Tag Archives: science

The Grand Finale

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And here it is, my final post of this entire project.  What a year it’s been!  I recently read back on the “About” and “The Beginning” posts that I wrote over a year ago in order to re-familiarize myself with the reasons why I embarked on this journey to begin with.  What I learned from reading those posts is that my posts have gotten A LOT longer over the year (sorry about that) and that most of my goals for the year were achieved.  I had wanted to learn what it was like to follow a regimented diet, to learn new cooking techniques, to be able to answer questions about popular diets, and to improve my will power.  I would say I wasn’t a total success on the will power portion, but I also realized, through a year of “failing” on the will power game, that it’s not a battle that should even be fought.  More on that in a minute, but first, my “awards” for this year.

The Dow Diet Awards
These are obviously just based on my opinion, except the “Most Expensive” award.  That one is based on cold hard facts as witnessed by depletion of my bank account.

  • Most Hated: Winner – Fast Metabolism Diet. Runner Up – Paleo
  • Most Forgettable: Low Fat
  • Best for Weight Loss: Although I didn’t really lose any weight on any of those (remember: that was my goal), the ones I would recommend would be 1) Volumetrics Diet and 2) Weight Watchers
  • Most Expensive: Sustainability
  • Enhancing the Culinary Prowess: Mediterranean, Vegan
  • I Can’t Wait to Quit You: Paleo, Low Fat, Fast Metabolism Diet
  • Favorite: Too tough to choose just one. Three-way tie between Vegan, Mediterranean, and Mindful Eating.

My Dietary Recommendations for Health and Happiness, in a very specific order

  1. Eat mindfully- Taste your food, free from distraction.  Cook it and savor it with all of your senses.  It will work miracles on your relationship with food, and is by far the best thing you can do for yourself.
  2. Cook your food – Here is a video narrated by Michael Pollan, which really hammers home the importance of cooking your own food.  This doesn’t mean “preparing” a meal, i.e. a box of macaroni and cheese. It means actually cooking from scratch.  When you do that, you don’t have to worry so much about the fat, carb, and protein content of your food. It’s just nourishment at that point, and it will balance itself out over time.
  3. Don’t be a dick about it – It’s hard to put this at #3 because I want to put it at #1, but the other ones are probably more important.  I’ve always just rolled my eyes and been annoyed when people are super pretentious about their food, but these feelings were strengthened this year by trying all these different eating approaches and also by moving to Boulder, CO (the most uppity place I’ve ever experienced).  My friends back in Tucson have something called the “In-N-Out and Casa Molina” test for people.  If you aren’t willing to ever eat a tasty cheeseburger and some delicious, greasy, unhealthy Mexican food, there may be a larger underlying issue.  If you disagree with this statement, you’re probably that pretentious person I’m referring to.  Stop being a dick about it.

regular donuts

  1. Eat more produce – Everyone could stand to eat more fruits and vegetables.  Incorporate them into more and more of your meals until you eat them constantly and start to crave them.  Then, get creative, try new ones, and try preparing them in different ways.  The possibilities are endless.
  2. Whatever approach you use if you’re trying to lose weight, choose one that can be maintained long term – At the end of the day, all of the diet trials and myriad of studies that have been performed ultimately lead to the same conclusion: the diet that works best for weight loss is the one that you can maintain.  Try out different ones to see what works for you, and don’t get discouraged when the first thing you try doesn’t work for you, but it worked for your cooler, hotter, sister who everyone likes more and who has never struggled with anything. It’s so unfair! We’re all individuals.  There is no one-size-fits-all approach to weight loss.
  3. Don’t drink the Kool-Aid – Literally, but also figuratively.  If it sounds too good to be true, it is.
  4. Stop freaking out about it – It’s not nearly as complicated as the media and all the snake oil salesmen want to convince you it is.

What I Learned

As I previously mentioned, I really struggled this year with will power, until I realized that there is no point to will power if there isn’t a larger goal in mind.  One of the most important lessons I learned this year is that curiosity is only a good short-term motivator.  I struggled nearly every month to stay on track with the allotted dietary pattern because I would either lose sight of why I was doing this or, when I would remind myself of the goals listed above, they didn’t seem like good enough reasons.  This was particularly true in months like Paleo and Fast Metabolism Diet when I had never felt hungrier and that transcended into some mental and emotional imbalance.  Those months were the only time that I ever got a glimpse into what it’s like to be on a diet.  One of my goals was to attempt to understand the psyche of a person undergoing a diet (thanks to those two aforementioned diets, I succeeded in that goal), but also to understand why people put themselves through the torture of a diet.  I never got to the place where I understood that, and that comes back to the curiosity thing.  Curiosity was my motivator, but the need to feel normal when you feel terrible trumps curiosity.  I imagine a person with a dire health concern or a need for weight loss has a different motivation, and that’s something that I can’t relate to at this point in my life.  Maybe if I ever need to change something about my lifestyle I’ll be able to relate to that issue more, and I’ll see the need for will power.  But right now, I think will power is a silly thing to get caught up on, and I think it’s an issue that prevents people from reaching their health goals.

So here is a larger spiel on will power, and I realize as I’m writing this, that these ideas are not something I’ve ever been taught in any nutrition or health class. They go against many of the recommendations that students are taught regarding diet counseling.  But here it goes.

The most important lesson I learned this year involves the concept of moderation.  I know, you’ve heard it a million times before – everything in moderation.  And maybe you’ve decided that moderation doesn’t work for you because you haven’t found that grasp on it – it’s either gorge yourself or go without, and if you are working on losing weight, the “correct” option is to go without.  I really REALLY learned the fault in that kind of logic this year (the caveat to this, of course, is people with addictive behaviors or personalities, which I can’t really comment on because I don’t have any kind of extensive knowledge or training in that area).  I’ll use the example again of FMD.  That was truly a “go without” month for me, and I HATED it.  Not only did I feel physically unhealthy, but I felt mentally unhealthy.  And there’s the crux of it all.  Physical and mental health are so intertwined that they can’t and shouldn’t be separated, though our current system attempts and is often successful at convincing us that they should be.  Typically things that are good for your mental health are good for your physical health, so focus on that.  You will never see the full benefit of a healthy lifestyle approach if you only focus on the physical health aspect of it.  This whole time I’ve thought that my will power issues could be rectified by taking away the stimulus.  This is the basis of nearly every fad diet and every dietary recommendation.  “Don’t keep chocolate in the house so you won’t be tempted.”  “Snack on fruits – it will feed your sweet tooth.” I call bullshit on all of that.  While this may lead to weight loss, it doesn’t do a whole lot for your mental health because you a) feel deprived and b) never learn how to have a healthy relationship with these foods that you consider unhealthy/evil.  And what is the point of physical health if mental health isn’t riding shotgun?  I don’t know what the meaning or goal of life is, but for me it has something to do with finding peace in the midst of a hurricane.  Removing a stimulus doesn’t improve will power – it weakens it.  We need to find ways to achieve balance, and we do this by being in the midst of a room full of crispy French fries, the most decadent chocolate, a succulent cheeseburger, the deepest of deep dish pizzas, the creamiest ice creams, with a littering of fruits and vegetables and other health foods… and then we choose to have a few tastes of each of those things.  We really savor them and appreciate them, and then we carry on with our day, never feeling deprived or engorged.  It’s being able to control a situation instead of letting a situation control you.  This clearly isn’t just about food.  It can be applied to nearly every situation you will ever face in life, but your relationship with your body and your body’s fuel is a foundation that needs to be built, strengthened, and continuously re-patched in order to live a long, healthy life.

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I’ll leave you with one of my favorite quotes that taps into the issues with how we eat in America.  Eating a diet that supports the beautiful vehicle that is your body needs to be a priority if we want to prosper and see progress on both individual and societal levels.  The path to get there isn’t as difficult as it seems.  It’s just straight into the kitchen.

