When You’re Doing “All the Things” and Nothing Works

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False Wellness and the Pursuit of Health

Let me preface this article by saying I’m a big fan of Crossfit, Olympic weight lifting, weight or resistance training, interval training, running, cycling and any other form of working the body. I love all the things. But sometimes, doing “All the Things” is too much.

This is a follow up article to last week’s review of a study that dissected female athletes who wrecked their metabolism under the best conditons.

So that said… don’t hate on what I’m about to say.

Through clinical observation, functional medicine testing and functional movement assessments of now hundreds of athletes I can honestly say that many people go through health and end up on the opposite end of the spectrum; which has its own set of devastating consequences.

False Health or False Wellness is when we assume we’re healthy because we’re doing what we BELIEVE is right, but all the while it’s creating dysfunction.

 

In our attempts for achieving “wellness” or optimal health and just the right body composition, we may be doing one of the worst things we can do – especially for those of us who fumble between a full-time career, education, family, finances, etc. 

Let me explain.

Anyone who knows me, knows that I spend A LOT of time STUDYING human physiology. I love reading scientific papers on human biomechanics and movement, stress hormones, muscle protein synthesis and nutrition.

I personally love to hang on things, swing my body around, push myself hard (even when I know I shouldn’t), and listen to some loud MotherF’n music while other peeps shout and cheer each other on!

I LOVE ALL THE THINGS and will always continue to train that way, but hear me out…

I care for people who eat PLENTY (2400+ calories) for all the training they’re doing (upwards of 3hrs /day) and even though they acknowledge all the stress in their lives… many more do not or refuse to think it’s there. It’s dumb.

For some of them, there’s no day job. They peruse at home after a hectic morning of driving kids to school, preparing food, cleaning, paying bills, etc.

Then there’s others, who for most of the day, work at an office (usually at a desk) with complete disregard on the mental toll any of it takes.

Still, others go to school…

Going to school provides a unique stress response, but it’s not entirely different from those of us who are stay at home parents, self employed or part of the workforce in general – there’s the pressure to be perfect, to meet deadlines, to impress those in higher positions, etc.

Regardless of what you do… regardless of how much you try to minimize your stress – believe me it’s there.

We all have an immense amount of pressure coming from every angle – don’t get me wrong, I LOVE my job – but that’s why it’s so stressful sometimes – answering to literally +1000 people per week via email, Facebook messenger, Instagram DM’s, text messages, face to face conversation. Everyday.

And I have it easy. If you’re a mom, you have to be the positive source of energy.

If you’re a full time working mom, you have to be a positive source of energy with little to no energy for everyone else.

WE HEAR YOU MOMMA’S OF THE WORLD! You can ROAR! But it won’t change your physiology.

You have to give and give and be willing to rarely receive.

And you can love it. You can love it ALL. You can love your work or personal life and all the while assume to have little to no stress; or at least so you think.

On top of all this, for every physical stressor we have, there is easily 3X’s more emotional stress coming from relationships with both friends and parents…

And you may think – “Hey, I got this.”

My life is great. I get 7-9 hours of sleep, I’m eating good food, I’m exercising. I’m good.

Or so you think.

**Quick Pause**

Let me take a quick pause here and say that if you’re reading this and instinctively start telling yourself that this article does not apply to you… that’s EXACTLY my point.

We all need to do some self-inventory and self-assessing to bring our awareness to the fact that you can NOT do it ALL. Everyone has a stress threshold, and it’s up to you on how you reach it.

Some people are not going to give up their fast-paced job and 3 kids so that they can spend more time training and recovering. Some people will try to think that they can handle all of it and then some.

Poor souls.

With respect to health, we all need to realize what our non-negotiables are (career, education, family, finances) and understand that anything in addition to that is either going to ADD to the stress bucket, or take AWAY from it.

It is what it is. Deal?

UNPAUSE…

Treating The Symptom

How the hell have we made it this far?

The vast majority of us live on adrenaline. Coffee consumption is at an all time high. Caffeine is a drug that further spikes cortisol. The reason why Starbucks is so successful is because they fuel our ridiculous pursuits of pushing through everything despite the overwhelming fatigue we are experiencing.

Take a look at the graph below. Pay attention to the increase of “occasional” coffee drinkers vs “daily” drinkers. I believe this is a symptom of something greater at work.

 

We are basically climbing a ladder and it’s burning from the bottom up.

And when the fire catches you… so does the weight gain – the joint pains, the headaches, the heart palpitations and hormone imbalances. Your blood pressure becomes abnormal. Your hair falls out and you start noticing that you cannot handle things you used to.

It gets to the point where we even start to chalk it up to aging and we think, “Fuck it. I’ll just work harder.”

What the hell kind of nonsense is that??

You’re burning an incredible amount of energy every day – and still gaining weight. How is that possible?

Regardless of what food you eat or how much you exercise, your clothes fit a little tighter, you start retaining more and more water and you notice the scale fluctuating on the regular.

Do you get striations in your skin after you take your socks off at the end of the day? You should know that EDEMA is not a sign of optimal health.

Is it harder and harder to get up in the morning? One coffee is now 3 or 5. You start looking into pre-workout formulas and then you’re wondering why the hell you can’t you fall asleep?

HPA-Axis Dysfunction & Adrenal Fatigue

These are all signs of HPA-Axis Dysfunction commonly known as adrenal fatigue or cortisol dysregulation.

For some of you, you’ll notice that digestion has literally gone to shit – you’re bloated, gassy and leaking from your butt (diarrhea). Maybe you’ve even developed food sensitivities.

Saaay Whaat!?!

Now you can’t eat Wheat (gluten), eggs (albumin) or dairy (casein A1). These are all signs of a leaky gut that almost always co exist with adrenal problems.

Because what does science say about a gut that becomes impermeable to large proteins? You guessed it – chronically high cortisol and inflammation in the gut.

Now let’s talk about sex. What about it Dr. D? There isn’t any.

Sex drive starts to go away too! Cortisol is a stress hormone that has a direct impact on the entire hormonal system. It affects thyroid hormones, blood sugar hormones (insulin) and sex hormones (progesterone, estrogen etc.). What this means for you is low sex drive, irregular periods (if you’re a girl), acne, and possible infertility.

No sex drive also likely coincides with no personal motivation. This also leads to depression. This is when we force ourselves to go to the gym, it takes longer to warm up and despite our amazing workout… we drag ourselves through the rest of the day.

Finally… and this might seem a bit crazy and certainly doesn’t happen to all of you… but you find that your hair is falling out? I mean there’s tons of it. It’s clogging the drain. And if you’re also finding that your cold all the time, well congrats… you might have caused yourself to develop hypothyroidism!

A simple blood test can spell all this out for you, but there’s really no need – your symptoms are telling you that you’re f*cked so let’s skip the middleman and just cut to the chase – you need to fix your hormones!

If any of you have resonated with this story thus far…stick with me…I want to explain what the heck happened, why it happened, and how to keep it from happening over and over.

Why Adrenal Fatigue Happens

When we feel stress, the human body undergoes an amazing change.

The stressor – for example, a 20 min high intensity workout — stimulates the hypothalamus.

This region of the brain is responsible for maintaining the balance between stress and relaxation in your body.

When it’s alerted to perceived ‘danger’, it sends out a chemical signal to your adrenal glands, activating the sympathetic system (Fight-Flight), which sends the body into an excited state. Ever feel that shaky, hyper-focused, strung out feeling after a tough workout?

Or remember being so angry that your hands were trembling, your lips hardly able to sit still? That’s your adrenal glands.

That’s Adrenaline, baby!

