The Fine Dining of Brain Food

Dementia is a burgeoning epidemic. We all know someone who’s struggling with or has struggled with severe cognitive dysfunction in their later years.

Many people throw their hands in the air and say, “Aging isn’t for the timid.” They view dementia as an inevitable consequence of getting old. Their way of dealing with their fear of a similar fate as they age is pretending it won’t happen to them.

Let’s play a bigger game than that. Let’s live empowered lives. And let’s live on the leading edge. Let’s explore what we know about preventing dementia. I have something very interesting to share with you on this.

For starters, if there was a pill that reduced your chances of getting dementia by 28 percent and Alzheimer’s disease (a form of dementia) by 45 percent (1), would you take it?

Think about that for a moment. Because there is. But it’s not a pill; it’s an activity.

In a study article published in journal Archives of Medical Research, the researchers report (1):

“Epidemiological research shows a consistent relationship between higher physical activity levels and a reduced risk of developing dementia. In a meta-analysis of 16 prospective, epidemiological studies on the incidence of neurodegenerative disease, engaging in more baseline physical activity reduced the risk of developing all-cause dementia by 28% and of developing AD [Alzheimer’s disease] by 45%, even after controlling for confounding variables.”

This statement summarizes the plethora of research conducted on the relationship between exercise and dementia. The findings are consistent and robust. Exercise is brain food.

But wait, it gets better. Yes, there’s something even better than exercise at preventing dementia. How researchers figured this out is really cool.

We’ve known for decades that cognitive challenge prevents dementia. This is why you hear people recommending doing crossword puzzles, learning a new language, and that kind of thing. Use it or lose it, so to speak.

Knowing that both exercise and cognitive challenge prevent dementia, years back, researchers began examining what happened when they exposed mice/rats to both exercise and cognitive challenges at the same time. They hypothesized there’d be a synergistic effect and they were right. Combining exercise and cognitive challenge is super effective in maintaining brain function and preventing cognitive decline in mice/rats.

“Animal research has shown that combining aerobic training with sensory enrichment has a superior effect on inducing neuroplasticity in the HC [hippocampus; a brain region] compared to physical exercise or sensory stimulation alone.” (2)

Then researchers made the observation that there’s a certain human activity that seems to very nicely combine various forms of cognitive challenge with exercise. Can you guess what it might be?

It’s dancing.

“From animal research, it is known that combining physical activity with sensory enrichment has stronger and longer-lasting effects on the brain than either treatment alone. For humans dancing has been suggested to be analogous to such combined training.” (3)

Over time, dozens of studies have explored the relationship between dancing and dementia and the results are simply astounding. Dancing is the fine dining of brain food.

“The results of our study suggest that participating in a long-term dance program that requires constant cognitive and motor learning is superior to engaging in repetitive physical exercises in inducing neuroplasticity in the brains of seniors. Therefore, dance is highly promising in its potential to counteract age-related gray matter [the darker tissue of the brain and spinal cord, consisting mainly of nerve cell bodies and branching dendrites] decline.” (3)

Photo 168--People Dancing

Pharmaceutical businesses are doing everything they can to try to create drugs to treat dementia. So far, they’re coming up empty. Real empty. Is it possible they’re looking in the wrong place? Is it possible the answer, at least part of the answer, is staring us right in the face? Is nature trying to get our attention with the hit pop song Shut Up and Dance? (If a carpenter can be a prophet, why can’t a pop band be here to tell us what’s what?)

It’s super interesting that exercise is a potent preventer of dementia. It’s even more interesting that dancing is an even more potent preventer of dementia. It speaks our beliefs about movement in our culture. Nature is telling us to dance. There certainly isn’t a hit pop song Shut Up and Get on the Elliptical Machine to Burn 300 Calories. It just doesn’t work like that.

Nature doesn’t want us to burn calories, nature wants us to move. And have a darn good time doing so. Most people who dance do so because it feels really good. The “no-pain, no-gain” exercise culture in our society has many people convinced that it has to suck to be good for you. As the science reveals, dancing, a type of movement most people do in a spirit of play, not a spirit of toil, is amazingly good for us.

The other notable thing about dancing is that it’s very dynamic movement. There’s a lot going on. When we dance, yes, we’re using our muscles and yes, we’re circulating our blood. In this sense, it’s just like most types of exercise. But there’s much more going on. We’re listing to music. We’re coordinating our movements to the music. We’re often coordinating our movements with those of another person or other people. We’re continually aware of our position in the space around us. We’re keeping our balance. We’re often learning new steps. We’re interacting closely with another person or other people, with this interaction often including touch, eye contact, and enjoying life together.

In scientist speak:

“In this respect dancing seems to be a promising intervention since it requires the integration of sensory information from multiple channels (auditory, vestibular, visual, somatosensory) and the fine-grained motor control of the whole body.” (2)

“Dancing is an activity that emerged from a need for social interaction and non-verbal communication, and it is a universal human expression consistent across generations, cultures, and social classes throughout the world. Compared to activities such as physical exercise or playing an instrument, dance comprises rhythmic motor coordination, balance and memory, emotions, affection, social interaction, acoustic stimulation, and musical experience apart from its requirements for physical activity. This unique combination of properties makes dance a potentially powerful interventional approach.” (4)

“Compared to activities such as exercising, walking or playing an instrument, dance has the advantage to combine many diverse features including physical activity, social and emotional interaction, each of them well-documented to have beneficial effects. This unique property might be one reason for its general acceptance and its high compliance. Our study provides strong evidence that dance promotes a wide-range of beneficial effects that are not limited to motor behavior, posture and balance, but covers also perceptual and cognitive abilities. Therefore, dance might be an appropriate approach for enforcing and maintaining plasticity processes in elderly populations, thereby contributing to successful aging.” (5)

Dynamic movement stimulates us in a way that simple calorie burning doesn’t.

Contrast everything that’s going on during dancing with what’s going on for a person who’s sitting still on a stationary bike watching a soap opera on the gym television. Right? There’s nothing going on there. No enjoyment and no life. Just passing time and burning calories.

We’ve evolved for movement with life in it. Fun. Pleasure. Connection. Learning.

Should we all be out dancing in the streets?

That sure wouldn’t be a bad thing for our society, but there are other options too. For the wallflowers in the crowd, some other types of really dynamic movement include:

  1. Hiking
  2. Game sports (ultimate frisbee, racquetball, soccer, etc.)
  3. Mountain biking
  4. Trail running
  5. Cross-country skiing
  6. Paddleboarding
  7. Rock climbing (indoor rock climbing is a great option if you live in a place with a long winter like I do)
  8. High-quality strength training (do total-body, free-standing, integrated, dynamic exercises; avoid single-muscle, supported, isolated, static exercises)
  9. Yoga (flow yoga is my favorite)

You’re the ultimate judge of what’s the best movement for you. I simply invite you to explore movement with as much life in it as possible. It feels great in the moment and helps keep a little more life in you for a little bit longer.

Remember your mantra for today: NOURISHING MOVEMENT, NOURISHING FOOD, NOURISHING LIFE.

There’s a place below to share your feelings on this article if you’d like. I’d love to hear from you.

 

 

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Jimmy Kimmel Is Making You Fat

You exercise well, you eat well, but you still don’t have the lean body you desire. You have some extra body fat hanging around your hips, your thighs, the back of your arms. There are two important players you’re likely not considering. They’re called ghrelin and leptin and they’re hormones.

Ghrelin is a hormone secreted by our stomachs when there isn’t much food in our stomachs. With high amounts of ghrelin, our brains send signals of hunger. Ghrelin can be thought of as the hunger hormone.

Leptin is secreted by our fat cells when we have a sufficient amount of body fat stored. With high amounts of leptin, our brains send signals of fullness. Leptin can be thought of as the fullness hormone.

There isn’t much you can do to make ghrelin or leptin work better for than they do naturally. (Although, trust me, the pharmaceutical companies are working their assess off and spending millions of dollars to try to make it possible to manipulate these hormones via drugs. Of course they are.)

But there are other people working against you with these hormones. Jimmy Kimmel, Jimmy Fallon, Stephen Colbert to name a few. Those late-night-television hosts who keep you up to 11, 11:30, oh I’ll just watch a little more, midnight! These guys are making you fat!

