Science

3 Common Nutrition Myths Debunked

January 06, 2014

I know it’s hard to make sense of the ever-changing trends in nutrition. But one law of nutrition that always holds true is this: Extremism is rarely the way to go.

This mindset will save you a lot of headache and provide a clear path to a sensible course of action for your nutrition choices. Keeping this in mind will help you to avoid extremism in your diet.

Examples of extremism in our/other people’s everyday language include:

Carbs: Language that suggests that they are universally terrible OR universally wonderful.

Fats: Stating exclusively that they are universally terrible OR universally wonderful.

Omnivorism/ Veganism: Any statement indicating that these lifestyles are universally terrible OR universally wonderful.

Cleanses/Detox programs: Statements promoting these diets are the be all end all of healthy eating/weight loss regimes.

So let’s take a closer look at these more complicated and multi-dimensional lifestyle choices.

Carbs iStock/Thinkstock

Carbs are neither terrible nor wonderful as a nutrition group. With books like “Wheat Belly,” and “Grain Brain,” and the many variations of the “Paleo Diet,” many people are selling the idea that grains are the cause of all of our ills and if you just eliminate this one food group, all your problems will be solved.

Modern breads are processed to death and often made of bleached, nutrition-less flour. Ancient breads were made of germinated, sprouted seeds, and are very healthy and nutritious (in fact, you can get sprouted grain bread in your local grocery store today). The mantra repeated over and over is that we have “only” been eating grains for 10,000 years and so our bodies haven’t had time to adapt. This is nonsensical to me. If our bodies were not well-adapted and tolerant of properly prepared grains, we would have stopped eating them long ago. Humans have successfully been consuming carbs for almost 10,000 years – why the sudden spike in obesity, celiac disease, and other problems related to “grains?” The answer is because our modern processing alters the grain in such a way as to make it unhealthy.

Diet books based on concepts like the “Paleo Diet” miss the mark despite a good effort. The idea is sound. The problem is that we don’t really know enough about the specifics of what our ancestors ate to make highly specific recommendations on what we should/shouldn’t eat. In going all the way back to the prehistoric era, the idea is taken much too far to be practical. What these authors are doing is taking little bits of evidence and developing entire dietary programs – this is problematic and one dimensional.

Any narrow approach to nutrition which is based on loosely gathered information will be flawed and therefore should be taken with a grain of salt.

Omnivorism vs. Veganism iStock/Thinkstock

Both of these diets are right -- for some people. Anybody who tells you being a vegan or eating meat is the only option for your diet is wrong.

We are not all the same. Our “ancestral geography” determines which approach will work better for us. Some of us come from a long line of people best served by vegetarianism and others prefer omnivorism. Some people find great health and vitality in a vegan approach – and it is the right one for them. Others find the same health and vitality in omnivorism. And others prefer a diet somewhere in between the two.

Another common nutrition mistake is any diet which declares animal products or fats universally healthy or unhealthy. As with carbs, quality matters. If you consume an animal product from sick, mistreated animals living in overcrowded conditions and riddled with disease (or chock full of antibiotics), then you will be absorbing that poor health into your body. On the other hand, if you consume animal products from animals that have been treated respectfully and allowed to live out their lives in as close to a natural environment as possible and fed the right foods, that animal’s health and vitality will be absorbed into you. iStock/Thinkstock

Cleansing/Detox Programs

In my opinion, there’s no greater waste of money or effort than this one.

Your body cleanses itself just fine if you are treating it properly. If you are eating the right foods (see above), getting proper rest and exercise, and respecting what your body tells you it needs, then avoid these silly programs. Unless you are recovering from an extended period of pharmaceutical use or alcohol use, there’s no need to use special products or use austere starvation programs to cleanse or detox. The bottom line: If you don’t put toxins in, there’s no need for specialized rituals to help your poor, fragile body recover.

These programs are always sold by or recommended by people who either are profiting from them or are emotionally invested in them as wise choices.

