Ditch The Scales

You roll out of bed and stumble down the corridor, nerves brewing. Speaking of brewing – you make your way to the toilet and get out every ounce of excrement. You hate inaccuracy.

There it lies, judging you. Daring you to step on. Like a robot you oblige. The cold glass surface wakes you and the butterflies in your belly flutter. You gulp as the digital display flashes. Like Russian Roulette, numbers begin to flicker before settling on a figure.

You groan. Not what you expected. Your mood sinks but then plateaus. What if the floor is uneven? That would make the reading wrong and you hate inaccuracy. You laugh wildly and move the scales to another surface. Then you step on again.

Darn it. The same number appears, taunting you. You trudge off, the disappointment is plastered on your face.

You hate weighing yourself, but it’s important, isn’t it? It keeps you accountable and tracks your progress.

You ball up your fists and shout, there must be a better way! The rage within begins to settle and your mind clears. You begin to reminisce about your times with the scales and realise the relationship has been a rocky one.

You’re always anxious on your dates. In the lead-up, you change your eating habits in an effort to impress. And if things go well? You reward yourself by overeating.

In front of the mirror, you yourself, why do I stay in this toxic relationship? If I were to give up the scales, I would eat intuitively rather than relying on the feedback of that digital beast. Besides, who knows how accurate it is?

And you hate inaccuracy.

Writing on a legal pad, the pros of ditching the scales begin to add up. Healthy long-term eating habits, reduced stress and an improved relationship with food and body image.

You stand up triumphantly, legal pad clutched in one hand. You’ve made up your mind – the relationship ends today. It won’t be easy, you tell yourself. There will be times when the saucy scales lure you back with her sleek lines.

Fight the urge. Wean yourself off if you have to – from daily to weekly to monthly.

There are other ways to measure progress. You’ll pay more attention to hunger, energy levels and your fullness. The way your clothes fit and how you look in the mirror are also useful tools in the right doses.

The only scales you’ll pay any mind to are those of the piano.

 

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Deficiency Versus Malabsorption

Lethargy, loss of appetite and sleep disturbances are common symptoms of a nutrient or mineral deficiency. A lack of variety in what you eat is a common cause. But don’t jump conclusions without deep thought and investigation.

Everyone has a deficiency – according to the research. Are supplement companies to blame?

“Simply take this pill twice a day for the rest of your life and your problem will be solved!”

Their promise of a quick fix is enticing. But before you go to the chemist, change your diet. Include foods high in the nutrient or mineral that you lack.

Still feeling like a tortoise moving through peanut butter?

You may have an absorption issue. This is where, despite eating well, your body fails to soak up the nutrients and minerals you provide it with.

One cause of impaired absorption is an excess of other things floating around your body. Certain substrates bind to vitamins and minerals, for example. When there is a surplus, nutrients can’t perform their normal role.

Phytic acid, a substance found in bran and seed products, can stop magnesium from working properly. The result can be deficiency-like symptoms.

There are other causes of malabsorption too, like enzyme deficiencies. These help to break down things.

Solution

Forget the shotgun approach. Supplements aren’t the cure-all.  Use the sniper rifle instead. Include your doctor or a dietician. A blood test can reveal where the problem lies with accuracy. Then, you can work on a targeted solution.

Longevity Versus Performance

Does eating for performance negatively impact on health and longevity?

People who look to get the most out of their body on the field or in the gym eat differently to those who aim to live a long life.

Performance nutrition

A performance-based diet requires a high-calorie intake to:

  • Build or maintain muscle, which is metabolically demanding
  • Replenish glycogen stores, particularly for athletes involved in aerobic sports
  • Provide the athlete with adequate energy levels

On average, eating for performance demands:

  • High calories
  • A macronutrient ratio skewed toward higher carb and protein intake for energy and muscle-building purposes
  • A greater percentage of calories coming from animal-based products in order to get enough protein

Nutrition for longevity

A low-calorie diet is often associated with eating for health and longevity. This is because:

  • The cells of the body have to do less work. Imagine two cars: one that is driven cross-country a lot, the other, to the shops twice a week. The first car will succumb to wear and tear. The second won’t
  • The body becomes more efficient at processing calories reducing the workload for the body

A typical longevity-based diet requires:

  • Low calories
  • A macronutrient ratio higher in fats due to lower carbohydrate and protein intake
  • More vegetables due to their health properties

Real world examples

The athletic population is a good example of a group eating for performance. The research for life expectancy among athletes is mixed. Some studies suggest a longer life expectancy, compared to average, while others propose the opposite.