“…it turns out we don’t need to declare our allegiance to any one of these schools of thought in order to figure out how best to eat.  In the end, they are only theories, scientific explanations for an empirical phenomenon that is not itself in doubt: people eating a Western diet are prone to a complex of chronic diseases that seldom strike people eating more traditional diets.”
-Michael Pollan, In Defense of Food

Thank you to everyone who followed this project over the past year.  There’s no way I could have done this on my own – I would have quit so many times if I didn’t have followers. Thank you for your attention, your comments, your questions.  

Live Beautiful!
Caitlin

P.S. If you’re looking for another health blog to follow with posts that will take a lot less time to read than mine, check out my friends Dezi and Matt’s blog: Simple Fitness Blog.

Are you there, Caitlin? It’s me, Questions.

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One day I was at work, working on this very post (it was a slow day in science), and a friend asked what I was doing. I said I was answering questions that people had for me, and she replied with initial excitement that waned into reality: “Oooh you’re like Carrie Bradshaw! Except instead of writing about sex, you’re writing about science and nutrition.  That’s not really as exciting.” No, it’s not.  But here it goes – my attempt at being a columnist.

Q: What do you know of this Garcinia Cambogia and body cleanse diet. Dr. Oz has talked about it. Have you heard anything on it?

 A: Like usual, when I saw “Dr. Oz” in the question, I cringed.  I typically consider Dr. Oz to be a bit of an extremely charming snake oil salesman.  But I decided to look it up because when the people have questions, I give them answers. First, I went to Dr. Oz’s website to see what him and his people had to say about it.  Then I searched on PubMed to find out what the science says.

What Dr. Oz’s website says: Garcinia Cambogia is a fruit native to Indonesia and supplements are made from the rind of the fruit, which is high in a compound called hydroxycitric acid (HCA).  The claim is that HCA prevents fat synthesis by blocking an enzyme (citrate lyase) that converts carbohydrates to fat.  HCA also reduces appetite by increasing serotonin production in the brain.  In effect, this improves mood and reduces the drive for emotional eating (though it is unclear if people with normal or high serotonin levels and who don’t resort to food to for emotional reasons would benefit from HCA).

What the science says: 43 Brazilian women who were overweight/obese were randomized to receive either a placebo or 2.4 g/day of G. Cambogia (separated into 800 mg consumed before each meal) in addition to an energy restricted diet (~1500 kcal/day) for 8 weeks.  There were no differences pre- to post-treatment or between randomization groups following the study in terms of weight loss (or any other anthropometrics), or any marker of the lipid profile with the exception of triglycerides, which were lower after 8 weeks in the women consuming the supplement compared to those on the placebo.  This study indicates no real benefit of using G. Cambogia.  That’s just one example of a research study on G. Cambogia, but there are many more that show similar results.  A recent review article by Astell et al. evaluated the data on a variety of plant extracts (including G. Cambogia) that have been explored in randomized controlled trials (the gold standard of human research) with regards to weight loss, and concluded that there is not sufficient data to suggest that any plant extract will significantly aid in weight loss above standard dietary and physical activity practices.  One study did show that HCA taken in combination with Gymnema sylvestre extract resulted in a 5-6% reduction in body weight after 8 weeks.

The Bottom Line: There aren’t enough well designed research studies for this herbal supplement (or any) to get my stamp of approval.  First, there isn’t enough information to suggest that they are effective, but more importantly, there is a question of safety here.  People often use the logic that herbal supplements are “natural,” and therefore safe.  But there is nothing “natural” about taking a supplement that provides you with 10 fold or more of a compound than what you would get from just eating food.  Remember, hemlock is also “natural,” but it still very effectively killed Socrates.

Q: I have a friend who is using a mobile app to track his caloric intake and lose weight.  He has lost weight, but I’ve noticed that he still eats pretty unhealthy food, drinks beer, and doesn’t seem like he’s getting any healthier, though he is still losing weight.  Is he actually getting healthier?

This approach is similar to that of many fad diets, and it relies on the simple principles of “calories in, calories out.”  Yes, if you ingest fewer calories than you expend, you will lose weight.  This friend may actually be getting healthier because weight loss of as little as 5% of initial body weight has been proven to confer health benefits like improvement in blood lipids and glucose, blood pressure, sleep apnea, joint pain, depression, Type 2 diabetes, and you’re bound to reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease.  Only 5%.  That means that if you weigh 200 lbs and you lose 10 pounds, your health will most assuredly improve.  Lose more weight, see more benefit.  So the fact of the matter is, yes, health does improve when you lose weight (if you need to lose weight. This doesn’t hold true if you’re already a healthy weight).  But this is not an approach I would ever recommend for anybody.  While you will get healthier simply by losing weight but still eating whatever you want, it’s only a fraction of how healthy you could be if you started eating healthy foods.  Matching the caloric content of two patterns, eating a whole foods diet that focuses on whole grains, fruits and vegetables, lean protein, and healthy fats will win out every single time over a diet high in refined carbohydrates, processed foods, and fatty protein sources.

There was a “case study” that a brave soul performed on himself to prove a point to his students.  Professor of Human Nutrition at Kansas State University, Mark Haub, decided to go on a junk food diet for 10 weeks to prove the premise of “calories in, calories out.” He ate Hostess cakes, Doritos, Oreos, etc and consumed 1,800 calories/day (he should consume about 2,600 to maintain weight).  While he did take a multivitamin and eat a couple of servings of vegetables everyday, his diet was mostly shit and he lost 27 lbs.  A number of outcomes improved for him over the course of 10 weeks: his body fat percentage dropped, his blood lipids improved. (Read more about it here: http://www.cnn.com/2010/HEALTH/11/08/twinkie.diet.professor/).

The Bottom Line: So should you try to lose weight by simply focusing on calories?  Like I said, not my recommendation.  Haub’s data are interesting, sure, but we don’t know the long-term consequences of eating like that.  I would speculate that the risk for cancer would increase, and inflammation and oxidative stress would be huge issues for Haub.  Inflammation and oxidative stress are known to exacerbate chronic disease risk for diseases like cancer, Type 2 Diabetes, CVD, Alzheimer’s, etc.  The outcomes that he measured are validated markers for disease risk, but they don’t tell the whole story.  While obtaining/maintaining a healthy weight is extremely important for long-term health, there’s a lot more to it than just the number on the scale.  Eat your damn produce.

Q: Is there any science to back up Ayurvedic eating practices?

A: Ayurveda is an ancient Indian approach to medicine, and Ayurvedic eating is a therapeutic approach to eating that is often practiced by yogis and others with goals of inner peace.

The focus of Ayurvedic eating is to find joy, balance, and an appreciation of food via eating.  Most of Ayurvedic eating uses the same principles of mindful eating – being present, cooking your food, eating food that tastes good, paying attention to hunger cues, and not eating distractedly.  In addition to mindful eating techniques, the practice considers three different body types and personalities (called “doshas”) – Vata, Pitta, and Kapha.  Once you determine which dosha is predominant for you, you can start eating to complement it. I’ll go through everything for myself, but use this link to find out about yours, if you’re interested.

I determined that my primary dosha is Vata, which is fairly spot on with my body type and personality.  The primary qualities of a Vata individual are that they thrive on movement and change. Vata individuals are typically tall and slender with narrow hips and shoulders and are generally energetic and enthusiastic, unless they are out of balance.  Signs of being out of balance are skipping meals (something I try to avoid because I actually do notice how much it throws things out of whack for me – I don’t know if this actually has anything to do with being Vata or if that’s just my personality) and snacking constantly (my worst dietary habit!).

One of the predominant issues with Vata is digestion.  To stay in balance, it’s recommended that Vata cook their food to ease digestive issues instead of eating foods (like vegetables) raw and heavier, oily, or warm foods are preferred.  Vata should avoid red meat and many types of beans, but sweet, ripe fruits and many cooked vegetables are supported.