Wrap Up

Remember: Extremism is what you need to avoid. Not carbs. Not fats. Not food after 6 PM. Not food itself for three days while sipping lemon tea with cayenne pepper plus whatever trendy ingredient of the moment is.

When it comes to food, respect your body, your biology, and your world by seeking quality above all else. A high quality carb cannot be compared to a low quality carb.

Happy, healthy eating habits this year!

What Will Your Everyday Success Be?

December 23, 2013

Tell me your goals and I can create a great workout. But what will get you the most excited is doing something you didn’t ask for and had no idea was even possible.

It’s your “Everyday Success,” and you can’t know what it will be or when you will get it. But when you do, it will fuel the fires of motivation to keep you dedicated on getting better indefinitely.

One of the true joys of working in fitness is hearing stories of these everyday successes and here are a few recent ones.

  • A 65-year old grandfather is sitting cross-legged on the floor and gets up directly from the cross-legged position while holding his grandson. He did it without thinking anything of it, and didn’t really notice that he had done it until his adult son pointed it out to him. The beauty of this is that he didn’t need to mentally gear himself up for the effort. He just did it without thought.
  • A woman with hip and knee replacements and scoliosis who has previously been very limited in movement climbed in and out of the bleachers “without fear or hesitation” to see her son’s music performance. She told me this when I got a text message from her at night right after the performance – she was so excited that she had to share it right away.
  • A woman with several major spine injuries gets better core strength and finds herself doing more chores around the house without thinking or worrying about her body and going for longer and faster walks while listening to her favorite music. At the beginning of one of our sessions, she told me that the neighbors have noticed and commented on how much faster she is walking through the neighborhood.
  • A young volleyball player complaining of knee pain gets better alignment in her legs from doing corrective strengthening exercises and not only enjoys dissipation of the pain, but also finds that her vertical leap gets higher and she gets up to hit balls harder and with more range. She didn’t ask to jump higher, just for less knee pain. Her parents called to tell me they could see her jumping higher when they watched her play at a tournament.

When you keep going, staying active, getting more capable, you can handle what comes your way. Your world gets a little bigger as you feel more comfortable and capable in your body.

There’s the goal you ask for, and then there’s the bonus one you get that you didn’t even realize you wanted until after you’ve gotten it. And that makes it all the more sweet. With fitness, you ALWAYS get more out of it than you put in; it’s just sometimes more of something you didn’t even know you wanted.

What will your Everyday Success be? I don’t know, but I can tell you that when it happens it will be a wonderful surprise and an unexpected reminder of what is possible when you get a little better and a little more consistent each day.  

The 411 on Statins

November 26, 2013

As of Tuesday, November 12th, the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology issued new cholesterol guidelines.

The new guidelines call for these four types of people to take doctor-prescribed statins:

(1) Patients who have a known case of heart disease

(2) Individuals between age 40-75 with Type 2 diabetes

(3) Individuals with an LDL count or “bad cholesterol” count of 190 or higher (this puts you at the greatest risk for developing heart disease according to the Mayo Clinic)

(4) And lastly, individuals with a 7.5 percent chance of developing heart disease or stroke in the next 10 years based on the American Heart Association’s CV Risk Calculator.

The major changes to the guidelines include that statins will no longer be prescribed to lower LDL levels to 70 mg/dL or below and previously individuals between a 10-20 percent risk of developing heart disease were recommended to take statins (as compared to the now 7.5%). This second alteration will increase the number of healthy Americans taking statins by roughly 70 percent according to Abramson & Redberg of the NY Times.

Here’s why people are pissed.

The factors involved in calculating an individual’s cardiovascular risk include: age, sex, race, blood pressure, cholesterol levels and whether or not they smoke or have diabetes [Source: stltoday]. In fact, the World Health Organization estimates that 80 percent of individuals suffering from cardiovascular disease have it as a result of ‘smoking, lack of exercise, an unhealthy diet, and other lifestyle factors.’ [Source: NY Times]

What will possess these individuals to change their unhealthy lifestyles if doctors are told to simply throw medication at the problem?

