Archive for October, 2009

Okay, so maybe you’ve tried to get your loved ones to read Good Calories, Bad Calories, only to watch them experience brain-lock the first time they see the words lipoprotein lipase

Hey, it happens.  I was a pretty good student, but I was out of school for many years before I could read a chemical name without experiencing unsettling classroom flashbacks — in my case, visions of a stern nun who responded to questions such as “Could you please explain that again?” by shaking her head and staring at the ceiling as if to plead, “Dear Lord, why are you punishing me by enrolling dolts in my class?”

Gary Taubes is working on a more consumer-friendly version of his ground-breaking treatise, which I’m looking forward to reading.  But in the meantime, there are some good books out there that offer scientifically sound advice for losing weight and improving your health, minus the heavy-duty science. 

I read one this week.  Actually, I read it in an afternoon, which is what makes the book worthwhile: it’s a nice little summary of what works and what doesn’t.  If your Aunt Martha isn’t willing to read this one, it’s time to just give up.

The book is titled S.P.E.E.D., which is an acronym for Sleep, Psychology, Exercise, Environment and Diet.  I’m pretty sure the particular arrangement of the chapters was done on purpose … I mean, they could’ve called it D.E.E.P.S., or P.E.E.D.S., or P.E.D.E.S., but S.P.E.E.D. is easier to remember and more eye-grabbing.  And as the authors point out, each chapter stands alone.  You could read them in reverse order without losing any comprehension.

The book was written by Jeff Thiboutot and Matt Schoeneberger, personal trainers who between them hold several degrees in fields like nutrition, psychology and exercise science.  (See their web site here.)  Normally, when I see Bachelor of Science in Nutrition after an author’s name, I start to worry … here comes the brain-dead parroting about the evils of saturated fat and all that.  I’m pleased to say, however, that these two have actually done their research.  Pretty much everything they state in the book is followed by a string of citations from scientific journals — so if you do enjoy jumping head-first into the science, you can look it up.

And if you don’t, you can still learn what works and what doesn’t when it comes to losing weight.  Here are some highlights:

  • A lack of sufficient sleep screws up your blood sugar, promotes insulin resistance, and increases your appetite.  (As someone who deals with occasional bouts of insomnia, I can attest to the appetite problem.)
  • Achieving any goal, including weight loss, requires defining a vision and a specific action plan, then sticking to the plan.  The plan should focus on what you can do, not on pre-defined results.  (There’s some good advice in this chapter on avoiding negative mental patterns that undermine your success.)
  • Exercise alone rarely produces any meaningful weight loss — but the right kind of exercise combined with the right diet does work, and exercise is important for your overall health, fitness and mood.
  • A whole-food diet with a minimum of sugar and starch is best for supporting both health and weight loss.  Yes, you’ll need to create a calorie deficit to lose weight, but keeping insulin in check by restricting carbohydrates makes the process much easier.

The scientific evidence presented in each chapter is neatly summarized, straightforward, and easy to digest.  You’re not going to learn intricate details about biochemistry or metabolic pathways from this book — but again, that’s the point.  (Remember Aunt Martha.)  You can think of it as a case of “We did the heavy lifting, so you don’t have to.”

And it’s clear that Thiboutot and Schoeneberger know how to separate the good science from the bad.  One of my favorite sections of the book is actually an appendix that gives an overview of the Scientific Method and explains the differences among various levels of scientific evidence — or what the authors call The Great, The Good, The Bad and The Absolutely Worthless. 

Much of the nutrition reporting that appears the media is based on studies (and I use the term loosely) that fall into the last two categories.  More than a few health and nutrition reporters need to read this book … or at least be smacked over the head with it. 

But don’t smack Aunt Martha.  Just put the book in her hands and hope she reads it.