An interesting thing about Ayurvedic eating is that it focuses on eating a balanced diet, not only by balancing carbohydrates, protein, fats, vitamins, and minerals, but also taste.  There are said to be six tastes – sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent, and astringent.  Each meal should contain all six tastes in order to be balanced, though each dosha should focus on some more than others.  For example, the Vata dosha should minimize bitter, pungent, and astringent flavors because these are said to lead to imbalance.

What the Science Says:  I did look for some actual science to support this, but I didn’t find anything.  This would be a pretty difficult thing to test, in general.  First, I’m not sure what the outcome would be, other than quality of life.  Ayurvedic eating is a healthy approach to eating, both due of the mindful eating approach as well as the focus on whole foods.  This means that if you put the average person on an Ayurvedic diet, they would feel better because their diet in general has improved. You could probably put anyone one on any of the specific dosha diets and see improvements in health.  In order to test it properly, you’d need to find people that already eat healthy, but perhaps don’t eat mindfully and don’t follow the recommendations of their particular dosha.  It’s pretty difficult to properly measure a health outcome on people who are already healthy because the scale by which they can improve is drastically reduced.

The Bottom Line: While I couldn’t find any data to support Ayurvedic eating, that doesn’t mean it’s not a healthy approach to living.  It just means that no one has tried to and/or effectively tested it yet.  As I mentioned above, you’re likely to see benefit because of the mindful eating techniques as well as eating whole foods.  As far as eating for your body type and personality – I don’t know.  I can’t pinpoint a specific mechanism that would suggest that that’s necessary.  But if you’re interested in it, give it a shot.  It certainly won’t hurt you, and it looks like you may learn some interesting cooking techniques as it will force you to pay more attention to flavor pairing.

Hope that answers some burning questions that a few of you had and maybe the rest of you learned a thing or two along the way. I’ll post my final blog post within the next few days!

Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner, By Volume – The Volumetrics Diet

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If you’re looking for a diet to support your weight loss/maintenance or healthy eating goals, I cannot emphasize enough that you should find one with science to back it up, preferably created by someone who does nutritional research.  Perhaps that sounds obvious, but most diets are not created based off scientific evaluation (though they will try to trick you into believing otherwise).  Or maybe it sounds biased and that I’m trying to gain support for my lifestyle, but let me assure you that it’s not biased, and this isn’t a self-serving recommendation.  First, I have no plans to create my own diet, so by making this recommendation I’m only supporting those in my field.  Secondly, this should just be common sense.  You will never find a diet with published evidence in peer-reviewed journals that is wacky.  For example, there is no data to support the Paleo diet or the Fast Metabolism Diet.  Because they’re bat shit crazy.

So why should you care about science? Because you should treat that wonderful vessel that is your body with respect, for starters.  Diets that are rooted in science have been tested repeatedly on a wide array of people, making it more likely that it will be safe and effective for you.  Diets based on science are also more likely to be conservative and require real, sustained behavior change from you, which is the sign of something good.  They don’t promise short-term impressive results (lose 20 pounds in two weeks!), but you WILL be healthier if you follow them.  The only two diets that I’ve followed this year that were tested a priori (meaning that they were derived from theoretical deduction, not just observation) before they hit the market are the DASH diet (completed in June) and this month’s diet “The Volumetrics Diet.” (The Mediterannean Diet has science to support it, but it wasn’t a diet designed by scientists for health.  Weight Watchers now has science to support it and was designed based off science for weight loss, though the actual evidence for the Weight Watchers program itself didn’t come until after it was developed.)

The Volumetrics Diet
This is a diet developed by Barbara Rolls, PhD, a woman that is sort of a celebrity in my eyes.  She has been studying Nutritional Science at Penn State for decades, she has published over 250 peer-reviewed research articles, and she has been the president of The Obesity Society.  This isn’t all pomp and circumstance.  The lady knows what she’s talking about, and what she likes to talk about it is human ingestive behaviors.  Dr. Rolls runs a lab that observes people’s eating behaviors and then tests different ways to prepare food that are more healthful and less energy dense.

Energy equilibrium (thus, weight stability) is achieved when energy intake equates to energy output.  If you want to lose weight, you need to burn more calories than you consume.  The crux of the issue is that people get hungry when they try to reduce their energy intake because they simply reduce portion size.  A potentially more sustainable and effective approach (as outlined by Rolls) is to reduce the caloric density (CD) of your food.

Rolls’ research indicates that people typically eat the same volume of food, regardless of what the food is.  She has tested this by feeding people a serving of food, say lasagna, and they eat x volume.  On another day, she feeds them the same size serving of lasagna, but this time the lasagna has a lower CD because she has added in vegetables (typically low CD foods) and taken away some meat (typically high CD foods due to fat content), and people eat the same volume (x).  Thus, the whole premise of the Volumetrics Diet is to eat either the same or larger volume of food compared to what you would typically eat, but decrease the caloric density of the meal.  In doing so, you eat fewer calories but feel more full.  SCIENCE.

stomach CD

How To Do It

Reduce caloric density (CD) of the foods you consume.  How? Check out the nutrition label and calculate:
Calories per serving/grams per serving = CD

Category Calorie Density How to Eat Examples

1

<0.6

“Free” foods to eat anytime

Almost all fruits and non-starchy veggies, broth based soups

2

0.6-1.5

Eat reasonable portions

Whole grains, lean protein, legumes, and low fat dairy

3

1.6-3.9

Manage your portions

Breads, desserts, non-fat baked snacks, cheeses, higher-fat meats

4

4.0-9.0

Carefully manage portions and frequency of eating

Fried snacks, candy, cookies, nuts, fats

This becomes almost fool proof once you get used to where foods lie in the given categories.

Throughout this year, I have found that I get really sick of tracking my diet or spending a lot of time figuring out what to eat based on specific nutritional attributes (how many grams of fat/protein/carbs, type of fat, type of carb, etc).  These are extremely beneficial and perhaps even necessary practices when you start a weight loss plan because you HAVE to learn what healthy foods look like. For me, I just got bored with it and it became tedious.  The Volumetrics Diet simplifies and streamlines things, which I really appreciate.  In addition to changing the CD of the foods you eat, the plan promotes physical activity (working up to at least 10,000 steps per day), and becoming more mindful of how you eat, why you eat, and how you can change your attitude to promote a healthier lifestyle.  I won’t go into all of that, but Rolls’ book The Ultimate Volumetrics Diet is an amazing resource.

To make it easy on myself, here are a few things I did to stick to my “volumetrics” plan.
1) Drink a big glass of water before every meal.  This activates the stretch receptors in your stomach and sends a signal to your brain that you’re about to start eating.  It takes about 20 minutes for your brain to register feelings of satiety (fullness), so it’s good to give it a head start by stretching the stomach a bit.  This will help to prevent overeating.

2) Eat fruits/veggies as a starter. This means that if you make a salad to go with dinner, eat it first. If you bring an apple to go with your lunch, eat it before you eat the rest of the meal.  This works similarly to the water thing, except you’re getting some calories and lots of nutrients, which is extremely important.

3) Change up the snack routine. Most of my snacking typically involves fruit, nonfat/lowfat yogurt, and nuts.  I can easily overeat nuts because I love them so…and they’re small, which makes it feel like you’re not eating much when you’re actually getting A LOT of calories.  I switched it up by incorporating “popped” foods instead of nuts (and saved nuts as meal ingredients instead of snacks).  Popped foods include popcorn (duh) and rice cakes.  I like to eat crackers, but they tend to have an incredibly high caloric density so you can only eat a few (which I never do) if you’re trying to control intake. Popcorn and rice cakes (cinnamon was my favorite flavor) allowed me to get my starch fix without even really think about portion control.
**I also don’t eat microwave popcorn. I either make my own or buy different flavors of the already popped stuff to cut down on fat and all the freaky chemicals that are in microwave popcorn.

