30 Days of Gratitude – Day #3, Feeding Frenzy

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Continuing with my 30 Days of Gratitude, perhaps coupled with post about visiting the doctor in some ways, is my ability to eat pretty much anything I want without fear of allergy or other bad bodily response … but that my natural inclination is towards healthy foods. I have talked many times about my history of disordered eating, and that I never believe you are ‘cured’, merely ‘currently successful’ in dealing with it … this is different.

Day #3 – Eating What I want … but making good choices

Because I was born in the 60s, there was a still a large ‘quick food is the future’ sentiment, and we had canned veggies most of the time. I loved fruits and things like carrots and celery and tomatoes, but not much else. Then she traveled for work when I was in high school and my dad introduced us to something called ‘steamed fresh veggies’ … and OMG.

Thing is, throughout my life I never had to deal with ‘food I can’t eat’. Beef, poultry, pork, seafood, shellfish, soy, legumes, wheats, fruits and vegetables … I never had to worry. Spicy foods? Not a problem. My young adulthood was a culinary adventure filled with all kinds of great stuff. I had no idea about food allergies or intolerances until I was in college.

Then I started hanging out with Lisa and made us a big fruit salad for a hike full of things she couldn’t eat due to allergies and intolerance issues. I learned that dealing with spicy foods was about more than just handling the heat – the spices used in many dishes are reactive for some people.

Personally, I found out that I had an intolerance to clams after spending the day at the Boston Chowda-Fest one year … and have never been able to go back. That is my only food issue.

But through the years I have learned just how fortunate I am – I can eat or drink pretty much anything I wanted without being concerned about after-effects. I think most people I know have to work around their food issues one way or another, from what to how to when they eat. The last few years I have seen so many running / healthy living bloggers with eating disorders, digestive issues, allergies, tolerance issues, or foods that they just plain hate … wow.

Yet in spite of being able to eat just about anything, when it is snack time I grab an apple or pear, I love a fresh tomato, and pretty much any fresh whole food is what draws me in. That has been a tremendous benefit for me losing and maintaining weight through the years, and keeping my fueling on target.

Eating and food thoughts?

Six Things Saturday – Reasons to Go See a Doctor (even if you’re healthy)

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http://misszippy1.com/2014/10/runnings-role-healer.html

Hi again friends! Thanks for all of the great comments and kind remarks on my last posts!

My last post a few Sundays ago was pretty random and reaffirmed a few things for me:
– Almost no one watches the videos … or at least no one comments
– There are only so many random topics people can absorb in one post
– Titles really don’t matter.

Why do I mention that? Because:
– there were no comments about either video (ok, mamaSalt came in late to mention the Panda 🙂 )
– Most of the comments were about one or maybe two items
– My title was only marginally related to the post I actually published!

ANYWAY, here is one subject I meant to talk about but never got there – going to the doctor as a critical thing to do every year.

My annual physical was originally scheduled for late August, then they had to reschedule, then I forgot to do my blood work so I had to reschedule, and it finally happened in early October. Because of my hypothyroidism I make it a point to get to the doctor … and also because of my age, family history and so on.

Also, I included these pictures with this post for two reasons: because it is Halloween (duh) and because these are the people I want to be with for a long time. The picture below is a #TBT to Halloween 2004, a time when the boys were 8 and 6.5 and Lisa and I were just in our late 30s.

The top picture is from the National Honor Society induction this week, where our younger son was inducted and older son reaffirmed for membership. It was a great proud moment, and a reminder I want to be around for a long time to experience many more.

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1. Make Sure Everything is OK / Prevention

I mean, this seems obvious – but it is also the reason many people avoid going! I have heard many people say ‘I don’t want to go to the doctor – I am fine and every time I go they find something!’ By going to a doctor regularly you can get a better idea of how your health is at the moment, and by checking in you gain more perspective on how you feel when things are good (or not).

Also, do not underestimate the human ability to adapt – we get used to just about anything, and it is not until we feel better that we realize how bad we felt!

2. Learn Your Numbers

Our bodies are unique systems, so it isn’t surprising that we will have some tests where we run high and others where we are low. Some of these numbers mean something important by themself, others only in conjunction with different tests. More than ever it is critical to be informed and in control of our own health, and the first part of this is knowing how we function when ‘normal’.

3. Establish a Relationship with Your Doctor

When I walked into my doctor’s office … well, really, when she came in, she already knew my lab results, had seen me running pretty much everywhere in the last year, knew what to be looking for on my results and the things we needed to discuss for now and for the next year.

Why is that important? Because rather than trying to start from ground zero, we already have solid basis of understanding of my health, her approach, and how to interact. That way when we have to address an issue she will know how I normally handle things and can factor that into her approach.

4. Establish a Tracking History

Two years ago when I was still losing weight my potassium was on the low end of normal, but still in range. I can now admit that I was still restricting my intake (while running 50+ weeks … moron), but had I seen a new doctor or not had a history it wouldn’t have flagged anything – because it was still in the normal range. It was only through looking at my history that she noticed it was low – and since I love bananas and sweet potatoes and other sources of potassium, and had lost a ton of weight … she just gently told me a banana every morning would be a great thing.

The same is true for everything else – we spent a lot of time this year going through my numbers and how they showed the impact of my healthy eating on everything going on in my body. Between my thyroid issues and getting me into the cardiologist last year due to family history, she has carte blanche to order loads of bloodwork for me … and does.

5. Put Your Running/Eating in Context

It was a bit of a joke when I went to the cardiologist last year and they put me on the incline treadmill to get my heart rate up for the stress test – because my resting heart rate was around 50 and they couldn’t seem to get it much over 100. They laughed because I was the longest test either of them had ever seen because it took so long – which was directly attributable to my endurance running.