Some experts have questioned the science behind the new guidelines, such as GWU Hospital cardiologist, Jonathan Reiner, who said that there is a lack of “robust data” on the subject to indicate conclusive results supporting the new guidelines.

Statins are the number one most prescribed medicine in the U.S. today and it is no secret that these drugs dramatically boost profits of major pharmaceutical companies.

Most of the people that I see who take statins are on them for the rest of their lives. I’ve had many clients get fit enough to stop taking statins simply through lifestyle alterations. Exercising, eating right, and not smoking are the ultimate healers, and you don’t need to figure out if you fall under some new guidelines to find out if they are right for you. A healthy lifestyle change is right for everyone.  

To learn more, check out The Truth about Statins.

To learn how statins affect your exercise routine, click here.

The Personal Training Paradox

November 12, 2013

As a personal fitness trainer, it sometimes feels like nobody takes trainers seriously.  And sometimes, it’s easy to see why. 

Studies today show that obesity rates among U.S. adults is continuing to level off after several decades of immense growth.  [Source: USA Today]

In 2012, about 34.9% of the people in this country were obese (meaning roughly 35 pounds over a healthy weight). That is not significantly different than the 35.7% who were obese in 2010. iStock/Thinkstock

Is this progress? Hardly. Such a small dip in numbers is barely newsworthy.  Especially since the drop is just as likely to be due to the fact that a problem can only get so big before it starts leveling off all by itself.

Recently, the Washington Post held a Childhood Obesity Summit in Washington DC to facilitate an open conversation around the topic of nutrition and the politics surrounding childhood obesity. Among the speakers at the event included a representative from the CDC, the Executive Director of the White House Let’s Move campaign, and former Olympian, Michelle Kwan, who now sits on the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition.

Unfortunately, there was not a single professional fitness trainer involved with the summit.  This to me made very little sense. But when you look a little deeper you can see why.

The fitness industry has grown tremendously in the past few years, while really only successfully reaching a small group of potential clients.  A message to all fellow trainers: What we sell has to look possible to the average person.

Too often trainers will sell a product that looks too intimidating, too scary, and next to impossible for the average person who is trying to get back in shape (or lower their risk of obesity!).

As fitness trainers we have the ability to start from the bottom up. We have an advantage over policy makers and politicians because we get to spend one on one time with the client.

So let’s keep raising the bar and challenging our clients and ourselves to gain more clients. With this mentality, we may see a fitness trainer sitting on the panel of the Childhood Obesity Summit in 2014.

The Health Dangers of Sugar

August 19, 2013

If the message that sugar is bad for you causes eye-rolling, it might be time to refocus those eyes.

Yes, I know everyone is tired of hearing how sugar is bad for you.  But there continues to be more actual research done to quantify just how bad it is.

If you consume 25% of your calories from added sugar, you just may die early and have less sex.  One could argue that too little of the latter would make you wish for the former.  This amount of added sugar to a diet has been shown to significantly shorten the lives of mice and decrease their interest in reproductive behavior.

Photo Credit: Crwr
What can we learn from these little guys?

A healthy dose of sugar is an unhealthy dose of sugar

And in case you think that 25% sugar is an unrealistic amount, it turns out that some leading organizations have unwisely recommended that amount of sugar in your diet. The National Research Council and The United States Institute of Medicine have recommended that added sugar be limited to 25% of energy intake. Oops.

The average American takes in 22 teaspoons of added sugar per day (about 88 grams), equal to 355 calories. For example, three cans of soda supply more than 400 calories from sugars.

And this refers to added sugars, by the way.  Not naturally occurring sugars like those found in fruit.

In the study just published, (Nature Communications, published online August 13, 2013), mice were fed a diet that had 25% added sugars. The females died at twice the normal rate and the males were less likely to reproduce or hold territory – a key behavior in mouse mating. The more territory a male defends, the more appealing he is to females.  The male mice were less motivated to engage in behaviors likely to increase their chances of reproductive success.

Were the mice fatter?