4) Controlling my sweet tooth. I just can’t get enough. I love sweets, everyday. This is probably my most unhealthy habit.  Delusional people (or those with extreme will power or who don’t care for sweet foods) will give you stupid advice like, “Just eat a piece of fruit.” Get real. So, I had to figure a way around this.  One way to get my chocolate fix was to buy popcorn with chocolate drizzled over it (got it at Sprouts).  I especially love salty and sweet, so this was a great snack.  I could just grab a handful and not worry about the calories because a handful was enough volume to give me the fix without a ton of calories.  When I want something more than that, my go to is always ice cream. So instead I switched to frozen yogurt, which I love just as much, and just used portion control.  This brought the CD down from 2.16 (for chocolate ice cream) to 1.13 (for chocolate frozen yogurt).

5) When you aren’t eating something healthy, don’t eat as much of it. This is seemingly obvious, but I think a lot of us forget this and just go all out when we eat unhealthy, convincing ourselves that we’ll “go back to eating healthy tomorrow.” This is why it’s so easy to fall off the healthy eating wagon.  Just allow yourself to eat these things occasionally and just don’t eat as much of it.  That way, you never “fall off the wagon.” This is one of the most important things that you can learn from reasonable diets.  There is much less of a struggle to stick to a diet when you’re granted the freedom to eat what you want.  Learning portion sizes and implementing portion control would be my number one recommendation for anyone who wants to eat healthier.

Stats

  Goal/Normal DASH Low Fat Sustainability FMD October November
Weight 121-60 123.5 123 123 125.5 127.5 123.5
BMI 18.5-24.9 19.5 19.25 19.25 19.7 20 19.5
PBF 21-32 ? ? ? ? ? ?
WC <35 ? 26.5 27 27 27.5 26.5
HC ? 36.5 37 37.5 38 38
W:H Ratio <0.8 ? 0.73 0.73 0.72 0.72 0.7
Blood Pressure <120/80 91/68 103/66 103/68 95/65 102/73 105/72
      Diet
Total kcal 2000-2200 1865 1780 1905 925-1688 1920 1820
Protein (%) 13058 15 22 19 15-61 16 18
CHO (%) 49-52 52 60 52 28-77 46 54
Fiber (g) at least 25 30 23 25 30-52 28 31
Fat (%) 20-35 33 18 29 10-46 38 28
Sat Fat (%) <10 8 7 8 3-7 7 7
Sodium (mg) 2300 2147 2315 2282 1250-1740 2127 1975
Potassium (mg) 4700 3874 3143 3746 4014-4624 3826 3906
Fruit/Veg (servings) 5-9 7-9 4-6 5-7 8-12 6-9 6-11
Cost   127.32 145.2 254.45 195.14 204.3 128.5
  

By following the Volumetrics Diet, I lost the weight that I had gained on FMD and the MedDiet.  I wasn’t really intending to, but I found myself getting full on fewer calories…exactly as the plan is laid out. I also didn’t spend much money this month, but I think that was mostly because I had a lot of food left over from MedDiet. However, I really don’t think Volumetrics is an expensive way to eat.  There are no special ingredients to buy – just lots and lots of produce.

Final Thoughts

This diet was my favorite when considering the diets that I’ve tried this year that are designed for weight loss/maintenance (Weight Watchers, Low Fat).  It was the most intuitive out of all of them for me and I wasn’t required to track my intake, so it wasn’t nearly as cumbersome as the others.  Weight Watchers really uses the same premise as Volumetrics by promoting fruit and vegetable intake; they are just two different approaches and they will each work well for different people.  Perhaps the most important thing I gained from this month, though, was the skill to start listening to my hunger and satiety cues.  I was somewhat doubtful that I’d actually feel full simply by drinking more water and eating more fruits and vegetables, so I had to pay close attention to how hungry/full I felt.  Turns out that I felt full a lot faster when I was following the Volumetrics approach to eating.  This is perhaps the most important skill you can learn when trying to eat healthier – listen to your body.  She will not lie to you.

And now…only one month left in this year long experiment! Join me at the end of 2013 (more likely the beginning of 2014) as I review my experience with Mindful Eating, the only “program” where I won’t really be paying any attention to WHAT I eat but HOW and WHY I eat.

Falling in Love with Food Again – The Mediterranean Way

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The Mediterranean has always fascinated me – the people, the geography, the history, art, culture, politics, etc.  Food is no exception.  This October, I brought the Mediterranean into my world, and I’m sad to be leaving it behind me.

The Basics
Many people (Americans) hear about the Mediterannean Diet, that it includes the eating styles of the Italians, and automatically assume that means pasta, alfredo, breadsticks, maybe lots of meatballs, etc.  In this and many other ways, Olive Garden has done a huge disservice to Americans and what we think Italian food is.  That type of food is Italian, but it is more reminiscent of Northern Italy, where heavier foods abound and health benefits of said diet do not.  Instead, the MedDiet embodies the food stylings of areas that actually border the Mediterranean Sea.  Meals in these places tend to be fresh, light, flavorful, with a very healthy dose of olive oil and red wine.
Study after study promotes adherence to the Mediterannean Diet for its heart health benefits.  I focus on heart health because it’s the most important system in the body! …and also because it is my research and interest bias.  A study of over 1.5 million people showed that those individuals who follow a Mediterranean style of eating suffer lower rates of heart disease, cancer, and even neurological disorders like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s than those who do not.  Clearly, those Italians/Spaniards/Greeks/Turks know what they’re doing.
So what is the MedDiet? Like all healthy diets, the MedDiet recommends a focus on whole foods: fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, lean meat, fish, some dairy (but not a lot), and very little red meat.  On top of those key traits, however, is an emphasis on olive oil (and the frequent glass of red wine).  Interestingly, because of the olive oil and nut/seed focus, the MedDiet is actually fairly high in fat (~40%; Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend 30-35%), which goes to show that fat is not the enemy.  To be clear, though, olive oil is rich in monounsaturated fats, while nuts like walnuts are omega-3 rich, both of which are very heart healthy.  Saturated fat is another story.

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One of the many reasons that this eating style promotes overall health is because of the high intake of phytochemicals (compounds in plants that often give the plant a distinct color or fragrance and typically have antioxidant/anti-inflammatory properties).  Many researchers have sought to determine which specific component of the MedDiet is the source of the diet’s benefits.  Olive oil and walnuts are often studied, and while they show significant benefit when either simply added to the diet or substituted for unhealthy fats like butter, they don’t explain everything.  That’s no surprise to you or me (though this type of research plagues nutritional science), and the benefits from the diet likely come from eating simple, whole, fresh foods that have complex and synergistic favorable effects.

MedDiet Score
One of the coolest things (in my opinion) that has come out of all the studies of the MedDiet has been the results that show that you don’t have to eat foods specific to the region in order to realize the value of the diet.  What I mean by that is there are plenty of foods from around the world that are just as healthy as those consumed in the countries bordering the Mediterannean.  For example, Latin (particularly Mexican) foods are near and dear to my heart, and I eat them at least weekly.  A late night visit to nearly all drive-thru burrito joints in the American southwest will prove this, but a dish that includes foods such black beans (legumes), quinoa (whole grains), fresh pico de gallo (vegetables, herbs), and avocado (healthy, monounsaturated fats) can still be consumed whilst following the MedDiet plan.  Research has shown that as long as these types of whole, fresh foods are consumed, it doesn’t matter if they come from the Mediterannean region.  Check out the MedDiet score sheet to see how your diet stacks up!