These glands release adrenaline and noradrenaline, hormones that create the state of readiness that helps a human confront danger.

All of these changes in our normal physical state prepare us to face danger head-on. The issue is when cortisol is chronically elevated for months and months with complete disregard for recovery…

Stress directly affects the synchronicity of your hormones.

When cortisol levels are constantly high, they affect the production of sex hormones, slow down thyroid function and imbalance blood sugar levels. They also make it hard for your body to create those ‘feel good’ hormones like serotonin.

It’s equally important to understand that high cortisol levels combined with a nutrient deficiency or worse… calorie deficit (diet) is like an atom bomb for your hormones.

You’re literally asking for self implosion.

So, it’s no wonder so many athletes who assume they’re healthy also develop hypothyroidism, cortisol dysregulation, adrenal fatigue, stupid sex hormone imbalances, a lack of recovery/motivation/intensity and even depression.

Some people may be reading this and think “Good God, does all that really happen to people! It’s never happened to me?”

If you’re thinking that, then let me share with you the fact that the number of patients complaining of fatigue make up more than 20 percent of all patient contacts in primary care, which amounts to 18 million physician visits annually in the United States (1,2). A whopping Seventy-five to 90 percent of primary care visits have been reported to be stress related (3). Despite these statistics, conventional medicine is often at a loss as to how to care for these patients.

And on top of that we have people… hundreds of people who will read this article to minimize their stress and say, “Nah, that’s not me.”

Well, this ‘scenario’ is far more common than you think.

See, these symptoms don’t just happen in full force one day…they gradually build up over time. Your body is an incredibly adaptable machine.

You give it some stress, it adapts. Add a little more stress, and it adapts again. But we need to realize that just like we need to sleep every night to process the day’s stressors, we need to deload our lives every so often to process life’s stressors.

My patients clearly do not allow their body a chance to recover…and I see far too many who even agree that they have high levels of stress and yet continue to ignore the elephant in the room.

What to Do When Adrenal Fatigue Happens

So what are we supposed to do?

The first step to re-balancing your hormones is to minimize stress…ugh, damnit.

Is that it? Reduce stress?

Even if you are doing all the right things…eating well, exercising daily, no processed food, you’re 100% gluten free – you could still be struggling with all the aforementioned symptoms!

Why? Because – Stress!

Here’s a few things that can help to balance stress hormones and potentially help you to recover from rock bottom.

  1. Take a break from excessive and intense exercise – before you start whining and pulling out your already falling out hair… try swapping one or two of your high-intensity-met-con-gonna look like Brooke-Ence-type workouts for gentle forms of exercise (e.g. hypertrophy, accessory work, yoga, Pilates or walking). Do this for a trial period of two to four weeks to see if it lowers your stress.

Please make note, I did NOT tell you to give up CrossFit or HIIT or Interval training 😉

  1. Eat more! 9 out 10 people that come to me for nutrition coachingare under-eating for the load of stress and training in their life. Living in a calorie deficitwith minimal carbohydrate intake drives cortisol up throughout the day.

Body re-composition or fat loss should only ever occur in the off season. If your goal is to train hard and increase performance… you need fuel, you need a lot of it.

Not only will calorie deficits cause you to struggle getting through tough workouts, but it may take you 2-3 days to recover. Do you ever feel like Monday – Wednesday you are on fire in the gym, but then by Thursday and Friday you are dragging yourself through the doors?

This is NOT the way to improve your fitness, strength, and skill.

You should be feeling energized and recovered every single day, Mmmmkay?

  1. Practice saying “probably not” or “no” – You can do it – trust me!

Look, we are programmed to overcommit, overprovide and people please, often at the expense of our own health and our stress response and adrenal function. This week when someone asks you to do something that you know will stress you and your adrenals, practice saying “Probably not…(pause), but let me think about it.” No guilt allowed! Take it further by creating a list of your absolute yes’s and no’s for this week.

  1. Give Yourself a smart device curfew – Reduce blue light at night. Too much light at night actually stimulates your adrenals to produce more cortisol to keep you awake and energized. This prevents you from being able to wind down properly and actually get proper sleep. Here’s what to do: After 9pm turn off as many lights in your house as possible. Give yourself a smart phone or smart device curfew, this means no laptops or phones past 9pm or in bed.
  1. Include complex carbs and good-quality organic protein sources in EVERY meal– complex carb (think sweet potatoes, white potatoes, green vegetables and beans) and good quality proteins (pasture raised chicken, wild-caught fish, grass-finished red meats, and legumes) can work wonders in balancing your hormones by keeping your blood sugar regulated. NO more quick hits of sugar throughout the day – your hormones will thank you!
  1. Breathe – This is ridiculous, but so many people don’t breathe properly. Make a conscious effort to relax and breathe deeply for 10 minutes every evening. Pop your legs up against the wall while you do this (think I’m crazy? Top level athletes uses this technique after her training sessions to decompress and enter into para-sympathetic mode).

These lifestyle changes are boring as hell – but that’s why they work. And please, don’t for a minute think that you can simply supplement your way to health. Yes, taking adrenal support supplements (if you know what you’re doing) and popping B-complex can help, but are you really treating the root of the problem?

That is all.

When Losing Weight Damages Hormones

Women Who Lost Weight & Screwed Up Their Bodies in the Process

Nearly every female that consults with me regarding nutrition or dietary intake is interested in losing weight or getting lean. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to look “sexy” or at least feel “sexy”.

The problem is that looking good is not the same as functioning well. In other words, weight loss programs may help you to “look good” on the outside, but you could be “damaged goods” on the inside.

A 2016 paper by Hulmi et al is an excellent example of looks vs function.

The gist of the paper: researchers took 27 females with at least two years of weight training experience and had them lose a substantial amount of weight (23.1% down to 12.7% body fat) in a four month period (about 20 weeks). They had amazing changes in body composition and looked much leaner. But the researchers didn’t stop there.

And this is what makes this study all the better.

The investigators had their subjects come back after a three to four month “recovery period” of increasing their calories and gaining weight back.

What did they find? Keep reading…

How Women Lost Weight

First, the researchers did what most weight loss seekers do… they cut calories.

The scientists dropped their calorie intake from 2400 to 1800 kcals per day (creating a 600 kcal deficit), primarily through a reduction in carbohydrates, while fat hovered between 50 to 60 grams per day and protein was kept high at around 3 g/kg of body weight.

For example: for a 120 pound woman (54.43 kg), they made sure that she consumed 163.29 g of protein per day.

It’s also important to keep in mind that the average intake of protein in women is usually around 91 g/day of body weight (Am J Clin Nutr. 2008 May;87(5):1554S-1557S.) So these women were taking in close to 2X the national average.

Exercise was also kept quite high during the diet protocol at 4 to 5 bouts of resistance training (weight training) and 4 to 5 bouts of aerobic exercise per week. These subjects then popped back up to around 2200 kcals for the recovery period and lowered their aerobic work significantly.

What Happened Following Their Weight Loss

First the good news, these women lost 16.5 lbs or around 50% of their body fat, and may have even increased muscle mass (not significant) during this well-thought-out, long term dieting protocol. The weight loss was achieved even though 20 of the 27 females were below the lab reference range for free T3 during the diet protocol.

What’s T3?

T3 or Triiodothyronine, is a thyroid hormone. It affects almost every physiological process in the body, including growth and development, metabolism, body temperature, and heart rate. It is well established that thyroid hormone status correlates with body weight and energy expenditure. This means that if T3 levels are off… your metabolism (weight loss ability) may also be off.

Other important thyroid hormones to consider are T4 and TSH. T3 and T4 levels should never be too high or too low. 

