Cris LaBossiere

Cris LaBossiere
Strength training and mountain biking. My two favorites

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Holliday eating guide for families

Over the past few years our family holiday dinners have provided more left-overs because we're eating less.

What hasn't changed is the anticipation of getting together, and the warm-fuzzy feeling you get with family hugs.

There is such a strong association with overeating during the holidays that many feel like the quality of family gatherings might be threatened if the multi-plate eat-a-thon is abandoned for sensible eating.

This is where we can conflate the legitimate importance of compassion with the perceived need to overeat.  It's easy to miss the mindfulness step and feel overwhelmed by tradition and perhaps even indoctrination, and not make the connection that those lovely hugs and happy reminiscing moments are not made better by eating too much, and are strong enough to be enjoyed on their own merit.

Here's a thought that might help.

There are a few acute responses to really big meals:

Acid reflux

Poor sleep


mmm.. Good 'ol constipation.  Serve me up some of that!

What's maybe a little weird is that we normalize these side effects and actually pervert them into being accomplishments.  Having to unbuckle your belt and succumbing to moving with expediency of a sloth are seen as podium worthy. We assign a reward association to something that harms us. Why?  Because thats how the reward centres in our brain conspire with our learned habits to allow us to feel justified in behavior that isn't exactly all that rewarding in the long term, but is in the short term.

No doubt about it, many of us have experienced the reward of munching down a few plates of colon-stuffing holiday food, relishing every bite.

But with so many of the population suffering from weight gain, and with the acute displeasure of the above mentioned esophagus-burning etc, maybe it's time to retire this idea, and just go for the family bonding, while enjoying sensible servings of our favorites.

Overeating doesn't cause fat gain?

Many people are tired of trying to lose fat, only to fail.

There are also many who are enjoying long term fat loss success.  What's the difference between those who succeed and those who struggle?

There are many who are saying they are on a low calorie diet and also exercising, yet they can't lose fat.  There are media articles suggesting that there is a mysterious cause of fat gain, other than eating too much.  There is growing popularity in believing that the adage calories in, calories out, is over-simplified, and a calorie deficit doesn't cause fat loss in a significant portion of people.


Before I take you through a few fat loss studies, I'd like to first go after the idea that calories in, calories out is over-simplified.  I don't see that.  Sure, that phrase is a summary phrase, and within that context I can see how a person might like to say that level of reductionism doesn't do justice to the entire process. But to claim that by virtue of the simplicity in the phrase, therefore the entirety of energy balance is also somehow not accounting for complexity, is misleading.

I've gone over the details of fat loss here.  That's a lot of detail.  That's what calories in, calories out is referring to.  The actual ingesting and elimination of atoms, the molecules that make up what we eat.  For many that might seem like a stretch because we're used to looking at a plate of food, and used to breathing, but seldom do we contemplate the reality that yes, we are eating molecules of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen, and exhaling carbon dioxide and water vapour, and urinating out H20 and nitrogen.

It's true.  We can measure the molecules we eat, and the molecules we eliminate.  If we eat more molecules of food than we need for energy, we store the excess as molecules of fat (carbon, hydrogen, oxygen).

That's fairly complicated.  "Yeah but what about metabolism!?"  That is metabolism.  We metabolize molecules we eat, and we eliminate the chemical by-product.  Yes, we actually manipulate electrons and protons to make energy compounds our body uses to run our cells.  That's metabolism.

If someones metabolic needs for the day is 2000 calories, and someone else's is 1700, nothing changes in terms of the energy balance equation.  If the 2000 calorie person eats more than 2000 and the 1700 person eats more than 1700; both have consumed more food than they need.  In the case of an athlete or very active person, if total needs for the day was say, 4000 calories, and on that day 4500 calories was consumed, the excess is stored as fat.

Keep that up and ongoing fat gain is the result.  But what if there really is something we don't understand yet.  What if there really is a significant percentage of the population that somehow doesn't fit this model.  If this is true, we should see this influence in fat loss studies.

What would that look like?  In study after study we would find a significant portion of the study subjects not losing fat when placed on well accounted for, controlled and measured calorie deficit. This quotient of subjects should be prevalent as it is statistically unlikely that through pure random chance all fat loss studies all over the world somehow only capture people who don't succumb to unexplained fat gain or have fat loss resistance.  No such results are occurring in fat loss studies, and I go over this later in this article.

If there really are people who exercise more in addition to eating less with a net calorie deficit, and still gain fat or don't lose fat, where are they getting energy from, and where are the measurements showing that energy that would otherwise be used as fuel is going to fat instead?   There are no studies showing this, and there is currently no consensus that there is an independently confirmed pathway for "unexplained fat gain", other than eating too much.

It's important to realize that we know things like; ATP synthase, a protein structure that makes ATP (the energy molecule our cells use), rotates at about 8000 RPM, and makes one molecule of ATP every three rotations, and that each rotation requires one proton, and that those protons come from the complex biochemical processes starting with digestion and ending with molecules of food broken down to their tiniest parts.

You see, we actually do have a very solid grip on energy metabolism, right down to the flow of electrons and protons.

If there is unexplained fat gain due to metabolic disturbances that is accounting for pounds and pounds of fat gain, then we should be able to easily measure this, since, we already know how to measure this.

Is that complicated enough?  Because that's calories in calories out.

What if someone doesn't know any of that?  What if a person is experiencing difficulty in losing fat, and someone tells them, or they read an article that tells them; their fat gain is because of a mysterious and unavoidable quirk of metabolism?  I can see how convincing that could be.

That's why I write these articles in this way. It's known, but not a common topic of discussion, that atoms, molecules, and spinning ATP synthase structures are intricate parts of our metabolism.  But this isn't as romanticized or as intriguing as a good fat mystery story, or is it?

I'm pretty intrigued by solving the "mystery" through science and evidence, or at least demonstrating that the evidence supporting energy balance as the primary influence on fat gain and loss is very robust.  So much so that people can have confidence that embracing a calorie deficit will certainly result in fat loss.  The only way to return to fat gain after fat loss is returning to eating too much again.  Eating too much.  Now that's a tough habit to break.  Difficult to recognize in ones self, and difficult to overcome, but metabolic mystery isn't part of that.

Fat loss studies

Study: eating too much is cause of fat gain, not metabolism

What I found most interesting about this study is that it looked specifically at people who claimed to be resistant to fat loss, despite consuming a low calorie diet.  This group was compared to people with no history of "diet resistance", or failure to lose fat despite changing diet to lose fat.

There were no significant differences in metabolism between groups.  The group that perceived they couldn't lose weight were found to underreport food intake by about 47%, and overreport exercise by about 50%.

The data showed that the reason the obese subjects in this study had gained fat and weren't losing it was because of "an energy intake substantially higher than reported and an overestimation of physical activity, not to an abnormality in thermogenesis."  They ate too much and metabolism had nothing to do with it.  They perceived they couldn't lose weight because for whatever reason, they falsely accounted for their food intake and energy output.

This can help explain why people can feel so distraught when trying to lose fat, but failing.  If you strongly believe that you're doing everything right but in reality are experiencing a self deception of how much you eat and exercise, it's understandable that it can seem like nothing is working.

How does a person not realize they are eating 47% more than they actually are, and exercising 50% less?  We could say that knowledge of nutrition can be confusing, and sure, that is definitely out there.  Does that mean a person won't understand that poutine is more calorie dense than a spinach salad with light dressing?

Does that mean a person somehow mistakes 15 minutes of physical activity for 30 minutes?  How do you do that, consistently, day after day?  These are important questions to answer.  Fortunately this has been investigated, and is understood.

Study: Unexplained weight regulation turns out to be eating too much

In this study, "underreporting of energy intake from foods is a frequent finding with patients with disturbances in body weight regulation."  Here we find consistency in people who are feeling like they have unexplained weight gain, but really they were eating too much and convincing themselves they weren't eating too much.

 Underreporting food intake investigated, causes found

In this study it was found that underreporters can sometimes feel influenced to underreport foods that are less socially acceptable in terms of weight management, like sweets and fried foods.  People also made mistakes in estimating portion sizes, and felt inconvenienced by having to record food intake.

