they are never thoroughly tested. Why would you volunteer to be a human test subject? Are the people behind these trends paying you to experiment on you? NO, I do not think they are! When you follow dietary trends you are being taken advantage of, and you are basically a lab rat (no offense to lab rats). For those following the Hoodia craze right now I want you to know you are most likely being hood winked, fooled, shim shamed…  There is little evidence in any direction and there are zero long term studies.

The lessons of this article are:

1. Don’t hop on the trend train.

2. Get your vitamins, minerals and fiber.

3. Consider using a protein powder.

4. Try coffee and teas but don’t overdo it.

5. Antioxidants are not for weight loss.

6. Cleansing supplements are just plain silly.

7. Energizing diet pills are dangerous.

8. Drugs are bad.

9. There are no magic diet potions.

10. Always use your head and think things through.

*Diagon Alley is a Harry Potter reference.

Atkins and Low-carb Dieting: Part 5 of the series: Dieting does it work for you?

Atkins and Low-carb Dieting: Part 5 of the series: Dieting does it work for you?

By Patrick Moorehead

                As human beings we are all omnivores, we can eat just about whatever we can find to sustain ourselves. Carnivores (meat eaters) and Herbivores (vegetable and fruit eaters) do not have the same luxury as us Omnivores: they can’t choose what they want to eat for sustenance! Carnivores like cats and dogs do not process carbohydrates very well (carbohydrates are the primary source of calories in vegetables). Rabbits and guinea pigs are herbivores and they do a poor job of processing fats and proteins (fats are the primary source of calories in fatty meats and protein takes center stage in lean meats). Herbivores should eat primarily fruits and vegetables as well as some nuts and whole grains (many herbivores can’t or shouldn’t have nuts and grains). Indeed life is about balance. Carnivores should eat mostly all meat. For our beloved pets, we need to feed them a proper diet too; or they will get all of the diseases of civilization just like we do when we eat a “civilized” diet. We omnivores can if we choose eat like carnivores or herbivores; however eating refined carbohydrates and sugars are still bad for us and should only be consumed in moderation. 

We all know that low-carb dieting is avoiding carbohydrates. Some diets take it to more extreme levels than others and will ask you to avoid fruits and vegetables. Avoiding fruits and vegetables for an extended period will cause some degree of malnutrition, even with vitamin supplementation. (The Intuit avoids malnutrition by eating raw meat, eating almost every part of the animal, and eating a high-calorie high-fat diet). Low carb diets that also include calorie restriction should be considered crash diets, and are dangerous. Atkins is not very calorie restricting and for most of us is generally safe for weight loss. Unfortunately most of us that use low-carb diets do not follow a healthy low-carb diet, and do things to ourselves that can cause protein poisoning. Protein poisoning is ironically also called Rabbit Starvation, more on this later but for now let’s chit-chat about DISEASE.       

                There is a ton of diseases of civilization, indeed most things that you know that can go wrong with a body are a disease of civilization, but the big four are: 1. Cancer, 2. Heart Disease, 3. Diabetes, and 4. Obesity. You may not consider obesity an actual disease and for many it is not, truly Sumo wrestlers are athletes and elite Sumo wrestlers can probably out run the average American. Obesity becomes a disease in two ways: 1. it is a risk factor for most other diseases, 2. it tends to slow us down. Diseases of civilization can largely be avoided by not over eating and refraining from what is unnatural for us to eat most notably refined carbohydrates and sugars.  

                Let’s take a look at these diseases of civilization as they reference to our pets. In the wild Cats, Dogs, Rabbits and Guinea Pigs and most animals for that matter have extremely low disease rates, especially amongst the young. Now don’t get confused here, but perhaps consider changing the diet of your pet! Without you feeding your pet the diet you likely feed them, their chance of getting Cancer, Heart Disease, and Diabetes, is virtually non-existent. Obesity is also extremely rare amongst wild animals, but pets are often incredibly obese. These facts are often both disputed and reinforced by the mortality argument: Some animals kept in captivity live much much longer; and some animals, especially “wild” animals kept in captivity live shorter lives than their actually wild counterparts. Diet is the big thing pointed to as the reason for both longer and shorter animal lives, but this is a bit misleading.

                We Humans are the kings and queens of the animal kingdom, (the next part should be read with cocky and pompous overtones)… Lions ain’t got nothin’ on us. Animals kept in captivity are kept out of the natural circle of life; they enjoy the cushy existence of being a guest of the royal court (our lives). If we feed them anything close to what they actually should eat and they get some exercise; they will, 9 times out of 10, outlive live their wild counter parts (pardon my French)  by a CRAP TON. This is because, simply put the wild = dangerous.

Let’s get back to the topic of humans.   

Civilized life takes almost all the “wild” (and therefore much of the danger) out of our lives. Civilization also adds the amazing benefit of medical science. Being less dangerous and having access to better medicine makes our lives longer. That same medical science does wonders to fight the diseases of civilization that we tend to give ourselves through our DIET. In isolated societies of people that have a diet of availability, disease rates are much lower. A diet of availability is a diet of what is available straight from nature that does not require much if any processing, these diets do not included refined carbohydrates and sugars.

                The pro low-carb people and those against low-carbs interestingly often use population studies of these isolated societies. Population studies should not rightly be considered “science” because there is no real way to isolate variables or for that matter even know what all the variables are. Multi-variable linear regression truly only works with numbers (it is a form of math magic after all) and should only be considered valid when all the variables can be known. Just the same let’s see what both sides of the fence of the low carb debate have to say about population studies. Two of the populations pointed at are the meat eating Inuit of Alaska (and other Artic regions) and the high-carbohydrate low-fat diet of the Japanese.

                The Inuit believe in their traditional diet, and many traditionalist to this day practice this diet. The diet consists of mostly of gamey meat, and fish; it is an extremely high fat diet. The diet does not get more than 35-40% calories from protein to avoid protein poisoning (also known as Rabbit Starvation) and almost none or none from carbohydrates. The Inuit diet can be as high as 75% calories from fat. The Inuk (singular form of Inuit) who practices this diet is extremely unlikely to ever develop Cancer, Heart disease, or Diabetes. This last fact most pro low-carb people will throw in your face over and over again, if you let them.

                Anti-low carb people and pro low-fat people will use the traditional Japanese diet as an example. The traditional Japanese diet is a balanced diet that includes a high ratio of carbohydrates and a low ratio of fat. THE JAPANESE WILL OUTLIVE US ALL they have the longest life expectancy of any peoples, they age gracefully, and they have low disease and obesity rates. The Inuit can’t compete with the Japanese’s numbers but something remains true of both people and diets. Both diets are diets of availability and do not traditionally include much if any refined carbohydrates and sugar. Both diets do not culturally believe in eating when one is not hungry. When the Japanese or Inuit switch from their traditional diets to a western diet that includes a high intake of refined carbohydrates and sugar they get fatter and start to experience higher disease rates. The diseases of civilization are largely caused by overeating and excessive intake of refined carbohydrates and sugars.

                Before I go into the mechanisms and explain how excessive refined carbs and sugars cause these nasty diseases I am going to tell you how to properly do the Atkins diet.

                The Atkins diet has four stages, and if you had not previously looked into Atkins I doubt you knew this. Dr. Atkins was a brave man considering in 1972 when he published his first book he went against what was then conventional thoughts on nutrition.

Stage one: severely restrict carbohydrate levels, aiming for close to nothing only consuming non-starchy vegetables (like salads). The reasoning is to try and induce Ketosis. This first phase is called induction. It takes 2 weeks or more for most to complete this induction phase and have the body reach a state of Ketogenic dieting. When your body is in this state it’s in a “not-eating” mode and it uses mostly fatty acids and ketone bodies to fuel itself. (Water fasting can induce this state much faster 1-5 days). The body can never completely switch to powering itself only with fatty acids and ketone bodies, at best it will be around 70% powered by fatty acids and Ketone bodies ~30% powered by glucose.

Note: For glucose, the Atkins diet relies on the breakdown of fats (lipolysis) and the breakdown of protein (gluconeogenesis).  

Stage two: is called on-going weight loss and for this stage you are “allowed” 25 grams of carbs per day with 5 additional grams added to the daily allowance every week until the body stops losing weight. Once the body stops losing you subtract 5 carbs from the number you got up too. (This is almost always less than 100 grams of carbs a day or 400 calories from carbs).