When you get great sleep, your body does a great job of using ghrelin and leptin to regulate optimal hunger and fullness responses. That is, you eat when you genuinely need to eat and you stop when you’ve genuinely had enough. But when you don’t get great sleep, say you skimp on an hour or two here or there, or you don’t sleep well because your sleep hygiene isn’t great, you completely mess up your ghrelin and leptin levels.

With poor sleep:

  1. Your levels of ghrelin rise!
  2. Your levels of leptin fall!

So you now have more of the hunger hormone and less of the fullness hormone! All day! Every day! Yikes!

Failing to get great sleep completely throws your body’s normal hunger-fullness response out of whack. If you’re someone who regularly isn’t getting great sleep, you don’t even know what your normal, optimal feelings of hunger and fullness are like.

The good news is the solution to this problem is simple, free, and feels good. That’s my kind of solution. You simply need to make getting great sleep a priority.

In terms of quantity, the best thing most people can do is ditch the evening television, Internet surfing, or whatever is keeping you up late. Most people can’t sleep later in the morning than they already are, but most people can get to bed somewhat earlier.

In terms of quality, here are the goods on how to set yourself up to sleep like a baby:

  1. Make sure your bedroom is very dark. The darker the better. Make sure there are no lights from any electronic devices. Your body perceives this light as daylight and this negatively affects the quality of your sleep.
  2. Make sure your bedroom is very quiet. Complete silence or white noise from a fan, humidifier, or a similar device is best.
  3. Make sure your bedroom is comfortable: not too hot and not too cold. If you’re too hot or too cold, you won’t sleep as well as you can. A bedroom at 60 to 65 degrees at night is best for most people.
  4. Avoid eating within a few hours of bedtime. Give yourself some time to digest your dinner before you to go to sleep.
  5. Don’t drink water in the evening. Drink water in the morning, and throughout the day between meals, but don’t drink water in the evening after dinner.
  6. Ideally, spend the few hours before bedtime resting. This makes it easy to wind down, fall asleep quickly, and sleep deeply.
  7. Avoid all screens for three hours before bed (or use the available blue-light-blocking filters). Artificial light, especially blue light from computers, tablets, phones, and similar devices, inhibits the production of melatonin, a hormone secreted by our pineal glands that controls sleep and wake cycles.
  8. Reserve your bed for sleep and sex. If you associate your bed with things like paying bills and checking your e-mail, it can be tougher for you to wind down and fall asleep. Use your bed only for sleep and sex. When you get in bed, you’ll get a strong signal that it’s time to doze off (or have sex then doze off).
  9. Increase your exposure to light during the day. Keep the blinds/curtains open at work and at home to let lots of light in. Get outside during the day whenever possible.

The wellness benefits of great sleep are myriad and you’ll get a leaner body to boot. Sweat dreams.

Photo 167--Woman Sleeping

Remember your mantra for today: NOURISHING MOVEMENT, NOURISHING FOOD, NOURISHING LIFE.

There’s a place below to share your feelings on this article if you’d like. I’d love to hear from you.

Nature Is Nurture

Imagine you and I both have shoulder surgery on the same day. After your surgery, you luck out and get a room with a wonderful view (blue skies, trees, birds, etc.). I’m not so lucky and they stick me in a room without much of a view (outside my window is the brick wall of the building next door). Other than me being a bit cranky, does it really matter?

A group of scientists and physicians decided to run a little experiment and see if anything else happened. (1) In their study, subjects were cholecystectomy patients and half were placed in what they called a tree-view group and half were placed in what they called a wall-view group. Any guesses on what they found?

I won’t keep you hangin’. Subjects in the tree-view group, compared to subjects in the wall-view group:

  1. Had shorter hospital stays
  2. Took less pain medication
  3. Had fewer post-surgery complications

Wow, right? It turns out nature is nurture(ing).

Photo 166--Flowers

Our bodies, hearts, and minds are one. There’s not really a body-heart-mind “connection”; it’s more like body-heart-mind unity. As we meet our needs, we thrive. And spending time in nature is one of our needs. We’ve evolved in nature for the entirety of our 2.5 million years of existence, with cities being only a few thousand years old and suburbs only a few hundred years old. As such, being back in nature does us a world of good.

A 2016 review study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health gives us both the good and bad news of our contemporary overly civilized way of life (2):

Here’s the bad news first:

“Rapid changes have also occurred in our environment over the last three decades, including the widespread use of computers. In 1984, American clinical psychologist Craig Brod coined the term ‘technostress’. Other forms of technologies that expose us to more artificial elements have also contributed to the exacerbation of our stress levels.”

And now for the good news:

“Scientific data assessing physiological indicators, such as brain activity, autonomic nervous activity, endocrine activity, and immune activity, are accumulating from field and laboratory experiments. We believe that nature therapy will play an increasingly important role in preventive medicine in the future.”

Spending time in nature isn’t just “nice” in some fluffy feels-nice-but-isn’t-based-in-hard-science way. Spending time in nature affects measurable physiological processes in our bodies.

A 2015 clinical study also published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health is a great example of the vast amount of studies demonstrating clear physiological benefits, among other benefits, of spending time in nature (3):

“Pulse rate and salivary cortisol were significantly lower than baseline following forest therapy, indicating that subjects were in a physiologically relaxed state. Subjects reported feeling significantly more ‘comfortable,’ ‘relaxed,’ and ‘natural’ according to the semantic differential (SD) method. The Profile of Mood State (POMS) negative mood subscale score for ‘tension–anxiety’ was significantly lower, while that for ‘vigor’ was significantly higher following forest therapy. Our study revealed that forest therapy elicited a significant (1) decrease in pulse rate, (2) decrease in salivary cortisol levels, (3) increase in positive feelings, and (4) decrease in negative feelings. In conclusion, there are substantial physiological and psychological benefits of forest therapy on middle-aged females.”

“Several studies have shown that time spent in a forest can decrease blood pressure (BP), pulse rate, sympathetic nervous activity, and cortisol levels, while increasing parasympathetic nervous activity. Furthermore, forest stimulation decreased cerebral blood flow in the prefrontal cortex, and Bratman reported that a brief nature experience decreased both self-reported rumination and neural activity in the subgenual prefrontal cortex (sgPFC) [a brain region]. These studies suggest that accessible natural areas are a critical resource for improving mental health in our rapidly urbanizing world.”

“It was also shown that a forest therapy trip can increase human natural killer (NK) cell activity and improve immunity in both males and females, and these effects were found to last for at least 7 days. Additionally, psychological studies have demonstrated that the negative mood was significantly lower and the positive mood was significantly higher after durations of stay in the forest.”

“Our study revealed that forest therapy elicited a significant (1) decrease in pulse rate, (2) decrease in salivary cortisol levels, (3) increase in ‘comfortable,’ ‘natural,’ and ‘relaxed’ feelings as assessed by the modified SD [semantic differential] method, (4) decrease in the POMS [The Profile of Mood State] negative subscale ‘tension–anxiety,’ and (5) increase in feelings of ‘vigor’ in middle-aged females. In conclusion, walking in a forest according to a standard ‘forest therapy’ program induced physiological and psychological relaxation. These results clarified the physiological effects of the forest therapy program and suggested a possibility of clinical use.”

Lower heart rate, lower blood pressure, lower cortisol levels! All from simply spending time in nature! That’s powerful stuff!  In other words, go for a walk in the woods when you have the chance. Step out for some fresh air every chance you get. Immerse yourself in nature whenever you can. It’s where you came from. And it does your body good.

“We need the tonic of wilderness.”
–Henry David Thoreau

(1) View Through a Window May Influence Recovery from Surgery. Science, 1984, 224(4,647), 420-422.
(2) Physiological Effects of Nature Therapy: A Review of the Research in Japan. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 2016, 13(781), 1-17.
(3) Physiological and Psychological Effects of a Forest Therapy Program on Middle-Aged Females. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 2015, 12(12), 15,222-15,232.

Remember your mantra for today: NOURISHING MOVEMENT, NOURISHING FOOD, NOURISHING LIFE.

There’s a place below to share your feelings on this article if you’d like. I’d love to hear from you.

 

The One and Only Guaranteed Way to Make Your Resolution Stick

Let’s start with a multiple multiple choice question (a favorite type of test question of one of my favorite college professors). In a multiple multiple choice question any of the answers can be correct, it’s possible that none of the answers are correct, and you have the option of writing in a correct answer as well. Your job is to pick all of the correct answers and write in a correct answer if it isn’t one of the choices. These are tough questions; they require you to really know your suff. Here we go:

Which of the following methods will help you make your new-year resolution stick?