Same with my blood work and eating – by looking at all of my numbers in terms of cholesterol and other criteria, the doctor could tell that I was eating good stuff – and also getting enough of it, even if she still wanted to make sure I didn’t lose any more weight.

But by the same token if you were not eating well or overtraining or otherwise not taking proper care, and had convinced yourself that everything was fine … maybe a visit to the doctor could help you realize otherwise. I have said it before, but I believe that two of the big reasons for injuries with many run-bloggers are over-training and improper fueling.

6. More Thoughts on ‘Your Numbers’

I can’t reiterate enough the importance of knowing your numbers – it is easy to think that the pants don’t fit because they shrank, or that because your blood pressure and cholesterol were fine 10 years ago that you don’t need to stress over what you eat and so on … but it isn’t true. There are many things that happen over the course of our lives that change the biochemical systems inside our body – women have even more stuff going on with natural hormonal changes throughout their lives!

Our bodies evolve over time, often slowly enough that we can’t tell the difference easily – which makes it even more important to establish a relationship with a doctor and their office, get yourself checked out regularly, and know how your habits impact your health.

What are your thoughts on doctor visits and knowing your health numbers?

Oh, and because next Tuesday is mid-term elections, here is a tool WordPress provides to help with voting info:

Wednesday Wandering Mind – The Usual Nonsense But Mostly Health Stuff!

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Now here is something interesting – I didn’t post on Monday. OK, maybe you noticed that, maybe not … but I sure did. While to an extent I could blame it on my busy anniversary weekend, or the sh!tstorm I knew I was walking into on Monday, or the kids starting band camp, or whatever. But none of it was true – the reality is I have 24 drafts in various states of completion, yet I just came up blank. So I let it go … but given how easily things have flowed lately I found it interesting. Apparently whatever was ‘stuck’ broke free …

1. Food Pyramid for Runners

I really love the food pyramid from Runner’s World, one of those classic ‘what they think, what I think …’ things, but with a twist.

The interesting thing I have talked about in the past is that for many years I was in the “I run so I can eat whatever I want” camp, and while most of my food choices were good, I regularly dipped into the lower part of the pyramid. But as I ramped mileage past 40 miles per week back in 2012 my eating shifted much more into the ‘fuel zone’, and I became very particular about what I put into my face.

So it struck me the other day when a runner friend grabbed ‘one of everything’ from an assembled ‘carb overload’ table that resulted when a few different people had coincidentally brought items the same day. And he said ‘this is why we run, right’? For me, the answer was ‘no’. Homemade stuff? Sure – and I had a great macadamia nut cookie … but not any of the store-bought items. Just me … but the ‘run to splurge’ thing isn’t important to me.

2. Take Time to Celebrate Your Victories!

A while back there was an article at Runner’s World called ‘Bask Now, Analyze Later’, which emphasizes taking time to celebrate what went well – and particularly focuses on one thing: I crossed the finish line.

Then a couple of weeks ago Nicole had a great post called ‘Things I did right during my last race’, which celebrates some of the things she did well – and that is SUCH an important thing to do. And something we rarely do …

Think about your last race or long run – what comes to mind first? Probably how it could have been better. I look at my long run from just over a week ago – I did 18.79 miles. Two thoughts – I didn’t get to 20, and I under-fueled. But … c’mon, I ran almost 19 freaking miles! Can I not celebrate THAT for a second? Sure it is important to visit our mistakes – and I did, which helped me to a properly fueled run over 23 miles this weekend. But I never really took the time to celebrate what I had accomplished.

So that is my challenge to you AND myself: celebrate your accomplishments. And if you leave a comment – tell me something awesome about yourself that you are celebrating today!

3. Drink More Water, Gain Less Weight!

We all know how important hydration is, especially as we burn through the summer months as runners (though as we know, winter hydration is just as important!). An interesting study from a while back that was covered at Runner’s World showed that drinking water – and other non-sugary drinks – led to less weight gain.

After controlling for several factors that could affect weight gain, the researchers found that people who drank water, coffee, tea, and diet beverages gained less weight each four-year period than people who drank sugar-sweetened beverages and fruit juice.

Of course, we know that diet soda definitely doesn’t help with weight loss – and might even work against it due to how it confuses your body into expecting real sugar and when it doesn’t arrive it causes another hunger cycle to get back the resources it dumped before.

It all comes back to the basics – just like with foods, so too with drinks it is best to stick with things like water, infused water, coffee, tea, wine, and so on.

4. Reminder that ‘All Natural’ is Meaningless

OK, so I have gone on and on about how all of those ‘all natural’ protein powders and supplement pills and so on that people use and say ‘hey, it is all-natural, it must be good’ … is not guarantee. And recently on Buzzfeed there was an article about just how meaningless the ‘natural’ claim really is. From the post:

Can you spot anything actually found in nature in this product?
Ingredients: Citric Acid, Potassium And Sodium Citrate, Aspartame, Magnesium Oxide, Contains Less Than 2% Of Natural Flavor, Lemon Juice Solids, Acesulfame Potassium, Soy Lecithin, Artificial Color, Yellow 5 Lake, BHA (Preserves Freshness).

Though my favorite has to be the ‘all natural’ Cheetos … seriously.

5. Another Cautionary Thought on Anti-Oxidents

Yeah, I already went off on the whole Supplement thing, but it bears noting a more recent article discusses how some of the core thoughts behind the mechanistic workings of antioxidants could be wrong, and how we could be negating benefits of exercise by our ‘couldn’t hurt’ mentality:

“A supplement industry now worth $23 billion yearly in the U.S. took root,” he notes.

Taking antioxidant supplements before exercise actually negates some of the well-documented benefits of physical exertion.