Stage three: is a pre-maintenance stage. You start stage three once you reach your “goal weight” which I hope is nothing crazy. During this phase you are finding how many carbs you can eat and not gain weight. You do this by slowly adding carbs to your daily allowance. Once a week add 10 grams of carbs to your daily allowance and once you start to gain weight subtract 10 grams and poof there is your magic carb number that you should not go over. (This “magic” number is almost always around 200 grams of carbs but can be as high as 300 grams, 800-1200 calories from carbohydrates) Once you reach this state you are back to a glucose based metabolism and no longer on a true Ketogenic diet.

Stage four: is the maintenance stage and it is simple: use your personal magic carb number that you came up with, and you should not gain weight. If you start to gain weight in this stage find a new magic number by going back to stage three.

                The Atkins diet when used perfectly is much more effective and is considered fairly safe. I would recommend trying this diet (because many people I know have lost a considerable amount of weight with it), but there are some risks you should be aware of. The number one risk is something called protein poisoning and with those on the Atkins diet it is caused by an internal mental demonization of fats. Most Americans on some level think of fats as an evil dangerous thing to eat, this is not true stop thinking this right now; because you are most likely slowly KILLING yourself! Leave the skin on your chicken for God’s sake; you know you want to anyway! Other common risks of the Atkins diet are bad breath (caused by excess ketone-bodies) and constipation, both signs that you are not eating enough fat, leave the skin on your chicken already, I mean come-on. The likelihood of kidney stones goes up for those on Atkins and so does the likelihood of other kidney issues as well as stomach ulcers.

Note: Your body responds to eating protein by adding additional hydrochloric acid which lowers your stomach PH in order to mechanically breakdown protein into peptides. 

The Atkins diet makes some amazing claims besides rapid weight loss. They claim and have evidence to back it up that the Atkins diet can reduce cholesterol. They also claim other health benefits like increased energy (many experience the opposite) and reduced risk of disease in general. I would bet that if someone actually perfectly followed the Atkins diet to stage 4, which is just a balanced diet, they would have lessened many risks. However, most Atkins dieter’s demonize carbohydrates and develop a sense of entitlement for the sensation of “full”. These two common things can be very dangerous and greatly increase long-term and short-term risk.

                The one health benefit I really want to explore is the seemingly phenomenal ability of the high cholesterol Atkins diet to lower your cholesterol. All calorie restricting diets have to some degree been shown to reduce cholesterol.  General cholesterol levels are not the risk factor we once thought they were, but in general: HDL (high density lipoproteins) cholesterol = good and LDL (low density lipoproteins) cholesterol equals bad. Atkins claims to be able to reduce the bad and raise the good. Cholesterol can get very complicated and is still a topic of heated discussion in the medical and nutrition communities.

Why would it ever be possible to reduce the bad and raise the good cholesterol with the high cholesterol Atkins diet?

                Body mechanics of how we process glucose coupled with the simple concept of fat burning can directly explain this cholesterol lowering effect that some experience from the Atkins diet. Calorie restricting diets have a tendency to lower cholesterol, but Atkins is not a true calorie restricting diet. Atkins reduces cholesterol levels because it brings blood glucose levels down. Our body produces low density lipoproteins and very low density lipoproteins as a way to detoxify the blood when our blood sugar goes up. The lack of this need for LDL, coupled with a fat burning state (cholesterol is a fat) is how the Atkins diet lowers the bad cholesterol and raises the good.   

A quick elaboration (can be skipped):

When blood glucose levels shoot up, the liver processes some of the glucose right then and there and stores it into the liver’s cells as glycogen. The rest of the excess glucose (as glycogen) goes to the rest of the body for storage, and it hitches a ride on low density lipoproteins to get to their (the LDL of LDL cholesterol). We actually have five different types of lipoproteins that vary largely based on size and functionality largest to smallest: chylomicrons, VLDL, IDL (“I” for intermediate), LDL, and HDL. There are also subsets of each. When there is not enough LDL to handle a spike in blood sugar our liver synthesizes VLDL to get the job done quickly because, after all, elevated blood sugar is mildly-toxic. LDL and VLDL and to a lesser extent IDL brings materials like cholesterol and glycogen to our cells. Chylomicrons primary function is to bring amino acids from the small intestines to the liver. HDL is the regulating type of lipoprotein that takes things from the cells of our bodies (including built-up cholesterol from our veins and arteries) back to the liver; this is why HDL is good. Cholesterol can be broken down in the liver and repurposed or excreted as bile.                 

                Low-carb has some risk. Not consuming enough carbohydrates can lead to sensitivity to dehydration, as they stimulate water retention. Carbs are the primary source of fuel in the brain, and low carb diets can negatively affect the brain. Low-carb diets that are also low-calorie diets will slowly cause brain damage. The brain can run mostly on ketone bodies (~70% max) but it has to gradually shift over to this ability which can take two weeks or more with low-carb diets. Ignoring your carb cravings during this adaptation period can lead to some brain damage. If you do get a carb craving: give in a little and have a small amount of carbs, you don’t need too much. Carbohydrates levels that the brain needs can be taken care of with the Atkins diet as long as calorie restriction is not also followed, but this is an example of adaptation. The Atkins diet relies on a few metabolic and brain adaptations (the brain running on ketone bodies is an adaptation) not everyone is going to have the adaptations needed to follow the Atkins diet. For some their bodies literally were not built for it, but that’s okay there are many other diets to choose from.     

                When you do a macronutrient analysis comparing a typical day of a traditional Japanese Diet and stage four Atkins (you know because you like to do these for fun) something amazing happens. Both typical days will have around 200 gramsof carbohydrates. The biggest difference between them is that the Atkins people will eat 2000-3000 calories and the Japanese traditionally calorie restrict eating 1200-1800 calories. Remember this mantra THE JAPANESE WILL OUTLIVE US ALL, and no it has nothing to do with their genetics and everything to do with their cultural take on food. They do not eat to “full” except on special feasting occasions. I do not doubt that the traditional American diet subtracting our love of sugar and refined carbs could be, if we calorie restricted, healthier than even the traditional Japanese diet. Americans might be able to become the longest living people in the world if a few die-hard patriots take it upon themselves as a mission to encourage Americans to simply eat less, perhaps consume food that is a bit more Japanese, and of course get some exercise.

                If you are going to try the Atkins diet please do it properly. Reading this post is a start, but there are many books on the Atkins diet and other low-carb diets pick them up and read them. You should know: that although it has been shown many times that low-carb diets are faster at initial weight loss, they range from minimally to not more effective at long term weight loss than most other diets. This is because our bodies get accustomed to it. At this point many are tempted to cut calories or more severely cut carbs. Don’t, both practices are dangerous; just try a different diet. It is a general rule with all diets that if your weight loss plateaus than you should try a much different diet. It is very rare, but if you still fail to lose weight after honestly sticking to a new diet there is one thing you can do: training. To get to your goal weight when dieting and moderate exercise has ceased to stimulate weight loss: slowly increase your exercise training for events like marathons and triathalons.  

                The human body is not capable of processing more than 200-300 grams of protein in a day… this may sound like a lot and it is: This much protein represents 800-1200 calories. There was an old guideline in body building to get one gram of protein per pound of body weight daily. I still hear this said over and over again, it is not true. Current medical research has shown ranges of protein intake to reach maximal benefit for BODY BUILDERS at 0.77 to 0.81 grams for every pound which is 1.7 to 1.8 grams per KILOGRAM. For most moderately active people the optimum, as in highest effective, protein range is around 0.37 grams of protein per pound: 150-200 pounds = 55.5 to 74 grams (beyond this and the protein is just used for energy). Endurance athletes have numbers close to body building.

It is easy to get too much protein on the Atkins diet, but the best way to avoid this is to eat more fat. Protein Poisoning is also called Rabbit Starvation because it is possible to die faster on a diet of lean meat (like a rabbit) than not eating anything. (You can also starve an herbivore like Rabbits to death using meat, but please don’t do this.) Exceeding protein levels that your body can process can lead to dangerously high levels of amino acids, ammonia, and urea in the blood; Elevated levels of these things are potentially fatal, and always hard on the kidneys and liver.       

