Where we get fit and spin (wool)

The Truth Doesn’t Change

It’s harder and harder to blog lately, because I feel like I’m always saying the same things. The trouble is, I am. Why? Because the truth doesn’t change, despite what people say. If you are reading this and getting a visceral reaction of “What do you mean it doesn’t change? One week fat is bad, the next it’s good, etc.” Let me elaborate before you start ranting. Oh, you wouldn’t rant? Sorry, must just be me.

First, take everything you hear in the news with a grain of salt. If researchers do a study and find that omega-3’s have benefits that omega-6’s don’t, the media says “Omega-3’s good, omega-6’s bad”. Then the scientists do a study to see what the role of omega-6 is, and the media screams, “Omega-6 good for you.” When they do enough studies to see what ratio would be good, the media goes back to “Get rid of the omega-6 in your diet”. Research isn’t black and white, it’s nuanced. It leads you in a direction, it doesn’t usually hand complete answers on a silver platter. BTW, you do need both, but the American diet is lopsided.

However, certain facts crop up over and over. Olive oil good for you? Check. Vegetables the royal family of nutrition? Check. Processed food bad? Check. Red meat? Maybe not as horrible for you as we thought, but still not good.

I read three articles this morning. None of which had anything in them I didn’t already know. “5 Drinks You Had No Idea Were As Bad As (or Worse Than) Soda”. How many of you have been waiting for the Pumpkin Latte at your favorite coffee shop? I’ve been reading and saying “don’t drink your calories” for at least a decade.

9 Foods that Fight inflammation“. Ok, there was one surprise there, maple syrup. However, that still follows what I say about less processed foods. To get white sugar from cane juice, you have to remove anything remotely good. I use molasses as much as possible, as it adds flavor and still has minerals. Everything else on the list are pretty much standards that have been touted for years. inflammation is greatly impacted by your diet, and being overweight produces chronic inflammation. Get lean, eat your veggies, fish and whole grain, avoid sugar and white flour. Hmmmm, sound familiar?

“Foods that are healthier than Kale”. When you see this list, it’s all green leafy vegetables. Maybe that’s a hint? “Eat your vegetables” is what I repeat like a robot.

Why do I do this? Because the while the text of the message is out there, people aren’t incorporating it into their lives. I realize most people aren’t going to add spinach to their oatmeal, (yes, I do) but they can make an omelet with peppers and onions. No time? Sauté up a batch when you do have time and freeze or refrigerate in individual servings. Eggs take 30 seconds in the microwave. Still can’t do it? Have fruit instead. Just get off the white flour breakfast. And don’t tell me about all the protein, breakfast or granola bars. I have yet to find one with less than 12 g of sugar, and most have double that. Sugar is not good. Blend a smoothie instead. By now, you all know what to do. None of this should come as a surprise. When are you going to live it out? Want to go on a radical diet? Ok, ban deserts, pizza, hot dogs, and white flour. Don’t eat anything with added sugar ( I can’t do that, I love chocolate). Eat either fruit or vegetables with every meal. Make the major portion of each meal the vegetable. Radical enough? See how you feel in a month.

Don’t want to go on a radical diet? Fine, eat 1/2 a slice of pizza with sautéed vegetables on it and a large salad. Hate salad? Make a big batch of soup with tons of veggies and have a bowl of that first. Have to have that hot dog? try a whole wheat bun, smother it in onions. I love the sautéed onions and peppers, have that on it. Still avoid the white flour like the plague. Following that keeps you out of the bakery department, the cookie and cracker aisle, the soda and sweetened drinks, etc. Make the easy fixes first, then dig down and get more serious. Don’t forget to eat your beans.

Hi everybody! Did you think I fell off  the face of the earth? I know, I did too. Seriously, I moved. I know there are all you 20 somethings out there, moving all the time and still keeping up on your blogs, your kids, and making it all look easy, but I’m not 20 anymore. In fact, this was my first move in almost 20 years! I’ll fill you in on some details at the end- that’s a hint, if you don’t care, don’t finish the article. But in the meantime, I have an article to comment on.

