Cris LaBossiere

Cris LaBossiere
Strength training and mountain biking. My two favorites

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Obesity myths busted: really?

A report in the New England Journal of Medicine is getting a lot of press mainly because of it's refutal of a purported myth about sex and calorie burning.  Sex works good for headlines and attention grabbing.

I'll bust the so called myth busting.  The report is partially almost accurate in a sort-of-maybe way.

I don't know what the intention of the report was, but most of the conclusions it draws are contrived and not evidence based.  Which is a rather pathetic irony since the study authors are fairly boisterous about presenting their report as being a myth buster pointing out common myths about weight loss and weight gain.

The report identifies "7 obesity-related myths":

Small changes in exercise or food consumption will add up over time resulting in weight loss.

They challenge the idea that if someone burns 100 calories in a day that over 35 days they will lose a pound of fat, apparently debunking the "myth" that 3500 calories equates to a pound of fat.

It is true that, in isolation, if someone were to eat 100 calories less or burn off 100 calories more every day that no actual weight change may occur.  A person might even gain weight.

Here's how the reports take on this is sneaky..

The reality is a significant caloric deficit is required to lose fat.  Nothing else can cause fat loss.

Will eating 100 calories per day less do this?  Not if a person is overeating by 300 calories per day and they cut back by 100.  They'd still be overeating by 200 calories per day.

Pretty sneaky.  Because this is true, these researchers can make the claim that a small reduction in calories added up over time wont cause weight loss.


They also make the point that if you do reduce calories in - out so you do have a long period of caloric deficit and you do lose weight, the rate of weight loss will eventually level out because when you weigh less your caloric needs are less so what was a calorie deficit when you were heavier is no longer a calorie deficit at a lighter weight.

Therefore, these researchers say, it is a myth that sustained caloric deficits cause sustained weight loss.

You know that feeling when someone says something that is a flat out lie, but at the moment you can't say anything about it, and you feel that stressed, anxious feeling in your gut?  You want to expose the liar, but you can't?

Thats what I feel when I'm typing out what these researchers reasoning is. I hate that feeling.  Fortunately I can say something about this flat out, and utterly bizarre lie.

First, a person who is losing weight consuming fewer calories than expended is obviously successfully losing weight.  There is no myth here.

Second, if by the time what amounted to a deficit now becomes equal calories in - out the person still needs to lose weight, the obvious course of action is to eat less or exercise more to create a caloric deficit again.

For example, if a person weighed 250 lb. and with their daily activity needed 2500 calories per day to maintain their weight, eating 2000 to 2300 calories per day would provide a reasonable caloric deficit and they would lose weight.

Once they lost around 20 lb. though, they would have less mass to push around for the day so their calories needed to maintain weight would no longer be the same as when they weighed 250 lb.

The 2000 - 2300 calories per day would need to be adjusted to account for the weight loss, if more weight loss was needed.  1800 calories per day might be the new daily intake they need.

Here's the reality check that this report failed bring to readers attention:

It's already known that a persons mass, how much they weigh, is a primary variable in figuring out how much food energy they need to consume.  Obviously if someone weighs less the daily needs value for a previous heavier weight would no longer apply.  We know this.  There is no myth here.

The only grain of truth is that it is unrealistic to expect dropping 20 calories from your daily intake is going to add up to any significant weight loss.  Don't be thinking that not putting a spoonful of sugar in your coffee is going to translate into real weight loss over time.. it wont.  The amount is too small.  The normal variability of how much we eat and move in a day is far greater than 20 calories, so we can't add up small calorie changes over time.

Myth about myth, busted.

Establishment of realistic weight goals

Apparently because they found two studies where some people lost weight with aggressive weight loss goals, that somehow nullifies all those who have successfully lost weight with smaller more achievable goals.

The reality is that for most people, small, moderately challenging goals over longer periods result in greater long term success than trying rapid weight loss.

For the majority of people smaller goals, like losing 5 - 6 pounds every month or two provides a better result that trying for 2 pounds every week.

It's great that some can have success with a more aggressive approach and if someone has the personality type that can do this, that's great, but more people lose weight successfully more slowly over longer periods.

Myth of myth, busted.

Weight loss readiness 

If people have been thinking about weight loss for a long time but never acted on it, but then reached a state where they felt motivated to act on losing weight, their "readiness" does not guarantee success in weight loss.

No, it isn't a guarantee of success, it's a guarantee of a start.

This one is so twisted.  It doesn't even make sense.  I really have to wonder what is on these researchers minds to even say what they said about this.  It's non sequitur.

There is no claim that state of readiness guarantees weight loss success, so it can't be claimed that this is a myth.

 If a person feels ready to start losing weight on their own or to seek help in doing so, they should.


Phys-ed classes in school wont cause weight loss.. they're too short and the intensity is too low

This doesn't sound like myth busting.  This sounds like pointing out a problem with not exercising enough.  Also, it doesn't matter how much kids exercise in phys-ed class, if any person, child or adult, eats more than they burn off, weight loss will not occur.  So if 400 calories is burned off in Phys - ed but a 1000 fast food lunch is consumed making for a calorie surplus for the day, the Phys - ed class wont have an obesity preventative affect.  But this doesn't mean Phys -ed can't be part of the solution.

This one is almost agreeable.  We shouldn't believe that a gym class will resolve childhood obesity.

A more complete approach of teaching the values of healthy living choices including eating less and getting the right amount of exercise is the right idea.

It isn't really a myth that phys - ed can't work though.

Breast feeing prevents obesity

Ok, this is a myth.  Breastfeeding alone is too small a variable over a child's development to be a singular preventer of obesity.

Sex burns lots of calories

It depends.  The researchers cited old studies that measured intimacy lasting about six minutes. If that's your metric then, no, sex will not be a big calorie burner.

Even if the deed is done for longer periods, on average the total calories burned during sex is not very high.

So this one is true, sex, on average, does not burn off a lot of calories,  but, I'm sure there are some exceptions..

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

One year of creatine supplementation: results




After one year of creatine supplementation I experienced no change in how I adapt to exercise.  My rate of gains in the gym and on the bike had no change.  That is, the gains that I made were the same as what I usually expect to see with the training I do.

I tried a loading phase of 20g a day for a week followed by a daily maintenance dose of 5g/ day of pure creatine monohydrate.  I always had a carb source when taking the creatine, much of the time grape juice.  I cycled about 12 weeks on and 4-6 weeks off the creatine.  I also tried a low dose long term loading phase 3-5g/ day for 10 weeks.

I tried pretty much every dosing regime I could find in the research.  Not that there are a lot of loading protocols, there are really only two primary strategies; lower dose loading phase over a longer period and a high dose over a shorter period, followed by a maintenance phase.  Maintenance phase is typically recommended to be between 3-6g per day.

I experienced no weight gain when I was on creatine, and no weight loss while cycling off creatine. I experienced no weight gain during the loading phase, where some research reports an approximate 1.5 - 3.5 pounds of water gain (creatine holds water with it in muscle cells).

I experienced no extra mass gain beyond what I would usually expect from strength training.

I experienced no added ability to do more repetitions, no increased power in a set, and no increase in the number of sets I could do before fatiguing. My sprint power on the bike did not improve beyond normal increases, nor did my ability to sustain short term power (30 to 90 seconds).

I'm not saying I trained and didn't get results, my performance did increase, but my rate of gain was unchanged from when I was not taking creatine.

I use a periodized strength training regime with repetition ranges 4-6, 8-12, and above 30.  I compete in mountain biking so building huge mass is not an objective, but I do train to offset muscle loss from endurance sport, and to have a small net gain in mass as well, as I've lost mass in the past few years.

A few years ago I became quite ill and was not able to train for a few months, I was entirely sedentary with most days spent lying down.  On my return to training my ability to train was low and took about a year to get back.  Over this time my thigh girth measurement reduced from 61 (24in) to 53 cm (21.5 in).  I also lost a couple centimetres off my biceps and chest (about 1 inch).

Before some readers take the view that I'm an endurance athlete and don't train for size, keep in mind that I lost mass due to atrophy from disuse, due to illness.  I want that mass back, and I train hard (smart hard, not just hard), to get it, but since I am an endurance athlete I can't afford to dedicate myself to a muscle hypertrophy program exclusively.  I expect to gain only 2 - 3 pounds of lean mass over a year of training, when considering that I have to train for mountain biking as well.