There is indeed something to folks who express certainty about not being able to lose fat despite trying. Research shows underestimating and underreporting how much they eat, and overestimating their physical activity is a common finding.

Is it possible that these studies just so happened to capture people who underreport their food intake, and missed people who actually do have "diet resistance"?  Maybe, but because that is a maybe and not a confirmed fact, doesn't mean we should jump to conclusions and claim the obesity epidemic is caused mostly by unexplained metabolic disturbances.  Especially when there is no scientific consensus of unexplained fat gain actually occurring.  It's important to realize that there is a strong tendency to ignore the facts and invent contrived reasons for fat gain.

We like to fool ourselves into believing that we don't eat too much, and we're not always willing or immediately able to be cognizant of this.  When we're fearful of recognizing we eat too much, we run away from the truth and rush towards non-evidace based claims of metabolism mysteries.  Pondering a metabolism mystery enables the habit of eating too much, and eating too much is rewarding.

The trouble with trying to support the idea that the obesity epidemic isn't due to overeating, is you have be able to demonstrate that most people who gain fat don't overeat.  You would have to show that despite serving sizes increasing, despite 1000+ calorie restaurant meals being very, very popular, and despite overeating in fact being very common, that, almost nobody overeats.

You would also have to show a consistent failure of a calorie deficit not producing a fat loss result.

Let's look at that.

Low calorie diets cause fat loss

It's important to know that in this study, as is generally the case in fat loss studies, all the study subjects lost fat successfully when on a calorie deficit diet.

No study subjects failed to lose fat.  This is where to get inspiration from.  No failures.  100% success. Calorie deficit caused fat loss in everyone.

Here's an interesting finding, which is not unique to this study, but well understood..

After losing about 6kg of fat mass, by following a calorie deficit diet, the subjects resting metabolic rate reduced by about 200 kcal/ day.

This is an important thing to realize.  Many people are mislead into believing that heavy people have lower resting metabolism, commonly referred to as a slow metabolism.  And that conversely lighter people have a higher resting metabolism. There are also many who claim to have special diets and exercise programs that "rev up your metabolism".

In fact people who lose at lot of body fat show a reduced total amount of calories needed for the day (24 hour averaged metabolic rate), and also lower calories per hour burned for the same exercise intensity.  Why?  It's physics.  When you weigh less it takes less energy to move you.  The great thing about facts is that they are immune to opinion, though many will try to supplant fact with opinion.

Don't be lead astray by this tactic.

As you lose fat your hourly metabolic rate will "slow," and that's not a bad thing, it's a natural thing.  The equation for calories in calories out stays the same.  After losing significant fat, a person will require less food over a day to maintain their new weight, or to continue losing fat.  To clarify, the physical and chemical act of fat, carbohydrate, and protein are used for energy doesn't really change.  That function of metabolism is fairly constant.  What changes is the total amount work our cells have to do.  More muscle cells doing more work requires more energy, fewer muscle cells doing less work requires less energy.  One 100W light bulb uses 100 Watts.  If you have 10 of these, each bulb still uses energy at the same 100W rate, but the more you turn on, the more total energy you need.  Turning on or off any single bulb does not cause the other bulbs to become 50W or 150W bulbs.

When our metabolism is so-called slower it isn't because individual cell function has slowed, it's because the total work all cells in the body combined is less.  When we have extra fat, simply breathing takes more energy because there is more resistance against our lungs expanding.  It's harder to pump blood through blood vessels that are compressed by surrounding fat tissue, and by atherosclerosis.  Carrying extra body fat makes for more work, so measured as energy needs per unit of time, say calories per hour, we tend to interpret more calories per hour as a faster metabolism. 

So not only do we have misinformation and urban myths on what metabolism is, and how it speeds up or slows down, the actual understanding of what metabolic rate refers to is skewed, leading to all sorts of contrived ideas about fat loss and fat gain.

In reality, it takes more energy to move more mass, so the heavier we are, the more calories we burn.  The lighter we are, the fewer calories we burn. This means 100% of claims for metabolism boosting strategies are bogus.  Nothing more than an attempt to appeal to the desperation of many to control their body fat.  You're not looking for a strategy to increase your metabolism, that is nonsense pseudoscience made to appear like something legit.

Of course the rate we use energy changes with exercise (because we have more muscle cells doing more work), but this will have no effect on body fat if we eat too much.  That's why we can have very active people who exercise a lot, yet still gain or maintain body fat, like defensive position football players.  That's why your friend who's into recreational endurance sports like cycling and running can maintain being moderately overweight for years, despite all the exercise they do, perhaps even putting on a few pounds.

If you're 20 lbs overweight and do half marathons or cycling centuries or whatever, but can't seem to lose that 10-30 lbs you want to, it's because you eat too much.

The real problem with all this?  We don't like to face the uncomfortable truth of eating too much.  It can cause us to want to retaliate, to feel bad, even angry.  Especially since overeating can be part of an escape from hurting, or can be a part of socializing, or just habit.

To lose fat you need a calorie deficit.  But also a determination to change how you think and feel about food, and about yourself.  Combine eating less with a gradual increase in exercise and your body uses fat stores to make up the energy deficit.

A bit of a side note, but significant side note.  We don't actually eat calories.  Although I've spoken previously about how we're really eating atoms of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen, and exhaling carbon dioxide water vapour and peeing out nitrogen and water (thus accounting for the atoms we ingest and all the atoms we expel), all that carbon talk isn't that easy to digest.

We're so familiar with the term calories, that any other reference can seem confounding.  I assure you though, we are not eating units of heat energy, which is what calorie refers to.  The term calorie is used because it's an easier way to quantify the energy potential in the food we eat, and a relatively easy way to quantify energy used by cells. We're eating atoms, which make up molecules, which is what the food on our plate is , and what our stored fat is made out of.  But it's easier to conceptualize our total "energy" needs compared to our total molecule needs, though they represent the same practical outcome. We don't eat an actual calorie, we eat food that has potential to be used as energy, which we can measure in calories.  Cold pizza with a 1000 calorie energy potential is not hot, it's cold.  We are not eating heat energy, we are eating molecules of food, that when used as energy, produces heat as by-product, we measure that heat in calories.

The reason I mention this is because it's important to realize that fat isn't a mystery, and neither are calories.  We know exactly how many atoms of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen are in a molecule of fat, we know how we break that down, and we know how to measure the carbon dioxide and water we exhale.

We understand fat gain and fat loss right down to the atom, and have physically measured the total carbon we consume and release.  In everyday vernacular we refer to this as calories in - out.  There is no mystery about fat gain or loss, so the current fad of claiming that fat gain is not understood is very worrisome because it can give people the impression body fat is beyond our control and we're destined to suffer poor health effects of fat gain.  This isn't true, studies prove over and over that eating too much causes fat gain, and that this fat gain is reversible with eating less food than we need for the day, or, more commonly, a calorie deficit.

Back to the study.  This study was looking at differences in fat and carbohydrate amounts in a calorie reduced diet.  Since everyone lost nearly identical amounts of body fat, the carb and fat intake, in my opinion, seems unimportant.  The study authors don't agree, and felt that the marginal differences were important.  Regardless, everyone lost fat by eating less.

Calorie deficit leading to fat loss can reduce dosage requirements of blood pressure meds

In this study 100 people were followed over about one year. Study subjects were placed on an approximate 1000 calorie deficit (daily) to decrease body fat.  People received help with behavior modification, and planning for using both strength training and cardio training.

All subjects lost body fat while on the calorie deficit diet.  Be inspired by this.  Everyone was successful at losing fat.  No special diet, no pills, no hyped claims of fat burning exercise.

Does eating fish cause extra fat loss when on a calorie deficit diet?

In this study of 118 people, some ate fish two times per week and others with the same calorie deficit but no fish.  All those who sustained a calorie deficit lost about the same amount of fat, fish or no fish.

This doesn't mean fish consumption isn't an important consideration in a healthy diet, it just means it doesn't make any difference in fat loss.  Just calories in, calories out.

More fact inspired inspiration!  Everyone lost fat.

Can a larger breakfast, but same total calories over the day produce more fat loss?

