The author, a psychologist named Jonathan Haidt, presents an explanation of human behavior that I like so much, I’m borrowing it (with attribution) for the book I’m writing for kids.
As Haidt explains it, your body and your unconscious mind are like an elephant. Your conscious mind – the part of you that thinks and makes plans and vows – is like a rider on top of the elephant. We like to think the rider is in control. But he isn’t, at least not if he tries to guide the elephant somewhere the elephant doesn’t want to go – like, say, into a fire.
And later in the post:
If evolution has hard-wired one survival instinct into every living creature on earth, it’s got to be this: don’t starve. Starvation means death. In our conscious minds, we may believe going hungry for weeks on end is a fine idea if we’ll look good in a swimsuit by summer. But the elephant disagrees… If you simply starve yourself, you’re dragging the elephant somewhere he doesn’t want to go.
People who go on The Biggest Loser are (as the article makes clear) agreeing to be in lockdown. Same goes for people who participate in metabolic ward studies. And yes, under those circumstances, you can probably demonstrate that all weight-loss diets work as long as the dieter sticks to the diet, as some internet cowboys like to point out. So what? All that tells us is that if you lock the elephant in a cell, he doesn’t run away — because he can’t. But he’ll be miserable the whole time, and when he’s no longer in lockdown, he won’t be hanging around for long – even if the rider thinks he should.
I don’t suppose many of us need more proof that The Biggest Loser is a b.s. show promoting insane ideas about weight loss. But what the heck, an article about the show from the U.K. Guardian landed in my inbox a few weeks ago, and I can’t pass up an opportunity to take another swipe at a show I believe is causing people to harm themselves. Here are some quotes:
The Biggest Loser is back. After more than a 30% drop in ratings last season, some were questioning if the competitive weight loss reality show would be canceled completely. But after considerable delay, its 17th season will premiere on Monday on NBC. The question is, with so much criticism suggesting the show does more harm than good, whether it should return at all?
“It was the biggest mistake of my life,” Kai Hibbard, the winner of season three told the Guardian. As part of the application process Hibbard had to sign a non-disclosure agreement forbidding her from publicly speaking about the show without first getting approval from a public relations representative from NBC. But her experience has prompted her to be an outspoken critic regardless of a possible lawsuit, though she has received several cease and desist letters from the network.
Winner of season three … that means we’re talking about a woman who’s had more than a decade to reflect on what being a contestant did to her. If she’s still mad, I’m thinking there’s a good reason.
In an interview with the Guardian, Hibbard described incessant fat shaming by trainers, “ridiculous” exercise regimens that were done solely for entertainment purposes, dehydration for weigh-ins, and manipulation by producers to pick winners and create “villains”.
Sounds almost as bad as a presidential primary debate.
“In my season there was a woman named Heather who was made to look like a combative, lazy bitch,” Hibbard said. “But in actuality, she had a torn calf muscle and had developed bursitis in both knees. When she refused to run, they edited it to make her look lazy.”
A torn calf muscle and bursitis in both knees. Boy, that exercise program designed by Jillian Michaels must really rock.
According to Hibbard, the show’s producers try to lead viewers to believe contestants have lost weight faster than they have. “Nobody on the show lost 20 pounds in a week,” she said. “Once, ‘a week’ was actually three weeks because of the shooting schedule.”
Folks, trust me on this: if you ever lose 20 pounds in a week, get yourself in to see an oncologist as quickly as possible.
“There is no good reason to pick up a piece of driftwood and sprint down the beach when you weigh 265 pounds, except that it looks good for the camera,” Hibbard said. The contestants are pushed to do daily workouts that are approximately 10 times the amount that is recommended by the American College of Sports Medicine. The fact that vomit buckets are always nearby, and regularly used, is telling.
Sounds like a perfect regimen for sending cortisol levels through the roof.
According to one former contestant, the extreme weight loss tactics used on the show lead to a high relapse rate. Suzanne Mendonca, from season two, explained to the New York Post last year that the reason why The Biggest Loser is reluctant to do a show reunion is “because we’re all fat again”.
Of course. When you finally let the elephant out of that prison cell, he runs from the fire. Or if you prefer a more scientific explanation:
According to one former contestant, the extreme weight loss tactics used on the show lead to a high relapse rate. Suzanne Mendonca, from season two, explained to the New York Post last year that the reason why The Biggest Loser is reluctant to do a show reunion is “because we’re all fat again”.
Eric Ravussin, a professor of human physiology at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, published a study on The Biggest Loser in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism. His findings help explain why Biggest Loser contestants put back on the weight they lost so quickly.
Ravussin and his team compared 12 people from The Biggest Loser with 12 people who lost similar amounts of weight via gastric bypass surgery. Because of the former’s extreme exercise regimens, the show’s contestants lost less muscle and more fat than the surgery group, but their drop in resting metabolic rate was double that of the gastric bypass group.
In other words, despite all the exercise, the metabolisms of the “biggest losers” crashed hard – much harder than those who lose weight at a gentler pace.
So these poor saps are starved and worked half to death, then they’re sent out into the world with depressed metabolisms and expected to keep the weight off. Pure insanity. Way to go, Biggest Loser!