And yet, antioxidant pills have proven to be a bust. In February, a group of independent US medical researchers assessed 10 years of supplement research and found that pills loaded with vitamin E and beta-carotene (the stuff that gives color to carrots and other orange vegetables) pills are at best useless and at worst harmful—that is, they may trigger lung cancer in some people. Just this month, a meta-analysis published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that antioxidant supplements “do not prevent cancer and may accelerate it.”

And a 2009 study found that taking antioxidant supplements before exercise actually negates most of the well-documented benefits of physical exertion: That is, taking an antioxidant pill before a run is little better than doing neither and just sitting on the couch.

Again, I don’t consider this to be remotely conclusive science, but it is interesting – and gets back to what I keep saying: know what you are putting into your body, and when in doubt – don’t.

6. Debunking “Chronic Cardio”

Michele wrote a post asking ‘is running healthy’ which brought up a post from ‘Mark’s Daily Apple’ that claims that, basically, our current methods of exercise are ‘bad for us’. When I read the article, I had a few issues:
– The ‘summary’ block wasn’t a summary but a sales pitch. Anyone using an obvious ‘click bait’ title, then leading with a sales pitch has already hit an 8 on the ‘BS meter’.
– Looking to the end, it is clear that the goal is to make recommendations that align with the primal / Paleo ideals. Which isn’t surprising since the opening was a sales pitch.
– The intro claims that the ‘conventional wisdom’ is “45 minutes to an hour a day of intense aerobic activity” … but that isn’t true at all. The REAL recommendation is “150 minutes per week of moderate exercise or 75 minutes per week of vigorous exercise”. In other words – the basic assumption of the article is WRONG – and since finding the CORRECT information took me less than 5 seconds … it is not unreasonable to assume that the article was INTENTIONALLY MISLEADING.

So it is simple enough to discount the entire article, and quite frankly it undermines the credibility of the entire website. But someone took the time to actually debunk the points that were made in the original article:

One of the main reasons that Mark is against running – it decreases fat metabolism – isn’t supported at all. In fact, this study shows that aerobic training like running burns more visceral and liver fat than resistance training.

And this study shows that running is better than strength sessions for weight loss. This isn’t to show that you have to choose between the two – both have an important part in any healthy exercise program – but aerobic running is actually better for general weight loss.

Now one thing that came up with Michele’s post and in the comments was the ease of over-doing things. In other words, if you tend to be an extreme person who refuses to recover and just does extreme exercise all the time … well, maybe you will see negative effects.

Sure – but I have two thoughts: first, you will likely be injured well before any of the stuff in Mark’s article is a major concern … and second it is pretty much like arguing that water is bad for you if you choose to drink 47 liters per day. Um, yeah. Stick with reasonable training and exercise programs, folks.

tl;dr – running isn’t bad for you, anyone who says it is probably is selling something.

7. Could ‘Intermittent Fasting’ be Good For You?

This one is pretty far out there – and the general thought could be a trigger for those already dealing with restriction and with a history of restriction and other food-related issues (i.e. me).

You can see some of the articles here and here and here and here. From one article:

The human metabolism does not grind to a halt if you skip a meal (or three). For it to slow down by even ten percent, one would need to fast for 72 hours straight (don’t worry, no one’s recommending giving up food for three days)[1][2][3][4]. In fact, even 48 hour fasts have been shown to have no negative effect on metabolism, cognitive performance, or fatigue[5][6]. That’s not to say fasting can’t be a little uncomfortable — we’ll get to that later.

But why would anybody want to fast? For starters, IF shares many of the benefits of following a low calorie diet, such as a lower risk of stroke and cardiovascular diseases [7][8][9]. Fasting’s effect on the heart is especially interesting: One study concluded just one day without food per month can potentially halve the risk of developing coronary artery disease[10].

8. Barefoot Running – It isn’t Bad For You, But Some Shoes Aren’t Good For You!

The whole debate over barefoot running has seemed like a he-said/she-said back and forth nasty debate since I got serious about running and shoes a couple of years ago. As I started back, I began with what are described as ‘minimal-ish’ and ‘ultra lightweight’ shoes. And I tried shoes that were lighter and thinner and dropped from 4mm to ‘zero drop’ … and eventually got to the Merrell Vapor Gloves which are zero-drop with 2mm cushion (compared to the 12+mm on most shoes) – and it was just too little shoe for me.

There was a big backlash, and last year loads of reports came out noting that the science for the backlash wasn’t there … and then a few months ago courts found that Vibram had mis-represented their shoes and the potential benefits in order to increase sales.

What is reality? I’m really not sure – there are articles about why barefoot-like shoes are ‘not best for most runners’. And I think that for people starting out, finding something with moderate cushion to start seems wise – and THEN working on different shoe drops and types to see what is optimal for you, consulting with people who can observe your stride and footfall pattern. Gradual, informed changes are always your friend.

9. FDA Closes the Trans-Fat Loophole

Have you heard about the 0.5g *per serving* trans-fat loophole? That loophole has now been ‘closed’ and if the rules go into full effect foods will no longer be allowed to claim ‘no trans fats’ if there are any present at all. Here are more details:

After thirty-odd years of everyone knowing trans fats are bad for us, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has proposed measures to ban all trans fats in our food. The move comes after decades of research finding consuming trans fat is strongly linked to heart disease and obesity. The ruling is just preliminary for now, but when (or if) it comes into effect (the timeline is kinda fuzzy), there will be some big changes on supermarket shelves.

It turns out a lot of our favorite treats are laden with the stuff, even though brands often claim otherwise. This is thanks to an egregious loophole that allows a product to be labeled “trans fat-free” if there’s less than 0.5 grams of the stuff per arbitrary “serving.” Right now, the best way to tell if a product contains trans fat is to check the ingredients: If there’s partially hydrogenated oil, there’s trans fat.

