Cris LaBossiere

Cris LaBossiere
Strength training and mountain biking. My two favorites

Monday, December 29, 2014

Orthorexia; When healthy eating becomes an obsession

Can't seem to get enough kale? Reading every food label to make sure there's no gluten in what you're eating, even though you don't have celiac disease?  Is "clean" eating on your mind a lot?   Like, more than three hours a day?

I have a friend with an allergy to sunflower seeds.  He's careful with avoiding the seeds so he doesn't have an allergic reaction, which I've seen him go through when a restaurant meal had some of the offenders in it.

Another person I know has colitis and has to avoid certain foods that trigger a crappy reaction.  A year ago I was diagnosed with acid reflux (GERD) and mild Barrett's esophagus, so I've had to change what I eat, as well as when I eat (last food intake is many hours before bed) to reduce acid reflux.

There are legitimate reasons for people to be fairly concerned about avoiding eating certain foods, (like gluten if you're a celiac), and it's a good idea to think reasonably about getting the nutrients and energy you need from your diet.

Orthorexia, Greek- (ortho, "right, or "correct"), and (orexis, "appetite"), is when people develop an unhealthy obsession with eating healthy.

Seems difficult to find a portion of the population not affected by either chronic overeating, or now another segment who have the same or similar emotional issues with food (food is a reward, and unhealthy reward seeking eating habits ensue), but take the healthy eating idea too far.

This term was first coined by Dr. Steven Bratman in 1997.  Orthorexia disordered eating is recognized as a thing, but hasn't yet achieved the full "eating disorder" clinical definition as of yet.

There are some interesting scenarios that have a person leaning towards justifying their obsessiveness with healthy choices, the main one being that healthy choices are typically.. healthy.

It's a good thing to avoid ultra crappy typical restaurant meals that are 1000 calories and have enough fat for the whole day in one meal, and enough sodium for three or four days, yet not enough of the vitamins and minerals you need.

It's true that there aren't very many restaurants that serve a half decent healthy meal, so a person who is genuinely practicing balanced healthy eating, or has a real food allergy or sensitivity is likely to end up not eating out very much.

However, one of the possible signs of orthorexia is an obsessive avoidance of restaurants for fear of not being able to have complete control over perceived "clean" eating.  Do you have orthorexia because you avoid restaurants typical crap food? Or, are you simply making a healthy choice that allows you to enjoy life more?

That's the problem with being an armchair observer of more serious medical issues.. it's easy to confuse and conflate information in a way that might have any person side step getting real meaning from it, or get access to the help they may need.

I can see how a person experiencing orthorexia may feel like they're justified in their food choices because one can come up with legitimate healthy reasons to support at least a portion of their decision. Or how a person who has overeating issues that they haven't come to grips with yet might choose to judge a restaurant avoider as being unbalanced, so they can justify their own habit of overeating calorie-bomb meals at restaurants.

There's a similar conundrum with compulsive exercise.  Part of healthy exercise can be keeping records of what you do, so you can track your progress and avoid unhealthy trends like overreaching where you gradually become more fatigued, sore, and lose fitness from doing too much.

A compulsive exerciser though won't see these signs as a healthy indication to take a rewarding break, they'll tend to feel shame and guilt for losing fitness, which they will equate to not doing enough training, so in a compulsive delusion the compulsive exerciser try's to "correct" symptoms of too much exercise, with more exercise.

Since exercise is generally good for you, the compulsive exerciser is able to justify their choice by being in denial of the harm they're experiencing, and believing "exercise is good for me".

Orthorexia paradoxically can lead to severe nutrient deficiencies as a persons compulsive delusion has them fixated on eliminating certain foods, and having a very limited selection of what they think are super foods.

Some of the diagnostic questions that can help a clinician identify orthorexia behaviours are difficult to interpret. For instance, "Do you care more about the virtue of what you eat than the pleasure you receive from eating it?"

The trouble with the concept behind the question is that eating purely for reward instead of for sustenance is one of the main drivers of overeating that causes obesity. So how do you answer that question?  Furthermore, upon looking at that question, I can see how many might think, "yeah.. that's not good, I have to enjoy what I eat, it's unhealthy to think about the virtue of the food I eat".   This would then serve as justification for unhealthy, but good tasting food.

Good thing then that healthy food also tastes really good, so you can choose foods because they taste good and are good for you. If you find yourself choosing foods while being dismissive towards enjoying the flavour, it's worth reflecting on why this is.

We sure have a lot of hang ups with eating.  It's a pretty serious issue, there are more people harming themselves with chronic overeating than under-eating or an obsession with healthy eating, but harm is harm, and we generally don't do an honest self inventory of whether our food choices are harming or helping us.

"Does your diet socially isolate you?", is another question to asses orthorexia. Personally, my diet does seem to socially isolate me at times.  I don't like hot dogs, not only because I simply don't enjoy them, but because they're pretty crappy food.  Ditto for potato chips.  Eating a potato chip won't kill me, but neither will eating an apple instead.

However, there have been many occasions where I get teased and isolated for eating healthy. 

How do we work this one out?  It's more typical to be urged into being included and welcomed into group overeating, and if you choose not to overeat, you may get the "what kind of diet are you on?" question delivered in a fairly snarky tone.

It's the obsessive compulsive part of orthorexia that identifies the difference between making balanced healthy choices compared to choices based on excessive fear of eating unhealthy foods, and an obsessive drive to eat specific foods perceived as "clean".

If you're wondering what you're eating, use one of the many free or cheap nutrition apps or websites.  You'll know if you're getting the energy and vitamins and minerals you need.  Be honest though, most people have a tendency to cheat themselves when they enter foods into a food diary by either not entering certain foods, or by changing what they eat on the day they record to something healthier, but not representative of what they really eat.

Kale is great, but you won't be missing out if you never eat it, and instead get the same nutrients from a variety of other food sources.

Pursuing healthy eating doesn't mean you're developing or have orthorexia, but if you feel huge guilt or self loathing when not eating healthy, or are consumed by the idea of singling out healthy choices, it's probably time to talk to a professional about it.

For me, eating healthy (which can sometimes be inconsistent) has been a great relief from the multi fast food burgers and giant plates of pasta I used to eat.  I feel better, I sleep better, and I avoid chronic weight gain and all the trouble that goes with it.

And yes, I've avoided getting caught up in focusing on "superfoods" being some kind of panacea.

More info on orthorexia and other eating issues.. NEDA

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Do you know where fat goes when you lose it?

In 2013 I posted this (Exhale to lose fat ) explaining how, when we lose fat with a calorie deficit, the excess fat mass is lost through exhaling carbon dioxide.

A study published in the British Medical Journal in 2014 supports my explanation, which I wrote based on the scientific understanding of fat loss, as opposed to all the goofy myths out there.

The study is being presented as a breakthrough way to comprehend fat loss..

Except that I wrote about this a year before this study was published, the Mayo Clinic has an article on it, and the Youtube channel Veritassium also did a video on it in 2012.. each long before the BMJ study was published.   Plus this is the basic biochemistry I learned in coaching courses over 20 years ago.. not new stuff.. forgotten and ignored by most, but not new.

I'm glad the study was published and I hope there are more like it to put a dent in all the misinformation out there.. but.. breakthrough? Not so much.

In addition to providing the empirical measurements that showed definitively that indeed, all the fat lost during weight loss can be completely accounted for in carbon dioxide and water, 100% of the time, the researchers also did a survey questioning doctors, dieticians, and personal trainers about the physiology of fat loss.

Zero personal trainers knew the answer. No family doctors knew the answer. A few dieticians knew the answer (real dieticians, not the phoney ones who sell you BS fads).

Over 60% of those surveyed mistakenly believed that fat mass is lost to heat and "energy".

Some thought it turned into muscle, some thought it was lost in faeces, and some, thankfully, were able to admit they didn't know.

Slight issue with that mass into energy thing.. when mass loss does actually go to actual energy.. it's under very specific circumstances.. like inside a star when hydrogen is fused into helium and a photon is produced, ok.. lots of photons, and lots of heat. Even that mass loss to heat and light is proportionately small.. nowhere near the comparative mass converted to energy rate proposed by so many for explaining fat loss in humans.  So unless everyone losing fat has more density than a black hole and is losing huge mass on a quantum level, then it's pretty safe to say this myth is busted.