Of course, the average weight-loss “expert” promotes what we could call Biggest Loser Lite: just semi-starve yourself and then spend hours on a treadmill. Or if you’re a kid, eat your USDA-approved, low-fat, low-calorie school lunch and then Let’s Move!
Jillian Michaels quit the show after a dozen years. She said at the time it was partly because she was being unfairly portrayed as an abusive person. Well, unless the producers had a gun to her head when these scenes were filmed, she was an abusive person:
If you don’t know enough to stop pushing an obese person when he feels dizzy and nauseated, you shouldn’t be a trainer – for anyone. Another incident should have made that clear to the producers long before Michaels quit:
In 2009, contestant Tracey Yukich collapsed after being made to run a mile and had to be airlifted to hospital. It was sold as being heat exhaustion, but Hibbard said her sources reported Yukich suffered from rhabdomyolysis, a serious and potentially fatal condition that can be caused by overexertion.
That’s one good reason to dislike The Biggest Loser. Here’s another:
A 2012 study published in Obesity found that watching a single episode of The Biggest Loser generated significantly higher levels of dislike for people with obesity.
Shame does not encourage weight loss. In fact, it accomplishes the opposite. In a 2013 paper published in PLoS ONE, researchers from Florida State University asserted that not only does stigmatizing obesity lead to poorer mental health outcomes, but the authors stated: “Rather than motivating individuals to lose weight, weight discrimination increases risk for obesity.”
Ya mean fat-shaming people might raise their cortisol levels and trigger even more weight gain? Has anybody informed MeMe Roth?
The Biggest Loser is technically entertainment. But that entertainment comes at a high social cost. Shaming contestants, encouraging dangerous exercise and regimens, promoting nearly impossible weight loss targets leads Dr Freedhoff to the conclusion that “the Biggest Loser is everything that’s wrong with weight loss in America”.
Yup. And yet it still has fans.
Despite the vast amounts of criticism from physicians, obesity researchers and professional trainers, there are still some who praise the show, and say it’s changed their lives. Even the first lady, Michelle Obama, has appeared on it twice.
Great. She’s probably looking for ideas to incorporate into her Healthy, Hunger Free Kids campaign.
As you probably know, the USDA released its newest dietary guidelines last week. Here’s what Medscape online had to say:
Watch your sugar, use caution with the salt shaker, and limit those saturated fats.
That’s the advice from the updated U.S. nutritional guidelines, released Thursday by the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services. The guidelines are published every 5 years and aim to reflect the latest science-based evidence about what we eat.
If the guidelines aim to reflect the latest science-based evidence, then the committee members have a lousy aim. Several recent studies have concluded that saturated fat doesn’t cause heart disease, and yet the USDA still tells us to restrict saturated fat. The committee also tells us to restrict salt, even though a study commissioned by the Centers For Disease Control concluded that following those guidelines isn’t necessary and might even be harmful.
“Diet is one of the most powerful tools we have to take control of our own health,” Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell told reporters at a briefing Thursday. “There are many ways to stay healthy, but nutrition will always be at the foundation of good health.”
That’s true. Too bad we have the USDA telling people what to eat. I seem to recall that Americans were leaner and healthier before the USDA got involved.
While some groups like the American Medical Association praise and support the guidelines, critics say the recommendations don’t go far enough — and they’ve accused the government of playing politics with Americans’ health.
“It really is a betrayal of science to politics,” says David Katz, MD, founding director of the Yale Prevention Research Center, a federally funded program that studies how changes to lifestyle can prevent disease. “Public health, which means the lives of real people, is being thrown under the political bus.”
I agree with Dr. Katz that the USDA guidelines have little to do with real science – but then neither do the guidelines developed by Dr. Katz. As you may or may not recall, Katz is the goofball behind a nutrition-rating system called NuVal. I wrote about it back in 2010. You can read that post, but here’s all you really need to know: according to Katz, these are excellent choices:
Chocolate Soy Milk (30 grams of sugar)
And these are lousy choices:
Frankly, I’m amazed media reporters are still running to Dr. Katz for (ahem) “expert” commentary. Once a guy’s proved himself a fraud, that ought to disqualify him – and yes, Katz proved himself a fraud awhile back. He wrote glowing reviews of his own book reVision, which he published under a pseudonym. Here’s a quote from the Yale Daily News:
In February 2014, David Katz MPH ’93, the director of the Yale School of Medicine’s Prevention Research Center, wrote two glowing online reviews of a science-fiction novel called reVision.
In his biweekly column in The Huffington Post, Katz lauded the book’s “lyrically beautiful writing,” comparing it to the work of a veritable “who’s who” of great writers, including Plato, John Milton and Charles Dickens. “I finished with a sense of illumination from a great source,” he concluded. “The most opportune comparison may be to a fine wine.” Katz had used similar language two days earlier in a five-star product review he posted on the book’s page on Amazon.
When a guy 1) writes a review of his own book without explaining that it’s his own book and 2) compares himself to Plato, Milton and Dickens, it’s pretty obvious we’re talking a giant egomaniac.
Katz said the reviews conveyed his honest opinion and that he concealed the true authorship of reVision because he preferred to keep his professional life separate from his fiction writing.