The Atkins diet has helped literally millions of people lose weight and very well could help you. It is a perfect diet for those without the willpower to deal with hunger, as you will stay satiated almost constantly. It should be practiced in the four stages I highlighted above; it is important for your health that you reach stage four and don’t try and stay in stage one forever. Dieting is about progressive healthy improvement, and you should always strive to follow a diet in the healthiest safest way possible.   

Ana Diets and Crash Diets: Part four of the series, Dieting: Does it work for you?

Ana Diets and Crash Diets: Part four of the series, Dieting: Does it work for you?

By: Patrick Moorehead

I have heard (and chances are you have too) something to the likes of: “If only I could develop an eating disorder, I could be thin.” This saddens me to hear this. Most of the time people say it jokingly but sometimes they really are just gauging your reactions. You have to be careful how you respond to situations like this because one of three things is happening, and none of them are good. The most likely thing to be happening is the person saying they want an eating disorder is feeling fat and unattractive, and if you respond wrongly their feelings could get exponentially worse. The second most likely thing to be happening is this person already has begun practicing an eating disorder and they are trying to decide if they should embrace it or try to recover. The third thing that could be happening is often called wannarexia, and this is should never be encouraged. Eating disorders are dangerous, and I’ll expand on this in a moment.

Crash diets are dangerous and all of them have their own unique dangerous ways of screwing you. All crash diets slow down your metabolism and they do it in the same way. Crash diets cause muscle loss, which slows down your metabolism because muscle burns calories even when it is not “doing” anything. All crash diets also affect your body’s insulin response system negatively, but can do so in many different ways. Crash diets also have tendencies to affect your bodies’ sex hormone levels, making women more masculine and men more feminine. Crash diets can unfortunately result in amazingly quick short term weight loss. Some crash diets have been shown to be faster than water fasting and exercise combined. Water fasting coupled with exercise can result in a maximum fairly healthy weight loss rate of about 1 pound a day, some crash diets that involve poison-like “medicines” can be as high as 5 pounds a day. (Early water-fasting weight loss can be more than 1 pound a day because of getting rid of poop, and some water loss due to the lack of carbohydrate intake). Rapid weight loss through dieting can be hard on the body and has been shown to have health risks.

I must say I have never battled anorexia or bulimia. I will admit this is one of those things that if you haven’t lived through it you won’t really know what it’s like. You must also admit this: If you have never been there don’t try to understand because you CAN’T and most likely saying things like “I understand” will have a damaging effect.  People who are in the process of recovery must be handled using the entirety of your intelligence. People who are recovering MIGHT need support, but they might not; their recovery must always be accepted. It can take professional help to recover from an eating disorder and in some cases enrollment into special rehabilitation facilities. The number one thing that you will need if you’re the one seeking recovery is desire to do so. If it is you seeking recovery, you know that it takes an amazing amount of will power to have an eating disorder; you have the power and strength to beat it.

Being an optimist and an opportunist, I love to find the needles of wisdom in the hay stacks of other information. There is so much that can be learned from the dietary and behavioral patterns of those with an eating disorder it is astounding. The big four are:
1. Power of thought can produce physical responses in the body.
2. Certain foods and diets can decrease hunger and have other metabolic effects.
3. Emotions and dieting should be kept as far away from each other as possible, because they are self-defeating.
4. Exercise has a preserving effect on the body.
All things and all people in life have something they can teach us and something about themselves that makes them uniquely respectable.

It takes a ton of self-coaching, self-convincing, and “thinspiration” to successfully have an eating disorder. Thinspiration or thinspo are images and sayings that can be focused on to help a person with an eating disorder achieve their goals. I am not saying having an eating disorder is good, but let’s be honest as to why we respect people’s positions: because of the will power and effort it took them to get there. Anorexics and Bulimics (and others with eating disorders) are people who deserve your respect, just as all of us as humans deserve respect. It is from this amazing determination and the concept of thispiration that I found the first needle of wisdom.
1. The power of thought can produce physical responses in the body.

Just thinking about eating food causes an amazing physical response in the body that we have all experienced. When we think about eating the body starts a fat storing insulin-response, which while not typically as powerful as what is caused by actual eating, is still very significant. Insulin responses vary from person to person. The end result of the response is the same: storage of fat (and to a much lesser effect the building of muscle); stopping your thoughts about eating or preventing them stops/prevents/reduces the response. Insulin affects many aspects of the body, especially the endocrine system. Just thinking about food and eating helps along the storage of fat. The result of thinking about food: blood sugar falls. We have all experienced this drop in blood sugar; when blood sugar decreases hunger increases.

Thinking about being thin can make you thinner; imagine being strong and it makes you stronger. Thinking about being fast can make you faster, the list goes on and on. This works because thinking about things elicits a physical response in the body, it is cause and effect. Think about the last time you had a “dirty thought” your body responded physically did it not? When you’re running a race and you think “I’ve got to go faster” you go faster. When you are resistance training and you think “I’ve got to push harder” you push harder. When you are losing weight and you think “I can lose more weight!” You lose more weight. Studies are all over the place on this and the numbers tend to vary wildly but it is rarely shown that thinking has no effect on weight loss; the point is most of the time there is an effect. Believing in yourself helps you lose weight.

Ana diets (anorexia diets) are extremely diverse but there are two common themes: speed up the metabolism and minimize hunger. This brings us to the second thing that we can learn from Ana diets:
2. certain foods can decrease hunger and have other metabolic effects.
For weight loss these diets can be more effective than fasting, but they do so at a cost. Both Veganism and Fasting is something often practiced by anorexics in such a manner that both typically healthy practices are unhealthy. Increasing water intake is also something practiced by those with eating disorders, but again at a cost because it is often overdone. Taking vitamins is also often overdone and there are huge risks to this as well.

The average ana diet relies on one fact: nutritious food is more satiating than non-nutritious food. We can eat junk food till the cows come home but never really feel full. The most satiating thing is fats, followed by proteins and a close third is dietary fiber. Things that are higher in vitamins and minerals often are extremely filling, but they are less filling than fat, protein and dietary fiber. Carbohydrates for all intents and purposes are not filling. Ana diets manipulate these facts to produce less hunger. Vegetables which have extremely low calorie densities are high in fiber and packed with vitamins.  Information like this is something all of us can use to prevent overeating: eat healthier food and make sure you get your vitamins and minerals.

Ana diets (unlike fasting) are without a doubt crash diets. The body only has two modes: eating and not-eating. There is no “crash-diet” mode. Calorie restriction (typical dieting and or the calorie restricting lifestyle), juice fasting, standard eating, and overeating are all eating mode. Water fasting and dry fasting are not-eating mode. Atkins and other extremely low-carb diets are the odd exception and in a few ways cause the body to enter a not-eating mode, but only at non-restricted calorie intake levels. Low-carb diets that also restrict calories should be considered a crash diet. (I will be writing an entire post on “low-carb” in the near future)

The body does not have a mode for extreme calorie restriction and because of this something akin to dietary chaos ensues. The effects of extreme calorie restriction have likely been felt to some degree by all who have dieted. Extreme calorie restriction is unfortunately relative, meaning if you have been consistently over-eating eating a healthy amount of calories can feel like extreme calorie restriction. This is why one of the best ways to succeed at a diet is to ease into one.

The body adapts to calorie restriction by using less and less energy. The calorie restriction of most non-anorexia diets is typically in the range of 1200-2000 calories. For those of us that have been over eating, we are all but guaranteed to feel some sort of protest from our bodies because we aren’t use to this reduced calorie intake. We will usually feel increased hunger, and some lack of energy, but we can also get headaches, constipation, diarrhea and a general feeling of weakness. The more nutritious a diet is the less we experience these symptoms. People with eating disorders face these symptoms and more every day. The body will eventually adapt to eating 1200-2000 calories and most if not all negative effects of dieting will go away. Long-term calorie restricting as little as 10% (1800-2000 calories for most) to as much as 40% (1200-1500 calories for most) has been shown to have health benefits. Long term extreme calorie restriction (for most means under 1000 calories), has been shown to have health risks which increases as the amount of calories decreases.