An interesting and powerful aspect of the results of this study is that the mice that died early were not more obese and did not have higher blood sugar, fasting insulin or triglyceride levels. The sugar-added female mice did have higher cholesterol and decreased ability to clear added sugar from their bloodstreams. In essence, there were no signals to indicate or predict that the mice were going to die prematurely.

Why do we always use mice in studies?

According to Wayne Potts (one of the study’s authors), there’s a direct connection between how mice and humans react to food and other substances. Approximately 80 percent of the substances which are toxic to mice are also toxic to humans.  That’s why it’s likely that humans fed a diet high in sugars would experience similar health issues.

There’s no free lunch

Even if you don’t “show” signs of a high sugar intake (maybe you’ve got “good” genes and can “eat whatever you want” – or so you think), it is clear that the more junk you eat, the worse life you live.  Maybe now we can finally start to set aside our infantile obsession with cupcakes and other high-added-sugar foods.  Is the cost in terms of years lost and quality of life lost really worth that doughnut?

Want to spend a week that will make the rest of your life better?  Join Jonathan live on a fitness cruise to Alaska where you will enjoy an amazing week of nature and nurture.  Four top fitness experts will cover everything you need to know to live better every day and be sure you own it.  This is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to get face time with experts who care enough to bring their best to help make you your best.  For details, click here.

Lose Some Snooze and You’ll Feel like You’ve Boozed

June 10, 2013

“You snooze you lose.”  This statement has never made much sense to me.  There are few feelings better than the feeling of being well-rested.  The truth is that being awake for as little as 17 hours continuously affects your brain in the same way that alcohol does, with cognitive affects equivalent to a blood-alcohol level of 0.05%.  And when sustained wakefulness reaches 24 hours, the effects are equivalent to a blood-alcohol level of 0.1% -- more than the legal limit in many states. Mental-health-sleep-326x290

Missing sleep to get more done is a badge of honor in modern life.  It is actually more realistically a badge of crankiness, poor thinking ability, obesity, and lowered mental and physiological function.  It’s not a badge of honor; it’s a badge of poor choices and poor health.

When the functioning of your body and brain fall apart significantly with missed sleep, it makes you wonder why we allow it at all and even encourage it in some fields like medicine and transportation where it is simply not necessary.  Military individuals in combat situations and various emergency personnel are some of the only times it makes sense to miss sleep since sometimes learning to cope with sleep loss and being able to still function is often essential to survival.

Missing sleep – just like drinking excessive alcohol – leads to poor judgment, compromised cognitive ability, and compromised health.  There are a few of us that fall “outside the bell curve” and need less than 7 hours of sleep while some need more than 9 hours.  Most of the rest of us fall in the window of 7-9 hours as the optimal amount of sleep.

Directly related to fitness, your body metabolizes food less well when sleep-deprived.  And your brain, struggling for enough energy to power your body through the day, will make you crave sugars and other energy dense foods while your body possesses a compromised ability to handle these foods.

Essentially, your cravings for junk go up and the physical impact of that junk is amplified.

With what we know about how much sleep erodes your physical health and fitness it should be a no-brainer to make sure that you get enough sleep.  But anyone still not getting enough sleep really will be a “no-brainer” at some point since doing so will destroy the brain as well.

The only thing you lose when you snooze is the awful physical and mental feelings that are part of sleep deprivation.  

Could Your Cholesterol Medication be Affecting Your Workouts?

May 28, 2013

Exercise -- is there anything it can’t do? It can protect and improve the health of our bodies and brains, make us feel better, look better, and help us to enjoy doing the things we love even more. 

Credit: AJ Cann
Could these little guys be preventing you from getting the most out of your workouts?

Some people even go so far as to call exercise a miracle drug, and others have started using the term “exercise as medicine.” However, it seems that some medicine can prevent the benefits of exercise.

On a near daily basis, new research comes in showing the benefit of exercise for the brain and a recent study following men for 20 years showed that higher fitness levels provided a significant protective benefit against cancer.

We don’t even really need this type of research as it just adds to the already voluminous amounts of data showing the benefits of exercise in countless ways. And you intuitively know it…you feel better when you do it. But exercise is not invincible. Apparently, the benefits of exercise can be limited by statins – the drugs commonly prescribed to lower cholesterol.

