My thoughts and perspectives on health, science, and logic… Keep an open mind!

Archive for the ‘Nutrition’ Category

Back in the Saddle: Perspective is KEY!


Hello readers (it SHOULD be plural, right?)

First I want to say that I’ve been away from blogging for far too long.  It wasn’t really by choice.  I had a number of job-related issues come up that took all of my attention for the past few weeks.  But you don’t want to hear about all that, and it’s not why I’m writing anyway.

Aside from finally having some time to write, I decided that today was a good day to put up a new post partly due to an unsettling trend I’ve noticed.  Namely, it’s the new trend of being an online health expert.  What do I mean by this?

Dog Expert 1

I have to admit, some of us fake it well…

I’m sure we all have a friend or two (or in my case, dozens) who think that they are in a position to dole out advice on everything from how weight lifting makes women look manly to why this organic supplement will keep you trim.  While these people usually have the best of intentions — and I say “usually” since there are always the ones who try to peddle some supplement line or training DVD — they are not qualified to give even the most BASIC advice.  Is your aunt in any way educated on human physiology?  Could your buddy in the gym describe the shape of a hip joint, much less explain in detail how it functions?

Maybe I have high standards, but it seems a little idiotic to listen to the “facts” (read: misinformed opinions) of people with little to no education in exercise and nutrition!  But we do it all the time.  Someone is attractive or somehow has a persuasive manner about them, and we let them tell us whatever we want to hear.  We choose to listen to talking points and sound bites instead of doing our own research or asking the person to further explain their point of view.  But we must understand that, unless we do this, we are setting ourselves up for failure.

Now I would hope that anyone reading this is intelligent enough to know better than to buy a product just because it contains some impossible-to-find, homeopathic, all-natural, prestige, gourmet, mother-approved, tax-deductible extract made from a baboon’s ear wax!  Many claims are obviously bogus.  But others are far more insidious and may pass as legitimate to the casual observer.  I won’t go on a rant today pointing these out (though that might be a good idea for a future blog), but just realize that there are more too-good-to-be-true schemes out there than you can possibly imagine.

I’m gonna be saying this A LOT…

So how can an average person sort out all of the B.S. from the facts?  While there are no sure-fire ways to catch them all, I CAN offer a few guidelines:

   1.) If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. — Of course I’d put this at the top.  This will help to wake up your inner skeptic before things get out of hand.

   2.) Fad diets/exercises come and go, but scientific progress tends to show more consistency. — This doesn’t mean science isn’t wrong at times.  It means that we only have the existing body of research to help us to figure out what might really be effective (versus some new product that will just make a guy a quick buck).

   3.) If we want to badly enough, we’ll believe anything! — We all like to think we’re beyond this, but reality seems to suggest otherwise.  Most people are very susceptible to the power of suggestion, whether that comes from themselves or someone else, and we need to be aware of this fact and temper our decisions accordingly.

   4.) Nutritional supplements aren’t regulated by the FDA! — Essentially, this means that product manufacturers aren’t required to list everything that is in their supplements.  Moreover, they can make outrageous claims about the effectiveness of their products without much fear of reprisal, since there isn’t a massive agency actively investigating them.

   5.) Learn to do your own research.— It may not be sexy or glamorous, but sometimes the only sure way to get the answer you seek is by digging through some research articles.  Barring that, though, you can still get a good bit of info by consulting a number of experts in relevant fields and reading from major health/fitness organizations (CAUTION — even the big groups get it wrong sometimes!)

   6.) Be wary of any “expert” who doesn’t do #5!— Anyone who’s trying to convince you of something should be able to back up the claims that they make.  This means actually citing scientific research and logic instead of their own beliefs.  We live in a world filled with gym science, prejudices, misconceptions and half-truths.  If we’re to make any sense of it, we have to start dealing in facts without letting our feelings get in the way.  Which brings me to…

   7.) Bias is EVERYWHERE!!!— Most of the exercise “rules” that you’ve probably heard, particularly if they have come from a source other than someone who is very educated in the field, are the result of bias.  Sometimes it’s subconscious, and sometimes it’s not.  But to some degree, many of the decisions we make are largely the result of emotional attachments or aversions instead of reason.  The next time you hear advice from someone, try to figure out if they are basing guidance on their knowledge or their feelings.  I’ll explore this more in the future.