Let’s take a look at an extremely popular Ana diet: 0,2,4,6,8 and 2,4,6,8. These numbers refer to a daily consumption allowance of: 0 calories, 200 calories, 400 calories and so on. This is a 4 day diet that sometimes includes a fast to make the diet 5 days. It is common on this diet to lose much more weight than you would lose water fasting.

Why this diet would add a fast day is an easy question to answer: Fasting has a “restart” like effect on the digestive system, most people who use this diet use this effect to speed-up their metabolism. Fasting does not truly speed up or slow down metabolism it has a regulating effect so if you managed to make you metabolism faster or slower, fasting can bring it closer to normal.

The 2,4,6,8 diet burns more calories than fasting because the body is trying to rely on the glucose from the food for fuel, but it does not have enough to maintain itself. In response to the shortages the body pulls on its reserve of both muscle and fat. In this state the body relies more on the breakdown of its own muscle tissue than on stored fat, because protein can be broken down to produce large amounts of glucose. Ketone-body production is typically low in this state and because ketone bodies are the brain’s alternative fuel source, the brain must rely heavily on glucose from food sources and the breakdown of muscle tissue. Most tissues of the body can run on both fatty acids and glucose; however almost all tissues cannot efficiently run on both fatty acids and glucose at the same time and some simply can’t. This chaos results in more calories being used than would have been in a fasted state, resulting in the diet 2,4,6,8 commonly being a faster form of weight loss than fasting.

Note: The heart in many respects is amazing because it can and does run on pretty much anything, cardiac muscle even has some ability to digest unbroken down macro-nutrients (protein, carbs, and fats) for itself.

The third grain of knowledge is more cautionary than anything else:
3. Emotions and dieting should be kept as far away from each other as possible because they are self-defeating.
All of us get a little emotional from dieting, for most of us on reasonable diets the bulk of the emotions are happy good emotions. Those with eating disorders can become addicted to their condition largely because of all of these good emotions. With the good comes the bad. Just like we feel negative emotions towards our diets, like self-loathing and doubt, those with a condition can be truly burdened with terrible feelings. These awful feelings, often lead to the saddest end a person can have: suicide. Suicide is a poignant example, but severe depression and feelings of utter social isolation are common amongst those with an eating disorder. Emotions can also lead to binging and increasingly unhealthy dieting habits. Emotions can turn dieting into a disease; eating disorders are as real a disease as any Cancer.

Dieters and “wannarexics” don’t practice the lifestyle of someone with a disorder. This lack of practicing the lifestyle actually increases the risk of crash diets. When someone with Anorexia crash diets they use their amazing will power to also exercise. When the typical person crash diets they sit around like a blob of uselessness, and this makes things worse in a hurry. The anorexic’s activity level triggers the body to practice some protein preservation. Blobs of uselessness (you on a crash diet) do not get any protein preservation and the result is increased risk and an even slower metabolism. This “crash” and “blob” abuse cycle can result in alarmingly fast DEATH. If most of us including YOU got down to the “only bones are beautiful” look we would die very quickly. People with eating disorders can survive for years even decades because of grain of wisdom number four:
4. Exercise has a preserving effect on the body.

Anorexia and Bulimia and other eating disorders can have horrible health consequences including but not limited to:
1.Death.
2. Abnormally slow heart rate and freakishly low blood pressure indicating a slow dying of the heart that eventually leads to heart failure and Death.
3. Cycles of severe dehydration and water intoxication leading to kidney failure and, Death.
4. Electrolyte imbalances and thusly again Death.
These disorders are deadly but way before it kills you it will give you a huge list of health issues. The least of your concerns would be fainting, which due to the nature of it happening anywhere can be deadly, fainting should scare you.  If you are thinking that these issues will most likely take a while to develop think again; electrolyte imbalances and dehydration can happen very quickly and will kill you very quickly.

Disclaimer: the next paragraph is highly disturbing, and should be avoided if you yourself do not have an eating disorder and never plan on developing one. It describes the extreme consequences of eating disorders that are of a sexual nature.  

It is not lost on most with an eating disorder that society by in large does not find bones covered in skin to be sexy. Boney is not only typically infertile but also can be completely useless for sex. Males who get too thin will experience shrinkage of their penises and the penis might cease to function for sex. Eating disorders can lead to advanced vaginal atrophy resulting in a useless, inelastic, dry, discolored vagina, with pungent odor. This vagina that is deeply atrophied will bleed badly during sexual intercourse and the resulting open wounds will most likely get terribly infected because the vagina has lost all ability to defend itself against infection.

It is safe to read the last paragraph it should not disturb you.

Crash dieting can have all the negative effects of eating disorders and in some cases these effects can happen faster, in some cases they are largely avoided. Both crash diets and eating disorders are very dangerous. Please if you are currently crash dieting stop. Please if you are currently suffering from an eating disorder seek recovery; you are strong, you can beat it and you deserve to be healthy. If you know someone with an eating disorder remind them that you love them and that you would love to see them be healthy. No one should ever be ashamed to ask for help, and the help is out there, so ask for it.

Tietze’s syndrome, a very rare condition and client

Tietze’s syndrome, a very rare condition and client

By Patrick Moorehead

Special populations (people with medical conditions) need personal trainers too, and it is up to the personal trainer to learn all they can about each of their clients medical conditions. Exercise can have healing effects that traditional medicine can’t compete with; exercise can heal both psychologically and physiologically. An exercise done with poor form or the wrong exercises can make everything much worse, so a personal trainer must be prudent. Many things can exacerbate a medical condition, and these things must be known. Stress can make almost all medical conditions much much worse, so any time when working with a special population try and reduce stress levels.

Tietze syndrome is rather rare, but just the same I managed to find a client diagnosed with it. This syndrome is something I honestly had to look up, and in the process discovered that many doctors have to do the same. It cannot be stressed enough, never diagnose yourself; most doctors won’t even diagnose themselves. This might be a hard diagnosis to get because your doctor is going to have to run a huge amount of tests to rule out other things. Tietze does not have to but it certainly likes to make an entrance. You might have tightness in your chest before it happens but all of a sudden it will happen (Tietze’s big entrance). There will be an incredible pain in your chest and it will feel like you are having a super heart attack… there will be no “I think I might be having a heart attack” you will know you are having a heart attack. Anytime you get the sensation that you know or think you are having a heart attack get to an emergency room fast. Flairs as they are sometimes called can happen both before and after a heart attack so don’t think about it, go to the hospital.

Many things can trigger Tietze syndrome all of which involve the chest and sternum somehow including but not limited to: localized infection (does not really have to be that localized), trauma, cancer, arthritis, surgeries and other medical procedures. It can also be triggered by things you would not expect, like coughing and heavy laughter. The other fun one you might get the privilege of hearing your doctor say is “we don’t know.” They do know that stress and irregular breathing, short shallow breathing, deep breathing and well regular breathing breathing can exacerbate Tietze.

Tietze syndrome is often distinguished from other similar ailments by the length of time it lasts. It usually lasts 12 weeks to a year, but can become chronic. Tietze is inflammation of the cartilage between the ribs and breastbone, and can also be accompanied by a weakening of the ligaments and tendons of the area. Tietze’s syndrome can lead to pinched intercostal nerves via slipping of the ribs (Tietze is sometimes called slipping rib syndrome which is a separate thing to itself as well). It is important to remember that this syndrome involves cartilage, tendon and ligament weakness and inflammation; it is not a muscular disorder.

Tai Chi has been shown to be extremely helpful with Tietze. Yoga and other exercises that work on extension and flexion of the thoracic cavity have also been shown to help. Intense exercise and “bouncy” exercise like: running and contact sports should be avoided. Anything that stresses the chest or pectoral muscles should be avoided or done with close to no weight. It has been found anecdotally (people report their own experiences) that although they can without much effort perform chest exercises they often suffer with extreme soreness and pain later, a sign that they may have made things worse.

If you push a client with Tietze syndrome to do an activity that causes a flair-up, you risk causing something which feels like and can lead to an actual no-shit could be fatal heart attack. Don’t get me wrong Tietze is not something that is considered a very dangerous thing to have, annoying, painful, but not really dangerous. Sufferers can experience flairs for seemingly no reason and they can experience them pretty often. Usually they walk away from the event with little more than fading chest pains and memories of something that was awfully painful. You should never knowingly put a client or yourself at risk like this and honestly you should have already known that (this is one reason I dislike trainers that lump all people together and push them all like they are professional athletes).