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Interesting results this week.  I stuck to the diet (no demonstration of the causes of fatty liver disease this time) except during Saturday night’s cast party, when I took a few slices of cheese from the food table.  Pretty much everything else was carb-heavy except the shrimp cocktail, and I thought it might annoy the other guests if I loaded my plate with most of the shrimp.

This morning my waist around the belly-button was 37.5 inches, which is down a full inch from last week.  I’ve also had to cinch my belt another notch tighter.  But when I stepped on the scale at the gym, I was still at 200.  A full inch gone, no movement on the scale.  I’m still making good progress in my workouts — nearing the bottom of the stack on a couple more machines — which probably has something to do with it.

So in four weeks, I’ve lost 3.5 inches around the belly and five pounds.

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IF MECHANICS BECAME NUTRITIONISTS

“Welcome to Joe’s Nutrition.  What can we do for you today?”

“Well, my doctor wanted me to talk to you about my diet.  He says I’m eating too much.  I know he’s probably right, and I keep trying to cut back, but then I get so hungry –”

“So you’re needing more fuel than you used to?”

“Well, I don’t think I really need it.  I just don’t seem to have any willpower.”

“Willpower’s got nothin’ to do with it, pal.  If you’re burning too much fuel, then something’s wrong with the system, you see?  Something’s messing up the works.”

“Uh … I hadn’t really thought of it that way.”

“Could be an endocrine imbalance, maybe something wrong with the blood sugar regulator, not enough oil … all kinds of things.  So let’s start simple.  What kind of fuel are you using?”

“Only the best.  Whole grain cereals, potatoes, wheat bread, lots of fruit –”

“Wo, wo, wo.  So you’re stuffing the tank full of sugar?”

“No, of course not!  Whole grain cereals, potatoes-”

“Same fuel, different name.  It all turns to sugar in the tank, buddy.  You got any idea what all that sugar does to the rest of the system?  You’re working the blood sugar regulator to death.  Half of what you’re eating is probably going straight into the ol’ storage tanks.  No wonder you’re eating so much.”

“But … uh … they always told me –”

“Forget what they told you.  They don’t know jack.  You want clean combustion in the engine, stop putting sugar in the tank.  Your engine needs oil, and I don’t mean the cheap synthetic stuff, either.  I’m talking about real butter, olive oil, and lots of good quality saturated fat.”

“Saturated fat?!  But that will just gum up the engine!”

“You know who started that rumor?  The people who make the synthetic crap, that’s who.  Trust me, you switch to the good stuff, you’ll feel better than you have in years.”

“Wow, that’s a relief.  So I don’t need any expensive repairs, or –”

“I’ll be happy to do all kinds of expensive repairs if you decide to ignore my advice.”

IF NUTRITIONISTS BECAME MECHANICS

“Howdy, welcome to Kelly Brownell Auto Repair.  Can I help you?”

“Yeah, something’s not right with my car.  It’s sluggish and it’s burning way more gas than it used to.  Can you maybe take a look under the hood, or run some kind of test, or–?”

“You say she’s burning too much gas?”

“Definitely.  I have to fill up like twice a week now, and I don’t even drive that much anymore.”

“Well, there’s your problem.”

“Huh?”

“You’re putting too much gas in it.”

“Uh … I’m not sure I’m following you here.”

“Well, it’s simple.  She’s burning too much gas.  So stop putting so much gas in the gas tank.  You see?”

“Well, uh … don’t you think maybe something’s wrong with the engine, or the fuel system, or maybe there’s a leak, or–”

“No offense, buddy, but you’re talking to a professional here.  I see this all the time.  People come in with cars that are sluggish, and every darned one of them is filling up the tank all the time.  Doesn’t take a rocket scientist to put two and two together.  If she’s burning too much gas, stop filling her up all the time.  Then she can’t use too much gas.  Like I said, it’s simple.”

“Okay.  Right.”

“And if she’s still sluggish, you need to get her out on the highway a few times a week and run her at a high speed for an hour or so.”

“Well … that kind of seems like it might just make the car use more gas.”