  1. Setting realistic goals
  2. Embracing the support of my close ones
  3. Embracing the support of a professional
  4. Being hard on myself
  5. Working toward my goals together with a “buddy”
  6. Having fun
  7. Quitting when I have a setback
  8. Celebrating my progress along the way
  9. Other Correct Answer: ____________________

Photo 165--Woman Doing Yoga

You’ll have setbacks, so quitting isn’t going to help you. When you have a setback, move on and do your best the next step you take.

Being hard on yourself is one of the fastest ways to fail. Practice consistent self-acceptance, self-compassion, and self-kindness instead.

The rest of the answers are correct!

Starting with realistic goals is key. Set goals that really matter to you and give yourself a reasonable timeframe to achieve them. When in doubt, give yourself more time. That which is built steadily and gradually over time tends to last.

Have fun with this journey you’re on as you boost your wellness. Celebrate your progress along the way. The more celebrations you have, the better.

Definitely share meals and do workouts with a “buddy” whenever it feels good to you to do so. This can be a big help.

People want to help you. Don’t just accept but fully embrace the support of your close ones and the professionals you’re working with. You’re not in this alone.

All of this will help you immensely, but none of it guarantees your success. Only one thing guarantees your success. Sometimes when I client comes to me, they’ve already crossed this important line. More often, they cross it at some point during the course of our work together.

It’s when they decide, with every ounce of their being, that being well is a lifestyle. A lifestyle, not a program. The self-care they’re embarking on isn’t a two-week program. It isn’t a two-month program. It’s not a program. There’s no graduation. They’ve committed to self-care for the rest of their lives. It’s big commitment, but paradoxically this is when self-care gets easy. When you’re in program mindset, you have one foot in. You have an escape plan. And this makes things harder. There’s always resistance. Committing to self-care as a lifestyle is not confining at all, but freeing. It’s a sweet surrender.

Keep doing the best you can each day. Play with any resistance you have to this sweet surrender. When you’re ready to let go, you’ll know.

Remember your mantra for today: NOURISHING MOVEMENT, NOURISHING FOOD, NOURISHING LIFE.

There’s a place below to share your feelings on this article if you’d like. I’d love to hear from you.

 

Are You a Bad Girl?

“I can’t believe you let me do that,” she said to me, blushing.

“You seemed to enjoy yourself quite a bit,” I said with a grin.

“Well, yeah, but I feel kind of bad now,” she said. “I’ve been really bad with you recently.”

We’d just had lunch together, as I often do with colleagues. I brought some guacamole I made and I had it with my leftover chili and some fruit salad. She had some too with the lunch she’d brought and she really liked it. But she felt “bad” about it.

Raise your hand: Have you ever felt “bad” about eating? “Bad” in this context refers to feelings of guilt, shame, or both? Have you ever said, “I’ve been really bad this week,” with the spirit of guilt and/or shame in your statement? Do you know others who speak like this about food and eating?

I do. In fact, in this past week alone, I’ve heard it dozens of times. Many people have told me they were “really bad” in the last few weeks “over the holidays”.

This is so common, this guilt-based, shame-based framework for talking about and relating with food and eating, that it hardly goes noticed in many circles. The way we form our beliefs about ourselves and the world around is a function of many complex factors. The prevailing beliefs that run through a society are one big factor. When we look closely at the cultural underpinnings of the United States, we see the deep Puritan roots that run through the fabric of many of our institutions. In particular, we have a certain allergy to enjoyment, fun, and pleasure. And we a strong conviction that restraint, abstinence, and delayed gratification are of utmost importance. If we keep free of the lures of pleasure, the belief system goes, good things will come our way in the future. One area of life where this stands out is food and eating. I witness, all the time, people feeling “bad” (guilty/shameful) about food and eating. I witness this particularly with women. That’s not a judgement, but an observation. I hear women call themselves “bad” about food all the time. I hear men say it occasionally, but not very often.

Acculturated to feel “bad”, I witness many women, logically, seeking to feel “good” through eating. Following this Puritan ethos, a lot of women go on detoxes. You know, to get all the bad stuff out. Yes, men go on detoxes too, but according to an ABC News report, women consume 85 percent of the weight-loss products and services purchased in the United States. Feeling “bad” about food and eating, and responding with detoxes is particularly common among women.

Detoxes, like their close cousins cleanses, diets, and fasts, are primarily about exclusion and restriction. Most detoxes come with a firm list of what not to eat: the “bad” foods. No sugar. No milk. No soy. No meat. No this and that.

There’s a big problem here: We’ve evolved over millions of years to relate with food as something to eat, not as something not to eat.

In those same millions of years, we also never received a single message, not one, that the pleasure of food eating was to be limited or squelched in any way. It goes completely against our genetics in every way to limit our eating and keep ourselves from food.

“Watch any plant or animal and let it teach you the acceptance of what is. Let it teach you Being. Let it teach you integrity—which means to be one, to be yourself, to be real.”
–Eckhart Tolle

Very interesting things happen when we try to avoid things. Consider mountain biking. When I first started mountain biking, I was a bit timid. There were a lot of big rocks and gnarly roots to crash into and land on. When I was riding, I would say to myself, “Be careful. Don’t fall down. Watch out for the rocks.” What do you think happened? I hit my share of rocks and got my share of cuts and bruises. A more experienced rider got my ear one day and we talked about this. “You can’t think like that,” he told me. “If you focus on the rocks, your gonna hit the rocks.” It made sense and I adjusted my self-talk. I focused on what I wanted to do and where I wanted to go, not on what I wanted to avoid. “Nice and smooth. Ride through the clearings,” I’d say to myself and I’d ride a lot better.

This happens with eating bigtime! If you’re saying to yourself over and over, “No sugar, no sugar, no sugar,” you’ll start seeing sugary foods everywhere.

If you do a detox that has a list of restricted foods, off-limit foods, foods to avoid, foods to eliminate, or some other description of “bad” foods, you’ll start wanting those foods more.

This can be explained by the activity in a fundamental part of our brains called the reticular activating system, which can be thought of as a data filter. In any given moment, we’re flooded with “data” or “input” from the world around us. These are sights like colors, textures, and specific objects; sounds like music, machines operating, or specific people’s voices; tastes; smells; information; messages, etc. We’re exposed to up to two million bits of data at any given moment. A data filter is crucial. It filters out everything except what’s most important. If we had to tend to all of the input coming at us, we’d be paralyzed. How do our reticular activating systems know what to let through the filter? It lets through what we focus on.

A good example of this is when you’re in the market for a new car. You find a make and model you’re considering buying and, bam, you start seeing those cars everywhere, even in the specific color your considering. Before that, you hardly ever so those cars on the road. As soon as you focused on them, you noticed them all over the place.

Focus on sugar and you’ll see it everywhere. Same with junk food, carbohydrate, fat, or whatever else you’re avoiding. Just like when I tried to avoid the rocks and kept running into them on my mountain bike.

This effect is magnified by the prohibition principle or what I sometimes call the teenager principle. Tell a teenager, “Don’t be late. Be home by 10, or else,” and what happens? They often test their parents and come home at 10:15, or later. People don’t like to be controlled. We all know what happened when the United States government prohibited alcoholic beverages.

“A book whose sale’s forbidden all men rush to see, and prohibition turns one reader into three.”
–Italian Proverb

For all of our existence as humans, food has been something to eat to satisfy our natural hunger and something to enjoy to the fullest. Restraint and food don’t go together well.

A very interesting study (1) reveals a great deal about this.

In one part of the study, subjects read a one-sided message involving either a positive message (“All sugary snacks are good.”) or a negative message (“All sugary snacks are bad.”). After reading the straightforward message, subjects were given a plate of chocolate-chip cookies while they watched a short video.

Being warned that all sugary snacks are bad would result in less consumption of chocolate-chip cookies, right? Being told “All sugary snacks are bad,” would remind us to eat less of these foods, right?

Being given the authority to eat sugary snacks would result in more consumption of chocolate-chip cookies, right? Being told “All sugary snacks are good,” would lower people’s guards and they’d go off the rails, right?

That’s not what happened:

Subjects who read the negative message at 39 percent more chocolate-chip cookies compared to those who read the positive message!