Ahh, I see. It’s your honest opinion that you’re in the same league as Plato, Milton and Dickens. Well, sheeoot, that makes it okay, then … although here’s a alternate suggestion for keeping your professional life separate from your fiction writing: go ahead and write your novels under pseudonym – but then don’t write glowing reviews under your real name. That way, you won’t look like a giant egomaniac (and a bit of a moron). Either way, I kind of doubt literature majors of the future will be mentioning Plato, Milton, Dickens and Katz in the same sentence.
Anyway, Katz is apparently upset that the guidelines didn’t place specific limits on eating meat. (Remember, we’re talking about a guy who thinks chocolate soy milk is health food, but turkey and chicken will kill you.)
The guidance does recommend we eat lean meats and poultry, and it notes that eating less meat, including processed meat and processed poultry, has been linked to a lower risk of heart disease. But it doesn’t offer specific instructions or limits around red and processed meats. Choices can include processed meats and processed poultry, as long as eating patterns stay within the limits for sodium, saturated fats, added sugar, and calories recommended by the new guidelines.
“The science on the link between cancer and diet is extensive,” says Richard Wender, MD, chief cancer control officer for the American Cancer Society. “By omitting specific diet recommendations, such as eating less red and processed meat, these guidelines miss a critical and significant opportunity to reduce suffering and death from cancer.”
The “science” on the link between cancer and diet may be extensive, but it’s also mostly garbage. People who want to blame meat (a food humans have been eating forever) for causing cancer (a “disease of civilization” that was exceedingly rare among hunter-gatherers) simply cherry-pick the observational studies where a link exists, no matter how weak it is. There are plenty of observational studies that don’t show a link. There are even studies where rates of colon cancer go up as people eat meat, then go down again as they eat even more meat. I wrote about those here.
Well, never mind those studies. Katz is still convinced them (ahem) “science” linking meat to cancer was ignored:
“This is a sad day for nutrition policy in America,” he [Katz] writes. “It is a sad day for public health. It is a day of shame.” In a social media post, he calls the guidelines “a national embarrassment.”
As embarrassing as being caught reviewing your own novel and comparing yourself to Plato, Milton and Dickens?
There was one significant change in the USDA guidelines:
For the first time, the 2015 guidelines tackle added sugars, recommending they make up less than 10% of Americans’ diets. Those do not include naturally-occurring sugars, like those in milk or fruit.
Stop for a moment and let that one sink in. The USDA has been producing these guidelines every five years since 1980. And yet this is the first time they’ve ever recommended restricting added sugars. All those years, yammering on and on about cutting back on red meat, fat and cholesterol, but sugar got a pass. Meanwhile, rates of type diabetes skyrocketed in America … even among kids.
This is also the first time the committee FINALLY admitted they got it wrong about dietary cholesterol, which they now say isn’t a “nutrient of concern.” So at this rate, I suppose they’ll admit they got it wrong about artercloggingsaturatedfat! in the 2050 guidelines. But for now, they still recommend limiting saturated fat to no more than 10% of calories … which happens to be the same limit they put on added sugars. So in the minds of committee, added sugars and naturally occurring saturated fats are equally dangerous. Yeah, that’s science-based stuff there.
I believe Nina Teicholz, author of the terrific book The Big Fat Surprise, summed up the new guidelines pretty well:
With the exception of a cap on sugar, these DGAs are virtually identical to those of the past 35 years, during which time obesity and diabetes have skyrocketed. Given the same advice, it’s not clear why we should expect different outcomes, especially when consumption data shows that over the past decades, Americans have, in fact, followed USDA advice, cutting back on butter by 14%, whole milk by 73%, and red meat by 17%, while increasing consumption of grains by 41% and oils by more than 90%.
Due to high-level concern about the failure of our nutrition policy to improve health, Congress recently mandated the first-ever peer review of the Guidelines, by the National Academy of Medicine. This is a critical first step towards ensuring that our nation’s policy is indeed based on rigorous science.
I have one minor disagreement with Teicholz: I’m not convinced mandatory peer review will make much of a difference. A better first step (and last step) would be to get the USDA out of the nutrition-advice business completely. After all, we’re talking about a federal government that has demonstrated over and over that it possesses something akin to a reverse Midas touch: nearly everything it touches turns into @#$%.
I wrote a couple of posts back in the day titled This Is Why We Do What We Do. (Here and here if you want to check them out.)
WAIT … STOP THE PRESSES!
Okay, this is a case of perfect timing, so I need to interrupt myself. I literally just now pasted in the link for the second “This Is Why We Do What We Do” post. That post opened like this:
I received one of those hate mails this week, full of the usual brilliant observations:
Your film was obviously paid for by McDonald’s … Super Size Me was awesome and a really important film because it alerted people to the dangers of fast food … your on-camera experts must be beef-industry hacks if they say saturated fat isn’t bad for you … you think you’re funny but you’re not, you’re just really annoying … your film sucked so bad, I stopped watching before the end … etc., etc., etc.
Later in that post, I quoted from one of the many “thank you for changing my life” emails I’ve received to explain why these goofs who think they’re going to hurt my feelings with a nasty email are dreaming.
About five seconds after pasting in the link, my email program dinged at me. So I checked the email and read this:
Hello. I just wanted to tell you I saw FatHead. Or, should I say, CrapHead. Because I just saw a full load of bologna. Literally, the worst movie ever. You sir, Tom Naughton, can go to hell, or better yet, one of the places you defend in CrapHead, and die. No one will miss you. And no one will remember CrapHead in 10 years. Have a nice day.
