Beyond Calories

I’m continuing to build on my two previous posts regarding obesity. In my last one, I discussed the outdated approach of “eat less, exercise more” and advocated looking for other connections to obesity mentioned in Time magazine’s special obesity issue such as genetics, the biochemistry of hunger/fat metabolism, fast/junk food, food psychology, and a metabolic disorder.

An important item to add to the above list is hormones. You might ask what do they exactly have to do with our weight? In The Schwarzbein Principle II, Diana Schwarzbein, M.D. provides straight-forward, user-friendly information on the role three major hormones (adrenaline, cortisol, and insulin) and minor ones (growth hormones) play in our weight.

Insulin and growth hormones are used for rebuilding your body’s biochemicals while adrenaline and cortisol use up your body’s biochemicals: “The ideal is to have all you regeneration reactions in balance—what you use up, you rebuild. Since your hormones determine how your body regenerates, you need to balance the hormones that use up your biochemicals and the hormones that rebuild your biochemicals to keep these reactions in balance.”  Schwarzbein reminds us all hormones work together; for ease of understanding she considers the actions of the each hormone alone.

Thus, it’s a question of balance. Think back to when you were a kid, and with a friend, you tried to balance on a seesaw—keeping your feet off the ground. Not always an easy thing to do. Now think about keeping your body’s hormones in balance: “If you use up your biochemicals faster than your body can rebuild them, you are destroying your metabolism and accelerating your aging process. Therefore, you do not want to use up your biochemicals more than you can rebuild them for too long.”

For a brief example of how “rebuilding” and “using up” hormones interact, take a look at adrenaline/cortisol (“using up”) and insulin (“rebuilding”): “If the ratio of your adrenaline/cortisol levels is higher than your insulin levels, you will use up your biochemicals faster than you can rebuild them, especially if your insulin levels are low or normal. If the ratio of adrenaline/cortisol is lower than your insulin levels, you will rebuild your biochemicals faster than you can use them up, especially if your adrenaline/cortisol levels are low or normal.”

Schwarzbein continues: “If you chronically diet, overexercise, ingest too many stimulants and are under too much stress, you will use up you functional, structural and energy (including storage) biochemicals faster than you can rebuild them. If this were to go unchecked, you would not survive.”

Now, how does the “eat less, exercise more” approach hold up?

I used a number of quotes today. One of the purposes is for providing information, and another is to show how readable and user-friendly Schwarzbein’s writing is. By telling her own story as well as those of some of her patients, Schwarzbein creates a connection with the reader—“That’s me.” I highly recommend her work especially for an alternative perspective on our diet-crazed nation her books provide.

What Not To Count

I’m continuing with my thoughts on Time magazine’s June 7, 2004 special issue “Overcoming Obesity” and reflecting on the progress that has been made and not been made on the topic.

The lead article asks: “So why is this [obesity] happening? The obvious, almost trivial answer is that we eat too much high-calorie food and don’t burn it off with enough exercise.” The articles in this issue do mention other connections to obesity such as genetics, the biochemistry of hunger/fat metabolism, fast/junk food, food psychology, and a metabolic disorder—“what they are finding is an exquisitely fine-tuned system of chemical and neurological checks and balances that regulate what we eat and how much our bodies store fat.”

Even with these additional connections being made to obesity, “calorie” and “eat less, exercise more” appear in the issue’s various articles:

  • “How about eat less, move more, and eat your fruits and vegetables.”
  • “If you’re dealing with obesity, people have to eat less.”
  • On a woman’s weight loss: “. . . what she did was buy a couple of books that listed  the nutritional value and calorie content of the food she ate.”
  • “After reaching their goal, most long-term losers followed a single general strategy toward nutrition: limiting the calories and to a lesser extent the amount of fat in their diet.”

For a moment, let’s return to high school science—what is a calorie? According to Webster it’s “the amount of heat required at the pressure of one atmosphere to raise the temperature of one gram of water one degree Celsius.” Our calorie obsession is based on turning us into a calculation.

Why the calorie focus? We are creatures of habit. For more than half a century, we’ve been repetitively told and have heard calories, calories, calories. Think about the TV/magazine ads highlighting this aspect of foods. Exactly how many 100-calories food/snacks exist today? This approach makes all calories seem equal. But does your body treat 100 calories of potato chips the same way it treats a 100-calorie apple? I don’t think so.

In The Schwarzbein Principle, Diana Schwarzbein, M.D. reminds us that a one-hundred calorie snack doesn’t equal one hundred calories worth of available energy: “If the snack is composed of carbohydrates, your body has to use the hundred calories for immediate energy or store that energy as fat. But if the snack is made up of protein and fats, your body can use these foods first for building materials (cells, enzymes, hormones and so on), leaving fewer calories to be used as energy or stored as fat.”

Schwarzbein also provides nine points on why you can’t lose body fat by restricting calories. One of these points: “If you continue with the low-calorie diet, your body is forced to take material from bones and muscle to keep your brain and kidneys going.” Not something I would be comfortable with doing. Think of damage we’ve caused to ourselves by our obsession with low-calorie dieting.