The original intent of creatine was not for mass gains, but rather for performance gains.  Creatine is meant to increase creatine stores in the muscle.  Creatine is used to generate energy rapidly for muscle contraction, over about an 8-15 second duration.

More creatine in the muscle theoretically would result in more energy production where shorts bursts of energy are required, such as in strength training or sprinting.  Despite creatine not being intended to enhance mass gains, some research has suggested it may produce this effect, and most gym goers have the belief that mass gain is a primary benefit of creatine supplementation.

There was a time in my past, about 13 years ago, where I did less bike riding and hit the gym with the intent on putting on mass.  Over 3 years I went from 180 lb at 6% body fat to 197 lb at 6% body fat.

I was still riding and doing some competing at the time, but I was tired of being the skinny cyclist and wanted some mass.  I put on nearly 20 lb of lean muscle mass. Things have a funny way of changing and I wanted to be the skinny cyclists again.  The bike bug returned and I went back down to 175 - 180 lb.

After being ill about 3 years ago my weight reduced to 162 lb.  Right now I'm at 165 lb at 8% body fat.

When I first started competing in cycling back in the 1980's I weighed about 160 lb.  I'm 6ft 2in.

I went to a Golds gym and asked a bodybuilder to help me get stronger and bigger muscles to help me sprint better.  The bodybuilder had never trained an endurance athlete before and was pretty excited to take a shot at it. He helped me go from 160 lb to 171 lb over about a year and half.  No supplements.

I have experience in gaining lean muscle successfully (no creatine), and I'm now training for mass again.  My mass gains with creatine are not any greater than without creatine.

This makes sense because not all research on creatine shows that every person responds with performance or mass gain.  I am clearly one who has no significant results.

I keep a detailed training log as well as a body measurements log with thigh, chest, calf, bicep, hip, and waist girth, as well as fat calipers skin folds and a high-end body fat scale.

For those who know me or have read my opinions on supplements you may be asking, 'Cris, why would you do creatine?'  Isn't it true that I'm always on about how there really isn't any good research that shows 100% conclusively that any of these sports performance supplements do anything at all? Yes, that is my opinion.  Actually it's not really an opinion, it's a research proven fact.

My main motivation to use creatine was so I could write about the experience.

I wanted to personalize what I wrote about creatine.

Going by the research, there really isn't any logical reason to believe that any of the so-called performance supplements are going to make a real significant gain in human performance.  With a couple exceptions.. creatine and caffeine.  Although far from a iron clad consensus, there are studies that show some people who take creatine or caffeine do exhibit a mild increase in sports and training performance.

The emphasis is, some people in some studies.  Not all people in all studies.  The reason why some people don't respond to creatine might be that their muscles already store maximal levels of creatine so supplementing creatine does not load any additional creatine into muscle cells.  There may be other genetic reasons that aren't understood yet.

It could be that some studies that showed gains failed to use a study method that controlled for natural response rates to exercise between individuals.  That is, some people respond to exercise to a greater degree than others and if this isn't considered some of the extra gains may be attributed to creatine when the gains were simply a natural response to training.

In studies that are not placebo controlled those on creatine may have a placebo response where they are expecting to feel more energetic when on creatine so this is how they behave.

Whatever the case, the take home here is that even with the two supplements that may contribute to performance, creatine and caffeine, neither may have any effect at all in you.

Nobody should expect to have miracle results from these pills or powders.  If your friend tells you they got great results, that doesn't mean you will, and it doesn't mean their results were from the supplements.

They may have simply become more motivated to train because they were excited about being on a pill that makes them perform so they put more effort into their training.

When I tell people creatine will most likely not work for them so don't bother, a common comeback is, "how do you know it doesn't work, have you tried it?"

I don't need to try creatine to know if it works or doesn't.  There is enough research showing the degree of response, if any, that can be expected from creatine. What's the possible practical outcome of taking creatine?  If you're a responder you may squeak out a few more repetitions than usual compared to when not using creatine.  You may extend the duration you can maintain short term high power output, perhaps by 5 to 10 seconds. If a person actually gets this result, that's pretty good; but few studies show this degree of response occurring, and no studies show this result occurring in all study subjects.

You will lose this extra performance once off creatine, but it's possible that after repeated cycles of creatine use a person may retain a degree of the benefit because the small extra training load resulted in a small permanent benefit.

A person is likely to increase performance in a competition to a greater extent with a good training taper, diligence with quality sleep and nutrition, and trigger point massage therapy, than they may achieve with creatine supplementation.  We know that recuperative sleep, good nutrition, and proper recovery increase performance in everyone, every time.  Creatine?  Maybe, maybe not, and the degree may not be that great.

Reporting research findings isn't enough for many though.  So now I can say, "yes, I tried creatine and I gave it an honest try, for one year, and it did nothing."

My post exercise nutrition is usually a 250 to 500 ml serving of 1% chocolate milk, sometimes with whey protein added so I can get about 25g of protein post workout.  Most of my protein comes from food, about 20-40 grams on some days come from pure unflavoured whey protein for convenience. I consume about 130 -140 grams of protein each day when training.

I'm now starting a caffeine study of one on myself.  I'll be following researched caffeine loading protocols that reported the greatest effect.  I will be taking caffeine pills since the research shows the pills have a better effect (if any) compared to consuming coffee or caffeinated beverages.

I don't drink coffee or anything caffeinated.  I don't agree with caffeine supplementation for sports performance.  As with creatine I want to report on my personal experience.  Caffeine and creatine are the two most popular, legal supplements that people use to improve their performance.  I want to see if they make a difference in me.  Maybe yes, maybe no. No for creatine.

Creatine did nothing for me.  Stay tuned for my report on caffeine.

Did I take the wrong creatine?  What about other types? How about buffered creatine?  There are no studies that show conclusively that creatine other than creatine monohydrate work any better than creatine monohydrate.

Should anyone use creatine?  I'm not sold on the idea.  I say train healthy with the right work to recovery ratio, sleep healthy, and eat healthy.  Stay consistant, and expect small gains over long periods that add up to large gains. That strategy will take you where you want to go, whatever level you're at.

Avoid dependancy on pills and promises, train healthy, eat healthy.

Here's some phone camera pics of me.. Sorry.. Some day I'll get some good high res pics. I expect to put on a few pounds over the next year.. I'll post those pics at that time.

I'm not a strength athlete so I'm not a huge guy, but I'm doing not so bad for an endurance athlete.  I'm 46 old.

International Center for Sports Nutrition PDF on creatine

Wikipedia creatine

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Donuts vs apples: which make you happier?

Study shows eating fruits and veggies every day makes you happier..

It's one of my favorite questions.   For most people given the choice of a plate of glazed donuts or a plate of veggies; most will reach for the donuts with a smile and anticipated gratification.

A plate of fruit tends to fair a little better than its veggie friends against the donuts, but donuts or similar confectionaries typically win.  Interestingly many may even treat the plate full of fruits and veggies as a joke, speaking and thinking disparagingly about it while at the same time showing an almost religious preference for the junk food.

Research shows us that the flavours and associated reward stimulating effects of high fat, sugar, and salt foods habituates us to such foods.  Our brains remember how good the instant gratification was the last time we ate this stuff so the next time the chance comes along the brains reward seeking chemistry kicks in and we feel compeled to eat the fatty, sugary, salty food, and when we do the reward centres in our brains have a bit of a freak out.

That's why we say, "OMG, I can't believe how good this tastes", we don't say that when we eat broccoli, even when we really like broccoli.  Fruits and veggies don't have the concentration of fat, sugars, and salt to stimulate our brains reward centres to that degree.  We get a delivery of feel good dopamine more quickly and more profoundly from junk foods than from healthier choices.

Instant gratification; powerful instant gratification.  If you've ever wondered why these foods make us feel this way, that's why.

Studies also show a negative after affect; when high calorie foods are over consumed feelings of regret or even guilt will develop as the person reflects on what we also know about these foods: they're not the best choice where our health and well being are concerned.

A cycle ensues where to help placate negative emotions, or to repeat the reward, seeking out rewarding foods is done.  So, during the moment you're eating crap your rational thinking is distracted by the food stimulating your reward centres.  Later the negative feelings return because eating didn't do anything to address the underlying causes of feeling bad, and also because once the "high" from eating junk has passed, you realize that you've just done yourself more harm through overeating.  To deal with this, many will feel compelled to overeat again, feeling like they're caught in a helpless trap.

What if healthy food choices could also feel rewarding; but not have the guilt afterwards?