Most of what I write about is prompted by articles on the web, both good and bad. This is a good one, it is a first person testimonial by Jason Nixon. “Battling the Insanity of Fad Diets.” He writes about his weight gain, the silly things he tried to do to lose weight. He tried several popular ways to lose weight. He tried a “nutrition counselor” who did have him keep a log, and gave him supplements. I’m not against either of those things, I think a log is the best way to get honest about what you are eating, and supplements can help, but aren’t necessary. Whatever he did with her was not self sustaining, and apparently did not involve exercise. I put “nutrition counselor” in quotes, as the only true nutrition counselors are registered dietitians, which is a 4 year degree or above. I have run into so many self-styled nutrition experts, that don’t have a degree in anything. I have studied nutrition my entire adult life, but I don’t have a degree in it, and don’t pretend to. It is hard work making meal plans. You have to do a lot of math and a lot of planning. Most advice you get is either based on micronutrients or calories. Those will work, and there are a lot of ways to cut corners, but that isn’t true nutrition counseling from a registered dietician.

The next thing he tried was the HCG diet. I have written about that before, see here. I won’t go into the whole rant, but we eat food for a reason. It is what our bodies are made of. The molecules get broken down by enzymes, shipped all over our body and used as fuel or as building material. Starvation is something people have worked very hard to avoid. All you paleo people out there, there’s a reason we all went to agriculture. Starvation is bad. HCG makes it possible for you to starve yourself. Which brings me to my next rant, not eating will always make you lose weight. I don’t want to hear lower set points, starvation mode, etc. There were no fat concentration camp victims. If I lock you up and don’t feed you, you will lose weight. HOWEVER, this is NOT the correct way to lose weight in a world where you aren’t locked up and have choices. Not to mention what I just said about eating for a reason. It isn’t all about weight loss, it’s about health.

*Whew*. Sorry about that. My mother was anorexic, I get passionate about HEALTHY weight loss. Back to topic. So after yo-yoing around, Jason went to the gym and lost the weight the right way. Before you start whining “but I don’t like to exercise, can’t I just eat less?” Yes, you can. See the last paragraph. There are plenty of skinny desk jockeys. However, if you need to lose weight, you’ve already proven that what you are doing is not working. I always say that it almost impossible to be fat if all you eat is vegetables. Most of us are not going to just eat vegetables. Diet is more important than exercise because you can always out eat your work out. But together, they work magic. The diet takes care of giving you what you need to build that beautiful body, and the exercise builds it.

Beyond the scale, as Jason notes, there is the overall health benefits. Even if you never get your diet to the point where you are a size 8, you can be sooo much healthier. Right now, can you run to the end of your road? Can you lift 45 lbs? Can you walk two miles easily? Are stairs daunting? Those things aren’t simply a function of age. We were visiting the first black schoolhouse in South Carolina, and the woman showing it to us was 73. She walked to a nearby graveyard in hardly more time than it took us to drive it. So don’t blame your age.

my home gym, showing a bowflex, swiss ball and weights

My happy little gym.

All right, here’s my personal update. I went from NY to SC. I now have hills to run, even steeper than before, and warmth and sunshine beyond a few short months. I’m only doing a little private training for the moment, I’d like to associate with a gym shortly, but I had the luxury of not working while I moved, so I took it. We got a house big enough for me to have a really nice home gym, upstairs this time, instead of the basement. I have a big enough yard to garden like mad, which I’m doing. I even planted my greens, although they aren’t doing well. I got a bunch from the neighbor, so I’m enjoying my green oatmeal. I’m really enjoying the weather, even though I miss my friends like crazy. I had a lot of hiking buddies up north, and haven’t made any as of yet. I did join some meet up groups. If you don’t know about meetup.com, it’s a great way to meet people who have like interests.

tomatoes stuffed with salsa, corn on the cob and other vegetable dishes.

Gasp! Healthy and tasty? who’da thunk it?

Do you track your food? Do you use logging software or a paper journal to keep track of what you eat? Or do you eat a preplanned food regime? If not, you are missing out on the one skill that make all the difference in your nutrition.