The researchers summarized their findings as follows:

“This research shows when and how food-related warnings can backfire by putting consumers in a state of reactance.”

“Across three studies, we demonstrate that dieters (but not nondieters) who see a one-sided message focusing on the negative aspects of unhealthy food (vs. a one-sided positive or neutral message) increase their desire for and consumption of unhealthy foods. In contrast, dieters who see a two-sided message (focusing on both the negative and positive aspects of unhealthy food) are more likely to comply with the message, thereby choosing fewer unhealthy foods.”

“Our research suggests that negatively worded food warnings (such as public service announcements) are unlikely to work—nondieters ignore them, and dieters do the opposite.”

Let’s elucidate the salient points made by these researchers:

  1. Programs that label food as “bad”, “avoid”, “eliminate”, etc. put people “in a state of reactance” (1).
  2. Programs that label food as “bad”, “avoid”, “eliminate”, etc. make people “increase their desire for and consumption of unhealthy foods” (1).
  3. Programs that label food as “bad”, “avoid”, “eliminate”, etc. make people “do the opposite” (1).

Making foods off-limits makes people want them more. Detoxes, cleanses, diets, and fasts really screw up this understanding of behavior change and habit formation in major ways.

Another interesting study specifically examined dichotomous thinking about eating and its effect on one’s ability to stay lean (2). Here’s what these researchers have to tell us:

“Results showed that eating-specific dichotomous thinking (dichotomous beliefs about food and eating) mediates the association between restraint eating and weight regain. We conclude that holding dichotomous beliefs about food and eating may be linked to a rigid dietary restraint, which in turn impedes people’s ability to maintain a healthy weight.”

Dichotomous means a division or contrast between two things that are or are represented as being opposed or entirely different. “Good” and “bad” foods or “avoid” and “include” foods in a detox program epitomize dichotomy. This study revealed that dichotomous thinking about food and eating “impedes people’s ability to maintain a healthy weight” (2).

Another interesting study specifically examined the relationship between restraint and binging (3). Here’s what these researchers have to tell us:

“Discusses the association between binge eating and dieting and presents sequence data indicating that dieting usually precedes binge eating chronologically. The present authors propose that dieting causes binging by promoting the adoption of a cognitively regulated eating style, which is necessary if the physiological defense of body weight is to be overcome. The defense of body weight entails various metabolic adjustments that assist energy conservation, but the behavioral reaction of binge eating is best understood in cognitive, not physiological, terms. By supplanting physiological regulatory controls with cognitive controls, dieting makes the dieter vulnerable to disinhibition and consequent overeating.”

Another study examined how rigid, restrictive approaches to eating compared to flexible, inclusive approaches (4). Here’s what these researches have to tell us:

“The study found that individuals who engage in rigid dieting strategies reported symptoms of an eating disorder, mood disturbances, and excessive concern with body size/shape. In contrast, flexible dieting strategies were not highly associated with BMI [body-mass index], eating disorder symptoms, mood disturbances, or concerns with body size.”

“These findings suggest that rigid dieting strategies, but not flexible dieting strategies, are associated with eating disorder symptoms and higher BMI [body-mass index] in nonobese women.”

Food is very simply meant to both nourish us and be a source of great pleasure. Simultaneously. You can’t put nature in a box. Nature must live and breathe. And in nature, that which we need most feels amazing. Nature brilliantly couples nourishment with sensory, sensuous, sensual pleasure. If you try to get nourishment without pleasure (e.g., living off detox potions), things go haywire. If you try to get pleasure without nourishment (e.g., living off junk food), things go haywire. Loaded messages about “healthy” and “unhealthy” and “good” and “bad” foods really mess with people.

“Adam was but human—this explains it all. He did not want the apple for the apple’s sake, he wanted it only because it was forbidden.”
–Pudd’nhead Wilson by Mark Twain (Book)

“So great is man’s hunger for forbidden food.”
–Metamorphoses by Publius Ovidius Naso (Poem)

Human nature isn’t new and we don’t need scientists to teach it to us, as these two writers from about 200 and about 2,000 years ago make clear. A lot of this stuff is common sense.

It isn’t only telling people to avoid “bad” foods that really messes with them. Telling people to eat “good” foods doesn’t work either as another brilliant penperson Geoffrey Chaucer warns as he reveals even more about human nature:

“Forbid us something, and that thing we desire; but press it on us hard and we will flee.”
–The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer (Poem)

Wrapping up today’s literature class, let’s return to the science, and explore the “pressing” Chaucer refers to.

In one study, subjects attending a conferenced were exposed to baskets of apples at the registration booth (5). One of three signs were placed in front of the apples and the signs were rotated unobtrusively every 20 minutes. All three signs had the following words: “Honeycrisp Apples. Developed at the University of Minnesota in 1974,” as well as additional content reflecting the experimental condition. The control sign’s additional content read: “Minnesota’s State Fruit” and had an image of the Minnesota state seal. The explicit health message included the words “A Healthy Choice” (instead of “Minnesota’s State Fruit”) and the same image of the state seal as the control sign. The subtle health message had the same words (“Minnesota’s State Fruit”) as the control sign, but instead of the state seal image, it had an image of a red heart with a white check mark on it. What happened?

“Participants were more likely to choose the healthy food when it was labeled with the subtle health message than when it was labeled with the explicit health message, which itself was not more effective than the control message.”

Being told directly that the apples were “a healthy choice” didn’t increase their consumption over the control condition. But the subtle message did. The researchers concluded:

“Explicitly—as opposed to subtly—labeling a food healthy may inadvertently license people to indulge, imply that the food tastes bad, or lead to reactance.”

When you teach people to eat food because it’s “healthy”, “good for you”, or anything like that, people hear “It must not taste good.” People don’t like to be sold to. And with food, and its inherent link to our taste buds, when you tell someone to eat something for it’s down-the-road wellness benefits, they think it must taste lousy, and you push them away from it.

In the world of behavior change and habit formation, this can be understood by the contrast between experiential benefits and instrumental benefits.

Experiential benefits are the benefits you get right away when engaging in an activity. For example: “Wow, I love these blueberries you picked. They’re so delicious. Let’s put them in the fruit salad.”

Instrumental benefits are the benefits you get at some point in the future as a result of engaging in an activity. These benefits can be a reward and/or the avoidance of a punishment. For example: “Thank you for bringing me these blueberries. I’ll put them in my smoothie tomorrow. Did you know eating blueberries increases longevity and prevents dementia?”

In either case, if you eat blueberries (and other whole, natural, real food) regularly, you’ll help yourself live longer and prevent dementia, but you’re much more likely to eat blueberries (and other whole, natural, real food) when you’re seeking experiential benefits.

As we see in this apple study, motivation via instrumental benefits usually backfires. People don’t like to be told to eat something “because it’s good for them”.

Another study examined what happened when the same foods (various foods were used in the study) were labeled as “healthy” or “tasty” (6). What happened?

“Imposed healthy eating signals that the health goal was sufficiently met, and thus it increases the strength of the conflicting motive to fulfill one’s appetite. Accordingly, consumers asked to sample an item framed as healthy later reported being hungrier and consumed more food than those who sampled the same item framed as tasty or those who did not eat at all. These effects of healthy eating depend on the consumer’s perception that healthy eating is mandatory; therefore, only imposed healthy eating made consumers hungrier, whereas freely choosing to eat healthy did not increase hunger.”

Amazing, right? “Imposed healthy eating” (6) made people hungrier and led to greater consumption later in the day. Telling people what not to eat because it’s “bad for you” and telling people what to eat because it’s “good for you”, doesn’t work

Eating is a natural activity and trying to force it, control, restrain it simply doesn’t work. Since it’s messing with a person’s nature, it’s also pretty cruel. The science we’ve discussed here makes it clear that restraint is unnatural and ineffective in a myriad of ways.

Free from our shackles, how do we move forward? How do we learn to eat naturally, free of harmful neuroses?

The way I teach people to eat well is called Goot’s Not-a-Diet. I can’t describe it fully in an article because it’s personalized to each individual who uses it. As the name makes clear, it’s not a diet. Nor is it a cleanse, detox, or fast, or anything like that.