This study showed that when a 600 calorie per day deficit was weighted with 70% of calories consumed at breakfast compared to 55% consumed at breakfast, that more fat was lost with the larger breakfast.

The first take-home is that everyone lost fat on a calorie deficit.

It's studies like this one, that don't investigate exactly why the weight loss difference occurred,  have studied authors filling in the gaps in their research with suppositions that suggesting obesity is caused by something other than eating too much. Of course, there is zero evidence for these conclusions, but nonetheless this is where many tend to go.

We know that a larger meal can be more satiating than a smaller meal.  Could it be that eating a larger breakfast increases the ability for people to avoid snacking and increased serving sizes later in the day?

A Mayo Clinic article suggests just this.  Also, skipping breakfast or having a small breakfast provides less energy, which is associated with decreased physical activity.

When critical thinking is applied, and we look at the physiology we know, we can find that there are reasonable causes to investigate, other than speculation about some magical unexplained quirk of metabolism.

Ok, but what about eating a huge breakfast, big lunch, and big dinner?  That's pretty popular too.  So increasing the total calories at breakfast doesn't guarantee that you'll be less tempted to eat more later on in the day.

Looking at a larger breakfast as no-brainer quick fix isn't likely to result in overall behavior changes and the important changes in how we think and feel about food and our health.

Each of these studies demonstrate that all subjects who consumed a calorie deficit diet, (ate fewer molecules of food than were needed for the day), lost fat. And yes, we know exactly where the fat goes! You exhale carbon dioxide (mainly).  In my opinion, it's important that we move beyond the ostentatious headlines and click-bate that leads us to articles that tell us what we want hear; which is usually something that allows us to justify overeating, or our idea that we are different and calorie deficit doesn't effect us.  Right now we only have evidence that shows the single cause of fat gain is eating too much, but there are many things that cause us to feel compelled to eat, and that we can deceive ourselves into believing we don't eat too much, because that enables us to justify the rewarding behavior of overeating.

With so much suffering caused by excess fat gain and obesity, including medical conditions and emotional turmoil, it's important to be able to provide the right support, and realistic hope of success with evidence based reasoning.

Research shows overeating does cause fat gain.  There isn't any confirmed evidence that something else causes fat gain. If someone try's to claim otherwise, remember that such an outstanding claim requires outstanding evidence.  Don't accept patchwork claims that can't produce prodigious evidence of accounting for the mass.  We know how to measure the mass of molecules of food we eat and how to measure where those molecules go.  If someone claims fat gain without overeating, or that calorie deficit doesn't cause fat loss, they would have to be able to demonstrate this in a large study where a large number of people didn't lose fat on a measured and confirmed calorie deficit (not estimated). The researchers would also have to bear the burden of proof, showing where the molecules did or did not go. Don't hold your breath waiting for this because it isn't going to happen.  There is no evidence to even suggest that our understanding of physics is so wrong that we don't know how to measure mass.

The claim of fat gain without overeating is just another popular fad amongst a history of gimmicks and pseudoscience nutrition claims.

Research confirms that a calorie deficit is 100% successful at causing fat loss.  If a person isn't losing fat despite trying, research confirms they will be deceiving themselves about how much they eat and exercise.  This is human nature.  It's part of our human fallibility to avoid dealing with uncomfortable truths by creating diversions.

And that's fine.  It's ok to step back and accept our natural fallibility, then move forward by changing our habits.

Overeating is part of our culture, and so many of us are suffering the ill-effects of this.  Stopping overeating is what will stop the obesity epidemic.   We are deeply emotionally invested in defending eating too much.  Eating too much feels important to us.  It feels like it's needed.  Moving away from overeating feels unrewarding, feels uneasy, feels burdensome.  Eating too much feels good at the moment, and a lot of the time we're eating too much we do so in the company of friends and family, and so we contrive the conclusion that eating to much is a necessity for good times.

It's a repeated association we naturalize and don't challenge.  I ate a lot of food, I had a good time, therefore, more food equals more good, and consequently by extension, less food equals less enjoyment.  These are logical fallacies.  Where logic and reason are attenuated by a habituated emotional response to a dopamine producing reward (overeating).

We're naturally defensive about the connection we have to friends and family.  The strength of this natural defence can also easily override logic and reason.  We can feel emboldened to conflate the value of our family and friends with the perceived value of eating too much.  The result is we can feel that a suggestion to eat less equates to suggesting we will therefore devalue our enjoyment of social occasions.

And so we're conflicted.  We cherish eating too much but it's hurting us.  We don't want to acknowledge that hurt we're causing so we deceive ourselves into believing we're not eating too much or that eating too much is ok.

We rationalize that stopping eating too much equates to stopping enjoying eating, and stopping enjoying time with friends. We invoke the "you have to live a little" excuse to justify overeating, and it seems legitimate because of the enjoyment we experience when eating too much.  But it's all rationalization and self deception.  What we ignore is that of course the value of our friendships and enjoyment don't actually come from only eating too much.  It isn't as though someones story of how their day went has no value without eating too much.  It isn't as though a warm embrace is devalued by eating healthy.  It isn't the case that we won't laugh at a funny moment because we failed to eat twice as much food as we need.  We also ignore the fact that the "wow this tastes great" feeling we experience is actually abnormal excitement of our brains reward centre.  Sure, extra salty, fatty, sugary food tastes really good, but it actually tastes better than whole foods can taste and so we become used to this expression of reward intensity and are not satisfied with less.

We don't want to acknowledge this.  We want to keep that reward coming.

At the same time we're aware that too much fat gain is bad for our health so we want to lose it, but we don't want to stop the overeating that causes it because that can feel emotionally difficult, and it includes breaking the compulsive bond to rewarding ourselves through overeating.

When we move beyond the rhetoric, false claims, and enticing promises of false hope, we're less likely to become trapped in misguided beliefs that thwart our attempts at improving our health.

We have to get passed this self inflicted society wide curse of placing eating too much on a pedestal. We have to recognize our self deceptions where we rationalize eating too much, or we eat too much but justify it as normal and necessary for happiness.

We can do all the things we like doing without eating too much, and all those things will be enjoyable, if not more so.  And overall, life will be less stressful and more healthy because we won't be harming ourselves through chronic overeating.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Commuting by bike when you're out of shape

I've been fit for 30 years. That's made it pretty easy to have the opinion that riding your bike to work is easy. You just do it. 

The last few years though, illness that affects my physical capacity has at times reduced how frequently I could ride to work down to twice per week, otherwise I'd get really bagged out from commuting. 

Being less able to handle exercise made choosing to ride to work feel somewhat of a burden, "this is going to make me tired".  

Recently I was between cars so had to rely 100% on the bike for getting to and from work. Luckily it's only a 15-30 minute jaunt depending on if I take the straight shot or get away from traffic and take some trails. 

The first part of this year I was more affected by illness while the past two months blood tests show a mild swing into remission again. 

Feeling less sick is great, especially since it allows me to gain some fitness back. 

I was worried about how tired I was going to get. I had to plan to be less active after work and weekends. 

The first weekend after all week on the bike wasn't that bad. The third week I was pretty cooked, but every week after that was an improvement. 

I used to enjoy riding most days and it was great to be able to feel that again. 

Nothing beats the invigorating ride in and how pumped you feel when you arrive. Even with its sumptuous aroma and buzzy-buzz, coffee can't compete with how uplifted you feel after an active commute to work. 

Still, I was so glad to finally get my new (used) car after 5 weeks of commuting. I was having a few days where the legs felt like wet newspaper and needed a break. 

Enjoying daily riding can get the better of you, healthy and fit, or not. 

It was great to have my fossil fuel burner again. Gave my legs a rest, which made me faster. 

I'm doing some maintenance on the new wheels so I'm without my gas swilling behemoth again. But it's Monday!

Monday I drive to work with my weeks worth of clothing and lunch. I don't want to commute with a full backpack of clothes. What a PITA.  Or maybe, what a whiner. 

With overstuffed backpack in tow I hit the road for what turned out to be my strongest ride of the year, all 15 minutes of it. 

It felt so good to feel strong. The backpack? I got over it. I thought about the times I used to ride everywhere with a backpack. Grocery shopping was done by bike. 

