Nutrition Myth: Fat Makes You Fat

Since the 1950s, we have been fed (mis)information that has led to the premature death of millions of Americans: fat causes heart disease. This “fact” went virtually unquestioned for years and is one of the major contributors to the health care crisis our country faces today.

It’s time to come clean and move away from disease and illness, and towards better health. Fat is not the enemy. Despite the explosion of fat-free, low-fat and reduced-fat products, our country has become fatter and sicker.

Fat is an essential nutrient for our body. We use it to transport vitamins and minerals. We use it to form brain and nerve cells. We use it to produce hormones. Why would we want to eliminate this from our diet?

Doctors and scientists have done multiple studies over the last ten years reviewing and analyzing all of the previous research on this topic. And the conclusion is clear: there is simply no significant correlation between saturated fat and heart disease.

A 2010 study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition broke down 21 different previously-performed studies looking at saturated fat and heart disease. Observing nearly 350,000 subjects, researchers concluded, “there is no significant evidence for concluding that dietary saturated fat is associated with an increased risk of coronary heart disease or cardiovascular disease.”

A 2014 study from the Annals of Internal Medicine reviewed 49 studies and over 600,000 participants in 18 different countries. Researchers concluded that the current recommendations calling for reduced saturated fat intake are not supported in the research.

In 2010, another study from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition looked at connections between carbohydrates, saturated fat and heart disease. Researchers found little evidence to support the notion of replacing saturated fats with carbohydrates, as most dietary recommendations from the past 50 years have suggested. In fact, it was recommended that we limit the amount of refined carbohydrates in order to decrease our risk of heart disease. Perhaps we’d be better off worrying less about and fat and focusing more on our consumption of low quality carbohydrates.

This does not give us permission to start downing sticks of butter with every meal, but it should give us a better perspective. Don’t fall into the trap of always selecting low-fat options. Often times food manufacturers remove fat and replace it with sugar, sodium and chemicals.

As with most issues in nutrition, quality is paramount. We must also keep in mind that not all fat is created equal. We should still avoid trans fat, most commonly found in baked goods and some cooking oils. We should also limit our consumption of vegetable oils like corn, canola and soybean oil. Fat that comes in pre-packaged food can almost certainly be put into the “bad” fat category.

The key to any healthy eating plan is to stick to real foods – foods that were once living. Was a twinkie ever alive? Was a bagel ever alive? Unprocessed plant and animal sources should make up the majority of our foods. Get your dietary fat from high quality sources like coconut oil, olive oil, avocados, nuts and seeds, grass-fed or wild caught animal products (like meat, dairy and fish) and pastured poultry and eggs. Many of these sources also contain protein to help maintain and build lean muscle mass.

If you’re looking to get your health back on track, cut down on refined carbohydrates like juice, candy, packaged foods, soft drinks, desserts, even bread and pasta. These wreak more havoc on your body than fat will.

A general rule of thumb when it comes to nutrition is to “eat how your grandparents ate.” Years ago, using lard and butter were an everyday practice. This coincided with a time when heart disease was a very minor issue in our healthcare system. Not that this means fat and lard prevent heart disease, but it’s interesting to see the rates of heart disease climb despite this “war on fat” that has taken place over the last 50-60 years.

While everyone is entitled to form their own opinions on food, please don’t let this big fat lie stop you from reaching your health goals.

Posted in Achievements

How to Stay Full While Losing Fat

You’ve been dieting for a week with great success. You’ve cut your calories, you’ve made it to the gym everyday. You’ve dropped a couple pounds on the scale. You notice one butt cheek starting to perk up a little bit. The stars are aligning. A few more weeks of this and Men’s Health or Women’s Health will be knocking on your door to be featured in the next issue.

But then something happens. You’re feeling a little weak during the day. You’re more tired than usual. All you can think about is cheeseburgers and fro-yo. The good kind of fro-yo where you mix three different flavors and shovel four pounds of toppings into the bowl.

