Overweight and Undernourished

Better health comes from the inside.

I read today that the National Institutes of Health spend $800 million a year trying to find the cause of obesity.  Really?  Isn’t this fairly obvious?

Actually, it’s not. Because most people today are struggling with eating more than they want but still being hungry.  There are two reasons for this.

The most common cause of overeating is refined food. Pasta, bread, potatoes, white rice, and breakfast cereals are staples in the standard American diet, but give very little nourishment. The body requires carbohydrates, but most of the carbs we eat today are stripped of their fiber and nutrients, leaving only empty calories. They end up just acting like sugar and making us feel good without any real benefit to the body. If you stop eating them, though, the energy quickly depletes and you get the well known sugar crash of children after a birthday party. It’s a little more subtle in an adult. It looks more like a 3 o’clock slump. Grabbing a soda gets us through the afternoon, and a mixed drink after work keeps us comfortable until dinner. If you can’t go more than 2 hours without some sort of snack, you may be dealing with this.

The long term results of this type of eating are not good. Simple carbohydrates (including alcohol) require insulin to process into energy or storage for later use. The pancreas regulates the amount of sugars circulating in the blood, releasing hormones to either shunt them off into storage in fat cells, or bring some of those storage sugars back into the system. With constant demand, the pancreas tires and begins ignoring sugar more and more. Other organs strain to hold equilibrium, which eventually leads to heart disease, obesity and type 2 diabetes.

The second issue is related. A diet of mostly simple carbohydrates and processed food is lacking in most nutrients. So while we’re eating more than ever, our bodies are actually malnourished.  Fortified breads and cereals are composed of stripped grains and synthetic vitamins which are more shelf stable. They lack the complexity and balance of whole foods. Even after eating an entire meal, the nutrients our body needs for fuel (or to process what we just ate) aren’t there, so we begin scavenging quickly after leaving the table. The average American eats far more calories than necessary and yet reaps very little real nutrition. Without substance in our food, the body can only compensate so much before it runs out of raw materials for energy.

Calorie restricting diets, then, become laughable because willpower cannot stop the body’s need for nourishment. More exercise will only increase the demand for food. The body resorts to its bi-hourly “fix”.

The solution to the obesity epidemic is not another alternative to the bacon double cheeseburger or more flavors of rice cakes. The only solution is for each individual, that’s you and me, to shift to whole foods. Choose rich, colorful salads with diverse raw and steamed veggies, fruits, whole grains, and a variety of different meats. Mix up what you eat during the week, so that no night looks exactly like the others. Try new things at the supermarket, and only shop the outside edges: produce, meats, dairy.

The picture that motivated me: “Which one’s the cow?”

The biggest problem here is not that we don’t know this, but that implementation is hard. On cold days, I don’t want a salad. When I’m busy, I don’t have time for a lovely sit-down meal – I’m just happy I could grab a slice of pizza on my way to the next appointment. And to be honest, it’s more expensive to get a real meal than to just grab donuts and coffee on the way.

We must keep the payoff in mind. The food budget may go up a bit, but the medical expenses will go down as health improves and doctor visits become shorter and further apart. Change requires intentionality and effort.  No pill will cure obesity. If you catch yourself still browsing the kitchen after you’ve eaten a meal, recognize it! Recognition is the first step toward better habits. Try to ride it out or choose a protein snack.  I find a cheese stick or celery stalk is more gratifying than I’d expect and gets me through those moments. At the next meal, choose more complex foods that will nourish your body and hold you longer. I’ve recently added an extra vegetable at dinner – my plate is more interesting, there’s more to eat, and I’m feeling better for it!

Celebrate little strides toward health with something not related to food. It may take longer to see results than you’d like, but hang in there. Better health comes from the inside, and will eventually find its way to the surface. You will see that healthy glow again!!

 

 

When Food is a Problem

Using the Wheelbarrow Concept to unravel food sensitivities and work toward a solution.