In the Jan 2013 issue of the British Journal of Health Psychology, Authors Bonnie White et al found that on days people reported feeling good they had also consumed greater amounts of fruit and veggies, or had consumed more f's and v's the day prior.

7-8 servings of fruits and veggies daily predicted study subjects reporting greater emotional well being the next day.  The study was modeled in such a way that researchers were able to show that it wasn't that feeling good lead to eating more fruits and veggies, but rather that eating more fruits and veggies lead to feeling good.

My own experience is that when I eat healthy I feel more deeply gratified because not only does the food taste good, but I know I've done myself good instead of harm.

It took me a while to figure out that if I avoided the overdoing it with junk food, I no longer had to contend with the negative emotional after affect, or the weight gain that went with it.

It was in realizing that this intense reward association from crap food was really more of a narcotic effect that anything else that allowed me to realize, "Ok, I get why this junk food makes me feel this way, but I don't need to feel this way in order to be satisfied or happy with eating."

It was the same as realizing that at the moment smoking a cigarette provided a sense of reward, but that I didn't need the smoking reward in order to feel good, and that the long term negative effects of smoking crushed any fleeting moments of satisfaction it would bring.

Overal healthy eating makes us feel better not only because we will factually become physically healthier because of it, but because healthy eating doesn't have emotional baggage that comes with it.

Eating fruits and veggies daily and avoiding overeating doesn't appear to have the ability to contribute to feeling bad, it can only make you feel good.

Scientific proof that eating apples makes you feel good.  Gotta love that!

I've always felt better when I'm fit, at a healthy weight, and active.  This makes sense because exercise and fitness have been shown to positively affect mood, ability to cope with stress, have fewer colds, provide better sleep, and many other positive benefits.

Changing to healthy habits can be daunting for many though because it seems like such a diversion from living with unhealthy choices, and because of habituation, the unhealthy choices, ironically, are perceived as feeling more familiar and more comfortable.  Adding to the challenge to change are all the myths out there about how hard exercise has to be (it doesn't), and how "strict" so called "dieting" has to be.  None of this is true, but when these myths are believed, most people feel like changing is going to be unrewarding and difficult.

The rewards are great though, especially dropping the ball and chain of being tied to relentless overeating and lack of physical activity.

Eating fruits and veggies, reducing calories, being active, and maintaining a healthy weight really do make you truly happy.

You have nothing to lose, so go for it.

Many apples a day keep the blues away – Daily experiences of negative and positive affect and food consumption in young adults - PsychSource

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Exhale to lose fat

Where does fat "go" when we burn it off?

Nearly all the stored fat we use as energy is expelled primarily through our lungs when we exhale carbon dioxide and water vapour (fat is made of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen).

All of the food you eat can be accounted for by measuring everything that goes in and out of our bodies.  There are no mystery calories, and there is no mystery fat gain or fat loss.

If we eat too much, the extra food is stored as fat.  If we eat less food than the total energy we burn off in a day, we use energy from our fat stores.  We can measure the process of using food for energy in the carbon dioxide we exhale.

This is a normal measurement and is done daily in exercise labs all around the world.  I've been looking at this data for decades as a coach, and have had the testing done on myself many times. There's a description of this test at the bottom of the article (with photos).

It's all about accounting for mass.  We know the mass of molecules of carbs, fats, and proteins, and we know how we use the components of those molecules for energy, and we know how much energy is needed to move the mass of our bodies and keep our cells functioning.

It's an energy equation where we are able to accurately account for the mass of what we eat, and the by products of metabolism.  It's physics. Don't be misled by corny non-evidence based ideas that don't account for the mass of molecules.

I realize all this molecule stuff doesn't sound as promising or as exciting as the latest "fat loss breakthrough" claims, but it is reality.  All the fad fat loss claims out there are always proven to be fake anyway, so let's bypass the hype and go straight to the science.

Learn this reality so you can't be fooled by weight loss gimmicks. And more importantly, if you're trying to lose fat and are feeling frustrated about the process, learn how your body works (for real), so you can lose fat while by-passing the phoney promises, the hype, and all the crooks carefully constructing great sounding lies. We know fake news travels faster and reaches more people than supportable facts. Give the facts a chance.

Via a fairly complex chemical pathway, we breakdown fat molecules to make energy, and have some waste products left over, namely water and carbon.

The fat molecule: a triglyceride (right) is made up of atoms of carbon (black), hydrogen (grey), and oxygen (red).  Lot's of these are stuffed into fat cells in our "love handles", and aroud the rest of the body.

Carbon dioxide molecule (1 carbon + 2 oxygen).  We breathe out a bunch of these.  The black thing in the middle (carbon) used to be part of the fat molecule above.  After we break apart the fat (break the carbon-hydrogen bonds) for energy, there is carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen left over, the same amount as we started with, but no longer put together as a fat molecule. At the end of the energy production cycle, oxygen bonds with hydrogen to make water, and oxygen bonds with carbon to make CO2. We exhale the CO2.

Water and carbon mass, formerly fat in fat cells, former (too much) food on a plate, leaves our bodies through three primary paths.


The toilet


A very tiny amount of the water is lost in sweat and through the bowel, some is recycled, and a fair amount is also exhaled as water vapour. The vast majority of the mass lost in fat loss goes out, a little bit at a time, in the carbon dioxide we exhale, save for the less than 1% that goes into urine.

Fat doesn't "melt" off, is not converted to muscle, can't be spot reduced with abdominal exercises (or triceps exercises or whatever), and isn't increased or decreased due to different genetics.

You also won't lose fat by exercising in a "fat burning zone", unless you have a calorie deficit, in which case it doesn't matter if you burn fat during exercise or not.  Only a calorie deficit, considering all calories consumed VS expended, will result in fat loss.  Consider this.  If you burn off 500 calories exercising in a fat burning zone, but the total calories you eat is the same as the total calories you expend during the day, no fat loss will occur because you have replaced everything you burned off.

The reasons why this is, are explained here.

We eat food, which has molecules of fat, carbs, and protein, which are made of mostly - you guessed it - carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen atoms.  When we eat too much we store the extra as fat (carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen atoms).   When we don't use the food molecules we eat as energy, we're literally left holding the bag.  We have left over molecules of food with nowhere to go, except our fat cells.  That's where we put the overflow.

We don't have anywhere else to put the fat.  We can't store it in our heads, though some might argue that some are capable of this feat. There's no room in our bones for lot's of excess fat from chronic overeating.  Our blood lipids can increase, but this is really a temporary thing as it takes time to shuttle excess fat to our fat cells.  Our blood can't handle all the extra food we overeat - it would simply become too dense and would't be able to be circulated.  We have adipocytes (fat cells) in our organs and do store some extra fat there, which is really bad for our health, but the storage capacity in our organs fat cells is very limited compared to the virtually unlimited capacity of our fat cells in our large adipose sites between our muscles and skin.  If we fill up our existing fat cells and keep over eating, our bodies just make more fat cells.

We don't poop it out - if we did we would have very oily stool every time we overate fat.  Sorry for the detail, just eliminating some of the common guesses out there.  When we do the drill down, all extra food we eat can be accounted for in the storage of fat in our fat cells.  It simply isn't biologically possible to put it anywhere else.  If it were, we'd see obvious evidence of this.

When we use up the stored fat, that mass has to go somewhere, it can't just disappear into nothing, that's not realistic.

Are you breathing?  Some of what you are exhaling used to be excess fat. Some of that carbon comes from using carbohydrates and protein as a fuel as well, so not all the carbon we exhale comes exclusively from fat.  If you have a calorie deficit, the molecules of fat used to make up for what you didn't eat come from your fat stores and are lost through exhaling carbon dioxide.

Without a caloric deficit or surplus, what you exhale matches what you ate. There is no net gain or loss of fat mass.

Visualize your foods in their microscopic form; a bunch of molecules. Follow the journey of these molecules through your digestive tract and into your body.  The molecules will be used for energy by every cell in your body.  If you ate more molecules than your cells need for energy that day, the unused molecules are shuttled to your fat cells.

Your living cells use energy 24/7 even if you don't eat enough for the day.  Your cells still use molecules of carbohydrate and fat for energy, but when what you eat isn't enough to supply energy needs for the day, your body uses fat stores, and every gram of fat used can be accounted for.  You exhale it as carbon dioxide and some water vapour.