A group of obese adult men and women participated in a study that was published online in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology on May 22, 2013. All of the adults were placed on a 12 week exercise program and half of the participants were also given the drug statin.

The results of the study indicated that the group that was placed on both the drugs and the exercise regimen were significantly less likely to see progress in their physical fitness. So much so, that the group saw a 1.5 percent increase in cardiovascular fitness (as opposed to the statin-free group at 10 percent) and a 4.5 percent decrease in muscular fitness as opposed to their statin-free counterparts' 13 percent increase.

While this is not a recommendation to use or not use statin drugs, these are the most prescribed drugs in the world.  Some doctors even advocate having seniors above the age of 50 take this medication prophylactically in order to help prevent heart disease. It is important, if you’re considering taking statins, to start by having a conversation with your doctor.

This is about realizing the power of the human body to be better, to heal itself, and to change in numerous and unexpected ways when we treat it right. Sometimes statins are the answer, and sometimes not.

If you’re the type of person that doesn’t exercise or eat a proper diet and you’re considering using drugs to lower your cholesterol levels, blood pressure, or risk for heart disease, talk to your doctor and consider an organic approach first. You may just be able to seize the powerful benefit of exercise and change your life course around – and if not, you can always have that medical discussion with your family doctor too!

Mixed Messaging in Workout Trends

March 12, 2013

It’s not easy to be you.  How can it be?

You are told one thing about exercise and nutrition one day and then before you know it, you are told something contradictory the next. 

Sometimes it all just seems like too much.  And I would agree, it can be too much.  You shouldn’t have to work so hard to make sense of things.  I’m here to tell you it’s not your fault.

I blame the media.  Kind of.  And scientists.  Kind of.  And my fellow trainers.  Kind of.  Let me explain.

If no one reads your articles – which are increasingly being read online – then no one is looking at your banner ads, no one is paying your bills, and you and your media outlet have to shut down.   Thus, every story must have some shock value. 

No one is going to read the article that says more intense exercise is better than less, you shouldn’t skip breakfast, and that you shouldn’t eat too many carbs at night.  So every story that gets headlines reports a study that “proves” (ahem) the opposite.

For example, a recent article in the Washington Post ran with the following headline:

“Less intense but longer-lasting exercise may be better than strenuous workouts” 

When you examine the study used for this, you see that the media drew conclusions that cannot be drawn from the study.  Notice I didn’t say “wrong” conclusions. 

Now we get to the part where I blame the scientists.

The study was so poorly designed; you can almost tell that the researchers set out to get a study that gets them the end result they wanted.

I will keep this short and sweet.

There were three groups studied: a “sitting” group that did very little physical activity, a “minimal intensity physical activity” group and an “exercise” group (emphasis added by me to the last two groups).  The results showed that the minimal intensity physical activity group showed more improvement in various measures of health.  All you need to do is check out the graphics used to illustrate the problem with the conclusion here:

PLOS ONE
PLOS ONE

The study makes conclusions about “exercise” but there are too many variables changing to lead to the conclusions. And of course, the poor, unsuspecting media outlets that trusted the scientists – drew from the results.

Here are the two big problems, both easily visible in the graphic above.

  1. Note that the exercise group did MVPA (moderate to vigorous physical activity) in the form of cycling (yellow section) while the minimal intensity physical activity did NO exercise at all.  They just stood and walked.
  2. But next, and more importantly, note that the minimal intensity group did far less sitting than the exercise group.  Other than the higher intensity exercise, the exercise group sat down most of the rest of the day!  What was the difference in sitting time?

I hope you’re sitting down for this.

The exercise group spent 12.7 hours sitting while the minimal intensity physical activity group spent 7.4 hours sitting and about 8.6 hours standing or walking.  Yes, that’s right, by forcing the exercise group to sit as much as humanly possible the rest of the day, the researchers managed to “show” that less “exercise” is better than more intense exercise. 

Just what a shocking-headline-hungry media and an unmotivated public want to hear!