Goot’s Not-a-Diet is based on inclusion and nourishment, not exclusion and restriction. In short, I teach people to approach each meal with a few simple, powerful guidelines:

  1. Eat a certain amount of veggies (personalized to their needs). This amount is a minimum. This includes all non-starchy vegetables. Starchy vegetables are considered carbs.
  2. Eat a certain amount of building-block foods (personalized to their needs). This amount is a minimum. Building block foods include meat, eggs, and/or vegetarian sources of the building blocks that make up each cell in our bodies.
  3. Eat a certain amount of carbs (personalized to their needs). The amount is a minimum. Carbs refer to carbohydrate-dense foods like sweet potatoes, fruit, and quinoa. I did not have this guideline when I started using this system 20 years ago. But I added it shortly thereafter when the low-carb craze took hold. Thriving people living active lives including exercise need some carbohydrate with their meals.
  4. Eat anything else you like in any amount you like. This means you can have more of the items described in these first three guidelines and you can have anything else you like. Anything at all. In any amount. As long as you’ve met the requirements for the minimum intakes for the first three guidelines.

It’s beyond the scope of this article to go into all the details of how this all works physically, emotionally, and mentally in its entirety. The take-home message for the purpose of this article is:

  1. This approach is based on eating, not on not-eating.
  2. This approach releases you from the grips of the prohibition principle/teenager principle. Because you’re not prohibited from eating anything nor limited in how much you can eat, you don’t have much desire to eat more than you need or eat junk food.
  3. This effect is magnified because you’re eating whole, natural, real food, that’s very nutrient-dense, giving your what you really need from food, with every meal.
  4. In sum, it frees a person to eat naturally and it frees a person from the torture of being “on” and “off” cleanses, detoxes, diets, and fasts.
  5. In six months or less, most people are able to fully adopt what I call attuned eating. This is eating based on your own bodies cues. It’s eating when you’re hungry and stopping when you’re full. It’s eating the foods that make you feel your best and thoroughly enjoying eating and doing so without any rules, but truly naturally.

Again, this is nowhere near a complete description of the approach I use to help people learn to eat well. I present the very basics as a way of letting you know there is another way besides the exclusion-based, restriction-based unnatural, harmful cleanses, detoxes, diets, and fasts. There is another way. There is a better way. This better way might sound crazy to you because it’s different from anything you’ve ever heard. That’s a good thing. Because everything you’ve heard and everything you’ve tried isn’t very effective. People are getting sicker and fatter at an astonishing rate around here. The status-quo methods aren’t working.

Outdated paradigms have a way of sticking around long past their due date.

“The most dangerous phrase in the world is, ‘We’ve always done it this way.”
–Grace Hopper

Emerging paradigms always seem crazy when they first surface.

“All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.”
–Arthur Schopenhauer

Photo 164--People Sharing a Meal

In addition to the sound reasoning I’ve shared with you, I’d like to leave you with some more information from some other sources to help you make the most well-informed decisions you can for yourself going forward.

In this WebMD article reviewing detoxes, the conclusion is:

“We’ve heard a great deal about detox diets in recent years. But it’s all hype with no health benefits.”

In this Berkley Wellness article (produced by the University of California, Berkeley School of Public Health) reviewing detoxes, the conclusion is:

“There’s no evidence that any of these detoxing methods actually rid your body of harmful substances. And if your goal is weight loss—a benefit promised by most if not all detox plans—evidence suggests that detoxing can actually thwart your efforts in the long-term.”

In this Harvard Women’s Health Watch (produced by the Harvard Medical School) article reviewing detoxes entitled The Dubious Practice of Detox and their follow-up article entitled Detox Diets, Procedures Generally Don’t Promote Health, the conclusion is:

“A seemingly infinite array of diets is available for detoxifying the whole body. However, studies have shown that fasting and extremely low calorie intake—common elements of detox diets—cause a slowdown of metabolism and an increase in weight after the dieter returns to normal eating.”

I’ll leave you with information from one last scientific study that sums things up concisely. In a study article entitled Detox Diets for Toxin Elimination and Weight Management: A Critical Review of the Evidence published in the esteemed Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics (7), the researchers conclude:

“Although the detox industry is booming, there is very little clinical evidence to support the use of these diets.”

(1) Messages from the Food Police: How Food-Related Warnings Backfire Among Dieters. Journal of the Association for Consumer Research, 2016, 1(1), 175-190.
(2) How Does Thinking in Black and White Terms Relate to Eating Behavior and Weight Regain? Journal of Health Psychology, 2015, 20(5), 638-648.
(3)Dieting and Binging. A Causal Analysis. American Psychologist, 1985, 40(2), 193-201.
(4)Rigid Vs. Flexible Dieting: Association with Eating Disorder Symptoms in Nonobese Women. Appetite, 2002, 38(1), 39-44.
(5) Brief Report: Effects of Subtle and Explicit Health Messages on Food Choice. Health Psychology, 2015, 34(1) 79-82.
(6) When Healthy Food Makes You Hungry. Journal of Consumer Research, 2010, 37(3), 357-367.
(7)Detox Diets for Toxin Elimination and Weight Management: A Critical Review of the Evidence. Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics, 2015, 8(6), 675-686.

Remember your mantra for today: NOURISHING MOVEMENT, NOURISHING FOOD, NOURISHING LIFE.

There’s a place below to share your feelings on this article if you’d like. I’d love to hear from you.

How to Destroy Your Metabolism for Life in One Easy Step

Diet.

That’s underpromising and overdelivering at its finest. There’s not only one easy step to destroying your metabolism, but one word: diet.

Photo 163--Dieting

This is what we can learn from the strangest of places: television. From The Biggest Loser.

Here’s the plot. A group of otherwise average, very fat people, arrive at a compound. They’re greeted with niceties, then the dogs come out. The dogs in this case are celebrities cast in the roles of mostly mean, occasionally-sensitive-in-a-passive-aggressive-way “wellness professionals”. They immediately put the show’s participants on very-low-calorie diets and start force-exercising (the exercise version of force-feeding) them. It’s the exact opposite process of turning a baby cow into veal, but arguably as cruel and stupid. Drama ensues. And, yes, the participants lose weight. A ton of weight. Over the course of the six months of the show, the participants went from an average of 325 pounds to an average of 200 pounds.

Then the credits rolled, the advertisers collected their millions, everyone went home, and fans left inspired: “I’m going to do that.”

But the plot thickens. Thankfully some of the nerds from high school made it to adulthood as scientists, physicians, and researchers and they have another story to tell that goes a bit deeper than the always-shallow story told by vapid Hollywood types. These researchers decided to conduct a study and poke and prod the participants. They studied them for the six-month duration of the show and for the six years following the show. (1) What’s the rest of the story?

First, the participants when from an average of 200 pounds at the conclusion of the show to an average of 290 pounds six years after the show. They gained a ton of weight!

What the researchers discovered next is absolutely fascinating. It’s also something you absolutely need to know if you’ve ever lost weight and gained it back. The researchers measured the subjects’ resting metabolic rate throughout the course of the study. Measures of resting metabolic rate were taken before the show began, during the six-month period of the show, at the conclusion of the show, and throughout the six-year period following the show.

Resting metabolic rate is a measure of the energy you burn simply by existing (expressed in kilocalories* per day). If you sat around all day one day, you’d burn this many kilocalories. Before the show (and before the reverse-veal-making began), subjects’ average resting metabolic rates were what could be considered normal. That is, they were in line with gender-matched, age-matched population norms. After the show, subjects’ resting metabolic rates had dropped by about 500 kilocalories per day. This, but itself, wasn’t a starting finding for the researchers, nor should it be for anyone in the know regarding exercise physiology, nutrition, and related sciences. A great deal of previous research has shown us that fast weight loss, diets, and no-pain, no-pain exercise lower a person’s resting metabolic rate. But the general assumption prior to the study on The Biggest Loser participants was that a person’s resting metabolic rate restored itself when the person moved away from such extreme practices and into maintenance reverse-veal-making. This study revealed something staggering!

For the entire six years following the show, subjects’ resting metabolic rate remained 500 kilocalories lower normal.

Let’s talk about what this means in practical terms. Think of someone you know who’s the same gender as you, and about the same age. If your resting metabolic rate is 500 kilocalories per day lower than his/hers, as far as your metabolism is concerned, you eat a Big Mac every day before even get out of bed without enjoying a morsel of food. Stated another way, the first hour of exercise you do every day only gets you back to having their, normal, decently functioning, metabolism. You have to exercise two hours for every one hour they exercise, in order to live with the same daily energy balance.

