Cris LaBossiere

Cris LaBossiere
Strength training and mountain biking. My two favorites

Sunday, December 30, 2012

No New Year's resolutions made me more fit

The absence of New Year's resolutions will most likely be one of the most common correlates between people who are successful at losing weight and getting fit.

I am convinced the main purpose of New Year's resolutions is to reduce fitness and increase weight gain.  This must be the case because because prior to implementing New Year's weight loss or fitness goals, most people go on a binge to celebrate their supposed last few weeks of overeating and not exercising.

So really New Year's resolutions are about justifying current poor health choices because you're going to fix it all in the near future anyway.

It's a great system.  It's durable.  Most people succeed in gaining more weight every year by making promises to lose weight later.

Anytime I've made a change for the better in how I eat, exercise, or handle stress, it has never correlated with New Year's.  For those who I know personally that have been successful with healthy living changes, none of them made these changes on New Year's day.  I'm not saying nobody has ever succeeded with New Year's resolutions, the stats seem to show that around 90% of people fail to follow through which leaves room for a small minority to squeak by.

I am willing to bet though that the '10 percenters' that made it had worked at making the changes for quite some time and New Year's was not the real catalyst that cemented their success, but merely a coincidental convenience.

Main reasons why New Year's resolutions have not been on my radar:

My ability to change my habits is not some how genetically tied to our calendar; it isn't as though I can only lose weight or gain fitness after New Year's day and not a day earlier.  If this were true training for bike racing would really suck as I would only have this small window every year to make all my gains.

The time immediately prior to New Year's is not the only time of the year I have the opportunity to contemplate or realize that I can do better.

I will benefit from healthy changes the moment I start implementing them.  What would be the point of waiting until New Year's?  The thought never crossed my mind.

When I decided to quit smoking it was summer, not New Year's.  When I decided that since I didn't really like the taste or affect of booze that I may as well stop drinking it.. well I can't remember what time of year that was, but it wasn't New Year's, and it wasn't really that sudden of a decision it just seemed to fade out.

One of the biggest changes in how and why I make healthy exercise choices was deciding to take the courses offered from the National Coaching Certification Program through Coaching Canada.  I took the course because at the age of 18 I couldn't afford a full time coach to teach me how train better.  Learning what coaches know seemed a reasonable solution.

The courses got me started on learning sport science and how the body adapts to exercise.  I was so excited to learn how to train the right way I immediately implemented what I learned.  None of this had anything at all to do with New Year's.

In 2012 I won a gold medal in the Manitoba Provincial Mountain Bike championships.  My god did I ever suck bad at mountain biking before that.  While I made huge improvements my gold medal was in the lowest category.  I went from last place to first place.  I'm pretty happy with that.  In 2013 I'll move up a category.  I'm very excited about that.

Absolutely none of my improvements can be connected in any way to New Year's.  The reality is, it took me three years of consistant training and technical skills practicing to gradually increase my competitive performance a little bit at a time with several short term set backs along the way.

Those who are successful with New Year's resolutions could have implemented change at any time of year. It will not be New Year's that makes them successful, it will be that they already contemplated what to do and how to do it, and that they would have set realistic goals.  With a continuance of achieving small and realistic goals they would have nurtured motivation to continue.

This process of change is fairly ubiquitous.  We all go through a similar process of change when we take on new and better things to help improve our health. This process can start anytime, anywhere.

I have zero New Year's resolutions for this year, but I do have goals that I want to achieve:

I want to learn how to do a proper bunny hop on my mountain bike!  Currently I cheat too much by simply jumping straight up with clipless pedals.  I've become dependant on the cheat move and need to learn the right way.

I love mountain biking

At age 46 being active in a sport has definitely played a huge role in staying fit and achieving higher goals.

At times I'll go crazy eating way too much chocolate.  Seriously, it's too much.  I always feel like crap afterwards.  I've managed to nearly kill this one off, but every so often I go through a period where I lose it and the appeal of instant gratification from a mega chocoholic meltdown beats down my rational thinking.  Sure, I recover and get back to normal but the behaviour isn't healthy and I don't want to fall into that trap of believing that overdoing it to the extreme is validated simply because it tastes good at the moment.

I'm not going to quit chocolate; I'm going to quit chocolate pig-outs.

I suck at math.  I've downloaded apps to practice math on the iPhone and iPad and got started with Khan Academy.  I'm finally overcoming my life long fear of complex math and it feels great!

These are goals I am currently making progress with.  None of them had any connection with New Year's and I wasn't about to put off the benefits until New Year's.

The New Year's thing may or may not work for you.  My 2 cents is that you'll have a better chance of success in believing in yourself rather than believing in a date.

Things that make change successful:

Go here for an article I wrote on setting and achieving goals

Previous New Year's posts

New Year's Stuff (2010)

New Year's Resolutions Already Dying Off (January 2010)

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Why boot camps are stupid

In a previous post I mentioned unabashedly that I think boot camps are stupid.  What inspired me to do a follow up about why this form exercise mayhem is stupid is a reader response on FaceBook.

"I agree Cris, Boot camps are stupid. They will not cause lifestyle change."  Thanks to KM for the post.

Rather than just saying that boot camps are stupid, I'll do what I usually do and that is tell you like it is with facts and reason.  

I did a Google image search for boot camp. Endless pictures of people suffering and also endless pictures of very poor exercise form.

The boot camp idea perpetrates the myth that hard, arduous exercise is what counts. Anything less has no value. Suffering equals success. Sure, hard training is needed to capture peak performance, but hard training isn't what getting started is all about.  Forget this Hollywood idea of what productive is supposed to be.  In reality even for well conditioned athletes hard training is best done with careful preparation and timing, not arbitrarily entering a boot camp to kick ones butt into shape.

 I think a person could make a boot camp with few people work.  Maybe an instructor - student ratio of one to eight. You'd have to do a complete fitness assessment on each person so the instructor would be properly informed as to what exercises are appropriate for the people in the group.

You'd start slow with basic moves and gradually increase the intensity and complexity of moves over months of boot camps.  When anyone became tired you'd encourage them to take a break or stop altogether so they can resolve their fatigue with proper rest.

I've never heard of a boot camp being run like this but if there is one out there run correctly, this article is not about them.

For most, the kind of anti-boot camp group exercise I suggested, catering to peoples needs and starting easy, is going to sound too boring.  But, only because it will be compared to traditionalized expectations of loud music and or a loud instructor, and pushing so hard you wonder why you showed up.  How about a re-think?  What would be wrong with building gradually and hitting it hard when you're ready?  There's nothing wrong with that.  In fact, research shows that's the most effective way to make large, long term gains.

Lets take a look at the actual military boot camp which the civilian exercise fad is based on.

Results of this study (1) show that 39.6% of of military recruits entering boot camp became injured.  Keep in mind that the military recruits from the general population, not the athlete population. These are everyday folks that are entering an abrupt change in how much they exercise, like most people taking part in exercise boot camps.

The cause of 78% of the injuries? Overuse.  Researchers concluded that abrupt increases in training intensity and volume are the cause of injury.

An abrupt change in training volume and intensity.  Um, isn't that the point of a boot camp?  I'm sorry folks but my brain gets twisted when I try to make sense out of that.  This is harder than trying wrap your head around quantum physics.  The very thing that causes injury is the very premise of boot camps.  And boot camps are super popular. What the H E double hocky sticks is wrong with this picture?

The model of boot camp training is bogus.  People are pushed too hard too soon without preparatory training.

How about those pro-level pre-season training camps?  This is where the pro's tune up for real competition.  Sort of. In reality (2) this is where 51% of hamstring injuries occur in NFL players. The reason?  Training too hard too soon.

What? So even pro athletes who are far more conditioned than the average person considering a fitness centre boot camp still get hammered with injuries from advancing too quickly with volume and intensity?  You got it.

According to this study (3) girls aged 9 to 15 who participated in more than 8 hours per week of high impact sports and sport training were twice as likely to sustain a stress fracture compared to those doing 4 hours or less of high impact activity.