Why is knowing this important? Because these women had low reference ranges of T3 hormone during the diet, which means that they should not have been able to lose weight. But they did. I’m sure this was due to the strict program that they were placed on… High protein intake and rigorous physical activity.

Baseline T3 levels have been associated with a person’s ability to lose weight such as those findings discovered by Liu et al, printed in the 2017 edition of the International Journal of Obesity.

Results of the above mentioned study showed that those who had higher T3 levels at baseline demonstrated better weight loss. This conclusion reinforced the hormone’s role in weight regulation.

As such, the difference in people’s baseline T3 levels can be one of the reasons why people lose more weight compared to others.

Now for the bad news.

20 of the 27 women dropped into hypothyroid ranges for free T3 during the diet, while TSH actually lowered slightly and free T4 stayed about the same (which has been seen in previous research and has been termed ”free T3 syndrome”).

Then, after the 18 week recovery period, free T3 increased, but not to baseline levels, and 13 out of the 27 subjects still remained below the reference range for free T3.

This means their hormones were still screwed up after their weight loss.

Testosterone also tanked during the dietary protocol and did not increase back to baseline levels after the recovery period.

Other important things to make note of:

  • 44% of the subjects missed menses while dieting
  • 28% were still showing a lack of menstruation following the recovery period

That means that even after a three to four month recovery period the female hormonal system had not yet fully recovered.

And this is after one extremely well-thought-out and executed weight loss program designed to science the shit out of weight loss.

What Happens to Our Body When We Diet Long Term?

We have absolutely no idea. But this particular study shows us that weight loss, fat burning and hormone regulation is far more sophisticated than we think. And there are major players in the autoregulation of metabolism.

It’s just not as simple as calories IN vs calories OUT.

And if what you’re doing is working… meaning you do lose weight and look great… it doesn’t mean that your body is functioning well, so the long-game may not look so pretty for you.

Just because you lose weight and look great, doesn’t mean your body is functioning well; which never turns out to be sexy in the long-run.

At the heart of all this complicated physiology is an often ignored, but obvious crucial structure for health – The Brain. The brain creates a set point weight for your body, much like a thermostat.

So your body weight is actually tightly regulated by the brain. And this is why your body starts fighting back against weight loss. It’s why diets don’t work.

Whenever your weight changes too much, your brain will intervene to push it back to what it thinks is the correct weight for you.

If you want to drop a few pounds (or 50) or  your goal is to get as lean as possible, this doesn’t mean that you have to abandon your get-healthy pursuits. (But remember… looking good doesn’t automatically equate to being healthy.) What you have to know is that the answer is simply not to eat less.

An easier and more sustainable method is to do things that make your brain more comfortable at a lower weight. Ultimately, you can lower your set point weight so that your body is happy carrying around less fat.

Both animal and human research suggests that eating a diet of unrefined, lower calorie-density, and simple foods is key.

Other important non-diet factors key to weight loss include regular physical activity, managing your stress, and getting the right amount of sleep.

Why Nutrition Coaching with a Professional is Important

My mind goes to all the women out there who do this yo-yo dieting over and over.

How jacked up are their hormones? How metabolically damaged have they become? I’m not here to influence anyone’s goals. If you want to look a certain way, go for it.

Every human being has a right to know the risks and rewards of their personal health goals. I don’t believe that most women are aware of the risks that come along with this type of body re-composition, let alone maintaining it for long periods of time.

The reason why I started Nutrition Coaching is because I have seen so many of my patients undergo body transformation programs that screwed up their body’s despite their weight loss.

As a Functional Medicine physician, my goal is to help someone become the best version of themselves, not just look good, but to function their best as well.

If you’re like most of my coaching clients, you’ve tried stuff in the past to get in shape — diets, workout programs, fancy fitness gadgets.

And you’ve probably reached the same conclusion most people do with these programs:

The all-or-nothing, crash-and-burn, sweat-your-ass-off approach… simply doesn’t work in the long run.

These programs give you crazy rules to follow; they don’t mesh well with your real, day-to-day life.

And they try to fit you into their ‘one-size-fits-all’ program, rather than fitting the program into your life.

They just suck. Plain and simple. You know it. I know it.

And even when they do give some results, they typically don’t last and worse, they screw up your hormones.

With my Nutrition Coaching program, you’ll learn how to:

* Eat better, without dieting or feeling deprived.
* Get active, no matter what shape you’re in now.
* Ditch the food rules, dropping the fad diets and conflicting advice.
* Build fitness into your life, without it taking over.
* Achieve, and maintain, your goals, even when life gets busy.
not jack up your hormones in the process

The result? You’ll:

* Lose the weight / fat you haven’t been able to shed for years.
* Build physical strength and confidence in your body.
* Gain mental confidence, no longer hiding your gifts and talents.
* Let go of food confusion, learn what to do, how to do it.
* Get off diet rollercoasters, once and for all, never look back.

How to Beat Weekend Overeating

Weekend Overeating (and booze) are Commonplace

I live in Austin, Texas – and let’s face it… everybody around me becomes a foodie monster and professional wine/spirits taster over the weekend. “It’s just what people do” right?

It certainly feels good to work hard all week and then just let go… at least until we get bloated, puffy and see our bodies morph into the state puff marshmellow man literally overnight. And that’s why I’d like to share a few strategies that can help ditch the habit of weekend overeating or boozing for good!

I’m a Weekend Over-Eater!

For real.

Yes, I train hard all week (1-1.5 hours of high intensity interval training). I eat pretty dang clean, drink water and get optimal rest and recovery.

But the weekend… I’m not so much Dr. Daniel any more, but Mr. Hyde.

Every Friday, around 5 PM, I start to think about what “take out” or restaurant we’re going to order from. I salivate at the thought of drinking wine, crunchy pizza or chewy tortillas mixed with all sorts of taco goodnoess.

Popcorn is my weakness. If I go the movies, forget about it. I’m done. Margaritas, fried pickels, loaded fries and bottomless popcorn. It’s a ritual.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a weekend over-eater because I’m stressed out. I’m not addicted to any food and I certainly know what is good and bad for my body. Like I said, it’s more of a ritual than anything else. Unwinding during the weekend is just something you do.

Friday Became “Fry-day” or “Fry-Yay!”

Over the years, I have mentally created a pattern or anchor as to what and how my I treat my body based on the “day of the week.”

Friday evenings were filled with take out and wine. Saturdays mornings have become “whatever I want to eat for breakfast” and it continued well into the night and even Sunday because…

Well let’s face it…

Sunday is the last day of the weekend so I’m going to go out with bang!

I know I’m not alone. I know that weekends are a time where “normal rules” don’t apply. It’s a time to relax, kick your feet up and let food and drink take you away.

Now, it’s important to realize that this is not an addiction or compulsive bingeing. Those food problems occur when you eat without thinking. People with binge or addictive eating disorders feel disassociated while overeating.

But for me.. it’s not that. This is a kink of overeating where you’re fully invested and all-in. This is a reward of having a beer after your “marathon run”. This is you eating your birthday cake on your birthday.

It’s convenient and a sort of social-habit.

And my social circle is completely happy to support it.

Eventually, “Fri-Yay” or Overeating Starts to Suck

As we all can imagine, the joy of haphazard weekend indulgences come with consequences.

Your face is visibly puffy the next morning. You’re uncomfortably bloated, maybe even a little sick to your stomach. And don’t even try doing anything that requires cognitive power because mentally, you’re just crappy. You have feelings of regret but push them aside.