No problem, I can muscle through this you think. I’ll just have another piece of celery dipped in fat-free, sugar-free ranch powder.

How long can you sustain this? Is this the type of life you’d like to live?

Unfortunately this is how a lot of people experience “dieting.” And a reason most people do not see long-term success. We’re torturing ourselves in an attempt to be healthier. We think we can either be happy or healthy, but not both at the same time.

I don’t care to use the term diet in general, as it implies deprivation and temporary changes. We should instead be looking at sustainable changes we can make to our eating. If your way of eating is leaving you feeling hungry all the time, you should re-evaluate your strategies.

Here are some smart ways to stay full while you’re working to lose fat. And all involve adding things rather than taking them away…

1) Protein, Fat and Fiber. These nutrients are great at keeping us full. Make sure your snacks and meals contain at least moderate amounts of these. To increase protein, add things like eggs, beef, chicken, fish, beans. For quality fat sources, think grass-fed butter, coconut oil, eggs, avocados, nuts and seeds. For fiber, look to vegetables, fruit (particularly berries), beans, nuts and seeds.

2) Stay hydrated. Your body can confuse dehydration for hunger. So next time you’re feeling hungry an hour or two after a meal, trying drinking a tall glass of water and see if you’re still hungry.

3) Eat whole foods. Processed foods have an uncanny way of packing large amounts of calories and junk into small, unsatisfying servings. Real foods typically have more protein, fiber, fat and water (think fruits and veggies).
4) Eat enough. When trying to lose weight, people tend to under-consume. While this may work in the short-term, it can be challenging to maintain over the long haul. When you’re eating high quality food, you can feel good about eating until you’re satisfied.

5) Get enough sleep. Sleep deprivation can lead to more cravings, especially for junk food. Look for future posts regarding sleep.

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Stress: Is it always a bad thing?

When we think about stress, we tend to think of hands running through our hair, sweaty palms and armpits, butterflies in our stomach and a racing heartbeat.  We think about our work schedule, our kids’ schedules, our crammed calendar and that visit from the in-laws coming up next weekend.  While these are all stressful things, they seem to put a negative spin on the idea of stress. We always hear about the importance of limiting or eliminating stress in our lives.  But do we really want to eliminate all stress?

Stress is actually what drives life.  It drives adaptation and survival.  Over thousands of years, we’ve adapted to different stresses in order to survive and thrive in our environment.  At its foundation, stress is neither good nor bad.  It just is.  Our body’s response to it determines whether it will build us up or break us down.  Exercise, for example, is a stress.  And I think most people would agree it’s a positive one.

When we workout, we cause damage to our muscles.  We break them down.  Our body thinks, “Hey, that was hard.  If it happens again, I better be prepared.”  So it builds up the muscle (and energy supply to the muscles) in order to minimize the damage next time.  It’s trying to build up a defense to the anticipated stress.  The same goes for building bone density.  If we are sedentary and don’t place any stress on our skeletal system, our bones become weak and fragile.  We’re much more susceptible to breaks.  But with exercise, especially resistance training or impact training (like running and jumping), our bones are reinforced to take the stress.  We are better prepared to handle a fall or trauma.

Vaccines work in a similar way.  They expose us to a manageable dose of the disease and allow our bodies to build up the proper immunity.  So the right kind of stress can be a very good thing.

Our bodies are designed to handle a certain amount of stress.  We actually thrive under the right amount.  Expose ourselves to stress, then let the body recover (rebuild), then expose it to more stress, then recover. This is how we become stronger and more resilient.  Stress is important, but so is recovery.  The problem many people run into is they pound away with the stress, but never allow for recovery.  In my opinion, this concept is a major contributor to injury and chronic disease.

When it comes to our health, we must look at the total stress our bodies are experiencing.  We each have a point at which our recovery process can’t keep up with the stress load: a tipping point.  This is when our body says “enough is enough.”  A common symptom of this would be getting sick – especially upper respiratory tract infections like the common cold.  We are exposed to the cold virus all the time.  But how come we don’t get sick each time?  When our body and immune system are healthy, we defend it like we do so many other viruses and bacteria.  But if we’re in a weakened state, we’re much more prone to experience all those annoying symptoms.

