All scientific knowledge is provisional, which is why simple answers to nutrition and fitness training questions are elusive. Here are some ideas that are likely to stand the test of time:
18Oct2019: The Game Changers (Netflix paywall) makes a compelling case for a plant-based diet.
I compiled all the info I could find in favor of a vegetarian diet back in 2002.
Shortly after I found a copy of Eat, Drink, and Be Healthy: The Harvard Medical School Guide to Healthy Eating. It’s a short primer on the deficiencies of the food pyramid most of us grew up using and some better options.
Dr. Willett largely based the recommendations in the book on the findings of two massive studies on diet and health: the Nurses’ Health Study and Health Professionals Follow-up Study. Unsurprisingly, the latest version of the book (Amazon, 2017 Edition) places an even greater emphasis on eating green.
The effectiveness of a “calories in versus calories out” strategy for weight loss will be and should be debated by dietitians, doctors, and the fitness world.
To be clear, every person loses weight at a different rate based on their genetics, current body composition, hormones, and a thousand other variables. But stranded on a deserted island with nothing to consume but coconut water, every last one of us would lose weight over time.
This admittedly unlikely scenario circumvents the sticky problems of psychology (addiction, desire, self-esteem), physiology (hormones, circadian rhythms, metabolic disease), and food policy and economics (food deserts, marketing Happy Meals to children, corn syrup in almost everything).
But all that said, the conservation of matter and energy is physics–it’s more fundamental than psychology, physiology, or biology.
Solving seemingly intractable problems often requires working from first principles. And this is as fundamental a principle as you will ever find: matter and energy cannot be created or destroyed. If you’re set on losing weight, acknowledging the basic nature of the challenge is a necessary first step.
In my experience, counting calories can be an effective strategy for clients who are data driven and can hardly help but count their steps and sips.
For the rest of us, lasting change comes when we adjust our long-term relationship with food. An excellent start is to keep a once-a-day food journal to track quantity and quality of food coming in and to better plan the next meal.
Of course food will always be a source of enjoyment and a reason to gather with friends and family. We can’t lose sight of its most fundamental purpose, though, which is our basic survival. In the past, scarcity compelled us to eat or starve. With obesity set to become the leading cause of death in the developed world, the stakes are just as high as ever.
Like a half-decent bed, any good fitness plan has four legs:
A) Strength training (muscle fatigue)
B) Cardio (cardiovascular and cardiopulmonary health / calories out)
i) Steady state
ii) Interval training
C) Flexibility training (as needed to restore range of motion)
A) 36-48 hours of rest between strength workouts to allow for supercompensation
B) Restorative sleep (7-9 hours for most people)
A) Quantity (calories in)
i) catabolic / weight loss: calorie deficit
ii) anabolic/muscle gain: calorie surplus
B) Quality: whole foods that meet basic needs
i) Macronutrients: carbohydrates, fat, protein
ii) Micronutrients: vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals etc.
4) Mind-body or community-based practice such as music, meditation, slow walking, Tai Chi, etc.
A) Relieve chronic stress
B) Promote sense of mental and physical well-being
Soda–Diet or Otherwise–Not Fit for Human Consumption
JAMA Internal Medicine just published what appears to be the largest investigation of the link between soft drinks and death from all causes. Researchers found a 52% increased risk of death by circulatory diseases for those who drank two or more diet sodas per day compared to those who drank less than one glass per month (doi: 10.1001/jamainternmed.2019.2478). Earlier this year, another large study published by Circulation (doi: 10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.118.037401) found sugared soda consumption increased the risk of premature death by all causes an astounding 63% for women and 29% for men.
It’s no wonder the average American is fatter and sicker than ever before. We’re programmed from childhood to support billion dollar agribusinesses.
Fed Up (2014, Amazon Prime, IMDB) offers a great introduction to the forces at play. Whenever government organizations attempt to prioritize public health over the interests of the junk food business they’re assailed by lawyers, lobbyists, and even congress members who put profits over the public good.
If you’ve got a question about supplements, you’d be hard pressed to find a better site than examine.com. They offer an unbiased and succinct assessment of the latest research on almost every supplement under the sun.
Thinking about taking a supplement? Registered dieticians (the designation RD or RDN demonstrates formal education in nutrition and dietetics) can help you assess the risks and benefits. An RD might use consumerlab.com (paywall) to assess the purity and potency of any particular brand or supplement.
Sleep Is Your Superpower | Matt Walker
From 8:50 : “We’ve already spoken about sleep loss and your reproductive system. Or I could tell you about sleep loss and your cardiovascular system, and that all it takes is one hour. Because there is a global experiment performed on 1.6 billion people across 70 countries twice a year, and it’s called daylight saving time. Now, in the spring, when we lose one hour of sleep, we see a subsequent 24-percent increase in heart attacks that following day. In the autumn, when we gain an hour of sleep, we see a 21-percent reduction in heart attacks. Isn’t that incredible? And you see exactly the same profile for car crashes, road traffic accidents, even suicide rates.”
For many years, “grazing” was touted as a shortcut to weight loss. This now appears to be poor advice, especially for people at increased risk for diabetes. If you don’t fast between meals or at least from dinner to breakfast, your insulin levels remain elevated and your body will store fat instead of burning it.
This is a great show (and episode) but the idea that everyone will be ready to throw in the towel sooner or later is laughable.
If you haven’t already thought to yourself, “Yeah, tomorrow’s a good day to die,” you probably won’t anytime soon.
It’s not merely a biological imperative. Could we really run out of things to experience and learn? Any researcher can tell you that for every question answered, 10 spring up in it’s place.
If we can forestall the diseases of aging indefinitely, let’s do it!
Hip-Hinge (A.K.A. Table Bend / Bodyweight Deadlift / Good Morning)
A word of caution on NPR’s recent article, Lost Art Of Bending Over: for most people, the hip-hinge (featured above) is a useful movement for picking up a newspaper. For anything heavier than that, the squat or lunge are more useful tools.
When it comes to heavy lifting, the squat is usually the right tool for the job. Most sedentary adults lack the ankle mobility needed for the type of deep squat advocated by Roger Frampton (see his short squat tutorial or his TED Talk for more). Limit the depth of your squat to the point at which you’re no longer able to keep your heels on the ground or your trunk parallel with your shins (these are the two most important cues, in my experience. Fabio Comana goes into great detail here).
If your hips or ankles lack flexibility or you suffer from back pain, consider the lunge. The depth will be determined by what your knees allow you to do without any discomfort. This movement keeps your pelvis and back upright to reduce shear force on your spine.
If quick weight loss is your only goal, the Twinkie diet works about as well as any form of calorie counting. If you plan to live long enough to enjoy Thanksgiving, eat real food (whole grains, legumes, vegetables, fruit, etc.) to your heart’s content and lose weight slowly (NYTimes paywall) (cache).
“Research suggests that 50% of people who start an exercise program drop out within the first 6 months (Wilson & Brookfield 2009).” Most of us are trying to carry our excess weight uphill. If you’re beginning to feel like Sisyphus, you might be taking on too much, too soon. No matter its size, if you come at your boulder too fast, too hard, or at the wrong angle (that is, against gravity), you won’t be able to keep it moving for long. You’ll never see a strongman carry a plane on his shoulders, but given enough time, he’ll pull clear into the next zip code for you. A slow, constant pressure is all it takes–overcome your inertia, and there’ll be no stopping you!