If you are a good honest trainer you should always ask yourself what would a megalomaniac trainer do… and then do the opposite. Training should be about comfortably maximizing health and doing so in a way that is as safe as possible.

People suffering from Tietze may feel very strong in the chest, and they may want to do things like bench presses and push-ups. Chest exercises can and should be done extremely lightly, like very low weight dumbbell presses or prayer style push-ups (an exercise that is much lower impact than “girl” style). Chest exercises for people with Tietze is more about maintaining range of motion and preventing muscle loss, think about having a sprained ankle but on the chest. Sprained ankles are primarily ligament and cartilage injuries so because the physicality of the two things are similar it can really helpful to just think of them as varying manly by location. Indeed mentally lumping this syndrome in with other cartilage and ligament syndromes like arthritis can really help. As with things like arthritis, exercise can help the healing process. Listening to the body using various markers of biofeedback is important with all special populations, the easiest to use biofeedback markers are pain and heartbeat if either one is elevated when it should not be, stop.

Early exercise in more severe cases involves segmental breathing exercises usually done with a physical therapist. Segmental breathing exercises in this case are done by the therapist applying pressure to different parts of the sternum while the patient breaths in and out. This should not be attempted be a trainer, as it can be really painful. These exercises can be done solo, with less pain. These are done as a means of recovery by runners who develop tightened inter coastal muscles and ligaments as a result of improper short shallow breathing; the runner will find deep breathing difficult and possibly painful. These exercises can be painful but are pretty easy, however less effective to do yourself. The concept is apply pressure with a hand to the sternum in various places while breathing in and out as a means of stretching individual and pairs of rib joints. The ribs where they join to the sternum are costochondral joints.

Supplementation is something all trainers are asked about, but few endorse as necessary. If you eat a well-balanced diet than supplementation should not be needed, however sometimes it is hard to do things like eat enough pineapple every day to get your dose of bromelain. Supplements are often shown by studies to help, they will tell you right there on the side of the box oh ah this will cure this oh ah this will cure that. Truthfully most supplements are “snake oils” and will have little to no effect or perhaps would help you if you had something different. Some supplements have been anecdotally shown (people’s own experiences) to be helpful with reducing the symptoms of Tietze’s: Bromelain, rutosid, trypsin, ginger root, willow bark, and vitamin E. Supplements that might help heal but might do absolutely nothing to help relieve symptoms would be runner’s supplements like glucosamine and arthritis and osteoporosis patient supplements like calcium, magnesium and vitamin d. I have personally taken bromelain for me it worked as an excellent natural anti-inflammatory.

In medicine Tietze’s syndrome is usually treated with anti-inflammatory drugs and pain meds. Often this is sufficient; sometime more serious things like Cortisone injections are used. Physical therapy to help identify issues and strengthen certain muscles groups to reduce stress on the chest is often used. It is rare but surgery that removes the affected joint has been done as treatment. Therapies like massage therapy and acupuncture have worked wonders in some sufferers, but have done little to help others.

Before trying surgery it would be a good idea to discus with your doctor the possibility of going vegan. I know it does not sound like fun, and I am not a vegan because well I love the taste of meat and I like its protein. Veganism largely avoids dietary sources of inflammation. We all know certain foods are anti-inflammatory like fruits, vegetables and most health foods. For some just little changes to their diet like adding nuts (which are strongly anti-inflammatory) to the diet can help with a variety of ailments. You could also try something like a wellness (still has meat) diet that is intended to be about lowering inflammation, but if you do you should know that it is not likely to work as well as veganism.

The best thing to remember when working with special populations is to be compassionate and careful; people will want to push themselves even when it is a bad idea. A trainer should not only know when to support their client to push themselves but also know when to encourage the client to hold back. Exercise with a trainer should always be safer and more effective than exercise done along. When exercising alone pretend that your form is being watched and your routines are being critiqued. This can truly help. Tietze’s syndrome is a nasty thing, but as with other people and medical conditions a good trainer can be a big help.

Slim-fast and Milk Diets: Part 3 of the series Dieting: Does it work for you?

By Patrick Moorehead

I am faced with the dilemma of declaring things healthy or unhealthy on a daily basis, just like anyone else would have to do for themselves. I am asked by others, clients, friends, family and RANDOM PEOPLE, to make health and fitness related judgment calls. Today I am going to make a judgment call on one of the biggest most popular weight loss methods of all time: Slim-Fast.

I must say I have used Slim-Fast before endurance events as part of my “carbo loading.” Before events like long bike rides and long runs that is going to take hours, it is prudent to load the body with carbohydrates to fuel the body during the event. I have used Slim-Fast as a means of preventing hunger during these events; it was I tip that I got, I tried it and liked it. I have not personally ever used Slim-fast or a similar product for weight loss, but I have witnessed it. For my events I would consistently experience one of the more common potential drawbacks: flatulence. All of the SF induced farting may not have affected my performance much but I can’t imagine a better reason to try and out run the person in front of you… I may have been helping the competition.

Slim-Fast is not for vegans or those that want to avoid artificial ingredients and preservatives. Slim-Fast has dairy in it and the powder is designed to be mixed with skim-milk. Anyone sensitive to dairy like the lactose intolerant should avoid SF for that reason. Anyone with a phobia or a legitimate reason to avoid artificial ingredients should also avoid SF or at least read every product label. Slim-Fast has been known to cause gastrointestinal issues including gas, bloating, diarrhea and constipation. There is one ingredient in Slim-Fast that I try and avoid having too much of because it gives me gas.

Sugar Alcohols: Not all of SF’s products have them but those that do can be a problem for some. It is not uncommon to be unable to digest the sugar alcohols that are used as sweeteners. For those that can’t digest them they can have gastrointestinal problems. Sugar alcohols are neither a sugar nor an alcohol but a baby love child of each. They are made from sugars and starches but can also be found naturally and are often extracted from plants, they are considered a carbohydrate.  On nutrition labels they are always listed in the ingredients but they are not always listed as a sugar alcohol in the carbohydrate section. As they are not always specifically listed but allowed to only count towards total carbs they are often a somewhat hidden thing. These are often the “artificial sweetener” that you see on the label. Individuals can have some bad reactions to sugar alcohols and many in the health industry are strongly against them. The medical community as a whole tends to regard most of these sugar alcohols as safe. Sugar alcohols cannot be digested by mouth bacteria and thus do not contribute to tooth decay, as such are often found in gum.

Time for the good news, Slim-Fast tries and does a decent job at being a balanced diet. It does have good number of medical studies backing it. The Slim-Fast website (which I refuse to put a link up for just Google it) is pretty user friendly and has a lot of good honest information. SF’s current diet plan is the 3-2-1 plan. 3-2-1 stands for three ~100 calorie snacks two ~200 calorie slim-fast shakes or meal bars meals and one sensible balanced meal of ~500 calories. This adds up to a 1200 calorie a day diet. Most people losing “vanity weight” will lose about 1-2 pounds a week on any 1200 calorie diet. The distinction from other 1200 calorie a day diets is slim-fast’s 3-2-1 is fairly balanced when it comes to macronutrients. The site claims a balance of 20% protein, 30% fat and 50% carbohydrates, and I looked at this and it seems accurate if and only if you follow their design for what a sensible meal is. And never get more than one of their “snack” bars (more on that later). The good news is they are right about what a sensible meal is. They described how to eat sensibly so simply it was eloquent: with a picture. The picture was of a plate (which kinda made me laugh because of the whole food plate thing the government did) the plate was filled by volume with ¼ protein, ¼ carbs and ½ vegetables. The site also offers a complete eating guide including recipes for the sensible meal and I have got to say I was impressed with it.

Time for the bad news: People that use slim fast tend to “cheat” with it because of many personal reasons, but also simply because it does not feel like very much food. For some they never really feel full. I personally have to say slim-fast makes me feel full, but it does not make me feel full. I emotionally still want to eat something “real” after consuming a slim-fast. “Failing” at slim-fast is not uncommon, but succeeding is not uncommon either. When you really break slim-fast down it is something called a milk supplementation diet… but the slim-fast diet somehow manages to not get enough calcium with typical use.