Only a caloric deficit causes fat loss. Fat is made out of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. When we use up our fat stores to make our bodies move, 100% of the carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen atoms can be accounted for.

There is no quirk of metabolism that hides away some mystery fat.

The food we eat is made of.. yep, mostly carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen.  Stored fat is made of the same stuff, and we're left over with exactly the same amount of these atoms we started with; all is accounted for. We can weigh the water and carbon, as was done in the BMJ study, and it weighs exactly the same amount as the fat lost, which weighs exactly the same amount as the extra food calories when we overate.

Calories in, calories out.  Don't let any of the hucksters fool you with their pseudo science.

The main issue with successful fat loss isn't understanding the physics, it's understanding ourselves.

We become entrained in overeating through a combination of cultural influences (eat! eat! eat!), altering our appetite regulation through continued overeating and poor sleep, and using food as a soothing escape from things that cause us emotional turmoil.

We don't want to face these overeating issues because it's emotionally difficult to do so. It's hard to change, hard understand the connection between food and escaping our difficult issues.  It's hard to admit that when we view overeating as a worthy celebration, that we're actually justifying harming ourselves over and over again.

In the 30 years I've been doing this, the only folks who have successfully lost weight and kept it off for more than 5 years, have been those who have found a way to come to grips with the complex emotional issues that drive the desire to overeat. Studies show that folks who lose fat permanently and never gain it back did not change their metabolism in any way.. they changed their behavior and destructive emotional association with food.  They developed new healthy living habits and never stopped them.

It's difficult to change how we think, feel, and behave, but so rewarding, so liberating, and so worth it.

Why do we fall for the fat loss myths and dismiss the proven physics of fat loss?  Because believing the myths is easier than facing the uncomfortable truth about why we're driven to overeat.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

How personal bias prevents fat loss

Actually the only thing that prevents fat loss is not having a caloric deficit.

To lose fat we need to consume fewer calories than expended, pretty simple.

The complicated part though, is our psychological behavior and physiology, which aren't as separate as we may think.  In fact, in order to think, neurons have to fire and different parts of our brain have to communicate with each other.  Our thoughts and feelings, and the intricacies of how our brain works, are all part of our physiology.

Overeating can stimulate more overeating.  Hormones that regulate appetite and satiety are altered by eating very large meals (800+ calories), and by consuming foods rich in sodium, fat, and sugar.

Knowing this, it becomes pretty important to avoid starting to overeat in the first place.

So if we know this, why do we overeat anyway?  Surely if we know we're going to alter our appetite regulation by overeating, we're smart enough to figure out we should avoid overeating.  Sort of. We are smart enough to figure this out, but we're also smart enough to outsmart ourselves by avoiding recognizing reality.. this allows us to keep overeating, and we overeat because of the perceived rewards it brings us.

There's a lot more happening on the psychological front though, and its this essential component of how we perceive reward, risk, harm, and how we justify our actions, that influences our decisions, often without us realizing how our decisions are shaped.

Confirmation bias, self serving bias, overconfidence bias, and belief polarization are key psychological traits that play a major role in keeping us in the habits of overeating and not exercising.

These are sometimes referred to as cognitive illusions. The complexities of our brain circuitry allow us to have biases towards jumping to conclusions that aren't real, but we end up behaving as though our biases are true.

An athlete might develop a practice of not changing their socks when they're in the semifinals, because this will bring them good luck and help them win.  We may call this a superstition, which it is, but this cognitive illusion is created by faulty reasoning, biases that impair normal judgment. There's definitely a duality here as these biases can co-exist alongside rational reasoning.  The same athlete may have the presence of mind to dismiss something like the existence of the tooth fairy.

Being reasonably rational at other times allows us to think, "I'm pretty rational", which obfuscates our irrational biases.  This means that while being irrational, we won't recognize we're being irrational for two reasons; we don't think our current thought is irrational, and further, we're generally not an irrational person so whatever we're thinking, is likely to be rational.

Of course, this is completely irrational.

Researchers have found that in essence, the lower part of our brain that has strong emotional reasoning, and the upper part of our brain that can produce fact comparison reasoning, have some conflicts.  The lower brain can win more often than we realize, because the lower brain can impair the activity of the upper brain.  The upper brain can win too, if we're self aware and use critical thinking. So don't despair, this isn't really as dire at it may be perceived.  This is all good news as understanding this is where the start of our turnaround is.

Be aware, a sign that you're experiencing any of these cognitive illusion traits, is denying that you may be experiencing them.. it's an interesting twist in how our thoughts and feelings become befuddled, and cloud our judgment.

Being self aware and using critical thinking can overcome these biases.

In confirmation bias, there is a tendency to look for or filter for evidence that supports our current belief, idea, or also in this case, a habit we may have.

When I was a smoker I would claim that since there are people over age 60 that smoke, that smoking can't be that bad for you, since it hasn't seemed to have harmed them.

I confirmed my bias belief that smoking wasn't really that bad for your health, which allowed me to stay in denial and justify smoking, which allowed me to keep getting my nicotine reward.

The thing is I had to invent a completely contrived and distorted view that circumvented reality in order to do so.  Confirmation bias, and each of these traits I'll review here, conspire to basically allow us to stick our heads in the sand or stick our fingers in our ears and sing, "la, la, la, la", whenever we see or hear of reasonable evidence against any of our sadly mistaken personal beliefs and biases.

Interestingly many smokers will know that smoking is bad for them, but also perceive the harms of smoking are more likely to occur in other smokers.

With overeating we may choose to believe we don't overeat, and point towards our zero calorie or low fat foods to confirm our bias.

Or we may choose to believe we have a slow metabolism which causes us to gain fat; it's not overeating, it's unusually slow metabolism.  We create these illusions, then act like they're real.

Studies show that most people who struggle with weight gain overestimate their physical activity by nearly 40%, and underestimate their caloric intake by about the same amount (30-45%).

Research also shows that the majority of the population feels that overeating affects other people, but not them.  However with 60% to 70% of the population being overweight, this observation can only be a biased one. 

When people believe they don't overeat or that overeating isn't that big of a deal for them, critical thinking is avoided and the person is unlikely to take action with eating less.

In self serving bias a person may choose to believe that their self determination allowed them to eat less and exercise more to lose weight (reality), but if they gain weight back it's because of chemicals in food, the environment, their metabolism mysteriously slowed down, etc (cognitive illusion).

In self serving bias we tend to attribute our successes to our own brilliance and our failures to somebody or something else.

In overconfidence bias we can get pretty full of ourselves due to successes we've had or perceived we've had, then over-confidently predict future success with no or little chance of failure.

A person can lose weight successfully, believe that they are immune to returning to chronic overeating because they've done so well with their new healthy living, but then be surprised that they did in fact return to overeating and gained weight again.  The sense of infallibility can prevent a person from otherwise being mindful of their choices, and return to overeating without regard for the possibility of reversing their success.

In business, a person might make a series of deals or stock investments that were tremendously successful, and develop overconfidence.  They might miss the fact that success had to do more with a general upwards market trend than their own abilities, and may dismiss the fact that the market is, or could start a downwards trend, resulting in less success.  This cognitive illusion has been shown to be the ruin of many fortunes.

Belief polarization is where we tend to feel affronted by challenges to our current beliefs, ignore new evidence that shows we might be wrong, and become evangelistic in our support of current beliefs.

A great example of this is the current trend of denying that calories in calories out is the only thing that causes fat gain and fat loss.  There are bizarre claims floating about in the media and this wonderful internet that some people can overeat by 1000 calories a day and never gain fat, while others can be on a caloric deficit and "exercise like crazy", and never lose fat.

This is just as fictitious and unreasonable as claiming the sun orbits the earth, but facts and evidence can have little influence because like these other traits I've mentioned here, belief polarization is a cognitive illusion. 

You could even say, delusion.