What’s interesting is that while weight fluctuations throughout the week are inevitable; when you’re trying to stay in shape.. you want to stay healthy or fit…

Weekend overeating is a form of weekend sabotage. All goals out the window.

To someone who begins to see that they have a problem, they will try to break the cycle by making deals with themselves.

They will tell themselves… it’s okay, because my “junk food” is “real food”. So as long as you stick to “almond butter”, “whole food spinach pizzas” and “all you can eat sushi” you’re good right?

Or may you’ll say, I’ll just train harder, run faster or eat less during the week. I’ll track every single calorie during the week and the weekend will balance it all out.

This is the vicious cycle most Americans find themselves in.

How to Break the Cycle…

There’s no “secret” or “one trick” to break the cycle. There’s no diet plan, book or supplement that can biologically manipulate your brain into submission.

With some help from a nutrition coachmost people finally realize that the problem is not Friday, Saturday or Sunday. There are some unquestionable weekday habits as well.

Habits that are actually more crucial to the whole picture and even the decisions you make during the week.

What I can say is that once you identify your work-week eating patterns and how they affect your weekend behavior…

You can begin the process of developing a healther relationship with food… and yourself!

Here are 3 strategies that may help do it sooner:

Strategy #1 – Think “Good Enough” rather than “Perfect”

I’ve seen this problem with so many of my nutrition clients.

They usually start off with the idea that there’s some “perfect” diet they should be following.

This leads to crazy strict meal plans (where they even take a scale into a restaurant) that span Monday to Friday. Most people trying to eat healthier incessantly worry about their eating and/or screwing up their diet all week.

This is not healthy.

So when the weekend finally comes around… you’re willpower gas tank is empty. You’re so sick of restrictive eating or meal plans that you cannot wait to let go and eat the food that you actually enjoy.

And this is where a fork in the road occurs and you think: I either eat “Perfect” or “Like Crap”.

Here’s an example of this kind of logic:

“It’s Friday night, I’m having dinner with my family and since there’s no perfect pre portioned kale salad with chicken like I’d normally do, I’ll just order that huge giant bacon cheeseburger and fries.”

But if you take “Perfect” off the table, things change. Instead of choosing between a perfect salad and a gigantic burger, there’s…

“I’m going to have whatever salad they offer, plus I’m going to order a small burger; hold the fries please.”

So Strategy #1 is to aim for “Good Enough” and not “Perfect”.

In this case, the decent method you follow is always going to be better than the perfect one you’ll eventually quit.

Strategy #2: Let Go of Food Rules!

Food rules tell you:

  • What you can and can’t eat
  • When you can and can’t eat it
  • How you can or can’t eat it
  • How much you can or can’t have

Basically, these rules set you up for a huge payment from your willpower bank. In short, it eventually leads to “The F**K It Effect”.

For example, your #1 Food rule is Don’t Eat Carbs. So no croutonson your salad; cannot eat sandwhiches and no potatoes with your eggs. Great.

But this Friday night, you find yourself out with friends and everyone’s having beer and pizza. You hold out for a while, but eventually… especially after a beer, you grab a slice.

Now you’re experiencing full blown “F**K It Effect” and you might as well continue eating whatever the hell you want.

Of course, if you have one food rule, you probably have several. That means there are lots of ways that you can mess up. This is why eating by the rules almost always leads to overeating crap.

It’s human nature… once we deviate and go down a path that we believe is wrong, we’re okay continuing.

So ditch the bullshit food rules.

Having a healthy relationship with food is eating when you’re hungry and stopping when you’re physically full, regardless of the day of the week.

So the next time you a “F**K It” moment; stop and think about why you’re having that moment, is there a particular food rule that led to that moment and more importantly can you dial in on a physical hunger or fullness cue to help?

Strategy #3: Stop Rationalizing and Start Owning

Have you ever bartered with yourself? Do you make deals, trades or food swaps?

“I’m going to turn down dessert today… but I’m gonna eat the shit out of the pie over the weekend!”

In this mindset, we trade “a good deed” today for a “sin” tomorrow. It’s dumb. Eating is not a sin. There’s no trade off. You’re body is nourished or not nourished by what you put into it.

You need to own your decision. That’s it.

Start making food decisions by acknowledging the outcome.

“I’m going to eat this whole bowl of ice cream. I’m going to feel bad tomorrow about it; but I accept it. It is what it is.”

Remember, you choose your behavior. Our choices determine our outcomes. That’s all.

And this leads to the idea that we have to stop rationalizing over our food.

Sometimes, you’ll want to eat crap. And too much of it. That’s normal. And it’s okay.

But instead of falling back on the tired victim-of-circumstance narrative, take the opportunity to ask yourself what’s really going on.

Are you bored? Stressed? Sad? Happy?

Do this over and over and over, and you’ll start to see some patterns. That’s your pot of gold.

That’s your opportunity to change overeating behavior — and do something else to address those emotions instead of bingeing.

What Next?…

Realize that there is no perfect time to eat better. Not tomorrow; not on Monday. Life is always going to be a little nuts.

So keep reminding yourself that all you can do is your best with what you’ve got. Right here, right now.

Ask yourself: How’s that weekend overeating working out?

If you’re loving your Cheat Day, Friday junk-food bonanzas, or gut-punching Sunday brunches, and you’re happy with the results, keep doing it.

But if you’re conflicted, it could be time to investigate further.

Really try to figure out your motives.

Ask yourself: What does weekend overeating do for you? What is it a path to? What does it enable you to get or feel? How does it solve a problem or have a purpose for you?

In my case, weekend overeating was self-medication for stress, stimulation and novelty, and a way to connect with other people.

To rearrange your mindset and break the cycle of weekend overeating, try:

  • aiming for “good enough” instead of “perfect”,
  • letting go of your food rules
  • owning your choices, and/or not rationalizing

Apply the Precision Nutrition “clean slate” method.

The clean slate approach means that after any and every “screw-up”, you get to start fresh.

Overate Friday night? No problem, wake up Saturday morning and start again. Don’t try to compensate. Just get on with things as normal.

You don’t “pay back” the damage in the gym, nor do you kamikaze your way through a jar of peanut butter. You just pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and go back to doing your best.

Put someone else in control for a while.

Yes, you are the boss of you, and you should own your choices. But changing a deep-seated habit — even one that on the surface may seem silly and harmless, like overeating on the weekend — is challenging. Really challenging.

And just like weight loss, the process of changing your habits will have ups and downs. It helps to team up with someone who will support and encourage you.

Find a friend, a partner, a trainer, or a nutrition coach, who will listen to you and keep you accountable.

For many clients, relinquishing control is a choice they’re glad to own.

GMO’s: Are They Bad For Your Health?

Are GMOs Good or Bad for Your Health?

Genetically modified foods (GMOs) are highly controversial. With so many people debating the pros and cons, it’s hard to know what to think. So i’d like to offer a few thoughts on the subject.

Despite the debate, GMOs are found in all sorts of food products — often without labels. And therein lies a big problem. If so many people are concerned about GMOs, it’s important to know what foods or products actually contain them.

What is a Genetically Modified (GMO) Food?

GMO stands for “genetically modified organism.”

Generally speaking, the term is reserved for foods whose genes have been changed using biotechnology.

Here are some examples of genetically modified (GMO) foods:

  • Herbicide-resistant corn and soybeans: Corn and Soybeans were modified to tolerate the herbicide glyphosate, found in Roundup. This allows farmers to spray their fields with powerful herbicides to kill off weeds.
  • Virus-resistant papaya: In Hawaii, papaya was genetically modified to be able to withstand the ringspot virus.
  • Golden rice: Swiss scientists developed golden rice, a type of yellow rice that produces beta-carotene, an antioxidant that the body can turn into vitamin A.