Actually, fat is continually shuttled in and out of our fat cells. Kind of like a storage depot that receives and ships out product every day. When our energy consumption matches our energy use, fat cells have no extra fat stored or lost.  Like a storage depot receiving 10 boxes but also shipping out 10 boxes.  Eat too much, and more fat is stored than used (you receive 10 boxes but your customers only need 6 boxes from you), leaving you with extra inventory.  Have a calorie deficit, and more fat leaves the fat cells than is put in, and you lose weight, a few grams at a time.  You're always breathing, and when you have a calorie deficit, some of the CO2 you're exhaling comes from fat in your fat cells, even when you're sleeping.  You're still burning molecules of sugar, fat, and protein to make energy (measured in calories) when you sleep.

Through being a little more active and eating a little less anyone can create a calorie deficit, and reduce their extra fat inventory.  A calorie deficit can't fail at producing fat loss, but we can fail to accurately account for how much we eat and exercise, obscuring the truth of us eating too much.

In case you were curious about how much carbon dioxide mass we exhale- (and I know you are), here are the stats:

About 2.45 grams (0.005 lb) per hour at rest

Between 50 and 90 grams (0.11 - 0.2 lb) per day for the average sedentary person

350 - 400 grams for a moderately active person 

600 or 700 grams per day for a very active person exercising 1 - 2 hours per day.

In an hour of moderate to hard exercise the average exerciser will exhale about 350 grams of carbon dioxide (0.8 pounds).

A very active person will blow out about 700 grams of CO2 on the days they exercise for about 90 minutes.  That's nearly 2 pounds!  This accounts for the equivalent mass of food energy consumed for the day, if there is no weight loss or gain.  Despite nearly 2 pounds of CO2 being exhaled, if you eat more than you burn off, the extra goes to fat cells.  Ever gone for a run or going to the gym and justifying eating more because you worked out?  Sure, you burned off energy, but if you eat more than you burn off, fat gain occurs.  The gains can be accounted for, as can the losses if you burned off more than you ate.

You don't have to exercise 90 minutes a day to lose fat, I only used that example because it exaggerates the values making it easier to see the difference.  150 minutes of moderate exercise per week and being mindful of reducing food intake is enough.

This exhaling carbon thing has been butchered and abused by diet "gurus" who invent crazy diets that involve, yes, "special" breathing techniques to breathe your fat away.  Impossible, of course, but because we can become desperate to lose fat, we can become susceptible to believing these false claims.  When you look at the calories recommended in these corny methods, they all use a low calorie diet.  They don't address this fact, and use misdirections to convince you "special" foods or food combinations have a magic influence on fat loss.  It's eating less, not the "special" claims, that is causing fat loss. The crackpots who push this stuff are gladly being paid by their customers whom they are lying to.

Changing how you breathe has no effect on fat loss.  You have to eat fewer calories (food energy) than you burn off in order for some of the carbon you exhale to result in fat loss.

If we eat as much carbon (from food) as we exhale, our weight will stay the same, no matter how much we breathe or how we breathe.

If we consume less carbon (from food; this is all about eating food, and what happens to it) than we exhale, we lose weight. For many people, weight loss is difficult.  People make different claims or assumptions about why this is.  When investigated it's always found that people who make such claims or believe in common weight loss fallacies, don't realize they over-report their exercise, and under-report their food consumption.   This is easy to do in our overeating culture, and also easy to do when food is habitually used as a reward.  You're less likely to want to acknowledge overeating, because that would mean having to deal with eating less, which can feel like getting less reward.

Calories in, calories out.  All accountable by adding up the carbon.  Sure, it's complicated science to do the measuring to figure all this out, but that's what scientists do.  For us, the science is already done, and to benefit from the research, we need to eat less and move more, to achieve a calorie deficit.

While calories in, calories out is the sole equation for fat gain and loss, we also have to be mindful of meeting our energy needs without eating too little or exercising too much in desperation to lose fat. We need a certain amount of food to supply important nutrients, and to meet our healthy minimum energy needs.

Did you know that gas powered cars also use energy stored in hydrocarbons?  That's what we're blowing up in the cylinders of our automobile engines; hydrocarbons are in the molecules of gasoline.

Let's say you have 65kg (29.5lb) of gas in your tank when full.  Fill your tank, and your car weighs 65kg more.   Use half a tank, and you lose 32.5kg of mass.  As you burn gas driving, the gas level in the tank goes down, and the car weighs less.  Where does the mass go?  Out the tail pipe in the form of exhaust.  Every kilogram of fuel that goes into your engine can be accounted for in the exhaust.

Lets say you plan on a long road trip, taking a route where there aren't any gas stations for part of the trip.  You'll need to fill some gas containers and keep them in the trunk. Kind of like eating too much food and storing extra fat.  When the gas tank is near empty, you start using your stored gas, and now you have less gas in the trunk, and your car weighs less.  This is analogous to fat loss in people.

What if you had those extra gas containers in the trunk, but then came across a new gas station where you expected none to be?  Might as well take advantage and top up the tank right?  This might be like someone surprising you with a box of donuts (or whatever unplanned eating).  You "take advantage" and add to your fuel stores when you do that.  If you don't have extra energy expenditure to burn off the extra, you retain the excess in fat stores.  If you don't drive off the extra stored gas, It doesn't go anywhere.

Most of us manage our gas use in cars reasonably well, rarely running out of gas.  We pay attention to the gas gauge and have a fair idea of how much driving we get out of a tank (or range from a charge). Pretty much all of us drive our cars in this way.  We're already good at managing the daily energy needs of our cars. If we incorporated this skill into how we eat and exercise, seeing food as energy supply, it makes it easier to understand our food intake/ energy needs.  But we can still be find it frustrating to overcome the temptation to overeat.

To lose fat we have to fill up less when we eat so we can use the extra energy we already have stored in our "tank".  We still need to replenish our supply of carbohydrates, proteins, essential fats, and vitamins and minerals daily, so cutting back too much deprives us of essential nutrients we need every day.  Remember the storage depot analogy, it's a continuous cycle.  If we cut off too much of the supply to the storage depot, the depot can't perform it's function because it won't be able to supply its daily baseline customer demands.  If we eat too little we can get tired and sick.

The only way to deplete the stored fat is to eat less than we burn off.

On average an approximate 500 calorie per day deficit is safe and reasonably manageable for most people, especially with adding a little bit of physical activity.

Gas mass in, exhaust mass out.  Storage depot boxes of product in and out.  A couple of analogies that very closely reflect our calories in - out balancing needs.

Carbon-hydrogen bonds, calories, food.  Just different words to describe the same thing in greater or lesser technical detail. Calories refer to the energy potential of food.

A lot of the mass of food we eat is not extracted into our bodies through our digestive system.  Much of it remains as the bulk that we - leave in the toilet.  A lot of the food mass we eat is actually water, so a pound of food doesn't have a pound of carbon in it. For instance, a 70 calorie, 28 gram slice of bread has about 2 grams of fiber and about 11 grams of water. About 40% of a slice of bread has no calories in it, and most of that portion has no carbon in it (the water).

Of the 70ish calories in that slice of bread (mostly from sugars, a tiny bit of fat, and small amount of protein), about 15% of the energy is used for digestion. We're left with about 60 calories worth of energy stored mostly in the carbon-hydrogen bonds of the sugars, fats, and proteins.

Fats, carbs, and protein are each different combinations of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and in the case of proteins; nitrogen as well. Fat is the most densely packed.

Like a shrewd accountant, your body can reconcile every molecule of food you eat with every molecule you use for energy and store as fat.  There is no metabolism mystery that causes unexplained fat gain, no genetic trait that causes people to gain fat without over eating, no verified accounts of people having a calorie deficit and gaining fat (impossible), and no verified accounts of people having a calorie deficit and not losing fat (also impossible).

The reason I wrote about fat loss from this perspective was to show that fat has a known value.  There is no mystery as to what fat is, and where body fat comes from and where it goes.  My hope is that I can put a small dent in all the contrived, misleading, misunderstood, and urban myth idea's that are so popular.

I'm not suggesting we focus conceptually carbon atoms to control body fat. That's impractical.

In day to day practical application we’re thinking about portion sizes, number of servings, and matching that up with our activity level.  We also need to be mindful of how some foods that fire up our reward centres can cause us to feel really compelled to eat too much.  Noting the difference between feeling hungry because you need the energy and feeling a craving because you want the reward of a favoured food is important.