10. Psychological Effects of Exercise Deprivation

Pete Larson from Runblogger highlights a study at Science of Running that had athletes take two weeks off … from the article:

“Following the layoff, the athletes saw significant increases in feelings of tension, depression, anger, confusion and total mood disturbance. Additionally, there was a decrease in vigor. These changes in mood aren’t terribly surprising, but it’s pretty profound when you think about it. Just by taking someone outside of their norm of aerobic exercise for 2 short weeks, people’s mood states were significantly impacted.”

I think many of us can relate in some way to taking time off and really feeling like our overall state was altered. For those who have been injured, what is your experience?

What Health Issues Have Been Tweaking You This Week?

Take Care Thursday – Supplements Suck and are Ruining Your Workout!

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Just a quick note, when you read this we will be on the road at the crack of dawn cheading out for another round of college tours! The posts for the next couple of days are all set, but I will be mostly offline.

OK, do I have your attention? I’m sure the moment I suggested something negative about supplements some people got their defenses up and were ready to attack. Lighten Up Francis! Here are two important things:

1. I don’t think supplements are crap.
2. And I don’t think they are ruining your workout.

BUT … I DO think that supplements are a natural extension of our ‘fix it with a pill’ culture, and also our ‘diet cult’ mindset. As such, we should always be suspicious of ‘do everything’ supplements – like the ones that claim to prevent injury, fix injury, or speed recovery without any real mechanistic evidence.

I wrote an early blog post about how all of the latest research really comes back to a simple conclusion: the best course of action is getting everything you need through eating well.

It is funny, I have been drafting this for a (long) while, but the great post at Shh…Fit Happens and the follow-up really pushed me to finish it. So … here goes!

Here are three thoughts:

1. Sometimes you NEED supplements

One of the main reasons I don’t think all supplements are crap is a lifetime of bloodwork with my wife. Lisa has always been borderline anemic regardless of diet, had issues with calcium and Vitamin D absorption, and also a number of vitamin and mineral deficiencies that are apparently not unexpected given her ‘hormonal place in life’.

Also, these past few months we have been working on her diet because of allergies and intolerance issues. She has apple allergies and severe tree fruit intolerances. She also has allergies to peanuts and tree nuts, including coconuts. And dairy intolerance, soy difficulties, gluten intolerance, and also difficulty with things like avacado. And several more. This makes getting proper nutrition a challenge – fortunately eggs, meats, greens and most veggies, and potatoes work pretty well for her.

As a result of all this, she needs her vitamins and supplements every day – and can see a direct impact when she doesn’t take them. For her – and many others – her need for supplements is as real as my need for Synthroid to help supplement my non-functioning thyroid.

2. You Should ALWAYS Be Wary of Supplements

There are a few main reasons I think you should never just ‘take a supplement’ without a reason:
Regulation – there is none. Period. ‘Natural’ and other terms thrown around are ‘weasel words’, because there is no enforcement.
Lack of studies – not only are there generally inadequate studies for supplements, those that are published are all too often PR blasts from companies making the products. Look at all of the blog reviews in our own community for things like Energy Bits and Vega and so on. None of us are qualified as an expert opinion on these things, yet a Google search will show loads of hits on blog posts about them, meaning people looking for information about these supplements will very often get a link to a blog post based on a sponsored review … rather than an objective study.
Hidden dangers – due to the lack of regulation and lacking studies, it is nearly impossible to quantitatively KNOW what potential ingredients and side-effects are in some supplements.

I love this quote:

“Supplements are good for when you’re deficient. In fact, very few people actually need to take supplements. Diet provides a much better balance of micronutrients,”

3. Supplements and Exercise

One of the biggest things I read about on running and ‘healthy living’ blogs is how people take supplements for a variety of reasons: recovery, healing, fueling, and so on. Again, there ARE valid reasons for some people taking some supplements … in general most people do not need them, and are at best getting a placebo effect.

There was an interesting article at the New York Times that looks at thepotentially harmful effects of vitamins on your workout.

“More mitochondria, especially in muscle cells, means more energy and, by and large, better health and fitness. The creation of new mitochondria is, in fact, generally held to be one of the most important effects of exercise.

But the volunteers who had consumed the antioxidants had significantly lower levels of the markers related to mitochondrial creation.”

On the other hand, the supplements did not improve performance in comparison with a placebo, so why bother with them, Dr. Paulsen asked. “Personally, I would avoid high dosages” of antioxidants while training, he said. The science on the topic may not be complete, but the intimation of the recent studies is that by downing the supplements, “you risk losing some of the benefits of exercise.”

Again, this is FAR from conclusive, but is a reminder that the ‘well, it can’t hurt’ mentality might not be true! This reminder is also noted in a Health.com article.

4. Other thoughts

There are loads of articles around about supplements in general and their impact on exercise. There are a couple of articles, one at Men’s Health and the other at Examiner that look at the possiblility of moving to an all-supplement diet … which they use a lot of words to basically say ‘um … no’, noting:

Nutrients in foods do not work alone in isolation, instead they work together as a powerhouse team in what’s called synergy.

And some other things …

Potential Side-Effects of the Popular Supplement Glutamine, and another one here

“Although there is no evidence that glutamine causes kidney damage, people with kidney disease should not take glutamine.”

“And if you are prone to seizures then you should ask your doctor before taking glutamine. It appears that a lot of anti-seizure medicines work by blocking glutamate (what our body metabolizes glutamine into) stimulation in the brain.”

Dr Oz (I know) on Getting Vitamins from Supplements rather than food

Situation: You hate the taste of most veggies and can barely choke down broccoli.