Other crops that are often genetically modified include rapeseeds (used to make canola oil) and cottonseeds.

The general idea is that scientists are able to produce new varieties of plants with certain qualities, such as being more resistant to viruses or pesticides. And contrary to popular belief, these scientists are actually trying to help rather than harm.

For example… Vitamin A deficiency causes up to 500 thousand cases of blindness in children every year. And that’s why humanitarian and plant scientist Ingo Potrykus, co-invented genetically modified rice known as “Golden Rice”.

This GMO rice is designed to produce beta carotene in its seeds, thanks to genetic instructions that scientists added to the rice from a daffodil, pea, bacterium and virus.

Unfortunately, even though Potrykus finished his project about 15  years ago and made the seeds available for free to subsistence farmers around the world, malnourished children still can’t get golden rice.

So here we have a cheap, nutritious crop. Seven years of extensive scientific research. An invention that could completely eliminate an unnecessary epidemic. And that simple invention can’t reach the people who need it.

But GMOs are Evil…

I know. I get it. There is absolutely something wrong with fish mated with cantaloupe! Rice with eyeballs! Wheat that makes you grow a tail! Frankenfoods! Island of Dr. Moreau!

Monsanto is out to get us!!!

The whole issue has become synonymous with unchecked power, unethical tinkering, Monsanto corp, pesticides, contamination, and greed.

I really do get it. Nobody loves giant evil conspiracies (except for super villains).  But this is real life. There are no superheroes and super villains. The truth, as usual, is much more complex. And less diabolical.

When it comes to GMOs, scientists — who are just highly educated regular folks, by the way, and rarely malevolent geniuses — are mostly working toward innovations in genetics that:

  • fight disease;
  • fight hunger and malnutrition;
  • improve animal and crop breeding practices; and
  • potentially even save lives.

Of course, scientists haven’t been all that great at explaining this to the average person. (That’s what happens when you’re sequestered all day at a fluorescent-lit lab bench trying to splice DNA from fungi or whatever, along with writing grant proposals.).

If GMOs creep you out, you’re not alone!

A growing team of anti-GMO activists — including hundreds of reputable advocacy groups, state legislators, and big-name chains like Chipotle, Whole Foods, and Trader Joe’s — are questioning the safety of GMOs.

They say GM foods could cause major health problems like tumors, liver toxicity, allergic reactions, and death.

So it’s no surprise that over half of the U.S. public said genetically modified foods are unsafe to eat in a recent survey from Pew Research Center. One-quarter of those surveyed said they check product labels for GMOs every single time they shop.

GMOs sound scary and evil.

But do people really even know what they are? Or how they work?

First… You’ve Been Eating GMOs for a Long Time

The amount of GMO food on the market is increasing worldwide.

However, the exact amount of GMOs you may be eating is difficult to estimate. This is because these foods are not always labeled as such.

In the US, GMO foods do not need to be labeled. Conversely, the European Union requires all GMOs to be labeled.

There are actually far fewer GMO foods available in Europe. These foods are much more readily available in US markets.

About 70–90% of GMO crops are used to feed livestock, and more than 95% of all food-producing animals in the US consume GMO feed.

If you eat soybeans, especially processed soy products, it is likely that they come from a GMO crop. More than 90% of all soybeans are genetically modified.

Keep in mind that soy, corn and canola are incredibly common in processed foods in the US. If you eat processed food, then you are almost definitely eating some genetically modified ingredients.

Here’s a list of 20 GMO foods you’ve been ingesting:

  • Aspartame
  • Corn
  • Sugar Beets
  • HFCS (High Fructose Corn Syrup)
  • Soy (lecithin)
  • Corn Startch
  • Tomatoes
  • Sausage
  • Ice Cream
  • Non Organic or Synthetic Vitamins
  • Infant Formula
  • Beef (fed alfalfa, corn and soy)
  • Milk
  • Alfalfa
  • Vegetable Oil
  • Canola Oil
  • Margarine or Shortening
  • Hawaiian Papaya
  • Squash
  • Flax

Second… The Majority of GMOs are not Foods

The vast majority of GMOs aren’t crops like corn and soy, but rather mice, bacteria, and viruses used to investigate diseases and cures in labs all over the world.

As a molecular biologist, I’ve worked with hundreds of GM bacteria, hundreds of GM yeasts and one GM mouse. They’ve helped me understand how nerves fire, how damaged nerves fix themselves, and, from there, how we might develop treatments for various neurological conditions.

Genetically modifying microorganisms has led to some of the most revolutionary, life-saving medicines of our time:

  • If you have type 1 diabetes, GM bacteria made your insulin cheap, safe, and accessible.
  • If you’ve suffered from a genetic growth disorder such as Turner’s syndrome or short bowel syndrome, GM bacteria made the Human Growth Hormone injections that help regulate your growth.
  • If you’re a hemophiliac, I’m sure you feel much safer with your treatment coming from GMO rather than from blood donations. Cells in a lab dish made recombinant human factor VIII.
  • If you ever suffer a stroke or heart attack, you might be treated with medication made by tissue plasminogen activator, a cellular GMO.
  • If you have multiple sclerosis, you’re perhaps thankful for interferon, also made by a cellular GMO.
  • If you have cystic fibrosis, the enzyme you take, Dornase alfa, is made by a GMO.
  • Undergoing chemotherapy for cancer? Two GMO drugs that help your bone marrow and blood counts are Erythropoietin (EPO — yes, that EPO) and granulocyte-colony stimulating factor (G-CSF or GCSF).
  • Lactose intolerant and taken lactase? It comes from GMOs thanks to genes from either a fungus or a yeast.
  • If (heaven forbid) you ever contract Ebola, you’ll be beyond grateful forZMap, a collection of antibodies grown from GM tobacco infected by GM viruses.

In the end, it’s kind of a shame that the debate over GM crops has led the general public to brand everything “genetically modified” as bad. Because GM crops only represent a teeny, tiny percent of what’s happening in the GM universe, most of which is geared toward helping people and saving lives.

This is why everything needs to be taken into context with everything else. The worst kind of decision, is an absolute decision.

Third… There is Little Evidence Suggesting GMOs Cause Harm in Humans

GMO foods cannot be generalized as either healthy or unhealthy.

It depends entirely on individual genetically modified crops, which should be assessed on a case-by-case basis.

Some people have pointed out that transferring a gene from an allergenic food crop, such as peanuts, could make the GMO food allergenic as well. While this is a possibility, safety testing should prevent such products from going on the market.

That being said, the risks associated with GMO foods are considered to be very low. They are no greater than those arising from traditional genetic manipulation through selective breeding.

To date, there is no evidence suggesting that GMOs cause harm in humans and there are over 1500 scientific studies demonstrating safety. In fact, GMO crops are the most studied crops in history and approx 5% of the safety studies show adverse effects.

Yet, despite the general lack of evidence against GMO foods, there is considerable public opposition to them and the debate continues.

This may be partly due to general distrust of biotech companies. There is also a potential conflict of interest in many scientific studies.

Because here’s reality: While most scientists believe GM foods are probably safe, science will never prove it 100 percent unequivocally. 

The answer is much more complicated than “yes or no,” “pro- or anti-.” 

We need to get beyond that, to stop throwing studies at each other.

Nothing can be proved to be absolutely unequivocally safe. Pick anything, and somebody has died from it.

So let’s explore the grown-up questions and gray areas, and think about what trade-offs we’re willing to make, in a scientifically informed and literate way.