A slim-fast dieter is typically going to have to do some calcium supplementation to get to that coveted 1000 mg to 1200 mg a day range. Not all calcium is made equal, Calcium Carbonate (CaCO3), which is, not to scare you, the active ingredient in agricultural lime. Calcium carbonate is also the active ingredient in Children’s Pepto-bismol. It is found naturally in many different types of shells including eggshells it is also in natural pearls and rocks. Calcium carbonate is an active ingredient in antacids and is used in calcium supplementation more often than calcium citrate because calcium carbonate is cheaper. In food additives Calcium Citrate is used as a preservative and flavor enhancer, while calcium carbonate is mostly used as inert filler. Calcium Citrate has two big selling points to justify its higher cost: increased bioavailability and slower digestion leading to higher bone calcium absorption… unfortunately for most of us this is not true. Most of us can digest both of them at relatively the same pace and bioavailability. As with all vitamin supplements it helps to divide the “dose” into two or three smaller segments to take at two or three times throughout the day (you might need a pill cutter).

The “milk diet” is very old and has been practiced in ancient medicine as a short term diet to cure a varied number of ailments. This milk used in these ancient healing techniques was unpasteurized whole milk, and this fact has led many who are interested in raw milk to draw some false conclusions.  Raw milk is just that not fooled around with and unpasteurized, true raw milk is also not homogenized. Raw milk can be very dangerous and sale of it is actually in many cases illegal. You can experience unique health benefits from drinking raw milk for the exact reason it is illegal, raw milk is bacteria laden. Raw milk therefore forces our bodies’ immune system into overdrive. It is best to think of pasteurization as the condom of the dairy industry the truth is your glass of milk has the milk of many different stranger danger cows. If you are going to drink raw milk you should know the ONE cow that your milk comes from. Pasteurization is heating milk and therefore it does change the taste, but the effect on the nutrient values is minimal, just drink pasteurized milk. PASTEURIZED MILK IS SAFE.

A milk supplementation diet is what you see so strongly advocated on the advertisements with the milk mustaches. The idea is to get your 1000-1200 mg of calcium from dairy sources and this will help you lose weight faster if you are already on a calorie restricting diet. This has of yet not been studied large scale but the small scale results look promising. The small scale study results showed improved weight loss for those taking calcium supplements and even greater weight loss for those ingesting dairy. It should be noted that dairy should not have ever been advertised as having these weight loss accelerating effects without a large long-term study and to do so was and is unethical. I would bet that when this does finally get its large long term study it will show similar results that dairy accelerates weight loss to a greater degree than calcium supplementation alone, but perhaps it will show additional risks.

It has been shown that multivitamin supplementation (which includes calcium) accelerates weight loss largely by reducing your appetite. All vitamin supplementation can be overdone and all overdone vitamin supplementation has risks. Ready for the scary part it is not that hard to overdo it when it comes to vitamins. Since we are talking about milk diets we are going to focus on calcium and overdosing on calcium. I want to preface this next part with a reminder that calcium is a damm essential nutrient it helps our bones be strong and without it our muscles could not function. BOO!!! Did I scare you? I should have, because now we are back to the concept of balance and wiggle room. For those who are sensitive to getting milk-alkali syndrome as little as 2000mg has been shown to trigger it. The good news as long as you don’t habitually take more than the recommended dose of your multivitamin and or calcium supplements most of us will be fine. Don’t worry if you accidently take an extra calcium pill here and there, but don’t do it on purpose because you are not doing your body any favors. To reiterate Calcium is dam essential, get some.

There are ton of “Milk” diets out there, and there are a ton of diets out there where milk is in the NO category. Many of the milk diets out there are actually what are called Ana diets, meaning diets commonly practiced by people with the eating disorder Anorexia Nervosa. These diets take advantage of the fact that milk (especially when taken with other food) has an amazing ability to make you full and keep you full. Some Ana diets go so far as to try and stimulate hypercalcemia which is elevated blood calcium levels, which in turn cause the symptom anorexia (and often more serious symptoms). Anorexia as a symptom is simply decreased appetite.

Let’s take a quick look at the well publicized 24 of 24 milk diet. This diet claimed that you could lose 24 pounds in 24 weeks drinking 24 ounces of milk a day while on a reduced calorie diet. Slim-Fast claims 1-2 pounds a week. Twenty-four ounces of whole milk is about 600 calories and 24 ounces of skim is about 350 calories, but both offer a healthy to ingest range of calcium if… You are not taking calcium supplements. You do not always need a supplement in your diet if you are getting 2-3 servings of dairy there is a good chance you don’t need any supplemental calcium.   What is funny about this diet’s claim is all reduced calorie diets can do this exact number of 24 pounds in 24 weeks.

Back to Slim-Fast, don’t eat or only eat one of their snack bars. Their meal bars do manage to be well balanced but their snack bars are nutritionally no different than eating 100 calories of a candy bar. All of the snack bars are similar in nutritional composition they all have 1 gram of protein, 2.5-5 grams of fat and the rest CARBS mostly sugars. All of them have a macronutrient value of ~4% protein, ~22-45% fat, and ~51-74% Carbohydrates mostly sugars. They are way to low on protein making them unbalanced. This is really funny to me because of course they could have made these balanced they managed to do that with the meal bars. Slim-Fast’s website in their common questions-nutritional data section actually gives you a good guide on macronutrients consumption while on a reduced calorie diet 15-20% protein, 20-35% fat, and 50-60% carbohydrates. I personally say these values can have a little more wiggle room but never should ~4% protein be acceptable.

The fastest way to fix Slim-Fast is to not use their snacks, instead shoot for fruits, vegetables, salads, nuts and seeds. Mix it up to keep life a little more interesting. Using these natural and good for you snacks is a much better option than what you can buy from SF. If you are craving candy and believe me it is a diet you will crave junk food honestly you know you’d prefer going and eating 100 calories of candy bar (about 1/3 of most bars), than a slim-fast snack bar. The other fix I would make would be the addition of something as a source of omega threes and a multivitamin. Most multivitamins are fine, but I prefer using all-in-one pills over vitamin packs simply because of cost and why not save money here and there. With a multivitamin you probably won’t need an added calcium pill; slim fast does provide most of it. If you react poorly to taking vitamins try a prenatal vitamin, prenatal vitamins are taken by men and women of all ages who react poorly to traditional multivitamins.

Money is always a good thing to remember when choosing a diet. Some diets are more expensive than others. Slim-Fast is not an expensive diet. There are no membership fees or expensive equipment to buy. Healthy eating tends to be more expensive than unhealthy eating, but eating a lot tends to be more expensive than rational portions. With diets for most of them I say try it, because there is a chance that it will work for you. If SF works for you do it. The risks of staying unhealthy definitely out weight the risks of trying this diet, but the second you experience health issues stop and try something else. I do not recommend using Slim-Fast as a means to maintain your weight.

Diets should always be temporary. Diets and exercise go hand and hand, they should be done together to reach weight loss goals. Once the weight loss is achieved a balanced eating lifestyle should be used. How many calories a person should be eating daily after their diet varies and should be based on what level prevents weight gain. I can all but guarantee if you return to the pre-diet caloric intake level you will return to the pre-diet weight. Discontinuing or reducing exercise habits that you had during your diet will also result in some weight gain. Many people maintain weight just fine on the 2000 calorie a day structure, some people can eat more (guys can typically get away with 2500), and some people have to eat less.

I say if you have tried other diets and they have failed, give Slim-Fast’s 3-2-1 a try limit using their snacks and consider a multivitamin, remember it is always worth it to keep trying.

Fasting: Part two of the series – Dieting: Does it work for you?

Fasting: Part two of the series – Dieting: Does it work for you?