Sure, nowadays there's picking up 10kg of kitty litter, $120.00 worth of groceries, 50kg bags of sand for yard projects etc.. Could use a bike trailer and plan smaller trips, but let's face it, the car is more practical and convenient for the large hauls with multiple stops. Those habits influence your thinking to be car-centric though, and had led me to move away from being bike-centric.. And getting sick only strengthened my less-bike-is-better new outlook. 

There's a balance in there somewhere, and that balance will have a tendency to shift depending on your situation. 

Recently I went through fearing riding my bike to work because it would be physically difficult and make me tired. I've never experienced that in the past. 

I got over that, and my rides got better. 

I'm not going to fool myself. I could very well become more ill again and have to ride less. But.. I'm going to take advantage, whenever I'm able, of how good it feels to ride to work, to gain fitness, and to realize that while cars have real-world use for sure, our dependence on them can cloud our judgment of what our options are, and of how enjoyable it is to have an active commute. 

Leave the car at home, often. Use it when you need it or your body needs a rest. Get out there and ride, walk, jog. 

And don't get disgruntled about backpacks and changing cloths. The real minus is living in a body that's less capable because it's not being exercised. 

Friday, July 17, 2015

The Irony of Overeating

"I eat what I want and that makes me feel good.  What's wrong with that?"

There's a painful irony in that.  That's whats wrong.

Eating crap food and overeating overstimulates reward centers.  This makes eating crap and overeating seem extra pleasant. It's why we perceive donuts as tasting really good.  This level of reward stimulation can't occur with healthy foods, because truly healthy foods don't have high calorie counts, or large amounts of fats, sugars, and sodium (which are the cause of the over-stimulus of the brains reward centers).

Healthy foods are very satisfying to eat, definitely enough to live a gratifying and rewarding life.  But junk food and overeating take the flavor reward and sense of elation to abnormal levels.

Once this stimulus occurs, reward seeking habits are initiated and most people will experience a heightened drive to overeat again. And again. This is our brain trying to get repeat access to what caused the rewarding feeling.  When we compare the abnormal elation experienced with eating crap to the comparatively lesser elation of healthy food, we perceive the crap as the more compelling choice. When you remove the crap for a period of time though, your brain can adapt, and you feel very rewarded by healthy foods. Re-introduce lot's of crap food again, and you'll feel driven to seek the crap.

When this drive is occurring, the reasoning part of our brain is impaired, making it harder to recognize the harm in the choice to overeat.  The reward drive can be very influential.

Usually we're aloof to the fact that reasoning is impaired (which is why the impairment is successful), and the altered reasoning caused by reward seeking causes us to perceive that it makes perfect sense to justify overeating.

"Donuts? Makes sense.  Apples? Those are stupid".  Actually, the apple is typically not even on the radar when donuts etc are around.

Because access to the elation caused by eating crap is prioritized by reward seeking brain chemistry and circuitry, we find ways to justify eating crap and overeating.

For most people this causes harm in excess fat gain, and - or harm in chronically cycling between fat gain and loss, and the emotional roller coaster that goes along with that. And also getting caught up in the cycle of adding more exercise to reconcile all the crap we eat.

Most of us have heard and used the expression, "come on, one won't hurt you", to encourage a person to eat some kind of crap. Pick that apart and it can be seen that really this is about covering up the potential harm while exaggerating how good it's going to be.

Drill down further and we find little truth to the sentiment.  It rarely really is "just one". Chances are this justification was used earlier that day or week. You could argue that one piece of whatever isn't harmful, and I would agree with that for many people, for many different occasions.  But what I'm addressing here isn't the actual one time here, one time there indulgence that doesn't result in fat gain.

In reality one large meal results in acid re-flux, indigestion, and constipation.

For many people who struggle with chronic overeating, one piece of cake may trigger appetite.  You know what happens with that?  Often the person will graciously say thank you and enjoy that single piece (or two) in public, but then later in private continue to overeat because the reward driving behavior has been stimulated.  Why would we knowingly contribute to that harm?  Because, ironically, we see crap food and overeating as rewarding.

Does this happen all the time with everyone?  No, but don't use that to discount how frequently this actually occurs with many people who struggle with weight and eating (the majority of the population).

For the few that occasionally overeat and eat crap and don't get caught in these cycles, this doesn't apply to you, and no, you can't use your situation to justify encouraging others to overeat.  This amounts to encouraging harm. What is the point in that?

Most people will gravitate towards feeling they are included in the part of the population that doesn't struggle with eating and fat gain.  This is usually the reward seeking - reasoning - impairing expressing its self to justify eating more.

All this leads to many people who struggle with weight cycling and weight gain to live ironically; wanting to revisit high calorie, high fat, high sugar, high sodium foods so they can have an "enjoyable" experience.  But in reality the weight gain and conflicting emotions cause physical and emotional anguish.

We don't need overeating or frequent junk food to have an enjoyable experience.

One of the more disturbing expressions of this irony is trying to express satisfaction with excess fat gain and obesity with euphemisms like, "love the skin you're in".

This is an effective manipulation of the legitimacy of sense of self worth.

It's important to feel good about ourselves, but it's important to not have that sense veiled by dysfunctional thinking.

An athlete may develop compulsive exercise habits wherein to feel good about themselves they have to appear a certain way, and exercise no matter what.  Those suffering compulsive exercise will often justify their actions by telling themselves they're healthy and fit, exercise is good for them, etc.

A person with a smoking habit may justify that they are their own person and they're going to "stand up for their freedom". The expression of this stance will evoke feelings of personal autonomy, justice, and self aggrandizing, all of which feel good.  The sense of feeling good is a distraction from acknowledging the harm of smoking and that really the smoking should be stopped.

Likewise there is a current trend to use the halo effect of sense of self worth to justify overeating and being unhealthily overweight. The irony in each of these situations is that the actions of the over-exerciser, the smoker, and the over-eater, are demonstrably harmful.  And the reality is, in moments of personal clarity, most people suffering from excess weight gain will feel distraught with their weight and inability to reconcile chronic overeating.

Because sense of self worth is so important, it's easy for well intended people with empathy to be misguided and fall into the trap of supporting chronic overeating while believing they're supporting a persons right to feel okay about being overweight.  This shouldn't be about isolating excess weight to feel good about, it should be about deeper sense of self that goes beyond body composition, that includes the healthy sense of awareness that being chronically overweight is unhealthy and causes harm.

In short, you're okay, the excess body fat isn't... Because the excess body fat is a result of dysfunctional eating and unhealthy behaviors that cause physical and emotional distress. Maintaining the excess fat means maintaining the overeating and distress.  Ironically, being okay with excess body fat, means being okay with self-harming habits and emotional, physical distress. You don't get self worth from that.

The end result of this can only be sustained suffering, where the overeating that caused the excess fat gain and all the typically hidden turmoil that goes with it, to continue, now under the protective veil of sense of self worth.

Where we've gone wrong with this, where the irony of overeating is at play again, is that there is a tendency to "fat shame".  Ironic, since the majority of the population is overweight.

Ironic because the majority of the population encourages others and themselves to overeat, the very action that causes fat gain.

Fat shaming is disrespectful, stereotyping, derogatory, and prejudice. It's a lousy situation to be overweight and endure this mistreatment from others.  Low self esteem is understandable here.

It's important to find a way to self respect, as well as respecting the humanity of others, regardless of body-fat percentage.

It's also important to not use sense of self worth as leverage to justify harmful overeating.

When the legitimacy of personal sense of self worth is superimposed over the real-life physical and emotional health issues tied to excess fat gain, misdirection occurs.

It's already hard enough to escape chronic overeating, a habit who's calling card is denial.  Further enabling this denial isn't helping anyone.

We use celebration, humor, sense of self worth, enjoyment, and expression of care for others as enablers to justify overeating.  Each of these have positive attributes that make it easy to capitulate to the false reasoning that overeating is okay.

And back to the irony of overeating we go.  Chronic overeating and cyclical overeating cause emotional and physical harm, but we sugar coat this harm with heart-string playing manipulative cover-ups.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Using BCAA's for performance update

I forgot to take the protein supplements for one workout.  Didn't make a difference.