For instance:

  • What aspects of GM technology could be really good for the world? Why?
  • Which aspects should we be cautious about? Why?
  • What do we know to be true (or is probably true), and what is speculation? What’s the evidence?
  • How much is our discomfort with the unfamiliar driving the fears?
  • Are we correctly assessing risk and reward?
  • What’s an acceptable level of risk to get the benefits?

As a scientist, I would love people to embrace science, evidence, and the joy of discovery. Scientists grapple with some very difficult and complex questions. And most of them just want to make the world a better place.

Fourth… The Herbicide Glyphosate (Roundup) May Cause Harm

Even though there is no good evidence showing that GMO foods themselves are unsafe, there are some other factors to consider.

A few animal studies suggest that herbicide-resistant crops sprayed with glyphosate (Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide) may cause adverse effects.

A notable study from 2012 showed that GMO corn that had been sprayed with glyphosate promoted the formation of cancerous tumors in rats.

The authors suggested that the tumors were a result of the toxic effects of glyphosate and/or the genetic modification itself.

The results of the study were controversial and heavily debated. In fact, the original paper was retracted, but published in a different journal later the same year.

A few other animal studies and test-tube experiments have found signs of adverse effects when testing GMO corn and soybeans sprayed with glyphosate.

These studies suggest that trace amounts of the herbicide may be causing harm, rather than the genetic modification itself.

While GMO foods themselves cannot be classified as unhealthy, other related factors may cause adverse effects. The herbicide glyphosate (Roundup), which is sprayed on some GMO crops, may be harmful to health.)

 

 

Take Home Message & What to Do

The available evidence indicates that GMO food is not harmful to human health.

However, the health effects of spraying GMO crops with the herbicide glyphosate is still a matter of debate.

Nonetheless, there is no good evidence that genetic modification itself causes foods to become unhealthy or toxic.

Short of going back to school for a Ph.D. in biology, what can you do right now?

1. Elevate your thinking game.

Almost no scientific question is about good versus evil. Even spacetime bends occasionally. Recognize that issues are complex and there is rarely a black or white answer.

2. Be a critical consumer, learner, and listener.

Contrary to what the mainstream media might lead you to believe, the biggest threats posed by GMO crops on the market today are not to your individual health, and they’re not even specific to GMOs.

Picking a side — and assuming the other side is unreasonable — makes real communication impossible. Scientific findings presented as the “final word” are probably being misinterpreted; be wary of anyone who tells you something is “100 percent true” about GMOs.

Even as sciencey folks ourselves, we’re not going to give you The Big Definitive Answer either. Because there isn’t one.

3. Address specific issues. Don’t mix them up.

With GMOs and other food safety and regulatory issues, it’s important to think critically about our concerns.

Are you against pesticides? Great! But that’s different from being against GMOs, and to focus on GMOs here is to ask the wrong questions.

Want GM foods to be labeled as such? Great! But the importance of food labeling goes way beyond GMOs.

Worried about large companies controlling our food? I get that. Be against Big Food, not GMOs.
Both conventional farming and GMOs use herbicides and pesticides, narrow the genetics pool, and increase the risk of catastrophic loss of crops. Conflating these issues means change will never happen.

4. Focus on the big picture and real-life priorities.

The fourth-largest cause of death in the United States is accidents. Wearing your seat belt will lower your risk of early death much more than worrying about GMOs. (And quit texting and driving. You know who you are.)

Other leading causes of death are largely due to the toxic combination of sedentary lifestyles, stress, and poor nutrition. Never mind GM vegetables — people aren’t eating vegetables, period.

So start with the key behaviors that will really make a difference.

5. Keep things sane and sensible.

The world, in general, can feel scary. Things we don’t understand can feel even more so.
Control what you can control, as best you can.

Make the best choices as consistently as possible, as well as possible.

Are Detox Diets Good or Bad?

Are Detox Diets Good or Bad?

Those colorful, expensive bottles of juice goodness look healthy. But are the detox diets they promote good for you?

Like most things related to diet & nutrition… it depends.

In this article we’ll cover what science says about detoxing and whether or not these cleanses may are good for losing weight (But don’t get me wrong… there’s nothing wrong with slamming down some green juice for health)!

What Does it Mean to Detox?

Like other health buzzwords such as “eating clean” and “going green”,  “detox” has no universal definition.

That’s partly because like nutrition… there’s a heavy emphasis on belief systems rather than scientific facts. In other words, “nutritional detoxing” is usually based on what someone thinks rather than what is.

When someone asks me if they should detox…

My first question is, “What are you trying to detox?”

We’ve seen throughout history that in the absence of science, people are usually left with confusion, superstition, and myth (plus charlatans ready and willing to take their money).

This trend is no different: Despite a lack of scientific support for any  “detoxifying” dietary process, many “detox diets” have emerged. They take various forms, but most prescribe:

  • certain foods,
  • special juices,
  • “detox teas”, and/or
  • colonics

And some simply promote fasting.

Of course, the imagined purpose of these interventions is to purge would-be toxins (dirty, yucky, poisonous chemicals) from our bodies. And yes… there are many, many toxins and/or compounds in our enviroment (including food) that are harmful to our body.

But again… What toxin specifically are you trying to detox from?

By definition, toxins are small molecules, peptides, or proteins capable of causing disease on contact with (or absorption by) body tissues.

The science is pretty clear on how to detox from certain substances. But depending on what you’re trying to detox, not one particular diet will do it. There are very specific steps to getting toxins unbound from your tissues, binding them to inert agents that can then be expelled by the body via respiration, sweat, urine or stool.

Fortunately, The Body Cleanses Itself

Since WW2, over 85,000 chemicals have been introduced into our lives. Out of those 85,000 approximately 2500 have been tested.

The truth is, we can’t avoid toxins so it actually makes sense to do some sort of detox. I personally try to give my body a break from toxic exposure every 3-4 months. But it’s also important to remember that our bodies have very robust detoxification systems.

Our major organs of detoxification include the:

  • digestive tract,
  • kidneys,
  • skin,
  • lungs,
  • liver,
  • lymphatic system, and
  • respiratory system.

These systems break down chemicals (toxic or otherwise) into other forms we can eliminate via the toilet, sweat, or breathing.

And the body seems to do a pretty good job of this when placed in a balanced (i.e. healthy) environment.

If our body detoxes itself, why go through the trouble of detoxing?

While it’s true that your body detoxes by itself; it’s also true that your body wasn’t designed to be continuously exposed to the amounts of toxins in modern society and industrial civilizations.

In other words, do you think your liver (or your body) was genetically programmed to deal with:

  • overuse medications,
  • sleep disturbance,
  • chemicals continuously slathered on our skin,
  • not getting enough physical activity,
  • over-consumption of alcohol,
  • smoke, breathe in smog and ingesting other environmental pollutants like heavy metals,
  • eating nutrient-poor foods that the body might not recognize as “food”, and
  • overusing supplements?

You see… all these factors lead to higher levels of toxins in the body, a weakened ability to excrete them and thus… a higher risk of disease.

So the theory behind a detox diet is that, by giving the body a break… one can atone for lifestyle sins and purge all the nasty chemicals from the body. It’s a sort of health reboot.

But with respect to losing weight… this guilt rooted logic ignores something important:

The best  way to “detox” the body is to ramp up your natural detoxification systems and to take good care of them in the long term not to bypass them altogether, as you do when you’re on a detox diet.

Detoxing to Lose Body Fat Doesn’t Work

For a moment, let’s assume that a detox diet will help you get rid of impurities. (It doesn’t quite work like; but let’s assume it anyway.)

Does ridding yourself of impurities facilitate fat loss? Nope.