Healthy fat loss is about burning off more than we eat and to do so we need to be mindful of how many calories (food energy) we're consuming.  What I offer here is proof of the fact that we know what a "fat roll" is made out of, where it comes from, and where it goes.  Creating a caloric deficit works to lose fat, and it works because it can't not work; it works because of physics and chemistry that is real and measurable.

No tricks, no gimmicks, no mystery.  We know how this works. Fat loss is explainable. Don't let anyone fool you with weird ideas, alternative facts, or fake news.  Be wary; the gimmick pushers are practiced at seeming sincere, know about peoples vulnerability, and know how easy it can be to manipulate a person feeling frustrated and desperate.  They make themselves appear as though they are empathetic and are on your side.  They know how appealing this can seem.  But really they are scammers.

Eat less, move more, and address where your eating motivation comes from.

Mayo Clinic says what I just said here, but they do it in two paragraphs click here

What are you eating?  Use eatracker to find out, and Cronometer

Update! Apparently I made a scientific breakthrough without knowing it... - sort of.

A recent study in the British Medical Journal has published a study on this topic, but interestingly, they state that this is a novel perspective on how fat loss works.

Not really, since I posted this article a year before the study was published., - and also... yeah... um... -everything I've written here is standard, basic science- that has been known for several decades.

Study: When somebody loses weight, where does the fat go? 

So how do we figure out how much carbon dioxide (CO2) a person is exhaling?

Why, in an exercise lab, of course..

Below is a picture of me in the University of Manitoba's exercise lab having my VO2 max assessed.

The tube in my mouth delivers the gases I breathe in and captures the gasses I breathe out.

In the print out below there is a VCO2 column that shows how much carbon dioxide I was exhaling in liters per minute.  At my moderate pace I was exhaling about 330 grams of CO2 per hour, some of the carbon in the CO2 from fat, a lot from carbs, and a little bit from protein.

For you calculating types out there, the density of CO2 is 0.001977 g/mL

This carbon thing isn't my idea, it's proven through research, and we've been measuring this for many decades. It's no secret.

The most challenging part of successful weight loss isn't the mechanics of eating less; it's changing our habits, our thoughts, and our sense of reward with food and exercise.  Studies show that the single reason why many people regain fat after losing it- is because they stop the new healthy habits and return to previous overeating habits.  The return is made because, as many will be able to concede, it's very difficult to get past the strong internal drive to overeat.  I have a lot of posts on how to do this though, so read my blog articles and learn how to lose weight and get fit.

Calorie denial... why we can't face the truth of overeating. Click here for article

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Eat chocolate mousse, lose weight

I don't know exactly how many calories were in this piece of chocolate mousse cake, probably around 300 to 400, according to a Google search on calories in chocolate mousse cake.

 A few years ago Mark Haub, professor of human nutrition at Kansas State University made the news with a controversial diet he placed himself on where he ate mostly Twinkies, but maintained a daily food energy intake of 1600-1800 calories, providing him a significant caloric deficit.

Losing 27 pounds he went from 201 to 174 lb. in about 2 months.  His 'bad' cholesterol (LDL) and tryglicerides dropped, and 'good' cholesterol (HDL) went up.

Haubs commented that previous to his convenience store diet he ate healthy foods, a mix of fruits, veggies, whole grains, nuts, and lean meats, but was overweight because he ate too much.

He did his 'diet' to demonstrate to his students that fat loss and gain is all about calories in, calories out, regardless of the quality of food you eat.

When his weight loss success hit the news it drew mixed reviews and as one might imagine, many of those reviews were critical.

His diet was nutrient poor, not very much delivery of vitamins and minerals, but it wasn't his intention to recommend a junk a food diet.

It was simply a demonstration of how calories are king.  Eat too much, even healthy food, and you'll pack on pounds of extra body fat, and that excess body fat will drive up tryglicerides and cholesterol, as well as blood pressure and blood sugar over time.

The professor made the point that there is often a disconnect between eating healthy and being healthy, indeed he was a living example of this; a professor of nutrition who you would think would know how to eat healthy, became overweight by eating too much healthy food, then lost weight by eating junk food, but fewer total calories, enough to provide an 800 to 1000 calorie daily deficit.

Let me clarify; eating too much healthy food isn't bad because healthy food itself becomes bad.  The body simply stores excess calories consumed as fat.  It doesn't matter if the extra comes from Twinkies or from strawberries.  The advantage of nutrient dense healthy food is that in addition to getting the fats, carbs, and proteins we need, we also get all the vitamins and minerals we need, plus other phytonutrients and antioxidants we don't get from junk food.

So the professor ate junk food, but not very much of it.  His deficit is too large for most.. 800-1000 calories per day less than what is needed to maintain weight leaves most feeling hungry to the point of irritation and increased appetite that makes it too difficult to resist a chow-down.  300-600 calorie deficits have been shown to be realistically manageable and one would not need to achieve this every day, maybe most days, with an avoidance of overeating on the other days.

Back to my deadly chocolate mousse.

I used to eat this stuff more often.  It tasted fantastic but ultimately was not as satisfying as I once found this kind of food.  Our palate is trainable.  We can learn to like new things, and even lose the appreciation for something we once liked.  Anyone who's made the switch from whole milk down to 2% or down to skim knows what I'm talking about.

Try whole milk after getting used to skim milk and the whole milk tastes like liquid lard.

I recently overcame my life long hatred of brussels sprouts.  Love them now.  Just had to eat enough of them to adapt.

Did I overeat on the day I ate my delicious chocolate mousse?  No.  In fact I had a caloric deficit.

And so what if I would have ended up going over by a couple hundred calories.  Over a little on some days, under a little on others, so long as we're relatively even most of the time we wont gain or lose body fat.

Our trouble is that we overeat too often, and place significant importance on the cakes and donuts for reward and not so much on the healthy foods.  We see the healthy foods as the doldrums of human existence that we have to do to try and stay somewhat healthy, and that thank goodness, we can overeat junk food to celebrate and make life worth living.  And then we wonder where the extra weight came from.

I'll still eat deadly chocolate mousse from time to time, but like whole milk, I no longer have as much satisfaction from it as I once did.  The fatty part doesn't agree with me that much, but I sure like the chocolate.

I feel greater reward overal after eating spinach salad than after eating chocolate mousse, and no, I'm not crazy.  Like I said, the palate is trainable.  Give it time and the preference moves away from calorie dense foods and towards healthy foods.

If I started eating more of the crap again I would begin to like it more again.  Knowing that this is how the body works is an advantage.. To reduce the power of cravings for crap food I know I need to avoid eating crap food often.  If I start eating too much of the crap again I will naturally gravitate towards it.  We are habit forming creatures.  It's how our brains work.

Just like the professor of human nutrition, I know how to eat healthy, but that doesn't prevent me from gaining body fat.  Knowing isn't enough, it's doing that counts. Only avoiding eating too much too often will maintain a healthy weight.

Part of doing that includes putting chocolate mousse in its place. Which yesterday was in my mouth, but not today. Today is the other side of the balancing act.

Mayo clinic article on the professors convenience store diet

*Update*  I've been diagnosed with GERD.

In learning about GERD and how to manage it, I learned chocolate can cause the oesophageal sphincter to relax, allowing stomach acids to pass into the oesophagus.  It's very, very rare that I'll eat chocolate now, and if I do, it's a very small amount, not enough to cause reflux.  No more chocolate mousse for me.

It's not a sad thing, it's a good thing.  Eating chocolate can cause me physical harm.  It's good to know this, and it's good to stop eating chocolate under these circumstances.

As we age, even if we take good care of ourselves, we can still develop medical conditions, as I have.

My previous habits of pigging out after a big training ride on my bike, stuffing my gut full at all you can eat pasta restaurants, certainly didn't help my gastric health.. that's a lot of pressure to put on that valve between the stomach and oesophagus.

If you like chocolate and it's not a risk for you, by all means enjoy it, but try to keep the serving size healthy, and don't let your head fool you into thinking you must have it :-)

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Lance Armstrong is a pimp

I'll keep this brief and expound a little more on my podcast, coming soon.

As a coach I used Lance Armstrong's success as an example of what can be achieved by being disciplined and utilizing sport science.

I'd tell my athletes, "this guy is the best in the world and look how much time he spends in the exercise lab.   His training is managed via sport science.  He tests lactate, VO2, heart rate wattage, and does strength training.  This is why he's so good."

