Posts Tagged ‘obesity’

Peanut Butter Cookie Batch

Peanut Butter Cookie Batch (Photo credit: Greatist): I can’t stand peanut butter, but maybe some of you crave it.

I love Greatist. I encourage anyone interested in health, fitness and weight loss to subscribe to them. No, I have no financial or personal interest in them, so feel free to take it or leave it with my blessing and no effect on my pocketbook:

  1. How to foam roll like a pro
  2. Can you be too sore to work out?
  3. 10 interval training mobile apps to download right now
  4. News: Talk to yourself to stay motivated
  5. Schedule your day to reduce stress
  6. Give in to cravings to avoid binges
  7. Ultimate guide to good posture at work
  8. Develop a routine to improve sleep
  9. Why do I eat when I’m not hungry?
  10. How to handle criticism like a pro

There seems to be a “routines” theme in my list. Maybe I’m trying to tell myself something. I’m not even touching the word “pro,” given that I’m a woman old enough to remember that as a euphemism.


I alluded to my recent health issues (well, more than “alluded” in some) in recent posts: Pain and other challenges, Pain and other challenges: Part 2 and Pain and other challenges: Part the third.  The problems kept piling up, and the key feature to improvement, consistency, has eluded me. I think I’m now on the way to surmounting the problem.

One of the issues that is only tangentially about me is that my migraine specialist, Dr. Robert Nett, died in a car accident back in February. His death was a loss to the medical community, as he was both a researcher and a practitioner, an M.D. and a pharmacist, and very attentive to his patients. It was, of course, even more of a loss to his family and friends, but I’m sure all of his patients felt the loss as well.

I found out when in a different specialist’s office. I’d listed Dr. Nett as the doctor treating me for migraines, and the doctor’s assistant asked me a couple of times who was taking care of that. I repeated the answer a couple of times, a bit confused. Then she realized I hadn’t been told.  When she told me, my first thought was “What a waste!”  My second was “His poor family.”  And my third, I’m a bit embarrassed to say, was “What will I do now?” Selfish much?

But there’s been some validity to the concern. I’ve been heavily medicated to prevent the migraines, and I was developing some sporadic and odd side effects. He had planned to reduce them at some point after they’d done their job of resetting the sensitivity of my brain to stimuli. However, you basically had to audition to get an appointment with him because he was in such high demand. Now that he’s gone, pretty much everyone here in San Antonio that specializes in migraines is slammed and we’re looking at, ohh, August, maybe, before I actually see one of them.

So my internist (whom I’ve called “wonderful” several times, and realized I use “wonderful” way too often, so let’s say she’s amazing — because she is) has been temporarily dealing with my migraine meds as well as my grab bag of assorted illnesses. I had an appointment with her because of a hacking cough I couldn’t shake and managed to have one of the side-effect “spells” that  periodically plague me. I won’t bore you with the details, but she sent me straight to the ER, and on the follow-up appointment said that I was acting as if I’d “had three bottles of tequila, and [she] knew [I] hadn’t done.”

So what with the actual migraines, the recurrent hacking cough, and the spectrum of light-headed to stoned beyond belief, I’ve been extremely inconsistent with my exercise.

So at said follow-up, I talked to her about reducing all of the drugs to zero and asked her if she thought I was being overly simplistic in thinking that diet and consistent exercise would take care of the problem. She nixed reducing everything, even over a lengthy period of time, and pretty much told me I could expect to be on X, Y and Z for the rest of my life. On the other hand, she was in favor of reducing to eliminating some of them.

But we both knew that the ones that were first on the chopping block were those which were preventing the migraines, as they’re also the ones probably responsible for my problems. So I kept thinking, well, what about the exercise if I’m in the middle of a migraine?

She did agree that exercise and weight loss would/could eliminate (or at least ameliorate) most of my medical issues. But I was stuck on the “How can I be consistently exercising if I’m having all these problems?” and not expressing it well and we kind of went in a circle for a bit.

