Monday, November 29, 2010

Losing the Thanksgiving Weight You Just Gained

Well, Thanksgiving is over and what some of you are left with are 7 pounds of turkey, 1 sliver of pumpkin pie, a whole lot of corn casserole, and 5 new pounds of fat on your belly and butt.  But you can't be surprised, right?  It happens every year - it's what we do at Thanksgiving.  We overeat.

And then there are the leftovers.  The calorie rich, overly sweetened leftovers that the suckers who host Thanksgiving are faced with every time they open the refrigerator for the next week.  With November and December come the obliteration of self control and self respect in America, when everyone gives in to their sweet tooth and eats what they want.  The inner child prevails, and that outer adult gets fat.  And how could it be any different in the midst of Thanksgiving gatherings, office Christmas parties, Christmas cookie parties, leftover cookies from the cookie party at the office, Christmas and then New Years?  It's not your fault!  Who could resist the temptations?!  Right.    

Don't get me wrong.  I'm no stranger to this phenomenon.  I have a batch of Thanksgiving cookies in my freezer right now that my boyfriend nearly had to cattle-prod me away from last night.

Boyfriend:  Neely, if you eat cookies now, you won't be able to sleep later.  
Me: (Eyes bulging, spittle flying) But I WANT to eat them now.  Get OUT OF MY WAY, guard!!!
Boyfriend: (Blocking the fridge with his body, hands up in anticipation of my thrashing teeth and nails) Step away from the freezer, Neely.

Despite having cleaned up my diet, I still sometimes have altercations with sugar cravings.  Luckily, the boyfriend won.  I'll get him next time, though... 

Back to you.  You've gained weight and the party's just begun, so what do you do about it?

Tip 1
Here's my opening tip.  Try not gaining the weight in the first place.  Easier said than done, I know.  It takes practice to accomplish this colossal task during the dreaded holiday season.  The main reasons people gain weight through the holidays are:

1) We repeatedly feed ourselves as if we were Michael Phelps and
2) We eat too much sugar.

So practice self restraint - we'll call it self respect - through the year and you may just find the strength to say, "No, thank you," to a third helping of banana cream pie at Christmas dinner.  (By the way, I'm in no way disregarding the gluttony that may take place at non-Christmas celebrations.  I'm not religiously biased in my harsh criticisms of Americans' eating habits.)

Karamu, the Kwanzaa feast!
A lot of us lack the self control to stop eating when we're full.  In ways, we're actually hardwired to gorge ourselves when we can, in case we don't find enough to eat later.  Most people have access to refrigerators, grocery stores and restaurants at all times, so there's no reason to think that we need to stuff ourselves now for fear that we will starve later if we don't.  I used to struggle with overeating at almost every meal.  I'd eat my food and then eat my friends' leftovers and still want more, even though I was stuffed to the point of being dizzy.  I'd eat an entire Chipotle burrito and want another one.  Winning the battle against your evolutionary mind takes practice and rational thought, and with some time and conscious effort, I brought my evolutionary brain up to speed.  So throughout the year, every day, remind yourself that you don't need to feel overwhelmingly full at every single meal.  You're going to eat again.  

Tip 2
Here's my second tip for losing the holiday paunch.  Get very clear about your motivations for losing weight.  I had a client come in the other day who told me he wanted to lose weight because he wanted to look good.  FINALLY, someone just comes out and says it!  I don't care what your reasons are.  Whatever will motivate you the most to start treating yourself better, use it.  If you don't have that goal in mind, there will be nothing to pull you away from that leftover pumpkin pie.  Losing weight, for those of you who actually need to lose it, is one of the healthiest things you can do for yourself if you do it right.  

Ok, get to the point.  How do you lose the weight?

You lose the holiday chub by eating right and exercising.  But what is "right"?  And how much exercise?  Those are the questions.  I'll tell you the answers next week.

Until then...

Monday, November 22, 2010

Closing Thoughts (for now) on the Paleo Diet

Throughout my ongoing research on hunter-gatherer/Paleolithic eating, I've had a tortuous train of thoughts.  Actually, let's be honest - it's been pretty bipolar up in here.  Here's a cognitive rundown, in order.

1. Grains and legumes are ridiculous sources of "food" - why would we ever have chosen such difficult things to digest to be the bulk of our diet?  Why were our ancestors so STUPID?

2. I'm going to go live with a modern day hunter-gatherer tribe on an island somewhere so I can have a clean diet, be one with the divine earth and feel virtuously healthy!  Will they kill me if I try to become one of them? (Begins googling tribes (in tropical climates) with a known history of tolerating opinionated white women.)