My Experience
I have been looking forward to doing the MedDiet more than any other diet since I decided to embark on this whole project.  After the hell month that was the Fast Metabolism Diet, I was expecting to have a similar response to the flexibility and joy of the MedDiet as I did when I made the Paleo to Weight Watchers transition.  It didn’t go as smoothly this time around.  While I was restricted on both FMD and Paleo, I didn’t develop the issues with eating/food on Paleo that I did with FMD.  As a recap, when I was following FMD, I felt consistently hungry, restricted, and over-analytical about food.  This resulted in me gorging myself on unhealthy foods because there was no reprieve from the monotony and control of the diet.  I cheated constantly, but I felt no actual enjoyment of what I was eating.
Unfortunately, these issues with food and eating transcended into the first 7-10 days of October.  I ate out of necessity, but I realize now that because of FMD, I had forgotten how to enjoy food – to even really taste it.  Luckily, this issue disappeared before it ruined my whole month.  I eased back into cooking for fun and joy, and I really got to stretch my legs in the kitchen again.  I can’t adequately describe how amazing this felt once I strapped on my proverbial chef hat and got to it.  For the past few months, I haven’t really tried many new recipes, I haven’t experimented much, and I’ve just been in a cooking rut.  But no longer! I didn’t even give a second thought to what I was eating – did it fit into the stipulations for this month’s eating plan? Was it too salty/too high fat/too many points/GMO-free?…and on and on and on.  I felt so much freedom this month.  In general, the MedDiet style of eating is how I like to eat anyways.  When in doubt (of me “following the plan”), I usually just threw in some more veggies to my meal, tossed the finished product with some extra olive oil, and poured myself a glass of wine.  Oh and then ate some dark chocolate for dessert.  Yes, this is real life, and this is actually a great way to eat.  Try it on. I bet you’ll like the way it fits J
Being in the kitchen again and doing it as a hobby instead of out of necessity brought so much joy to me this month.  It’s interesting, cooking in this Mediterranean way.  I felt relaxed, at peace.  Cooking can be meditative for me, and I felt it more this month than I have in a very long time.  Nearly everything I made this month was made from scratch and there is power and beauty in that.  Food is obviously a necessity, but to make it into an art is invigorating.  I loved that about this month. So very much.

Recipes
I already posted a number of recipes that I developed this month.  Here are some of my favorites that I didn’t create, but are worth noting.
Butternut Squash, Chickpea, Lentil Stew– My parents just bought me a crockpot when they were visiting earlier this month (thanks Mom and Dad!), and this was my first creation in it.  I LOVED it!  I was sort of lazy, though, and I didn’t cook anything beforehand, as the recipe recommends – I just threw it all in the crockpot the night before, started it the next morning, and then my house smelled like a freaking dream when I got home.  I topped this stew with toasted pepitas, pine nuts, and walnuts, and served with carrot apple muffins.

Hummus Crusted Chicken – So simple and easy! I didn’t serve mine with the squash and zucchini though.  I roasted carrots with a little olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and maple syrup for about 30 minutes, and then made a basic spinach salad to go along with all of it.

Kale Ricotta Gnocchi – This takes a little more time than most meals, so I recommend it for a lazy weekend evening.  This was one of those preparations that was meditative and lovely.  I truly enjoyed making this meal.  To make these a tad healthier, I substituted whole wheat flour for the white flour and part skim ricotta for the regular ricotta.  My gnocchi weren’t as pretty as hers, but who cares? They tasted pretty. I pan fried mine in the butter sage sauce and served with roasted butternut squash (tip: I like to leave the skin on my squash while it roasts and let it get nice and crispy.  It just adds another dimension of texture and flavor).
Hope you try some out and enjoy them as much as I did!

Final Stats
I’ll leave you now with the outcomes of this month.  I put on a couple pounds, but they were full of love, olive oil, and happiness so I’m ok with it.  Nothing else too earth shattering to report – but seriously, I can’t recommend this “diet” highly enough.  I hope I’ve made that clear.  Now pour yourself a glass of wine, get in the kitchen, and whip up some joy!

 

Goal/Normal

Smoothies

DASH

Low Fat

Sustainability

FMD

MedDiet

Anthros
Weight

121-60

124

123.5

123

123

125.5

127.5

BMI

18.5-24.9

19.5

19.5

19.25

19.25

19.7

20

PBF

21-32

19

?

?

?

?

?

WC

<35

27.5

?

26.5

27

27

27.5

HC

38

?

36.5

37

37.5

38

W:H Ratio

<0.8

0.72

?

0.73

0.73

0.72

0.72

Blood Pressure

<120/80

92/68

91/68

103/66

103/68

95/65

102/73

Diet
Total kcal

2000-2200

1980

1865

1780

1905

925-1688

1920

Protein (%)

Oct-35

17

15

22

19

15-61

16

CHO (%)

49-52

54

52

60

52

28-77

46

Fiber (g)

at least 25

33

30

23

25

30-52

28

Fat (%)

20-35

29

33

18

29

10-46

38

Sat Fat (%)

<10

7

8

7

8

3-7

7

Sodium (mg)

2300

2320

2147

2315

2282

1250-1740

2127

Potassium (mg)

4700

3925

3874

3143

3746

4014-4624

3826

Fruit/Veg (servings)

5-9

8-10

7-9

4-6

5-7

8-12

6-9

Cost

135.42

127.32

145.2

254.45

195.14

204.3

A Food Culture, With the Capacity to Endure (Plus a lesson in the fatal flaws of nutrition research)

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*I’d like to preface this post by stating that I am certainly not in expert in the field of organic food (farming or the study of its effects on human health).  As always, if you have any sound, scientific data (not just conjecture) that refutes what I’m saying, please send it my way.  The More You Know…

August has been my month of (attempted) sustainable eating. When I was trying to put my ideas of sustainability into words, I first googled “sustainability,” to gain inspiration… and maybe cheat a little.  Indeed, the first hit (high five, Wikipedia) defined it as “the capacity to endure,” which I think fits perfectly with my philosophy of sustainability- both from production and human health standpoints.

I defined sustainable eating as organic, GMO-free, and local.  Organic food is considered sustainable because the methods for producing the food are much more environmentally friendly than those used for conventionally grown foods.  As far as GMO’s are concerned, there is the belief that by tinkering with the genes in plants, we are eliminating the plant’s need and ability to respond to environmental pressures.  In doing so, the plant species can’t evolve, which can have some very bad long term effects on the food supply as well as the environment.  And lastly, eating local is a more sustainable food practice because a) it reduces the carbon footprint of food production since the food itself isn’t traveling nearly as far to get from the farm to your plate, and b) it’s sustainable from an economic perspective, as your money remains in your local economy.  Love thy neighbor.

Like most topics in nutrition, GMO-free and organic foods are topics that I try to avoid in conversation.  This originated from my strong mental “allergic” reaction to pretentiousness and dispositions towards food based on an inflammatory media that is not at all grounded in truth or data.  Many people claim to go organic/GMO-free because it’s better for human health, and that we have proof that the chemicals used in food production and genetic modifications of food are killing us.  Someone please show me that “proof.”

If you haven’t figured it out by now (have you even been paying attention?), I’m a stickler for the evidence.  We lack definitive proof that any of these things are adversely affecting human health.  What we have are a lot of theories that have yet to pan out.  One such theory is that organic farming yields foods with higher nutrient (vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals) content than conventionally grown foods.  The reason for this is that foods grown without pesticides have to make their own defenses against the natural world, and they do so by increasing their nutrient content.  This is theorized to benefit the consumer because we will then ingest more of those nutrients.  It’s a nice theory, and I wish it were/hope it will one day prove to be true.  Studies that have researched this phenomenon do in fact show that nutrient content is slightly higher in organically grown foods.  Unfortunately, this doesn’t seem to translate to human health.  This is probably because we don’t absorb all of the nutrients we ingest, and when you look at the scale of the human body and all the tissues to which nutrients get distributed, that small amount of increased nutrient content in an organically grown food is unlikely to have impact on overall human health.

That’s one example of the organic food debate, and there are many other claims that have yet to be proven.  Another issue that many people take with conventionally grown foods is pesticide content, of which organically grown foods have proven to have significantly lower levels than conventionally grown foods.  Now, conventionally grown foods do pass the US government’s standards for the max amount of pesticides considered safe for human consumption.  Granted, there are some issues with this, as I don’t know how that level was determined.  But what I’m interested in has to do with the mechanisms by which these pesticides could impact human health.  Some websites state that pesticides are “toxic” and slowly killing you.  How, though? How much does it take? Anyone know? Please share if you do.