Information is power. When you see your food laid out before you, you can see where to make changes, and what changes to make. This was hit home to me this weekend. We went to several social events, disrupting my normal eating habits. I logged the foods I ate at the parties as best I could, and the results spoke for themselves. My calorie count was way over, and my nutrition count was low. Some of that is due to poor record keeping, a journal is only as good as the solidity of the information entered. I’m not going to “make a recipe” for every mixed dish I eat out. I look up “coleslaw” and I’m at the mercy of the person who created that food in the data base. If all they entered were the calories, then that’s all I get, so it looks like I got no vitamins or minerals. I don’t panic when I see really bad numbers.

I also don’t panic when the calorie count is through the roof. My weight stays fairly constant, and I have noticed that while one week I may be 900 calories over, another I may be 500 under, and over the long haul it balances out. If you are trying to lose weight, you do have to be more concerned, but freaking out doesn’t change the past, you just get back on that horse and keep riding.

This weekend also pointed out how different healthy  eating is  than the “standard American diet”. Getting away from that doesn’t happen overnight. It’s  one baby step after another. Skip sugar if possible. Avoid hot dogs. If white bread is the only thing available, skip it or eat half. Try new recipes. Learn how to cook brown rice. Try quinoa. Try new bean recipes. Forgo the Raman noodles. Find ways to put veggies in every meal. Cut the meat consumption in half. Cook fish. Etc. etc..

So what baby step can you make this week? If you are going to a picnic, have the chicken first, hamburger second, and avoid the hot dog or brat completely. (No, I don’t mean have both hamburger and chicken!) If you have the chicken, take either a breast or a leg, no one needs both! Skip the bread, it’s always white bread at these things, look for the green salad and fill your plate. Have seconds on the watermelon. Take an extremely small portion of the mayonnaise slathered salad and put it on top of your green salad. Drain as much sauce off of the baked beans as possible. Leave room on your plate so your food doesn’t touch, and eat very slowly. Drink a glass or two of water with your meal. Don’t stuff yourself, and don’t look at the desert area. What you can’t see can’t tempt you.

I would LOVE to hear either your success stories or your stories of change, trial and tribulation. Please comment and let me know how you are doing. Have you started logging? What app do you use, and how do you like it? I use myfitnesspal, but I’m trying to use fooducate and compare the two. It is a pain, logging isn’t always easy or convenient, and doing it twice for every meal is eye rollingly boring, but if one ends up being more accurate or easier, I’ll switch.

Man doing a t-pushup

Men’s health does offer some killer exercises!

You do know I’m kidding, right? I just saw ANOTHER article, this time for “The Best Arm Exercise”. You can insert any body part, and there’s one a week. “6 Best Ab Moves”, “Rock your Rear with this Tushie Exercise”. I have nothing against people exercising. You know that. My problem is there is no one best or 6 best exercises. Why? We aren’t all the same.

The article that got my goat this morning was featuring a close arm push up with your hands making a diamond on the floor. That is a great exercise. I’ve done them, they are really tough. HOWEVER, none of my clients or class members could do one. Most of the people I work with are women. Most women cannot do push ups at all. That’s the first thing I work on if the person is fit enough and has no shoulder or back issues, is getting them to the point where they can do push ups. Most of the “best” exercises come from studying muscle activation. The ones that activate muscles the most are usually the hardest, not achievable by beginners.

But that brings me to point 2. If you have any problems, you need to address those first, then go on to work on general strength exercises. I have clients with rotator cuff problems, back problems, etc. If you can’t do  plank without pain, you can’t do a push up. A large part of what I do as a trainer is figure out exercises people can do without pain and without aggravating preexisting conditions, as well as improving those conditions.

My last point is exercises serve different purposes. I would never just do push ups for my arms. I do bicep curls, flys, over head presses, ball walk outs, etc., etc. Why? Your arms are attached to your shoulder. Together, they are capable of a huge range of motions. Push ups only cover a small amount of that motion. And what about pulling motions? There are some who suggest we should do twice as much pulling as pushing, since we don’t do that much pulling in our modern lives.

So try those “one best”, if you are strong and healthy, but don’t limit yourself to one exercise for any body part. If you aren’t able to do whatever it is, do what you can do. Join a gym, go to classes, take a walk. It’s all good.

So many of you might already have read this article. I heard about it from a Nutrition Diva Podcast. It’s an article outlining how the food industry really is out to get us. I don’t think there is anything new in this, but seeing it in black and white, with quotes from the people involved, really can give you pause.