By Patrick Moorehead

Fasting brings about a few images in peoples’ heads, like Gandhi and his hunger strikes. But less likely to come up in the brain is an image of your aunt or even your grandpa; perhaps grandpa did not have a choice because it was the war, and supplies had run out, and the enemy was pinning down his position. Practically everyone you know (maybe even you yourself) has tried a fast of one kind or another – either on purpose, accidently, or being forced to. Indeed it is not all that hard to experience the beginnings of the very scary sounding (remember to say this next part out loud in the deepest voice you can muster): STARVATION RESPONSE. The starvation response starts to happen in about 12 hours. If you are fond of sleeping in, tah-dah! You’ve fasted!  “Well dammit I don’t want to starve to death, I guess I can never sleep in again” the complete idiot said to himself. These early stages of the response are typically fairly harmless for the non-diabetic. The whole going without food thing for DIABETIC individuals and animals for that matter can be really, really, really , (can’t stress this enough) freaking dangerous. The long and short of it is unless you have a doctor there, then don’t. Just… don’t. There are however times when even diabetics must fast: for example before and sometimes after surgery. You knew that surgery thing though right? Well, fun fact: ketogentic diets and fasts are sometimes prescribed as a form of medical intervention for cases of intractable epilepsy.

There are as many different kinds of fasting as there are words.  Ever hear someone say “I’m going on a chocolate fast.”?  If you hear someone say this and you are on a real big-boy “I don’t need you to hold my hand as I cross the street mommy” FAST perhaps you should just choose not to have heard it. Real fasting is hard, and because of this should be respected. A ketogentic diet (think Atkins) should be seen as more of a diet then a fast. As far as I am concerned there are three real fasts and the rest are just imitations or variations of the like: water fasting, dry fasting, and juice fasting.

Fasting as a concept is very old, and as such tried-and-true in many respects. Fasting of one form or another is done in many religions. Most of us know that the Catholics are supposed to not eat meat on Friday. A lot of us know that during the month of Ramadan many Muslims minimize drinking any liquids and completely don’t eat during day light hours. Jesus Christ fasted for 40 days and 40 nights while being tempted by Satan in a desert of all terrible places. (I suspect this satanic desert was actually Las Vegas, NV. If you have been there on a summer’s day you would understand.) The point is, it is clear that fasting is done for religious purposes and obviously many have found spiritual growth with fasting.

If you are not doing it to bring you closer to something… then why in the name of God (or perhaps in your case the flying spaghetti monster in the sky) are you fasting? Chances are you are doing it for weight reasons, or you are interested in detoxification. Since calorie restriction of any kind can lead to weight loss, let’s talk about detox. The detox we all know of is the drugs and alcohol detox: it is very real, should be done only under medical supervision, and your body actually does get rid of poisons and changes its metabolism. The kind of detox you are after can probably also be described as getting rid of poisons and changing the metabolism. Unfortunately creditable science has yet to prove or disprove a detoxifying effect to fasting… and it may not ever do so.

Science may not ever pin down if your body is really getting rid of toxins as a mechanism of fasting, because when you are fasting you always know you are fasting, thus the placebo effect can never be ruled out. The power of the mind and the placebo effect is amazing. In medical drug studies one group is always given a placebo as a scientific control and the other group is given the drug. Usually the doctors don’t even know if their patients are getting the sugar pill: this is called a double blind study, and it is the normal procedure. Pay attention to the next prescription drug advertisement you see. They will often say “Studies have shown that this drug is blah blah blah more effective than a placebo.” Meaning that for some study participants the placebo, (as in the freaking nothing is in it pill) helped or cured them of their medical aliment. Think thinking thoughts can’t fix your problem?  Think again. *tongue twister intended*

So if it works, who cares how it works? Really, I don’t care too much how it works, do you? Well you should. Because relying on something unproven to fix your problems can be dangerous. Think of that last stupid idea you had that blew up in your face. The real problem with relying on fasting to cleanse your body of toxins is that for many it does not work, and there are always risks when it comes to things that are worth doing. Many thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, if not exponentially more, have experienced many amazing miraculous things with fasting: from cancer remissions, to lowered cholesterol levels, to increased endurance, to the conception of a child. If you have tried, or at the very least looked into traditional western medicine to help you, and time and time again it has failed, I say give fasting a try if you are willing to take the risks. Chances are at that point you have already taken some serious risks anyway with all of the possible side affects you can get from drugs these days. Back to the danger of relying on this cleansing effect, there is a big chance that nothing will happen, and time can be very valuable in medicine. Have you ever seen someone on some show say, “If only if they got here a little sooner”?

The risks of fasting are encompassed in the word: depends. The level and type of risk depends on many things, mostly individual in nature. None of us are the exact same after all. Some fasts are riskier than others. Oddly, Water fasting (consuming nothing but water) is usually considered safe for normal healthy adults. Dry fasting (going without liquids) always runs the risk of severe dehydration. And Juice fasting (consuming nothing but juice) has a huge risk of messing with your blood sugar levels even if you are not diabetic and healthy. Juice fasting can cause blood sugar fluctuations, which in some cases can stick around for a while after your fast is over. Juice fasting for over a week is also much more likely to cause malnutrition than water fasting for the same period of time. With all fasting you can expect hunger, crankiness, head aches (fasting should not cause migraines, so stop fasting if you get one) fatigue and excitability. All fasting, and indeed most diets, will also have some effect on your gastrointestinal track, and will most likely cause either constipation or diarrhea.  Note: migraines can be placebic. Yep, you can think your way into a migraine.

Juice fasting has been a miracle for tons of people, perhaps even someone you know. Juice fasting can be a gateway into a healthier style of living and eating, and can start some great habits. Testimonials will tell you that juice fasting can cure everything: including those pesky migraines you might simply being wishing into existence. Will juice fasting really fix any of your problems? Probably not, but it is incredibly capable of putting you on a great path. A juice fast can leave a person feeling generally better, but more importantly it can help them go from an unhealthy diet to a healthy one. When on a juice fast you are thinking about your health, and caring about your health, and these thoughts and feelings can stay for a long time afterward. All fasting can leave you with an “If I can do this, I can handle a diet” attitude.

How juice fasting works:  it is an eating plan that typically replaces every meal and snack with juice or smoothies, with unrestricted or perhaps elevated water consumption. Juice fasts 1- 7 days long are generally considered safe and are very popular. Going longer than a week many people would never recommend. Liquids that are not juices, like milks and soups, are not typically allowed in a juice fast, but sometimes they are. Less restrictive liquid fasting can help minimize the risk of not getting enough of one particular nutrient or another. Another risk of juice fasting is not getting enough fiber. The stalks, pulps, and body of fruits and vegetables are where the fiber is. Fiber is important for our bodies because it helps us poop, and indubitably my dear Watson if we don’t get enough we can have trouble pooping. In fact it is not uncommon for Juice fasters to need an enema to let’s just say get things moving again. People do sometimes experience weight gain while on a Juice fast and there are two most possible reasons for this. Juice fasts are typically an extremely high carb diet and carbs can stimulate water retention. Juice fasting can actually stimulate hunger making you drink more juice than you planed on or perhaps cheat on your fast, resulting in not restricting your calories enough to experience weight loss. Juice fasting can leave you with temporary (very rarely permanent) insulin problems that are usually minor.   A typical juice fast has very low amounts of protein and fat, and thus can cause all of the problems associated with not getting enough protein and fat.

Interestingly while not getting enough of a macro nutrient (proteins, carbohydrates, and fats) can have devastating effects, the human body is quite well adapted to getting absolutely nothing or just water. Our instincts will tell us that this starvation thing has got to be bad for us well… usually NO. There are of course risks but let’s think about where humans would be if we did not have a back plan for when food supplies ran out: DEAD. The starvation response is an enigma with many names one of the more popular names is the famine response: it is of course how our bodies respond to famine. During a famine, rationing instincts kick-in and something interesting happens: We adults altruistically go without food in order to feed the young children and the breast feeding mothers. Perhaps this instinct can explain why extended fasting can be dangerous in young children and more so in infants. Think about when fasting would be needed: When traveling from a place without food to a place with food. Perhaps we could call the starvation response the state of traveling to where we hope there’s some food.

Fasting in adults really starts in about 8-12 hours. Between 4- 8 hours from the last time you ate your body needs energy and kindly asks the liver or you to provide it. If you do not provide your body with food at this point your liver provides your body with all the “food” it needs. To do this the liver taps into its glycogen (and thusly glucose) stores. Quickly after it does this the body will be done digesting your last meal in its small intestines and the food will be in your large intestines. The large intestines function is to absorb water and some but not much other nutrients. (The stomach also works to absorb water.) Around the 8-12 hour mark your body is in a “fasted” state, this is why we call Breakfast- Break Fast. Then it becomes a matter of using glycogen stores of the liver and then the muscles, how much glycogen we have in each varies from person to person largely based on training. A trained athlete will have much higher stores of glucose in the muscles. An out of shape individual will have much more glycogen stored in the liver, and much less stored in the muscles. In the beginning the body will also use protein to make up for a lack of energy input, to fill in the gaps. It is not until the body switches to a ketone bodies based metabolism (ketosis) that we start to rely on our stored fat as our primary source of fuel, usually taking just a few days.