You Think: I’ll just get those nutrients from supplements – it’s the same thing.

The Truth: To get all of the healthy, disease-fighting benefits from vegetables, it’s always best to eat the real deal rather than a pop a pill. A recent study from Oregon State University found that an important phytochemical in broccoli and other similar veggies is poorly absorbed and much less beneficial when taken in supplement form. When it comes to these crunchy vegetables – as the song goes – ain’t nothing like the real thing, baby.

Simple statement about supplements vs food

Why use a supplement when you can get all of these amino acids from the real deal—whole, unprocessed foods?

And finally … from WebMD

“Most people don’t realize there’s no real advantage to taking more than the recommended amounts of vitamins and minerals, and they don’t recognize there may be disadvantages,” Dwyer says.

Conclusions

For me the most important message I want people to ask themselves is WHY? Why am I taking this supplement? Why is my diet unable to deliver these compounds? Why does my body not absorb these minerals through my food?

We each have a unique chemical processing plant called our body, and like any incredibly complex system there are unique features that are hard to model and understand – I cite my wife and I as examples of two very differently functioning systems that are subect to nearly the same inputs on a daily basis yet respond very differently. Therefore it is simple for me as a non-medical person to say ‘just because it works for Meb doesn’t mean it will work for you.’

BUT … if it works for you, THAT is what matters.

So What Do YOU Think About Supplements?

From The Archives – Health Myths That Won’t Seem to Go Away

I got a great response from my vacation ‘from the archives’ posts as well as the one about smoking … so I am going to pluck another one from the depths of the archives of the very first few weeks of the blog. When you read this we will be on the road at the crack of dawn for another day of college tours!

Originally published here, this looks at health myths that seem to continue plaguing us regardless of more accurate information being available.

Woody Allen Sleeper

It is funny looking back at how much of the food and health information we learned as kids and young adults in the 70s and 80s turned out to be wrong – it makes me feel like Woody Allen in Sleeper! Over the last couple of days I have seen this Lifehacker post cited in a number of places, so I figured it was worth talking about!

But before we get to their list, it is interesting looking back at one bit of health mis-information in particular: sugar as a healthy weight-loss supplement. There are great sets of ads at Buzzfeed here and here. The ones I love the most are how they try to demonstrate that eating a few spoons of refined sugar is a better choice than an apple or a grapefruit!

That seems silly now (at least I HOPE everyone recognizes it as laughable!) … but at its core it is the basis of all of the advertising based misinformation about food and weight.

OK, here is Lifehacker’s list with my comments in between:

Myth 1: Eating Fatty Food Makes You Fat

In the 70s when people started gaining weight just as ‘big sugar’ started pushing corn sugar as a great additive, they came upon a stunning realization: the same word described a component of foods as described a condition of beign overweight – FAT. That made life easy – blame fat for everything! Fat makes you fat! This idea has continued to have considerable traction as we gobble up ‘chemical soup’ Fat-Free foods.

Of course, saturated fats can cause higher cholesterol and lead to heart disease and other health issues – but natural fats and oils from plants and meats are actually beneficial.

Myth 2: Eating Carbs Makes You Fat

You know what foods are high in carbs? Oatmeal, beans, veggies and fruits. ’nuff said.

But #1 and #2 are reminders – if we eat a box of donuts and a bucket of fried chicken while sitting on the coach watching a Star Wars marathon … the results will not be good. Having a donut with fruit and yogurt for breakfast and piece of fried chicken with sweet potatoes and broccoli for dinner and keeping active … there is no issue.

These things always bring me back to one of my favorite Bloom County comics:

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Myth 3: MSG Is Bad For You

I know people who have a sensitivity to MSG, and others who don’t notice anything. I really have no clue about what triggers that reaction, but I know it isn’t universal. There seems to be some alarmist bad science on the ‘MSG is poison’ side, but ultimately I really don’t know.

My advice here is to listen to your body when it comes to food sensitivity. As an example, after Chowder-fest many years ago, my body suddenly decided ‘no more clams for you’. A few years after that we were at Nauset beach and Lisa wanted a clam roll, so I got onion rings. Of course, it didn’t take long before my body knew they were fried in the same oil. Lesson learned.

Myth 4: High-Fructose Corn Syrup Is Worse Than Sugar

With all of the press you’d think that HFCS is some sort of demon-spawn. But as the sugar lobby likes to point out, it is no worse than any other refined, processed, high fructore sugar source.

The problem isn’t that HFCS is worse than table sugar … it is that HFCS is EVERYWHERE! Salad dressing? HFCS. Ketchup? HFCS. Pasta sauce? HFCS. Want a few more? Lender’s Bagels, Souffer’s French bread pizza, Pepperidge Farm stuffing, Fig Newtons, Wheatables, Jack Daniels Marinade in a bag, and on and on.

The problem with HFCS is that it has become one of the dominant components of the American diet.

(Update: for some great thoughts on quitting sugar check out Michele’s post)

Myth 5: Gluten-Free Foods Are Healthier

This is absolutely true … if you have Celiac disease. Otherwise, not necessarily. This came up originally because in order to deal with Celiac, people had very pure, natural, essential diets – which ARE healthy. But like anything else, as soon as companies discovered where they could cut corners it became the same crap … but without wheat products.

Myth 6: Everyone Needs to Poop Daily

On average everyone in our house poops daily. As individuals … it is all over the map. And that is just the way things work – Lisa’s system seems to react almost instantly whereas I can’t tell before breakfast how my system reacted to last night’s dinner …

Myth 7: Microwaving Kills the Nutrients in Food

As noted in the article, certain nutrients in broccoli are lost … but are lost no matter what. Peeling potatoes has a bigger nutritional impact than microwaving. And it doesn’t impact humans at all … so long as you are wearing your tin-foil hat! 🙂

Myth 8: You’ll Lose a Pound of Fat for Every 3,500 Calorie You Burn

There are so many variants on this thing … bottom line is that if you burn 3500 calories you lose a pound. The make-up of that pound depends on many things – and whether it is offset by those chips and beer is an entirely different issue!