With the above point in mind, Gary Taubes, in Good Calories, Bad Calories, reminds us of the contradiction of “eat less, exercise more:” “Though more strenuous exercise would burn more calories, it would lead to a significant increase in appetite. This is the implication of the phrase ‘working up an appetite.’”

The time has more than come to drop the antiquated, decades-old “eat less, exercise more” mentality and turn our attention to other potential causes such as genetics, the biochemistry of hunger/fat metabolism, fast/junk food, food psychology, and a metabolic disorder.

“Begin It”

In the spirit of the beginning of 2016, please take a moment to read the following quote from William Hutchinson Murray’s The Scottish Himalayan Expedition:

“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative and creation, there is one elementary truth the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then, providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents, meetings and material assistance which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now.”

You just have to take action. As I have mentioned in the past, begin with a small, positive change and then, watch the ripple effect that change has on your life.

Again, Happy New Year!

Weighing The Percentages

In November of 2015, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), released statistics for the “Prevalence of Obesity Among Adults and Youths: United States, 2011-2014.

During this time period, the prevalence of obesity was:

  • For adults: slightly over 36%
  • For youths: 17%
  • For women: 38.3%
  • For men: 34.3%
  • For youths: no difference was seen by sex.
  • Obesity was higher for middle-aged, 40.2%, and older, 37.0%, adults than for younger adults, 32.3%

For detailed information, please visit the CDC link.

We know the obesity rates having been going up despite the heavy emphasis on calories in/calories out, exercising more, watching your fat intake, (feel free to add your own), etc.

I like this quote from Gary Taubes’ Good Calories, Bad Calories: “Once the ‘truth’ has been declared, even if it’s based on incomplete evidence, the overwhelming tendency is to interpret all future observations in support of that preconception. Those who know what the answer is lack the motivation to continue looking for it. Entire fields of science may then be ignored, on the assumption that they can’t possibly be relevant.”

With Taubes’ thought in mind, I believe the time has come to take a step back and acknowledge the fact that the above beliefs (calories in/calories out, exercising more, watching your fat intake, etc.) about weight loss/obesity that have been drummed into our heads for decades are wrong. Think about it. The result of using these beliefs as the basis for fat loss for all these years—obesity rates still continue to rise.

Let’s break the cycle. The time has come for a new perspective. More on this in 2016.

How Many World Records Did You Break Today?


Photo: Sandy Huffaker for The New York Times September 22, 1915, page A1

In my post of May 14, An Age-Proof Life: Shattering Aging Myths, I wrote about older athletes. To the competitors I mentioned, I’m adding Dan Pellmann to their ranks.

At the recent San Diego Senior Olympics this month, Pellmann, who is 100, broke five world records: 100-meter dash (26.97 sec.—1st centenarian to break 27 sec. ); shot-put (21’ 6¼”—three feet better than the record); discus (48’ 9”); long jump (5’ 10”); high jump (2’ 11½”—1st to clear an official height in the high jump).

Even with the above accomplishments, he was disappointed because he did not break the pole vault world record: “I thought I was in better shape.”

Like others of his generation, the Depression cut short Pellmann’s athletic career when he had to quit his university’s track team to get a job. After his retirement in 1970, his children urged him to enter a masters track meet. He’s at 127 meets and counting.

As I wrote on May 14:

“I want us all to rethink our beliefs surrounding aging and how such thinking affects the quality of our lives. I am not advocating that we all lace up our running shoes tomorrow morning and hit the road for a five-mile run. . . .Think about yourself today, at this moment. Don’t feel the need to compete with your younger self. Be realistic; please don’t try to relive the past. Who truly cares how far you could run or bench press in your 20s? Decide, from this point forward, you’ll make your aging process a fit, healthy, fun, and positive one.”

By the way, who wants to participate in the Senior Olympics when we’re 100?


For some reason, we usually only emphasize what we see as negative aspects of ourselves—“I need to lose weight,” “I need to eat less,” “I need to start exercising.” Such proclamations reinforce the belief “I’m no good” and compound the guilt we feel if we believe we’ve “failed” once again.

Why do we continually do this to ourselves? Why do we choose to abuse ourselves in this fashion? I support anyone’s desire to improve their health and wellbeing.  I also believe that in order to do so we must break this be-hard-on-yourself, beat-yourself-up cycle. How can we accomplish this?

One simple way to begin is by examining your routines. We are creatures of habit. Habitual behaviors help simplify our lives. For example, do you ever think, “I don’t remember how I got here,” after you pull into a parking space at work?  Yet our autopilot modes can result in unconscious patterns that can also unknowingly drain our energy. One way to combat this is to pause and take a different point of view.

Step outside of your comfort zone and ask yourself if your habits are beneficial, or do they hindering you in any way. Ask: “What is and isn’t working for me in my life?” “Where do I feel change is needed?” “What would I love doing?” Even inquire, “Why do I want this?” and “Am I ready for it?” Discover the real reasons for your desire to change.