If you’re interested in reading the details of the study, it is from the Feb. 13 online issue of PLoS One.

Now we get to the part where I blame fitness trainers.

Even when a study is designed well, we don’t know how to use it properly.  Many of my colleagues claim to do “Tabata Training,” but not one of them anywhere is actually doing it.  In fact, most of them have never even read the Tabata study from 1996.  Anyone claiming to do Tabata training is really just doing interval training (not a sexy, catchy term anymore – Tabata sounds exotic and foreign!) where the interval is 20 seconds of work and 10 seconds of full rest.

What’s the problem?

Without doing the intensity used in the Tabata study and only using the interval timing used, you are not doing Tabata training.  And it is impossible to achieve the intensities used in the study outside of a research setting.  You cannot do it with push-ups or jumping jacks.  It just can’t happen. 

So even my fellow members of the fitness industry have contributed to the problem by using a term they have no business using for training that they aren’t really doing.  If Izumi Tabata’s last name were “Jones” no one would be imitating his training.

And you, the poor public, just keep getting more confused.  Scientists tweak data to show a “breakthrough,” to score attention, while a media desperate for eyeballs and clicks scoops it up and leagues of well-meaning fitness trainers start haphazardly using whatever buzzwords they’ve heard in the media and from clients in an effort to ride current fads to success.

So which is better, less intense or more intense exercise?  I can’t answer that based on the study above.  And this is why you can seemingly never get definitive answers – only contradictory ones – no matter how many studies are done.  Too many of them are done not in the name of science but in the name of shocking stories dressed up like science.

Get Out of Your Chair Alive

March 04, 2013

Not sure if you’ve heard the news, but sitting is bad for you.  You live in a body created for – and best served by – regular movement. 

I’m not talking about intense exercise, just movement.  We aren’t meant to be still during long periods of our waking hours and we really aren’t meant to be sitting for long periods.

The big news splash last year on this topic revealed that if you sit for more than 6 hours a day, you are 40% more likely to die within 15 years than someone who sits less than 3 hours a day – even if you exercise!

With more and more labor engineered out of jobs, we sit more than we do anything else. We average 9.3 hours a day, compared to 7.7 hours of sleeping.  Here are some more fun stats to scare you out of your seat. 

When you sit:

  • Your calorie burning rate drops to one per minute
  • Enzymes that break down fat drop by 90%
  • After 2 hours, your good cholesterol levels drop 20% (since it’s not needed when less active)

And more fun with numbers…

  • Obese people sit for 2.5 more hours per day than thin people (This is just a stat/fact – not a statement of cause and effect: It could be that once you become obese, you tend to sit more.)
  • Between 1980 and 2000:  Exercise rates were constant; sitting time increased by 8%; obesity doubled

Sitting vs. Smoking: Which is worse?

The death rate for obesity in the US is now 35 million.  It’s 3.5 million for tobacco.  Smoking is finally illegal inside of most public buildings – perhaps sitting should be as well given these statistics!  Just kidding, of course. 

I know what you’re thinking:  “Okay.  I get it! Sitting is bad for me.  But what do I do about this?”  I’m so glad you asked.

  1. Just get up more.  Take stretch breaks.  Set a timer if you have to.  Have walking meetings (If you’re in charge of leading meetings, then be a leader!)
  2. Undo what gets tight from sitting.  When you get up, stretch the front of your shoulders, the front of your hips, and the back of your thighs.
  3. Invest in a stand-up desk.  I finally did.  When I began a shift from strictly personal training to writing books and articles, consulting, and planning/delivering fitness presentations, I began to spend a lot more time seated at the computer.  Yes, even a full-time fitness professional was sitting too much!

There are a number of options for a stand-up desk.  You can get either an entire desk that elevates or an add-on to the desk which allows for keeping your existing desk.  The latter option is often significantly less expensive than the former. 

If you’re interested in investing in a standing desk, check out these companies: Ergotron and Ergo Desktop.

It is very easy to change from standing to sitting (for those times when you just really need or want to sit) and the ability to stand keeps my mind much sharper while at the computer.