It took me a while to formulate the right question (because of all the foggy brain problems), but I finally came up with it: Is there any reason I should stop if I’m having a migraine, feeling wobbly or hacking like crazy — or do I just need to suck it up?

She smothered a chortle (or at least that’s what I think it was), and said, “Well, basically, yes. Suck it up.”

Fair enough. My fear has been that I’ll make things worse. Now, if necessary, I’ll go workout with my earplugs and sleeping mask, and if it makes any one migraine worse, I’ll deal. I plan on having the hubby coach on standby, of course, but as far as the pain, well, it’s just pain. I don’t mind suffering in the short term if, in the long term, I’ll actually get better.

So, sports fans, the race is back on.

I write about change and motivation a lot because I know I need to change my attitudes as much as I do my actions, as all actions originate in thought.

So I thought I’d talk about the progress I’ve made, since today I realized I’d made some in the upstairs department.

As you may know, the past month has been a struggle. I’ve had setbacks because of health issues: injuries, illness and minor surgery. I’ve felt my time has been more limited due to some additional responsibilities, and was discouraged that my record-keeping and blogging had suffered as a result.

I had a two-day migraine for my weekend activity, but today I finally felt better. And I realized that, although I was not happy I hadn’t been able to work out the past two days, I hadn’t doubted (for a change) that I would start back as soon as I could. And today, when I woke up enough to realize I really did feel better, I was not just ready to exercise, but juiced about it. My husband had to dial me back a notch.

I set up the items I needed in the garage and went back in to do my treadmill warm-up. Put on Pandora and got two songs I liked and can add to the repertoire (The Clash, “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” and Duran Duran “Hungry Like the Wolf).

It’s amazing how fast the garage can heat up in less than 20 minutes during August. Oy. Note to self (and anyone else with GERD): When working out in the heat, make sure you’ve taken your Nexium enough ahead of a workout or you’re gonna get reflux.  And start hydrating sooner.

And yet I was still pumped to work out. I think perhaps that it’s because, although I generally am in denial about it, I have a competitive streak, and even more to my chagrin, I only like to compete when I think I’ve got a chance of making some sort of showing. The fact that I’m only competing against myself makes it easier to win, at least as long as I stick with it.

I’m sure there will still be days when I’m dragging myself by the hair to go work out, but it’s rather a shock to me, who abhorred the thought of exercise, that I can, on occasion, actually work out with pleasure.

I happen to love “Glee,” partially because I’m a sucker for musicals, and that’s basically what every episode is, but also because they do a nice job at exploring some pretty serious issues in an accessible way. One episode, “Born This Way,” explores the issues we all have with who we are, what we have to accept and what we can change about ourselves.

So those of us in the process of changing our bodies to be more healthy have something to work through mentally as well as physically: What is it we actually expect to change?

For example, people who go through surgical weight loss procedures are generally required to have a psych evaluation first. Why? Because losing weight, although it will fix many physical problems, isn’t a magic pill that will solve all your problems. For years, I would think to myself, “Oh, if I lost weight, X would happen” or “If I could lose weight, I’d be able to Y.” But what happens when problems you blamed on your weight, like relationship issues, are still there when you’re thin.

Or what about this, which is something I fear: What happens when I lose weight and I don’t look like I think I should? I know how my weight was distributed when I was young, but sometimes weight distributes differently when you age. What will I really look like? What’s a reasonable expectation?

Right now, the feeling of chronic illness is still recent enough that just feeling healthy seems like a fine return on the effort. But I have to face it: I want to look a certain way, and that may not be the way my body is destined to look. When I was young, I was definitely a pear. Will I be an apple? Or one of the other designated body designs folks have come up with in the meantime? It’s a big enough issue that there’s an entire professional journal devoted to these issues called “Body Image.” And the U.S. Government thinks it’s a big enough deal to devote an area of the National Women’s Health Information Center to body image:

With a positive or healthy body image, a woman has a real perception of her size and shape. She also feels comfortable with her body. With a negative body image, a woman has a distorted perception of her shape and size, compares her body to others, and feels shame and anxiety about her body. Being unhappy with your body can affect how you think and feel about yourself as a person. A poor body image can lead to emotional distress, low self-esteem, unhealthy dieting habits, anxiety, depression, and eating disorders. Developing a positive body image and a healthy mental attitude is crucial to a woman’s happiness and wellness.