Myth 9: Spot Training Helps You Burn Fat in Specific Areas

Spot-reduction is a great myth – you can WORK specific areas, such as arms or legs or abs … but if you are trying to lose loads of fat, it needs to be through global weight loss.

Spot reduction

Myth 10: The Scale Is a Good Way to Help You Manage Your Fat Loss Progress

The scale is your enemy! The old truism that you can tell what is going on through how you feel and how you fit into your favorite clothes is very much true. The scale can go up or down based on water, how much is ‘in your system’, and doesn’t discriminate between fat and muscle.

BMI is every bit as bad, if not worse! There was the case of the teen athlete who got a ‘you are overweight’ assessment sent home due to BMI. As it turned out the height used was incorrect, but in general BMI is just a way of scaling your weight to your height. I look at our family – Chris is tall and built slender, I am in the middle and Danny has very broad shoulders. We are all within an inch of each other, but would have vastly different BMIs based on weight – and none of it takes our body type into account.

So … what other myths are out there? There are tons, here are a few I’ve heard about lately:
– Colon cleanses: your body has got the situation covered. You don’t need to ‘flush your undercarriage’ – it might make you feel lighter, but it is totally unnecessary and can be dangerous according to some! A better alternative is to do your own ‘detox’ by just eating right.

– Muscle turns into fat when you don’t exercise: just like water doesn’t turn into rock, muscle doesn’t turn into fat. If you are not active your muscle tone will decrease, and if you gain weight you will build fat. But the two are unrelated.

– Eating after 8/9/10PM causes weight gain. Bottom line: nothing magical about the time, it is the content. If you have already eaten all of your calories for the day, and then go back for ice cream / pie / chips / whatever (because at 10PM is probably isn’t an apple or a few grapes), then you will probably have a caloric excess … in other words, weight gain.

– More meals is better: this comes from the theory that your body burns slow and constant and that whatever you can’t burn between breakfast and lunch becomes fat. That has been debunked as well.

Bottom line on weight loss is pretty simple: you burn calories all the time. Exercise increases that amount – and high aerobic activities like running or biking increase it exponentially. You need to increase food intake to fuel your workouts – but there is the danger of too much fuel … which then becomes weight gain.

Here is my favorite quote on health and eating, from Michael Pollan (author of the Omnivore’s Dilemma):

Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

Oh, and here is the full Woody Allen scene:

What the Heck IS ‘Clean Eating’, Anyway?!?

Clean Eating

When I first started running and losing weight again nearly two and a half years ago I used my old tried-and-true methods of heavy restriction, fat-free foods, and heavy intake of fruits and vegetables. But as I started rapidly ramping mileage, it became clear I needed more fuel – and the problem peaked when I really bonked hard in the second half of my first half-marathon.

But I really had no idea what I was doing … but I knew that I needed to focus on increasing my intake at breakfast and lunch, as well as healthy snacking throughout the day. Here was my approach:
– Focus on getting loads of fruit at breakfast, but also plenty of protein through nut butters.
– Eat a lunch heavy on fruits and vegetables, again ensuring plenty of protein.
– Have fruit and nuts at my desk for snacks – pistachios have been my choice 90% of the time.
– Try new things I was reading about like Quinoa, Flax, and so on.
– No ‘protein bars’, processed foods, pre-made drinks, etc.

My diet when running has always veered towards heavily fruit & veggie based, but for whatever reason this time as I ramped my weekly mileage from 15 or so to the 40+ it has been for more than 2 years, I have had no desire for processed foods, breakfast cereals, packaged snacks, or whatever else. Sourdough pretzels were about the only pre-made snack I had any desire to eat.

What I didn’t realize for more than a year after I started was that I was embodying the hot new trend called ‘clean eating’.

I had never heard the term until after I started my blog last fall and came upon it checking out someone else’s posts, and came to realize that it wasn’t just about washing your foods and making sure your hands were clean before coming to the table.

So what IS ‘clean eating’ and why should we as runners care?

Here is a description from Eating Well Magazine:

Eating clean is a good way to refresh your eating habits: it’s about eating more of the best and healthiest options in each of the food groups—and eating less of the not-so-healthy ones. That means embracing foods like vegetables, fruits and whole grains, plus healthy proteins and fats. It also means cutting back on refined grains, added sugars, salt and unhealthy fats. And since you don’t have to count calories or give up whole food groups, it’s easy to follow.

So basically, it is the same thing that was called ‘eating healthy’ in the 70s back before the food industry perverted that with all of the artificial sweetener and HFCS-laden ‘fat free’ food.

Looking at the list behind the Eating Well article, as well as similar ones at CNN, Cooking Light, Prevention, I saw a pretty common set of thoughts:

1. Eat Whole, Natural Foods and Limit or Eliminate Processed Foods

The general rule is that if you cannot see the main ingredients when looking at the product, it is not a ‘clean’ or ‘natural’ food source. Generally if it is made in a factory it is suspect (even ‘natural’ products), and definitely products that should be refridgerated but don’t require it are highly processed. There are many guidelines people use such as ‘no more than 6 ingredients’, or ‘if you can’t pronounce it, don’t eat it’, or if the chemical diagram looks like an elaborate cave drawing … maybe you should just pass.