The truth does actually matter because only harm can come out of acting out on these false beliefs. When we're in the thick of it though, we tend to be unmoved by evidence and reason, no matter how obvious.

In belief polarization a person will feel compelled to ignore reasonable evidence, usually demonizing the reasonable evidence (this makes it easier to deny it).

The only way out is critical thinking and developing the ability to notice when we're falling into any of these natural human cognitive illusions.

Two main troubling values of these cognitive illusions are that, one; stepping back and allowing good judgment and critical thinking to prevail means accepting we're wrong, and we tend to not like that.. and two; it means letting go of a rewarding association we have with our current belief.

It makes us feel like we will be less rewarded, and we don't like that either.

In reality though we are more rewarded by accepting reality.  We're liberated from the illusion, and this allows us to take real actions that cause real outcomes.  We can also be liberated from the emotional and physical harm that an unhealthy lifestyle causes us.

Only our cognitive illusions allow us to act like we're not harmed by chronic overeating and lack of physical activity, or that we're not overeating when in fact we are.

I've written before about how overeating and high concentrations of fat, salt, and sugar have been shown in research to stimulate reward centres in our brains through manipulating dopamine and other neurotransmitters, and have written about other emotional influences on overeating.

Emotional states drive unhealthy decisions

Why we fall for diet and exercise myths

Once the reward seeking pathways in the brain are activated it becomes very difficult to dismiss our sense of reward with food.  If we're stressed we often turn to food because our brains have associated reward with food, and reward is better than feeling stressed, so we eat to temporarily feel good.  This does nothing to address the cause of stress though.. and down the spiral we go.

Our overeating behaviours and beliefs are driven by many complex variables, but most are fairly well understood. There is good news here.. it's not a bad thing to learn about all these things that influence our poor decisions.  Knowing helps us understand what's happening. There are things we can all do to change our biases and misconceptions so that we're no longer harmed by them.

Discover your own biases, their origins, and the things you think and do to maintain them, the things you choose to pay attention to, the people you choose to listen to because they tell you what you want to hear (like the guru with the latest fat loss claim), and those you dismiss because of the uncomfortable truth they represent.. (Um.. Maybe like me ;-)

Critical thinking and emotional self awareness can help liberate people from chronic unhealthy habits that the majority of the population suffers from.  Eating less and exercising more are what we're trying to get at, but we can be our own worst enemies in getting there with our thoughts and feelings.

Wiki link
Belief polarization 

Some Youtube links on these biases:


Underestimating food portions Journal Appetite

People who thought they couldn't lose weight due to their metabolism actually had normal metabolism, but significantly under reported how much food they ate.  They gained weight and couldn't lose it because they ate too much, but their biases had them perceiving they exercised 50% more than they really did, and ate 53% less food than they convinced themselves they did.

New England Journal of Medicine study

Monday, June 16, 2014

How To Recover From Running A Marathon

Recovery starts before you start your race with proper planning.

Make sure you'll have access to the post race fluids and food you'll need immediately after finishing. 

Although there are many commercial post exercise products to consume, healthy whole foods work just fine. 

Be mindful of consuming too much fluid after the race. I assisted in a study on runners in the 2005 Manitoba Marathon and we found that some runners over consumed fluids after the race, which can cause hyponatremia; too much fluid intake dilutes sodium levels which in turn can cause the brain to swell, which could result in death (a nasty side effect).

About 500 to 750 ml of carb + electrolyte drink consumed within the first 10-30 minutes after finishing is enough. 

You're looking to match your post race weight with your pre-race weight as a guide to how much fluid replacement you need. It's ok to take a few hours to make up any difference. 

Trying to replace your fluids lost in race too quickly in large amounts (2 or more liters within 1-2 hous) is where the greatest risk of hyponatremia is. 

Overhydrating is less common than under hydrating; being mindful both risks is important. 

Another litre of fluids over the next three hours is a good idea especially after a hot marathon. 

A quick mild stretch after the run can help prevent tightening up, but isn't 100% necessary. 

It's best to head home, shower, and kick back on the couch as soon as possible. 

It's best to avoid alcohol after the run as studies show booze after physical activity impairs recovery. 

Studies show that the less fit you are entering the marathon the more damage to your body there is.  Part of managing your post marathon recovery is proper preparation. Many people suffer unnecessarily after a marathon by pushing too far beyond their current abilities or from getting caught up in the attraction of the marathon challenge when they're not ready for it. 

In general it takes around 3-4 weeks to recover physically and emotionally from a marathon. 

Physically, blood markers of muscle damage return to normal within 3 to 7 days post marathon, and the leg muscles ability to contract normally again occurs between 4 to 14 days after the long run. 

No running for the first 4-5 days is a good strategy for maximizing recovery. 

See a registered massage therapist for trigger point work or even for a relaxation massage.. Your body deserves it!

Non-weight bearing exercise like swimming, cycling, or roller blading is a good idea for your first couple times returning to regular cardio. 

There's no need for intensity yet, or going long. Don't worry about losing fitness from not getting back at it for a couple weeks.. You won't lose any fitness with a week or two off, and the recovery process will improve your fitness. 

Between somewhere around end of the first and fourth week post marathon, very gradually increase the duration of runs and think about intensity 3-4 weeks post. 

You won't need any more than 1-3 runs per week in the month following a marathon and many people do well with no running with 2-4 weeks after. 

Watch your resting heart rate every day after the marathon and definitely avoid training if resting heart rate is still elevated.  

There is variability between people for when it's best for them to start getting back to regular running. About half the population is more tolerant to more training, with the other half being less tolerant. These high and low volume responders need to be mindful of their individual needs and avoid feeling compelled to start running again just because somebody else already has. 

Avoid peer pressure to push too soon. 

Take the time you need get back to normal and you'll be back to enjoying running healthy again. 

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Calorie denial; & Why There Is Only One Cause For Fat Gain

Climate change denial seems to be a newsy thing of late. I've got a new one; Calorie denial.

Have you heard that poor sleep causes weight gain?  It can't. Poor sleep can't magically make molecules of fat appear out of nowhere and be deposited in our fat rolls.

How about the idea that since people gain weight back after initial weight loss, that weight loss doesn't work?  Wrong again.  The weight loss worked, then the person returned to overeating and gain the weight (fat) back.

These ideas are from those who are in "calorie denial", people who claim that the standard "calories in, calories out" formula for controlling weight doesn't work.  Usually these are otherwise reasonable people, but for reasons I'll explain, can't deal with the reality that overeating is what causes fat gain.

I've heard obesity researchers, dieticians, and doctors say these ridiculous things.  What is wrong with these folks?

They're in denial. Denial that overeating is the singular and only possible cause of gaining extra body fat.

There are many things that drive people to overeat, but in the end, only excess consumed food that isn't used as energy will be deposited as fat in our fat cells.  If we don't eat too much, we don't (and can't) gain body fat.

Stay with me for a couple paragraphs as I give an example of how susceptible we are to ignoring facts, and instead accepting an alternate, muddled perception of reality..

Did you know that the sun has never "risen" or "set", or ever travelled across the sky; and that it never will?  Most of us know this, but shockingly about 25% of Americans believe the sun orbits the earth.

"Sunrise" is a traditional term.  It's left over from a time when we didn't know what we were looking at and named what we saw through our limited knowledge and ability to observe.

In reality the sun is stationary relative to us; we're the ones who are moving.  We're on the surface of a rotating planet and our position moves in and out of the path of light streaming from the star we orbit.

From our perspective it sure looks like the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, and for practical purposes, that's how we refer to the occurrence.

Who get's up in the morning and thinks, "Ahh.. another day of rotating through the suns light".    That's what's really happening, but we don't think about it that way.  We stick with our tradition, which is fine as long as we don't take it literally.  You can bet the folks at NASA depend on the factual understanding of our solar system when planning space exploration.  Just like we should depend on actual facts when making decisions about our diet and exercise.

It's easy for us to adopt urban myths and traditionalisms, but it's also easy for us to be curious and challenge those myths and find evidence supported facts.