I could rant on about this, but I’ve already probably bored you to tears.  So let me wrap up by simply saying that the world is full of lies and misconceptions.  And the sad truth is, there usually won’t be anyone around to help you sort it all out.  The best tool you have is between your ears, and you’re gonna have to use it a lot if you want to avoid falling into the traps that so many people do.  That’s a big motivator for me as I write this blog.  Namely, to dispel what myths I can and shed a little light on things for anyone kind enough to read.  So until next time, keep learning and keep your eyes open.

Take care!

— Geoff

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Tipping the Scales


First off, sorry for taking so long to post another entry.  Life gets hectic sometimes, but I’m sure everyone knows that.  I’ve been working on other content for my site, and I hope to have additions to AT LEAST the Nutrition page up soon.

I also hope all of my fellow USA dwellers had a great (and safe) Fourth of July!  I’m thankful to live in a place that allows me to have this website at all, and to pursue my education so that I may provide some knowledge to my readers.  But, as July 4th is a national holiday in the USA, it brought with it one of the hallmarks of American celebration.  Namely: FOOD!

I would bet that many people are already regretting their overindulgence in hot dogs, barbecue, and other tasty Independence Day fare.  Especially since this holiday falls in the middle of beach season!  As soon as the last bottle rocket fizzles out, people start scrambling to right the wrongs we committed at the picnic table.

In that vein, everyone seems to have a question about food and their weight.  Am I too fat?  Too skinny?  What does BMI mean, anyway?!?  Many of us live and die by the dreaded scale, while others don’t even bother with diet and exercise in the first place due to fear of never seeing the right numbers.  While I’m by no means an expert on diet and nutrition, there are a few ideas that I think might be good to keep in mind.  Let’s start with the first step.  Stop, take a deep breath, and realize:

It’s ONLY a number!

Now before people get mad, let me clarify.  Your weight can certainly indicate that you have gained or lost pounds, but without context, the readout on that scale is just a number.  A number of other factors determine what meaning that number has.  Until you have an idea of how much muscle and fat you have (as well as how much water you’re retaining and how much digestive content you might be carrying), you won’t have a complete picture of what your body weight actually means.  So try to decide whether you have to lose fat, gain muscle, or both to reach your fitness goals.  Remember what I said about knowing EXACTLY what you want your outcome to be?  (Review S.M.A.R.T. principle!)  Now that we’ve accomplished that, we need to:

Understand YOUR body!

Tied up in the concept of understanding whether you actually gain or lose weight is knowing your body.  Everyone has different proportions.  Just because you’re the same height as another person doesn’t mean you should be the exact same weight.  Think about this for a minute, and it should make sense.  Are her hips and shoulders set at the same width as yours?  Does that guy carry as much weight in his legs as you do, or as little in his arms?  How long are your limbs compared to someone else’s?  And then, after this is all done, you must consider what kind of fat we’re talking about.  Visceral fat (which lines your organs) has been linked to numerous diseases and health issues when found in excessive amounts.  Subcutaneous fat, on the other hand, does not carry the same strong connections to health risks (though it’s what we worry about most, since it’s what we actually SEE).  Once we take these things into account, the picture gets more complicated, doesn’t it?

A skinfold test is only as good as the person doing the pinching!

To have a more complete idea of your risk for heart disease and other ailments, it might be necessary to get some blood work done.  Knowing your cholesterol levels and free fatty acid (FFA) blood content can give you a much better indicator of how healthy your system is than the old “pinch an inch” test.  So get all of the facts, if you’re really wondering about your total health profile!  Now one more big thing that I want to stress is this:

Find a way to live COMFORTABLY!