The Bottom Line

You can’t sit for most of the day if you want to be healthy and live long.  If simply getting up more often can provide health benefits, then we should all take a stand for our health.  

Intermittent Fasting

February 19, 2013

Contrary to popular recommendations to eat smaller, more frequent meals, new research suggests that a short, periodic fast (called “intermittent fasting”) might actually rev up your fat-burning machinery while helping you control glucose and insulin. Important hormonal changes mean that you might lose more fat and gain more muscle, all by skipping a few meals.  Some data show that Intermittent  fasting, when done properly, might help extend life, regulate blood glucose, control blood lipids, manage body weight, gain (or maintain) lean mass, and more.

There is no conclusiveness to the research on intermittent fasting, but honestly there doesn’t likely need to be.  In my opinion “conclusive” will always be somewhat unachievable and unrealistic when it comes to human nutrition.  For some people it will be a wise approach that will lead to better health while for others intermittent fasting will be the wrong approach.

Elusive Conclusiveness

There is too much individuality and variability in humanity to make any one approach the answer for everyone.  From omnivorism vs. veganism to intermittent fasting, this is one truth that becomes apparent the more you investigate nutrition.  We all come from a line of genes that are built on highly diverse diets based on your ancestral geography.  And chances are good that it will be very different from the person next to you.  Espousing one approach as the correct way for all humans will always be wrong.

Traditional Doesn’t Necessarily Make it Right

Yes, the idea that we should return to our roots and eat “paleo,” run barefoot, and eat less often all have a certain appeal.  But we have to be very careful with this line of thinking.  I’m guessing that we’re not going stop bathing, using deodorant, or using cell phones are we?  Not everything we used to do as cavemen is practical – or even smart – anymore. We have evolved. It doesn’t mean we should ignore our evolutionary history, but it also doesn’t mean we should devolve and embrace everything from the paleo period of human history.

This is Your Brain on Calories

Sometimes I think I know too much about how the brain works. Your brain uses a very high amount of energy – around 20% of the calories you used in a day!  In fact, per unit of tissue, your brain uses more energy than your quadriceps muscle.  In caveman times, we were fasting/starving more often for sure.  But we also did not have to think as much as we do now.  The body of knowledge we have to walk around with combined with the incoming stream of information and news from around the world and in your own personal world is staggering.  And this means your brain is going to work harder and thus need more energy. 

Cause and Effect or “Just ’Cause I Said So?”

Too often with an extreme shift in thinking, something seems so shocking that it can create a buzz and cause people to rush and adopt a certain behavior.  Other people just do it because they know someone else who did it.  There is often a rush to find the next perfect diet, which is the risk with intermittent fasting. 

It could be that the results are just from people eating better food (since this often happens when someone is dieting anyway) and/or eating less junk (if you’re periodically fasting, you’re eating less junk even if you’re still eating junk when you eat.)  It could also be that a periodic fast might help you learn the difference between real hunger (the body telling you it needs something) and mental hunger (eating from boredom or any other reason than real hunger.) 

Find out More

If you want more information or would like to give it a try, I would direct you to the excellent free e-book by John Berardi of Precision Nutrition.  It is an excellent review of the pros and cons along with helpful details of how to try various versions of intermittent fasting.  It is mostly a spot on review of all the factors you would need to know to decide if you want to try it and if it might be for you. 

Do the research from credible sources and decide for yourself. 


Jonathan Ross — fitness expert for Discovery Fit & Health and creator of Aion Fitness — was voted Exercise TV's "Top Trainer" and named in Men's Journal magazine's list of Top 100 Trainers in America. His personal experiences with obesity — "800 pounds of parents" — directly inspired his fitness career. His ability to bring fitness to those who need it the most has made him a two-time Personal Trainer of the Year Award-Winner (ACE and IDEA). His book, Abs Revealed, is filled with cutting-edge exercises in a modern, intelligent approach to abdominal training. His leadership and fresh perspectives on fitness earn him praise as a frequent go-to source of credible fitness information.

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