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Most mothers will struggle at some point with at least one of the following scenarios, all of which involve food:

  • the child who, after eating a bowl of breakfast cereal, either becomes argumentative or hyperactive, only to crash into depression or fatigue after an hour.
  • the adult who develops a headache after lunch, especially fast food.
  • a toddler with recurrent ear infections and nonstop congestion year-round

Reading labels on foods can help to identify additives that may be a problem, like high fructose corn syrup causing a “sugar high,” or synthetic ingredients triggering headaches. But often that isn’t enough; finding conclusive patterns of what causes an issue is nearly impossible with the extensive and often vague ingredient lists for most foods. Whole, unprocessed foods are simpler and limit the variables, but this, too, is often inconclusive.

Keeping a food journal is an effective way to spot patterns. With my own son, I found about a dozen suspect foods but eliminating them wasn’t resolving his issues. Tests revealed he was sensitive to more than 50 common food items and many neighborhood trees.

We can’t just eliminate 50 common food items for a child; he still has to eat.

Enter what I call the “wheelbarrow concept.” On any building site, workers haul loads of rocks, dirt, and bricks. No load is particularly heavy, and the workers continue all day until the work is finished. While it’s tempting to want to just make one heavy load of everything, that load overwhelms the tools and strength available. Essentially, what the wheelbarrow concept explains is that no worker can haul rocks, bricks, and dirt together in his wheelbarrow without it tipping over or breaking.

It translates to food this way: many people, adults and children alike, don’t handle milk products well, but they can have them in moderation. Sugar is a burden but not normally a problem. Corn products are unnoticeable in nearly everything.  However, combine those ingredients in a bowl of Frosted Flakes, and the food sensitive person’s wheelbarrow tips over. Hyperactivity and emotions become nearly uncontrollable. The very predictable crash happens about an hour later, with apathy and sometimes severe depression lasting for several hours. The reaction is totally out of proportion to the ingredients and not always obviously related. Add a cheeseburger and a soda for the next meal (more corn syrup and milk products along with the related beef proteins), and the body begins protecting itself by producing mucus which plugs the ears and inflames the gut.

Essentially, this is negative synergy at work. Several items that aren’t significant stressors on their own combine together to make a big reaction.

Now think about the ramifications. To a person with grass allergies, eating wheat bread during hayfever season could be life threatening. Recognizing that it may not be one ingredient, but a combination of seemingly benign ones, helps to understand why that person’s wheelbarrow has tipped over. It also leads us to the solution.

The only way to strengthen a weak muscle, organ or system is to give it a rest. Problem foods and exposures must be separated. Rotation allows an overactive immune system to heal while still eating.

Since the body takes approximately four days to completely clear a meal from its system, nothing is eaten more than once every 4 days. Different grains go onto separate days, as do meats, vegetables and fruits. Sweeteners are separated out into different types. The idea is to give the body time to clear small problems singly and not overload it with troublesome combinations. It also ensures eating a varied diet, which begins building the immune system to handle food more effectively.

This requires a plan to administer, and the discipline that goes into actually accomplishing it is admittedly huge.  But the benefits are worth the investment. The longer you can maintain it the better the results. Beginning after a few weeks, inflammation and congestion begin to disappear, excess weight drops off, learning difficulties can clear up, and seasonal allergies lessen or go away. The food budget has probably gone up, but the medical line item goes dramatically down.

“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”
― Hippocrates

 

 

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Achieving Your Fitness Goals

The most important goal is the one that makes a difference at the end of the year.

A new year is here: it’s time to renew the quest for a better self. Whether you start the year with a detox program or a new diet or exercise routine, the trick is to get past February to accomplishing lasting change. So it must be a goal that’s challenging yet still achievable. It must make a difference at the end of the year.

What, honestly, is really important? Define your terms – what would make you healthier?