 When we're talking about weight loss, we're talking about fat loss.  It isn't that we're talking about losing lean muscle mass, or organ mass, or fluids, or bones, when we're talking about "weight loss" in the popular vernacular.

Even the word "fat" seems to be too much for us to deal with.

It wouldn't matter if one billion people claimed caloric intake isn't that important.  All we would have is one billion people making the same mistake.  Just like all those folks out there who are convinced the earth is flat; they all make the same error and find comfort with supporting each others shared misunderstanding.

We understand fat loss and gain as logically as we understand how the earth is spinning.  There are explainable, measurable, and confirmable facts regarding fat loss and gain, but the current trend is to stick our heads in the sand and ignore what we know about it.

We don't want to deal with our overeating because facing that can feel awkward or just plain bad.

Studies show that most people overestimate how much energy they burn off by 40% to 50%, and underestimate how many calories they eat also by about 40% to 50%.  There are also studies that show than when we're overweight we often don't perceive that we are, or that we need to lose weight.

Being in denial of being overweight or of overeating allows us to continue overeating. Why?  What's so important about overeating?  It's rewarding, that's why.  Even if you don't look at it that way, your brain definitely does.

I've heard the reverence in the calorie deniers voices; those who are calorie deniers sound convinced,  and they're pretty quick to disregard decades of peer reviewed journal research in their sorted stories.

Many don't want to face the reality that overeating is the singular cause of fat gain.  Instead of paying attention to what is relevant and real, there are endless reincarnations of magic weight loss promises, and of our ability to deny we're overweight because we eat too much.  That's how gripping habitual overeating can become.. contrived rationalizations are used to continue justifying overeating, even by some of our most educated experts in health and fitness.

For those who aren't experts, but are suffering from the woes of chronic overeating issues, it's all too easy to lend an ear to the rhetoric of the calorie denial pushers, and join their cause.  Denial loves company because there is strength in numbers. In the end the suffering continues because the real issue is.. denied.

I'll cover a few of the more popular calorie denial idea's out there..

Poor sleep causes fat gain.

Poor sleep doesn't cause molecules of fat to magically appear in our fat cells. Fat in our fat cells comes from somewhere, it isn't magic, and it isn't unexplainable.  The fat comes from food that we didn't use as energy (we ate too much).  Nobody wakes up weighing more than when they went to bed after a night of poor sleep.

It's fairly common now for a person afflicted with calorie denial to suggest that since "research has shown that poor sleep can cause weight gain, that we need to move past looking at calories in and out and pay attention to more complex causes of fat gain".

In reality the research doesn't show poor sleep quality causes weight gain.  That's a misinterpretation. A convenient leaving out of the actual study conclusions that show how the effects of poor sleep can lead to overeating, which causes weight gain.

Re-wording study conclusions to agree with personal bias is an obvious act of calorie denial.

Poor sleep can alter appetite regulating hormones and also reduce cognition. The reduced cognition causes us to be more susceptible to impulsive decisions to choose crappy foods over healthy foods, and the upset appetite regulation causes us to feel more hungry.

If you had poor sleep, but didn't overeat, you would not gain fat.

They don't talk about how poor sleep can lead to overeating, because they don't want to acknowledge that overeating is the singular cause of fat gain.  They have something else to sell; denial.

The strategy here would be to acknowledge that poor sleep can influence us to overeat, and that overeating makes us fat.  It's a good idea to think of healthy sleep as an important part of overall healthy living.  It's not a good idea to believe that poor sleep causes weight gain and then ignore the reality of overeating.

Weight loss doesn't work because people gain the weight back.

Really?  Moron alert! If someone loses weight.. uh.. didn't they loose weight?

The typical malfeasance of "experts" who claim these nuggets of ignorance bury themselves under layers of loony-bin reasoning claiming that weight loss plans that include diet and exercise to lose weight are ultimately a red herring, because these plans "fail" 95% of the time with people gaining back all the fat they lost.

It's pretty irritating to hear experts pass on this misinformation to people who need help.

What do the 5% of people who don't gain the weight back do?  They don't return to overeating, that's why they don't regain the fat they lost.

Diet and exercise don't fail.  It's people that fail to continue with healthy diet and exercise.

Diet and exercise that results in a caloric deficit works 100% of the time.  It can't fail.  That's why people lose fat when they do it.

Claiming otherwise is incredulous.

People give up on maintaining healthy choices and return to how they ate before; which was overeating.

If you don't return to previous overeating habits, then weight gain won't occur.

We don't like the idea of personal failure though.  How about simply accepting this?  What's wrong with accepting failure?  "Ok, I get what happened here, I went back to overeating, that's why I'm gaining the fat back."  Accept the failure for what it is, minus the abhorrent negative self judgment, and return to making healthy choices cognizant of the reality that failure is a possible outcome that we have to be mindful of and avoid.

It can feel embarrassing to contend with the fact that we gave up on successful weight loss and returned to overeating.  People feel like failures.  This is emotionally painful.  This can add to the spiral back to overeating as food is often used to sooth hurting emotions.

Instead of going into denial, which allows for a continuance of overeating, it's better to be mindful of how it is natural to fail, and that one can recover from failure by returning to healthy habits again.

Think about how good it felt to lose weight and that those good feelings are good reasons to continue to make healthy choices.  "Healthy" isn't a bad word.

That's what the denial is about.   Denial is about avoiding an uncomfortable truth.  The uncomfortable truth that despite successful weight loss, most people will return to previous overeating habits and gain weight back.  We know why this happens.  Healthy habits are not perceived as rewarding enough.  Unhealthy habits are perceived as more rewarding.

When on the weight loss plan many will go through the actions of eating an apple instead of a donut, but don't go through the mental and emotional work to overcome why we really wish we could be eating the donut.

We can only take so much of this and eventually all the social, previous habits, and personal influences to overeat overcome the initial willpower to choose the apple, and back to the donut we go.

Yes, I've been there, I know what it's like.

Many people face a daily struggle with healthy choices because such choices feel like a restriction and the unhealthy choices feel more liberating.  In reality the opposite is true.  This article is all about recognizing how we can fail to accept fact and reason.

Denial is part of our human fallibility.

When fat is gained back after initial success it is because the person fails to continue with the healthy choices that caused healthy weight loss.

Calories in, calories out.

So why do people return to living in a way that causes fat gain, especially after being so successful with a way of living that provided successful and healthy fat loss?

There are many reasons.  Culturally we love to overeat.  Overeating is very near and dear to our hearts.  If we don't overeat often we feel like we're being denied one of the most important tenets of happiness.  We love to encourage our friends and family to overeat, and we feel good when we're encouraged to go back for seconds, or to eat a 500-1000 calorie dessert after eating a 2000 calorie meal.

We offer gifts of overeating.  Most of our holidays and special occasions are celebrated with eating too much, and we scoff at the idea of eating healthy during any of these occasions.   An all you can eat buffet is perceived as a "deal" that is willfully celebrated rather than seen for what it really is; gorging on a couple thousand calories that we don't need and furthering the misconception that overeating is somehow a sought after rewarding experience.. In reality behaving like this is at the crux of our obesity epidemic.

Most restaurants have more calorie bomb meals than light meals to choose from, and when most people go out to eat it is with the intention to eat a lot and get enjoyment from eating a lot. We've socially engineered ourselves into a culture that supports overeating from all angles, but we don't make the connection between our reverence for overeating and the fat gain it causes.. doing so would mean we would have to be happy with eating less, and we don't want to do that because we don't believe we can be happy with eating less.. and thus the calorie denial.

What about the "just one time" excuse?  Well, if someone did overeat just one time, and ate less afterwords to balance out the overeating, then they would not gain fat, but that's not what we're talking about, is it?  No, we're talking about chronic overeating that causes a chronic battle with weight gain.  Nobody who is struggling with chronic weight gain should try to convince themselves that they only overeat occasionally or that occasional big chow-downs are not part of why they experience fat gain - this would be denial.

We need to remain aware that food is often used to sooth our hurting emotional state, to cope with stress.

Eating too much also causes us to become conditioned to eating too much.  Chronic overeating has been shown to alter appetite regulation influencing us to need to eat more to feel satisfied and to feel more hungry more often.