In effect, the weigh-loss approach employed on this show, characterized by extreme approaches to the misguided “calories-in, calories-out” model, especially dieting, broke the participants’ metabolisms. Absolutely destroyed their metabolisms. Permanently**. For life**.

That’s what dieting does. It’s why dieters become yo-yo dieters. It’s why people lose weight and gain it back. If effect, the very process that’s helping you lose weight in the short term ensures that you’ll gain weight in the long term.

That’s what “diet gurus” do to you. Like master manipulators, they give you want you want and take it away from you at the same time. Then they blame it on you. These “diet gurus” get to walk around without any blood on their hands. They get to say, “I helped those people. They lost a ton of weight. It’s too bad they weren’t able to keep it off.” Behind closed doors, they’ll blame it on people’s lack of willpower. This after they put their victims in metabolic debt for the rest of their lives. That’s what living with a broken metabolism is: metabolic debt. At best, people carry their broken metabolisms with them like bad credit scores. It’s very hard and it takes a long time to turn things around. At worst, people carry their broken metabolisms with them like felony offenses on their criminal record: forever.

I frequently talk with people who tell me about the weight they lost in the past, often from working with a “wellness professional” or following the program of “wellness professional” via a book or online. One particular conversation stands out above the rest. A woman came to me for coaching. In our first conversation, she declared proudly, “I know how to lose weight: I’ve lost 50 pounds five times.” She really believed she knew how to lose weight. What she couldn’t see was that she had gained 50 pounds six times. Her system was the perfect system for gaining weight!

“Success” has a very low bar in the area of weight loss and for the “wellness professionals” selling weight loss. Consider how you’d judge an engineer who designs bridges. Say an engineer designed a bridge to span a river where you live. He/she does his/her job, the bridge gets built, and it’s the pride and joy of the area. The engineer is featured in our local newspaper as a community hero. Four months after the unveiling, the bridge collapses while people are driving over it and dozens of people die. Because this bridge worked well for four months, do you consider this bridge a success? Do you consider this engineer a success? You probably consider this bridge and this engineer to be epic failures. If this happened near you, and if you knew people affected by this negligence, you’d probably be very angry at this engineer.

Yet people walk into the offices of “diet gurus” every day, hand over their money, and say: “Will you please put me on a diet?” The charlatan smiles his/her fake smile and his/her whitened teeth glisten as he/she tells you about all the people he/she has helped lose weight. He/she even has before and after photos to really hook you. Of course, “after” in this case, refers to after four or five months, not after four or five years. If he/she showed you the collapsed bridge, you’d run away. I’m showing you the collapsed bridge. With science.

Diets should come with a Surgeon General’s warning:

  1. This diet will suck. It’s completely unnatural to starve yourself.
  2. The money you spend on this diet will be a waste. You’ll never get it back. Diet’s don’t work. (2)
  3. In the future, when you start a new diet, you’ll refer to this diet you’re about to go on as stupid.
  4. If you lose weight on this diet, you’ll gain most of it back. As a result of this diet, you might even end up weighing more than you do now in a few years. (1)
  5. This diet will slow your metabolism by about 500 kilocalories per day for the rest of your life**. (1)
  6. This diet will begin or continue your pattern of weight cycling. Weight cycling will shorten your life through cardiovascular disease and/or other ailments related to chronic stress and chronic inflammation. (3-7)
  7. Even if this diet helped you lose weight and you were able to sustain the weight loss, weight loss, by itself, doesn’t cure ailments, prevent ailments, foster wellness, or increase longevity. (8)
  8. This diet will increase your chances of developing an eating disorder. (9,10)
  9. This diet might involve the consumption of diet pills and diet powders. These might be described as natural. Pills and powders aren’t natural. Pills and powders don’t grow on trees. Apples and almonds are natural. Apples and almonds grow on trees.

If you’re angry, it’s justified. You’ve been lied to. In the culture that brought you Santa Claus; weapons of mass destruction; and no-money-down, no-income-verification, adjustable-rate mortgages; all with a straight face; are you really surprised? Nothing in pop culture has been created with your interests in mind. Certainly not any diets.

The good news is you’re out of the cave now. It’s uncomfortable, even painful at first, but there are better ways out here. I use them all the time with my clients. For starters, I teach them to eat based on inclusion rather than exclusion, on nourishment rather than restriction. The learn to eat well and they thrive. You can too. The absolute first step is to ditch the diets. Permanently. For life.

*When referring to the amount of energy in food or the amount of energy burned during exercise or activities of daily living, it’s common to label the units of energy as calories. The scientifically correct label is kilocalories. (If we’re going to hold wellness professionals who teach eating to the same standards as engineers who design bridges, some due diligence is in order.)

**The resting-metabolic-rate data from the study of The Biggest Loser participants shows suppressed resting-metabolic rates for the entire six years following the show with no trend toward improvement. This, combined with the collective body of research on dieting as well as my vast coaching experience, give me the confidence to say that dieting breaks most people’s metabolisms for life. (They can be fixed with a great deal of attention to all aspects of exercising well, eating well, and holistic self-care. Ceasing dieting is absolutely imperative.)

In the references for this article, I’ve added bonus information for you: quotes from the scientists, physicians, and researchers who conducted these studies. Don’t be duped by a charlatan. Empower yourself with science. With truth.

(1) Persistent Metabolic Adaptation 6 Years After “The Biggest Loser” Competition. Obesity, 2016, 24(8), 1,612-1,619.

“We found that despite substantial weight regain in the 6 years following participation in ‘The Biggest Loser’, RMR [resting metabolic rate] remained suppressed at the same average level as at the end of the weight loss competition. Mean RMR [resting metabolic rate] after 6 years was 500 kcal/day [kilocalories per day] lower than expected based on the measured body composition changes and the increased age of the subjects.”

(2) Ineffectiveness of Commercial Weight-Loss Programs for Achieving Modest but Meaningful Weight Loss: Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Journal of Health Psychology, 2017, 22(12), 1,614-1,627.

“This study collates existing evidence regarding weight loss among overweight but otherwise healthy adults who use commercial weight-loss programs. Systematic search of 3 databases identified 11 randomized controlled trials and 14 observational studies of commercial meal-replacement, calorie-counting, or pre-packaged meal programs which met inclusion criteria. In meta-analysis using intention-to-treat data, 57 percent of individuals who commenced a commercial weight program lost less than 5 percent of their initial body weight. One in two (49%) studies reported attrition ≥30 percent. A second meta-analysis found that 37 percent of program completers lost less than 5 percent of initial body weight. We conclude that commercial weight-loss programs frequently fail to produce modest but clinically meaningful weight loss with high rates of attrition suggesting that many consumers find dietary changes required by these programs unsustainable.”

(3) Dieting and Weight Cycling as Risk Factors for Cardiometabolic Diseases: Who Is Really at Risk? Obesity Reviews, 2015, 16(S1), 7-18.

“As the prevalence of diet-induced weight cycling is increasing due to the opposing forces of an ‘obesigenic’ environment and the media pressure for a slim figure (that even targets children), dieting and weight cycling is likely to become an increasingly serious public health issue.”

(4) Weight Science: Evaluating the Evidence for a Paradigm Shift. Nutrition Journal, 2011, 10(9), 1-13.

“Weight cycling can account for all of the excess mortality associated with obesity in both the Framingham Heart Study and the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). It may be, therefore, that the association between weight and health risk can be better attributed to weight cycling than adiposity itself.”

(5) Medical, Metabolic, and Psychological Effects of Weight Cycling. Archives of Internal Medicine, 1994, 154(12), 1,325-1,330.

“There are stronger and more consistent links between body weight variability and negative health outcomes, particularly all-cause mortality and mortality from coronary heart disease. Weight cycling may also have negative psychological and behavioral consequences; studies have reported increased risk for psychopathology, life dissatisfaction, and binge eating. The bulk of epidemiologic research shows an association of weight variability with morbidity and mortality, although the mechanisms are not clear at present.”

(6) How Dieting Makes the Lean Fatter: From a Perspective of Body Composition Autoregulation through Adipostats and Proteinstats Awaiting Discovery. Obesity Reviews, 2015, 16(S1), 25-35.