So why do we get these distorted perceptions? Well, the National Eating Disorders Association has a list of facts that suggest the media has a lot to do with eating disorders generally, which are related to body image:

  • The average U.S. resident is exposed to approximately 5,000 advertising messages a day (Alfreiter, Elzinga & Gordon, 2003).
  • According to a recent survey of adolescent girls, their main source of information about women’s health issues comes from the media (Commonwealth Fund, 1997).
  • Researchers estimate that 60% of Caucasian middle school girls read at least one fashion magazine regularly (Levine, 1997).
  • Another study of mass media magazines discovered that women’s magazines had 10.5 times more advertisements and articles promoting weight loss than men’s magazines did (as cited in Guillen & Barr, 1994). A study of one teen adolescent magazine over the course of 20 years found that in articles about fitness or exercise plans, 74% cited “to become more attractive” as a reason to start exercising and 51% noted the need to lose weight or burn calories (Guillen & Barr, 1994).
  • The average young adolescent watches 3-4 hours of TV per day (Levine, 1997).
  • A study of 4,294 network television commercials revealed that 1 out of every 3.8 commercials send some sort of “attractiveness message,” telling viewers what is or is not attractive (as cited in Myers et al., 1992).
Given that the “ideal” body differs from culture to culture tends to reinforce this view that the media plays a part. The clincher seemed to be the case of Fiji:
Fiji, a nation that has traditionally cherished the fuller figure, has been struck by an outbreak of eating disorders since the arrival of television in 1995, a study has shown.

So, we know what the problem is. Or at least we have an idea of why we may not embrace our bodies, no matter how fit. So what’s the solution?

Sarah Metzger at LiveStrong proclaims

[M]aking the choice to take care of yourself daily leads to an inner-confidence that’s more powerful than any change you can make to your physical appearance.

Hmm. Well, yes, confidence does help. There are a lot of female celebrities who I really don’t think are that pretty, but there’s something about their ability to project confidence and presence that outweighs their superficial appearance. Madonna, for example, is not someone I think is all that pretty. But she’s certainly got something. Oddly, though, at least one study says that men don’t find proud, confident women all that attractive:

 [S]miling may be seen as “consistent with traditional gender norms of the ‘submissive and vulnerable’ woman, but inconsistent with ‘strong, silent’ man.” So basically, pride is seen as masculine, and smiling as feminine — and by this token, women who appear confident are apparently manly and unsexy.

How stuck in the past are we? Bite me; I don’t want (and wouldn’t be interesting to) a guy who can’t deal with the fact I’m an assertive woman. My husband thinks it’s cool; he wasn’t interested in the boring ol’ shrinking violets.  Interdependence is good; codependence, not so much. Have these guys ever watched Angelina Jolie kick someone’s ass? And do they really want to stick with “I don’t find her attractive”? I’d love to know the median and mean age of the men surveyed.

Cleveland Clinic has a laundry list of things you can do to help overcome body image problems:

The following are steps that you can take to begin fostering a positive image of yourself:
  • Take a self-image inventory
  • Define personal goals and objectives
  • Set realistic and measurable goals
  • Confront thinking distortions
  • Identify childhood labels
  • Stop comparing yourself to others
  • Develop your strengths
  • Learn to love yourself
  • Give positive affirmations
  • Remember that you are unique
  • Learn to laugh and smile
  • Remember how far you have come

For my money, though, I rather like reading the sassy stuff posted at “Adios, Barbie,” a website devoted to body image articles and commentary. Like  “You’re so perfect … except for your boobs,” an article written by Melanie Klein about a friend’s silicon breast implants:

In numerous intimate conversations she confided in me about her implants and Tim, her body image issues, and her distrust of men. These conversations were plagued by a deep sadness and marked by intense insecurity and regret. With her striking eyes and “porn star body,” Jasmine commanded a lot of male attention, attention that she deflected and tried to avoid by dressing in ways that diminished her figure.