The reason folks lose a remarkable amount of weight — quickly — on most detox regimens is because they’re “empty”.

They quickly lose body water, carbohydrate stores, and intestinal bulk.  It’s gone during the “cleanse”. But all of it comes back a few hours after the detox ends. Because you can’t stay empty forever.

Interestingly, these folks lose very little fat — unless their cleanse includes fasting for really extended periods (which, if not done carefully, can be dangerous and throws your metabolism into shambles).

In the end, while it feels like a detox is helping shape up your body, it’s a sad illusion. You’re not losing anything that won’t come right back within hours after the end of the diet. And you’re putting your health at risk to support the illusion.

If weight loss is your goal, there are smarter (and more permanent)  ways to do it. Ones that are both healthy and sustainable.

All that said, if you or your doctor know exactly what you’re trying to detox from: chemicals, heavy metals, gut infections, viruses and parasites…

Detoxing can be very effective at helping to improve your health.

10 Steps On What to Do Next

Detoxing can be great when you’re specific about what you’re trying to detox from. But detoxing to lose weight is simply not the right approach.

Here are 10 steps you can take each day to help your body do its natural job of detoxing:

1. Eat reasonable amounts of nutrients. If you’re eating too much, you’re probably accumulating more toxins than your body needs. Eating one cookie instead of six is a detox diet. Slow down and chew your food. We all have “anatomical juicers” – they’re commonly known as teeth and stomachs. Use them as they’re meant to be used.

2. Eat plenty of plant foods, and choose organic options when possible. Veggies and fruits contain compounds that can help the  body deal with all of the incoming chemicals. Organically raised  plants and livestock are generally lower in the types of things you don’t want, such as pesticides, hormones, antibiotics, etc.

3. Stay lean. Certain fat-soluble compounds can accumulate in body  fat. Less body fat = less real estate for potentially problematic chemicals.

4. Drink enough fluids, including water and tea. And use a water filter. The kidneys are major organs of elimination for fluids.

But don’t overdo it: Fluid intake needs to balance our bodies’ electrolytes. Generally you can avoid overhydration by not drinking more than one liter of fluid per hour.

5. Allow a little extra time between dinner and breakfast. During brief periods of fasting (such as overnight), our bodies clear out  cellular debris. If you finished eating dinner at 7pm, maybe you  could eat breakfast at 7am. This gives the body a 12-hour break from food for every 24-hour cycle.

This might also improve your sleep, which is another critical factor in allowing your body to  appropriately recover.

6. Get outside in the sun and fresh air each day. Not only do we synthesize vitamin D from the sun, but we can breathe fresh air  nto our lungs and hear the sounds of nature. Good ol’ Mother  Nature.

7. Exercise regularly. Getting your blood flowing will help circulate good stuff where it needs to be, and clear out waste products more effectively.

8. Limit unnecessary dietary supplements. Supplements don’t automatically equal health. And some might just be another burden for the body. Make sure each supplement in your cabinet serves a purpose. I generally only recommend a good whole food multivitamin, fish oil, probiotics and vitamin D3+K2.

9. Cut down foods that you know are bad news for you. You may know that some foods don’t agree with you, whether because they make you feel bad physically, because of how they make you feel emotionally, or because you don’t like the person you become when you eat them. Consider moving away from these foods gradually. (Eliminating them all at once may work, but you may find  the same problem with all-or-nothing thinking that characterizes detox diets.)

10. Check your cosmetics. Our skin is our largest organ; each day we lather hundreds of chemicals into it. These then enter our blood and circulate throughout the body. If you want to burden your  body with fewer chemicals, check your body products.

 

Should I Eat Grains?

Settling the Grain Debate

Can wheat and other grains fit into a healthy – and sane – diet?

Are grains saving your life, or are they silently destroying it? This article aims to discuss both sides of the debate and offer some actionable steps for you to start eating better.

Quick – How do you feel about grains?

Do you think they’re an essential food group that makes up the foundation of a nutritious diet? Or are they evil little packages of carbs that are all out to really make you fat and inflamed, and slowly kill you?

This discussion is one of the great nutrition debates of our time right now.

In one camp are vegans, vegetarians, and macrobiotic dieters, who eat a ton of whole grains. They say grains will help them live longer and healthier, free of chronic disease. Indeed, recent news seized on a Harvard study connecting grains with lower risk of death.

In the opposing camp, you’ve got the Paleo, Whole30, and Atkins advocates, who strictly limit or even completely avoid grains. They  say not eating grains will help them live longer and healthier, free of  chronic disease. They dominate plenty of news, too.

The Facts:

Celiac disease has gone up over the last 60 years, which has given rise to a gluten-fearing food subculture (and the booming gluten-free marketplace to match).

Tens of millions of North Americans now conduct grain-free experiments on themselves and read bestsellers like Wheat Belly.

There is a definitive way of determining your level of intolerance to grains. If you really want to know whether or not you should be eating grains (and not base it on an opinion or belief system), then consider getting the appropriate testing done.

Certainly there are people who simply cut out grains and say they feel better, but who’s right?

And, most importantly, should you eat grains?  Let’s iron it out once and for all.

Grains Are And Ancient Food

Considering ancestral nutrition and diet… grains, the seeds of grasses, are still the main source of calories for people all over the world.

Along with the familiar wheat, rice, oats, corn, barley, buckwheat and rye, there are lots of lesser-known grains such as triticale, quinoa, teff, amaranth, sorghum, millet, spelt, and kamut.

The raging debate about grains can make it seem like they’re a relatively new addition to the human diet, but we’ve actually been consuming them in some shape or fashion for millions of years (yes,  the real Paleos ate grains, too). Learning to cultivate wheat helped us give up the nomad life and create civilization as we know it today.

Grains provide a wide array of nutrients, including vitamins, minerals, fiber, and phytonutrients.

Of course, when it comes to grains’ nutrients, we’re talking about

whole grains. As in the whole seed. Like this:

Whole vs Refined Grains

First off, many people get weirded out with grains because they confuse them with “carbs”.

Carbohydrates are sugar-based molecules found in a range of foods including bread, pasta, potatoes, beans, desserts, soft drinks, and – yes… whole grains.

Refined grains – those that have had their brain and germ stripped away through milling – provide all the carbohydrates with hardly any of the nutrients found in whole grains. They’re often packaged with large amounts of fat and salt.

As a result, these processed grains are really tasty, easy to consume, but way less satiating — a deadly combo that leads many people to overeat, setting them on the path toward weight gain and chronic disease.

But what about whole grains?  Aren’t they bad for you, too?

The (supposed) ill effects of grains goes like this… 

“Grains can really mess up your health by causing inflammation, intestinal damage and obesity.”

Is this true?

Do Grains Cause Inflammation? (For Some People, Yes!)

A huge contingent in the grain-hating world claim these plants contribute to low-level inflammation, an ongoing immune response in which your body attacks its own tissue, causing cell damage.

They use a few studies to prove their point.

However, these studies need to be taken into context. In other words, one study had people add 19 grams of wheat bran — the equivalent of about three cups of bran flakes — to their daily intake.

Three months later, the subjects had slightly increased levels of oxidized LDL cholesterol, a possible marker of increased inflammation.

A problem with this study is that they didn’t evaluate for gluten intolerance or sensitivity. Some people are flat out intolerant to gluten and thus will produce inflammation when consumed whereas other people may have no problem whatsoever.

Another fallacy of this experiment was that by the end of the experiment, 44 of the 67 subjects had dropped out! This makes the final data sketchy at best.

On the other hand…

What’s more, several large epidemiological studies have actually  linked whole grain intake to lower levels of inflammation.