Another angry little pissant who thinks he’s going to hurt my feelings. You can’t make this stuff up.
Anyway, back to the original topic.
While taking time off to finish the draft of the book, I received a couple more reminders of why we do what we do. One came in the form of a conversation with a co-worker who has type 2 diabetes. His A1C has been climbing, and he’s concerned that he’ll die young, or lose his vision, or suffer some other calamity. I asked him about his diet.
He’s been told almost nothing by his doctor, and the little advice he’s gotten has been lousy. I asked what he eats. Breakfast is usually an apple and a banana, but sometimes he has oatmeal. He was told that’s good for him.
And your other meals?
Well, for lunch he usually has a sandwich. But he uses stone-ground wheat bread, because he was told that’s good for him too.
I explained that he needs to stop filling up on sugars and starches in the morning and try eating bacon and eggs instead. He didn’t disagree, but asked, “So … eggs are okay?”
You can understand his suspicion, of course. We were all told for decades that eggs will clog our arteries because of the cholesterol. The USDA Dietary Guidelines Committee has finally backed off that warning (a mere 35 years too late), but I don’t think most people got the memo.
So here’s a guy worried that his type 2 diabetes will kill him, and he’s been told eggs are bad, but oatmeal and wheat bread are good. No wonder his A1C is climbing.
The other reminder of why we do what we do arrived in an email. Here’s part of it:
I’m a long time reader of your blog and have emailed you a few times in the past. I just needed to send you a message for a quick rant on some extreme frustration I recently had. I work in mental health as an outpatient clinic therapist and recently had a patient who couldn’t come to our last appointment because she went to the ER for chest pain. Turns out she had a heart attack. She’s only 36 years old, but is overweight, smokes, not a good diet, no exercise, and has a strong family history.
She came in after being released from the hospital. The real kicker is this: she’s been told to eliminate saturated fat from her diet to the point of it only being 7% of her diet. She was told no butter, no fatty meats, blah blah blah. They also put her on a statin even though her cholesterol was ok.
The hospital staff apparently was quoting directly from the USDA guidelines. As for the statin … don’t get me started.
Then….she followed up with this comment, “But what’s great is I saw that Graham Crackers have no saturated fat, so I can eat the s#%*@ out of those.” My internal response? NOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!
NOOOOO, indeed. Out of curiosity, I looked up the ingredients and macronutrients from a (ahem) “nutrition” label for graham crackers online. The ingredients:
Enriched flour, sugar, graham flour, vegetable oil (cottonseed and partially hydrogenated soybean oil and/or canola oil), molasses, corn syrup.
Refined wheat, sugar and hydrogenated oils. Nope, no threats to cardiovascular health there.
Here are the calories, carbs, etc:
Hmmm, there’s a gram of saturated fat in there, so perhaps those crackers will kill her after all. The email continues:
How can doctors still believe this jargon? How can one honestly believe a Graham Cracker is better than an Egg?
Good question. We’re living in a profoundly silly age where food-like products made from refined grains are considered health foods, while real foods humans have been eating forever are considered killers — because they contain fat.
But that’s why we do what we do. That’s why I’m determined to finish this book project, and then jump straight into the film/DVD version.
————– Update ——————
More laughs. The pissant whose email I quoted above sent another one on Friday:
Angry loser? Me? You sound like a whiner or a kid that just lost his favorite toy or a bad football player like Adrian Peterson when the NFL suspends him for beating up his child. You don’t know me pal. I’m a powerful citizen of the US of A, the greatest country in the world. I have powerful friends that can f@#$ you up, just like they did with Kobe or Armstrong. Remember good, and write it down Mr.Nutjob, I’m Mr. Hands, I have power, I have influences, and I can beat you up anytime soon. You f@#$%ing moron. At least you had the time to answer mi e-mail. Have a nice day a-hole.
Well, I believe him, of course. That’s what powerful and influential people with powerful friends do: they send angry emails to film directors whose films they don’t like. Then they return to their video games until Mom calls them for dinner.
Figuring perhaps a reply will cause his pissant head to explode, I sent one:
Sure, send your powerful friends on over to f@#$ me up. I’ll introduce them to my rottweilers and my Mossbergs.
If you’re trying to eat right, then following the diet of a nutritionist is probably a good start.
That may be the scariest first sentence I’ve ever read in a health and fitness article. It ranks up there with we’re from the government, and we’re here to help.
After seeing countless nutritionists quoted in online health articles over the years, I’ve reached the conclusion that every time a nutritionist leaves a room, the average IQ goes up by several points. (To be fair to nutritionists, that’s not always true. Sometimes the room is full of stupid people. Or government officials who are there to help.)
Anyway, that scary first sentence is from a Business Insider online article titled A nutritionist shares pictures of everything she eats in a day. I suppose the pictures would be useful for people who want to follow the nutritionist’s advice but are intimidated by reading. For those who don’t mind reading, the nutritionist provided commentary to go along with the pictures. Let’s take a look at what she has to say.
I am thirsty when I wake up, so I start the day with a combo juice of calcium-fortified orange juice and 100% cranberry juice.
I’ve found water helps with that thirst problem.
I dilute it with water, otherwise it’s too sweet. I love the sweet/sour taste, besides all the vitamin C, potassium, folic acid, calcium, and diuretic benefits from the cranberry juice.