So even being a Barbie doll isn’t as great as we might think it is. In fact, it’s been my observation that extraordinarily gorgeous women tend to believe that’s all they have to offer. And, unfortunately, sometimes that’s true because they became so accustomed to getting what they wanted because of their looks, they didn’t develop any other assets. One woman I worked with who was like that was incompetent at her job, but kept on by the male partners because they liked to watch her. But one lunch break with her was enough for me; I realized she had a bad relationship with an ex, and didn’t seem to be able to hang on to a keeper of a guy.

Like my husband always says, you gotta talk to ’em eventually. So, ladies, it’s not necessarily the men that are the problem; it’s what we’ve been conditioned to think. As Tina Fey says in her wonderful book, “Bossypants,” we’ve been conditioned to believe that in order to be beautiful, we must have:

  • Caucasian blue eyes
  • full Spanish lips
  • a classic button nose
  • hairless Asian skin with a California tan
  • a Jamaican dance hall ass
  • long Swedish legs
  • small Japanese feet
  • the abs of a lesbian gym owner
  • the hips of 9-year-old boy
  • the arms of Michelle Obama
  • and doll tits.

Can you say she’s wrong? But the list points out the ridiculousness of what we expect of ourselves. So what if you have big hips or short legs? Guess what, even Michelle Pfeiffer, who was one of the poster children of what pretty was supposed to be when I was a young woman, doesn’t like her lips. She thinks she has duck lips.

So, short of trying to beat Michael Jackson’s record for most plastic surgeries ever (and we all saw how badly that eventually turned out), we each have to learn to live with our imperfections. Most of the time, we’re the only ones to notice them (until we decide to point them out to others, who then can’t miss them. I now think of duck lips every time I see Michelle Pfeiffer).


Dr. Brian M. Scott, a mathematics professor at Cleveland State University, once said to me, “If you know one expert, you know all the answers. If you know two, you’ll never be certain.” I have repeated this bit of wisdom more times than I care to calculate (probably because I’d be wrong), and Scientific American’s “Can Fat Be Fit?” interviewee Paul Raeburn reinforces this view when discussing his opinion that being somewhat overweight isn’t a bad thing as long as you’re also exercising:

The statistical things are very tricky and I wouldn’t sit here and say that I can go through all the mathematical minutiae and analyze what’s going on — far from it; I can’t get into the nuts and bolts at all. It really requires a professional, and the evidence for that of course is that the professionals argue madly over these things about whose right and whose handling the statistics correctly.

Go to their section on “The Science of Weight Loss” and you may find yourself confused about exactly what the right answer is. For example, the article “Does Exercise Really Make You Healthier?” doesn’t really answer the question, as the experts seem to be saying, well, generally yes, but there are exceptions, and we don’t really know why.

So what should we laypeople believe, when things like this, back in 2005,  have happened:

Dr. Julie Gerberding, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, issued a rare and curious apology. She apologized for the mixed messages and contradictory studies regarding the dangers of obesity, acknowledging that flawed data in several CDC studies had overstated the risks.

The article goes on to say, well, folks, be skeptical of what you read. Well, gee, thanks.

As I indicated in an earlier post, there are studies that support the contention that interval training, or mixed difficulty exercises, such as CrossFit are actually better for weight loss and increased fitness. There’s also a study saying that the kind of diet CrossFit advocates will make you feel more satisfied and, presumably, will make you eat less overall:

Eating fewer, regular-sized meals with higher amounts of lean protein can make one feel more full than eating smaller, more frequent meals, according to new research from Purdue University.

One of my favorite studies is the one that says that obesity is spread socially:

The people we associate with can have a powerful effect on our behavior—for better or for worse. This holds true for human health and body mass, too. The heavier our close friends and family, the heavier we are likely to be.