Is this an obvious outcome?  I think so, but obviously others don't, otherwise nobody would be training 9-15 year old girls 8 or more hours per week without proper preparation.

Whether adult or child, pro or not, there seems to be a tie that binds most popularised exercise- go really hard, and do it often, and glorify the heck out of it. And admonish, publicly humiliate, those who don't comply.

Boot camps are the anointed child of the ever popular go hard or go home concept; a concept that is continually proven invalid by sport science, yet continually offered to and sought out by the public.  I feel like I'm in the middle ages trying to tell people the earth isn't at the centre of the universe.

In my personal observation I've seen boot camp instructors shout out what sound like good instructions.. keep your core tight, watch your knee alignment, etc.  What I find a little weird is that the instructor will also shout out platitudes, you're doing great, keep it up, burn that fat..  Why is this weird?  Isn't positive encouragement good?

Strangely most of the students have poor mechanics, indeed even the instructor has poor mechanics. So what's with telling people to watch their knee alignment then have most of the class express poor knee alignment then do nothing about it other than saying good job keep it up?  Why can't these instructors see the poor mechanics and help people make the necessary corrections?  Is it a case of you can't teach what you don't know?  Most of the time I think this is the case.

Confounding that problem is the one size fits all formula, along with the need to turn over classes in a timely manner to produce revenue.  So each class has a script.  Next class; repeat script, and say it with meaning so you can sound convincing.

Something else to consider.  Although many instructors say things like, go at you're own pace, in reality there is great pressure from the instructor plus peer pressure to push hard no matter what.  Also how could it be that everyone in the class is at the same level of conditioning and equally capable of doing the intensive moves?

Remember KM's comment about lifestyle changes?  Boot camp is all about short term pain and short term gain.  This is not a suitable strategy or a "kick start" to a new you.  It's more like a kick in the hamstring.

The sport science is clear; training too hard too soon and over-emphasizing intensity and going for the burn as well as skipping assessment and base conditioning is disaster in the making.  Some of the complex moves found in boot camps are simply made up by the instructor or are culled from the black hole of fad exercises instead of being well thought out proven exercises that are gradually implemented based on an individuals ability to do the exercise.

Sound like TMI? This is another common error made with those feeling like they need to do something to increase their fitness but feel that they don't want to be burdened with too much of a learning curve; "just tell me what to do and I'll do it, I don't want to know about how my lungs work, I just want to get fit fast."

The outcome of following this path is nearly always failure, even though it may seem perfectly justifiable at first.  Lifestyle changes include gradually changing how we think and feel about the reward of exercise and how to integrate healthy living habits permanently into our lives, and that involves learning a little bit about how our bodies work.  It's about  making informed decisions.

It is true that starting with less complex and easy to implement actions is the best way to start.  Better to start with simply eating less of what you already eat rather than with an instant overhaul of your diet.  Better to start with going for walks for exercise rather than with a complex exercise routine.

The conflict here is that most boot camps employ fairly complex exercises that are advanced well beyond base conditioning, so while boot camps may imply that you can simply be a body in a crowd accepting instructions that you don't have to think about much, the reality is getting good at complex movement does take time, concentration, practice and long term improvement.

Boot camps are the antithesis to the healthy living idea.  Boot camps are the animation of our get fit quick fantastical thinking.  Boot camps are about playing to the idea that you don't have time to exercise, you don't have time to waste.  You need to work hard fast for short periods and get it all done so you can get back to a busy schedule. Boot camps survive on the old urban myth that sweat and burning muscles are an accurate measurement of exercise quality.

I've been in exercise labs a lot.  I've even had the privilege doing exercise studies. The standards of measuring effective exercise are not sweat or a burning sensation.  In fact the body of sport science tells us the best way to ensure continued gains while avoiding the setback of injuries is to start really easy, so easy that you never feel tired during or after your exercise.  Gradually you build your exercise capacity and when you're ready to go harder you can continue to get more benefit from higher intensity exercise.

You should only expect to feel tired from exercise once you're fit enough to endure hard training.  I'm not about avoiding high intensity exercise.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Just ask the athletes I train how hard they work during VO2 Max intervals or doing 4-6 rep max single leg squats.

I'm no stranger to high intensity training myself, you name it I've done it.  VO2 Max, TABATA, German volume training, plyometrics, and circuit training that we lovingly used to call "the barf circuit". I've done hill running sprints carrying a person on my back using the fireman's carry and loved every moment of it.  I manage to win the odd bike race as well.  I've also endured my self-imposed misfortune of training too hard too soon and can tell you repetitive strain injury isn't fun.

Training hard works, but training too hard too soon doesn't.  You don't need hard arduous exercise to experience great improvements in weight loss and strength gain.  The greatest gains I've made and any of my athletes have made have been on a long term gradually more challenging path to harder exercise. That's athletes though.  Nobody needs to train that hard to be healthy and fit. Athletic training routines is not where we start out with getting into healthy living or even bumping up our fitness to the next level.  What is generally not that well understood is that to do the most popular balance provoking exercises, and the jumping exercises, and the high intensity gut wrenching exercises, we need to have a substantially strong foundation of very strong core, hips, and shoulders.  Otherwise we're just asking for trouble.

Making healthy living choices is about learning about how our bodies work, making both short and long term easy to accomplish realistic goals that build us towards more complex goals.  Healthy exercise doesn't blow your brains out (or biceps out) or make you hurt every time you do it and we need to be mindful of this.

Boot camps don't instill or support this healthy and realistic thinking.  Boot camps will tell you to push hard when you're tired.  Sport science says to cut back exercise when you're tired to allow your body the recovery it needs to adapt and progress healthily.

I'm sure if a person tried hard enough they could find a boot camp that isn't as extreme as I'm describing here, but the reality is the very concept of group training where people are pushed into complex exercise too hard too soon simply makes no sense.  It's a marketing gimmick.

I could easily put on boot camps and act like an excited drill sargent.  I'd make a good dollar too. Trouble is I wouldn't really be helping anyone make the key lifestyle changes that will really benefit their health long term.

I have an athlete whom I love to reference often because he's in his 50's.  This guy in his 50's can do over 30 good quality chin-ups (yes, in one shot with no breaks) and over 80 push ups.  He doesn't do boot camps.  In fact he hardly does chin-ups.  How can a person spank of 30 chin-ups if they hardly do chin-ups?  Don't misunderstand me.  The fellow worked many many months to build up to this, but he backed off when fatigued and added a little more when recovered and wasn't fanatical about it.

He does chin-ups once a week or sometimes once every two weeks.  Of course he has a complete program as well, but he does it at his own pace doing strength training once or twice per week along with cardio training 2 - 3 times per week.  He's more fit than he's ever been in his life and he loves it. .. I'd put my money on him to kick butt on any boot camper..

(1) Military training-related injuries: surveillan... [Am J Prev Med. 2000] - PubMed - NCBI

(2) Hamstring Muscle Strains in Professional Football Players

(3) JAMA Network | Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine | Prospective Study of Physical Activity and Risk of Developing a Stress Fracture Among Preadolescent and Adolescent Girls

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

I finally got a cold

Not too long ago I wrote a piece on how not to catch cold where I mentioned that I had not had cold symptoms in many years.  The reason why the number of colds I have plummeted is because, while not always successful, I do manage to eat, sleep, and exercise healthily most of the time.

I got the familiar feeling in the back of the throat on Saturday.  By Monday I had the runny nose and sneezing and felt a little lethargic.  I still managed to get in a training ride on my bike (mounted on my indoor trainer Kurt Kinetic trainer review), but I cut the ride at 90 minutes instead of the 2-2.5 hours I would normally had done.

Side note:  exercising with a cold rule of thumb: symptoms above the neck (head cold), exercise is not a problem but you may have reduced exercise capacity.  If you have a cough or really sore throat exercising intensely with heavy breathing may aggravate an already irritated respiratory tract, possibly inviting a bacterial infection, so don't exercise hard. Nausea or fever? Don't exercise.  You need rest and a visit to the doc might be a good idea if symptoms persist. 

