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 War On Obesity

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War On Obesity

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First, it was the mantra “fat makes you fat.” Now it is the mantra that “carbs make you fat.” Perhaps the next hot topic will be “protein makes you fat”??? The problem with these reductionist viewpoints about food is that we ignore the fundamental issues in our Westernized food system. Our bodies need all major macronutrients at varying levels. Inherently, fats, carbohydrates, and protein are not bad for our bodies and each macronutrient plays important roles for normal body functioning. Additionally, there are many “right ways” to eat, perhaps some are also inherently better than others when it comes to disease risks and outcomes. However, getting hung-up in our “dietary-tribes”, as Andy Bellatti, MS, RD suggests, largely ignores the common thread to many healthy dietary patters---healthy diets are relatively low in processed foods, trans fats, added sugars, and artificial ingredients. Ultimately, it is the overall quality and dietary patterns that either promote or prevent diseases. Reductionism about food can also undermine the importance of creating sustainable food systems that promote not only good health for our nation, but also promote good health for our global population and the Earth. I recently published a blog post in response to the “war on fat” that was featured in TIME magazine. I was troubled by the journalist’s misrepresented, and possibly skewed viewpoint on what has fueled the fire for America’s obesity and chronic disease crisis. It appeared to me that the journalist’s main conclusion is that carbohydrates, regardless of where they come from, make people fat and cause heart disease. While the journalist does makes some valid points, such that fat is important in our diets and that Americans are eating too much refined carbohydrates, he did miss key points and many other possible causes for the rise of chronic diseases and obesity in America. When talking about the rise of chronic disease, we cannot ignore the role trans fat has had in the food supply, the rise of fast food establishments, health disparities, factory farmed animal products, and increased consumption of food eaten away from the home. We cannot ignore the fact that many Americans are not even meeting the recommendations for whole fruits and vegetables. My response to TIME can be found here: “10 key points on the “war against obesity”

The approach to solving America’s health crisis suggested by the journalist appears biased towards a fairly low carb, high fat, and high protein diet. While low carbohydrate diets can help people lose weight, there is also evidence that a whole, foods plant-based diet can do the same. So rather than continuing to foster American’s obsession with reductionism about nutrients, I believe TIME’s main message should have been more like this: “Eat more plants! Eat less highly processed and refined foods! Learn to cook from scratch!” I think most health providers would agree that Americans need to eat less fast-food, sugary beverages, fried food, chips, cookies, candies….and so on, and learn how to prepare and enjoy eating more fruits and vegetables in their natural state.

As health professionals and consumers, we also need to start talking more about how we can create a healthy population, while also creating a healthy planet. For example, factory farmers, which have been created to increase production of animal products for a growing population, are largely contributing to many of our environmental and climate change issues around the world. Suggesting a high consumption of animal products may not be a sustainable solution for solving our global health crisis (see: UNEP 2012 on Meat and greenhouse gas emissions, Johns Hopkins on antibiotic resistance).

When making recommendations on how to solve our American health crisis, we must also consider the implications this has on our food system. What ramifications do these recommendations have on our environment? Are these recommendations sustainable and cost-effective solutions that ALL Americans (including lower income populations) and ALL nations can participate in?

Many institutions, non- profit, and/or advocate organizations would agree that shifting our plates to include whole, plant-based foods is a solution for both mitigating the effects of climate change and improving human health (see: Johns Hopkins Meatless Monday, Why Hunger on climate change, Harvard Sustainability on plant-based, World Watch on “Is meat Sustainable?”, Food Tank on meat’s water footprint, Johns Hopkins on health and environment, University of Minnesota on feeding 4 billion more. Research Articles: Masset et al. 2014, Scarborough et al 2014 )

Tips for prevent chronic disease and protect the Earth:

Eat whole plant-based foods, including carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. Eat combinations of the macronutrients at each meal/ snack (e.g. peanut butter (fat/ protein) with an apple (carbohydrate)). Learn to listen to your body for hunger, fullness, and thirst cues. Strive to eat seven total servings of fruits and vegetables for optimal health benefits. If you eat animal products, purchase organic and consume less of them (see: Myths of Protein). Try a few meatless meals per week, or maybe become a weekday vegetarian. Eat less highly processed foods and fast food, and learn to cook/ prepare foods from their natural state (e.g. making baked sweet potato fries rather than McDonald’s french fires; eating homemade kale chips rather than Doritos). If feasible, choose to eat all or majority organic foods. When possible, shop at local farmers markets to support small farmers in your communities. And don't forget Michael Pollen's famous quote, Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

In good health,

Kristina

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Cover photo credit: Tawest64

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7 Lessons We Can Learn From The Biggest Loser

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7 Lessons We Can Learn From The Biggest Loser

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With the latest season of The Biggest Loser having ended and the controversy surrounding it, what can we learn from this show?

 1) Reality TV is not real life. I think most of us know this, but it’s always good to say it again. Reality TV is not reality at all. And in terms of The Biggest Loser, losing weight on national TV is about ratings, Big Food product placement, suspense and drama. Many of the contestants over the years leave the show not knowing how to eat, how to juggle daily life and sadly, struggle to keep the weight off. Losing weight has become a show and a game with which to play the numbers. This is not health.