In my last blog post I talked about how people don’t really factor the odds of their behavior into their choices. Immediate gratification wins out for most people. This article from the Times spells out why that is.

The public and the food companies have known for decades now — or at the very least since this meeting — that sugary, salty, fatty foods are not good for us in the quantities that we consume them. So why are the diabetes and obesity and hypertension numbers still spiraling out of control? It’s not just a matter of poor willpower on the part of the consumer and a give-the-people-what-they-want attitude on the part of the food manufacturers. What I found, over four years of research and reporting, was a conscious effort — taking place in labs and marketing meetings and grocery-store aisles — to get people hooked on foods that are convenient and inexpensive.

Nothing new, right? How many times have you said “I must have potato chips”,  “I can’t live without chocolate” or found yourself with things in your cart you didn’t want or need?

We KNOW the food industry spends millions of dollars “optimizing food”, finding the perfect combination of salt, fat and sugar, mouthfeel and odor, to make the food irresistable. irresistable. How’s that work with your waistline? Here’s another snippit from that article:

As we talked, he made clear that while he has worked on numerous projects aimed at creating more healthful foods and insists the industry could be doing far more to curb obesity, he had no qualms about his own pioneering work on discovering what industry insiders now regularly refer to as “the bliss point” or any of the other systems that helped food companies create the greatest amount of crave. (italics are mine)

Wanna feel sorry for them?

The prevailing attitude among the company’s food managers — through the 1990s, at least, before obesity became a more pressing concern — was one of supply and demand. “People could point to these things and say, ‘They’ve got too much sugar, they’ve got too much salt,’ ” Bible said. “Well, that’s what the consumer wants, and we’re not putting a gun to their head to eat it. That’s what they want. If we give them less, they’ll buy less, and the competitor will get our market. So you’re sort of trapped.”

Poor babies are trapped!

Release them! Don’t buy those products. Don’t try them. Don’t succumb. What’s the easiest way to quit smoking? Don’t start. I will tell you, in the beginning, you will go through withdrawal. The language of addiction in this article is not coincidental! You started out with a biology ready to succumb to sugar, fat and salt, as those used to be hard to get, and were like bonus rounds back when starvation was a real possibility. Now, when that basic drive has been shaped and honed by scientists, working on them to trigger them over and over, you will feel a loss when you stop stoking that fire. However, in 6 months to a year, you will find that some of your previous favorites taste too sweet. You’ll be able to taste the chemicals in many of them. Non dairy french vanilla creamer- yuch- once you are off it long enough to distinguish real from fake.

You know the answer; if it comes in a box, a bag, a carton, if it has more than five ingredients, and if sugar or salt are in the first two, don’t buy it. Start cooking for yourself, and if you tell me you don’t have time, I’ll tell you you are wrong. I can get a meal on the table in the time it takes you to go through the drive through at McDonalds. It does take planning ahead and preparation. I have about 6 containers of soup in my freezer for “quickies”.

Before you go freaking out about GMO or vegan, gluten free, dairy free or whatever, get chemical free and junk food free. See how you feel after that. Even peanut butter has been engineered, get all natural first, and see if your peanut butter intake drops. (That was for all my friends who complain about finding themselves pigging out on that in an attempt to avoid other sweet, salty, fatty snacks) Get unsalted peanuts- you won’t find those nearly as irresistible.

Not everyone who smokes will die of lung cancer.
Not everyone who eats Fruit Loops and Yoo Hoo for breakfast will get diabetes.
Not everyone who believes in God will have an easy life.
Not everyone who prays will get the answer they hope for.
Not everyone who exercises will have a long life.
Everyone who smokes has less health, smells bad and is wasting money.
Everyone who eats  bad diet has less energy and health.
Everyone who believes in God has an access to a source of help and that would not otherwise be available, not to mention an Eternal reward.
Everyone who exercises will be better off than if they didn’t.

People have an interesting approach to odds. Since the bad things associated with things we want to do don’t happen to everyone, or happen later in life, people discount the odds. Later, if the bad things  happen, people appear to have a fatalistic attitude of why or how it happened. conversely, not everyone who does the right things gets a reward. We will still do the bad things assuming the bad outcome won’t happen, and we won’t try the good things to see if the good results will happen. Or, we try the good things, get the results, and abandon them anyway.  Operant conditioning training by using rewards and punishment, isn’t real life. Certainly not in the immediate sense. Humans operate under forces far more complex than chickens or dogs.