“Given the increasing prevalence of dieting in normal-weight female and male among young adults, adolescents and even children who perceive themselves as too fat (due to media, family and societal pressures), together with the high prevalence of dieting for optimizing performance among athletes in weight-sensitive sports, the notion that dieting and weight cycling may be predisposing a substantial proportion of the population to weight gain and obesity deserves greater scientific scrutiny.”

(7) Metabolic Dysfunction Following Weight Cycling in Male Mice. International Journal of Obesity, 2017, 41(3), 402-411.

“Increased internal adipose tissue is strongly linked to the development of metabolic syndrome associated conditions such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and hypertension. While further work will be required to elucidate the mechanisms underlying the neuronal control of energy homeostasis, these studies provide a causative link between weight cycling and adverse health.”

(8) Long-Term Effects of Dieting: Is Weight Loss Related to Health? Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 2013, 7(12), 861-877.

“We examine whether weight-loss diets lead to improved cholesterol, triglycerides, systolic and diastolic blood pressure, and fasting blood glucose and test whether the amount of weight lost is predictive of these health outcomes. Across all studies, there were minimal improvements in these health outcomes, and none of these correlated with weight change.”

(9) Rigid Vs. Flexible Dieting: Association with Eating Disorder Symptoms in Nonobese Women. Appetite, 2002, 38(1), 39-44.

“These findings suggest that rigid dieting strategies, but not flexible dieting strategies, are associated with eating disorder symptoms and higher BMI [body-mass index] in nonobese women.”

(10) Obesity, Disordered Eating, and Eating Disorders in a Longitudinal Study of Adolescents: How Do Dieters Fare 5 Years Later? Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 2006, 106(4), 559-568.

“Dieting and unhealthful weight-control behaviors predict outcomes related to obesity and eating disorders 5 years later. A shift away from dieting and drastic weight-control measures toward the long-term implementation of healthful eating and physical activity behaviors is needed to prevent obesity and eating disorders in adolescents.”

Remember your mantra for today: NOURISHING MOVEMENT, NOURISHING FOOD, NOURISHING LIFE.

There’s a place below to share your feelings on this article if you’d like. I’d love to hear from you.

 

Is Self-Care for Girly Girls?

When I say it to a man, nine times out of ten, I get a little bit of a funny look. I’ve been out of the closet for years, so it comes off my lips naturally and I forget that it’s “weird” for many other men to hear me say it. “I help my clients with self-care.” “What we really need to do to improve public wellness in the United States is get people interested in self-care.” When I say “self-care”, they cringe a little. As a wellness coach, I say “self-care” a lot. I say it to men. I say it to women. I say it all the time.

I don’t consider it a masculine term/activity or a feminine term/activity. To me, it’s person thing, an adult thing. To me, self-care isn’t manly/unmanly or womanly/unwomanly. It’s common sense. Like turning off the lights. Like taking out the trash. Like clearing the snow from my car. It’s something that just makes sense. To me, self-care is a self-evident practice of an intelligent person. Of a person living in their fullness*. Practicing self-care is no more and no less than being a steward of one’s life. But when I tell most men that I help people take care of themselves, I feel their discomfort.

I get it. I’ve done enough unfolding as a person to deeply understand how I’ve been influenced by the people in my life and by society at large. Self-care sounds weird to most men because the overwhelming cultural norm for men is self-destruction.

When the powers that be of this country need bodies to take bullets in exchange for oil, fertile land, or access to shipping routes, whose bodies are used? Men’s bodies. Men’s bodies have been considered disposable for so long and it’s considered so normal for a man to willingly destroy himself in exchange for resources that most people don’t even consider it a tragedy**. To ensure this, men are both sold a bill of goods and shamed from the time they leave the womb. What they’re offered for this kind of willing self-destruction is the abstraction “honor”. The shame comes in the form of messages to “Man up!” As if killing others and being killed in the name of the greed has anything to do with being a man.

This ethos trickles generously into men’s sports. Watch Alabama play Michigan in football on a Saturday afternoon on TV. The uninitiated fans, the all-about-watching-sports bros and the pink hats alike, see a crowded stadium full of face-painted, jubilant fans (most of them aren’t “naturally jubilant”, they’re wasted from tailgating for hours before the game). In the bowels of the stadium, if you dared to look, you’d see people, all men, with torn ACLs, broken ribs, and concussions. College football coaches seduce young men to come play for them with promises of the millions they’ll make in the NFL and the abstraction “glory”. Several walk away at 22 with blown knees and brain damage they’ll have for the rest of their lives along with a basket-weaving degree, if they even finish their degrees. An extremely low percentage of college football players, less than one percent, ever play a down of professional football. Those that do hardly make millions. Most make a few hundred thousand per year. Most who make it to the NFL have a career lasting less than three years. Far from “all set” financially, most who play in the NFL also get broken even more during their playing years. The median life expectancy of an NFL football player is about 55 years. You read that right. Do you still fail to believe me that men are encouraged to destroy themselves? How do you explain the fact that every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, all fall and winter, week in and week out, people cram into football stadiums, as many as 100,000 people at a time, all across this country, to cheer at football games. And don’t forget the millions watching these gladiators from the comfort of their upholstered couch with a craft beer in hand. Men dying 20 to 25 years earlier than everyone else is nothing short of celebrated. The Super Bowl is almost as big of a holiday as Christmas.

I can hear the shame coming my way. Men and women alike are calling me a sissy for speaking the truth about war and football. Shaming is the tool used by individuals, organizations, and society at large to get men to choose paths of self-destruction for the benefit of the shamer, be it their comfort, entertainment, or sheer control. Shame away. I’m immune.

Let’s talk about what it means to be a man. It’s not self-destruction. It’s not destruction of any kind for that matter. A man makes life better for his community. A man executes on his mission of life-betterment by living on purpose and getting the job done. He does the work. You can count on him. He’s sturdy.

I’m such a man. Even in athletics where many will feel compelled to shame me when reading this article. They’ll say I’m jealous I’m not playing pro football. They’ll say I’m not tough enough (that’s more shaming). So let’s talk about getting the job done and being sturdy. For starters, I’ve run my own business my entire adult life minus my first six months out of graduate school. I’ve been successful enough in business and in managing my money to be among the wealthiest 10 percent by my early 40s. That’s living on purpose. That’s getting the job done. What about sports? It’s true, I never played for the Cowboys. But through my own effort alone, I went from a short, out-of-shape kid at the end of middle school to an all-league, academic all-state two-sport high-school athlete (baseball and basketball) by the end of high school. Then I discovered triathlon, and by my mid-20s raced at a world-class level. These are accomplishments hardly any of the couch-sitting shaming bullies can claim.

I don’t write these things about myself to brag. I don’t measure myself by society’s standards of accomplishment. I’m here to thrive; I’m playing a whole ‘nother game. I disclose these things about myself to give an example of a man of action. A man of commitment. A sturdy man. Who, yes, is also a man of self-care. There, I said it again. It told you: I’m out of the self-care closet.

I wouldn’t do well in a large company working for “the man” (yes, there’s a lot of irony in that expression). They wouldn’t like it if I wanted to take a break to get some fresh air. They wouldn’t like it if I wanted to work on projects that benefitted humankind or that I enjoyed. My feelings don’t matter there. I don’t matter there. Fitting in and “paying your dues” matters. Just like in war, just like in football, when you’re worn out, they don’t skip a beat: “Next man up,” they say. “Next man up,” is society’s mantra for men. There’s always another one willing to enter the fray. Many men enter the fray of employment, and become a utility, for the abstraction “stability”, which they’ll never find there because it can only be found within.

Many people consider men’s bodies, men, to be disposable. For their country, their team, their company. Like plastic bags in a landfill, endless rows of men’s bodies, dead long before they needed to be, are arranged in places like Arlington National Cemetery. The busts of football ”heroes” don the halls of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. In both places, millions of boys are conditioned to believe that “honor” and “glory” are a fair trade for self-destruction. Companies don’t generally extend such niceties as cemeteries and museums. They simply discard you when their shareholders demand a bigger dividend. See ya.

Photo 162--Arlington National Cemetery

Men are disposable to many women too who use the abstraction “love” to use men as workhorses, vending machines, and pensions through marriage: “If you love me, you’ll buy me a diamond ring worth three month’s income.” And when she’s ready for a new man (80 percent of divorces are initiated by women), she’ll demand alimony which the court system will hand over to her without hesitation (despite earning and having nearly as much money as men, 97 percent of alimony recipients are women). It’s like a guaranteed “love”*** annuity. You get “love”*** for as long as you want it, then you get to cash out. It’s a good deal. A man is a great investment. This, of course, is a burden on many men. And it’s another way men are acculturated as a resource. A resource that must be willing to destroy himself for his destroyers so they can get what they want from him.