Our stored fat of course is used as fuel before the point of Ketosis; of course we all knew that you could lose fat without fasting. Whenever we are in a post absorptive “fasted” state our bodies release a series of hormones: glucagon (pancreas), growth hormone, ACTH (both from pituitary), epinephrine (adrenal glands) , thyroid hormone (thyroid). The hormones released in this state cause among other things to do the opposite of what insulin does and they raise the blood sugar. They raise blood sugar to normalize the blood sugar, and they can use every cell of the body to do it including fat cells. During this state our fat cells release some of their cargo of fatty acids and glycerol. Most of the cells of the body can use fatty acids directly and safely as a source of energy, but the brain cannot. The typical triglyceride and fatty acid is much too large of a molecule to pass the blood brain barrier. So therefor as readily available glucose becomes scarce the brain has to switch to a back–up plan of using Ketone bodies for energy. The brain is actually always using ketone bodies but it primarily uses them for lipid synthesis. The brain is about 70% fat but traditional fatty acids cannot pass through the blood brain barrier so the brain has to make its own fat from Ketone bodies.

When we are fasting the brain is slowly switching to running on ketone bodies, after 3 days it runs on about 30% ketone bodies and 70% glucose. By day four this figure is reversed and the brain runs on about 70% ketone bodies and 30% glucose, the brain stays at about this number. The brain gets it’s glucose from the breakdown of glycerol in the liver. Both glycerol and ketone-bodies are a byproduct of the breakdown of fatty acids. The body can supply the brain with almost all the glucose it needs from just using our stored fat, but it must use some of our stored protein to do so. The body uses 20-30 grams of stored protein a day once the brain has switched to running mostly on ketone bodies but gradually becomes more efficient and uses less and less, but always uses some while fasting. The body uses much more of its protein in the first 3 days or so of a fast. The relying on fatty acids from our fat cells does more than just power us during an extended fast; it minimizes protein loss and thus reduces muscle loss.

The body does an amazing job of staying functional while fasting up until the point of about 7% body fat in men and 10% body fat in women. At this point the body stops conserving protein and starts to rely more on your muscles than your fat cells. At this point the average person without a good muscular base will be very unattractive. Six packs and one of the reasons they are so freaking hard to get is because in order to see them the body must have extremely low body fat percentages. A six pack will probably show at 7%-10% body fat if your muscles are built-up at all. When a muscular person hit the 7%-10% mark during a fast, they will most likely notice a six-pack but as they continue to fast it will go away. It is at this point that a person should definitely stop their extended fast… but not everybody has the luxury of doing so. Remember Gandhi and his hunger strikes well he did not allow himself to have a choice to stop fasting because he was fasting as a form of political protest. Gandhi’s fasting sparked such controversy and attention because it was like watching a man waste away… he took it past a healthy stopping point.

A healthy stopping point for adults really should be personally defined, the second you believe your health is suffering stop. If you did not lose as much weight as you wanted to don’t worry about it eat a healthy balanced diet for a while and then do it again if you want too. Or let the fast be the really hard thing you did so now a balanced diet is comparatively easy.

Kids fast too… Let’s take a break here and remember what we have been reading. Children are the same species as us adults, as hard as that might be to believe, because sometimes it might seem like they are little aliens. Children are human, and infants also human. Fasting works in them similar to the way it works in adults, but children have different metabolisms and hormone levels. Forcing children to fast is typically illegal and in the U.S. Child Protective Services might come take your kids away from you. Forcing your fasting child to eat is also something that when gone past “Eat Your Dinner” typically becomes illegal… basically it is against the law to hold your child down and force food into their mouth.

So your child has decided to fast. How many children decide to fast? At what point does it become unhealthy? Children are also prescribed to fast, before and after surgery, intractable epilepsy, and last ditch efforts when traditional medicine has failed. It cannot be stressed enough that traditional medicine should be the first thing gone too for help, but for something’s sometimes it can be really inadequate or just straight not work. I am going to point to colic.

Colic is a hard thing to pin down as it can have several causes; a colicky baby is always a baby that cries too much. Colic is often caused by digestive upset in an infant leading to discomfort and thus crying, and too much crying can of course be bad for the infant (it can break blood vessels in the lungs). A good parent will always try and sooth their crying baby, but in the case of colic most of the time the parents are the cause of the baby’s discomfort. A baby should be breast fed for as long as the mother can manage to do so. Let’s put it this way:  a child that can sing their ABC’s should not be forced to breast feed, but if they want to it is healthy for them. Only rarely is it unhealthy for a baby to breast feed, and it is only in this case that outside sources of breast milk should be used. In case you have missed the point “Baby Formula” = bad. Baby formula can and will cause colic, do not let these companies LIE to you. Some babies can have formula and be fine but other simply cannot. The number two and three reasons for the digestive upsets in infants are over feeding and under feeding. Under feeding is rare as most people just love to have a chubby baby. Overfeeding on the other hand is super common. I rarely take a hard stance on things but I take a hard stance against baby formula, be very careful if you need to use it. If you were not willing to make the sacrifices required you should not have a child, breast feeding is one of these difficult and often time consuming sacrifices.

Fasting for infants happens very quickly because their systems work very fast. An infant is in a post absorptive state in just a few hours. And it is on this length of time that an infant should be fasted to try and alleviate Colic symptoms. Basically, skip a feeding and let the baby’s system empty itself, watch for signs of dehydration but this can be done very safely and is often recommended and practiced. Talk to your doctor about Colic first because sometimes it can be very easily treated and sometimes it can’t be treated at all. If a doctor asks you to fast your infant on the order of more than a few hours (which is rare but sometimes medically needed again think surgery) then you should only agree to it with hospitalization.

Some practitioners of regular fasting, some cultures, and certain alternative medicine practices encourage fasting an infant beyond the “skip a meal” level and they can actually get extreme with this. Some of these people know how to do this to minimize the risks and maximize the benefits, but most do not. Fasting has the same potential benefits in infants, but again it is normally not ethical to fast your infant. It is sad but sometimes when a child is born or quickly after, they develop a terminal untreatable cancer, “western” medicine typically just lets this child die. But it is possible that fasting the infant could save the child’s life, even though it comes with the very real risk of ending it. It is a hard decision, but doing everything to try and save a life is noble.

Fasting should always be a personal decision, and as an infant can’t analyze the risks and potential benefits: normally people should not fast their infants past the generally considered safe “skip a meal”. Fasting has the same potential benefits in infants, but again it is often not ethical to fast your infant. Fasting an infant sometimes happen in such a way that is beyond control: the baby refuses to eat. If a baby refuses to eat it is probably for good reason, but if it goes past one skipped meal you should be alarmed.

Breastfeeding mothers can and do fast. Muslim women during the month of Ramadan do technically have no religious obligation to past, but some of the devout will fast anyway. These women eat nothing during the day, but continue to feed their babies with breast milk. The fat content of breast milk can go down as a result of fasting but it remains nutritionally viable as long as a large enough quantity can be produced. So breastfeeding mother should break their fast as a means to increase milk production.

Fasting is a long standing tradition in many cultures and religions, and has a varied and interesting history. It has been studied, used and the results documented since ancient times. Fasting for most is generally considered safe, but there are some special populations for which fasting should not be used unless under strict medical supervision. Water fasting is considered to be extremely safe, and as a form of weight loss is very effective. Juice fasting oddly has a bit more risk to it than water fasting, but just the same short term juice fasts are also considered safe. Dry fasting always runs a very high risk of dehydration, but still with certain precautions can be done on very short terms with relative safety. The benefits of dry fasting are largely sought after for spiritual growth rather than weight loss and dry fasting should not be used as a weight loss method. Water and juice fasting are very effective weight loss methods that also have the unique ability to potentially cause some healing benefits.