So I thought, might as well put a hold on taking them for a couple weeks and see what happens.

My performance increased. 

Does this mean that BCAA's decrease performance?  Not at all.

Recall from my introduction to my BCCA supplement experiment that when I first went on them I had an increase in performance.

..And that increase in performance was expected anyway because I was in a recovered state when I started.  Regular exercise causes regular fatigue.  When you feel or measure this fatigue starting to reduce your performance, you go into recovery mode where you preference more rest rather than more training.

Somewhere between 3 to 10 days of more days off and lighter exercise, you'll notice your performance starts to increase again, and then surpass your previous best.

This will immediately be followed by increased fatigue and decreased performance.  

Changing whether I took BCAA's or not had no effect on my performance.  What effected my performance was how hard I trained, and how much I paid attention to my body to properly recover from reasonably hard training (not an all-out suffer-fest). 

Performance naturally increases and decreases anyway.  When you train right, you net an overall gain over time, as you go through the normal cycle of fatigue and recovery.

The take home here is to realize this, and not allow yourself to fall for confirmation bias, where we assign a causal effect to things we want to believe in. 

I can easily see how a person could take a supplement, experience increased performance that was going to happen anyway, then draw the conclusion that it must have been the supplement.

Although it seems futile to me, I'll go back on the BCAA's again, for the purpose of writing about my experience, and giving you an honest account of what happens.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Getting ripped with BCAA's

Branched Chain Amino Acids, BCAA's.

Leucine, isoleucine, and valine.

I'm on another supplement trial.  Two of the many suggested promises of taking BCAA's before, during, and after, or just before and after training are;

1) Decreased DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness).  The soreness and stiffness you can get between one and three days after hard strength training (or any challenging activity that you're either not used to, or you've increased the intensity of).

2) Increased endurance, shorter recovery periods, reduced muscle damage for endurance training, like cycling and running.

I'll update my experience here over the next two months, adding a review on studies on BCAA's.

So far BCAA's have done nothing at all to reduce DOMS.  I was taking 3 grams 15 minutes before strength training and immediately after.  This did nothing for performance, and nothing to change my perception of DOMS.

I found plenty of broscience recommendations to consume at least double the amount I was taking (I was following the manufacturers recommendations listed on the container), as well as adding a dose in the middle of the workout.

I have no confidence at all in speculative broscience confabulations about how great people recall their performance increases being.  I understand that one of the common arguments broscientists make is that researchers are stupid lab people who don't understand the real world of training, and so "real" training advice should be sought from people in the gym.  I guess this means making no exception for the exercise physiologists who are also athletes or avid exercisers.  This perception also introduces an interesting irony in that the anti science gym rats will gleefully purchase, consume, praise, and recommend products made by the very scientists they rebuke.

Confidence or not, I still tried the broscience dose.  You know, to be thorough.  I still found no change whatsoever in DOMS or performance, or recovery.

As usual I was careful about recording my strength training; every rep and every set recorded.

I keep detailed records of my training on the bike as well.  So any change from the norm would show up in my training records.

With looking at my blood lactate, heart rate, wattage (how hard I'm peddling), and my perceived exertion, my rate of progress is the same as usual. Small, predictable increments every week or two, nothing out of the ordinary.

My daily resting heart rate and orthostatic heart rate testing has revealed I'm not recovering any earlier or later than usual.  This is after three strength training sessions and three bike training sessions.

With BCAAS, and the specific promised improvement claims I'm testing, there is supposed to be an immediate noticeable change.  This is because all of the amino acids I'm taking will be metabolized quickly.  The process takes hours, not days or weeks.

So far BCAA's are fail.  But as usual, I will be thorough and finish off the supply I bought, waiting out any possible subtle trending affect that a broscientist might protest about.

Something to think about.. 6 grams of BCAA's amounts to 24 Calories. Nobody in their right mind who understands nutrition and exercise energy demands is going to be believing that ingesting a mere 24 Calories could possibly contribute to any kind of endurance improvement. Especially when carbohydrates and fats are the predominant fuels for muscles, with protein contributing little energy (10% to 15%). So the endurance improvement claim is a non-starter. But who said broscientists are in their right mind?

Worth mentioning:

One of my gym rat buddies I was working out with was keen on being kept up to date on my BCAA trial.  He joined me for the workout where I added the extra broscience recommended dosage.

I had a great workout.  My friend remarked, "I wonder if your extra reps today were from the BCAA's."  "It's plausible", I said.  After all, that's why I'm doing this.. to see if training performance improves.

But it wasn't so.  The very next workout I didn't perform as well and cut my last set to avoid junk training when fatigued.

Looking at my training records my "good day" was part of my normal fatigue/ recovery cycle, which is normal for everyone.  It takes about 14 to 21 days to go through the cycle.  My improvements were from the natural adaptation to good training, not from the BCAA's.

In coaching there is this old saying, "beware the third week of training".  It refers to the common occurrence that regular performance orientated training causes a gradual accumulation of fatigue, which by the third week of training, shows up as diminished performance and feeling a bit sluggish.

The remedy is to be mindful of the trend, and start backing off a little (or taking a break for a few days more than usual) around week three or so.  After paying more attention to recovery protocols you start your "cycle" over again, and sure enough, around week three (ish) you start losing a few reps on some exercises, or your cardio activity will start feeling a bit tight at the start, a little harder to push, and heart rate is usually higher than normal for the same pace.

Likewise you will experience a few workouts per month where everything clicks and you perform a little better than usual.. but there's a catch.. we all know these days are fleeting and within a few workouts of the stellar day, much of the time, sometimes even the very next workout, your performance starts slipping again.

My few extra reps?  Well I've had workouts like this cycle consistently. It's predictable.  You train, and you adapt. The adaptation is expressed through greater strength and or endurance.  Did more reps with the same weight?  Great.  You're experiencing the expected adaptation to exercise. That's why we train: to stimulate a response in our bodies.  The few extra reps I achieved were right on schedule.

Same pattern as before taking BCAAs, same pattern now, and the pattern will continue after I stop taking BCAA's.

The most important part of why this is worth mentioning was the susceptibility to confirmation bias.  My friend wanted there to be a possibility that the supplement was working, and, despite my scepticism, so did I.

The reality of hitting a fatigue cycle the next week as well as reviewing my normal rate of progress quickly disintegrated any current wishful thinking on my part that might be lurking in my subconscious.  That's the trouble with our natural human fallibility of confirmation bias (automatically choosing to see things in a way that supports an existing belief or a "power of suggestion" outcome).

This is how scams, hoaxes, and things like horoscopes work.. they prey on the vulnerability of our natural gullibility, wishful thinking, habituated beliefs, and susceptibility to the power of suggestion.

Had I not been taking any supplement my buddy and I would have simply treated the extra reps workout as one of those normal adaptation days where you're more recovered and have a better workout. Just like we always do.

This is what most people will be experiencing when they perceive a supposed performance increase with any supplement they take.  They will be expecting to feel better, and so they allow this perception, and will even fake the perception to justify using the supplement.  Or they will simply experience a normal adaptation to training and attribute it to the supplement.  When they have bad training days, it's just a bad day or whatever.. And when they have a good training day, it must be the supplement.  That's confirmation bias.

Herd mentality applies here too.  If a bunch of people you know are getting "benefits", well then, you are too, and now you can have a communal placebo effect love in with all your friends.

Yeah, I know..  You didn't want to here that.  But hey, if you can have just as good training results with healthy eating, proper recovery, and good sleep, without the supplements.. maybe that's a better place to be.  Better for the wallet.  Better for the psyche too, because now you can enjoy your fitness without falling for the promise of false hope.

Stay tuned.. See if I get ripped abs, or ripped off, with BCAA's

Final results:

OK, after a couple months on BCAA's I experienced no change in my normal rate of improvement.  This means my rate of adding reps and increasing the weight I lift was the same before, during, and after my BCAA trial.

The most important take home here is that if you're motivated and train efficiently you'll make progress, because adapting to exercise is coded into our DNA.  If you train right and eat right, you can't avoid making gains.