Personally, I’ve never had problems peeing in the morning, so the diuretic benefit doesn’t appeal to me. The sweet portion of that sweet/sour taste, of course, comes from the sugar in the orange juice.
On the way to work, around 8:30 a.m., almost every day I eat oatmeal with unsalted peanuts and cinnamon in the car.
Um … uh …. you eat your oatmeal in the car? Almost every day?
Well, that’s just a fabulous idea. The world needs more distracted drivers. While you’re eating your oatmeal (and feeling like you have to pee from those diuretic benefits), perhaps you could send a few texts and apply some eyeliner.
When I get to the office, I make a big mug of decaf mocha-latte coffee and go over my emails. I love them! I use instant decaffeinated coffee with a teaspoon of 100% cacao (natural unsweetened cocoa) topped with a generous amount of 1% milk. The non-alkalized cocoa powder provides heart-healthy flavanols, which may be otherwise processed out in dark chocolate. I drink three to four of these big mugs throughout the day and night to stay hydrated and get a source of calcium.
Again, I’m reasonably sure water would help with the hydration.
I need a mid-morning snack, so around 11 a.m. I eat one-third to one-half of a bar of my favorite chocolate-chip cookie-dough Quest bar.
You need a mid-morning snack? After that power breakfast of orange juice, cranberry juice, oatmeal, a few peanuts and some 1% milk? Well, I am shocked.
I get hungry between 12 p.m. and 1 p.m. and eat lunch consisting of plain Greek yogurt with fruit, nuts, and Fiber One cereal for added fiber.
You get hungry again an hour after your mid-morning snack? I must be doing something wrong. I ate breakfast around 8:30 this morning and wasn’t hungry again until dinner.
I was hungry again at 2 p.m. and made my own microwave popcorn with olive oil.
You were hungry again two hours after lunch?! Let’s see … fruit, cereal, non-fat yogurt … aren’t those the kinds of foods promoted by the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act? I’m starting to think these (ahem) healthy foods aren’t so effective at quelling hunger.
I love popcorn and have to measure it out or I eat too much.
Yeah, that’s why I have to measure out my bacon in the morning. You know how it is: you start eating bacon, next thing you know you’ve finished the whole package. Then you go see a therapist to ask why.
Around 4 p.m. I was feeling stressed but not hungry, so I chewed my favorite peppermint gum. The more stressed I am, the more pieces of gum I chew at a time. Up to four pieces!
Geez, I don’t know how anyone could feel stressed after fueling up on orange juice, cranberry juice, oatmeal, a few peanuts, half a protein bar, non-fat yogurt, fruit and Fiber One cereal. Those sound like perfect brain-calming foods to me. Congratulations on going two hours without feeling hungry, though.
I got home early around 5 p.m. and was tired and hungry, so I ate a handful of peanut M&Ms for a chocolate, sugar energy boost. Since I am sensitive to caffeine, chocolate is the only caffeine I need and is usually included in my daily diet.
I don’t know how anyone could feel tired and hungry after fueling up on orange juice, cranberry juice, oatmeal, a few peanuts, half a protein bar, non-fat yogurt, fruit, Fiber One cereal, and some carefully-measured microwave popcorn. Must be something genetic. Good thing chocolate is included in your daily diet. That sugar energy boost sounds like a godsend.
My husband wasn’t around, so I had leftover Indian food for dinner around 6:30 p.m. I love Indian food and created this dish the night before: curry chicken, onions, apples, raisins, and coconut with garlic naan.
Careful there, lady. If you accidentally skip the raisins and garlic flat-bread, you’ll end up eating something resembling a decent meal.
On the way to my 8:30 p.m. yoga class, I bring a big bottle of iced water. When I get home, I like to drink flavored sparkling water around 9:45 p.m. to 10 p.m. while watching TV.
I drink sparkling water at night too … although I pee it out in the morning without the diuretic benefits of cranberry juice.
The nutritionist didn’t list her portion sizes, but I can make a pretty good guess from the pictures. So entered her day’s dietary choices into Excel and added calories, carbs, protein, etc., by looking them up in online databases. If I’m in the ballpark (and I’m pretty sure I am), the nutritionist consumed right around 2,000 calories, including 100 grams of protein and 250 carbohydrates. Half the carbs – 125 – were from sugar.
As a point of reference, if you drank three 12-ounce cans of Coca-Cola, you’d ingest 117 grams of sugar.
If you’re trying to eat right, then following the diet of a nutritionist is probably a good start.
I may yell that at any trick-or-treaters who show up on my doorstep. If they’re smart, they’ll scream and run away.
Since I’m in the middle of writing a book for kids, articles about kids and health that land in my inbox receive special attention. Two recent articles illustrate what’s wrong with the prevailing advice on how to reduce rates of childhood obesity.
That advice, of course, is to cajole, harass, or possibly shame kids into eating less and exercising more. (Strangely, there were few fat kids in my grade school despite a lack of cajoling and harassing.) The USDA-approved lunches are lower in fat and calories than in previous years, and we’ve got federal campaigns like Let’s Move! to promote exercise.