Today I feel pretty good.  Only had to blow my nose twice so far.  I'd say the cold is pretty much over.

So that's Saturday to Wednesday, maybe a little into tomorrow - 5.5 days with three days of a fairly snotty nose.

That's not too bad, and thats what the research suggests you might feel if you live healthy, primarily exercising regularly and getting good sleep.

Healthy living can reduce the frequency, duration, and intensity of cold symptoms by 40%.

I've been lucky and had good multi-year stint of no cold symptoms.  I say no cold symptoms as I would have still had cold viruses enter my body, but my strengthened immune system would have defeated the cold virus before I became symptomatic.

I didn't take a pill that's promised to reduce colds.  I didn't take an alternative medicine concoction that is the suposed secret cure for the common cold that apparently regular doctors don't want you to know about.  I didn't take massive doses of vitamin C.  I didn't whip up an antioxidant detox super juice every morning.

I ate healthy, exercised regularly, and most of the time got good sleep.

I recall a few times though where it felt like a cold might be coming on but then nothing further materialized.  There were several times where I was in the company of people with colds and I thought for sure I would be sniffling a few days later.. nope.

Aside from maintaining if not gaining athletic performance as I approach age 50 I think not getting the two colds per year I used to get a pretty good dividend from healthy habits.  I don't know anyone who likes the misery of a cold.

The benefits of exercise aren't limited to the most commonly referenced weight loss and muscular or lean look.  The main benefits are feeling more energetic, preserving health, having the strength to easily do pretty much any normal task.. shovelling snow is no big deal, neither is lifting heavy things like furniture.

I see many of my mid-late 40's peers gaining weight and getting weaker.  That could have been me and I'm glad it isn't, I'm also glad it doesn't have to be this way for anyone.

I didn't make the change overnight and pretty much everyone who tries to do it fast fails and returns to a state of being less fit and more overweight than when they started.

Ignore all the goofy claims to lose weight fast and get fit fast.  That's for losers, or I guess gainers as the weight comes back later when a return to previous habits occurs.

Make some small changes like eating a little less and learning to feel good about it.  Gradually add small amounts of exercise.  Boot camps are very stupid.  Yes, I said that and mean it.  I'm not some shlep who fell off the bus yesterday, I've been studying this subject and coaching for two and half decades and I live it myself.. quick fix promises are meant to appeal to desperation and gullibility; they don't actually work.

How did I get to "boot camps are very stupid" from exercise prevents colds?  It's not hard to get me going.  I am passionate about the subject.  And why not?  Making these changes turned my life around and the lives of many others.  I really, really want people to feel as good as I have after having made these changes.

Having fewer colds is better.  Colds are miserable.  Less misery from colds, from aches and pains, from lethargy, and from illness.  It's all good.   Best thing?

It's not a miracle product that costs $49.99 per month or more.  It's not a pill.  It's not a secret metabolism energizing exercise routine (those don't exist by the way so don't fall for the con).

There is one catch though. Your benefits will automatically renew without your consent if you keep living the healthy lifestyle.  That's right, even if you find that you don't like not having colds, can't stand being strong, hate your doctor for telling you your cholesterol and blood pressure are normal, and don't want to deal with near boundless energy and clear cognition day after day, the contract can't be broken.  So long as you live healthy you will reap the benefits.

Oh well.  What can you do?

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

How I survived Christmas without overeating

For regular readers you'll know that I'm always on about changing our reward association with overeating and working on making the same reward association with healthy food choices.

A favourite example of mine is; picture this, you're at the office and the boss walks in with a box of donuts and says, "you're all doing a great job and I wanted to show my appreciation". The boss presents the donuts. How do feel?

You may be thinking, "hey great! I love donuts".  Mmm..

Same scenario, boss says the same thing, but has a plate of broccoli. Are you feeling that?

No?  Not feeling the little green trees?

How about a plate of oranges and bananas?  Some feeling for this but not as much as for the donuts?

There you have it. That's what reward association does. Reward association makes you feel compelled to do things that you perceive will be rewarding in some way. The stronger the reward association the more intense the reward seeking will be.

One little snafu is that some of that which we associate reward with can also get out of hand cause negative outcomes.  Like scarfing down 1000 calories from donuts that nobody needs.

And so it goes for Christmas dinners.  Personally I've been getting better every year. I don't do three or four plates anymore, plus buns, plus desert. 

Years ago when I cut down to 2.5 plates and desert I felt like I had accomplished a lot. I was only consuming 1500 calories more than I needed instead of around twice that.  (3500 calories in a pound of fat in case you wondering about the scale impact of so much overeating)

Cutting down to two plates I felt physically much more comfortable. Not so much of a bloat-on.  I also had less of the post Christmas overeating guilt-on. Another bonus is I didn't have to think about all the extra cardio I'd have to do to repent my indulgence. 

Exercising to compensate for excessive eating is not a healthy exercise or eating strategy. 

This year I thought about how good I would feel emotionally and physically if I didn't overeat.  I knew that whenever I eat healthy I feel good about it. I didn't always feel this way. Years ago I scoffed at the idea.  I looked forward to the stuffed gut. Having to loosen your belt was a sign of success. At that time I didn't bother to think about why I believed this. It was just something you did. It was tradition. 

Then I had to go and become a cycling coach in 1987, which involves among other things, learning about proper nutrition. I learned that I didn't really know how to eat. Sure, sure, I was an expert at the selecting, chewing, and swallowing, but was pretty clueless when it came to understanding my actual nutritional needs. 

I really liked a lot of crap food that wasn't that great for me. 

Being a bit slow it took me years to gradually change my eating habits so that my eating reflected what healthy reconditions are. 

As I ate healthy more consistently I grew further from wanting unhealthy foods but still found myself feeling rewarded by overeating. Yes you can eat too much healthy food. Calories are calories. 

Over time this changed too. As overeating became less frequent each time I did dive into calorie bomb meals I was more attune to the after affects.  I was getting used to what it felt like to eat satisfying healthy meals. I didn't feel bloated or lethargic. There is no brick in the gut. I slept better.  I didn't have to deal with feeling remorseful for overeating. I actually felt pretty damn good. Better than I knew I could. 

Over time I had developed a new reward association with eating healthy to the point of instead of looking forward to overeating at holiday meals I started to regreat these meals in advance. I regretted feeling obliged to fulfill the custom of overeating. I really wanted to eat healthy but there was social pressure to overeat as well as my own pressure because some of the old reward seeking was still there. I knew the food would certainly taste good and that I could make excuses to keep eating. 

Afterwards I'd feel not so good. When you eat healthy most of the time your digestive system gets used to high fibre low fat foods. When you suddenly burden your GI tract with high fat low fibre traditional foods in large volumes, you get constipated. You feel like crap, literally. 

So this Christmas I felt compelled not to overeat because I didn't want to deal with the uncomfortable aftermath. I felt incentive to eat what I need because I knew this would feel more satisfying. 

This year was different because I had done enough work on my thoughts, feelings, and eating habits that it all came together and was easy.. And oh so satisfying. 

Christmas dinner with family was great. That value did not change. The food still tasted great and I enjoyed it. I enjoyed the company and good times. I didn't feel the need for extra food being a prerequisite for enjoying Christmas with my family. 

The Christmas dinners two days in a row were the best I'd had because there was no underlying food drama. I think I have it better than many though.  Eating healthy at Christmas dinner doesn't always go over well. I've had friends tell me that when they try the same thing they get questioned by family and friends.. "Are you sick? Don't you like the food? Are you on some kind of diet?" Many are ostracized for not overeating. There is societal pressure to be thin for some but there is more social pressure to overeat and if you don't comply someone will point it out to you. 

The things that enabled me to feel completely satisfied without overeating at Christmas dinners (or whatever dinners for those who don't say Christmas), were:

  Completing a long path to adopting an appreciation and sense of reward from healthy eating while at the same time unlearning my previous reward connection with overeating. 