While most of us could use some improvements in the weight or health department, a lot of people take it overboard.  They may set unrealistic goals.  Remember that, more important than actually GETTING to your target weight or shape is STAYING there.  If you had to go on a crash diet and be miserable for six months just to fit into that bikini, was it really worth it?  As clichéd as it sounds, health is not a sprint.  It’s a lifelong marathon.  We get where we want to go by making tiny adjustments to our lifestyle over time.  It doesn’t all happen overnight, and trying to force changes too quickly will USUALLY result in disappointment.  So take your time, and find slow ways to adjust to healthier habits.  Whether it’s cutting back on sodas this month, or jogging an extra 30 minutes a week before ramping it up again in the Fall, we must make the changes gradual.  So shoot for something that you can maintain in a healthy and sane fashion.  Remember:

QUANTITY of WEIGHT doesn’t always indicate QUALITY of LIFE

So eat well.  Exercise.  Get your rest.  And most of all, enjoy it!  A healthy life doesn’t happen all at once.

And I for one am thankful for that 😉

Cheers,

Geoff

Sweet Dreams!


I know plenty of people who feel as though they are doing all of the right things to get fit, yet they aren’t quite seeing the results they were expecting.  This could be for a number of reasons.  First off, those expectations could just be unrealistic.  But assuming that is not the case, there must be some other issue.  The single most common factor that I see is that these people burn the candle at both ends.

The human body is a wonderful thing, don’t get me wrong.  But it needs time to recover!  Think of progressive exercise as a sort of race between the forces that break your body down and those that build it back up.  When we work out, we cause a number of physical and physiological stresses that our body must respond to and recover from.  Those stresses initially have the upper hand, and the period after a significant workout is when we are more susceptible to injury.  Proper nutrition and rest periods for the affected tissues are key to overcoming these stresses (and actually getting stronger).  Unfortunately, too many of my friends figure they’ll just skip sleep, load up on coffee and energy drinks and attack their workouts with as much intensity as possible.

This works great… for about a week.

It is a FACT that repeatedly exposing your body to hard exercise without proper rest can lead to overtraining syndrome and injuries.  Your mood can take a turn for the worse, your appetite can go haywire, and your overall energy levels tend to plummet.  So listen to your body, and get some rest!  And just as importantly, you must put decent gas in the tank.  Eating cleaner foods will tend to give you more restful sleep.  Overloading on sodium, refined sugars, overly greasy foods and preservatives tends to give many people more difficulty with achieving restful sleep in the first place.

Here’s an article highlighting sleep as an important ingredient in longevity.  While specific scientific studies aren’t cited in the article, it does illustrate some trends in people who live to see 100.  They tend to sleep more than many people today, and they tend to eat a little better (along with staying somewhat active and staying involved with family, etc.).  Give it a look-see, and think about your own sleep habits.  There are probably areas where we can all improve.

Yahoo! — Want to Live to 100?  SLEEP!!!

Cheers,

– Geoff

A Little Fiber Goes a Long Way


While my post on what NOT to read may have given the impression that I hate Internet health articles, the reality is quite the opposite.  Some convey a very sensible and concise message.  This is of course more believable when the article isn’t trying to SELL something!  Take this Yahoo! article, for instance:

Yahoo! — The 14 Best and Worst Foods for Digestion

I tend to eat a fairly good bit of fiber (much more than most of my friends, and I am often teased for this).  I find that it not only helps with filling me up and keeping everything “regular,” but it also makes it easier for my body to handle excesses that I sometimes force upon it.  While I’m not going to dig into glycemic index talks right now, I find that tempering my meals with a healthy dose of fiber tends to help to stabilize my weight and energy levels.  While it’s not a complete fix, it seems to help with some of the cheating guilt 🙂

One can always nitpick about a few things.  I think the author should have made a better effort to distinguish between pectin and cellulose (different types of fiber) and clarified regarding which kinds of fat are most likely contribute to gastric irritation.  But the overall message is pretty clear and accurate, and that’s the big point of this post.  Try a couple of simple things like working some fiber-friendly foods into your diet.  See if it doesn’t help a bit!