Don’t know how that works in my reality; I’m usually the heaviest, by a wide margin (excuse the bad pun), in any of my social groups. But maybe it’s not the peer pressure, but simply that you “caught it” from them:

Obesity can be “caught” as easily as a common cold from other people’s coughs, sneezes and dirty hands.

That would certainly take us fatties off the hook.

Then there’s this, that could give a deconditioned fattie like me an excuse to ditch the exercise for the nearest fad diet, from an article headlined as “Study: Exercise Won’t Cure Obesity“:

Though better nutrition coupled with exercise has long been the favored prescription for losing weight and avoiding obesity, a new study suggests diet actually plays the key role.

Lovely.  But I never thought exercise on its own would make you lose weight. But I am convinced, at least for me, that I won’t be able to keep it off unless I exercise. Losing weight? That’s another thing entirely. I can’t say for certain that you can’t lose weight just by exercising, but it doesn’t sound like the scientists know for sure either. All I know is I feel better and am more motivated to watch my food intake since I started CrossFit.

Think there’s a study on that? Wait. I am my study on that. So there.

Today’s post is the last in a a series of three.  Four main points to reiterate:

  • Think about it as giving your body what it needs, not about what you can’t have
  • Consider your particular needs, such as Vitamin D
  • Don’t be a food fascist
  • You need to eat sensibly from the three macronutrients: protein, fat and carbs, preferably carbs with low glycemic load.
For more specific guidance in sensible eating, CrossFit has recommended Barry Sears’s The Zone Diet and Loren Cordain’s The Paleo Diet.  Both are protein friendly diets that recommend eating fresh fruit and whole grains for your carbs (and apparently Chuck Norris is on the same page).
WebMD summarizes The Zone Diet so:
Like other popular diet books, Enter The Zone offers more than just weight-loss claims. By retooling your metabolism with a diet that is 30% protein, 30% fat, and 40% carbohydrates, The Zone diet contends that you can expect to turn back encroaching heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes. Another much-touted advantage is better athletic performance. Sears doesn’t come right out and claim he has found the cure for heart disease or diabetes, or how to win athletic competitions, but instead he provides glowing anecdotes from people who have taken The Zone diet to heart.

WebMD reviewer Kathleen M. Zelman takes a stab at summarizing The Paleo Diet in a review:

The diet is based on the foods that could be hunted, fished, and gathered during the Paleolithic era — meat, fish, shellfish, eggs, tree nuts, vegetables, roots, fruits, and berries. But a true paleolithic diet is impossible to mimic because wild game is not readily available, most modern plant food is cultivated rather than wild, and meats are domesticated.

Each article points out the problems with each approach, but the truth is that neither diet appears to have been tested in a controlled study. Dr. Sears has published a couple of articles in medical journals about his diet, but no one else seems to have run a test on it. PubMed doesn’t have anything on Cordain’s Paleo Diet.

So as far as the merits of adhering to either specific program, there’s nothing scientific to go on; you’re basically left with what people who’ve tried it have to say. That doesn’t mean that either of them are wrong or bad for you; it just means that you need to evaluate it on your own. Even the one diet that has gotten the nod from science as a workable solution, Weight Watchers, isn’t 100% effective for 100% of the people on it. Like I’ve said in the earlier posts, everyone’s body chemistry is slightly different, so what works for me may not work for you … or even if it works in terms of building muscle or weight loss, you may not feel good on it.

I changed my eating habits, trying the Body for Life program during my 2nd degree [karate] training, and the Zone during 3rd degree. In my quest to provide the best start possible for my children, I began to buy organic fruits & vegetables, and to pay attention to “balancing” intake of protein, fat and carbohydrates. I started lifting weights (with my home gym machine) and running in the hills, but it seemed that no matter what I did, I couldn’t lose the extra 40 pounds of fat I had gained since my first pregnancy. I began to see my body as an adversary, and to feel frustrated because it wasn’t doing what I wanted it to do, namely losing fat and getting sleek and slim as I had been prior to the years of child-bearing.