While there are a number of other things on the list, for me everything keys off of this one: because reshaping a fully loaded diet without all of that boxed and packaged crap will pretty much require you to carve your path through ‘clean eating’ territory.

2. Increase Your Intake of Vegetables

While I don’t necessary believe in the ‘limitless fruits and veggies are OK’ – mostly due to my own history with eating and limits – I do think that when you fill your diet with the amazing variety of fresh (and frozen) veggies available at pretty much every modern grocery store, you will have delicious meals that are great for you.

When I was a kid, parties at relatives had celery loaded with cream cheese, and more recently they have been used as carriers for creamy salad dressings often loaded with both saturated fats AND HFCS. Skip all of that and either eat them raw or with some hummus (about the easiest thing in the world to make with a food processor).

3. Cut Down (but do NOT eliminate) Saturated Fats

But load up on healthy fats. Saturated fats are often found in processed foods, but are also found in butter, cheese and not-lean meats. Healthy fats come from minimally-processed plant oils, nuts and nut butters, avocados, and so on.

So how do you cut down on saturated fats? First off, choose leaner cuts of meats, avoid processed meats (like deli meat, reducing this will also help with salt and help you limit processed ingredients), use the grill or broiler, and so on.

BUT … there is new evidence that blaming saturated fats is all wrong, that eating it in moderation can help ward off strokes and diabetes. I look at it this way – keep the intake of fats under control, and focus more on getting fats from things like nuts and avocados that deliver multiple benefits rather than just through oils or butter/ghee.

4. Reduce Alcohol Intake / Don’t Drink Your Calories
This is a two-fold recommendation. We all know that sugary drinks – soda, energy drinks, sports drinks, etc – are a bad idea because they dump loads of sugar and calories into your system. The goal is to get most hydration through water, or perhaps unsweetened tea. Don’t use those ‘chemical soup’ drops – get a fruit infuser and make your own delicious fruit flavored water.

Alcohol is beneficial in moderation – 1-2 drinks per day at most – but too much dehydrates you and adds loads of calories. Fruity mixed drinks in particular cross lots of boundaries on this list. I’ll stick with my glass of red wine and be happy! 🙂

5. Avoid Added Sugars

If you have ever eaten a full meal with someone who has just come from China or some other Asian countries for the first time, aside from ‘portion shock’, you will hear that the desserts are unedibly sweet … but it is what we have been brought up with for the last half-century. Cake frosting, donuts loaded with sugar, ice creams, and so on … we love our sweet-treats! Cutting down on these – particularly anything you don’t make yourself – is a step in the right direction.

But it goes beyond that – I know many folks love their Starbucks … and not just a cup of black coffee or tea like I tend to get! Over vacation my younger son made several Starbucks trips and got huge frozen Mocha Frappuccino drinks with tons of sugar and whipped cream. One of those has 500 calories, and 26% of your daily fat and 29% of carbohydrate recommended values.

6. Control Your Salt Intake, and Use Other Natural Seasonings

Salt in excess can mess with your blood pressure, and added salt is something I gave up 30 years ago completely. My Dad had a heart attack (yeah, unrelated I know) and there were blood pressure issues in my family, so BAM, gone.

If you have eliminated most processed and refined foods, you will suddenly have much less added salt in your system. And when you are cooking, a little salt added along with a combination of fresh (at this time of year) or dried herbs will do much more for flavor than bland foods with salt and pepper dumped on them!

7. Choose Whole Grains

Whole grains include more nutrients than refined grains because the bran and germ are not removed. My rule is generally the ‘can I see it’ mantra, but that isn’t absolute. I have been leery of ‘whole grain’ claim on bulk cereals, store breads, and so on – because for a long time the FDA rules have been lax on companies refining and reconstituting the grains in a certain way to pass the definition of

Refined foods in general lose many of the nutrients we need and should care about getting. Rather than worrying about whether it is ‘whole grain’, seek out things like whole steel-cut oats, brown rice, flax, chia, and quinoa. Aside from being absolutely delicious (ok, my family would debate me on quinoa falling into that category!), they are healthy and whole sources and full of nutrients.

8. Eat Less Meat

I used to buy a 1.5lb steak for Lisa and I to split before we had kids – I would eat about a pound, whe would eat 8oz. Basically the two of us were eating *8* servings of meat! So my comment here isn’t to remove meat from your diet, but to normalize portions. This helps limit saturated fats as well. In our house with two large teenage boys it is hard to balance, but we work to keep portions under control … also use non-meat protein sources.

Things like beans and legumes are a great way to increase protein intake using sources without so much ‘baggage’ – with meats we need to worry about feed sources, GMO of feed, grazing and humane treatment, and so on.

9. Increase Fruit Intake

Similar to veggies, eating whole, natural fruits in season are just amazing in terms of the flavor, nutrients, fiber and juiciness delivered in a portable package!

The two ‘watch-outs’ are juices and dried fruits. Buying bottled juice is a problem because you lose all of the fiber and it changes the glycemic index – I wrote about this last fall, saying “Juicing not only destroys a number of fruits’ beneficial compounds and antioxidants, it removes nearly all of the natural fiber. Suddenly you have all of the sugar and none of the fiber … which takes fruit from ‘super food’ to ‘danger food’!”

As for dried fruit, things like banana chips are fried (and loaded with fat) and pineapple chunks are havens for added sugars; for better options stick with dried apples, plums (prunes, which I actually love), sundried tomatoes, and raisins.

10. Eat More, Smaller Meals and Healthy Snacks

This is another one of those items that has been proclaimed as the ‘next big thing’ in weight loss, then debunked, and now rises again as a way to maintain a ‘clean eating’ lifestyle.

The thought is this – by not overstuffing, you reduce the risk of skipping meals; and by not allowing too much time to pass you reduce the risk of overeating at your next meal.