Again, nobody had to cajole kids into moving when I was growing up. Playing outside with friends is what we lived for. If anything, our moms had to yell out the back door and demand we stop playing and come inside for dinner. I’m pretty sure once kids reach the point where they don’t naturally want to move, cajoling won’t make much of a difference.
Just like attempts at influencing hairstyles or clothing can backfire, adults who try to guilt middle-schoolers into exercising won’t get them to be any more active, according to a new study by University of Georgia researchers.
The study, which appears in the September issue of the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, found students who don’t feel in control of their exercise choices or who feel pressured by adults to be more active typically aren’t. Middle-schoolers who feel they can make their own decisions about exercising are more likely to see themselves as a person who exercises, which in turn makes them more likely to exercise.
Hmmm … it would be easy to read that and conclude that if you put pressure on kids, they don’t want to exercise, but if you don’t put pressure on them, they do want to exercise. Defiant little tykes, eh?
I think the more likely explanation is that kids who don’t enjoy being active end up being pressured to exercise (because people think they’re lazy), while kids who naturally want to move aren’t pressured. So the associations show up as pressured = less active, not pressured = active.
This age is a critical juncture in a child’s life, as kids typically decrease their activity levels by 50 percent between fifth and sixth grades, said Rod Dishman, the study’s lead author and a professor of kinesiology in the UGA College of Education.
“Our results confirm that the beliefs these kids hold are related to physical activity levels,” Dishman said. “But can we put these children in situations where they come to value and enjoy the act of being physically active?”
Dishman and colleagues at the University of South Carolina are now looking at ways to help kids identify with exercise at a younger age, so that by the time they reach middle school they are more likely to identify as someone who exercises.
I seriously doubt kids exercise because they identify themselves as someone who exercises. I think it’s likely the other way around: they identify themselves as someone who exercises because they enjoy being active. I identify myself as a disc golfer because I enjoy the game, so I play it. I didn’t take up disc golf because I identified myself as a disc golfer.
What parents and teachers don’t want to create, Dishman cautioned, is a sense of guilt for not exercising. The research overwhelmingly found that students who felt obligated to be more active were less likely to embrace activity overall.
“The best thing is to do it because it’s fun,” Dishman said. “It’s the kids who say they are intrinsically motivated who are more active than the kids who aren’t.”
BINGO. The kids who are intrinsically motivated are feeling what Gary Taubes calls the compulsion to move. Their bodies would rather burn calories than store them, so they feel full of energy. They want to be active.
The kids whose bodies are in calorie-storage mode, on the other hand, don’t feel like moving. They don’t have the energy. Exercise feels like a chore. The research is clear on the chicken-or-the-egg question: kids don’t get fat because they stop moving. They start getting fat first, then stop moving.
Although health experts recommend breakfast as a strategy to reduce an individual’s chance of obesity, little research has examined if the actual type of breakfast consumed plays a significant role in one’s health and weight management.
Of course the type of breakfast plays a significant role. Does anyone think Pop-Tarts and eggs produce the same hormonal effects?
University of Missouri researchers compared the benefits of consuming a normal-protein breakfast to a high-protein breakfast and found the high-protein breakfast — which contained 35 grams of protein — prevented gains of body fat, reduced daily food intake and feelings of hunger, and stabilized glucose levels among overweight teens who would normally skip breakfast.
Heather Leidy, PhD, an assistant professor in the Department of Nutrition and Exercise Physiology at the MU School of Medicine and lead author of the study, said the key to eating 35 grams of protein is to consume a combination of high-quality proteins including milk, eggs, lean meats and Greek yogurt.
I don’t think the meat necessarily has to be lean, but a big YES on the protein. Protein intake has a strong effect on appetite.
Leidy and her colleagues fed two groups of overweight teens ,who reported skipping breakfast between five and seven times a week, either normal-protein breakfast meals or high-protein breakfast meals. A third group of teens continued to skip breakfast for 12 weeks.
“The group of teens who ate high-protein breakfasts reduced their daily food intake by 400 calories and lost body fat mass, while the groups who ate normal-protein breakfast or continued to skip breakfast gained additional body fat,” Leidy said. “These results show that when individuals eat a high-protein breakfast, they voluntarily consume less food the rest of the day. In addition, teens who ate high-protein breakfast had more stable glucose levels than the other groups.”
Give kids more protein, and they spontaneously eat less. No cajoling or harassing required. They eat less because they’re not as hungry, period. Same goes for adults, by the way. That shows up in the research over and over.
A cup of fruit per day is required. Grains are required. A cup of milk is required, but of course that would be skim milk – although it can be “flavored,” according to a different document. That means chocolate or strawberry milk with sugar. There’s no meat or even a meat alternative required – although in the footnotes, you can find this gem:
Beginning July 1, 2013 (SY 2013-2014), schools may substitute 1 oz. eq. of meat/meat alternate for 1 oz. eq. of grains after the minimum daily grains requirement is met.
Well, that is just damned generous of the feds to allow schools to swap an ounce of meat for an ounce of grains … after the minimum daily grains requirement is met. Kids just can’t be healthy without those grains, ya know.
So according to the USDA, this is the breakfast that will give us healthy, hunger-free kids: fruit, grains, and fat-free milk with sugar. No meat or eggs required.
And that’s why people think kids need to be pressured into eating less and moving more: they’re put on diets that make them want to eat more and move less. Then people blame the kids.