Indeed there was a steady supply of lab reports extolling Armstrong's extraordinary lactate tolerance via his livers capacity to recycle lactate, and his lung capacity. His training sessions intensity were guided by lactate, heart rate, and wattage, even internal body temperature via a high tech thermometer in a pill he swallowed.

Of course, these measures are legitimate, sport science works, but it now appears Armstrong may have been using the public release of this level of detail of his training methods as part of his deception.

Distract people from the doping charges by citing his above average attention to detail to sport science and nutrition as an explanation for beating the dopers.

The image projected was that Lance was far more prodigious in his use of sport science than any other athlete.  No doubt good training made him a better performer, but the 'little' detail that was missing is that he was also cheating with drugs, and that in reality, this is where he gained an advantage, an unfair, unscrupulous advantage.

He acted like he was the super human the sports science stories reported him to be, and as it turns out he treated others like garbage if they didn't do his bidding to back his phoney character.  So he's a cheater, a fake, and a bully.

The cancer story was heart felt and compelling.  I was personally inspired by this.  So was my breast cancer surviving mother, so were millions world wide.  Personal improvement that people made for themselves through being inspired by Armstrong are still good, It's too bad though that in the end he was shown to be a mere demagogue.

What I'm saying is that if someone made their life better via the Armstrong affect, then their life is still better, Armstrong's personal disintegration should not diminish any good that John Q and Susie Q public made for themselves, they simply were inspired to do better, they didn't know the guy was a phoney.  Armstrong bad; inspired people good.

However, all the products that Armstrong endorsed were sold on a phoney pretence.  He sucked in a lot of people who were willing to spend their money on his namesake.

Lance Armstrong acted like a pimp in how aggressively he threatened and went after his drug using prostitutes (teammates) for not performing their duties, and for making them work for him during the tour.  He pimped out himself, selling his likeness wherever he could to make a buck, all based on a manipulative scam.

I'm not shedding any tears and don't feel emotionally devastated.

I am disappointed though, not only in Armstrong, but in the management of pro cycling and how dirty the sport is, and how there is so much pressure and desire to cheat amongst athletes, coaches, and managers.

Lance seemed like his usual non-contrite self during part one of the interview.

I'm not sure if he gets the humanity side of things, but I'm positive he gets how he needs to play his doping admission the way he's played and controlled everything else in his life to benefit him.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Food police: banning junk food

You would think that with all yammering I do about how bad overeating is that I would be immediately in favor of junk food bans like the one being implemented in New York which limits the sale of servings larger than 16 oz soda's, or pop if you're Canada.

I say limits the sale because although you won't be able to indulge your preference for ginormous servings of pop from restaurants in New York City in a single serving, you will still be able to buy 32 oz'ers and more at supermarkets and convenience stores.  So yeah they call it a ban, but it's not as slash and burn as some are making it out to be.  You can still get 54 ounce of soda at 7-11. There is no ban at 7-11, where overeating is still very convenient.

You can simply order two or more 16oz soda's at the same time if you want, if you're in a restaurant where the 'ban' is.  So not really a ban.

Here are the nutrition facts for 16 and 32 oz servings of pop from
Lot's of sugar, only traces of nutrients.

16 fl oz, 470ml, about 2 cups

32 fl oz, 9.5 ml, about 4 cups

By today's standards 2 cups of pop is hardly considered ginormous, but it isn't necessarily a good thing to have become so complacent with consuming too much that we now regard over-serving as normal.

A person is still likely to order a pop like they normally would.

Some of the arguments for these bans:

Will limit overconsumption of pop for some people.

Will support the idea that drinking lot's of pop isn't really a good idea.

If people follow through, the average weight of people should decline over time improving the health of people and saving money on health care.

May start to cause the population to make changes in how they think about buying junk food, reducing the perceived need.

Some of the cons..

Nanny state interfering with freedom of choice.

No real eating behavior change will take place as people can still buy pop at other places.

That's all great about the pro's and con's.  Except that despite the uproar about nanny state, there isn't really a ban at all in NYC, if you understand the details of the ban.  So for those crying about their rights being taken away, this has not happend.  You can still order as much soda as you want, anywhere and anytime you want in New York City.

Ok, so there isn't really a ban on soda's in NYC.  It's a political move meant to get people thinking about what they're consuming, or so they say.

So what about that; and what about the actual idea of junk food bans?

Everyone who currently consumes too much will be healthier if they consume less and lose weight.  Healthcare costs will go down if the population becomes more healthy.

This really would happen if we ate less.

So how do we get there?  By forcing people?

We've all heard the argument that individuals can make their own choices, good or bad, and that people are smart enough to choose for themselves.

Might be smart enough to choose for themselves but obviously don't.

That's just a simple reality.  One that's tough to acknowledge for many individuals.  People clearly are not making the best choices with food intake despite the argument they are fully capable of doing so without government intervention.

So this argument doesn't really seem all that valid, given the actual practical reality, which is quite removed from theory; people are not choosing very well, to the detriment of their own health and  increasing the cost of healthcare for the nation.

The majority of the population does in fact make poor choices over and over again where overeating is concerned.  That's a simple population statistic that is real and has been repeatedly measured for the past two decades, at least.

It's this true statistic that is the main drive behind pushing legislation to reduce overeating food choices.

The civil liberty argument wisely says people can choose for themselves and will naturally resolve to make the right choice because of the natural need for self preservation, and because right to choose is a constitutional choice.

Not really, and sort of.

Again, the reality is; we as a population are clearly not demonstrating our capacity to make the right choices where our health is concerned.  Not right now anyway.  Maybe we can learn.

It is true that individual freedom is a right, but we also have laws that set realistic limits.  For instance we can't get away with drunk driving because we choose to. I'm not saying drink driving is exactly the same as overeating, although more people die annually in Canada from complications due to obesity (25,000) than do from drunk driving (1300ish).  The numbers are far greater for the US, but still heavily weighted towards obesity.

What I am saying is that we take drunk driving seriously like we should, but not so much with chronic year over year overeating and excess weight gain across the population.  Nobody is MADD about overeating.  Quite the opposite.

I think there is merit to the idea that although at first people will oppose junk food bans, over time enough people will adapt.  In addition to all the public education that is out there if we simply get rid of the opportunity to overeat in many of the places where we typically overeat, then over time people get used to and appreciate the healthier choices.

Or, that could be a nice academic argument, but not necessarily the way public opinion adapts over time.

I think there is also merit to the idea that banning junk food will simply cause people to flip the bird to big brother and get their fix somewhere else.  Or that the principal of 'food police' is such a slap in the face that people will get stuck on that and ignore the actual overeating issue.

Governments appear to be at their whits end (not hard to do when you're short on whits), and are expressing that nothing else is working, people aren't getting it (which is true), so bans are in.

I really do personally have a huge problem with the fact that the vast majority of restaurant meals are over 1000 calories.  1000 + calories?  That's a joke.  A cruel joke.

I am in a very small minority.  I have been so disappointed so many times at virtually every restaurant I have been to that I have almost stopped going to restaurants all together.  From my perspective most are selling gross slop that isn't worth eating.  Oh sure, much of it tastes good, and has a nice presentation, but it is so demonstrably bad from a health perspective that for me the meal is crap and a complete let down and waste of money.

No, I don't have an anti-restaurant thing.  Just looking for some half decent product I can spend my money on. I actually want to go to restaurants because I enjoy the experience.  I also enjoy eating at home so I'm not really feeling like I'm at that much of a loss by eating out less than I have in the past.

You see, I no longer buy into the idea that part of eating out is the reward of the overindulgence.  Overindulgence isn't all that compelling to me anymore.  I want to indulge in great tasting healthy food, not in slabs of fat covered in sugar and salt, made to look nice.

Iv'e got room for a desert of chocolate badness as long as it's not too freaky big, but I don't have room for the 800 calorie appetizer, the 1200 calorie, meal, and the 500 calorie desert.  And when nearly all meals are over 1000 calories and there are only 2 or 3 choices under 1000 cals, my choices are far more limited than what the fat bomb part of the menu offers.  Further, most of the lower calorie meals are simply smallar versions of the bigger fat bombs.  The smallar meals aren't all that healthy either.

I'm not making this about me.  Ok maybe a little.. What I want to show is that demand for unhealthy meals is so large that even if you want to eat healthy, your choices are are far less compared to calorie bomb choices.  Try to ban any part of this and you'll upset a lot of people who buy into and sell the huge meals.

People want huge meals and restaurants are all too happy to promise bigger meals for better deals, and neither the seller nor buyer want's restrictions on this access to a whole lotta love.