Some calorie dense foods provoke a heightened reward stimulis in our brains that results in us wanting to revisit the reward often.

Each of these things are really various ways for us to eat more.  Eat, eat, eat.

Overeating is the singular cause of excess fat gain, but there are multiple things that influence us to continue to overeat or to return to overeating.

Fat has mass.  We can measure it.  Fat molecules in our "fat rolls" are simply excess molecules of food that we ate, but didn't use as energy.  To lose this excess storage we have to eat fewer calories than we burn off.  That's what stored fat is; food.  The only way to reduce fat stores is to place a demand on using the fat stores.  This is what happens when we eat fewer calories than expend, we tap into our fat reserves to make up for what we didn't eat.

To be permanently successful with fat loss and maintaing a healthy body composition, we need to permanently fall in love with making healthy choices, and break off the poisonous relationship we have with rewarding ourselves (which is actually insidiously harming ourselves) through overeating.

For those who aren't successful with a reduced calorie diet and exercise, bariatric surgery may be the only way to lose fat.

Bariatric surgery is all about eating less. That's what causes fat loss after the procedure. It's all about consuming fewer calories than expended; that is the primary purpose of bariatric surgery.

Following a surgical procedure that reduces the physical capacity to consume foods down to very small amounts, a patient will be placed on a medically supervised caloric deficit diet and exercise plan, as well as dietary supplements (the surgery can alter the guts ability to absorb nutrients so a specific supplement plan is prescribed).

In fact, before surgery is commenced successful bariatric surgery candidates will start a calorie reduced diet and exercise program to lose weight prior to surgery to reduce some of the risks of the surgery as well as begin the process of adapting to eating less.  

That's right, weight loss after bariatric surgery comes from consuming fewer calories than are expended.  The surgery does not cause fat loss.  The surgery alters the size of the stomach which reduces the amount of food a person can eat, which reduces the caloric intake.  Calories in, calories out. Sometimes some fat is surgically removed as well as having bariatric surgery, but further post surgery fat loss, and maintaining the reduced body fat, is accomplished through eating less because ones gut has been surgically made smaller, so not as much food can fit.  You have to eat smaller meals because larger meals no longer fit in your stomach after the surgery.

Bariatric surgery is a complex procedure with risks that not everyone is a candidate for.  Thorough medical consultation is required.

Sugar causes fat gain.

Not true.  If one were to eat only ice cream and donuts, but consume fewer calories than expended, fat loss would occur.  This would be a crappy diet devoid of essential vitamins and minerals as well as proper amounts of protein, carbs, and fat. Plus it would of course do nothing to help a person learn what healthy choices are all about, but it would cause fat loss, so long as calories in were fewer than calories out.  It would also be difficult to sustain a caloric deficit on such a diet as these foods light up reward centres in the brain like no other foods can, causing a person to really, really want to eat more.

Sugar can't cause fat gain.  Neither can fat, or protein.  However, sugar does taste really good and feels very rewarding to munch on.  That causes, you guessed it, consuming more calories.  More calories in than out equals fat gain.

Your brain needs 500 calories per day from carbohydrates (sugar).  Your muscles are efficient metabolic machines that are very good at using sugar as fuel.  One of the adaptations to exercise is the bodies increased efficiency at using sugar as a fuel source. From storing more sugar in the liver and muscles, and using sugar more efficiently in the muscles, it's in our DNA to use sugar as fuel, and to get better at using sugar as a fuel.

Our bodies are supposed to eat and use sugar.  Sugar (carbohydrates) are not a problem.  Over-consuming sugars is a problem.

It's factual to say that too much refined sugar in the diet is a bad idea.  It's factual to say that consuming foods with too much added sugar alters appetite causing a person eat more.

It isn't factual to say that sugar, and not overeating, causes weight gain.

In the end, no matter what path a person takes to arrive at putting more food in their mouths and swallowing it, overeating is the only way to gain body fat.   Fat loss only occurs with a calorie deficit.  Fat gain only occurs with a calorie surplus.  We have to move away from feeling offended when we are told or we recognize we eat too much; we need to accept it without judgment, then begin to change our behavior and our feelings about food.  Expressing feeling offended is just more denial.  We create a diversion of feeling offended in order to ignore our overeating.

This is an interesting irony.  We feel offended if it's suggested we eat too much, yet every day we love, love, love to overeat and encourage others to overeat, and accept invitations to overeat like it's some kind of glorious occasion.  Interesting how denial allows us to compartmentalize conflicting concepts in our heads.

What needs to be understood and addressed is that there are many influences that result in a person overeating, and that most often there are more than one of these influences present at the same time.

It's wrong to say that calories in, calories out is an oversimplification.  This moves people away from recognizing they eat too much, and results in people avoiding eating less, because they believe that calories are not really something to be concerned about.  This will only harm, and can't ever help.  It allows for the continued accommodations to overeating, the continued use of chronic overeating to celebrate pretty much anything.  Calorie denial is about maintaining uninterrupted access to the reward of overeating, and avoiding feeling ashamed about the weight we gained through eating too much.

There is no point in remaining or becoming aloof to, misguided in, and supporting the denial of overeating.

With fat gain, all roads lead to overeating; sleep, social, food composition, compulsiveness, habituation, and psychological variables congregate to result in chronic overeating.

To stop overeating, a person has to be able to overcome each of the influences that cause them to choose to overeat.  That's the hard part, but it can be done.

Calories in, calories out, is not an oversimplification, it's a reality check for how simple the ultimate cause of fat gain and loss really is.

Want to know where fat goes when you lose it?  Click here

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Compulsive: When Exercise Becomes Harmful

.."Speaking from personal experience, having an unhealthy relationship with ones self meant I had an unhealthy relationship with fitness".. - Diana (names changed for anonymity)

This is a quote from a runner,  I'll share more from them later.  It took a few years for this runner to realize their adherence to a training program wasn't entirely from a goal to run faster or be more fit.    That's just part of the misdirection they told themselves to make their unhealthy exercise to appear meaningful and justifiable.  They didn't see it as unhealthy at the time. 

For many active people, from the beginner levels up to pro athletes, exercise causes problems while at the same time providing some positive changes in the body, creating a conundrum that many don't even realize they're in.

If you push your self to new limits, exercise dogma tells us we've done a good thing, even if it means pain, suffering, and injury.

The first part of that is true, after a base is built and the body is more capable of tolerating hard exercise, then sure, if you're chasing peak performance, or simply want to feel the gratification of a new personal best, pushing new limits is a good thing, when done properly.

It's common locker room talk to boast of how sore one is from a killer workout, "I'm soooo sooore!  I can barely move!   What a great workout!".   Is this harmless banter? A benign sign that somebody unwittingly went too hard.. but it's actually no big deal?

Or is this a sign of an unhealthy perspective of exercise?

.."I used fitness as a way to feel I had control of my life.  I thought that if I could be a really good runner that I would be a better person worthy of love and acceptance"..  Diana

Indeed.  Receiving praise for athletic accomplishments is normal.  Perform better, and peers, friends, and family will feel proud of their athlete, and it will be happy times to share the good feelings.  This healthy praise though, often becomes intertwined with a person then developing an expectation of praise and sense of self worth from themselves, and those around them, to perform.  This can cause confusion and unsettled feelings.  Intended healthy praise gets muddied with unhealthy feelings and many won’t realize this is happening.   We might be congratulating someone who is really suffering inside.  We might be suffering ourselves and allow the praise to temporarily appease our inner turmoil.

I've spoken to many runners like Diana.  Many bodybuilders, hockey players, gymnasts, cyclists, recreational exercisers.  Nobody is immune and it seems to me like this unhealthy attraction to exercise is growing.  Many use exercise to gain acceptance, to cover up low self esteem, or help sooth unresolved emotional turmoil.   Indeed, exercise is a proven prescription for clinical depression and can be very effective at providing healthy stress relief.  What about when exercise is contributing to stress?

We all need exercise, there's no denying that, but when we are motivated by guilt, shame, and compulsive urges, otherwise healthy activity can sink one into a cycle of self destruction.