During my third degree training, I discovered CrossFit, and thanks to 5 months of workouts with a private trainer, I made it through the rigorous testing without any injuries. My trainer at CrossFit Los Altos (aka. FIT) talked to me about nutrition because I was so frustrated with my flabby arms, thighs and stomach. She gave me information about how to eat better, and I adopted some of her recommendations, but I could not relate to the focus on eating for better performance. I did not see myself as an athlete, certainly not as an elite athlete, and I had no illusions about becoming a “firebreather” or “CrossFit badass.” Not only that, but with the demands of my home life, including the disintegration of my marriage and the beginning of 6 years of being married but separated, I just couldn’t find it within me to impose a rigid diet upon myself which would require lots of attention, energy, and deprivation. It was a stress I just wasn’t willing to add. I began to think that I was just going to have to get used to being fat, and that although I could increase my athletic capacity, I couldn’t actually effect a change in my physique…

Then came the FRAT Paleo Challenge … I was able to stay close to strict Paleo for the full 30 days, with the exception of heavy cream in my coffee and the occasional piece of dark chocolate. I lost about 10 pounds and began to see a few muscles. I followed the Challenge with Robb Wolf’s Paleolithic Solutions seminar about six months later, read “Lights Out”, started taking Fish Oil, Vitamin D, Natural Calm (magnesium) and my old pre-natal liquid vitamins (Floradix) regularly. I did Diane SanFilippo’s 21-Day Sugar Detox and discovered that sugar and fruit were not essential to my daily living. And for more than a year I stayed somewhere between 75 and 90 % Paleo. When I strayed from “goodness” I felt a bit guilty about it, knowing that the closer I could stay to 100%, the better it would be for my long-term health. I started to see my body and my nutrition as an investment in my future.

Cynthia’s got a good handle on looking for what works for her and has a good perspective. And, girlfriend, I can so relate. I’ve spent over a decade in the “Nothing will work; might as well get used to being fat” mindset.

As for me, I read The Zone Diet shortly after it came out, and found it far too complicated to work for me at that time. Now if I were to go ahead and spring for MyPlate Gold, it wouldn’t be as bad since I could then set my nutritional goals in line with the Zone’s 30/30/40 guidelines. Doing the math by hand just took too much time.

For some people, The Zone makes them focus on food to the point it becomes unhealthy. “From thin to fat,” an inspiring item from the CrossFit Games, tells of a former anorexic, Emma Moburg-Jones, who overcomes her eating disorder through CrossFit, but has a temporary relapse after a coach recommended The Zone to her:
The Zone Diet didn’t help Emma because it refocused her attention on quantities of food. Many people who have suffered from anorexia have obsessed about calories and quantities, and may find it hard to weigh and measure without returning to obsessive thinking, or over-control.

My guess is the difficulty of calculating the proper things to eat and the necessity of focusing so hard on your food to stay on The Zone is  part of what has made The Paleo Diet popular among CrossFitters, overtaking The Zone’s former dominance. Paleo isn’t about math or inflammatory disease, which is the focus of the Zone, but, as indicated by Zelman’s comments above, it’s about trying to recreate the diet of our ancestors.

That sounds plausible; we all know evolution takes a long time. But just how long to adapt from a hunter-gatherer culture to an industrialized agricultural milieu? I’m not sure anyone knows for sure. But the rules of The Paleo Diet are pretty simple, at least in the “hard-core” version as described by Julianne Taylor in her “Paleo & Zone Nutrition Blog”:

Hard Core Paleo– strictly cutting out all foods that do not fit with a hunters and gatherer / paleo diet: no grains (that’s all grains, includes corn), no legumes (includes soy and peanuts), no potatoes, no sugars or synthetic sweeteners, no processed food, no dairy, no alcohol, no omega-6 vegetable oils or chemically altered fats (margarine).

Not easy to do, but pretty simple to understand. Tom Ashby at “Smashby’s Training Blog” has a series on Paleo called “The Pursuit of Paleo,” which can give you a lot of great info on the program (as do the above bloggers), but I particularly liked his post “On being strict,”  in which he says:

Don’t approach your diet, or your nutritional choices as I prefer to call them (as “diet” just sounds too temporary), as a system based on punishment and limitations. My advice is to simply learn what foods are good to eat, and have every meal you eat consist of those foods as often as possible.