Now you understand why a man has trouble eating a salad, getting the sleep he needs, or doing work he enjoys. If I man does something for himself instead of for his country, team, company, or wife, he’s in danger. If you’re on a football team and your knee starts to hurt and you tell the coach, seek treatment, or ask to sit out a practice to let it heal properly, do you know what happens? It means you’re one step closer to getting cut. You’re one more fuck-up from your career being over in an instant. Injured players are of no use to Bill Belichick and his record as a winning coach. So you play with injuries and get hurt worse, sometimes irreparably. If you’re a married attorney doing great work and on your way to making partner and you have a plan to make that happen in three years to allow yourself enough energy and time to enjoy your early 30s, forget about it if your wife wants a colonial house and two kids before she’s 32. So you burn the candle at both ends and live off coffee and takeout. Otherwise, she’ll trade up, while subsidizing her life with alimony you pay her while she dates. Tending to his own well-being has serious consequences for a man.

Is it any wonder that life expectancy for men is five years shorter than it is for women? Current life expectancy is 81.2 years for women and 76.4 years for men. And over 80 percent of suicides are committed by men. Most people who read this won’t bat an eyelash over either of these statistics. Men die earlier. So what? Men kill themselves at staggering rates. So what? “Suck it up!” they shame. I don’t expect any expressions of sadness, not even crocodile tears, over this. It’s the way most people think about men’s disposability.

My message to men who want to live great lives: Wake up. Embrace your humanity. Free yourself from the conditioning you’ve received. You’re here to live and to live well. Be who you are. A great builder. A great engineer. A great healer. Whatever it is, do your thing. Do it well. Be a man of substance and make life better for others. And take great care of yourself. It only makes you better at what you do and who you are. It won’t be easy. “Honor”, “glory”, “stability” and “love”*** are cunning seductresses used by cunning manipulators. Say no. Be you. Be free. You can do it. I believe in you.

“The alternative to self-love, in other words, is self-destruction. Because if you won’t take the risk of loving yourself properly, you will be compelled instead to destroy yourself.
—Alan Watts

My message to men who want to shame me now more than ever: Remember, I’m immune. Going for a run, eating vegetables, and taking downtime doesn’t make me a wussy. Taking care of myself doesn’t make me a “girl”. Taking care of myself doesn’t make me “gay”. These are ridiculous notions through and through. What intelligent, evolved, mature man doesn’t choose to do that which allows him to be his best? Let’s put it another way. How manly is obesity? Type-2 diabetes? Anxiety? These disorders are hugely common among men and are hugely avoidable with my dirty little term “self-care”. I know, I know, having some KFC will “put hair on my chest”. I don’t know much about physiology, except a ton, and I’m certain eating junk food doesn’t result in torso hair growth. I’m equally certain that eating junk food limits blood flow to both a man’s brain and penis. Is being a capable man and a great lover manly to you? Because decreased blood flow to your brain and penis equals two other common results of male self-destruction: dementia and erectile dysfunction. Really, you should come work with me. We’ll make a deal. You don’t call me a sissy or a wussy and I’ll look you in the eyes, treat you like a man with the respect you deserve, and call you by your name. We’ll get to work on you taking good care of yourself. You’ll get your mojo back and we’ll both be glad about that.

My message to society: Stop shaming men to destroy themselves. Stop treating men as an asset. Respect men fully as people. Full stop.

When men stop shaming themselves and when society stops shaming men, then we’ll make some hay. Behavior change on the individual and societal level isn’t for the meek. You’ve got to go deep. You’ve got to get to the roots. I’ve shown you one important root in many men’s lives that you probably didn’t think you were going to see today. Ignorance is never bliss and truth is always freedom.

Author’s Note: Men shouldn’t embrace self-care to be more like women. The absolute last thing I’m advocating for is androgyny. I firmly stand for masculinity and femininity and man-ness and woman-ness. Authentic masculinity and femininity need to be celebrated. Again, self-care is a gender-neutral term/activity. Men and women are equal in value, but very different in nature. So different, in fact, that they’re like the opposite poles of a magnet. It’s this very polarity that makes relationships between men and women interesting at all. Everything we can do as a society to create a culture of equality amongst all people is hugely beneficial for all of us. It’s obvious that that’s the way to operate as a society. But we mustn’t mistake equality for sameness, for androgyny. To be equal, a man not need be like a woman. To be equal, a woman need not be like a man. To be equal, men and women need not be the same. Look around. That’s been the experiment of the last 50 years or so. What we have are millions of men trying to be like women and millions of women trying to be like men. The result is men who are unrecognizable as men and function as second-rate women and women who are unrecognizable as women and function as second-rate men. Equality-sameness is an absolute social disaster. Equality-polarity is one of the most brilliant experiences a person can have on Earth. I highly recommend it.

Author’s Note: Some people, upset by my truth-telling about war, will try to shame me by telling me I have the freedom to write this article because of soldiers who fought, and died, for my freedom. I disagree. Countries fighting countries in contrived schemes of “good guys” and “bad guys”, which are always straightforward wars over resources, is childish. Two very intelligent, very wise men (see the quotes below) who created more than most hawk bullies could ever dream of creating agree with me. Also, 99 percent of the people who will attempt to shame me on this can be put in their place in 15 seconds. All I have to do is ask them if they’re raising their sons and daughters or grandchildren to serve in the military. I’ll spare you the suspense: They’re not.

“Nationalism is an infantile disease. It is the measles of mankind.”
—Albert Einstein

“Every nation ridicules other nations, and all are right.”
—Arthur Schopenhauer

Author’s Note: Some people, upset by my truth-telling about marriage, will say I’m bitter. That attack couldn’t be further from the truth. I’ve never been divorced. I’m a lively, positive person. Anyone who knows me will tell you that. I speak these truths about marriage (it gets even better below) because they’re an important part of breaking down a culture of self-destruction for men (that’s what this article is about) and creating a culture of self-care for men.

Author’s Note: Some people, upset by my standing up for the wellness of men, will say I’m putting down women. They might also say that women have been and are treated worse by society. Of course, all people should be treated well. Of course, all lives are of equal inherent value. My standing up for men isn’t putting down women. Men and women aren’t in competition. Men thriving doesn’t mean women can’t thrive and vice versa. That’s absurd.

*Living in your fullness is a concept I first became aware of when reading books by and about psychologist Carl Jung. If you’d like to explore what it means to live in your fullness, I highly recommend exploring what he called the archetypes of the mature masculine and mature feminine.

**When you listen to news reports, listen to how reporters talk about men and women who die. You’ll hear reports like these. “A resident of the West End died last night in a home fire.” “A woman, who lived with her husband and children, died tragically in a home fire last night.” “Two firefighters perished yesterday while battling a blaze in York.” “Two female firefighters, recent graduates of the Maine Fire Service Institute died yesterday while battling a blaze in York.” You’ll hear men described as residents, firefighters, soldiers, etc. and rarely identified as men specifically. Dehumanized. It’s easier to consider them disposable that way.

***Love, in both its passive form as in really enjoying someone or something and its active form as in taking great care of someone or something is absolutely spectacular! Love and marriage are two different things. Marriage is about property rights and has been since its inception as both a religious and government institution. When people get divorced, they don’t divide up the love, they divide up the assets. The passage below from the Old Testament of the Bible makes is perfectly clear that marriage originated as an institution of property rights. Marriage is, in fact, institutionalized prostitution. With the advent of agriculture around 8,000 B.C.E., the first form of property, grain, emerged. With property came ownership. With ownership came trade. With trade came prostitution. There’s a reason it’s called “the world’s oldest profession”. Seeking to both get their cut and control the masses, religions and governments quickly got into the prostitution industry. That’s what marriage is: prostitution regulated by religions and governments. There are other sources of information besides Disney movies.

“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”
Bible, Exodus 20:17

Remember your mantra for today: NOURISHING MOVEMENT, NOURISHING FOOD, NOURISHING LIFE.

There’s a place below to share your feelings on this article if you’d like. I’d love to hear from you.