“No, no, no, you’re missing the whole idea here.  Give her less gas, but drive her around a lot more.  That’s how you get your mileage up.  Less gas, more miles, that means more miles per gallon.  You understand the math?”

“Uh …”

“Look, it’s not hard.  Lucky for you, the gas stations around here are required by law to show you exactly how many gallons you’re putting in the tank.  So let’s say you normally put in fifteen gallons.  Just watch that meter real close, and then stop when you’ve put in, say, ten gallons.  Then drive her around a lot more.  Problem solved.”

“Uh, yeah, sure.  Thanks.”

“And if that doesn’t work, come back next week.  I’ll be happy to give you the same advice again.”

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The play I’m appearing in opens tomorrow, so we’ll be putting in a long rehearsal tonight. Instead of writing a full post, I thought I’d share some audio clips from a radio show called The Slagle-Naughton Report, which my comedian pal Tim Slagle and I produced back in the 1990s. Yes, that was a long time ago, but I think these bits are, if anything, more relevant today.

As I mentioned in a reply to a recent comment, Slagle and I often used comic exaggeration to poke fun of government busy-bodies; unfortunately, we learned that when it comes to the stupidity of government busy-bodies, reality eventually catches up to the exaggeration.

Here’s just one example: in an episode about the push to make everyone equal in every way, we noted (truthfully) that a feminist group had complained that the lines outside of women’s public restrooms are usually much longer than the lines outside of men’s public restrooms, and by gosh, they wanted something to be done about it. So we proposed a new law that would force men to sit down to pee. Can’t exaggerate much more than that. So imagine our surprise when that law was actually passed in some city in Europe. (Can’t remember which one; this was a long time ago.) The language of the law even described standing up to pee as a form of domination. I kid you not.

In recent years we’ve seen the busy-bodies pass a rash of nanny-state laws that are supposed to make us all healthier, such as calorie-count menu laws. As I wrote in a previous post, these laws aren’t working. Big surprise. So now the health nannies are no doubt scheming to find other ways to force us to be healthier. I give it maybe five years before you have to step on the scale to receive permission to order french fries at McDonald’s.

Anyway, here are some clips from our long-ago show. The first one is based on the idea that once the government is in charge of everyone’s health care, they’ll use that as an excuse to regulate what we can eat. (Yes, it’s an exaggeration now. We’ll see if it stays that way.)

The Popcorn Criminal:

Buried in the thousands of pages of legalese that makes up the latest health-care proposals are requirements that medical treatments must be “harmonized.” Translation: the government will create protocols to tell your doctor how to treat you. Great; let’s make it illegal for doctors like Al Sears or Mike and Mary Dan Eades to tell you the government’s advice for treating heart disease is wrong.

The Doctor Criminal:

The last clip is about the futility of government attempts to do something! to control our health. As a bit of background, this clip was from a continuing series of episodes titled “Uncle Knows Best.” In every episode, Uncle Sam came up with some expensive solution to a problem, then demanded that Johnny give him a hundred bucks to pay for it.

Uncle Knows Best – The Common Cold

Back to running through my lines …

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Yesterday I completed my third week of the 6-Week Cure For The Middle-Aged Middle — the first all-meat (nearly) week.  This morning I weighed 200 lbs. on the gym scale, and my waist measured 38.5 inches around the biggest area.  I started at 205 lbs., 41 inches.

That’s only one pound lost in the previous week, but there are some likely explanations:

  • I’m lifting an extra 20 or 30 pounds on several weight machines since starting the diet, which means I’ve probably added some muscle.
  • I was already on a low-carb diet, so an all-meat (nearly) diet isn’t a dramatic change.
  • I cheated on the diet.

Friday was my wife’s birthday, but I maintained good discipline at the restaurant where we celebrated.  I had a 10-oz. prime rib, a small Caesar salad without croutons, creamed spinach, and one glass of red wine.  The wine was my second serving of alcohol for the week, which means it was also supposed to be my last.