Equally important is recognizing our vulnerability to wanting to believe a pill is going to, or is, adding to our performance.  If you're not on anything and you squeeze out more reps you'll be satisfied that your training is working.  If you're on whatever performance supplement and squeeze out more reps you're likely to want to attribute those reps to the supplement, and not the training.

That's just how our heads work.  Be mindful of this so you don't deceive yourself, and are not deceived by hype or personal testimonials from others who don't realize they have succumbed to the placebo effect.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Superfood showdown: Quinoa VS Lentils

Quinoa.  Claimed superfood. A sacred crop of ancient Inca culture.

The United Nations declared 2013 the "International Year of Quinoa".

Hailed by endurance athletes for improving performance, with tall tails of how just one handful of the ancient grain can propel you for hours, as it did the Inca's.  Not really.. as one handful of quinoa is about 90 calories (depending on how big your hand is).  That's enough calories to get me about ½ a kilometre (0.8 miles). So, not a miracle endurance food.. such a thing doesn't exist.

It's easy to cook, tastes great, and goes with pretty much everything.

Ok.  What about lentils?  I haven't seen any advertising for lentils, the "superfood".

The hipsters and "clean eaters" aren't into lentils like they are quinoa.  Poor lentils, they're just not hip enough.  At a mere one tenth the cost of quinoa they're just not expensive enough to be posh like quinoa.

 With archaeological evidence showing lentils were part of the human diet nearly 13,000 years ago (about 6000 years before quinoa shows up in our diet), it looks like these little pulses could be assigned even more "ancient" mythical greatness than quinoa.  Looks like the soothsayers who push the idea of "superfoods" magical powers missed an opportunity to bamboozle folks with how lentils are even more ancient that quinoa.

Apparently lentils are blessed by seventy prophets of varying religions, including the big two; Jesus and Mohammed.  Can I get a hallelujah or a Allahu Akbar? How about a praise Saturn, ancient Roman god of a bunch of stuff, including agriculture.

Take that, quinoa.

Cooking time is similar between quinoa and lentils (about 10 - 15 minutes), even less for red lentils.

Witticisms aside, quinoa and lentils are great choices for easily prepared very nutrient dense foods.  Don't let the hype behind quinoa convince you it's something it can't be (magical), and don't let the lack of attention to lentils prevent you from adding them to your healthy diet.

I buy both, and use them interchangeably. I definitely like the price of lentils more. Lentils can go a long way to providing you and your family with good wholesome nutrition while costing literally pennies per serving.

According to wikipedia, Canada is the number one lentil producing country in the world, most of which is exported.

Support Canada! Eat lentils.

Or maybe eat lentils because they're an inexpensive, very nutrient dense, great tasting and versatile food.

The amino acid score for quinoa is slightly better than for lentils, but lentils have about twice the total protein.  If your diet is balanced and you have good variety, you won't be depending on any one food to meet all your protein or other nutrient needs anyway, so nit picking at specific nutrient strengths and weaknesses between comparable foods is a waste of time.

Take a look for yourself.. Lentils come out very favourably. Don't like the price of quinoa? Buy lentils.  You won't be selling yourself short.

Below are the calories and nutrients in one cup of cooked lentils and quinoa. Data from   Links to nutrition data full page below as well.

Claims of quinoa being a super endurance energy food are totally false.  Any starch carbohydrate source will provide an energy source.  Sweet potato, potato, rice, pasta, beans, oatmeal.. take your pick.  The lentils and quinoa deliver more vitamins and minerals per serving, but the others also have nutritional strengths, and energy density is very similar between all of them.  Mix it up.

Whenever I hear claims for tremendous health or performance outcomes from eating "superfoods", I have a cough reflex.  You know, where you muffle saying "bullshit!" while coughing?

In my view the phrase "superfood" is sensationalism, marketing puffery, and typically used by self-proclaimed guru's and diet experts who are ultimately trying to sell some kind of diet or supplement, or food product, or just trying to sell themselves as having extra special insightful secrets that others "don't want you to know".

Nutrient dense foods have enough going for them that's legitimate, no need to make exaggerated claims.  It's true that making the switch from a chronically poor diet to a healthy diet can make a very significant difference in the health and wellbeing of an individual, but it's not true that eating quinoa instead of lentils  (or the other way around) will make a significant difference in ones health.  Or eating kale instead of spinach for that matter.  If you already eat healthy and cover all your nutrient needs through a variety of whole foods, having a kale and blueberry smoothie will not give more energy than something else of equivalent calorie value, and won't cause you to sleep better, or run further, nor will it prevent disease.

I'm not saying never drink a kale - blueberry smoothie. . . I'm saying don't put misguided faith into such things delivering a special and significant health or performance benefit that is better than an otherwise already healthy diet.

The better quality of life comes from the combination of good sleep, varied diet (we need the variety because no single food covers all our needs), and healthy exercise, not from a single "superfood" or super smoothie or whatever.

Don't feel torn between posh quinoa and street-cred lentils.  There is no real dichotomy, no special reason to choose one over the other (unless you have an allergy to one).

Lentils and quinoa are better choices than junk food though.



Cooked Lentils
Cooked Lentils
Cooked Quinoa

Cooked Quinoa

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Fake health food claims

CBC Marketplace, a TV series that investigates shoddy shake down artists and false marketing claims, has turned their focus once again on food companies.

In the February 13, 2015 episode of CBC's Marketplace, popular foods with suggestions of health on the label are investigated, revealing the true nature of their ingredients.

From fruit roll-ups that have only 10% of your daily vitamin C needs, carrot bread that has only 6% of your vitamin A, to misleading serving sizes, Marketplace shows us just how misleading food labeling can be.  For the record a medium carrot has 204% of the daily value for vitamin A, and you can easily get 100% of your vitamin C for the day from either an orange, some broccoli, half a green pepper, a few strawberries.

Where does that vitamin C in the fruit roll-up come from?  Fruit maybe?  Reading the ingredient list I see vitamin C is added, so.. not from fruit. Strawberry fruit roll-ups don't list strawberries anywhere on the ingredient list. It does have pears from concentrate, so there is fruit in there..

Fruit roll-ups are not anywhere near being even somewhat equivalent to fruit.  They are a concentrated sugar source with dismal nutrient density.   Flavoured sugar.

From phoney yoga pushers, supplement pushers, to food companies telling you their sugar and salt is health food, we are inundated with lies and misdirection, and we get sucked in, nearly every time.

We want health food that tastes like candy. We want our fitness delivered either by a magical mystic or a boot camp militant, or we'll trade off between the two, presuming we're getting the best of both.

Why are we so gullible?

Part of it is being conditioned by the relentless marketing.   A few years ago Nutella was sued for false advertising.. their health claims weren't true, but ask most people who eat Nutella and they'll tell you they think they're getting good tasting healthy chocolate nuts.  They believed the marketing hype.   Marketplace investigates Nutella in their post-lawsuit era, showing that they're up to the same tricks, just worded a little differently.

Here's my original post on Nutella being sued in 2012

Same thing with supplements.  Would you buy a product that said, "useless pill that does nothing" on the label? While I believe that some people actually would buy that, most would not, but that's what you're getting when you buy performance supplements.

When you're looking for "that extra edge" for making gains from exercise, most people will at least be intrigued by a label that say's, "Increase your power with super oxygenator", and goes on to describe how the pill has special ingredients that deliver oxygen to your muscles, and makes you go faster.

The trouble is, there are no magic ingredients that make muscles take up more oxygen and make you go faster, but many sure want to believe it.

We have a supply and demand system where consumers want unrealistically good things, and companies who understand consumer psychology who are willing to tell you what you want to hear.

Part of it comes from the consumer wanting the very promise of hope that is targeted at them.

The desire for unrealistic outcomes has to be pretty strong, because selling snake oil is nothing new, and the problem gets worse every year.  Despite having the knowledge of the snake oil style of scamming, most people will wait in line to get ripped off, and immerse themselves in the culture of the scam, forming a symbiotic relationship where their dependency on wishful thinking is fulfilled by those selling false hope.

People congregate in yoga classes convinced they are aligning their chakras with cosmic geometry, or at least that they'll achieve some little piece of health nirvana from their mysterious and wise leader that they give their money and time to.