3. Wait, if I go live with a modern day hunter-gatherer tribe, I won't be able to climb at Rifle and the Boulder Rock Club...  And some of those tribes drink seal blood and that's freaking disgusting.  Maybe I'll just study anthropology a lot instead. (Googles books on nutritional anthropology)...

4. Ohhh, modern man started farming grains because there was a giant drought and there was nothing to hunt or gather, and they needed something to eat.  They chose grains and legumes because they have some protein in them.  Geniuses. (Asks the Google how much protein wheat contains per cooked cup)... 

5. Hold on - the only reason people can afford to not hunt and gather food all day is that we started farming enough food (grains and legumes) for everyone in a community to survive on.  That way, people were all fed, whether they were farmers or not, and they could start doing other things like making metals and art and languages and homes, and doing academic RESEARCH.  So the reason I am able to do this fascinating research about how much healthier people were before they started eating grains is that we decided to grow grains in the first place.  What?!

6.  I would have been so bored if I had lived during the time before grains and legumes.  Thank you, grains and legumes.

You can see I've been in a moral fix.  I've been deifying hunter-gatherer tribes and their uncomplicated ways, lamenting having been born in the age of high fructose corn syrup, treadmills, and the internet, when the truth is really that I would not be able to live without the Google.  Or Whole Foods.  What was I thinking?  All of these modern privileges were born of grains and legumes (and domesticated animals) - the reasons we have the energy and surplus to do amazing things.  Without them, we would be running around in loin cloths, chucking rocks at birds to get our next meal, and only killing them if we were lucky or skilled.  What if we weren't lucky or skilled??  

Yes, grains and legumes are hard on our bodies, but they've served a profound purpose.  They've allowed us to evolve into a highly diversified, academic, and productive species.  The bad news is that they've also had a large part in creating a gluttonous, eco-destructive and overwhelmingly sick species.  The good news is that we can have the best of both worlds now.  We can Google Paleolithic-style Thanksgiving recipes and make an entire spread of delicious, Paleo foods and only have to hunt and gather the ingredients from our local supermarket. 

Don't be surprised if this blog comes to an abrupt halt one day, though, when I've finally made up my mind to strap on my loin cloth and get on a plane to Papua New Guinea.  Maybe not in that order...


Monday, November 15, 2010

Paleolithic Postulations Part 2

A modern-day hunter gatherer.  Looks pretty healthy to me...
So as not to bog (blog) you down with too many words at one time, I've broken up my segment on Paleo eating into at least 2 posts.  Here's part 2.

To start things off, here's a little Paleolithic timeline simile for you.  We started eating the Paleo way about 2.5 million years ago and we drastically changed our diets about 10,000 years ago when we began cultivating grains and legumes.  For a 40 year-old man, that's equivalent to a little under 2 months of his life, or .4% of his life - not very much.

So, what do you eat on this diet?  Here's a sample day:

-Eggs, mushrooms, onions, garlic, and kale
-Sauteed and scrambled in coconut oil

-Tossed green salad with tons of veggies (spinach, peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, etc.)
-Grilled chicken marinated in wine, olive oil and spices
-Olive oil and lemon juice dressing
-Cantaloupe, blackberries and pecans
Leftover baked salmon, almond butter and banana

-Venison steak
-Steamed summer squash with lemon juice and sunflower seeds
-Sauteed asparagus
-2 or 3 dates

See, that's not so bad is it?  There are tons and tons of nutrients in there and no fillers.  It does take some getting used to - more for some than others.  Most people go through a "transition" period, we'll call it, where your body is learning how to efficiently use fats instead of carbohydrates as energy.  Most people's diets are made up of a lot more carbohydrates than necessary (breads, pastries, sweetened drinks, pasta, cereal), so your body gets used to using that as energy - or storing it as fat, as the case may be...

It took me almost 3 weeks to not feel like I was walking through oatmeal all the time when I first started eating like this, and I'm not even strict Paleo.  And then one day, I just felt better.  I felt great, actually.  Some people's transition period lasts only a few days.  It depends on how much your body dislikes grains, legumes, refined sugars and dairy - the more it dislikes those things, the harder you detoxify and the worse you feel.  Once you're done detoxing, though, most people end up with fewer cravings, more energy, leaner bodies and clearer heads.