I do see a light at the end of the tunnel. Hopefully it's not astigmatism. One that might not require junk food bans, or fake bans like the one in New York.

With no junk food or calorie bans, many restaurants are starting to serve healthier choices and some restaurants shtick is presenting an entirely healthy menue, and these restaurants although small in number, are typically very busy.

As much as I dislike the idea of selling calorie bomb meals because of how seriously bad they truly are, I can't get passed thinking that bans might backfire or might not be as effective as promised.

Maybe though, people will personally get sick of feeling like crap from overeating and will gradually demand healthier meals.  If this happens restaurants will respond with delivering healthier products.

The trend for overeating is currently still growing and is larger than the trend to eat and live healthy.

Maybe the junk food ban is actually part of the healthy trend and we can't see it yet because we're so into junk food right now.

Maybe the junk food ban is an act of desperation and not well thought out.

In the end though, no matter how much I write or anyone writes about how passionately they feel about their view and quoting statistics, law, and precedent, and calorie counts, eating healthy is factually dramatically better than eating too much.   Eating too much does cause personal harm.

In the end we all make our choices.  It is ultimately an individuals choice.  Right now most are willing to defend the idea that overeating is not only a personal choice, but also the preferencial choice.

When I made the switch it wasn't from someone telling me to do so or a government intervention.  It was because it seemed to me that the healthy choices had more to offer in return that the calorie bomb meals I used to adore.

If more healthy choices are made all this goes away, and for the better.

Here is a great video on the New York City 'soda ban'. It's funny and to the point.

Unhealthy habits similar or greater complexity than healthy habits

One of my favorite diet analyses websites is

You enter all the food you eat in a day and the free web-based software tells you everything you need to know about what you're eating.  I mention eatracker a lot because I really want people to use nutrition tools to rebuild their diets into nutrition powerhouses with no gimmicks.

I've rarely had a person express excitement about eatracker, or any other nutritional analyses program or app, web based or not.  In fact most of the time nobody will go near eatracker.  Even after months of suggestion most people I work with refuse to use diet analyses software, to see a registered dietitian, or to tell me what they eat.

A frank analyses of what one eats seems to be treated like a prickly porcupine, nobody want's to touch it.

The main complaints are that it takes too long (it doesn't), and that it's too complicated (it's not).

For those who enjoy baking, a new sugar-bomb, fat-bomb recipe for a cake, cookie, or muffin will be given a lot of attention.  After all, the anticipated reward of biting into fresh baked ooey gooey goodness is very appealing.

If the new recipe requires ingredients not in the house, a special shopping trip is in order. An unhealthy recipe is revered as the path to reward.  Using nutrition software is no more complicated than following a recipe, but in reverse.  However it's reviled as the path to restriction and removal of reward.

Same process, different perception.

I steam my broccoli for 4 minutes.  I read a research paper that showed that steaming broccoli for 4 minutes increases the antioxidant release from broccoli.  Sounds good to me.

I've had so many people say to me that I take it (healthy eating) too far with finicky details like steaming broccoli for 4 minutes.


So what about brewing coffee for X minutes.

How about throwing coffee out if it stands more than 20 minutes.

What about the old standard of boiling pasta for 7 minutes.

What about the 3 minute boiled egg.

Ever set the timer for baking?

Ever pay attention to how long a 10 oz steak is cooking?

How about deep fried or oven fried french fries?

What? You mean you have a timer in the kitchen?  Whoa, whoa whoa.. Get out!  Your stove has a built in timer?  All restaurant kitchens have timers?  What the heck for?  Say what?  Timing the cooking of food?

But not broccoli.

See what I mean?

Whatever the process is, if it's applied to not so healthy food or food that isn't really considered healthy or unhealthy, the process is normal and justified.  Apply the same process to something that is perceived as 'healthy' and suddenly the process is arduous.  It's an extra step.  It's time consuming.  Maybe even a little over the top.

There is a decided prejudice against healthy choices.

I've also found that many will be hesitant to learn what they're eating because ultimately they know that it won't be all good and the outcome will be that they should eat less of the bad stuff and more of the good stuff.

Facing these plain right-in-front-of-you facts is very hard for many people as research shows most people will under-report the amount of food they eat to avoid the issue of overeating.

 Once hooked, we really, really want to keep revisiting the hyper-rewards of overeating. Diet analyses is seen as the reward blocker.

The irony is that maintaining the unhealthy diet saps our energy, makes us overweight and reduces quality of life.  That which we seek with so much tenacity just happens to be that which ultimately is making us feel like crap overall, save for those few minutes that our brain is getting a dopamine hit from overeating.

Once I personally experienced the change in how good I felt from chronic healthy eating vs chronic not so healthy eating I became hooked on healthy eating.  Eatracker and similar programs became a source of reward because I can use these tools to help make my nutrition choices better and more informed.

So what's the difference between taking the time to purposefully eat unhealthy vs purposefully eating healthy?  It doesn't take more time to make a homemade burger with lean or extra beef or ground chicken or turkey compared to regular beef.

It doesn't take more time to make the patty smallar rather than larger.  It doesn't take more time to put on less mayonnaise or skip the mayo.

Once we get down to reality it's clear that healthy choices are not complicated and not more time consuming than less healthy choices.

There is one reality that is difficult to overcome and get used to.

As rewarding as healthy food is to eat, it can't achieve the exact same level of instant gratification dopamine stimulation as food that is dense in fat, sugar, and salt.

A good way to look at this is that the hyperpalitability of calorie-bomb food is unnatural.  It's true that it clearly feels good at the moment, but it ain't good.

It really is like learning to quit smoking.  Sure, to the smoker having a smoke feels rewarding at the moment, but it's kicking the crap out of the body.  It's not worth it.

Ex smokers will tell how great it feels to not be hooked anymore and that ultimately healthier choices provide more overall reward than they ever received from the instant gratification of smoking.

Same goes for overeating.

BTW healthy eating doesn't mean not eating chocolate muffins.  It meas not eating too many chocolate muffins.

Everyone I know who has got to the place where they lose weight in a healthy way or didn't need to lose weight but started eating more healthy, have been surprised at how good they feel.

Healthy eating doesn't give you that big smack of dopamine and neither does using eatracker.  The same level of instant gratification wont happen, so let that go.  Once you feel the overall greater reward of what a healthy weight and healthy living does for you, you may get hooked on living healthy.

I hope you do :-)

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Falling to the dark side Dr Oz et al

Dr. Oz peddles false miracles not science

I shouldn't be surprised, and really I'm not, but I still shake my head and sigh with the feeling that one more has succumbed to the pull of the dark side.

It isn't as though Oz only recently began peddling false miracles as the article suggests; he's been pushing questionable exercise and dietary practices for years.

Shows like the Dr Oz show are bent on pomp and circumstance to attract and engage watchers.

The fitness and diet business is mostly about phoney hoopla.  Many who start out with good intentions swearing they will never cross the line and start selling quick fixes and hyped promises eventually cave.  The money and recognition is much, much better on the dark side.

I get a daily email newsletter from a kinesiologist who's made quite a name for himself for being a speaker on exercise, focusing on injury rehabilitation. When he first started it was all about the facts.  Very helpful meaningful information on injury prevention.

Gradually over the years the questionable stuff started to leak in.  Most recently he started selling one of those goofy 'cleanse' products.

I've now unsubscribed from the newsletter.

The biggest challenge?  These goofy idea's are so prevalent that they compete head to head or better, with legitimate facts.  The facts are so twisted or obfuscated that the phoney information begins to seem viable.  It's so hard to talk about reducing calories to reduce body fat when the advertising power of fat burning cleanse juicing metabolism super booster is so ever-present and so much more enticing and magical.

The thing is that going for a walk and eating a little less is far less complicated than buying into a diet fad and the weird, contrived food combinations and restrictions therein. Yes of course healthy diet and exercise is more than just eating less and going for a walk, but starting with those two things is simple, costs nothing, and produces a result.  It's a better place to start than what the Dr. Oz's of the world are peddling.

I hope the hucksterism becomes the lesser instead of the current greater.  Hope doesn't count for much though..  sigh..

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Why do I gain fat when I exercise more?

A reader (KM) who is an avid cyclist asked me, "why do I gain weight only when cycling?"

She's not your average ride-the-bike-path-on-Sunday rider, she's into competitive cycling. She'll burn far more calories cycling than the average spin class enthusiast or recreational rider.