The yoga teacher tells you how you're going to feel, and wouldn't you know it.. people in the class claim that is exactly how they felt.

When you buy and consume foods with health food claims, you're doing that because there is some sense that you might benefit in some way, you want the promise of health to be true.

Same with the supplements.  You get 10 people on the same supplement and you're likely to find that most of the 10 will support each others perception that the pill is working for them.  Thats herd mentality, and it's very convincing.  It's a form of confirmation bias.  You want to believe something, and will find ways to perceive things in a way that supports the belief.. including feeling comforted by others who share the same distorted perception.

Eat whole foods, mostly plants, sleep well, exercise smart, understand your deeper emotional motivators that can trip you up and lead you to these fakers.

It can be disconcerting to have our perceptions challenged, especially if we're invested in them, but what if it's a well orchestrated ploy?  I'm not talking about an abstract, edgy conspiracy theory, that's for the tabloids.  I'm talking about commonly exposed fakery like misleading food labels, false health claims, and false exercise claims.

If you've been buying a supplement for the past few years that you've sworn by, but really you've been sucked in and it's all been power of suggestion, placebo, and your own wishful thinking clouding your judgment, it can be pretty unnerving to face that.

If you've bought into the pseudo-caring presentation of a yoga scammer who's been telling you they're aligning your inner power when really you're being indoctrinated into a cult (yes, it really can get that bad); that can be pretty tough to see and walk away from.

It's even harder to walk away when the seller you're buying from has been fooled themselves, and they believe in the deception.  This makes it harder to see the lie, because the seller actually believes in what they're doing.  I've met supplement sellers, trainers, health food sellers, and yoga instructors who have been completely bamboozled themselves, and they really believe they can help people with their spurious claims.. only.. they think their claims are factual.  These folks really do care about helping you, but their genuine caring has been hijacked by the very promise of hope they're selling. Because what they're selling is fake, they can't actually help anyone, but through indoctrination, placebo, and cognitive illusions like confirmation bias, they are aloof to the whole ordeal. That's a real clustermuck to overcome.

Your inner strength isn't going to come from some enigmatic source.. it comes from you taking the time to learn about what healthy eating and exercise is all about.  It will come from developing a more realistic sense of self where delayed gratification has more power than instant gratification, and where you feel comfortable and confident in verifiable facts, rather than spurious claims targeted at your sensibilities.

Sellers of hype need to be held accountable within our laws, but that isn't going to happen anytime soon.  Don't hold your breath.

Instead, find your own accountability and avoid things that seem too good to be true, or that sell overly hopeful outcomes.

It turns out, that you can have the better health, the lower stress, better performance, and get all the healthy nutrients you need, from never buying into any of the hype, and taking the time to do it right.

Do this, and you'll feel good for real.. instead of faking out yourself and buying into the hype.

CBC Marketplace "Food Fiction" episode 

More posts on this subject

Results from taking creatine for one year

Does caffeine increase performance?

Drugs found in health supplements

Research debunks yoga 

Sodium information on nutrition labels misleading

Friday, February 13, 2015

The most deadly weight loss advice

There is a rash of news reports on obesity experts claiming diet and exercise don't, and can't work, for weight loss.

Claiming that diet and exercise can't work for sustained, healthy weight loss is the most insidious, callus, and harmful advice possible, yet this is the fastest growing trend in the battle against (sic) obesity.

This kind of disillusionment applied to the only effective treatment for obesity and weight loss is robbing people of their only possible help.

People will continue to suffer.

Many don’t “believe” that permanent fat loss can occur, because they are emotionally compromised by the dismal failure rate and all the of the physiological and psychological challenges to overcome.

If we stay with the evidence of what works though, and work harder on delivering that, then the success rate will climb.  It's important to recognize how confidence inspiring the evidence is for permanent fat loss is, rather than focussing on the failure.

Diet and exercise, along with substantial cognative and emotional work, every time, without exception.  Deviate from that process though, and failure is imminent. 

If you came across a shovel next to a spot where a hole was intended to be dug out, but wasn't, it would be wrong to conclude that shovels don't work.  Pick up the shovel, start digging.  If you stop digging, it still would not mean that shovels don't work.  Progress was halted by stopping the action that causes progress.  If you buried the evidence by shovelling the hole back in, you would not be changing the reality that the hole was successfully dug in the first place.  Start digging again, and you'll make progress again.

Claiming that regaining weight after weight loss is outright failure, is about as misleading as saying that shovels don't work.

Fat loss without a calorie deficit simply cannot occur other than with invasive surgery, and if there aren't lifestyle changes to accompany that surgery or calorie deficit weight loss, failure is the typical outcome.

We know the chance of successfully reversing long term obesity and excess weight is virtually zero.. only about 1% of people who try to get down to a healthy weight are able to succeed beyond the 5 year mark, and maintain it for the rest of their lives.

So what causes the failure?  

Returning to previous overeating habits.  More calories in than out causes fat gain.

It isn't the case that lifestyle changes don't work, they do.  What happens is people halt the positive habits because they didn't completely overcome previous negative habits.  Overeating feels very rewarding, and moving away from that reward feels like reward is being stolen.  If the work isn't done to make new reward associations with living healthy, people will feel compelled to return to previously established unhealthy habits.

If we don't overeat, we can't gain excess body fat.. that is not an oversimplification, that's physics. 

This is the process:

Person loses fat with diet and exercise, or tries, but compensates temporary caloric deficits with overeating on weekends or other times.

Person struggles with the new lifestyle changes and feels compelled to return to overeating and not exercising, or eats more food energy than is burned off in exercise, creating a cycle of more exercise, and more overeating.. whatever the course, a calorie surplus is sustained.

Most people succumb to the drive to return to overeating, and either quickly or gradually gain all the fat back that they lost initially.. often returning to a higher body fat than before.

The diet and exercise worked.  That's what caused the initial weight loss.  When the person stops eating healthy, and begins overeating again, obesity returns.

This is not a failure of diet and exercise, this is evidence for how difficult people find it to move away from the harmful habit of overeating.  Overeating is a sinister and tenacious habit driven by appetite dysregulation, dopamine reward seeking, using food to cope with stress, depression, low self esteem, peer pressure to overeat, and automated eating habits where there is a tendency to keep eating without cognitively registering the fact.

Diet and exercise don't fail, people fail at sustaining diet and exercise.

It isn't that diet and exercise are not sustainable, it's that people fail to disengage from previous habits and values, how they think and feel about food, and feel compelled to return to the perceived reward of overeating.  These are the ties that bind, and there isn't a very good chance of permanent weight loss success without being vigilantly supportive of helping a person overcome these challenges. 

To make matters worse, "failure" is an ugly word that carries with it negative personal judgment.  It's important to not allow the risk of failure to be avoided by sticking our heads in the sand, but rather to accept the possibility of failure, and work on adopting strategies to overcome the high risk of failure.

Weight loss failure is about halting the effective diet and exercise, and returning to overeating. The natural vulnerability to this failure is covered up and ignored because it is emotionally difficult to process the experience of gaining weight back.

The most difficult challenge that I have seen in working with people to lose weight is always in establishing new reward associations with diet and exercise, and being able to identify and overcome the ball and chain of feeling compelled to overeat.  

There are usually deep personal issues, painful issues, feelings of worthlessness, fear of failure, getting trapped in cycles of high hopes followed by dismal failures, and an unrelenting reward association with eating too much.  This is combined with true changes in appetite hormone regulation.

We know that chronic overeating results in a chronic change in feeling hungry.  You'll feel more hungry than what is needed for sustenance.  We know that larger serving sizes are needed to feel satiated.  And, we know this is reversible, that a person can return appetite regulation to normal status, but, and this is a significant contingency, it takes a long time to make this happen.  Sustained healthy weight, and sustained healthy eating is necessary to allow for these adaptations. 

The combination of physiological, psychological, and sociological drives to overeat make it an extraordinary challenge to reverse obesity permanently.  It can be done though, with diet and exercise.

In personal conversations with overweight individuals, I have always witnessed personal suffering.