Of course, these are just links. You need controlled trials to prove any causal relationship and overall... Not one single controlled trial has shown that grains increase inflammation.

What About Intestinal Problems & Grains?

Another common conversation brought up with grain consumption is the increased incidence of intestinal damage due to anti-nutrients and other compounds that interfere with how the human body absorbs minerals.

Let’s look at a few anti-nutrient players…

Lectins: These proteins bind to cell membranes which cause damage to intestinal tissue if you consume very large amounts or don’t cook the plant first. That said, the body also uses lectins for basic functions such as cell-to-cell adherence, inflammation control and programmed cell death. Lectins may even reduce tumor growht and decrease incidence of certain diseases.

Phytic Acid: The storage of phosphorus, phytic acid can bind minerals in the digestive tract, preventing their absorption. In really large doses, it can cause nutrient deficiency and related problems (it’s been blamed for short stature throughout Egypt’s  history). But you’d have to eat copious amounts of bread that hasn’t gone through leavening — a  standard process that significantly reduces phytic acid levels — for this stuff to be a threat. In fact, in reasonable amounts, phytic acid has a number of possible health benefits.

Protease inhibitors: When raw or lightly cooked, grains still contain large amounts of protease inhibitors, which block the action of protein-digesting enzymes, interfering with your protein absorption. But once appropriately cooked, grains contain very few protease inhibitors — and those that remain actually have anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties.

Gluten: Wheat contains several different classes of proteins. Gliadins and glutenins are the two main components of the gluten fraction of the wheat seed. (They’re essential for giving bread the ability to rise properly during baking.) Within the gliadin class, there are four different epitopes (i.e. types): alpha-, beta-, gamma- and omega-gliadin. Wheat also contains agglutinins (proteins that bind to sugar) and prodynorphins (proteins involved with cellular communication). Once wheat is consumed, enzymes in the digestive tract called tissue transglutaminases (tTG) help to break down the wheat compound. In this process, additional proteins are formed, including deamidated gliadin and gliadorphins (aka gluteomorphins). In order to determine your sensitivity to gluten, you should consider getting tested for all the classes of gluten proteins!

Thus, these anti-nutrients can be a problem if you eat way too much of them, or don’t cook the foods that contain them properly. But if you eat like most people do — consuming a variety of foods and carbohydrate sources — you’ll probably be just fine.

Yes, grains contain anti-nutrients — because all plants contains anti- nutrients. Broccoli, spinach, and other green leafy veggies. Red wine.  Dark chocolate. Nuts. Seeds. Green tea.

Heck, fiber itself is an anti-nutrient.

Not eating plant foods because they have compounds designed to resist their digestion would be like not eating a lobster because it has a shell and claws.

All living systems come up with a way to protect themselves… this is one of those examples. The idea is to figure out your personal tolerance to these anti-nutrients.

 

Grains Make You Fat

There’s been a lot of research on grains and body weight.  Unfortunately, most of this research is, you guessed it, epidemiological.

These epidemiological studies are unanimous in showing that higher whole grain consumption is associated with lower body weight.

Controlled trials have been less consistent in their results. In these tests, whole grains don’t consistently lead to superior fat loss —  though the studies didn’t show the grains caused people to gain weight, either.

To go beyond the inconclusive controlled-trial data, we can look at how real people do on grain-heavy diets.

These aren’t perfect data, because there are many variables. But it can suggest possible trends and give us an idea of how grain consumption affects body weight in the real world, during real life.

If grains were inherently fattening, vegetarians and vegans, as well as many eaters in less-industrialized countries (where grains like rice or sorghum are usually a staple) would likely be more overweight or obese.

No literature exists showing that plant-based eaters, or those folks in regions for whom grains are a staple, have a higher incidence of overweight or obesity. In fact, the research shows just the opposite.

While these correlations certainly don’t prove anything, it’s likely that if grains really did cause obesity, we would see some trends and correlations to reflect it.

But here’s the crux of the issue: Buckwheat, oats, and quinoa aren’t making anyone fat.

In their original form, these and other whole grains are relatively bland foods, not overly calorie-dense, not unusually delicious, high in fiber and relatively satisfying.

But refined grains are a different story.

Whole kernel corn becomes corn syrup. Whole wheat grains become refined white flours for cookies and muffins, pizza dough or toaster pastries. Whole grain rice becomes Rice Krispies and rice noodles that we can then slather with Pad Thai sauce (potentially containing the aforementioned corn syrup).

With processed foods, “carbs” are just a way to deliver hyper-palatable, “can’t-eat-just-one” enjoyment as well as calorie-dense fatty meats, cheeses, sauces, and condiments. But are the “carbs”  themselves really the main problem here?

Do you need to eat grains?

No. You don’t need to eat any one particular food — be it grains, apples, kale, or fish.

But you need carbs. The amount of carbs you need depends on your activity level.

If you exercise fairly frequently, then you’ll likely do best with a moderate carb intake. Not getting enough could mess with your metabolism, stress hormones, and muscle-building hormones.

If you’re sedentary, have blood sugar issues, and/or need to lose a bunch of weight, then you’ll likely do best by lowering your carbohydrate intake [at first].

You could replace whole grains with a variety of other high-quality carbs, like potatoes, sweet potatoes, fruit, legumes, squash, yuca, and yams. You’d be able to get all the carbs you need, in addition to plenty of fiber and a wide array of beneficial phytonutrients.

But trying to eliminate grains entirely is going to be difficult in even the  best of circumstances.

In a life that involves family holidays, birthday parties, work functions — any instance where others are preparing the food — completely cutting out grains if you’re not suffering from celiac or a sensitivity becomes way, way more trouble than it’s worth.

 

What to do next

Focus on whole, minimally processed, nutrient-rich foods. This means you’ll be eating plenty of lean protein and plants — including  grains. It’ll also help you limit refined grains (those don’t hit the  “whole” mark). Remember that what’s on top of the potato skin  affects your health more than that sad, maligned tuber does itself.

Make sure your grains are thoroughly cooked. Cooking food drastically reduces its lectin, phytic acid, and protease inhibitor content. For example, fully cooking kidney beans knocks their lectin content from 20,000-70,000 units down to 200-400. Don’t eat a lot of unleavened bread.

Try sprouted and fermented breads. To take it further, grains that have been sprouted (e.g. Ezekiel bread) or fermented (e.g. sourdough) have even lower levels of phytates, lectins, and protease inhibitors. This increases mineral bioavailability and also tends to boost the protein quality of the bread.

If you suspect a problem with gluten, get tested. Go see your doctor, and get help implementing a gluten-free diet if you test  positive for celiac disease. I recommend the Cyrex Array 3 Gluten Test.

Zero in on wheat. While whole-grain wheat is likely still mildly beneficial for most (sprouted wheat might be even better), this appears to be the grain with the most problems and fewest advantages. If you’re having GI issues, it’s reasonable to see if avoiding wheat helps. Here again, talk to your doctor.

Try other grain options. Variety is good. We’ve given you a list of  whole grains in the beginning of this article. Try some others you don’t normally eat. Have fun expanding your horizons.

Consider an elimination diet. Food sensitivities do exist, though we don’t know with what frequency. They’re linked to GI problems and a host of other conditions throughout the body. The gold  standard for uncovering a food sensitivity (grain-related or otherwise): elimination diets, in which you systematically remove and then reintroduce foods in your diet, making note of any  changes in symptoms.

Stay sane. Diet extremism leads to stress, unhappiness, and, unfortunately, weight gain and health problems. Tune out the “great grain debate” and use that energy to cook delicious food — and eat it with beloved friends — instead.

 

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