You’ll begin your process of transformation just by inquiring—don’t force answers. They will emerge on their own and when they do, use them to spark your personal transformation for achieving your optimal health and wellness. If answers don’t immediately arise, don’t stress—just enjoy the process.

Your desire for change must resonate within you, be specific, connect with things you love, and not done out of any sense of obligation to others. They should also fit the current realities of your life; the last thing you need in your life is additional stress.

Each choice you make, even a small one, will take you out of your habit mode and create a ripple-effect touching all areas of your life. Less is more. Begin by choosing one area of your life to change such as an aspect of either your mind, body, or self.

Be sure your present thinking reflects the future you desire. For example, switch from saying: “I want to lose 25 pounds and weigh 115 pounds,” to immediately stating: “I weigh 115 pounds.” Notice the change in your being with just this simple shift. You’ll be breaking your habitual thought processes while creating new mental patterns and connections.

Also, most people do not achieve their desired results because they are not specific with their goals. For example, don’t just say: “I’m going to exercise.” Be specific—“I’m going to exercise so I can play with my children/grandchildren,” or “I’m going to exercise so I can complete a 5K run.”

Then, begin easily and realistically. You’ll have a better chance for success if you discover what works for you, how it connects with your values, and how it reflects your purpose.

Take Your Time, Enjoy!

Today I’m going to suggest some eating strategies (with a special nod to Marc David). I can hear the groans now. I promise you, it’s not what you think.

I believe we all need to eat and enjoy high quality food (preferably organic) and have a good balance of micronutrients (protein, good fats, and carbohydrates). As you can guess, this classification truly restricts the consumption of sugar, candy, processed foods, salt, white flour, and anything microwavable as well as using one.  In truth, our nation’s eating habits have been referred to as S.A.D. (Standard American Diet) as well as being based on C.R.A.P. (caffeine, refined sugar, alcohol/additives, processed food).  Does this sound familiar?

I want to begin by asking, how long does it take you to eat your meals?  Your body needs at least 20 minutes to know it’s full; if it doesn’t register full, it screams: “Feed me!” So, if you’re guilty of inhaling a meal in fifteen minutes or less (be honest), I would like you to start taking more time to eat. I am not asking you to change overnight; this request may take time.  How about each week adding a few minutes to each meal until you work up to taking a minimum of 20 minutes per meal? With this simple step of eating slowly, you can begin to shift away from such potential health issues as overeating, binging, digestive issues, etc.

I would also like you to truly pay attention during meals.  Again, take your time. Always sit down for your meals and whenever possible use good dishes, candles, relaxing music, and if possible, have good company—be in the present moment and enjoy your food.  Savor each bite; really taste the food. We all need to learn to love eating again and enjoy what we’re eating.  Guess what, food is not your enemy.

Perhaps you’re thinking, I do eat quickly, but I eat the best quality food.  I have a few questions for you.  How is the stress level in your life?  Is it high?  Constant? Do you eat in a relaxed state (see the above paragraph)? If not, even though you’re eating the best quality food, stress can reduce your digestion by 50%.  Think about the nutrients you’re losing, and the money you’re wasting.  As a suggestion, when you sit down to eat, take ten, deep, slow breaths (making the exhale longer than the inhale) and do the same after your meal.  This simple act begins to shift you from a “fight or flight” state into one of relaxation.

In line with this, when you’re eating just eat.  Don’t multitask; this means no TV, reading, eating at your desk/in front of the computer, etc.  Doing any other activities can create a stress response in your body, and this is hazardous to your health—see previous paragraph on loss of nutrients.  Also, if your attention is elsewhere, you’re eating mindlessly.  A dangerous situation.

To help avoid stressing over eating, learn to be non-judgmental about food.  Don’t beat yourself up.  You know what I mean:  “I shouldn’t be eating.” “I’m 10 pounds overweight.”” I hate the way I look.”  Need I go on?  Again, such thinking creates stress, wreaks havoc with your digestion, and destroys your enjoyment of your meal.

If you have the desire to eliminate C.R.A.P. from your diet, please refer to my post on caffeine, “Reducing the Buzz,” for the concept of making change over a period of time. Choose one item, say sugar, and over a week or two decrease your consumption of it. You’d be surprised where sugar hides. For example, any ingredient that ends in “-ose” is sugar.  After you’re off sugar, then, move on to eliminating the other three.

Once you begin to make such changes, you realize you have new-found energy, and you might, for example, begin to start walking. Since you like how you feel, you could find yourself adding some light jogging to your routine. What’s next after this? Consider the possibilities. Remember, each variation creates beneficial results resonating with all areas of your life.

See, my eating suggestions didn’t include counting calories or needless deprivation.  All I ask is for you to start taking time to eat your meals, have them in a relaxing environment, and to start removing C.R.A.P. from your diet.

These three steps will help you on your path to a healthier you.