  Having family that is happy I'm there no matter how much I eat. 

This didn't happen overnight so don't expect instant results if you try the same. If you hang in there though change will come. You'll adapt. After a while wanting to eat healthy will feel good instead of being misinterpreted as feeling restrictive. Ironically if you think about it, chronically overeating is restrictive. We restrict ourselves to only overeating and are not open to healthy options, perhaps even offended by the idea of eating healthy because eating unhealthy is so practiced, so naturalized, that eating healthy is perceived as interfering with the status quo. 

I really had a great Christmas this year and eating healthy made it even better. 

Sunday, December 23, 2012

95% Fail to lose weight. What are the 5% doing?

You'd think the person with the answer to this question would be heralded as modern societies saviour,  the person who solved the mystery of why we gain weight and can't seem to lose it.  Or perhaps at least this person would be rich in finding a way to capitalize on such a discovery.

There are indeed many who have become wealthy in selling their solution to the weight loss problem but in doing so another mystery arises; if all these people with the solution to weight loss do have the answer, why is it the population of the entire planet continues to become more overweight every year?

When humanity learned how to eradicate smallpox it was the end of smallpox.  We have the antidote for excessive weight gain, but don't use it.

More of the population is overweight.  This seems a logical explanation for why more weight loss clinics  classes, blogs, news stories, and apparently novel weight loss concepts would materialize.

It's a question of supply and demand.

Interesting that the more this problem spreads the more full-proof solutions are propagated and sold.

Maybe at some point sock makers would sell so many socks that all the worlds people would have socks so no more socks would be needed.  Too simplified.  The population grows, socks wear out, and maybe people want to upgrade from $5.00 socks to $10.00 socks and so on.

Is fat loss the same way?  Does one weight loss strategy wear-out requiring another strategy to continue weight loss? Is the more costly fat loss option more effective?

This can't be true because fat loss is about eating fewer calories than expended.  There isn't another strategy.  It is that simple, but complexities arrise in achieving that simplicity.

The National Weight Loss Registry, an ongoing study of what people who successfully lose weight and keep it off actually do has found the following:

To register people must have lost at least 30 pounds and kept it off for one or more years.

Registry members have lost an average of 66 pounds and kept it off for more than 5 years.

The study is open to US residents and has published it's findings to date.

Here is what those who have lost weight and kept it off have in common:

45% lost weight on their own and 55% lost weight with the help of some kind of program

94% increased their physical activity with walking being the most common exercise, and one hour of exercise daily being average frequency and duration.

98% of Registry participants report that they modified their food intake in some way to lose weight.

78% eat breakfast every day

75% weigh themselves at least once per week

62% watch less than 10 hours of TV per week

The increase in physical activity increases calories out and the modification of food intake decreases calories in.

I'm writing this during the Christmas holiday season, but what I'm saying is relevant anytime of the year.

A common strategy that people tell me about when they are about to enter a social feeding frenzy, be it a birthday, an after the game or after the whatever chow-down, is this:

Since we're going to overeat anyway, why bother trying to mess with that since it won't work.  Why not simply concentrate our efforts on what to do after we're finished the overeating celebration?

Makes sense.  Christmas dinners?  I've already bought the ticket to that train and I'm going to ride it out.  Plus; why ruin Christmas (or whatever)?

"I just want to have a good type two diabetes with my family".  Crap.  Freudian.

What I meant to say sarcastically is, "I just want to have a good time feeling bloated and regretful for overdoing it and gaining even more weight".  Whoops, I did it again.

The flaw in this strategy is that it is completely denial based and is merely used as an excuse to justify more overeating.  Hardly anyone is actually going to follow through with the "I'll deal with it later" self afflicted con-job.

What is the expected outcome of never preventing overeating and always thinking about what to do after overeating?

Most will tell you the expected outcome is successful weight loss.


We are crazy about overeating, even when we know better.

Like I've said before in previous ramblings, the current consensus is that decisions surrounding eating are largely bound to seeking gratification.  Not just any gratification, but the kind that has greatest power to amputate our better judgment.

Instant gratification.

This is ultimately what the 5% of the population are tapping into when they successfully lose weight and keep it off; understand the source of instant gratification and doing something about it.

They modify their behaviors and feelings about food and eating to such an extent that they no longer fall prey to their self-generated compulsion to overeat.  Indeed the compulsion itself is greatly diminished down to a realistically manageable state.

Everyone who loses fat does it the same way.  They consume fewer calories than expended.

The 5% who keep it off do so not by short term dietary and exercise habit changes, but rather over very long periods of lifestyle management.

The success is in realizing that overeating is just not worth the trouble.

We can all follow the habits of the the study subjects in the National Weight Control Registry.

If we did we would all permanently lose weight and keep it off.  It's the "permanently" part that get most people (95%), as within mere weeks of implementing these proven habits, most people will feel like they are missing their doses of instant gratification.  Most will feel compelled to fall back into the habits and social practices that promote and celebrate overeating.

When you surly love overeating there is nothing in the world that will break that love.

Wait..  There is one thing.  It's the relationship killer.


No, I'm not talking about "cheat days" where you overindulge to cool your heals during a diet phase.

I'm talking about your love partner cheating on you.  I'm talking about overeating stabbing you in the arteries while making love to your tastebuds and that part of the brain that allows you interpret the sensation of "wow, this is really good".

I'm talking about the epiphany the 5% get when they realize that the way they are living is not really making things better, but worse.

The hardest part about changing to healthy living habits is letting go the reward association with overeating and inactivity and making new reward associations with healthy eating and exercise.

If you don't fall for healthy living like falling in love you will forever be chained to the old relationship. The abusive relationship where you beg for those few moments of feeling good only to be burdened with lethargy, weight gain, and health issues surrounding unhealthy living.

Call me preachy if you like.  I'm just telling it like it is and have no intentions of being a lifestyle judge and jury or diet zealot / guru.

I only write what I feel and what I have learned through reading research.  My delivery is what it is.

Implement what I say though and you won't be doing what I say, but rather doing what research suggests we can do to escape one of the greatest societal plagues ever: the love and celebration of chronic overeating.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Everything you need to know about not getting a cold

In general living healthy; healthy eating, regular exercise, and good quality sleep, can..

Reduce the number of colds per year by 40%

Reduce the intensity of symptoms by 40%

Reduce the duration of a cold by 40%

The number one transmission of the cold virus into the body is touching your eye with your finger after touching a surface with a cold virus on it.

#2 is touching your nose

#3 is touching your mouth

A cold virus can stay alive on a surface such as a door knob 24 hours.

You can also inhale a cold virus.

When a person with a cold speaks they spray an approximate 1 meter (3 foot) cloud of water vapour that contains aerated cold virus.  You can't see it or feel it, but you can breath it in and introduce the cold virus to your body.

Here's a nice thought, especially for the germaphobes out there..

If a person with a cold coughs or sneezes in a hallway, they'll leave behind a cloud of aerated cold virus that lasts for a minute or so.  You could walk into an otherwise empty hallway, save for the virus cloud, and breath it in.  You now have a cold.

Or do you?

Maybe, your timing has to be right and if you do suck in a bit of rhino-virus (no relation to me), whether you develop symptoms or not depends on how robust your immune system is.

People who "don't get colds" actually do get colds.  Their immune systems are strong enough that the cold virus is defeated before cold symptoms arise.

The healthy living strategy does not prevent cold viruses from entering your body, rather living healthy makes you into a cold virus killer.  A ninja killer, because you make antibodies swiftly and silently in the background without you knowing that you're waging a virucidal war inside your body.

The hygiene strategy does reduce the chance of "catching" a cold. Washing hands, avoiding touching your face, and staying away from others when infected prevent cold virus transmission.

Once you have a cold there is little you can do to change the course of the cold.  Taking vitamin C, or any vitamin, drinking hot lemon juice, changing your diet, doing a magic dance that appeals to the cold gods, or doing nothing, are each likely to yield the same result: your cold will end within 5 to 10 days.