But on Saturday, I met my best friend of nearly 40 years (egads, I’m old!) at a local pub.  As often happens when lifelong chums get together to enjoy themselves, the conversation soon turned to the causes of fatty liver disease.  I’m a big believer in the power of visual aids, so I had the waitress bring a succession of Yuengling beers and deep-fried snacks to our table in order to emphasize my points.

After finishing off my third pint of Yuengling and some mozzarella sticks, I tapped my empty glass and said, “You see?  This is how people put fat in their livers.  Bad idea.”  My friend agreed and likewise finished off his third pint to demonstrate his comprehension of the science.

The waitress doubted that either of us actually has a fatty liver, but as far as I could tell, she has very little medical training.  Also, I think she was angling for a sizable tip.

When I got home from the pub, I confirmed that beer and other carbohydrates make you hungry by consuming a big bowl of almonds and cashews without feeling particularly full.  So my three weeks on the cure haven’t exactly been three weeks on the cure.

Anyway, I’ll happily take the one-pound loss for the week.  Back to the meat.

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In a previous post, I ranted about the idiotic laws being passed in some states that force restaurants to list calorie counts right on the menu.  This is some of what I wrote:

Here’s how the politicians and the nutrition-nannies believe those calorie-count menu boards will make us thinner:

  • Fat Customer waddles into McDonald’s, intending to order a Double Quarter Pounder value meal.
  • Fat Customer is confronted with the calorie count, right there on the menu board where he can’t possibly miss it.
  • Fat Customer says to himself, “Oh my gosh! I had no idea there were so many calories in this meal! I’m going to order a Filet-O-Fish and a bottle of water.”
  • Fat Customer is satisfied with this low-calorie meal and, thanks to the menu board, begins eating low-calorie meals at restaurants from this point forward.
  • Fat Customer loses weight, as do millions of other fat customers.
  • The obesity epidemic is solved. Rates of heart disease, cancer, and type II diabetes plummet. Medicare expenditures drop by 50 percent.
  • Millions of formerly-obese citizens march on Washington to express their gratitude. Hallelujah, hallelujah! All praise the wise and wonderful politicians and Kelly Brownell and CSPI for saving us from our ignorance and gluttony!

After theorizing what will probably happen if forcing a fat person to look at the calories actually does inspire him to order a smaller meal (he’ll go home, kick the dog, and eat a bag of Doritos and a pint of Chunky Monkey), I suggested the most likely outcome of calorie-count laws: 

  • Fat Customer waddles into McDonald’s, intending to order a Double Quarter Pounder value meal.
  • Fat Customer is confronted with the calorie count, right there on the menu board where he can’t possibly miss it.
  • Fat Customer says to himself, “I don’t give a @#$%. I’m famished, and I want the Double Quarter Pounder value meal.”

Surprise, surprise … that seems to be exactly what’s happening.  As the New York Times reported, a recent study concluded that menu laws aren’t inspiring people to eat smaller meals:

The study, by several professors at New York University and Yale, tracked customers at four fast-food chains – McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Burger King and Kentucky Fried Chicken – in poor neighborhoods of New York City where there are high rates of obesity.

It found that about half the customers noticed the calorie counts, which were prominently posted on menu boards. About 28 percent of those who noticed them said the information had influenced their ordering, and 9 out of 10 of those said they had made healthier choices as a result.

But when the researchers checked receipts afterward, they found that people had, in fact, ordered slightly more calories than the typical customer had before the labeling law went into effect, in July 2008.

Let’s see, what can we say about this result? I believe the word I’m looking for is … DUH!!! 

Calorie counts for fast-food restaurants are already available in diet books, on the internet, on placemats in the restaurants, and in nutrition guides sitting on the counter.  The people who actually care about calorie-counts have already found them.  The reverse is also true:  the people who haven’t found them already don’t care.