Here's the approved foods list, according to Loren Cordain, one of the most influential and well-respected Paleo researchers:

Eat as much of these as you want:
Lean meats
Organ meat
Vegetables except most tubers (ie potatoes)
Nuts (peanuts are not nuts)
Seeds (pumpkin, sesame, sunflower)

In moderation:
Oils (olive, walnut, flaxseed, canola, coconut) 
Dried fruits
Sweet potatoes

As a recap, if you were to follow the Paleolithic diet, you would eat the foods above and remove grains, legumes, dairy, and refined sugar from your diet.  I know in my last post I said that Paleolithic people didn't eat potatoes and sweet potatoes, but actually some of them did eat some tubers.  So sweet potatoes are fine sometimes, especially if you're very active.  Potatoes contain a high amount of lectins, though, so they're not quite as acceptable.  More on that below.  

If you're interested in taking this way of eating on, I strongly suggest you buy Cordain's book.  Two things I disagree with in Professor Cordain's book are 1) he does not approve of coconut oil and 2) he condones the consumption of aspartame and other fake sugars.  He has since changed his stance a bit on coconut oil here, and he may have amended his views on fake sugars, but I can't find evidence of it. 

Here are 3 reasons you might want to think about going Paleo:

1. Lectins

Lectins are found in large amounts in grains, legumes (especially soy), and nightshades (potatoes, peppers, tomatoes, tobacco, eggplant).  One theory is that lectins are a natural defense mechanism for plants, in that they make plants very difficult for animals like us to digest.  They are sticky, so when they enter your digestive tract, they glom on to your intestinal walls and wreak havoc there.  They can contribute greatly to leaky gut syndrome, which is when you essentially develop holes in your gut that allow food particles to get into your blood stream.  Basically, it's when your poop get into places in your body that it's not supposed to go.  Your immune system attacks it and any kind of inflammation (food sensitivities) can happen from there, including autoimmune diseases like celiac, rheumatoid arthritis.  Leaky gut has much to do with your basic gastrointestinal complaints like gas, bloating, and indigestion, which often lead to fatigue, headaches, etc.  

The sad part is that we could be disarming some of the lectins by soaking, sprouting or fermenting our foods, but that's old fashioned and only old hippies in Boulder do that anymore.  So we choose to make up the bulk of our diets with plants that evolved to thwart us - and then we wonder why we feel like crap.

2. Phytates

Along with lectins, phytates are considered anti-nutrients by the Paleo camp.  Phytates are not digestible by non-ruminants (read: non-cud-chewers) because we lack the enzyme phytase.  Phytates are found in (guess what) grains, legumes, corn and some nuts.  Phytates actually bind to the magnesium, calcium, zinc and iron and take them OUT of our bodies.  We do not want that to happen.  Cordain and others believe that this alone is greatly contributing to the worldwide epidemic of iron-deficiency anemia.  Many people are deficient in magnesium as well, which can contribute to everything from muscle cramping to PMS.  And zinc?  Well, it's just SUPER important to our immune systems and for our reproductive abilities.  No biggie.

And calcium - let's go there, shall we?  Americans are scared to death of not getting enough calcium and I think it's a scam.  I believe it's another ploy by Dairy Management Inc to get us to buy America's surplus of factory farmed cheese.  People, bones are not just made up of calcium.  I repeat, your bones are not just sticks of calcium.  You need a lot of minerals to build them, plus protein and a bunch of other things.  Here's the funny part - cheese is HIGHLY acid forming in your body, and when you have a net acid diet (lots of dairy, meat, and grains and few fruits and veggies), calcium gets leached from your bones to try to neutralize the acid.  Yes, dairy can contribute to osteoporosis.  Here's some research on that one.

3.  It's satisfying.

Have you ever gone on a low-fat diet?  Do you have low-fat products in your kitchen right now?  I thought so.  We're all just as afraid of eating fat as we are of not getting enough calcium.  There are groups of Eskimos who live predominantly on fatty fish, seal oil and fish eggs who have no signs of heart disease, obesity or cancer.  Fat carries flavors and it makes us feel full and satiated.  It gives us the sensation that we've eaten something hearty (because we have) so we don't need to eat again for a while.  Dense protein (meat) has a similar effect on us.  An ample amount of protein and fat together create balanced blood sugar levels so we don't crash and burn all day, all week, forever...  So when the bulk of your diet is coming from those two macronutrients instead of refined grains, you get a sense of satisfaction every time you eat.

In other words, if you started eating this way, you may not feel the need to shove something into your sugar hole every 2 hours like you do now.  Think about it. 