I've had many a triathlete tell me about how when they say they're tired and sore, that their coaches and peers encourage them to keep going.  Feeling ashamed for not trying hard enough, they keep going.  How much of this unhealthy encouragement is really the projections of others who share this unhealthy relation with exercise?

Misery loves company.  Thankfully though, many are now realizing the signs of compulsive exercise and emotional suffering and are stepping up with support.  

.."Certain activities become part of my personality and I feel like I need to keep it (hard training). The importance I place on what others say.. It affects me a lot".. Juliette

Get two or more compulsively driven exercisers together and what happens?  From what I've seen they become each others enabler.  I've done this myself.

I remember one ride in particular.  This was back in the 1980's.  I had just finished a typical long Sunday ride with the club.  As usual I hammered the hills, threw in some hard pulls, and sucked wheel when I felt spent.

After 5 hours or so of road riding I was knackered. Done.  I'm relaxing at home and I get a call, "hey Cris, wan't to go for a short one to spin this crap out of our legs?".

My first thought was no way, I can barely walk.  "Come on, it'll be an easy one, just an hour or so".

The truth?  I felt like I had to go.   I had to "man up".  The second ride was crap and I was toast for over a week.  I didn't need the extra ride and it took it's toll on my body, and hurt me emotionally too.  I entered overreaching.  Was it a good idea to associate a ride that harmed my fitness as a positive thing? Is this a good perspective to nurture?  No, I was in conflict.  My club mate assigned value to the extra ride, it destroyed both of us, but we both bought into the idea that’s what we had to do to be “good”.   Really?  Feeling this bad, and dreading getting on the bike is what is expected of me?  No, this sentiment isn’t held by all people all the time.  We’re supposed to have fun out there and often do, for sure.

But for many, that fun often comes and goes in cycles of discouragement, unhealthy suffering, and actual misery.. all of which is rationalized and buried so we can chase that elusive reward of self worth through suffering.

I used to do that routinely.  Most of us did, and we would talk about how hammered we were and how great it was to be so tired and sore.  Thankfully I stopped doing that (um, for the most part), and now have much healthier training habits. I'm no longer constrained by the traditionalisms of harder is better, and more is better.

A few years ago I had a training session with a young athlete.  This was a multisport athlete enrolled in a few different sports at the same time, each with a full training program and competition schedule.

They looked totally bagged when I met them.  "You look like you need rest, do you want to skip today?"  I may as well have asked them if they were willing to stick a hot poker in their eye.

Needless to say the idea of rest was rejected outright.  However, each exercise they tried, they couldn't execute properly, and they could barely do a few repetitions, far less than they can usually do.

"Ok, you gave it an honest try, but it's clear you're really tired.  You need rest more than you need training right now. The rest will make you perform better.  Take a break for a few days, you deserve it."

The teenage athlete started to cry.  To them, they HAD to train.  Their parents were present and I explained the situation to them.  They were aloof.  The idea of healthy rest was not resinating with them. This young person was clearly suffering emotionally and had the distinct misfortune of their parents also trapped in supporting their suffering.  Their parents also perceived self worth through arduous and chronic sports training.  They were in denial, and viewed rest as something that would degrade their child’s sports experience. They never booked with me again, because the athlete and parents saw me as taking away the very thing that was so eminently praise worthy: ongoing training no matter what.

This is a taboo subject. Don't talk about compulsive training.  If you do, prepare to be rejected.  I wish it weren't that way.  It doesn't have to be, and as I’ve mentioned, it is starting to turn around, but such a long way to go ahead of us.

.."My coach didn't respond to any of my complaints of feeling tired, feeling sick every morning, not having an appetite".. Diane

There is great emotional suffering in both the recreational and competitive streams of sport.  Feeling obligated and feeling like the only way to be worthy is through demanding exercise is met with misery and suffering during and after an exercise session.  But in our often dysfunctional sport culture we internalize the idea that we have to suck it up.  We also can receive this message externally, often from those who don't realize they too are affected by distorted reasoning learned through sport culture that places too much emphasis on suffering to be good.  Where's the fun in that? Well in this dystopian script, the fun is supposed to be in the suffering.

And again, confounding this issue is the fact that difficult and challenging training is actually good for us, in the right amount and not too much too soon.  How do we tell the difference between feeling a sense of accomplishment from reaching a new level in a healthy way versus straining to feel sense of self worth through compulsive training?  Fortunately, the answer to this is known and it involves being able to take an honest inventory of our emotions, self worth, motivations, and sense of reward with exercise.  I’ll address the antidote more completely in a future post, but for now the basic idea is that if taking a break makes you feel like you will lose performance and that loss makes you feel uneasy instead of looking forward to being refreshed; you most likely have some degree of compulsivity with exercise.  If you feel like you naturally rationalize misery as part of regular exercise, it’s time to step back and see whether or not the scale is tipping too far towards the emotional dark side of sport and exercise culture/ behavior. 

I'm not sure how much the traditionalisms of the old "go hard or go home" axioms in exercise are complicit in forming these compulsive traits, and how much stems from deep personal issues where exercise is used to suppress hurtful feelings.  In my coaching experience both play a huge roll and I would say about 70% of people I coach have at least some degree of making an exercise decision based on compulsion rather than healthy balanced reasoning.

It's not uncommon to find some disordered eating habits along with compulsive exercise habits.  Distorted body image is also a driver for compulsive exercise.

Struggling with overeating, Juliette says, "I have emotions like guilt and anger at myself, and when I do, I give up (on healthy choices)"..

"Pain is weakness leaving the body".  Or maybe it's actually pain, from doing too much.  As a rule exercise is presented as an idilic dream where you conquer personal weakness by conjuring special hidden powers and rise triumphantly.  The trouble with unrealistic expectations is the consistency at which one fails to meet them.  This often results in feeling discouraged and undervalued, which further results in unrealistic exercise habits to match the unrealistic hype of the ideal uber exerciser.

These exercise axioms are often part of the vocabulary and experience of the compulsive exerciser, but since this style of exercise is so popular, compulsive exercise can be insidious, remaining undetected, hiding behind the facade of "disciplined" training.

.."Many are focussed on pushing while fatigued. Even though this is seen as heroic, it is harming the athlete, promoting compulsivity, and negative mental thought patterns, ultimately causing them to perform subpar".. Dan, triathlete, cyclist

A compulsive drive is when you feel compelled to do something even though it may be harmful.  The harm is usually ignored or justified.

Contrary to popular belief, engaging in hard core exercise as much as possible isn't actually a sign of physical prowess to be in awe of, much of the time it's a red flag for an unhealthy drive to exercise.

Mental and emotional health is finally starting being accepted as a serious issue in organized sports of all levels.  But we're not all there yet.  There are some stand-out athletes who reach out to others who may also be suffering, and there is some support from traditional sport culture.  But it seems to me that at least some of the time, there is a media and local community wave of support for one or a handful of people, but ironically most of that support group still engages in the very exercise traditionalisms that caused emotional and physical pain and suffering in the first place.

It's almost as though the sport community is vicariously rationalizing the poisonous traditions through supporting a few athletes who's suffering has become public.  There is a denial that this will or is happening to them personally, and tragically only happens to a few.  If you're speaking out with support for someones suffering, you don't have to talk about yours.  You can feel exonerated by doing good for someone in need, but unwittingly justifying the next "suffer fest" you attach exaggerated value to.  The same exaggerated value that caused suffering in the person whom you offer compassion and empathy for.  I've seen this in many recreational and elite athletes.

Many find ways of chronically living within unhealthy sport traditions, seeing problems that are products of that culture occurring in others, but “not them”.  It's too painful for many to accept their exercise  routine as hurting them because there is so much rationalized reward from it and so much peer support for going hard.  This is often portrayed as being hard core, something to aspire to.

