Health, Weight and Beauty

This is the time of year when there is so much discussion around weight, losing weight, getting rid of unwanted fat, toning up, whatever you want to call it, but it can definitely be too much. I think it's important to reflect on health with the new year but is losing those last 5 or 10 pounds really about health? Many people are driven by the reducing the number on the scale or the size of their clothes but perhaps that is where the body is healthiest.

Unfortunately, the media constantly shows us photos of the perfect male or female body with ripped, lean muscles. It's not realistic for us to compare ourselves to them because the photos are typically not real. They are photo-shopped or the model has become dehydrated to look more lean. In this blog post, runner Lauren Fleshman shows how she normally looks compared to her runway photo. I recently started posting short videos online and most of the time I don't have makeup on. Honestly, I'm just too lazy to put it on only to take it off later. I was a little uncomfortable at first but I've decided to just be who I am. It may be a day where I'm dressed up with make up on or where I'm in my workout clothes with bare skin. It's who I am. 

Isn't it more important to be strong and healthy instead of thin and frail? Isn't it more important to be a beautiful person inside than to be a beautiful person outside? Our society sometimes loses sight of this and too much emphasis is put on looking lean and youthful. 

It's especially common for women to be judged on how we look. It can strongly affect a person's self esteem but self esteem starts with self acceptance. We need to all love ourselves for who we are today. If the body is not in a healthy status, make changes to correct that. Eat more vegetables, sleep more and use meditation to cope with stress. All of these things improve health and help the body to reach it's optimal weight. Recognize what your optimal weight is, it may be where you are right now and not 5 or 10 pounds less. If you lost that weight you may find yourself cold all the time, with less energy and not actually looking better. If you are an athlete, you may find that you have less power and that will not make you any faster. 

Put health first, performance will follow and let you beauty shine from within. 

Meal Plans - Why I Typically Don't Provide Them

When I have a call with prospective client, I often get asked if I provide meal plans. My answer is typically no. Some are disappointed, at first, but once I explain why, it starts to make sense.

For starters, most people cannot follow a meal plan exactly as it is written. Life gets in the way. We are all busy and don't have time to prepare every meal from a recipe or measure every serving of food we eat. And, that is not sustainable. I want clients to be able put together a balanced meal or snack that will serve their body well. 

Also, a client may not enjoy all the foods included in the meal plan. During the intake process I try to get a good idea of what foods clients enjoy and dislike, but it's impossible to know everything. For instance, the photos show the same meal but with one person that likes red meat and the other person only likes fish. We also learn through the intake process that certain foods may not agree with each client's body and this is different for everyone and can change over time. 

Lastly, meal plans are not sustainable and they should not be. A meal plan is meant only for a particular period of time. Even if a client were to finish the meal plan exactly, then what does he do? He didn't really learn much in the process regarding food choice. 

My number one goal is to establish an eating style that is sustainable and enjoyable for each client, which will look different for each client. It needs to fit with her lifestyle and provide satisfaction. It's important to me that I meet every client where he or she is right now. We start with a 3 day food log. I can see daily patterns, nutrition deficiencies and macronutrient imbalances that are keeping the client from achieving her goals. During the first meeting, we discuss how the client wants to approach dietary changes and I recommend changes to breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks.  I also provide recipes that factor in the client's desire and time for meal prep. As we continue our relationship, clients typically get more adventurous.  We are able to add more variety and possibly even a little more food prep, but we start easy. 

There are special cases where a meal plan is needed, such as dealing with GI issues or an elimination diet, but in most cases a meal plan only ends in frustration. I want to work with my clients to establish a lifelong love of food and how it affects their bodies. 

How the Sugar Industry Pushed the Blame on Cardiovascular Disease to Fat

There was an article recently released in the NY Times discussing how the sugar industry influenced the review of studies linking dietary habits with coronary heart disease. Not surprisingly, the sugar industry paid some of the experts to minimize links on sugar or sucrose (fructose and glucose) and push the findings to look at saturated fat as the culprit. 

Much of my nutrition reading and research has shown that the dietary guidelines to reduce saturated fat (and not sugar) were based on biased studies, such as the flawed Ancel Keyes' Seven Countries Study, which was actually based on 22 countries but only seven countries reflected the data he needed to substantiate his hypothesis, linking saturated fat to cardiovascular disease. The Big Fat Surprise by Nina Teicholz is an excellent read for those that want to understand more on how the misinformation on saturated fats influenced dietary guidelines and how new findings are finally overturning the belief that saturated fat causes coronary disease. 