Depending on which article you read, somewhere between 30% and 55% of people in the U.S. and Canada are cutting back on grains, especially wheat. That’s no small threat to what has long been the most profitable sector of the food industry. (Those government grain subsidies sure help.)
So the grain industry is fighting back with I’ve decided to call the Save The Grain Campaign. The campaign employs three main tactics I’ve noticed so far:
1. Promote grains as a necessary health food.
2. Attack people who say grains are bad for us.
3. Attack diets like low-carb or paleo that limit or eliminate grains.
Back in January, I wrote a post about an incredibly stupid article in Shape Magazine that featured the headline Low Carb Diet Linked to Shorter Life Expectancy. The article was about a Harvard observational study in which people who ate whole grains had longer lifespans than people who ate white flour. From that study, the dunce reporter at Shape Magazine concluded that 1) whole grains are health food, and 2) a low-carb diet will shorten your lifespan.
Riiiight. And if people who smoke filtered cigarettes live longer than people who smoke unfiltered cigarettes, that means unfiltered cigarettes are good for you … so people who don’t smoke will die prematurely. Same twisted logic. Leaders of the Save The Grain Campaign must have been proud.
The grain promoters know they can’t claim that grains are good for everyone without looking foolish. After all, there’s that little problem known as celiac disease. So they’re quick to point out that only one percent of the population has been diagnosed with celiac disease. Grains are great for the other 99 percent, ya see.
Riiiiight. That’s roughly equivalent to pointing out that only seven percent of cigarette smokers develop lung cancer, so cigarettes are fine for the other 93 percent. Celiac disease may be the most severe form of grain intolerance, but it’s hardly the only one. As I’ve mentioned before, when I stopped eating wheat and other grains, I waved goodbye to psoriasis on my scalp and arthritis in my shoulder, to name just two benefits of many. And guess what? I don’t have celiac disease. I had the test done to be sure.
If my daughter Sara eats wheat, she gets red blotches on her arms she calls da bumps – and I doubt she has celiac disease. I’ve heard from people who gave up grains and stopped getting migraines, or restless legs at night, or cold sores, or mood swings, or … well, heck, name it. Most of them, like me, didn’t give up grains because they have celiac disease or were worried about gluten or the gliadin protein. They gave up grains because they adopted a low-carb diet to lose weight, then noticed all those lovely side benefits.
That’s why I believe some studies and articles discouraging people from adopting a low-carb diet are part of the Save The Grain Campaign. When people go low-carb, bread, pasta and cereal are usually among the first foods swept from the menu. So with that in mind, let’s look at a couple more articles I’d consider part of the campaign.
Overweight and obese people who followed a low glycemic index diet in the context of an overall DASH-type diet had no greater improvements in insulin sensitivity, lipid levels or systolic blood pressure compared with study subjects who ate high glycemic index foods, in a randomized, controlled feeding study.
Low glycemic? I though the headline was about low-carb.
Following a low-glycemic index, low-carbohydrate diet, compared with a high-glycemic index, high-carbohydrate diet did not affect insulin sensitivity, systolic blood pressure, LDL cholesterol or HDL cholesterol, but it did lower triglycerides during the from 111 to 86 mg/dL, researcher Frank M. Sacks, MD, of Harvard School of Public Health, and colleagues wrote in the Dec. 17 issue of JAMA.
Ah, there was a low-carb arm of the study. So they must have limited carb intake to somewhere between 20 and 50 grams per day.
Among the two study diets with a high carbohydrate composition (58% of daily energy), one had a high glycemic index (≥65 on the glucose scale) and the other had a low glycemic index (≤45 on the glucose scale).
The two other diets had a low carbohydrate composition (40% of daily energy), with one having a high (≥65%) and the other having a low (≤45%) glycemic index.
Um … 40% of daily energy as carbohydrate is a low-carb diet? Say what? If I consume 2500 calories per day, 40% as carbohydrate works out to 250 grams per day. I’m pretty sure that’s nothing like what Dr. Atkins recommended.
As I read the article, I realized I’ve written about Dr. Frank Sacks and his research before. In fact, my first-ever blog post (nearly six years ago) was titled Create Your Very Own Biased Study. It was about a study conducted by … wait for it … Dr. Frank Sacks, who declared that low-carb diets aren’t particularly good for inducing weight loss. He showed as much by putting people on a (ahem) low-carb diet. Except his definition of low-carb was … wait for it … 35 percent of calories. Again, that’s nowhere close to the degree of carbohydrate restriction recommended by Dr. Atkins, Drs. Eades & Eades, etc. Heck, even Paul Jaminet’s Perfect Health Diet, with the safe starches and all, tops out at 30% of calories from carbohydrates.
Dr. Sacks has to know that low-carb diet plans start at 50 grams max, then gradually raise the carb intake to perhaps 100 grams. So I can’t help but wonder why he keeps studying “low-carb” diets that allow well over 200 grams per day, then uses those results to declare that cutting carbs doesn’t make much of a difference. Why not try an actual low-carb diet in one of these studies? Because to me, his studies look like reducing an alcoholic’s intake from 10 drinks per day to seven, then declaring that the poor S.O.B. still isn’t sober, so there’s no point in cutting back on alcohol.
Widely publicized diets, such as high protein and low carbohydrates, seem so promising. It’s no wonder so many of us have tried—or considered—them. But does science support the claims? We spoke with doctors and dietitians, and read the research.