As a personal trainer, I try to get people to see past the immediate gratification of the donut, to the long term satisfaction of looking and feeling better. What  I hear is “I don’t eat them that often” “Once in awhile won’t hurt you”, or “You still have to live.” Ok, then don’t complain about your weight, your aching knees and back, or how terrible you feel. If it really was “once in a while”, it would be ok.  Except once in a while means once a week. With a muffin the next day. A hamburger with fries the next. Pizza the next. Or, my personal favorite, starve yourself all day, then “reward” yourself with the donut.

Instead of telling yourself what you’re “not going to do”, start telling yourself what you are going to do. Decide today what kind of healthy breakfast you are going to have, and prepare it ahead of time, so you aren’t rushed. Pack a healthy lunch, with snacks, so you aren’t the least bit hungry at 3 pm. Did you know that 1/2 cup plain yogurt, a banana, a cup of grapes and 4 strawberries has only 260 calories. Put that up against the candy bar and see which one takes you further!

The complaints I hear about how hard it is to do the “right things” have some validity. Our society has made it so easy to do the wrong thing, and we are reaping that harvest. So many people talk about not wanting to follow the crowd, making good choices would be the perfect way to be a rebel and follow your own way, and end up healthier and happier to boot.


I was contemplating the conundrum about vitamins, and as soon as I logged on, this article, telling me not to take vitamins, popped up. If you don’t feel like reading it, it says that there is no correlation between vitamin use and increased health, in fact there is some evidence to the contrary. Of course, I’m suspicious if they don’t include links to the research they are citing. The minute I did a search on research on vitamin benefits I got this article from Harvard School of Public Health, stating it is a good idea to take a multi vitamin. Another article from CNN, shows very inconclusive results as to whether vitamins prevent breast cancer or heart disease. Even Vitamin D, the current darling is starting to lose its shine, see here.

From everything I’ve read, I think there are some things we can say.

  1. You are always better off getting your vitamins from food
  2. More is not always better.
  3. Pills cannot compensate for poor choices
  4. Diseases are complex, and any kind of pill is only part of the answer.
  5. We don’t understand the whole picture of how food affects our body, so pulling one nutrient out and focusing on it may be counter productive.

Vitamins and minerals have been on my mind lately. As I’ve my mentioned before, I use myfitnesspal. I don’t have trouble with my weight, but I do it to help my clients, and to have an objective measure of “healthy” eating. I eat most of my diet with the objective of it being healthy choices. I find it interesting what the results are. First, A and C are easy to get. You almost have to try to be deficient in those two.

Interestingly, those are the two most often listed on labels. Myfitnesspal doesn’t give you the option of tracking the b family, d or others. You can however track sodium, potassium, iron and calcium. I find that I don’t get enough minerals, even though I eat a largely whole food diet. (No one’s perfect-I do eat desert). There is the possibility that Myfitnesspal is inaccurate. Much of what is in the database is user supplied, making its accuracy suspect. However, the other day I had commercial cereal, and for the first time, my iron intake was over 100 percent.

So, if taking a multivitamin is not beneficial, why do we fortify foods? We do have proof that fortifying foods reduced the incidence of pellagra and rickets. Is is possible to get all your nutrients from food? Is the USDA’s RDA inaccurate? Is the only way to get it all from food is to go from the other direction, and pick foods based on their nutrients, then figure out how to make meals of them?

I don’t have all the answers, and I don’t think science does yet, either. It is beneficial to pay attention, learn, and do your best. Another thing to remember is that “vitamins” and “supplements” are pretty broad categories. there is a world of difference between a daily multivitamin and some “proprietaries blend” of goodness knows what. There are people out there hawking all kinds of “supplements” There is no evidence that mega doses of anything is good for you. The funny thing is, many of the people who are taking tons of crazy  supplements are the same people who are eating right. When you do start to study nutrition, you see how important it is to eat healthy food as much as possible. You don’t have a lot of calories to waste on junk, especially if you are a small person, who doesn’t take a lot of calories to maintain.


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