That said, I was still shocked and very upset to learn about the sugar industry's influence on dietary guidelines since the 1960s. These are the same dietary guidelines that have led us to higher rates of obesity, diabetes and coronary heart disease. According to the article, the internal sugar industry documents, uncovered by a researcher at UCSF, suggest that the sugar industry has influenced much of the dietary guidelines for the last 50 years. Information from the internal documents was published in the JAMA Internal Medicine so I had to start by reading the publication. I encourage you to also read it but I have to warn you, it is upsetting. 

In 1954, the Sugar Research Foundation (SRF) saw an opportunity to capture market share by shifting consumers to eat a lower fat diet and replace those calories with sugar. They decided to use money (the equivalent of $5.3 million today) to help "teach" people that sugar is needed to give us energy to "face our daily problems." From there they launched Project 226. 

In 1964, the SRF was alerted that new coronary heart disease research was cause for concern: “From a number of laboratories of greater or lesser repute, there are flowing reports that sugar is a less desirable dietary source of calories than other carbohydrates." At that point, the SRF launched a campaign to counteract this research. But this was just the beginning, as there were other negative findings coming out against sugar, which you can read about in publication (see link above).

In 1967, Project 226 posted a 2-part literature review “Dietary Fats, Carbohydrates and Atherosclerotic Disease,” in the New England Journal of Medicine. The review concluded that Americans should reduce dietary cholesterol and eat more polyunsaturated fats to reduce the risk of coronary heart disease. The review did not mention that it was funded by the SRF.

The review discounted studies that the SRF found threatening, particularly those showing that sucrose increased serum cholesterol and triglycerides, sugar negatively affected the microbiome (impressive that they determined this many years ago and we are just learning more about the microbiome today!) and fructose consumption led to higher levels of fat formation. The review also snubbed studies showing that replacing sugar with starches improved triglycerides and, most importantly, that substituting fat or vegetables for sugar had a large effect on improving serum cholesterol levels. 

To point the finger at saturated fat, the review left out much of the results regarding changes in fat intake and overstated the results of one study to conclude that substituting polyunsaturated fat for saturated fat improves serum cholesterol levels. Although this one study was not well controlled, the review stated, "the lack of mechanistic evidence confirming the biological plausibility that dietary cholesterol and saturated fat raised serum cholesterol levels was unimportant."

As you can see, it's alarming to know how much food industry influences our dietary guidelines, but the good news is that things are changing. People are starting to realize that all fats, including saturated fat, are not bad for us. Adding more fat to the diet can help improve many things including blood sugar regulation, weight management, hormone levels, inflammation and, yes, even coronary heart disease. 


Vitamin D Supplementation - You Can Have too Much of a Good Thing

Many clients come to me with blood test results showing low levels of vitamin D. If the doctor reviews the results, he or she typically puts the client on a supplement with 5,000 or 10,000 ius. This may be warranted but studies are now showing that vitamin D can become toxic if taken in high doses for long periods of time.

I recommend that clients start supplementation if results are low but that they retest after a few months to check levels. If the serum level have increased we can reduce supplementation to a maintenance dose. The client should test again in a few months to confirm that the maintenance dose is the right amount. 

in addition, I only recommend supplements that also include vitamin A and vitamin K2. Vitamin K2 is different from K1. K1 helps blood to clot and is found in leafy green. K2 is made in the body and mainly found in animal products and some fermented foods. K2 is needed to get vitamin D and calcium out of the blood and into cells. The risk of toxic levels in the blood with vitamin D supplementation is reduced when combined with vitamin K2. 

You may be wondering... what are healthy levels of vitamin D? That will vary, based on health status, other health conditions, genetics and demands placed on the body. For healthy individuals a level of 40 Ng/Ml is sufficient. People with autoimmune conditions, genetic SNPs affecting D absorption and athletes may be better with higher levels of around 50 or 60 Ng/Ml. 

It's also important to remember that the body can make vitamin D from sunlight but that requires exposure without sunscreen and adequate cholesterol levels. That's right, enough cholesterol so I don't advise clients to go too low on cholesterol but that's another blog post. Don't be afraid to get outside without sunscreen on your body but move to the shade once your skin starts to turn pink. 

For more information on vitamin D functions and concerns over toxicity, see this article by Chris Kresser.