So there you have it. The particulars are up to you; use The Zone or Paleo diets to work for you. You’re the one in charge, and you can choose to be, to steal from an old diet’s name, fit or fat.

Today’s post is a continuation from yesterday about nutrition, which CrossFit central emphasizes as foundational to fitness. Three main points to reiterate:

So now let’s talk about the specifics of what your body needs when exercising. First, since you’re trying to build muscle, you need protein. That’s real, not synthetic, protein, and it’s apparently easy to figure out just how much, if you really want to know, according to LiveScience:
When training, you need about a half gram of protein per pound of body weight. So a 180-pound male needs about 90 grams of protein a day. That’s the amount of protein in a cup of milk or yogurt with breakfast (8–12 grams), a can of tuna with lunch (40 grams), and a six-ounce steak with dinner (42 grams).

The emphasis on building muscle and supplying your body with enough protein is one of the reasons for the CrossFit recommendation that you “eat meat and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch, and no sugar.”  The other concern prompting this recommendation is avoidance of “hyperinsulinemia.” Before getting to the definition of “hyperinsulinemia,” let me have a flashback.

I’m old enough to remember when the Atkins Diet, the first of the “let’s eat more protien” diets, came out. Before that I’d been on a lot of fad diets, including the memorable grapefruit and egg diet and one that started with a two-day fast that I almost passed out on (those were both during my teenage years, when I really didn’t need to be concerned about weight loss; I should have been focusing on fitness back then. Ah, youth!). Atkins worked for me, but many doctors were concerned about the high cholesterol levels in the diet.

I’m now convinced that whether you have  problems with cholesterol start with your genetic makeup; a good family friend who was as trim as anyone could wish for had such high cholesterol that he had a heart attack while flying his A-10 fighter. If you’re lucky, like me, you have low cholesterol even though anyone looking at you would think you’re a heart attack waiting to happen; my fit and trim hubby has to watch his. So the best thing to do is to make sure you get your cholesterol levels checked by blood test no matter your fitness level.

Even so, we all have heard by now that fish oil, olive oil and other vegetable-based oils are better for you than dairy and other animal fats. But fat is a long-burning energy resource that helps you feel full, so don’t be too stingy with it.

At any rate, Atkins was pushed aside by Covert Bailey’s Fit or Fat. Oddly, it was recommended to me by a fat doctor who was advocating an Atkins-type diet, when Bailey’s book, full of sciencey sounding justifications, advocated a higher carbohydrate, lower protein diet. The one thing Bailey said that I still agree with is that the closer the food is to its natural state, the better it is for you.

The USDA jumped on the bandwagon, but  most experts don’t care for their “new, improved pyramid.” Interestingly, the Harvard School of Public Health has, on its own pyramid, placed daily exercise and weight control as the foundational level. They do put whole grains, fats and fruit on the next level, but that’s probably consistent with CrossFit’s concern for “hyperinsulinemia.”

Now diets have come full circle: Protein Power, the Zone Diet,  the South Beach Diet and the Paleo Diet are all protein friendly and very popular. Dr. Michael R. Eades and Dr. Mary Dan Eades, Dr. Barry Sears, Dr. Arthur Agatston and Dr. Loren Cordain all have explanations that also sound scientific. CrossFit started out recommending However, ever since reading Voodoo Science>, I’ve realized I don’t know enough science to evaluate them well.

If I recall correctly, the one thing that all the books have in common is that they are based on anecdotal evidence from the respective doctors’ practices. This is generally not considered the best way to establish something as a scientific fact, so I have a tendency to take what they say with a grain of salt; on the other hand, I feel better and control my weight better with protein diets, so I’m one of the people that these diets appear to be successful for. My feeling is that, as I said in the last post, not every diet will fit everyone any more than one drug fits all.

Flashback over now; we’ll continue with hyperinsulinemia and what the heck it has to do with diet.