2) The number on the scale doesn’t reflect true health. I’ve said this many times before but the number on the scale does not equal health. The scale doesn’t count good or bad blood work, fat or muscle ratio, take into account height and gender and also hormones/emotional health. If you really want to weigh yourself, find a dunk tank or a BodPod. This will measure the body fat and muscle ratio. And be sure to follow up with blood work. You can starve yourself and fit into your skinny jeans but have high blood pressure, high cholesterol and an eating disorder. Health is in blood numbers versus numbers on a scale. Another benchmark of weight is how your clothes fit. They are a good indicator if you are gaining or losing weight. Jeans a little tighter? Time to figure out what’s going on and do something about it today and not waiting for tomorrow.

3) People need to learn how to eat. Another big problem with The Biggest Loser is that they do not educate the contestants nor the viewers how to eat. The trainers have to plug the shows sponsors (i.e. product placement). (Do they cringe just as much as I do?) For example, the Nature Valley Bar they promote is made with:

- GMO soy protein isolate (GMO soy has been known to disrupt hormones among the many health issues)

- 2 GMO vegetable oils (harmful pesticides are sprayed on rapeseed crops-turned into canola oil-which is an industrial oil; a lab-made unhealthy oil causing inflammation, heart disease)

- GMO whey (antibiotics, hormones, rBGH & rBST which causes a host of serious health problems like increasing risk of breast, prostate, colon, lung, and other cancers)

- GMO corn syrup (the unhealthy kind of sugar which leads to many diseases including obesity)

- Fructose (bypasses the liver and turns into triglycerides)

- GMO rice maltodextrin (a filler which causes bacteria to collect in the gut and leads to weight gain and other unpleasant issues)

So instead of teaching contestants and viewers how to read and decipher ingredients on a label, they simply say “eat this”. Lesson: real food is not points or a 100 calorie bag of potato chips (Subway) or GMO dairy yogurt cup (Yoplait which is owned by General Mills) or GMO Nature Valley Bar (also owned by General Mills). Contrary to what some want you to believe, all calories are not created equal. 200 calories from an organic apple and a tablespoon of organic almond butter contains essential vitamins and nutrients that your body needs. But reduced calorie/fat free/sugar free/Big Food products are made with artificial ingredients, chemicals (BHT, food dyes-made from petroleum and coal tar-to name two) that are simply not a part of healthy living and eating. The ingredients in these products cause a host of health problems not limited to cancer, stroke, tumors, heart attacks, weight gain, diabetes.

(Note: the Food Pyramid and My Food Plate is a very poor example of how people should eat. But that’s a topic for another day.)

I wish there was a show that taught people how to eat and cook with real food. (Anyone want to help me start one?) Real food is what our bodies need to fight disease and live well!

4) Wellness and healthy living is a life long journey, not an isolated 6 month-starve yourself-workout-8 hours-a-day process. I applaud all the contestants for wanting to get healthy and stepping on the scale half naked. However, being whisked away from their previous toxic life of Big Macs, 3 large pepperoni pizzas and 5 liters of soft drinks a day to water and working out 8+ hours a day- they have no choice but to lose weight! The show is about drama so they have to produce it this way. But viewers need to remember that healthy living is not being sheltered on a ranch but instead living healthy day in, day out. It’s stopping cold turkey from soft drinks, fast “food”, Big Food products. It’s about trading in those unhealthy excuses for healthy habits. Shopping at local co-ops, farmer’s markets, local natural health food stores. It’s walking around the block today and tomorrow walking around two blocks. Then by the end of the month walk 10k steps per day for the rest of your life. Your health journey begins right now! Healthy living is a 24/7, 365 deal that never expires. Sign up for it today!

5) People don’t need to get on a show to start living healthy. Many people view The Biggest Loser as their one shot in life. I’ve even heard of a woman who was trying to gain more weight (gasp!) just so she could be on the show. A show can't and won’t save their life, getting serious TODAY about their health will.

6) Skinny does not equal healthy or fit. Muscle and fat both weigh the same. 5 pounds of muscle just takes less room than 5 pounds of fat. Outward appearance (i.e. skinny) is not a reflection of inner wellness- from emotional health to blood work numbers. Our society puts a ton of emphasis on image- a major part of why eating disorders exist and happen. A size zero does not necessarily mean a person is healthier than a person in a size 6. People need to learn that health is mind+body+spirit and that muscle and good blood work trumps fat any day.

7) Life is not a game or a competition. The Biggest Loser is a competitive game show. It has to be in order for people to watch it. In today’s world, life has become who can one-up someone, who has the most credentials (and a lot of debt to go with it), the biggest house, fancy clothes and a shiny diamond to go with it, moving up the corporate ladder and getting ahead (are we merely pawns on a board game?) No, life is not a game. Life is about people and helping each other. Instead of viewing others as our cutthroat competition, why not see our fellow human citizens as people to join us in this journey?

What can we learn from The Biggest Loser? That wellness is not just about the numbers, it's about mind+body+spirit. Because what goes on inside our head is just as important as the number on the scale (or how our clothes fit).

 

 Cover photo credit: Steven DePolo

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