Suffering physically, suffering emotionally.  I'm told of how awful it feels to struggle to tie ones shoelaces because of all the body fat in the way.  I'm told about the teasing, the disparaging looks.  I'm told of the sore knees, sore feet, sore pretty much everything.  Can't get comfortable sleeping.  Can't get comfortable sitting, health issues caused by being overweight and the extra stress that burden carries.  I'm told that many of these struggles are deeply internalized and never voiced due to embarrassment and feeling at risk of being humiliated.  Do we make fun of someone when they suffer from cancer? From an injury?  No?  I hope not.  Likewise it is very disrespectful to make fun of someone for gaining body fat.

Empathy and understanding anyone? No? That's another significant part of the problem.  What gives here.  The majority of the population is suffering from weight gain, yet most of us can't wait to overeat the next whatever, and we permit discrimination and alienation of people who are overweight.  We're discriminating against ourselves, and mocking our own habits.  If we're not overweight, we will have a close friend or family member that is suffering from obesity.  Get your stuff together people.. wake up to the real life suffering of those close to you.

Feeling trapped by eating and compelled to continue overeating.  Trying to ignore the acknowledgement of self-harm.  Hiding overeating so others can't see it, and feeling emotional torment when doing so.

That's the reality of struggling with weight that I know.  I don't see any of that reality mentioned when the catastrophically misinformed, spew forth their aloof claim that diet and exercise, and lifestyle changes don't work.. and suggesting this is all a big mystery that isn't understood.

It is understood, and it's hard.  It's hard to overcome the real challenges of chronic overeating.  It's hard to feel so vulnerable about your weight that you can't begin to talk about it or the uncomfortable emotions that plague you. 

This is the reality of weight loss.  Changing your life works, but.. you have to change your life. Change how you think, how you feel, change your actions, habits.  And all the while fighting the hounds of temptation to keep eating.  

There is a lighter side.  There is the acceptance of the process, learning to enjoy new foods and learning to un-like the crap foods. Feeling empowered by losing weight and getting stronger.

Feeling empowered by recognizing there is a way out, and every step of the way things get better.

You sleep better.   You're able to see the inner workings of appetite and what drives reward, and that you can alter all of this in your favour.

The clincher for me is the 1%.  Do what the 1% of people who are permanently successful with weight loss do, and the success will be repeated.

This is where the focus should be.  Focus on what is proven to work through research, and improve ways of delivering this to people in need.

To beat obesity we have to avoid the current trap of being overwhelmed by the failure rate, and apply due diligence to the success rate.  We have to move away from wishful thinking and avoidance of why weight loss failure happens.  Knowing about the common failures is empowering.  It's like knowing about potholes in the road before you get there so you can get on a different road.

More importantly we have to prevent obesity from occurring.  We live in an obesogenic society where we cherish overeating and have distain for healthy portions.  We coax each other to go back for seconds and thirds, haplessly laughing it up as we overeat.  We believe serving our friends and families enormous portions of food is showing our care and appreciation, when really we're causing harm to each other.  That's not working for us.

When we give large servings of fatty, salty, sugary foods to our friends and family, to our children, we are unwittingly training them to chase an exaggerated reward sensation. You can't get that kind of brain reward centre stimulation from healthy foods, so crap foods become the preference.  We're carrying on the traits of our obesogenic culture.  Children represent the fastest growing segment of our society for fat gain and obesity.  Adults are still gaining fat every year. And yet most can't wait for the next gathering where overeating is the central theme we congregate around.

We can show our caring for one another by making healthy meals, instead of crap that harms.

Overeating has got to go the way smoking has, finally seen for the harm that it really is, and that we've only been fooling ourselves by putting so much emphasis on overeating as part of every occasion.

We lose fat through calorie deficit. More importantly, we prevent excess fat gain by changing our relation with food.. enjoy healthy portions, and get out of the trap of believing that overeating is a priority in life.

What is the point of repeating the cycle of fat gain and frustration with fat loss by continuously returning to celebrating and cherishing eating too much and eating crap?

Don't succumb to the misguided and denial based notion that fat gain occurs because of some unexplained mystery of genetics or metabolism, and that because of this, diet and exercise can't result in fat loss.  This "explanation" is used as reasoning to continue chasing the reward of eating too much.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Drugs found in health supplements

85% of sports enhancement supplements contained banned substances, including steroids, say's a 2014 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. (JAMA. 2014;312(16):1691-1693. doi:10.1001/jama.2014.10308.)

The US study also found 67% of weight loss and 20% of sexual enhancement supplements also contained banned substances.

The real kicker here is that this study was done on supplements that had previously been recalled by the FDA for containing banned drugs.  Supplements were tested six months after being banned, and the study shows that 65% of previously recalled supplements either still contained the same banned drugs, or added additional new drugs.

Pharmaceutical ingredients contained in the supplements included "sibutramine analogs (banned appetite suppressant), sildenafil (viagra) fluoxetine (prozac), phenolphthalein (laxative), armoatase inhibitor (breast cancer drug that boosts testosterone), and various anabolic steroids", according to the JAMA study.

The supplements list only the herbal contents on labels, with no hint that drugs may be present in the ingredients.

Interesting.  Folks pushing apparently "natural" herbal compounds who often also proclaim that their "natural" formulations are better than those synthetic compounds made by evil pharmaceutical companies.. actually rely on those pharmaceutical compounds to try and get some kind of result.

What is the number one market for sport supplements?

Anyone who's gullibility and wishful thinking can be teased out.

What people are the most likely to be recommending these phoney promises?

Coaches and personal trainers, and other wishful thinkers who have convinced themselves whatever they're on is working, or that what they're on is "natural".

Why all the wishful thinking, and why, despite either being proven ineffective or for containing mislabeled drugs for decades, is there so much acceptance of this snake oil?

The same reason snake oil was able to be sold back in the late 1800's and early 1900's..

Crafty marketing meant to take advantage of peoples natural gullibility and wishful thinking.

Ok, that's a circular argument, I didn't actually say why this happens, just wanted to emphasize the wishful thinking bit.

When we become desperate on some level, or plunge into the reward seeking pathways in our brains, our critical thinking is replaced with cognitive illusion.  Cognitive illusions do an end-run around the part of our brains that we use for logical reasoning, and behavioural control. (the frontal cortex).

When the reasoning part of our cortex is impaired, the limbic system and dopamine reward-seeking pathways use our biases and emotional processing to make decisions.

The scam is known as "the promise of hope", and is very effective.  Once we get the idea that our wishes can be granted instantly, or that our desperate situation can be relieved instantly, our gullibility increases because the potential reward we are being stimulated by affects our brain circuitry.

We're typically not aware of the change in our brains behavior, all we experience is feeling convinced that promised hope is worth pursuing, and we'll be oblivious to the fact that we're experiencing a cognitive illusion.  We'll be suckered by our own selection bias and confirmation bias, where we choose to seek out and accept information that confirms the claims promise, and ignore valid evidence that refutes it.

This is the power of our brains reward seeking pathways, and the activation of our impulse behavior.  They impair our reasoning centres, because if we start using our reasoning centres, there's a good chance we'll figure out the scam, and not follow through.

Ultimately that's the best outcome, but because of the attraction of the dopamine system getting it's reward hit, the dopamine pathways can often win.  Our impulse behavior wins out over our impulse control.

Our brains want the reward more desperately than we want to weigh the evidence.  The tricky limbic system doesn't want the logical part of the brain to win because that means no instant reward.

Your limbic system can impair your logical reasoning, and you won't even know it's happening.  You'll just say, "yeah! Snake oil! Sign me up!".

The snake oil makers understand the physiology and psychology of how to manipulate everything that I just told you about here.  They use this knowledge to attempt to trigger the automated reward seeking response.  Some may not know the biological details of reward seeking, but they know how to fake being wholesome, and how to work the art of the scam.

I'm using this understanding of the biology to show you how to avoid getting scammed.  It's tough though.  One has to face the reality that they've been duped, and that what they thought was their own reasoned thinking, was actually a cognitive illusion, and facing that can feel embarrassing and humbling.  Not wanting face to this, many will keep up their biases and illusions, and go into denial.

The good news is if you can keep your frontal cortex doing the thinking, you won't feel compelled to fall for the promise of hope.

JAMA research letter Oct 22/29, 2014