So what gives?

Whenever we have a question of weight gain we must always default to the singular reason for weight gain: eating too much. Consuming more calories than we burn off.

Once we set ourselves straight with that we start looking for where and why we're over consuming.

KM's mystery is not uncommon, and thankfully not really a mystery. What we're looking for is KM's motivation and reasoning to eat during the cycling season.

Here are the common motivations and reasons that explain weight gain during times of increased exercise:

With knowledge that the extra calorie burn is happening a reasonable increase in food intake is used to keep up with increased demand. The increase needed is simply overestimated. If this is the beginning and end of the story the situation will be remedied quickly by eating less.  More accuracy helps so a visit to for food diary analyses is a good idea.  Measure the calories in and out and you'll have a better idea of what the right amount of food looks and feels like.

The extra exercise stimulates the person to get excited about overeating. This one is very common. Overeating is already a common reward that is shared socially. This is traditionally over-emphasized in sport where it isn't uncommon to celebrate post competition or post practice with excess food. The excess food is not perceived as negative but rather a positive and a necessity to complete the social experience of the physical activity. A competitor will usually be teased if they don't participate in the overeating so there is social pressure to comply with overeating.

It's also not uncommon to transfer the competitive nature from sport to eating with many athletes boasting about how much they can pound down after training or competing. This further exaggerates the reward emphasis placed on overeating.

When an expected rewarding outcome of physical activity is to overeat, the exerciser typically feels compelled to do the exercise not only to compete or train, but also to overeat afterwards. 

The deep driver for all of this is the reward association with food. It's good to have a healthy reward association with food, but research has shown that it's easy for us to miscalibrate the reward importance and develop the sense that overeating is very important.

Here's an article I did on emotional miscalibration a few years ago.  I cover interesting research on the subject.

Reward seeking is one of the most powerful motivators. Once the brain gets a sample of something rewarding it will cause behavioural adaptations to seek out the reward again.  The person will feel compelled to seek out the reward but also to generate reasoning that justifies the reward, even to the extent of irrational reasoning.

An example might be being in a fatigued state where training should be replaced with recovery but because of a special dinner where overeating is anticipated the person will choose to add exercise even though it will cause more fatigue.  The benefit of overeating is perceived as more important than proper recovery from training.

Once this becomes habituated it is often very challenging to reverse. Reversal involves self-talk, self aware cognitive processing, and outside help from friends, family or professionals doesn't hurt either.  It can take several months to overcome habituated reward, even years if there are lengthy periods of regression before a solid stint of 4 to 8 months of practice is realized.

Often we don't process the the sequence of feeling hungry and responding with eating. We just eat because we feel compelled to eat.

The steps to reversing KM's dilemma begin with being able to capture the moment and process, "I might be over serving myself here, I should eat less".

If it turns out KM is strongly influenced by the more common reward association, social pressure, and reward seeking aspect then additional self-talk steps are needed..

"I get that I really want all this food, but I now realize the reward I feel is disproportionate to how much I choose to eat. I'm going to eat less and feel good about it"

Whatever we tell ourselves will differ from person to person, but it will be something along those lines.

Beware: strong socially supported reward seeking is a tough contender. We're pretty good at employing denial and redirection to avoid correcting the behaviour.

Do you trick yourself into not exercising?

Your intentions were good and you were initially gung-ho about about getting more active but somehow it fizzled out.  Where did those great feelings and motivating expectations go?

Research on what drives human behaviours is fascinating but is notoriously difficult to design a study that isn't tainted with bias and other scientific control requirements for a good study.

To answer the question I've presented here the answer that seems to have the most scientific consensus is that true emotional and reward association changes did not occur. 

The practical translation is that if you found yourself drifting back to old habits it's because your origional learned, habituated reward seeking is still intact.  The 10 oz steak is still more appealing than the 3 oz steak.  Not exercising is still more appealing than exercising. 

Additionally it may be that healthy eating and regular exercise are still viewed as a form of restriction or even punishment.  Why would anyone keep doing something they thought was this negative and unrewarding?

A common irony that many of you may have experienced personally (myself as well), is that the reward you want to give yourself for having consumed healthy food or participated in exercise is; overeating unhealthy food - the very thing that causes weight gain in the first place.

Burned off a whack of calories the last time you exercised?  What are you thinking about?  How rewarding it's going to be to eat that extra whatever; or how good you feel for having exercised? 

If extra food is still a primary reward provider then that is where we'll end up, especially if we think we've been 'putting up' with arduous healthy eating and exercise.  Ate healthy?  You poor thing!  Terrible that you had to suffer through that.  It's ok though, just reward yourself with overeating.

Feel better now?

That's why there is an approximate 85-95% failure rate in sustaining healthy habits beyond the first few months of trying.

There is an attempt to change actions but a limited attempt to change how we cognitively and emotionally process how our sense of reward and well being is associated with our actions and beliefs. 

Hard to quit something you love and do something you hate.

There are some other interesting human behaviour things that occur where behaviour change is involved.

Study subjects who participated in weight loss studies and were successful in losing weight tend to gain all the weight back after the study is over.  What?  So you're a living example of scientific proof of successful weight loss.  Simply continue living with the same habits you were asked to do during the study and you're set for life.

Seems logical.  Logic is great until emotion screws it up.

Some researchers believe this is due to something called the Hawthorne Effect.  Although there is great controversy over what exactly the Hawthorn Effect is or isn't, the term is often used to refer to how a person is affected by being observed while doing something they feel they are expected to do.

If you're in a jumping contest what else are you going to do other than jump as best you can?  There isn't anything else to do other than choose not to participate.  If you really like jumping you're going to keep doing it after the contest is over.  If you're not into vertical accomplishments the jumping is over when the contest is over.

A possible explanation for weight loss study subjects who regain weight after the study is over is that the only reason they followed the weight loss study protocol is because they knew they were in a weight loss study and that their activities were being monitored and tracked.  The study subjects wanted to apease the researchers.

Because the study subjects had no real internal drive to lose weight for reasons they held as personally important or rewarding, other than the sense of reward they got from appeasing the researchers.. take away the study and you take away the only thing that was motivating the person.

I've seen similar behavior with people who work in the fitness business and with athletes.  As soon as they're not in the business or the sport anymore, the healthy eating and exercise is replaced with little to no exercise and overeating.  This happens during the off-season as well.  Many who are active in whatever tend to gain weight and lose fitness during the off-season and typically lament these negative effects and wish they didn't have the setback to contend with when the next season started.

Weight gain and loss of fitness occurs.  So what's happening here?  We've all heard that consistency over long periods is one of the key predictors of long terms success with continuing to live with healthy habits.

The reward of overeating and not exercising is greater than the reward of maintaining healthy eating and regular exercise.

One of the milestones is the six month mark.  If you can make it through six months of healthy habits with few regressions you have a much better chance of retaining the habits long term.

If this is true how do we have athletes of any stripe experiencing unhealthy weight gain and tremendous loss of fitness within mere months of stopping sport?  Ditto for fitness pro's..

The thinking on this is that so long as you are in the environment where external expectations to perform are placed on you and you feel compelled to meet the expectations of others (rather than mostly from satisfying yourself), you will no longer feel compelled to perform once removed from that environment. 

A person may have tricked themselves into believing that they are into healthy living.  In reality they were into feeling accepted only when they met the expectations of the environment they were observed in.

How's that for a mind-bender? 

Play this out and ultimately a person would have tricked themselves into eventually losing fitness and gaining weight because they were never really into fitness or good nutrition other than meeting work or sports requirements. 

So how do you tell if you're really into it or if you're destined to regress to weight gain and loss of fitness?

If you're fooling yourself:

If you feel that second servings are delectable and what your mind is on during the first plate
If you can't wait to eat desert after a huge meal
If you reason that extra exercise deserves the reward of extra food
If you feel exercise is a necessary evil
If donuts make you drool and broccoli makes you gag

You've made it to the real deal and are likely to succeed long term and not depend on external motivation:

If you feel motivated by exercise alone and not just the possible weight loss outcome
If you look at food as feeding your body the nutrients you need rather than getting full
If you love the taste of healthy food
If you feel strongly about how exercise makes you happy and improves health
If you tend not to feel tempted by overeating or overindulgence in sweets or fatty foods
If you feel that missing exercise or healthy food will have a negative affect on your health and how you feel
If you tend to exercise alone or in groups because you want to, not because you're in an exercise group or on a team