It's a nasty cyclical problem that still few will feel comfortable speaking about.  Many will feel threatened by the topic and under the carpet it goes.  Threatened because so much of what we do in sports training is anchored to ideals of gaining peer support and making personal breakthroughs by suffering.  Difficult training can help us achieve performance, but for many, probably most, this ideal will be overplayed to the point of feeling a great sense of loss if one were to contemplate reducing training to be more healthy and fit. Many will have their sense of self worth anchored to unhealthy expectations and "going hard".   Any contemplation of cutting back is met with feeling distraught about losing their self worth, losing their "fix".  Loss aversion takes over, and back to doing too much too often we go.

In my view, getting the uncomfortable details out there and addressing them personally, and feeling emotionally safe about doing so is part of the solution.   Genuinely enjoying sports and being active can be partially or wholly replaced with a self deception of enjoyment that is really a rationalization to justify suffering.  

We can enjoy our sports and feel rewarded by healthy achievements.  Let’s look out for each other, and for ourselves. 

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Only 5% of Canadian Youth Active Enough: Report

The 2014 Active Healthy Kids Canada Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth is out.. and.. have to catch my breath.. that's a big title..

On page 10 of the 100+ page long form report I read stats that show about 5% of kids 5 to 17 years old get the recommended 60 minutes of daily moderate to vigorous physical activity, providing us Canadians with a D- grade.  Which maybe we can justify because hey, Australia and the US also were awarded a D- for youth physical activity, so maybe we're really leaders and onto something big.

Like our obesity.  From the 70's to present time childhood obesity has doubled from about 15% to 30%. About 60% of adults are overweight or obese.

I found it interesting that around 80% of parents believe that there is adequate infrastructure for physical activity for youth close to where they live, but only 37% of parents report being active with their kids.

75% of kids participate in organized sports. What's going on here? The report say's only 5% are active enough, yet also say's 75% of kids participate in sports.

The report breaks down some numbers:

75% of 5 to19 year olds in Canada participate in organized physical activities.

Of those, 46% do so year round and 53% participate for less than 8 months and up to 11 months of the year.

34% participate at least 4 times per week, 50% 2 to 3 times per week, and the rest drop off dramatically from there.

Of the whole 5 to 19 year old group participation drops from 83% of 5 to 10 year olds, to 61% of 15 to 19 year olds.

One study showed that 24% of kids playing organized soccer got at least 60 minutes of physical activity while only 2% of baseball players met this level of activity during their practice.  Hockey scored a 50% of kids meeting the 60 min physical activity bench mark.

After the drill down we can see how we can arrive at the overall low physical activity grade.

The report didn't mention anything about how some youth practices are actually over exuberant with getting young athletes to train too hard too soon, but that's another subject I guess.

The report goes on to mention how kids are getting too much screen time, don't walk enough for destinations that are within a reasonable walking distance, like perhaps school, after school activities, or whatever.

While there was some mention that we have developed a culture of convenience and that this influences us to drive instead of walk or ride a bike, I saw no mention of what I think is a larger influence overall.

We love overeating, don't like exercise, and hate being told what to do, especially where overeating and exercise are concerned.

The report did produce a line that I quite like, "we built it and they didn't come", referencing how Canada is actually one of the best equipped nations when it comes to infrastructure for active living like fitness centres, parks, arena's and walkways, but we don't seem to use these facilities that much.

It was also noted that 61% of parents agreed that their kids spend too much time watching TV or using the computer.

I could present you more of the stats, some of which are interesting, but I don't think this report addresses the real issue so I won't go into all the comparisons of Canada's provinces or Canada to other countries. If you're into that data, click the link to the report at the bottom of the page.

I wonder how much we're (adults) influencing our youth with our sedentary habits.

Most adults are overweight and out of shape.  You can certainly gather up a few thousand active people and make it look like there's a lot of interest in living healthy, but overall we're still trending towards increasing our waistline and decreasing our physical activity.

The most difficult task I've experienced as a coach in helping people switch to healthy living is getting people to let go of the reward associations with unhealthy living.  It's hard to not perceive that a walk around the park shouldn't be treated as a behavior that needs the reward of an ice-cream cone or two.

We also have this weird irony where most of the population is overweight, yet there is an unfair judgmental stigma against being overweight. Complicating the matter with another level of irony; although we're all aware of the idea that healthy choices really are better for us, we also offer unfair judgment to those who do make healthy choices; they're the "health nuts".

We have the idea that exercise is a punishment of sorts (which is why you're a nut.. self punishment), which is best delivered by either a screaming commando, methodologically plotted by a science geek, or gently conveyed through a mystic.. whatever way you cut it, exercise is hard, and is delivered by some kind of guru type who of course is a health nut.

So you're wrongly condemned for being overweight while living in a culture that adores and defends overeating, while also being wrongly condemned for making healthy choices while we all know we should be making healthier choices.  If you do make a healthy choice you have to begrudgingly  submit yourself to a health nut guru who's going to punish you and make you do things that you're not sure you really want to do.

The report didn't cover this.  Very few do.

It feels uncomfortable to talk about how we mess up by overemphasizing the reward of eating too much.  The reward attachment is strong, the cultural socialization is strong, and eating too much crap tastes pretty good too; don't want to give that up.

Where exercise is concerned we also have an number of conflicting habits and perceptions.  For those on the no exercise side, many can't see the value in it and may despise the idea of being told to exercise.  It feels too much like someone is meddling in personal affairs. Instead of taking healthy choices at face value, the choices are treated as a kind of oppression or social engineering attempt.

"Don't tell me what to do".  We can get pretty defensive when we're being told what to do, or think we're being told.

For others it's the old "no time" excuse.

For many who do exercise they often have unrealistic expectations of super gains over short periods and that hard exhaustive exercise is the only good exercise.  This soon fizzles out and ends with injury or simply giving up.

We're all messed up when it comes to a balanced and informed take on what exercise is why we do or don't do it.

Our youth are less and less active because adults are less and less active.  It's true that there is growth in the number of people taking up physical activity, which is great, but we still have faster growth in those who leaving being physical activity as well as our population growth overall, leaving space for the sedentary to outnumber the active.

It's in our culture to be inactive and eat too much.  We've socially engineered ourselves to live this way. Somehow we have to get a grip and reverse the trend.

I think a multilevel approach is good; we need reasonable easy access to being physically active, we need some of our tax dollars going towards projects that work, and we need non government resources to kick in as well.

We have all that happening now, but like the report said, we built it and they didn't come. The main piece we're missing is taking a step back from believing that overeating and inactivity are actually not worth the appreciation we assign.  We need to challenge the notion of what we think healthy eating and exercise really are.

I only gain fat when I eat too much.  I lose fitness when I don't exercise.  I feel better, am happier, and am more healthy when I eat healthy and keep up my exercise.

Healthy choices are not restrictive, they're liberating.

It's the unhealthy crap we love so much that is restricting.

Straighten this out, and we'll allow ourselves to naturally gravitate towards healthy choices instead of lamenting them.  It's likely our kids will model our behavior.  They already do now.

After all, who is really going to be motivated to give up something that is perceived as rewarding for something that isn't?

Canadian Youth Activity Report

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Second Hand Smoke vs Car Exhaust

There is no such thing as smokers rights.  It's a euphemism.  It's fake.  It's a manipulative play on the more meaningful term, human rights.  It's interesting that the right to smoke somehow, without question, automatically defaults to being superior to the right to not inhale somebody else's second hand smoke if they don't want to.

So we're not really talking about a right here, more like righteousness.  Funny how those two get mixed up.

Speaking of so called Smokers rights is meant to hijack the emotions, connotations, and legitimacy that embody true human rights issues.  The poor helpless smokers are being abused and downtrodden and all they want to do is enjoy the simple pleasure of their personal choice to smoke.

I'm not buying it. Not when it's in a public place or in a work place where there are others who don't want to smoke but are given no choice when somebody decides to light up in the presence of others.

I'm pretty happy that if things keep going the way they are, I'll never have to inhale the odorous and harmful second hand, third hand, or side stream smoke from someone who's addiction clouds their judgment so profoundly that they actually believe it shouldn't be an issue for others who don't smoke, to have to contend with their habit.

Imagine sitting on a park bench that is absent of the cigarette butts that so many careless smokers discard thoughtlessly littering the sidewalk. I don't have to imagine this anymore.  There is already park space where smoking is banned.  It is quite nice to take in the tranquil vista of a park without a sea of cigarette butts and without the experience being interrupted with the punctuation of somebody's cigarette smoke.