Despite how it sounds, I’m actually not really a naysayer of the organic foods for human health movement.  I just want more information.  One of the reasons that we may not be showing an effect of organic food on health is because of the limitations of the tools we use to measure these effects.  The media, every blog, every tumblr/instagram/pinterest account will have you believe that we know everything there is to know about foods and human health (Cinnamon for blood sugar! Grapefruit for weight loss! Cherries for rheumatoid arthritis! It’s all hogwash.)  The fact of the matter is that nutrition science is subjected to a slew of inaccuracies from which we try to draw conclusions.

So let me give you a run down of the issues with studying nutrition.  Let’s say that we want to do an observational study in which we ask the question: Does eating organic foods decrease the risk of developing X (where X is a disease…let’s say cancer)?  Here are some things that we have to take into consideration:

1)    To what are we comparing organic food intake? If you were simply to ask people if they eat organic foods, those who reply yes are different than those who reply no in a variety of ways.  People who eat organic foods are likely to be fairly health conscious individuals, so in order to avoid contamination from any other factor, we need to compare them to people who are extremely similar, but don’t eat organic foods.  To give an idea of what that would look like, we would want to compare people who have the same average age, BMI, smoking status, overall diet (fruits and vegetables, fat, saturated fat, carb, protein, etc. intake), physical activity levels, etc.  As you can imagine, finding a difference between people who are similar in every other way other than organic food intake is going to be hard to do because you’re unlikely to have enough people (sample size) that you can appropriately test.

2)    Measuring dietary intake: This is the real zinger.  Despite all of the advances in technology, biotechnology, screening, and so on, our methods for measuring dietary intake yield an extremely rough estimate, at best.  If you want to look at a large population (which is what you would need to answer this particular question), you’re going to be asking people to report on their diet.  This in and of itself is flawed because people are flawed.  They lie (perhaps inadvertently), they forget what they ate, and they don’t know how to determine serving sizes. That on top of the fact that diet databases are limited by the number of items in them. Most of these databases are great for quantifying diets heavy in processed foods, but they can’t stand up to foods made from scratch and ethnic foods.  On top of that, they provide a rough average of nutrient content of foods.  As an example, the nutrient content of a vegetable can vary widely based on the time of year it was grown, soil conditions, how it was stored after harvesting, how it was prepared, etc. Take all of these seemingly small factors together, and you can see how widely varied our estimates of nutrient intake can be.  I’d say, on average, these estimates are accurate ±10%.  And then you want to compare people whose only difference in food intake and lifestyle practices are whether or not they eat organic? Good luck.

3)    Exposure. This is another important issue that could potentially explain why we have yet to show an effect of organic eating practices on human health.  On top of deciding what qualifies as eating organic vs not (<50% vs ≥50% of intake? I don’t know), what time frame is sufficient to see an effect? It’s likely that if there is a beneficial effect of eating organic on human health, it will take years to decades to determine.  And I don’t think that organic foods have been widely available for long enough to see that effect.

That’s me up on my scientific soapbox about why we probably don’t know much about the impact of organic food intake on human health.

However, there are a few things that we have some evidence to support:

  • Organic food intake may actually be beneficial in infancy and into the toddler years in terms of allergic manifestations.  One study showed a nonsignificant reduction in eczema in toddlers fed a strictly organic diet (1).
  • Organic animal products probably give you the most bang for your buck: In that same study, when the researchers looked strictly at organic dairy intake, that reduction in eczema became significant (1).
  • Organic farming practices are better for the environment.  Screw human health–this is my reason for why people should go organic.  We’re talking about the health of our planet here, and that’s something with which I can get on board. If I weren’t a nutritionist/physiologist, I would be an ecologist.

So, as usual, my issue with organic food isn’t with the food at all, it’s with the consumers of the food.  I think it’s great that people are taking a deeper look at where their food comes from and that there is this vast movement towards responsible consumer practices.  However, it’s equally important to not be so anti “the man,” that you lose sight of reason and the value of evidence.  For some additional reading, I recommend this article entitled A Hippie’s Defense of GMO’s.  She makes a great point about food issues that are probably a lot more important than keeping GMO’s out of the kitchen. Definitely worth the read.

I’ll post my final stats and my take on sustainable eating in a few days (hopefully).  Spoiler: it’s expensive.

1.  Kummeling I, Thijs C, Huber M, et al.  Consumption of organic foods and risk of atopic disease during the first 2 years of life in the Netherlands. Br J Nutr 2008; 99:598-605.

Fat Free and Carb Crazy

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The past month I’ve been following a low fat diet plan.  For those of you older than me, you likely remember the low fat diet craze of the ‘90’s (shortly followed by the low carb craze).  I think that fad did a lot to damage the utility of a low fat diet for various health outcomes, because there certainly are a number of benefits of low fat eating.  As with all diets, though, it can be misused and abused.

The Science

Low Fat for Weight Loss- The most common reason to follow a low fat diet is to lose weight.  The reason low fat works so well for weight loss involves simple arithmetic.  In order to lose weight, your energy intake needs to be less than energy output.  Carbohydrates and protein contain 4 kcal/g, whereas fat contains 9 kcal/g.  If you cut out an equal number of carbohydrate grams as fat grams at separate times and were to change absolutely nothing else, you would lose more weight on the lower fat diet because you’re reducing your energy intake more than the low carb diet.  Easy peasy. However, a common misconception is that you’ll lose fat mass by just eating a low fat diet.  Unfortunately, fuel utilization is more complicated than that, and your body is happy to turn carbohydrates into fat if you’re eating excess carbs (i.e. if you’re still eating too many calories, but they’re coming from carbs instead of fat).  Bottom line: your energy intake needs to be less than your energy output, no matter what you’re consuming.

Low Fat for Health- There are a number of reasons to eat a lower fat diet for long term health.  The American Heart Association recommends eating <35% kcals from fat and to reduce saturated fat (SF) intake to <7% of intake (down from the old recommendation of 10%).  This highlights the importance of the type of fat consumed, as SF is packaged and transported via LDL-cholesterol (bad cholesterol), and as SF intake increases more LDL circulates in the blood. LDL is overall causal in the pathway for heart disease.  (The Mediterranean Diet style of eating is characterized by up to 40% of intake from fat; however, most of this fat comes from olive oil, which is rich in heart healthy monounsaturated fats and antioxidants.  I won’t go into any more detail about that now as I will be following the MedDiet later this year, but once again, this supports the role for type of fat for heart health).

There has also been some work in the field of fat intake and cancer incidence and recurrence.  The Women’s Health Initiative Dietary Modification trial enrolled over 48,000 postmenopausal women and randomized over 19,000 of those women to a low fat diet (20% kcals from fat) with a focus on increasing fruit and vegetable and whole grain intake.  After 8 years of follow-up, researchers saw a reduced incidence of ovarian and invasive breast cancers in those following the diet modification.  There is also work focusing on risk of recurrence of cancer when a low fat eating plan is followed, so keep your eyes peeled for that work in the future if this is something that you’re interested in.

My Experience

This was an interesting month for me for a number of reasons.  Instead of dropping my fat intake low and immediately, I gave myself some time to get acclimated to low fat eating.  I started at 30% kcals of intake for week 1 and reduced my fat intake by 5% every week.  I tracked my fat intake using the FatSecret app (available on iPhone and Droid platforms.  My Fitness Pal is also a great mobile app for diet/physical activity/weight tracking). Weeks 1 and 2 were really easy for me and served to just get me familiar with the fat content of the foods that I eat regularly.  I didn’t have to change anything at all to eat 30% and 25% was an extremely attainable goal.  I grew up eating foods that aren’t particularly high in fat – lowfat or nonfat yogurt, 1% or skim milk, tuna in water instead of oil, etc., so there weren’t any significant changes that needed to be made.