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Paleolithic Postulations

What would you say if you found out that the very foods you have been told would promote good health were actually the cause of your general malaise?  Well, it could be true.  Turns out those whole grains and legumes (beans) aren't necessarily what make a diet healthy, after all.

It's not easy for a nutrition therapist to make a vast generalization like that, since it goes against the "grain" of conventional wisdom.  According to the USDA, our pyramid of food choices should include at least 3 ounces of grains per day for every person, young and old.  The website particularly advises me (5'0", 100 lbs) to eat 6 ounces of grains per day (only 3 of which need to be whole grains), which means I should eat something like 6 slices of bread, 3 cups of oatmeal or 3 cups of rice every day, or some combination thereof.  That would be about 1/3 to 3/4 of my daily caloric intake.  By the way, their website only states how many ounces of everything you should eat.  If someone can find a conversion chart on there that describes what exactly 6 ounces of grains looks like, please let me know.  I had to go here to find out. 

A 160 lb 5'9" man would necessitate a whopping 10 slices of bread, or 5 cups of grains per day.  10 slices of bread alone would equal anywhere from 1,000 to 1,500 calories and 5 cups of oatmeal is about 1535 calories.  The point here is that if the government and most dietitians had their way, we would all be pigging out on grains every day.  And sadly, most of us are.

So, why would the government tell you something that isn't true?  Let's give them the benefit of the doubt and say that the research they have seen assures them that grains are good for us.  Or let's consider that there is a lot of pull from the food industry that prohibits our government from ever admitting that grains and legumes are two of our civilization's greatest afflictions.  After all, these are the same people and agencies who have outlawed marijuana but not cigarettes, and who condone aspartame as an acceptable toxin to consume liberally.   

Anyway, back to why you should stop eating your most cherished foods.  The theory about grains and legumes is that we didn't start eating them in any substantial amounts until about 10,000 years ago when we started cultivating crops.  The Paleolithic era began about 2.5 millions years ago when we first started using simple tools and ended when agriculture began.  The 10,000 years we've had to adapt to grains and legumes is almost inconsequential when compared with the 2.5 million years we spent not eating those foods.  Those foods are still really difficult for us to digest because of the phytates, lectins and/or gluten they contain, and poor digestion causes everything from fatigue to zits.

Don't believe me?  Try the Paleolithic Diet for yourself.  Just do it for three weeks - don't eat any grains or legumes and see how you feel.  That means no rice, corn, wheat, millet, buckwheat, kamut, spelt, amaranth, teff, oats, barley, rye, beans (black, garbanzo, etc.), soy, or peanuts.  Our ancestors didn't eat many potatoes, sweet potatoes or other tubers, either.  They definitely did NOT eat any refined sugar, which means that table sugar, brown sugar, agave nectar, high fructose corn syrup and any other sweeteners except occasionally honey are out (they only risked being stung by a horde of bees every so often...).  I don't think I need to even touch on fake foods like aspartame, food colorings or hydrogenated fats, but I will.  They didn't eat them.

In general, Paleo people didn't have nuts or seeds in such abundance that they could harvest them, crush them and make oil out of them like we do with sunflower, safflower and sesame seeds.  It would have cost them more calories to do something like that than it was worth, so the only oils or fats they ate were from fruits similar to avocados and olives, nuts and seeds, and animal products.  That means coconut oil, olive oil, avocado oil, and some nut oils are in.  Eggs were not abundant, but they did find some here and there.  Here's the kicker for me - salt's out.  And dairy's out.  I really doubt that Paleolithic people were dumb enough to sneak up on some unassuming, lactating female mastodon to try and milk her...

If you removed grains, legumes, dairy, refined sugar, fake foods, most oils and tubers from your diet and added in a bunch of organic (there were no pesticides until 4,500 years ago) vegetables and fruit, and only ate the leanest, wildest animals you could get your hands on, organs and all, you would be on the Paleolithic Diet

A lot of people wonder why we would want to live like Paleo people since they only lived to be like 35, right?  Well, those age estimates could be way off.  And there is overwhelming evidence that modern hunter-gatherer tribes who maintain the diet and lifestyle of ancient Paleolithic people enjoy undeniably long and healthy lives, not to mention well muscled bodies.  They don't suffer from cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, cancer, diabetes or obesity like we do in "developed" societies.

Next week I'll go more into the benefits and difficulties of eating Paleo.  I'll tell you about why we are not built to eat the very things our diets are mostly made up of.  But for now, if you're interested, peruse these websites and the books sold on them:

The Paleo Diet
Mark's Daily Apple
The Paleo Solution

Until next time.