Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Why healthy living is revolutionary

Recently, and I may have posted the link, I stumbled across a website with "100 Revolutionary Acts" towards better health. At first I thought that the website was awesome, a great idea and resource, but then I started thinking about it... why is being healthy a 'revolutionary' act?
(Revolutionary meaning characterized by a marked or sudden change or a break away from the status quo)

Some recent observations:

- I saw this sign in the DC Metro for 7-11 that pictures a Big Gulp full of a sugar filled drink, what looks like chicken or hot wings, and a brownie, with a tagline that says "budget your time, not your taste." Is that what many people think a normal meal or a late night snack should be? Is that kind of processed, sugary and fatty 'cheap' food really people's 'taste'? Is having a different taste 'revolutionary'?

- The line for the metro elevator is always full when the escalators are out... when escalators don't work they become stairs, is taking the stairs 'revolutionary'?  

- Colorado is the healthiest state when it comes to obesity, but it still has over 19% of its adults qualified as obese! (This does not include adults considered overweight.) Why is a state with slightly less than 1 in 5 obese adults the best obesity rate in the country?

- Working for a reknowned cancer organization I see the strong correlation between the spread of the 'western diet' (and with it obesity) and cancer (and othe non-communicable diseases like heart disease and diabetes) throughout the world! Why is a break away from the 'western diet' revolutionary?

When did healthy food and healthy living become a revolutionary concept?

Let me just throw this out there- The high carb, high protein 'western diet' has led to high obesity rates, high cancer rates, high diabetes rates, high heart disease rates, and the spread of this diet is increasing all of those rates worldwide! These rates are the reason that people who are disease free are considered 'revolutionary'! Yes, I just stated that people who are 'disease-free' could be considered healthy because that is what the norm has become. What healthy should mean is fit, energetic, and leading healthy lifestyles and therefore at a low risk for all of those diseases.

I very often get comments from people saying "You are soooo healthy!" or "I could never be vegetarian, I don't know how you do it!" Yes, training for triathlons is a little extreme and not something everyone does or can do because of the time commitment, their current fitness levels, not to mention they might just not want to, but when did my eating vegetables become a fascination for people? Eating vegetables should be normal, not something that sets me apart. Another question I get all of the time: "But where do you get your protein?"

We have been led to believe for a number of years that we need far more protein than we actually do, and this has been helped along by special low-carb diets like Atkins and Southbeach. The CDC recommends 46 grams of protein each day for women ages 19-17+ and 56 grams a day for men ages 19-70+; most cuts of beef provide 7 grams of protein per ounce, meaning that your favorite steak place's 8 ounce filet is as much or more protein than you need in an entire day! Add to that the chicken or turkey you had with your lunch, the cheese on that sandwich, the yogurt with breakfast, not to mention that whole grains and vegetables (if you are eating them of course) also have protein in them, and you get far more protein than you need for the day. You don't need high protein foods or dairy with every meal, for instance protein is used to repair muscle tissue so its best to have it after a workout, you don't need it to fuel before a workout. Too much protein can be converted to fat in your body the same way that excess carbs can be converted to fat in your body. Another misunderstanding we have is portion size - food labels and nutritional information that is given out in grams and ounces is useless if we don't know what a gram or ounce of that food actually looks like.

I am going to make this as simplified as I can- look at a plate. 1/2 should be non-starchy vegetables and some of it fruit, 1/4 should be dairy/lean protein, and 1/4 should be whole grains or startchier vegetables. If you can make your plate look like this every meal you will for sure be getting enough protein, healthy carbs, and most of the nutrients that your body needs - fiber, antioxidants, vitamins, minerals.

Are you an endurance athlete? - make it more like 1/3 whole grains. Trying to add muscle? - make it more like 1/3 dairy/protein. Trying to lose weight? - make it a smaller plate. This basic model can be changed to fit your needs, the USDA just released a 'my plate' feature but it still categorizes corn and potatoes as vegetables and  dairy as a separate category. wrote a good piece on it that outlines a better way to look at the plate, more along the lines of how I picture it.