So how do we avoid this tipping point?

As much as we try, we can’t control all stress.  But we do have control over a lot of aspects of our health – exercise, sleep, nutrition, hydration.  Take care of these the best you can.  Exercise (or move) consistently.  This doesn’t mean you need to go hard seven days a week – in fact, that will put you in an overstressed state.  Get to sleep at a reasonable time.  Stay hydrated (one of the simplest, yet most-overlooked strategies).  Eat quality food.  Do 5-10 minutes of deep breathing or meditation during the day to relax.

When you notice you’re feeling fatigued and sluggish, take that as a warning sign that your body may need some extra rest.  If cold symptoms “come out of nowhere,” you probably weren’t listening to your body very well.  Usually there are days leading up when you’ll start to feel something.  Take heed and get some extra rest.  If your workout performance is noticeably weak, take a light day or two and see if you’re feeling stronger after that.  If you had a crazy weekend of drinking, eating junk and staying up until 4am, don’t try to set a personal squat record Monday.  Go for a relaxing walk or hike.  Stay active, but go easier on your body.

Our individual state of stress will be constantly fluctuating.  You will never find a perfect balance.  That’s okay.  As mentioned earlier, our bodies are designed to adapt.  But if you notice one area of your life is getting out of control, do what you can to fix it.  And consider making adjustments in other areas to keep your total stress to a manageable level.  And laugh. That always helps.

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Waiting for the Right Time

Have you been thinking about making health changes?  Have you thought about getting to the gym more regularly?  Or changing your eating habits?  Maybe your goal for this year was to “eat healthier.”

 You’re not alone.  Most people are at least contemplating a change to their lifestyle in an effort to improve health.

One of the big problems with these thoughts is that many people are waiting for the perfect time.  After the holidays I’ll start my exercise routine.  Or maybe after my daughter’s birthday party this weekend, or after our vacation next month.  When things at work settle down…I’ve been working with clients for years and it’s incredible how many of them have had a “busy stretch” at work that has lasted for years.  It’s not a busy stretch when it never calms down.  And if you have kids, calm won’t exist for another 10-20 years if you’re lucky.  So waiting until things settle down to make a change is waiting too long. And not that it’s ever too late to make changes, the longer you wait, the more challenging it can become.

Why do we continue to wait for a better time?  Because it allows us to delay the actual work.  The actual “doing” part.  “Doing” can be intimidating.  It means we have to make an effort.  It means there’s a chance of failure.  If we always have an excuse not to do something, we remain in this realm of safety from frustration and embarrassment.

But if we wait for the galaxies to align, we’re going to be waiting around a very long time.  I hear it from many parents, “there’s never a perfect time to have a child.”  You just do it and figure it out along the way. This isn’t to say that planning is not necessary, but if you spend too much time planning, you’ll run out of time for doing.

We can’t change the past and we cannot completely control the future.  Therefore, it’s important to embrace NOW.  NOW is the time to take a step.  Even if that step is just writing down your goal on a piece of paper, you’ve taken that step.  You’re closer to your goal than you were 10 seconds ago.  You have momentum.  Give yourself something you can do right NOW.

Write down a couple healthy foods you actually enjoy.  Add those to your shopping list for the week.  This is a forward step.  It takes very little effort or time, but gets you leaning towards your goal.

Expect hurdles.  There will always be resistance.  Don’t be caught off guard when something gets in the way or slows you down.  It will happen with 100% certainty.  Remain focused.  Know that a crappy weekend of eating or a flu that keeps you out of the gym for a few days doesn’t mean your journey is over.  It doesn’t mean you’ve been defeated.  It means you’re human and you had a minor hiccup.  And in the big picture of life, a little hiccup doesn’t derail us.

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