Monks are a good example of people who eat for longevity. Many monks fast and they live longer than most.

So, there is a reason to believe that an athletic diet is not the most effective way to live the longest possible life. But, statistically, its difficult to prove because:

  • The athletic population is diverse. Statistics show different life expectancies for different sports with NFL players being notoriously low. Also, there is too much individual variation. Lumping athletes into categories fails to consider that each person eats and lives differently. The best performing athletes could eat a diet that also promotes longevity. But this wouldn’t show up in the stats.
  • There are too many variables to consider. Nutrition is only one piece of the performance puzzle and a long life. Other factors like sleep and stress levels also have a bearing.

Do you think eating for performance shortens a person’s life? Leave your thoughts below.

Eat Freely

A hallmark of healthy eating is restricting ‘unhealthy’ foods like pizza, pancakes and pop tarts. People who take ‘healthy eating’ to the extreme are faced with a dilemma when they eventually succumb to an unhealthy food.

They binge, feel remorseful and then reinstate their eating restraints to make amends.

The binge

Overeating often occurs because…

  • The damage is done. You’ve eaten something that breaks your rules so eating more of the same won’t make a difference
  • A fear of scarcity. It’s ironic, given the abundance of food in developed countries, a fear of lack could drive your eating habits. From an evolutionary standpoint, the ‘feast or famine’ mindset makes sense. Prior to the agricultural revolution, food wasn’t a sure thing; humans relied on scavenging and food intake fluctuated wildly. The same instincts kick in when you indulge in a glorious glazed doughnut. Your primitive brain thinks: ‘This might be the last opportunity I get to eat a doughnut, so I better eat as many as I can!’

How do you override the binge mindset that leaves you feeling guilty and with an impending sense that your guts will literally explode?

The solution: let yourself eat whatever you like, whenever you like. Within reason of course.

By following the 80/20 principle, eating ‘healthy’ 80% of the time, the remaining 20% can be spent on foods you have a hankering for but aren’t nutritious. It changes your definition of a ‘successful’ day’s eating and lets you eat previously restricted foods, removing the stigma.

Adopting this mindset is a challenge but the long-term payoffs are worth it. You might feel like you’re breaking the law when you eat freely but it’s a sustainable and healthy strategy while bingeing is not.

Redefine your definition of healthy eating and allow it to include some indulgence.

Why Do You Eat?

There is a growing obsession with food in our culture.

Food and eating have always formed a strong part of society and plays different roles in different cultures, but we place a greater emphasis on food than ever before.

The plethora of food-related TV shows and YouTube channels contribute to our focus on food. Another factor is the ease of food accessibility and availability, in developed countries.

Though mindset is the main driver.

We live in an era of instant gratification; social media provides us with an avenue to gain acceptance and popularity without leaving the house. Pornography offers the same immediate satisfaction.

Food’s omnipresence and the growing problem with food-related disorders, like obesity and bulimia, is no coincidence. Instead of food being sustenance and a way to connect with others it’s used fill a void.

Why work hard in the gym and gain long-term rewards like improved health and performance when we can feel good immediately by eating a chocolate bar?

Why work hard to further our career when we can forget our dissatisfaction by eating a calorie-laden snack?

We need to step back and look at why we eat. While it’s OK to look forward to eating, if your day consists of thinking about breakfast, lunch and dinner, you need to add more substance, not sustenance, to your life.

Reassess your relationship between food.

Intuitive Eating

The experience of eating is dreaded by some.

Have I eaten too much? Have I eaten too little? Is this food ‘clean’? Guilt surrounding food is a growing concern and needs to be nipped in the bud before it gets worse.

What’s the purpose of eating? Why does it exist?

To sustain life. Eating gives the body nutrition to function.

For those aspiring to perform at their best, their nutrition to reflects this. They eat foods – mainly whole foods – that provide the best fuel for their goal.

