Written By: Kevin Cann
I do not do this often, but I am going to go off on a bit of a rant. I love the fact that I see more and more people posting science explaining the how and why of their current nutritional and exercise programs. It seems as if we are moving in the right direction and taking control of our own health.
For many of us, gone are the days of believing everything that someone tells us. The internet gives us an opportunity to check what we have been told right at our fingertips. Good thing everything posted on the internet is true right?
The problem many coaches and people that attempt to take control of their health run into is a phenomenon called paralysis by analysis. I am sure we all have suffered from this at one time or another, I know I have. We get overwhelmed with so much information that we convince ourselves the only way to live a long and healthy life is to move to a remote island near the equator that can sustain only us and our loved ones for the rest of eternity. A place where stress, vitamin D deficiency, and gluten do not exist.
This is an unrealistic example, but we tend to put unrealistic expectations on ourselves and our clients. This is setting us up for failure in the long run. The key to creating a plan that works is one in which the client is willing to adhere to and one that is sustainable in the long run. By long run, I mean the rest of our lives, not the 3 month period before beach season.
One of the most often used means to lose weight is counting calories. I am not arguing that calories are not important to lose weight, they are. However, deliberate calorie counting fails at least 90% of the time in the long term. Why? Because it makes people neurotic and drives our hunger response. Can anyone last forever always being hungry and in a bad mood? According to the research about 10% of the people doing this can. I am pretty sure they ride with me on the subway Monday through Friday. I have written about low calorie diets in the past and you can learn more here.
Another common weight loss protocol is to eat 5-6 smaller meals throughout the day. Scientifically this does not make a whole lot of sense to me (1). However, even more important to me is this is not as sustainable as 3 meals per day. When people are told to eat frequently throughout the day they plan their schedule around eating. Does this seem like a solid strategy in the long term for weight loss? Make people live their lives around eating? I will tell you from 10 years experience as a coach it does not work.
In the paleo world we are not prone to these same mistakes. Some diets prescribed become so restrictive that it just drives people to break down and binge for months at a time. I have made this mistake over the course of time as well with clients. A super restrictive diet is not sustainable for the long haul. Of course there are some people that will need to be here due to illness, but that is not the majority of us. This brings me to my next point.
Just because a diet is good for a special population does not mean it should be prescribed to the masses. Many people were wowed by books such as Grain Brain and Good Calories, Bad Calories and have condemned carbohydrates as the devil’s food. I am pretty sure the obesity epidemic is not caused by people consuming too many apples and sweet potatoes. High fat diets can also lead to weight gain and increased hunger (2). Again, no one is going to do well in the long term being hungry all of the time.
Other things that ruffle my feathers:
1. Juicing- This is an uncomfortable way to attempt to “cleanse” your body. Just eat your fruits and veggies and minimize the crap in your diet.
2. Only eat raw fruits and vegetables- Cook them in a way you like to eat them. If you are pressed for time it is ok to use the microwave, you will not grow a third eye.
3. If it is paleo it must be healthy- Amy crushed this one.
4. Red wine- An occasional glass of wine is ok. However, a glass of wine every night is not ok. Somehow we have justified drinking every night. Alcohol negatively effects sleep, hormones, and glucose and fat metabolism.
So then how do we go about making a plan to help us achieve sustainable weight loss? The first thing we need to do is identify all areas in our life that can lead to increased caloric intake and impaired energy homeostasis.
Here is a quick list of the most common areas to improve upon to reach your health and fitness goals.
1. Sleep- One night of sleep deprivation can increase caloric intake by 300 calories. Get 7-9 hours in a completely blacked out room.
2. Stress- Many of us are emotional eaters. When we become stressed we tend to reach for our favorite comfort foods. Stress also impairs insulin sensitivity. Too much artificial light is also a stressor. Shut it down 60-90 minutes before bed and relax.
3. Exercise- Exercise increases glucose uptake into the muscles. This leaves less sugar to be stored in unwanted places. Too little exercise and we will store fat in the midsection and too much will drive hunger. Do some strength training 2-4 days per week and attempt to be more physically active throughout your daily life. Walk more places, stand up at work, etc.
4. Vitamin D- Vitamin D may actually play a role in our appetite acting as a hormone in our hypothalamus.
5. Nutrition- Eat plentiful servings of non-starchy vegetables per day. This helps us in a few ways. For one, nutritional deficiencies drive hunger. Non-starchy veggies are filled with nutrients to make sure we are not deficient in certain ones. Also, they expand the stomach and this increases our satiety. In other words they make us feel full and require more glucose to digest then they give us. This is a way to decrease caloric intake without making it deliberate, allowing your fat stores to be freed up as usable energy. Also, eat enough protein from meat, fish, and eggs. Protein balances blood sugar and also increases satiety.
6. Social relationships- It is important to have positive social relationships with family and friends. This has been shown in research to be as important to overall health as not smoking and exercising.
Health and disease are placed upon a spectrum. The more we do to promote positive health the better off we will be. In order to make a successful weight loss plan we need to analyze the 6 areas of our lives that I previously mentioned. If we are lacking in those areas we need to come up with ways to improve upon them.
From there we need to make it sustainable. We need to identify the things that are truly important to us. If we want to be a little loose on the nutrition (say 70/30, 70% of the time good and 30% of the time do what we want) then we need to really tidy up those other areas. We can’t be loose with our nutrition, sleep deprived, and stressed out. This will lead to overeating and weight gain. However, someone that takes care of their stress, sleep, vitamin D, and exercises, can most likely get away with a cookie after dinner and Friday night pizza nights.
The idea is to make a plan that makes you happy and allows you to be healthy. There are a number of ways this can be done, and it does not have to involve a ton of math or be super restrictive. There is a feeling out process for what works and what doesn’t. Keep track of everything just like you do of your workouts. Keep what works and tweak what doesn’t until you come up with the perfect solution that fits your needs. This is the key to sustainable health and happiness.