There is conflicting evidence for whether or not the popular supplement echinacea works for cold prevention, but one thing is for sure; those who sell echinacea swear it works.

Of course the longer you wait to implement any folklore cold remedy the greater the chance your cold will end sooner, as by that time your immune system would have defeated the cold anyway.

High stress levels are known to suppress the immune system so working on keeping stress levels low will help protect you from developing colds.  Regular exercise and good sleep are two of the most potent stress reducers.

For the record I haven't had a cold in over 4 years.  Whoops.. I mean I haven't had cold symptoms in over 4 years.. I've most likely had several colds but my antibodies went Chuck Norris on the evil cold virus before symptoms developed.  I used to get two colds a year; one in the early winter and one around spring time.  They lasted a few days to a week.

Four years ago I tuned up my nutrition using making sure that I met 100% of all my nutrient needs from food every day (no supplements other than vitamin D).  I also put more emphasis on getting to bed at about the same time most nights and getting good quality sleep.  My exercise was already there, although I did reduce the amount of times I did prolonged high intensity training.

Is it a coincidence that I have had no colds since I made these healthy living changes?  I don't think so.  I read the research, implemented the recommendations, and got the result.  Will I be cold-free forever?  I don't have that expectation but I can vouch for what our white-coat researchers keep telling us to do.

Since it's unlikely that we'll be able to completely avoid being exposed to cold viruses the best strategy is bolstering your immune system through healthy living so when you are exposed your inner ninja's can cut down viral invaders before you feel symptoms.  I'm not saying we should give up on the hand washing thing, we shouldn't, but at some point a cold virus is going to get in us unless we live in bubble wrap, so it's best to be ready.

One last thing.. being out in cold weather does not cause colds, only transmission of cold virus into the body causes colds.

A randomized controlled trial of the effect of flui... [Am J Med. 1999] - PubMed - NCBI

Echinacea purpurea for prevention of experim... [Clin Infect Dis. 2004] - PubMed - NCBI

Echinacea in the prevention of induced rhinovirus ... [Clin Ther. 2006] - PubMed - NCBI

Treatment of the common cold with unrefined e... [Ann Intern Med. 2002] - PubMed - NCBI

Ineffectiveness of echinacea for... [Antimicrob Agents Chemother. 2000] - PubMed - NCBI

Vitamin C for preventing and trea... [Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2004] - PubMed - NCBI

Upper respiratory tract infection is reduced in physically fit and active adults -- Nieman et al. -- British Journal of Sports Medicine

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Junk food - healthy food cost/ tax comparison

A quick follow up on my piece on the Ontario Medical Association trumpeting their bold and supposedly new recommendations on curbing obesity by reducing tax on healthy food and increasing tax on unhealthy food.

I went to a grocery store, bought some junk food and some healthy food, and compared the receipts..

WTF?  Something must be wrong with the receipt printer..  The damn thing shows NO TAX on the healthy food.  This can't be.  The Ontario Medical Association is having a hay-day in the media talking about their egalitarian concept to save Canada's overweight population by reducing tax on healthy food.

I didn't pay any tax on this healthy food.  How does a tax get less than zero?  I did pay tax on the junk food though, and the junk food was a buck more when compared to a similar number of servings of healthy food.  yes you read that right.. the junk food cost more than the healthy food.

Do the doctors at OMA ever go shopping for food?

Did they actually check what foods are currently taxed and which are not before winding up their boisterous media blitz?

No?  Whoops, minor oversight there.

As usual I do the heavy lifting and uncover the uncomfortable truth that nobody else does.

Actually I did a simple Google search; food tax Canada, and, looked at my grocery receipt.

This is not difficult to figure out, but, as usual, political hyperbole and media sensationalism distract people from the reality right in front of our faces.  More entertaining to pay attention to the dancing bear than look at actual facts.

This link will show you all the foods that are and are not taxed in Ontario. All the provinces have near identical lists for provincial taxes, as does the country as a whole for GST and HST.

I really want Canadians to eat less and change their social norms so that healthy eating is embraced instead of scoffed at.  I wouldn't mind seeing some of our tax dollars being put to good use with useful initiatives to help reduce and prevent the ever growing number of Canadians that are overeating their way to obesity and the ensuing health problems that hurt them.

I'm not going to hold my breath..

Back to reality..

Some research suggests that 10% tax on junk food can reduce purchases of junk food.

Of course, I have a serious problem with this research as most healthy food has long been cheaper, or at least competitively priced with junk food, yet most of our population choose junk food over healthy food much of the time.

Take a look at the receipts I've posted here.  The 1 L of pop was $1.34 and the 1 L of skim milk 1.49.  That's an insignificant difference.  The pop was on sale so I payed $1.00 for it plus 12 cents tax. Still an insignificant difference.

What would the price look like with another 15% tax (30% total tax).. a doubling of the current tax?

Instead of paying $4.75 for a bag of chips and a pop I would have had to pay $5.49, 74 cents more.

I don't eat junk food (I gave away my junk food to an all too eager taker) so I don't care how much it costs.  But for those who love their chips and pop I think most will find a way to pay an extra 10% or 15% over what they're paying now.

People overeat because they enjoy it, not because healthy choices are more expensive. "I'm going back for seconds on triple cheese pizza because broccoli is expensive."  Nope, doesn't happen. You go back for seconds because it tastes so damn good you want more.  That's the way that works.  Good research shows that overeating fatty, sugary, salty food alters appetite regulation causing increased hunger and decreased satiety.  The more you eat, the more your appetite regulation adapts to eating more.

And because of how our brain organizes memories of rewarding experiences, when we're hungry again we're likely to remember that we like pizza, so that is what we seek.  These foods stimulate an above  normal excitation of reward centres in the brain.  That's why we perceive them as tasting extra good compared to a great tasting apple.  Apple tastes great, but doesn't put reward perception into overdrive.

This is one of the strongest drivers of seeking out these foods.  People are not strongly compelled to buy junk food because it's cheaper.  People seek it out because of altered appetite and reward seeking regulation, a side effect of consuming these foods.  Not to mention the fact that socially, junk food is more respected than healthy food.

This isn't about changes taxes, it's about changing behavior, and moving away from perceiving junk food as better than healthy food.

The whole add new tax to junk food thing is BS, top to bottom anyway, since it's already taxed.

So as far as the grocery store is concerned, which is where most Canadians will be spending most of their food budget, healthy food already has no tax and is cheaper than junk food which is taxed.

What about restaurants and delicatessens?  Selfishly I would like to pay no tax on deli salads, where I and everyone else currently pays GST and PST on every menu item.

Because there is tax on healthy restaurant foods there exists the potential to mess with taxes here, but I'm still not completely sold on the idea that a fat tax or healthy = no-tax is going to be a reasonable primary strategy in the reversal of obesity in Canada.

The Ontario Medical Association seems to be aloof in placing at the top of their list of anti fat commandments a fat tax and reduced tax on healthy food for the obvious reasons I've already stated.

You know, why don't we just ignore the commandments from on high and start eating less.  We'll feel much better dropping a few pounds.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Ontario doctors waging war on fat

The Ontario Medical Association is taking off the gloves, and shoes, in recommending a multifaceted attack on curbing the over-consumption of junk foods in an attempt to reproduce the success of the movement against smoking in the fight against obesity.

Here's an excerpt from the OMA's press release on the initiatives they recommend

  • Increasing taxes on junk food and decreasing tax on healthy foods;
  •  Restricting marketing of fatty and sugary foods to children;
  • Placement of graphic warning labels on pop and other high calorie foods with little to no nutritional value;
  • Retail displays of high-sugar, high-fat foods to have information prominently placed advising consumer of the health risks; and
  •  Restricting the availability of sugary, low-nutritional value foods in sports and other recreational facilities that are frequented by young people.
The recommendations put forward today build on the actions Ontario’s doctors have already called for including:
  • Legislation that would require calorie contents to be listed adjacent to the items on menus  and menu boards at chain restaurants and school cafeterias;
  • An education campaign to help inform Ontarian's about the impact of caloric intake on weight and obesity; and
  • Making physical activity/education mandatory throughout high school.