There is nothing wrong with this approach but it can leave people with a limited range of foods they deem healthy creating unhealthy habits.

Is it healthy to eat the same meal of chicken and broccoli all week? Is it healthy to avoid social encounters to keep a ‘perfect’ nutrition plan intact?

Misinformation

Disregard the media when it comes to nutrition. Their goal is better ratings which thrive on over-dramatisation and fear mongering.

Bigger picture

Spend time learning nutrition basics rather than carefully measuring every ounce of food. Forget the notion that fats are bad and that you should avoid carbs after 3.02pm and learn the facts. What differentiates saturated fats for unsaturated? What role do they play and in what foods can they be found in?

Historically speaking…

What did our ancestors – free from modern ailments like diabetes and heart disease – eat? Whole foods like fruits and vegetables with the occasional feast.

It’s OK to splurge from time to time. Feasting in ancient times was necessary as food security was low before to the dawn of farming.

In modern times, eating more than necessary on occasion plays a different role. It allows you and me to enjoy social gatherings, like birthdays, and indulge in foods that are not ‘healthy’ and that satisfies our cravings.

It allows us to be normal, intuitive eaters.

Intuitive eating is not a new term. In fact, a book has been written on the subject.

The idea – to eat like a child.

Think back to when you ate spaghetti with your hands. Were you tediously counting the calories in each handful?

For much of our youth, eating was a simple activity. We listened to our bodies and ate to satisfy our hunger and stopped when we were full. Some weeks we ate more, devouring whole loaves of bread after school, while at other times our appetite was diminished.

With age, our natural eating tendencies changed. We overheard stories that pasta makes you chubby or you should limit your fat intake, and these weaselled their way into how we ate.

What we need is a memory-erasing device (Men In Black anyone?). Let’s approach food simply – eating based on feel coupled with a good understanding of the nutrition basics.

Simple enough right?

The Protein Myth

How important is protein?

Protein – or more accurately – amino acids, are considered the ‘building blocks’ of the body.

Those concerned with pursuing strength or athleticism place protein on a pedestal due to its link with muscle growth.

To build muscle reports suggest 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight is needed. For a 200-pound male that’s 200g of protein a day.

Our propensity for protein began in the 1970’s, around the time of the Schwarzenegger era. It has since permeated its way from bodybuilder to the layman and a dish that lacks protein is considered incomplete.

But there is a growing case that we don’t need as much protein as once thought. The number of vegan strongmen, NFL athletes and bodybuilders are increasing. Examining their diets shows that protein can be expected from unexpected sources like vegetables.

Do the vitamins and minerals in fruit and vegetables improve the body’s processing efficiency so less protein is needed?

There’s no doubting the need for protein but be wary of the exploits of agribusiness and the protein powder industry – these groups tend to fund the studies that show the benefits of a high protein diet. This is comparable to the dairy industry’s claims that milk is the only means of getting adequate calcium – there are many other sources that provide effective ways to do so.

Do your own investigative work. Don’t allow mass media to do your thinking.

Think Big

Pareto’s Principle – 20% of investments generate 80% of income  – was a concept put forward by Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto. Some argue the ratio is even more skewed, distribution of the world’s wealth being an example. Recently it was claimed that 62 people hold half the world’s wealth.

Pareto’s principle can be extrapolated to building strength and improving health.

We are often caught up in the details – putting too much currency into small things that give only a small benefit –  instead of focusing on the basics.

Supplements are a good example of investing in the trivial.

Unplug your headphones and walk a lap of the gym. Talk of whey protein, creatine and pre-workouts will soon clog your ear holes.

Are you looking to build muscle or lose weight? Protein powder will do the trick.

And your car’s faulty gearbox – a scoop of whey will fix that too.

This ‘magic bullet’ phenomenon needs to stop. It may not be harming us but it’s certainly not having the benefits claimed by the supplement companies. And throwing money at this industry will only increase their influence.

Slip your wallet back in your pocket and focus on the basics.

Take nutrition. If most of what you eat is wholesome food, you’re on the right track. The same applies to training. Compound movements should be the focus of each session.

If you’re an elite athlete or believe you have everything in place, and I mean everything, then consider the finer points like supplements. For the rest of us keeping it simple is the best and easiest way to ensure consistent progress.