Things got interesting at 20% and 15%, and I actually had to make some real changes.  I usually eat peanut/almond butter on toast every morning for breakfast, I’m pretty heavy handed with olive oil when I cook, and I could eat avocadoes every day if someone would provide ripe, reasonably priced ones for me.  There are nothing wrong with these foods, but when you’re trying to curb fat intake, they become an issue.  I calculated my fat gram goals based off my average intake (1500 kcal/day and 2000 kcal/day), which equated to 25-33 g of fat/day.  To give you an idea of how that works out, 2 Tbsp of peanut butter (a standard serving for me) will give you 16 g of fat, ¼ of an avocado has 7 g of fat, and 1 Tbsp of any oil has about 13.5 g of fat.  Clearly, it wouldn’t take much to surpass my fat goals, so I started to get stingy with my peanut butter in the morning or use jam instead.  I used olive oil/canola oil sprays when sautéing veggies instead of just pouring oil into the pan, and avocadoes became a treat that I would allow for dinner when I had been really good all day. I never successfully got down to 15% kcals from fat, and 18% was where I bottomed out.  I found that I was especially hungry on those days, and would get stressed over everything I was eating.  I’d find foods that were low fat, but every gram mattered at that point, and low fat just wasn’t cutting it.  You have to go down to nonfat for almost all products at that point, and I’m not crazy about that (see recommendations below).

The most interesting thing that I saw with low fat intake that I hadn’t really predicted was how incredibly hard it was for me to maintain my overall kcal intake.  Since I’m trying really hard not to lose weight, I had to supplement my diet with more carbs or protein in order to reach my necessary calorie goal.  Adding protein without adding fat was a challenge as my primary sources of protein (nuts, protein bars) are also fairly high in fat and lower in carbs.  I don’t eat much meat, but when I did, I would use chicken and boil it instead of cooking it in any oil.  Beans were another option, but beans are also high in carbs, so my overall carb intake went up. My carb intake also increased in ways that were not healthy. A lot of days I ate way more fruit than I normally do, and I replaced a lot of veggies with fruit since most fruit is higher in calories than veggies, and I had a calorie goal I was trying to meet.  Wanna know what else is high in calories, but not fat? Candy.  Like Mike and Ike’s.  So are bagels.  So my diet became supplemented with shitty food like that occasionally just to maintain calorie intake.  Moral of the story: go on a low fat diet if you’re trying to reduce calorie intake.  It’s easier than I realized, and since you’re trying to reduce calorie intake, you better not be supplementing your diet with a lot of excess sugar.

Recommendations for Reducing Fat Intake

Frozen yogurt or sorbet instead of ice cream- Sorbet doesn’t do it for me, personally, because I like chocolate for dessert, but frozen yogurt works and it’s way way lower in fat than it’s creamy counterpart.  I’m also mildly lactarded, so frozen yogurt is a great switch since the little bacteria friends in yogurt have already digested the lactose for me.  Thanks, guys.

Nonfat/reduced fat dairy products- I’ve never eaten full fat yogurt.  I did for the first time that I could remember a year ago, and I was amazed at how delicious it was.  Luckily, that didn’t trick me into doing it regularly because I have a girlish figure to maintain, and I don’t want to waste calories on something like yogurt.  I prefer nonfat greek yogurt over any other kind of yogurt because it’s REALLY high in protein, so you’ll feel fuller than just eating normal low/nonfat yogurt.  For cheese, I can do reduced fat cheeses, but nonfat cheese is gross and it doesn’t melt well, so you’re better off introducing a small amount of fat to maintain some of the flavor and consistency.

Get down with the Greek- Whenever I make any kind of cream sauce, whether it’s adding it to a tomato sauce or more of an alfredo, I use plain greek yogurt, and I’ll add plain almond milk if I need more liquid.  Cook on low heat, and it’s delicious.  I also use plain greek yogurt as a substitute for sour cream.

Lean protein- your best options are skinless chicken, fish, turkey, or very lean cuts of beef.  Minimize the amount of oil you cook them in- try boiling, grilling, or broiling instead of deep frying or pan frying.

Condiments- Start experimenting with other toppings on sandwiches other than mayonnaise.  If you like the taste, you can replace mayo with Miracle Whip as it’s much lower in fat and overall calories.  You can also try mustard.  I think yellow mustard is gross, but I love spicy brown mustard, and it’s especially low in calories (3 kcals/tsp).

Nonfat processed foods- I’m not recommending that you eat nonfat processed foods. My recommendation is to stay away from that shit.  There is lowfat peanut butter, and I hope that makes your furrow your brow and be suspicious of how the hell that works.  They replace some of the fat with maltodextrin (a carbohydrate used as a filler in a lot of foods), and I don’t like that.  Granted, I don’t buy peanut butter with other weird fillers either- just plain peanuts and salt for me, thanks.  My recommendation is to just eat less of it because you’re not going to make it lowfat and not weird.  The same goes for salad dressing.  I actually don’t buy salad dressing because I don’t eat much salad at home and because there are too many preservatives and things I can’t pronounce on the label. The number of those words increases by about 30% when you go nonfat because they fill it with a lot of science experiment results in order to make it taste somewhat close to normal.  Sure you can buy these nonfat foods and reduce your fat intake, but what else are you eating? No one knows for sure. Just reduce your portion size or make your own (salad dressing, at least) with less oil.

Steer clear of all of Paula Deen’s recipes.

paula-deen-butter-1Final Stats and Remarks

Goal/Normal

Baseline Data

Vegan

Paleo

WW

GF

Smoothies

DASH

Low Fat

Anthro
Weight

121-60

127.5

127.5

128.5

124

120

124

123.5

123

BMI

18.5-24.9

20

20

20.1

19.5

19

19.5

19.5

19.25

PBF

21-32

21.4

21.2

20.6

21.3

18.5

19.0

?

?

WC

<35

27.5

27.5

27.5

27.5

27.5

27.5

?

26.5

HC

38.5

37.5

38

38

38

38

?

36.5

W:H Ratio

<0.8

0.71

0.73

0.72

0.72

0.72

0.72

?

0.73

Blood Pressure

<120/80

113/77

101/69

105/72

110/70

93/65

92/68

91/68

103/66

Diet
Total kcal

2000-2200

1975

1809

1965

1900

1850

1980

1865

1780

Protein (g)

77.5

57

100

75

78

80

70

89

Protein (%)

Oct-35

16

12%

20

16

17

17

15

22

CHO (%)

49-52

51

39-50

47

54

52

54

52

60

Fiber (g)

at least 25

26

42

32

27

29

33

30

23

Fat (%)

20-35

29.5

44-54

47

30

31

29

33

18

Sat Fat (%)

<10

7

8

8

7

7

7

8

7

Sodium (mg)

2300

2587

2138-2527

2132

2370

2250

2320

2147

2315

Potassium (mg)

4700

3479

3959-4109

3742

3628

3658

3925

3874

3143

Fruit/Veg (servings)

5-9

3-7

8-12

6-8

5-7

6-8

8-10

7-9

4-6

Cost

192.59

206.38

120.97

128.57

135.42

127.32

145.20

I chose the lowest fat intake that I reached this month, 18%.  As you can see, I struggled to eat enough calories, but all in all, not a whole lot to report.  My blood pressure went up a bit, probably because my fruit and veggie intake went down.  I no longer have a way to measure my percent body fat, so that won’t be reported any longer.  And my ass is disappearing.

Next stop: sustainability month! It’s about to get real…expensive.

The “eat all the healthy food and a little of the unhealthy food” plan

Standard

I’ve received a couple requests to post more often, but it’s probably not going to happen. My dissertation is due very soon (in like a week), and then I’ve got that whole dissertation defense thing to do, all of which takes precedent over 2013, With a Grain of Salt (sorry).  However, I have been following the Weight Watchers Points Plus diet plan for the last twelve days, and in general, I feel like this baby elephant:

pinterest.com

The Premise Behind Weight Watchers

Weight Watchers (WW) is a commercial weight loss/maintenance plan, in which foods are assigned a point value, and you keep track of your points everyday (or almost everyday…more on that in a minute).