Of course I'm all for actions that can help reverse and prevent obesity.  I think this hit 'em from all sides initiative is a good idea.  

If you sense a "but" coming, your intuition is impeccable. 

First, I agree with the marketing, calories on menus, education, and physical activity ideas presented by the OMA.

I'm not 100% sold on the increased tax on junk food and decreased tax on healthy foods, but not because the concept lacks academic validity, rather because it isn't as practical or as potent as it seems. 

You all know I love researchers and doctors.  I love those who have true altruistic motivation to do good for humanity.

I have a bit of a problem though, with impractical idealism's that may sound intuitively good at first wash, but once you get the shine off and get down to the wood you may find a few knots and maybe even a bit of rot.

There is currently no tax on most basic groceries, including fruits and veggies, in Canada.  

Maybe the Ontario Medical Association would benefit from reading about food product taxation in the province of Ontario.. 

Some of the foods not taxed in Ontario (identical for the rest of Canada)

Vitamins and minerals

Some of the foods that are taxed

Alcohol (not really a food..)
Chewing gum
Ice cream
Snack food (like potato chips) 

Um.. zero tax on healthy food, and tax on junk food.  Am I missing something here?

Junk food is already taxed and is already significantly more expensive than healthy food.

A grapefruit will cost you around $2.80/ kg with no tax, and a bag of potato chips will cost $9.80/ kg plus tax.

It is an urban myth that people buy junk food over healthy food because junk food is cheaper.  People buy junk food because they like it more.

Read my post where I did a grocery store price comparison of healthy food vs junk food:

You buy a banana, orange, or apple from a grocery store and you're out of there for under 50 cents, no tax.  Tell me what junk food you can buy for 50 cents.  Exactly.  People aren't buying oranges at the same rate as they're buying potato chips because people want the potato chips more, even though a bag of chips is a few dollars and an orange is bought with nickels and dimes.  People will pay more for what they want. Significantly more.

How many times have I bit my lip in a grocery store line up witnessing a person on a very tight budget put back the healthy items and keep the pop and chips to stay within their spending ability?  Too many times.  I've seen down on their luck mothers with kids in tow put back milk and keep the pop.  I'm not talking about putting back $5.00 worth of milk and keeping $2.00 worth of pop and chips, I'm saying there are many that, in spite of their tight budget will opt to favor displacing $5.00 of milk in favor of $6.00 of chips and pop.

It isn't as though most people are complaining about how they can't afford healthy food; it's that most people complain that they don't prefer healthy food as much as they prefer unhealthy food.  Remember, healthy food is already cheaper than junk food.  People preferentially buy unhealthy food because they like it more.

When I was a smoker and hurting for cash and managed to make a few extra bucks I didn't think, "wow, now I can buy some broccoli".  Nope.  I thought, "Players Special Blend, king size". The smokes were a reward, a treat, much more so than healthy eating.  I wasn't the only nicotine fiend making the same delusional decision.

This is reality.  This is what happens right now and has been happening for decades.  Many low income people smoke.  In fact smoking decreases as income increases.  For many adding more tax to cigaretts and junk food would result in even less of their income going towards healthy choices as many will put aside the healthy choices in favor of the more appealing unhealthy choices.  We need to help people change their reward associations so healthy choices feel intrinsically more appealing than unhealthy choices, and cost alone wont make this happen, and wont have as much of an influence as other more socially and emotionally compelling reasons will.

So if healthy food is already significantly cheaper than junk food and has zero tax, what's the point of raising tax on junk food, and how can you reduce tax on something that already has zero tax?  How about a tax refund for making healthy choices?

Although currently more expensive, maybe junk food isn't yet prohibitively expensive.  Maybe that's what they are thinking.   There is some research showing that tax on unhealthy food reduces spending on the taxed food, and that making healthy food cheaper increases the sales of healthy foods.

A fat tax might change the current public perception that healthy food is more expensive than junk food.  People may be buying junk food because it tastes good and is perceived as being a bargin.  Bring in a fat tax and advertise it and people may be more fiscally motivated to spend their cash on cheaper, healthier food.  Maybe, but I would think the first reaction would be simply paying more for chips and donuts because the lowly orange isn't currently perceived as all that appealing. 

There is also research showing that the more overweight you are, the less influenced you will be by the increased price of unhealthy foods.  The less overweight you are the more likely you will choose healthy foods when healthy foods are made cheaper and unhealthy foods more expensive.  This may help in preventing obesity, but it appears that once you're overweight the habit of overeating compels you spend more on what you've habitually come to feel satisfied with.

Has a national fat tax been done anywhere?  Yes, in 2011 Denmark implemented a fat tax.  Is it having an affect?  Yes, people are shopping for cheaper junk food in adjacent countries with cross-border shopping.  Denmark is now considering repealing the fat tax.

The question I have; is a fat tax likely to be a major player in reducing obesity amongst Canadians?  It will be, if the tax is so high that junk food simply costs far too much forcing people to make a decision that isn't necessarily out of careful contemplation but rather through punitive big brother influence.  That's a bit Orwellian. 

I may be jumping the gun there with suggesting that we're all smart enough to make our own correct, self preserving decisions where our health is concerned.  It doesn't appear as though this is the case.  If it were we wouldn't see an obesity epidemic. We wouldn't see the vast majority of the population wilfully living in a way that causes them to develop all the unhealthy outcomes known to be associated with being overweight.  I mean, how much sense does it make to eat ourselves into heart disease? So maybe we do need the government to tell us what to do. 

Or maybe it isn't as simple as someone telling you what to do.  Maybe once you start overeating it's hard to stop because of hormonal changes and habituated behaviors.

What is the real driver for buying junk food?

How about because it tastes good?  How about because eating unhealthy is an indoctrinated social norm?

There is still a lot of work to do on smoking.  The reason for smoking being on the way out is because of the multi-pronged approach of increased taxes, reduced advertising, education, and of course the change in how smoking is depicted in entertainment media. Except for period specific shows like Mad Men, modern depictions of smokers in movies is that of the evil character or a duffus.  Was it mainly the high taxes, or was it a change in social acceptance that provoked smokers to quit and potential new smokers not to start?

When I smoked the cost was not an issue. Sure, it was an expensive habit but my interpretation of the value of smoking was such that I justified the cost.  Out of all the X-smokers that I've spoken to, very few say they quit because it was costing too much.  Nobody has told me they quit because of the pictures on the packages, but I'm sure at least a few have.

Most quit because they came to realize that smoking wasn't a very smart thing to do, what with the self inflicted harm and all.

Smoking is now viewed as a turn off.  It stinks, it's messy, and has a "I'm not too bright, and I'm indignant towards you and your "fresh air"" stigma attached to it.  Smokers aren't cool anymore, they're a bit of a social scourge who's haplessness is often forgiven because we understand the burden of addiction. 

The habit of overeating still enjoys social support.  You have a box of donuts and you're everyone's friend.  Try that with a box of cigarettes. Or a box of carrots.  You'll get a few takers for the smokes and carrots, but you'll get a mob line up for the donuts.  Chips and donuts; we've bought in, and bought in like Bernie Madoff customers.. the deal is too good to be true, but the reward of overeating is more appealing than the health bankruptcy it will cause, so we make friends with Bernie.

Like smoking, maybe overeating needs a long time to be recognized as the health hammering waste of chewing that it is.  Maybe we do need these tax initiatives that we initially balk at but over time people will relent to the cost and the public awareness campaign.

Or maybe the tax bit is the lesser of influences and change in public perception through awareness campaigns and reduced images of and reduced support of celebrating overeating will be the winner.