Does every single one of my plates look like this? No. Do most of them? Yes. Especially when looking at the entirety of my meals over the day. I prefer whole grain heavy in the mornings - oatmeal or cereal with fruit and supplements like maca, raw cacao and hemp; green leafy vegetable at lunch like a salad; one snack of raw almonds, a different snack of fruit with yogurt; and some combination of vegetables, beans, lentils, tofu, quinoa, etc. cooked for dinner. All of that pretty much evens out to the distributions of my ideal plate.

Is my plate revolutionary? I think many people believe that is what a plate should typically look like, but its not what most people's plates actually look like.

I'm not trying to buck the status quo, I am trying to reestablish it. Healthy living should be the norm, not revolutionary!

Who is with me? Who wants to establish vegetables as a normal part of their diet? Who wants to walk up and down the escalators turned into stairs? Who has a taste different than big gulps and 7 eleven chicken wings? Who thinks obesity, cancer, diabetes and heart disease should not be increasing around the world? If you are with me then I guess you are a revolutionary too!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

four hour body

I know it has been a while since I posted, I've been a little busy with making the most of being in DC, my internship, and training for the August 13th triathlon! This is a little different that my usual posts - it is a book review of sorts or rather an analysis and synthesis of certain methods to making changes in your body and I am only looking at a small part of the book.

I recently purchased Tim Ferriss's Four Hour Body mainly because I have heard so many controversial things about him and the book and I had a Border's gift card to spend. He used himself as a guinea pig, tracking workouts and nutrition for decades and has identified the smallest changes that he could do to make serious increases in weight loss, muscle gain, strength gain, etc. and also has some evidence on how it worked for other people as well. It's a pretty big volume and covers a lot of different subjects all having to do with the body in some way and making gains with the smallest effort needed. While I don't always agree with that principle in itself - if you want to make a change you should probably put in the 100% effort to make that change happen, not just try to find the easiest way - he does has some really interesting strategies for making new routines stick.

Have a set goal. Mine are the two triathlons this summer, but if you want to lose weight or gain muscle set a weight or body fat percentage goal, or put a number on how much weight you want to lift or how far and fast you can run. The goal though has to be realistic within a certain time frame.

One major strategy for doing this is keeping track of the data and changes without using calories or a scale as measurements. Calories don't help you separate the kinds of foods that will help you lose weight or add muscle, they are just a unit of energy. Calories can be an easy way to track the amount of food you consume, but they shouldn't be relied on as a good indicator of the health of the foods you consume. And a scale only measures weight - not muscle mass. I am five foot four inches and weigh over 130lbs which is at the top of my BMI range - but I am probably around 15% body fat and that muscle is never taken into account on a scale. Circumference of your waist, arms, hips and legs, or a fat caliper are much better measurements to take while tracking changes in your body than your weight alone.

Another strategy is one shared by the Nerd Fitness community and that is to somehow stay accountable for your set goal. Have a support group, make a bet with friends (where you lose money if you don't fulfill it which gives you more incentive than if you were only to gain money you didn't already have once you completed your goal,) take an unflattering before picture and post it somewhere you see it everyday. Even during the process you can take a picture of everything before you eat and post that online - you won't want to post a picture of terrible for you food or a giant bag of candy. Have others involved in the whole process and you will want to prove it to them and they will hold you accountable whether they are encouraging or discouraging you along the way (ignore the discouraging friends or use them as fuel to work harder.)

I can also be a resource - shoot me an email and I can give you just some plain old encouragement, I can plan workouts or a meal program for you, hell if you know me I can work out and/or cook with you! If you tell me what your goal is, I will do my best to help you reach it. Even if your goal is just to add more vegetables to your diet - I can help you out!

In regards to the book, its fun to scan through but I wouldn't go out and buy it right away (borrow my copy first!) I'm obviously a fitness nerd, so I like when he gets into the little experiments and the more scientific jargon and shows exactly what the human body can be pushed to do - but other people may not. I wouldn't use him as a guide to changing your lifestyle, but instead as a reference or resource. Even Ferriss admits that you have to find the formula for change that works for you, and especially the motivation to make the change, his method worked for a number of people but those individuals were all committed to his specific methods.

I think the main point to takeaway is that you have to find your motivation, set your goal and find a way to make yourself accountable to that goal - that is the key to making changes towards a healthier lifestyle!