A popular option is detoxification. Basically, it means cleaning out any poisons or accumulated junk that are overwhelming our normal filtration systems. It usually means some sort of fasting. The Master Cleanse, also known as the Lemonade Diet, features lemon juice, maple syrup, salt water and cayenne for 10 days. Many supplement companies offer packages of nutrients, fiber, and colon cleansers to be taken along with a limited list of other foods for 21 – 30 days, thereby bypassing the starvation factor. Since motivation is high at the beginning of the year, many people like to start strong with a detox so that the larger goal of eating clean is easier as life crowds back in. It’s not a long-term diet, but a yearly cleanse to release old junk and jumpstart a new, healthier lifestyle. It’s just very difficult to get through the first few days: the body hits panic buttons when the usual crutches of caffeine or sugar don’t arrive on cue.

Dieting, as a longer term strategy, has unlimited options. When choosing what’s right, it’s important to know what the real problem is. Is overindulgence the issue, or is there a food sensitivity that’s causing inflammation? Or is the body depleted of a particular nutrient that’s driving overeating? It’s easy to see this in teenagers, who eat almost embarrassingly at a party and yet still continue browsing the snack table because their bodies need something that hot dogs, chips and soda aren’t providing. Limiting amounts of food isn’t the right solution. I’ll go into different types of diets in future posts, but for now, if this is where you’re heading, choose what seems right and achievable.

Be aware, too, that an overarching change in diet, while it may be a good idea, can be pretty formidable. The body doesn’t respond well to edicts, and a sudden overhaul with no comfort foods and no end in sight is not a recommended path to lasting change. Better to start with smaller changes and more gradually adapt to mostly whole foods. Leave the complete vegetarian or ketogenic status for later, when your body is closer and can make a step to that level.

Exercise is always a good idea, as long as it’s approached realistically. Beware of the “couch to tri-athlete in 5 weeks” plans. Start with a shorter-term exercise routine and take it up a notch as you progress. Darebee.com has a ton of free exercise programs, challenges and fitness information at all fitness levels to get you started and keep you going. No gym required!

Whatever the goal, put it on the planner or set an alarm, and don’t rely on good intentions to get it done. The routines and muscle memory aren’t in place yet. Habits are ruts that we fall into that make moving through the day easy. They should help us by doing tedious work while we plot bigger things. So the hardest part of achieving a resolution is getting out of the bad habit rut. In order to change the tracks, we have to fall off the edges back into the bad rut many times before the new, good track is formed. Making it permanent comes with learning how to overcome failure and strengthening muscles to hold the intended course. Once a good rut is formed, the routine takes over and there is no discussion about whether you will stay on the diet or do the exercises today. Healthy habits have become part of the routine.

Treat yourself like you’d like to be treated. Don’t lay down the law for your body and expect it to obey. Set real-life objectives that allow for interruptions and don’t require around-the-clock toilet access. Some great plans that allow for actual life are:

– Study or exercise plans that take weekends off, allowing for catch-up if you’ve missed or taking a break if you haven’t

– Six day diets that are fairly strict but then the seventh is a free day to eat whatever you like

– Exercise programs that mix things up daily to maintain interest

Intermittent or partial fasting: either not eating for a period of time each day, or excluding a particular food. Both can be a great way to take control of health.

The takeaway is not to expect perfection. You are regrooving a rut – the aim is progress in the proper direction. If you take a break on the wrong day, it’s no big deal. Just keep going as though you kept to the plan. It’s more important to finish strong than make every step perfect. Look for improvement and celebrate it. It may not be what you shot for, but it’s a step in the right direction. Positive motion – or lack of negative motion – is more certain than unsustainable perfection. I went 12 weeks once on a diet and exercise program before the scale let go of that number. Frustration was mine, but I wouldn’t let it be the last word. I put a picture of myself with a cow on the fridge and vowed to be able to discern the two when summer came. By the end of the year, I’d dropped 30 lbs. Celebrate the score days and don’t sweat the dropped ones. Each day is new; just start back over on the plan.

You’ll get there. Hopefully I can give you some useful information that will help move your health in the right direction this year. What would help you the most? Let me know in the comments, and I’ll put it on the list of topics!

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