I would think that less advertising of high calorie foods and more public awareness of letting people know that eating a 10 oz steak is about as smart as wanting to develop type II diabetes, would have more affect than taxing junk food (which is already taxed).

I understand the reasons for a fat tax, but this isn't the first place I'd go.  I think it's a tax grab, and not very well thought out.  It's worth mentioning again that healthy food has had zero tax for decades, and junk food has been taxed for decades.  Obesity has increased every year for decades despite zero tax on healthy foods, and tax on junk foods.  How is this a new idea, and why do people think it will work? 

We eat too much, and have put far too much social and personal acceptance into celebrating and self gratifying via eating too much.  We need a big slap in the face.  Will the OMA's plan be the slap we need?

Maybe.  I know a lot of people will jump on board with feelings of social superiority and will happily retail the idea that fat taxes and pictures of diseased bodies on bags of chips is the obvious answer, but these people wont be thinking of the person on a fixed income who already puts back the milk so they can drink pop, or the low income smoker who already chooses to pay for the death darts instead of healthy food.

I like the fact the Ontario Medical Association is getting a lot of traction in the press with this issue only in that it gets people talking about how we eat too much junk food and aught to do something about it.  I don't like the fact that the OMA didn't do their homework before presenting their ideas.

Maybe merely threatening a fat tax is the OMA's savvy strategy to get people thinking about and discussing the larger issue, and they don't actually want a fat tax. That's a huge stretch though and I'm giving the OMA too much credit for being so wise.  No, the OMA is most likely as it appears to be on this issue; hapless meddlers using their platform to show everyone how heroic they think they are.  Too bad because you'd think educated physicians would get their facts straight before going public with something so important.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Why we fall for diet and exercise myths

Slow metabolism makes weight loss difficult, preventing many from losing weight

It's hard to get vitamins and minerals from food, we need pills

To get fit, we need exercise that beats the hell out of us

Carbs make you fat

Let me demolish these four myths

The power and durability of the common urban myth is often greater than what the truth is.  While disassembling urban myths gives me personal short term gratification because it makes me feel like I'm making a difference in the world by conquering the dark side, the satisfaction I feel is undeserved because in reality I'm not making much of dent.. I'm up against something bigger than me.  Who, or what, is keeping these myths alive?

Is it big brother?  Big fast food?  A cult movement? Darth Vader?

Nope.  It's a 3 pound gelatinous mass that has infested 100% of humans, and we can't get rid of it.

The human brain.

Dum dum duuummm!  - that's dramatic music, not a slag against dumb brains.  Although that works too.

I have been told that my brain is up my um.. well you know where.   I'm not sure if this is a genetic trait or perhaps I have an advanced mutation that occurs in higher (or lower) thinking evolving humans.  Wherever the location, the brain is bit of a busybody recluse doing a heck of a lot of work behind the scenes, often to our detriment.

Don't believe me?  Ever tried finding your keys?  You would think your brain could remember this one simple value.   Even when you nail a key hook to the wall, there is no guarantee that your brain will remember that this is where keys go, and confoundingly, when keys are placed there, your brain won't remember putting them there.


Brain in denial. 

Myths play to our denials

Denial ; something we do when it's too hard to face reality. The brain is really, really good at denial.  In fact studies have shown that when we're presented with plane, easy to understand facts that refute our current beliefs our brains go into "FU" (False Understanding) mode and our belief in that which is clearly wrong is strengthened.

We humans can be somewhat stubborn when trying to get a grip on reality, and we have a lot of historical boondoggles to show for it.

It seems our natural instinct is to deny facts.  More facts?  Bring on more myths to support our denial.

"Cris, you should quit smoking".  Did I like hearing that?  My defence?

Get angry with the person (redirect away from subject of me smoking).

Make up some crap about them meddling with my life (redirect).

Claim that is hasn't hurt me so far (denial), that lot's of old people smoke and they're not dead yet (redirect/ denial of how it affects me personally).

Demonize the person delivering the message (so I could make it feel easier to discredit their quit smoking concerns).

Having been in denial of reality and a believer of some these myths myself I can say I know exactly where the myth believers are at.

If my writing style had the talent of brevity I might write something like, "You're all wrong.  Cut the crap and get real.  You'll be better off.".. I could make this would a one line blog entry.

I'm not so talented though so I make satirical references hoping that that my cro-mag humour will lull you into reading more of my stuff.

On with the myth busting..

Slow metabolism makes losing weight more difficult.

It's difficult to change our habits and eat less and exercise more to lose weight, but a slow metabolism isn't one of the things working against us; slow metabolism causing weight gain is a myth.

What's more work; walking up stairs carrying just yourself, or walking up stairs carrying 40 pounds of bricks?

Of course it could be 40 pounds of anything, but hey, bricks sound heavier.

The more we weigh the more energy we expend to move our bodies around.  Comparing our lean selves to our extra weight selves, the extra weight version will always expend more energy doing the same tasks.  Even sitting down relaxing is more energy intensive when we weigh more.

Our breathing muscles have to work harder to move the extra mass on our upper bodies to allow our ribs to expand to fill the lungs.  When resting metabolism is measured the heavier versions of ourselves will always burn more calories at rest than the leaner version.

Resting metabolism increases as body fat increases, the exact opposite of the myth that suggests weight gain slows metabolism.

"Whoa, whoa there Cris.  OK fine, calories in calories out.. whatever.  You can't seriously be in denial of true health disorders that actually do reduce metabolism can you?

Ever heard of hypothyroidism? Look who's in denial now!

Gotcha Cris!"

I put that in here because I've actually had people say those words to me.

Here's an excerpt from the American Thyroid Associations brochure on Thyroid and Weight

"In general, 5-10 pounds of body weight may be attributable to the thyroid,
depending on the severity of the hypothyroidism. Finally, if weight gain
is the only symptom of hypothyroidism that is
present, it is less likely that the weight gain is
solely due to the thyroid."

Hypothyroidism does not cause excess fat gain.  Most of the weight gain that occurs with hypothyroidism is water mass. If a persons primary complaint is excess weight gain, Hypothyroidism will not be a suspect for the weight gain, even if Hypothyroidism is diagnosed.  Eating too much and not enough physical activity will be suspect.

Here are the facts for all to deny..

[Obesity and hypothyroidism: myth or reality?]. [Rev Med Suisse. 2007] - PubMed - NCBI

Weight loss after therapy of hypothy... [J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2011] - PubMed - NCBI

The only way to gain excess body fat is to eat too much, hypothyroidism alone cannot cause extra fat to accumulate in the human body.. that is in fact, an urban myth, a myth to support the denial of overeating.  This myth drives peoples creativity to generate other myths, such as believing there are special foods or food combinations that will speed up metabolism, or special exercise routines that increase metabolism after exercise.  Admitting to ourselves and others that we eat too much can feel bad, so we deny we eat too much.

If our daily energy expenditure reduces, we need to eat less to match the reduced energy expenditure.  Hypothyroidism can make people feel tired and less likely to be active. Less activity means fewer calories expended.  If a person develops hypothyroidism and becomes less active, but doesn't eat less to compensate, fat gain will occur from eating more calories than expended.

Only about 4 to 5% of the population has hypothyroidism so thyroid problems can't be the main driver for 60 to 70% of the population being overweight.  But due to the pervasiveness of the thyroid and metabolism myth, many people will self-diagnose themselves as having some kind of metabolism challenge as the root cause of their weight gain.  When facts are presented showing that this is really not the case, many can feel like they're being attacked and dismissed . What's really happening is their brains are refusing the new information, they're in denial, and they want to stay in denial by perceiving others as picking on them.

I'm not talking about the unacceptable nonsense of teasing someone because they are overweight or skinny for that matter.  I'm talking about straight talk about why we eat too much.  I wish the social stigma of overeating wasn't so strong, that would make it feel more comfortable talking about a problem that affects so many of us.

Here's a study that revealed why diet resistant people were not losing weight.