I’ve never understood why government busy-bodies have such faith in the power of warning labels to influence behavior.  Go into any bar in California, and you’ll see a big sign inside warning that excess alcohol consumption can cause birth defects.  That’s true, of course, but who exactly is this sign for?  I guess we’re supposed to believe lots of conscientious pregnant women wander into bars, all ready to order a double boiler-maker, then read that sign and say, “Oh my gosh, I didn’t know that!  Thanks for the warning.  Give me an orange juice.”

Newsflash:  the kind of woman who would get drunk while pregnant isn’t going to be swayed by a sign.  Neither will the kind of people who would rather load up on sugar and starch than be healthy. 

These nanny-state laws are based on two assumptions: 1) People are stupid and don’t know when they’re over-eating, and 2) if the government insists the stupid people are informed exactly how much they’re eating, they’ll wise up and eat less.  Both assumptions are wrong.

If you saw Fat Head, you remember the street scenes where I showed people a Double-Quarter Pounder large combo and asked if it was a high-calorie meal or a low-calorie meal.  Naturally, they all said it was a high-calorie meal.  What I didn’t show (not enough screen time for everything) is that when I asked people to guess the actual calorie count, most of them guessed too high

People just aren’t that stupid; they know they’re getting a lot of calories when they order these meals.  They also don’t care:

Tameika Coates, 28, who works in the gift shop at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, ordered a Big Mac, 540 calories, with a large fries, 500 calories, and a large Sprite, 310 calories. “I don’t really care too much,” Ms. Coates said. “I know I shouldn’t, ’cause I’m too big already,” she added with a laugh.

Naturally, the food evangelists can’t just admit their grand scheme was a huge flop:

New York City health officials said that because the study was conducted immediately after the law took effect, it might not have captured changes in people’s behavior that have taken hold more gradually.

Riiiiiggght … if you shove the calorie-counts in a fat person’s face, it may take a year or two before it all sinks in and he says to himself, “Hey, wait a minute … I shouldn’t be eating this much.  Give me a salad.”

Perhaps we’re just seeing the health nannies express a belief that, as I pointed out in Fat Head, seems to be dearly held by the type of people who loved Super-Size Me:  poor people are stupid.  Here’s The Guy From CSPI saying more or less exactly that:

“Nutrition is not the top concern of low-income people, who are probably the least amenable to calorie labeling,” said Michael F. Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a nonprofit health advocacy group in Washington.

Uh … Michael, who exactly is amenable to calorie-labeling?  Well-educated rich people?  These laws were championed as a way to “help” poor people who eat too much fast food to make smarter choices, remember?  Surely it’s time to just give up.  But noooooo:

Nutrition and public health experts said the findings showed how hard it was to change behavior, but they said it was not a reason to abandon calorie posting.

Let’s see … we imposed an expensive and complicated program on the restaurants that failed to produce anything remotely resembling the results we predicted, but there’s no reason to abandon our approach.  Brilliant.  But hey, that’s the beauty of being in government:  other people pay for your mistakes, so why not keep making them?  Or as the economist Milton Friedman once said, only in government is failure viewed as a reason to keep doing the same thing, only more of it.

And that’s my biggest fear … they will keep doing more of it:

Calorie posting has even entered the national health care reform debate, with a proposal in the Senate to require calorie counts on menus and menu boards in chain restaurants.

Anyone want to place odds on the likelihood that the Senate will see what happened in New York and conclude that menu laws are a waste of time and money?  I’ll bet you dollars to donuts they don’t — and you can keep the donuts even if I win.  No, they’ll probably just come to the same conclusion this guy did:

“I think it does show us that labels are not enough,” Brian Elbel, an assistant professor at the New York University School of Medicine and the lead author of the study, said in an interview.

Not enough?!  That’s the scariest statement in the whole article.  Lord only knows what the food evangelists will try next.

(Hat tip to Adam, who sent me a link to the NYT article.)

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