When you sign up for WW, you input some data about yourself (sex, age, height, weight, physical activity level), and it calculates the number of points you are allotted/day.

No one gets less than 26 or more than 71 points per day.  If you’re like me and don’t want to pay for WW, you can figure out your point allowance via many blogs and tutorials.  I would put a link to the one I used, but WordPress temporarily disabled my blog when I did that, so you’re just going to have to do the really hard work of Googling it yourself, much like I did.

No matter what your daily point allowance, you also get 49 extra points per week.  You can spread these throughout the week, or if you know that you have some event coming up (like a big dinner or party in which alcoholic beverage consumption may also take place), you can save them and use them all at once.  I really like this feature because it puts the emphasis on looking at your diet over a longer period of time (week vs. day), and it flexibility is intrinsically built into the plan.

In 2010, WW moved to WW PointsPlus, and some really important changes came with that.  On the old program, the focus was solely on calorie intake, so you could technically eat Twinkies and ramen noodles all day, as long as you didn’t eat a lot of them and remained within your point goal.  In 2010, the program changed to focus on the quality of those calories, and I can’t emphasize enough how important that is.  The new algorithm to determine the points of a food is as follows:

[(Fat(g)/3.9)+(Carb(g)/9.2)+(Protein(g)/10.9)-Fiber(g)/12.5)]=points

As you can see, foods that are high in protein and/or fiber will cost you fewer points than foods high in fat and carbohydrates, thus shifting your focus overall to healthier foods.

Most fruits and vegetables are 0 points, so you can eat lots of those (as you should).  Potatoes, avocadoes, fruit juices, and dried fruit aren’t 0 points, which means that you can still eat them, but assigning a point value forces you to not overeat them.

Activity also factors into the equation, and the more you exercise, the more points you can add back into your day/week. In general, burning 80 kcals translates to 1 point.  So, for a woman of my weight, 15 minutes of medium intensity work = 1 point, whereas 15 minutes of high intensity work (i.e. running)= 2 points.

There is also the Power Foods List, which is handy for days that you don’t want to track your points, for whatever reason.  The recommendation on those days is to eat from the Power Foods list to the point of feeling satisfied (not full), and you’ll be able to stay on track with your weight loss/maintenance goal.

Why Weight Watchers Works
WW was named one of the best diets of 2012 by U.S. News and World Report.  It was #1 for the best weight loss diet as well as easiest diet to follow.

Ease of Use
When you sign up for WW, you get access to all their online tools and a phone app that calculates all your points for you (I calculate them myself, which is a pain in the ass).  You’re also given an accelerometer which measures your activity throughout the day, and these are actually pretty expensive to come by.  Also, the Power Foods list (see above) makes life a lot easier.

Weight Loss Effectiveness
There is a huge support system of other people who are following the diet plan, and you can go to in-person meetings or use online forums that allow you to hash out your struggles and share ideas with other people.  Having a support system is one of the main predictors of successful weight loss, in part because you can get ideas from others.  It also makes you accountable to something other than yourself, and most of us know that, if left to our own devices, we typically aren’t always motivated to do what’s best for ourselves.  (My accountability throughout this whole process is to my blog.  Even if no one reads it, I like to pretend there are a lot of you who will ridicule me and hold me in contempt if I don’t follow through with this. It keeps me motivated.)

Weight loss studies have evaluated characteristics of people who are most likely to lose weight and keep it off compared to those who are not successful, and the number one behavior is self-monitoring.  It requires a lot of work to track your diet, but it is extremely effective because knowledge is power and it forces you to be honest with yourself.  It may be a lot of work, but consider any change you’ve ever made, and I can guarantee that the changes that were the most fruitful were also the ones that required the most will power and dedication.

Weight Loss Maintenance
Before I even looked into WW in any real depth, I always recommended it to people who ask me for weight loss advice.  The reasons for this are two-fold:
1) People typically don’t listen to me (or any nutrition professional) when they are given advice because making changes are hard and it’s human nature to follow the path of least resistance.  It turns out that this is the same path that makes you fat and unhealthy. Thus, it’s easier for me to recommend a program that will teach someone everything they need to know. It saves me time, and if people are paying for something, they’re probably more likely to put in the effort to reap the benefits of that service.
2) (This is the less selfish and more important aspect) WW teaches you how to eat healthy, long term.  Studies indicate that weight loss itself isn’t the most challenging aspect of weight control, but maintaining that weight loss is where you have to dig in deep and force those changes to become a way of life.  WW allows you to eat normal food and even unhealthy food, though portion control and moderation are built into the point system.  It also emphasizes healthy foods like fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, and low-fat or nonfat dairy.  It’s really built for real people who aren’t health freaks. So, if you pay attention to the tools at your disposal while following WW, the transition off of WW will likely be much smoother and you’ll be more likely to maintain the weight loss for which you worked so hard.  Other diet plans like NutriSystem provide all the food for you, so you never really learn how to cook healthy foods; thus, weight regain (also termed “recidivism” in the scientific community) is a huge issue with these diets.

My Life as a Weight Watcher
I’m not paying for WW because a) it’s sort of expensive ; b) I’m not trying to lose weight; and 3) this is an experiment to test how realistic dietary plans are, and I’m getting that information by paying no dollars/month. However, for someone who does want to lose weight, I do not recommend going about it the way I am because it’s way more work, and there are so many tools that support you in your health and weight loss goals that you’ll be missing out on by being a cheap ass.

  • I get 26 points/day, which is the lowest allowance possible.  Makes sense since a person with a BMI of 20 shouldn’t really be trying to lose weight.
  • I track my points in my journal, which really makes me wish that I had the online tools.  I feel like an analog girl living in a digital world.  This is also what we could call a Generation Y problem.
  • I started by just tracking my normal diet to see how many points I typically eat, which came out to 26-30. Again, no surprise there, as I’m a weight stable individual and not prone to binging.
  • I kind of got really into tracking my points though, and I had it in my head that I was only allowed 26 points/day.  I forgot about those extra 49 points/week, so, if I wasn’t planning on using a bunch at once, I could/should go up to 33 points/day.  I also forgot about adding my activity points into my daily allotment.  And because of that, I lost 2 pounds in the first 10 days.  Oops.  BUT, it does show you how easy it can be to lose weight on this plan!
  • I find that I am gravitating towards eating fruits and vegetables more than I maybe normally would because they are zero points, so I don’t have to track them. Almost every snack I eat is a fruit or a vegetable.  Well played, WW.
  • I’ve also started eating from the Power Foods list as many days as I can because that also reduces the amount of writing/point calculating I have to do.
  • Mixed meals are the hardest points to calculate and the most work, but for most things, I can just Google whatever food it is, and someone has probably already calculated it.  Thanks, internet.
  • Another goal of WW is the whole 8×8 trick (drink 8 8-oz glasses of water/day).  This is good for me because I definitely don’t drink enough water, and I do track this everyday because I know it’s the hardest thing for me to do. And seriously. It’s so hard.  I haven’t had a day yet where I met this goal. I’m working on it!

Overall, I am elated to be a Weight Watcher after my month on Paleo.  I get to eat things like black beans, and hummus, and cous cous, and oatmeal, and whole grain pasta, and feta, and I’m just so happy. I was also yogurt sober for TWO WHOLE MONTHS. I’m pretty sure I haven’t done that since I started eating that delicious bacteria enriched dairy treat as a young tyke, and I plan on never doing it ever again. You can’t tame this wild beast.

**If anyone from Weight Watchers International, Inc. happened to stumble upon this blog post and wanted to give me access to some online tools for all the great advertising I’m doing, free of charge, I wouldn’t fight it.  Also, if some of the information I’ve said here is wrong, though I’m pretty sure it’s not, you should definitely give me access to all your information, so I can stop misinforming the masses (i.e. all 10 of my followers).