They may have spoken with doctors and dieticians – which is roughly as useful as asking for dietary advice from a plumber – but based on what follows, I can guarantee they didn’t read the research.
Remember the Scarsdale diet and the Stillman diet? Those high-protein, low-carb plans may have gone out of fashion, but Atkins, first published in 1972, is still hot. Protein-packed products are flooding stores, and the list of popular protein-rich diets—Paleo, Zone, and more—continues to grow. All claim that you’ll lose pounds, feel peppier, and reduce your risk of heart disease.
People lose weight on high-protein plans because they take in fewer calories, not because they focus on protein. “Diets only work by lowering calories,” says David Seres, M.D., director of medical nutrition at the Columbia University Medical Center in New York and a member of Consumer Reports’ medical advisory board. “Where the calories come from doesn’t matter.”
Yes, when you lose weight, you take in fewer calories than you burn. That’s HOW you lose weight, but not WHY you lose weight. In several studies, people on a low-carb diet spontaneously ate less despite not being told to restrict calories. That means something positive happened with their metabolisms. Eating less is the result, not the cause. Dr. Seres’ statement is akin to saying that Alcoholics Anonymous may work, but only because people stop drinking.
In addition to pushing protein, many of these plans recommend cutting back on—or completely eliminating—carbohydrates. Get less than 50 grams of carbs per day (the amount in two apples) for three to four days in a row, and your body will start tapping its own fat and muscle for fuel instead of its usual source: glucose derived from carbohydrates. That may sound like a way to shed pounds, but it can have serious health consequences. “You’re altering your metabolism away from what’s normal and into a starved state,” Seres says. “People in starved states experience problems with brain function.”
Holy crap, I’d better load up on carbs and then check that highly complex program I spent all those overtime hours coding last month – with everyone from the president of IT on down waiting for results. I’m told it worked quite well. On the other hand, my brain function is impaired, so I might have heard “This sucks — you’re fired” and interpreted it as “I really appreciate all your hard work in getting this done” … from the president of IT.
A high-protein diet also overworks the kidneys. That’s especially worrisome for people with kidney disease and can predispose those with healthy kidneys to kidney stones.
The purpose of this review is to evaluate the scientific validity of AHA Nutrition Committee’s statement on dietary protein and weight reduction, which states: “Individuals who follow these [high-protein] diets are risk for … potential cardiac, renal, bone, and liver abnormalities overall.
Simply stated, there is no scientific evidence whatsoever that high-protein intake has adverse effects on liver function. Relative to renal function, there are no data in the scientific literature demonstrating that healthy kidneys are damaged by the increased demands of protein consumed in quantities 2–3 times above the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA).
In contrast with the earlier hypothesis that high-protein intake promotes osteoporosis, some epidemiological studies found a positive association between protein intake and bone mineral density. Further, recent studies suggest, at least in the short term, that RDA for protein (0.8 g/kg) does not support normal calcium homeostasis. Finally, a negative correlation has been shown between protein intake and systolic and diastolic blood pressures in several epidemiological surveys.
In conclusion, there is little if any scientific evidence supporting the above mentioned statement.
So I guess the anonymous Consumer Reports reporter didn’t actually slog through the research before repeating what a few doctors and dieticians believe.
When it comes to heart disease, the saturated-fat-laden red meat that’s part of many high-protein diets may actually boost your risk. According to a Harvard study of more than 120,000 people followed for more than 20 years, a meat-based low-carb diet increased the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease by 14 percent.
If you secretly suspected that this was a “people who eat red meat do a lot of unhealthy things that make them die sooner” study, you can now gloat.
As you can see, the folks eating the most red meat were also the least physically active, the most likely to smoke, and the least likely to take a multivitamin (among many other things you can spot directly in the table, including higher BMIs, higher alcohol intake, and a trend towards less healthy non-red-meat food choices).
Same old, same old … in a society where people are told meat is bad for them, it’s mostly the I don’t give a @#$% people who eat more meat – well, except for us LCHF and paleo types. I don’t give a @#$% types have worse health outcomes for all kinds of reasons – including not giving a @#$%.
By the way, I realize some of you are probably expecting me to jump up and down and insist that a low-carb diet is a high-fat diet, not a high-protein diet. Truth is, unless you aim for a constant state of ketosis – which I don’t – a low-carb diet probably will be high in protein. And for most of us, I think that’s good. I’ll explain why in a future post.
In the meantime, we can all sit back and chuckle at the Save The Grain Campaign. I give them kudos for effort, but it’s not going to work. You can’t easily convince people to dismiss their own experiences.
The film follows Donal – a lean, fit, seemingly healthy 41 year old man – on a quest to hack his genes and drop dead healthy by avoiding the heart disease and diabetes that has afflicted his family.
Donal’s father Kevin, an Irish gaelic football star from the 1960s, won the first of 2 All Ireland Championships with the Down Senior Football Team in 1960 before the biggest crowd (94,000) ever seen at an Irish sporting event.
When Kevin suffered a heart attack later in life, family and friends were shocked. How does a lean, fit and seemingly healthy man – who has sailed through cardiac stress tests – suddenly fall victim to heart disease?
Can a controversial diet consisting of 70% fat provide the answers?