All this wasted energy directed at “America’s Obesity Crisis”. Most kids are FAT – that is clear. Yet, despite what the media and any number of shady weight-loss hucksters (which is all of them IMO) might have us believe, there is no mystery as to how to solve the problem.
Most adults are even FATTER. Yet I GUARANTEE I can make any of them lean. And no, I am not about to prescribe an Ironman training plan. That may well NOT work. Stand at the finish of any IM race, and you’ll see plenty of clinically overweight finishers. Most likely they are on a downward weight trajectory, but training to finish an IM did NOT magically take them below 10% body fat. So then what chance does the average (FAT) Joe have?
Not much according to Life magazine. Their cover article this week proclaims that you will NOT lose weight if you exercise. Can’t you just see the millions of FAT (not overweight, not BMI-challeneged; FAT!) folks canceling their gym memberships in droves? The basic premise of this article is that the typical 3×20 minute (or thereabouts) weekly “workout regimen” of the average guy can’t put a dent in the extra calories consumed afterward as a reward in the form of muffins, lattes, etc. Net-net, many folks GAIN weight. The point should be that exercise is not for weight loss but for HEALTH. So keep doing it, and take a look at your diet.
I am here to tell you my friends the “secret” cure to the country’s (and fast becoming the world’s – the scary thing is we can watch the epidemic beginning to unfold worldwide – as “modern civilization” hits developing nations, they start getting fat.) obesity epidemic. Just send me $99.95 for the first 3 months, plus $29.95 shipping and handling, and I’ll send you my… just kidding. I will tell you that I was FAT. Maybe not relative to 90% of the nation’s inhabitants, but relative to my activity and fitness level. In college I hit 225 after entering as a freshman at 185. There was no mystery as to why – I ate a ton of junk and drank lots of beer. Since beginning triathlons in 1992 I have weighed a remarkably stable 200lbs. I am 6’4″ so this means I have actually been pretty slim. But then I got sick of my holiday-added bulk this January and picked up the “Paleo Diet for Athletes”. The reason was not to lose weight per se, but because the premise of the diet made sense to me from an overall health and fitness standpoint. Eat what our prehistoric ancestors ate, and you will be healthier. Pretty simple.
So I went with it and in a short time became leaner than I have ever been, even though it was the time of the year when training hours were relatively low. I dropped 10 lbs of pure sub-cutaneous fat layer, which had been with me since college. I feel great. And my athletic performance is good as well. I am no longer a clydesdale. Several years ago I did approach my current weight on the 40-30-30 diet – counting blocks and all that. But I felt awful – I was basically starving myself, and it was annoying to stay on the plan. There was something there, but I was missing the point. On the Paleo diet, I eat as much as I can stand. I don’t count anything, and don’t worry much about mixing carbs and protein in specific ratios.
The Paleo diet (at least the general premise if not some of the specifics) makes logical sense to me as a biologist and animal behaviorist (which I was in another life). I believe that most of what we do and how we act is driven by underlying instincts and behaviors ingrained in us during human evolution. The ways we respond to training and diet are also a result of our evolution and our days chasing animals around the sub-Saharan plains. Let’s put our evolutionary time line into perspective here: the first primates appeared some 65 million years ago, and our early ancestors split from apes 4-8 million years ago. The first hominid appeared some 2.4 million years ago, and we, in the form of Homo sapiens have been around for at least 200,000 years. Only in the last 10000 years or so did we begin cultivating crops, including grains. So our physiology has had only a millisecond in evolutionary time to adapt to “modern” eating habits. I will add one more point on this timeline – the proliferation of processed foods and sugars and their adoption as the mainstays of our diets. This has occurred only in the last several decades – an evolutionary nanosecond. Hence in my opinion, our bodies remain best suited and adapted to the diet and lifestyle practiced during our hundreds of thousands to millions of years as hunter gatherers – not to our few decades as twinkie eaters and latte drinkers.
When we were running around spending most of our days looking for food and trying not to become food, we had a relatively limited diet available to us. Fruits, vegetables, bugs, whatever meat we could kill (which was invariably lean since the animal hadn’t spent its life locked in a pen being force-fed corn) – that’s pretty much it. There were almost NO concentrated sources of carbohydrates. Maybe we’d occasionally stumble on some honey, or some other natural sugar. This was undoubtedly a rare treat, and our bodies would make the most of it. Our brains would make sure we ate as much of it as we could via giving us pleasurable sensations as we did so. Our bodies would quickly act to store the sugar then floating in our veins, as this would help insure that we would make it through the next lean period. The rest of the time we ate low calorie-density foods – that’s all their was.
Fast forward to the 2nd half of the twentieth century. More and more of our diet grows to consist of processed, simple carbohydrates. We practically walk around dragging an IV drip of high-fructose corn syrup. Then there are the trans-fats and high amounts of saturated fats. Instead of eating fibrous, lean, low calorie-density foods as our ancestors have for most of our history, we now MAINLINE sugar into out veins. And our bodies act like they have evolved to act – in a way that would help us survive in prehistory but that makes us FAT now. The body stores that sugar as fat then makes us hungry for more! We may have just consumed, in a few bites, enough simple sugar calories to live off of for days, but the body stores it, releases some pleasure hormones, and makes us hungry for another FIX! And when I say sugar, I am talking about all calorie-dense sources of carbohydrates: anything made with flour, pasta, bread, etc. Calorie-bombs we just didn’t have access to in the “good old days”. Back then, we would have to eat a huge amount of food to get the same amount of calories we can can now eat or drink in minutes. We were never designed, by evolution, to eat grains (unavailable to pre-modern man) or large amounts of simple carbohydrates.
So there it is. The solution to the obesity epidemic. Simply eat a diet consisting of fresh or frozen fruits, vegetables, and lean meats. Avoid grains and any processed sugars or baked goods. Act like Homo habilis (No – not in the way most pickup truck drivers do when they see a cyclist) – eat like they did. Stuff yourself with real food – keep it simple. And yes you can eat sweet stuff occasionally as treat, and before during and after workouts. Just remember that outside of training it is a rare treat – not a diet mainstay. I have given up pasta, granola, and bread. I eats eggs or lean meats and fruit and nuts for breakfast. Fruits and nuts for snacks. I am rarely hungry or draggy, I feel good and alert all day. I am not perfect though and not dogmatic about it. I “cheat” when I have to, and I am not willing to give up beer and wine. Hasn’t seemed to matter.
So let’s STOP the MADNESS. There is NO SECRET to being lean and healthy. Take any FAT kid and allow him to eat only fruits, veggies, and lean meats – no cereals, pastas, soft drinks or processed junk – mix in some moderate activity – and he won’t be fat anymore. Ship all the calorie-dense foods to places in the world where people are starving – where they are actually needed. STOP following the misguided, upside down “Food Pyramid” – or it may kill you. STOP counting calories – STOP starving yourself, stop paying someone to make “low cal” meals for you. Be active, eat real food. SHUN the processed garbage. It is as simple as that, problem solved. No one needs a commercial diet plan or service, they just need to follow the guys in the Geico ads. It’s so easy even a caveman DID it.
(Disclaimer – I am not a dietitian, I am simply relating my experience and my opinion – your mileage may vary – or should I say “results not typical – we photoshopped the “after” picture”!)