Sunday, March 04, 2012

You Calling Me Fat?! (or, Diet and Health)

Lately I've been researching diet and health a little bit. Lately I've tried to improve my health and lose some weight. Since Americans in general have very poor diets this is a common goal. So common, in fact, that I bet more than one of you rolled your eyes when you saw my title. Well I've come across some information that some have called controversial, but to me it's intriguing. I just wanted to share some tidbits.

First, the motivations. Last year I had reached my all-time high body weight of 240 lbs. I didn't feel good and my clothes weren't fitting well. I knew I needed to lose weight. The final straw came from the Boy Scouts of America. Recently the BSA revised their mother-of-all legal documents. It's a health form, talent release, if-you-die-it's-not-our-fault sheet, etc. all rolled into one 14-page document. As a part of that revision, BSA decided that it would determine eligibility for high adventure camps based solely on Body Mass Index (BMI). According to this I am definitely not eligible to go on high adventure camps unless I could grow 7 inches or lose 33 lbs. No matter how much knowledge or skill I worked to gain, it would be my eating habits that decided.

It is at this point that people begin to cry afoul of the BMI saying that it doesn't account for sex, body fat percentage, or other variables. "We cannot take such a simplistic view of such a complex topic", they will say. I for one have always hated the BMI since it has called me obese since the day I first heard of it. When I got home from Brazil I had lost enough weight that I had finally eeked under the obese line to be at the top end of the overweight scale. That lasted about a year, then the American diet overwhelmed me again. But as much as I dislike the BMI, there are other factors that I have discovered in my research. For example, the ratio of height to waist size. When I use this test it is as equally damning as the BMI. So, I could say that the BMI doesn't actually represent me, but when taken together with the height to waist ratio, I am forced to acknowledge that it, in fact, does.

So, I decided it was high time to put some actual effort into this. Fortunately for me, I'm married to Chelsea. She has much more discipline when it comes to eating right. She helped me identify some things that I could do differently (I only adopted a few) and I was able to lose 20 lbs over about four months. My two main strategies were:

1) Eliminate refined sugars as much as possible and
2) Meticulously track my caloric intake and keep it under a certain level (usually 2000-2200 calories)

When I adopted these strategies, I had already been cycling to work for about 8 months, which I kept up but didn't add any more exercise. Like I said, I was able to lose about 20 lbs over about four months. Then, at about 220 I totally flatlined. I have not been able to penetrate the 220 mark now for about another 6 months. During the holidays I ate poorly and rose to about 225 again, but I have since been able to check that increase and return to 220.

I'm now wondering what the next step will be. I recently watched a documentary called Forks Over Knives that outlined the virtues of whole foods plant based diets. Since then I have read Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease and The China Study. Both were written by advocates of plant based diets and I have to say I believe what they are saying. The message of the books and movie is that Americans are killing themselves with diet, but that those effects are almost entirely reversible by changing diet. They make compelling arguments as to why animal products should be reduced or eliminated from our diets. What makes me sit up and listen is their arguments are based in nutrition, not animal rights or religious views.

A less radical change would be to adopt the so-called Paleo Diet. This also advocates eating whole organic foods rather than processed foods. As far as I can tell the major differences are the Paleo diet calls for small amounts of lean meats and no bread/grain products and there should be a minimum amount of fat and protein consumed. The whole foods diet from above seeks to eliminate animal products entirely, substantially reduce fats, and maintain protein at about 10% of intake.

A more detailed comparison between these two is another blog for another day.

I'll end with eight principles that Colin Campbell outlines in chapter 11 of The China Study:

1. Nutrition represents the combined activities of countless food substances. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
2. Vitamin supplements are not a panacea for good health.
3. There are virtually no nutrients in animal-based foods that are not better provided by plants.
4. Genes do not determine disease on their own. Genes function only by being activated, or expressed, and nutrition plays a critical role in determining which genes, good and bad, are expressed.
5. Nutrition can substantially control the adverse effects of noxious chemicals.
6. The same nutrition that prevents disease in its early stages (before diagnosis) can also halt or reverse disease in its later stages (after diagnosis).
7. Nutrition that is truly beneficial for one chronic disease will support health across the board.
8. Good nutrition creates health in all areas of our existence. All parts are interconnected.


At 4:56 PM, Blogger Haymonds said...

I too watched Forks over Knives and was given a lot of food for thought. I think have a plant-BASED diet is a really good thing, as long as it's done in moderation. Jesus ate fish, after all, and the best guidelines for health are outlined in the Word of Wisdom. So more wheat, good, more veggies and fruits, good. I don't buy the whole "don't drink milk" theory--after all, that's how we start this life--it's not bad for us. But good reminders to keep the bad eating habits in check, at least. (holly, btw)

At 6:57 PM, Blogger Chelsea said...

Good job Babe!

At 7:00 PM, Blogger Tom said...

All these things that I've been learning have me changing the way I look at lots of things. I favor moderation too, but those that don't are lean, healthy, and happy well into their old age. Over the past few months I have moderated my intake of meat (for years Chelsea and I have eaten about 95% chicken to 5% beef or pork) and have eaten more vegetables, but I still look the same. I do feel better, though.

About milk, find a copy of The China Study and read chapter 9. I'd like to know what you think.

At 8:06 PM, Blogger Tara said...

I agree that a large part of Americans Obesity problem is in what we eat. I was eager to loose eight last year but I hate to exercise. It is so boring. So I took advise from started with eliminating Sugar from my diet during the week. I allowed myself on the weekend but tried not to binge. I felt better but I wasn't dropping the weight like I had hoped. Then I took some advise from Mom which was limited calories and it worked great since my job was largely inactive. I skipped breakfast (I know I'm the devil), eat a light lunch (like some fruit or small salad), and eat regular for dinner but no second helpings. Mom would do this every day and I found I couldn't do that but I did it every other day and it worked! It took about 6 months but I lost about 20 lbs which doesn't sound like much but it really changed how I looked and my co-workers, friends, and people I hadn't seen in a while were commenting about how good I looked. I need to start doing something like that again. It is just too tempting being at home and eating whatever, whenever I want. I put on at least 5 lbs the week before last alone cause we made sugar cookies. Bad idea. LOL. My husband wants to try the HCL diet.

At 4:29 PM, Blogger Miriam said...

I thought you looked thinner when you were here - almost said something, but hated to risk putting my foot in my mouth! I just watched that Forks VS. Knife too - I'm trying to get Dave to sit and watch it with me as well. Thought it was totally inspiring to motivate one to change bad habits! I totally fell off the wagon after Blake's wedding and put all my weight back on, after being so good for 2 years (dumb!) But both Dave and I are working at being good again, and both are losing - so we'll all wish each other good luck! We've outlawed goodies coming into the house and are cutting way back on meats, dairy and carbs, trying to eat much more fresh veg. and fruits. Like you, I do feel better. Found it very interesting that you posted on this right now :)


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