Hyperinsulinemia “means the amount of insulin in your blood is higher than considered normal,” according tothe Mayo Clinic. I think the real problem isn’t hyperinsulinemia but its predecessor, insulin resistance.  Back to the Mayo Clinic’s experts:

Hyperinsulinemia may be caused by insulin resistance — a condition in which your body is resistant to the effects of insulin and your pancreas tries to compensate by making more insulin. Insulin resistance may also eventually lead to the development of type 2 diabetes — when your pancreas is no longer able to secrete the large amounts of insulin required to keep the blood sugar normal.’s  Ruchi Mathur, MD, FRCP(C) and Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD have a great description of exactly what’s going in your body that makes insulin resistance an issue:

One of the actions of insulin is to cause the cells of the body, particularly the muscle and fat cells, to remove and use glucose from the blood. This is one way in which insulin controls the level of glucose in blood. Insulin has this effect on the cells by binding to insulin receptors on the surface of the cells. You can think of it as insulin “knocking” on the doors of muscle and fat cells. The cells hear the knock, open up, and let glucose in to be used by the cell. With insulin resistance, the muscles don’t hear the knock as well (they are resistant), and the pancreas is notified that it needs to make more insulin, which increases the level of insulin in the blood and causes a louder knock.

So your body can’t use the glucose it has well, and has to make more insulin, creating a cycle that just intensifies. The cycle is associated with all kinds of health problems: heart disease, Alzheimer’s, diabetes (Type 2) and various cancers.

But what causes this cycle of insulin resistance to start? It seems from searching PubMed that the details of the how it happens is up in the air, but, just as the CrossFit article on the Glycemic Index relates, the condition can be helped by the right kind of diet. Guess what? It’s one in which protein has a starring role and the carbs you eat tend to be fruits and whole grains, both of which tend to be low on the glycemic index

Glycemic index? Here’s how the University of Sydney describes it:

Not all carbohydrate foods are created equal, in fact they behave quite differently in our bodies. The glycemic index or GI describes this difference by ranking carbohydrates according to their effect on our blood glucose levels. Choosing low GI carbs — the ones that produce only small fluctuations in our blood glucose and insulin levels — is the secret to long-term health reducing your risk of heart disease and diabetes and is the key to sustainable weight loss.

It sounds like in order to feed your body well, then, you should choose from low-glycemic carbohydrates. The Glycemic Index site has a searchable database (fourth down in the left side navigation menu) so you can evaluate whether you want to eat a particular carb or not. But the GI is not the end of the story, unfortunately. Back to the Harvard School of Public Health for more:

One thing that a food’s glycemic index does not tell us is how much digestible carbohydrate it delivers. Take watermelon as an example. The sweet-tasting fruit has a very high glycemic index. But a slice of watermelon has only a small amount of carbohydrate per serving (as the name suggests, watermelon is made up mostly of water). That’s why researchers developed a related way to classify foods that takes into account both the amount of carbohydrate in the food and the impact of that carbohydrate on blood sugar levels. This measure is called the glycemic load. A food’s glycemic load is determined by multiplying its glycemic index by the amount of carbohydrate it contains. In general, a glycemic load of 20 or more is high, 11 to 19 is medium, and 10 or under is low.

NOOOO! Not math! And how do you figure out what number to plug in for the “amount of carbohydrate”? I’m still not sure, even after reading an article that purports to tell me how: “Practical use of the glycemic index.” Luckily, the Harvard guys have made a list of low glycemic load foods at The Nutrition Source

Thankfully, at least one study says that just looking at the GI helps. MedPage reports that

Among participants who completed an eight-week, low-calorie weight loss phase and then entered a maintenance phase in which they consumed diets with variations in protein content and glycemic index, weight regain was 0.93 kg higher, a statistically significant difference, in those on low-protein diets compared with those on high-protein diets.

So it’s official; most people who stay on protein plus low glycemic index foods ended up keeping off the weight they lost. As someone who has lost and regained at least a couple of people’s worth of weight, that’s good news.

Up tomorrow: The Zone vs. The Paleo.