Wouldn't it be great to be able to walk into a building and not have to run the gauntlet of smokers who clearly don't care that their actions affect others so negatively. Why yes, this is great. It is a palpable difference. It will be even better when such bylaws are more wide spread and actually respected.

My preference is to not have by-laws for this kind of thing.  But we do.  We know we need these by-laws because we know how incredibly harmful smoking is to everyone who is exposed to cigarette smoke.  Yet, many smokers overtly express their uncaring demeanours by smoking around those who don't smoke, even when it should be self evident this is not the right thing to do.  Uncaring? Sort of.  That's how these actions effect others.  But the smoker, who is addicted to a substance that provides a reward, is suffering from clouded judgement. That's one of the effects of addiction, it clouds judgment.  It allows the user to contrive justification for their habit, even at the expense of others, by enabling the perception that others needs are not as important their need to get a dose of the drug affecting them.

It isn't as though there are few and far between incidents of smokers conglomerating outside building entrances, there are often hoards of them stinking out the joint. But with newer bylaws that add distance from the entrance of buildings to where one can inhale death-sticks, the smokers gauntlet is thankfully becoming more uncommon.

And yes, wouldn't it be great for those who currently smoke to quit, to rid themselves of the ball and chain that hurts them emotionally and physically everyday.

Yes, that will be great when and if it happens.

Smoking is perhaps one of the most stupid decisions that a person could possibly make.  It's astounding that otherwise smart people still make the decision to smoke.

Or is it?  Addiction and long term habitualized practices are very difficult to overcome.  So is it actually a stupid decision to smoke?  Or, is it a complex addiction that alters reasoned thinking, interfering with the rational choice to quit or treat others respectfully?

It's equally astounding that smokers still try to create arguments to justify their habit.

There is no evidence that the earth is 5 to 10 thousand years old; it's literally impossible for this to be even remotely true, yet people still make up unbelievably crude reasons to suggest the earth is so young.

I put the arguments in favour of smoking in the same room.  It's just idealogical bafflegab.

When I used to smoke (shouldn't be a surprise), I recall knowing I was making a stupid decision, as well as making up all sorts of denial based rationalizations to justify continuing to smoke.

Demonizing non-smokers as panty-waisted do-gooders allowed me to feel superior to them, which made it seem ok to condescend to their cry's for me to be considerate of their precious clean air.

I'm just telling it like it is.  I made these mistakes.

I remember hearing from other smokers that those do-gooder non-smokers are hypocrites because they drive cars that pollute, yet get angry with smokers for stinking out the air people breath.  This doesn't really make sense, but when I was a smoker, I wanted it to make sense so I could find more excuses to defend my addiction (there's the clouded judgment).

I hear smokers and smoking apologists today making this talking point but baseless argument.  They argue that since car exhaust is bad for you, and you wilfully drive a car, that therefore you're a hypocrite, and your anti-smoking argument is invalid.

It's a false equivelency logical fallacy.

Car exhaust being unhealthy, doesn't make cigarette smoke healthy, or invalidate raising concern for the ill-healt effects of smoking.

Usually I write this argument off as faulty reasoning, but I decided to put the rhetoric to the test.  How do car exhaust and smoking compare to each other?  Has anyone done this? I thought this argument was a joke, born out of the defensiveness of an addiction tormented myopic mind.

But I was wrong.  Researchers have in fact compared car exhaust to cigarette smoke, with both coming out, unsurprisingly, as bad for you.

So here's what I found:

Is anything being done about the emissions from cars? Yes, this problem is being aggressively worked on and cars pollute far less than ever before, more is needed, especially in light of the VW diesel scandal. Electric car sales are increasing every year, taking a growing piece of the market.  Tesla is selling more units of luxury cars compared to BMW and Mercedes in some markets.

Likewise, in recognition of how harmful smoking is, great efforts have been made to curtail smoking in public places, as well as efforts to help people quit smoking.  So in reality both sources of noxious fumes are fully recognized as harmful and both are simultaneously being dealt with via industry standards, by-laws and public education (with the exception that cigarette smoke is still just as harmful as it's ever been, compared to low emission cars, hybrids, and electric cars which all pollute less).

There isn't really an either - or.  It's a phoney premise to pit smoking against car exhaust as a reason to smoke in public.  Two wrongs don't make a right.

The whole car exhaust vs cigarette smoke thing seems to be non sequitur in the ban smoking bylaw debate.

The argument is based on the idea that without question, car exahst is inexorably more noxious than second hand cigarette smoke, followed by the leap of logic that therefore cigarette smoke is not really a concern.

Here's an interesting study:  Second-hand cigarette smoke contains 10 times the fine particulate matter than does exhaust from an ecodiesel car.

Researchers compared (1) a car idling for 30 minutes to 3 cigarettes burning for 30 minutes.  The study took place in a garage where the doors were closed and the fine particulate matter of the car and cigarettes were measured.

The cigarettes produced 10 times the fine particulate matter as the car.

Here's a report (2) that uses second-hand smoke as the default comparator when assessing traffic pollution.  The title says it all, Traffic Pollution Is as Harmful for Kids as Second-hand Smoke.

It's not like this is anything new.  A report published 1999 (3)  (j.College Sci. Teaching) highlights a common freshman laboratory experiment where car exhaust is compared to cigarette smoke with the latter having higher concentrations of carbon monoxide than a well maintained vehicle.

Interesting studies. I haven't heard of anyone dying immediately of smoke inhalation in a smokey room (from cigarette smoke), but of course we know a person can die of carbon monoxide poisoning if they stay in closed garage with an internal combustion engine running. Even so, to try to argue in favour of smoking because it doesn't kill you quickly like carbon monoxide poisoning does, would be another logical fallacy. Smoking still makes your life worse and can definitely kill you. These studies quantify the airborne pollutants from cigarettes that harm us. You won't die the day you're in a smokey room, but your lungs are still harmed, there's increased carbon monoxide in your blood, and the chances of you dying younger are proven.

Also interesting is how easily we can fall into denial and rationalization of facts that compete with what we want to believe or don't want to hear.

Smokers tend to rationalize smoking and lash out at those who show concern for them and their health. Thats the power of addiction; it clouds judgement.  The reward seeking brain circuitry that is present in addicted smokers is profound.  An addicted smoker will find themselves making all kinds of excuses to justify smoking because the nicotine reward is profound, and they will feel strongly compelled to continue revisiting the reward.

That's what the real issue is here; convoluted and impaired reasoning spurred by addiction.  There actually is no real or justifiable argument that supports smoking.

The world will be a better place with fewer people smoking.  People will feel better physically and emotionally, will be more healthy, and this isn't a bad thing or something that should spur arguments.

There have been many times where the callus actions of smokers have been intolerable to me.  And I'm making no bones about that. It happens, it's real. Overall though, people who smoke are suffering, whether or not they feel comfortable about accepting that for themselves or talking about it to others. Sometimes that reflexive action of doubling down and lashing out just takes over.

Slowly though, more restrictions of where people can smoke are being put in place. Ardent smokers will often choose to perceive this in a way to protect their denial based narrative: big brother is trying to restrict them personally.  But really it's about protecting everyone from the harms of smoking.  It simply isn't fair to dose people with deadly carcinogenic particles to suit ones own addiction.

Societally I think we have to continue to mature, which in my mind includes stopping things like smoking.  There is no safe level of smoking, it's just stupid.  Most people have managed to realize the earth orbits the sun and not the other way around. This is the level of understanding that smoking is bad for us.  There isn't any point debating it, because the facts are in and the debate is over.  Smoking can't do anything good for us, it can only harm us.  It's just the way it is.

Offence was not meant to the smokers who actually give a damn about others, which is probably most smokers.. but.. due to addiction.. any person battling addiction can end up making bad choices that harm themselves as well as others.

(1) Particulate matter from tobacco versus diesel car exhaust:


Traffic Pollution Is as Harmful for Kids as Second-hand Smoke