Discrepancy between self-reported and actual ca... [N Engl J Med. 1992] - PubMed - NCBI

The study examined obese people who "perceived a genetic cause for their obesity, used thyroid medication at a high frequency, and described their eating behaviour as relatively normal." However the researchers revealed these study subjects underreported their food intake by 47% and over-reported physical activity by 51%.

Study conclusions: The failure of some obese subjects to lose weight while eating a diet they report as low in calories is due to an energy intake substantially higher than reported and an overestimation of physical activity, not to an abnormality in thermogenesis.

They ate too much and didn't exercise enough and were in denial of this reality, to support this denial they bought into the myth of a genetic problem causing slow metabolism, causing weight gain. It's a difficult place to be.  Difficult to talk about openly.  That's one of the principal assets of denial; it's a protective mechanism that allows us not to face an uncomfortable truth.

That's how myths survive.  Myths play to our denials and play up our unrealistic hopes.  Diet and exercise myths tell us that eating too much didn't cause our weight gain.  Myths tell us to engage in crazy short term exercise plans because long term plans feel too daunting and we don't want to face that reality.  Long term exercise plans are actually not daunting but in reality are continually rewarding and liberating as we continue to increase fitness long term.

Hard to get vitamins and minerals from food

Here's a nutrient profile from a day of my own eating.

Here's what I ate

I actually ate a little more than this.  I ate a banana, some dried figs and apricots, and a homemade chocolate muffin.  The reason I didn't include these in the above analyses is I wanted to show that you can get all the vitamins and minerals you need in a day by eating fewer than 2000 calories in a day.  Most people wanting to lose weight will need their daily caloric intake to be between 1500 and 2500 calories, depending on their weight and activity level.  It's important to eat healthy nutrient dense foods, especially when reducing calories to lose weight.  Less food means chance to get the nutrients you need.

I am not at all saying that people have to eat what I ate here.  I'm simply demonstrating that we can get all the vitamins and minerals we need from food we buy at the grocery store.  The food I ate here requires minimal prep time, which addresses another myth; eating healthy takes too much time.

There are many ways to change up the variety of foods to get the same or better nutrient profile.

It took me 10 minutes to enter the foods I ate into eatracker, a free online diet analyses tool.  It took me longer the first time, but I've got the hang of it now.

Vitamin D is the exception here.  Research shows that people living above the 49th parallel most likely need daily Vitamin D3 supplements.  

 To get fit, we need exercise that beats the hell out of us

This myth comes from many places, one of the more common is from athletics.  No doubt; we can't develop peak athletic ability without pushing hard, really hard.  This leads many to jump the gun and superimpose elite athlete training onto those with little or no developmental training.

To gain performance we need to push hard, but only when we're trained enough to handle it otherwise injury and overtraining occur.

Not everyone is into trying to develop performance.  Why then are the majority of fitness programs based on killer gut busting workouts?  Because that's what sells.  It's a good business model.

Many believe in the myth that you have to exercise really hard and feel really sore to get a worthy workout.  Why not sell people what they believe they want?  This keeps the myth going.

The truth is productive exercise is moderate to easy most of the time, only reserving the more challenging workouts for when we're durable enough to do hard work, or when we're recovered enough from our last hard effort.

Healthy productive exercise takes time and a gradual progression.  Since we want results yesterday, we create myths telling of fast results from "advanced" workouts.  These myths support our denial of the fact that it takes months and years to get fit, not days or weeks.

Here are a few blog entries on the subject

Young athletes forced to train too much

Runners get injured, then incur another injury before healed

Too much too soon injures pro's and 1st timers alike

Carbs make you fat

Do people ever love this myth.  It serves many purposes.  Allows us to believe that we didn't overeat to gain weight, it's those damn carbs. It allows us to make double bacon and egg sandwiches and laugh at those "nuts" eating veggies.  News flash.. only eating too much causes weight gain.  It doesn't matter if its carbs, fat, or protein.

Cut the high fructose corn syrup, pop, and high sugar snacks?  You bet, but don't toss the whole grains, fruits, veggies, beans, legumes, and potatoes.

If you cut out most of your carbs, What does that mean? No really, what is that?  Well if your daily carb rich muffin has 300 calories in it, and your daily white bread daily has another 300 calories, and that serving of rice, pasta, or potato each have 200 calories, and you're cutting all that out you're.. wait for it..

Cutting hundreds of calories per day!

Let's take a look at a typical low carb diet day..

These meals were taken off a "low carb" recipe web site. Although this day of food intake is a few hundred calories more than my own intake detailed above, it doesn't deliver all the vitamins and minerals that mine did, it comes up short on meeting daily needs.  That's what happens when you cut out or dramatically reduce carbohydrate sources; you drop a primary source of vital nutrients.  As expected though, the nutrients found in meats and fish are in abundance. Don't be going into denial and say, "look at those five nutrients! They're off the chart!  Low carb must be good."  This warped perspective is expected though, based on what we know about our ability to deny objective facts so we can sustain our current beliefs.

Sure, 5 nutrients are delivered in spades, but 8 come up short.  We will choose to deny the significance of over half of our nutrients needs not being met by focusing on information that supports our denial.

What I found most interesting is that the website I took these recipes from claimed that each day of meals delivered fewer than 20 grams of carbs per day, as 20 grams of carbs per day is supposedly the magic number for carb intake.  When analyzed though, the actual amount of carbs is double what is claimed.  Should I be surprised that a website supporting a myth based diet has incorrect data on it?

Typically low carb diets emphasize fats and proteins.  Interestingly a person would have a better chance of losing weight eating my diet compared to the low carb diet as mine had fewer calories.

My carb sources were whole grains, fruits, and veggies.  No refined sugars except what occurs in the multigrain bread, but this is insignificant.

Low carb extremists have become slightly more savvy since the typical low carb diet has been publicly eviscerated and its nutrient deprived profile revealed for all to see.  The modern low carb diet has more veggies and more carbs in it than the traditional (but still popular) variant I've used here.

So what does that mean?  Does that mean after decades of the validity of the low carb diet being hammered by the facts, the low carb'ers finally started to see past the myth and thus alter the low carb diet by what..  Increasing carbs via more veggies, grains, and fruits?  Say it ain't so.  Give it a couple more decades of maturing and the low carb diet will evolve into a normal diet.

The basic slight of hand (or mouth) scam of the low carb diet is diverting your attention from calories in/ out and focussing on carbohydrates.  In reality you're cutting calories. 

If you cut out hundreds of calories daily you're going to lose weight so long as you eat fewer calories than you expend.

The low carb restrictive diet isn't sustainable. The science shows that most people eventually gravitate back to eating the way they did before and gain back all the weight they lost plus more.

So if the low carb thing is a myth, why do so many fall for it?  Why do people keep smoking?  Why do people buy snake oil?  Why do smart people make dumb decisions?

It's the brain!  Blame it on the brain.  Once we humans believe something, it's near impossible, despite good evidence, to change that belief.  Our brains also get used to reward seeking patterns and if our brain knows we're going to feel rewarded from high doses of fat, salt, and sugar, then that is what we will crave.

If we've developed a habit, it can be very hard to quit because our brains are wired to keep it up, even if it's bad for us.  So is this denial as well?  It's not me, it's my brain?  Sure, this could definitely be used as an excuse to not change.. but it is our brain, and ultimately we can make efforts that do make for long term positive outcomes

Eating less and exercising are not actually all that difficult.  What is difficult is overcoming our prejudice, being myopic, old habits, wired in reward seeking, and our denial of reality.

I've repeated bad habits enough that they became wired in my brain; smoking, overeating, and exercising too much.  I also practiced not doing these things, and making better choices.  And like the stats suggest, I failed many times before I succeeded, but I did succeed and so have many others. It can be done.

That's the great thing about the brain, neuroplasticity is an adaptive asset of the brain.  It can change.  In fact the brain is just as good at changing as it is at maintaining the status quo.  All it needs is consistency  with the new thoughts and practices and it will change, we will change.  Living healthy can and does feel like a relief from living by these crazy urban myths.