Also, by eating a more moderate amount more often, you are keeping your blood sugar levels steady so energy doesn’t fall off during the day.

11. Balance Macronutrients at Each Meal

If you have a bowl of cereal with strawberries and some coffee for breakfast and feel full … don’t be surprised if you are hungry by 10AM. Why? You are lacking in protein. Most people eating the ‘standard American diet’ do this, and especially for athletes it is a very bad idea. That is because protein is an important muscle builder … and also why in spite of not being a fan of supplements I definitely understand people supplementing with a protein shake during the day!

Lisa has always been excellent at this – she hates being hangry by 10AM so builds breakfasts loaded with protein; in fact, she has always been great at developing balanced meals – and I have learned so much through the years!

12. Include Physical Activity in Your ‘Diet’

This one I thought was odd, but it shows up enough in these lists that it is worth noting. My context is this – you have taken steps to get your diet right, and for a reason: you want to feel better and be more healthy. Getting physical activity helps to burn more energy, reduce fact, build and strengthen muscles, help keep your heart and lungs healthy and even aids your bones and joints!

Bottom line – eating ‘clean’ is an investment in yourself … seal the deal by keeping active!

Other Resources

There are more great articles (pro AND con) here, here, here and here. I also found a great set of articles compiled at Gracious Pantry, and while I don’t necessarily agree with everything in all of the linked articles … it is a great resource that is loaded with info.

There is even a Clean Eating Magazine!

Why Does This Matter for Runners?

The mantra ‘food is fuel’ is just SO important if you want to get and stay healthy and get the most out of your running (or any activity, really). Knowing what is ‘in your fuel’, to continue the analogy, is critical. And once you get this mindset, clamping down on your choices is a natural (if not always easy) progression.

Looking at the history of the term, it comes from the 90s when there was a backlash against all of the added crap, and makers of more processed foods sought to ‘clean up’ their ingredient lists. THAT in turn came from the 60s and 70s when there was a backlash against the ‘convenience food’ industry pushing processed meals as ‘the future’. Over time, it migrated to people talking about their eating habits; we seek to ‘clean up’ what we are stuffing into our faces.

So … Why Bring This Up?

As I mentioned yesterday, I am at least 200 blog posts behind in my email, and I have no clue now many more between Twitter, BlogLovin’ and WordPress. But in a couple of posts and comments on different blogs I saw the words ‘clean eating’ tossed about like a meaningless buzzword, and also used like a hammer to beat down people and declare something as ‘truth’.

As I said before, ‘clean eating’ is not new, but rather stems from the general movement towards healthier eating habits. There is no absolute right or wrong way to do this, no ‘clean eating’ police … it is just something many of us try to do for our health and fitness benefit.

What Do You Think About the Term ‘Clean Eating’ and What Sorts of Habits do YOU Follow?

From the Archives: A Reminder About Fad Diets From ‘The Ghost of Weight Loss Past’

As a reminder, I am on vacation this week and planning to be ‘mostly offline’ – so I scheduled a few post ‘reruns’ from the very early days of the blog (when I had very few readers)! This one was originally posted here.

Rice Cakes

I like to call fad diets ‘fail diets’, because unless you look at one and think ‘wow, that is pretty much how I eat anyway’, you are probably being asked to totally cut out some food group you actually love … and for me that is a sign of ‘rebound failure’. You will feel like you are denying your self and depriving yourself … and then end up on a binge spiral. The degree to which people can totally cut out things they love to eat … well, it is shown pretty solidly through obesity statistics.

I think the mindset needs to be ‘modification’, and NOT ‘massive alteration’. Of course, when I first lost weight there was some of both.

I was reminded of this as someone on Facebook posted about their weight and health issues and how their habits were in dire need of a change … and so they decided to go vegan. Not regulate their intake, not reduce portions and control the balance of processed and fried food, not even go vegetarian … but full-on vegan.

That is a radical change – I am NOT calling becoming vegan a ‘fad diet’, but when people jump to it as a magical cure for weight and health issues, it might as well be. I am again reminded of Bloom County:

Eating-less-and-exercise-1-500x158

Back when I started losing weight a year out of college in 1989, things like yogurt, rice cakes and fat-free salad dressings were all the rage. And because I love salads, love yogurt and fruit, I was easily able to switch over to having grapefruit and plain toast for breatfast, simple salad with fat free dressing for lunch, yogurt & rice cakes for a snack, then a simple dinner.

As I have noted, I lost about 175 pounds when all was said and done in 1989 through a combination of diet and exercise. There is little doubt that I used deprivation and the feelings of hunger to motivate myself. But there was also no way I was giving up steak or ice cream completely. But what is interesting is how one of the staples of my weight loss – rice cakes – is such a terrible food.

Rice cakes: Considered as one of the ultimate ‘diet-food’ in the late 1980s and 1990s, don’t let yourself get fooled by this dish. Rice cakes have a glycemic index of 91 and can make your blood sugar go sky-high. They are bad for weight loss and your overall health.

Fat free salad dressings are another one – full-up with HFCS, they mess with your system. One that I used last year when I started losing weight again was grits. I thought they were like oatmeal – fill you up, good for you. Well, only half of that was true! Grits are absolute crap, as it turns out! Once I found that out over a year ago I quit it immediately.

My point is that for many of us weight control is a lifelong struggle. And there are MANY multi-billion dollar industries that have sprung up around it. But think … what would happen if everyone learned how to lose weight and just lost it and kept it off using nothing but products from their grocery store without needing special pills, chemicals or books? That would be terrible for the industry – and so you have to remember that this industru doesn’t succeed when too many people succeed.

So beware of fad diets and miracle products – because it is not in their best interest for you to succeed.