Finally, make sure you couple your fiber with a good bit of water.  That tends to help things operate more smoothly, as excessive fiber intake without enough hydration can actually have an opposite effect from what you want!

Always more coming,

– Geoff

The “Sales Pitch”


While I haven’t been in the industry as a Personal Trainer for a terribly long time, I have spent years dealing with them and talking to people who hire them.  They, much like their clients, come in all shapes and sizes.  They come from all backgrounds.  But I’ve been noticing one thing that seems to be a little too common for my taste — the “salesman” mentality.  Namely, these people worry a little too much about selling a product and not enough about helping their client.

Too many trainers think of this before anything else.

“But Geoff, trainers have to make money, too!  They’ve got to sell themselves… right?”

Yes and no.  While every person has the right to pursue a reasonable income and to be compensated for their expertise, there are certain lines that should not be crossed.  During most certification processes, trainers are taught to find ways to sell themselves and their services by being open and direct.  I have no problem with this.

But some people are a little too aggressive about it.  Certain trainers focus too much on stretching out the number of sessions from their clients in order to squeeze more cash out of them.  That, in my mind, is crossing one of those lines I was talking about.  When the transaction involves a person’s health and well being, we have an obligation to provide the best service we can to that customer.  Doing any less is akin to a doctor’s constant referrals for extra examinations and continual future visits when he or she already knows the solution to the patient’s ailment.

In the medical industry, this would be seen as blatantly unethical and would cause a public outcry.  Why not in the exercise industry???

Furthermore, some trainers commit an even worse violation.  They may try to sell other products, often nutritional supplements and other related packages as a work-from-home scheme for more money (think the Mary Kay peddlers of the fitness world).  Nutritional counseling is outside the scope of personal trainers’ expertise.  Let me repeat that:

Nutritional counseling is BEYOND the scope of a Personal Trainer’s education!!!

By law, a trainer is not allowed to prescribe any sort of diet plan to a client unless that trainer also holds a license as a dietician.  Many professionals get around this by simply “suggesting” certain products.  While that might cover the trainer in a legal sense, it does nothing to protect the client.

Also, think about this — a client who already has invested money in a personal trainer is a POWERFUL captive audience!  They might think it’s reasonable to assume that they can get diet advice from their trainer as well, since they have a paid agreement and the subjects seem to be related.  The trouble is that many clients won’t see a problem with taking whatever their trainer tells them as gospel.

This is NOT a real product. Though many trainers would have you believe it is…
-(Courtesy of Warner Bros.)

If a fit-looking personal trainer offers an impressionable client a bottle of “magical glacier water” for an extra fee, they might actually be able to sell it.  That person may not know any better — if he/she thinks MJ’s Secret Stuff will help to get rid of those love handles, the credit card comes flying out!  Too many trainers are not only fine with doing this, but they are encouraging other trainers to do the same to “increase their cash flow.”

A note to everyone out there: This is misguided.  This is unethical.  This is wrong!

Any trainer who willfully gives a client the impression that he or she has more expertise than he/she actually does is violating the trust established with that client.  Any person seeking a trainer should be wary if they try to push other products on the side instead of focusing on just being a good trainer!

Sorry for the rant, but this is another thing that needs to be said.  It’s important for everyone to realize that certifications, while not perfect, tend to exist for a reason.  If a person cannot convincingly explain why he or she is a qualified expert in a field, then that person’s advice should be taken with a big grain of salt.

So take care of yourselves, and always make sure that anyone giving you advice has YOUR BEST INTERESTS at heart.  Live well, and be smart!

Cheers,

– Geoff