Meat, Eggs, and Cheese Are Not The Enemy

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(Disclaimer: I’m not a doctor, and these are simply my opinions, and are not a substitute for medical advice)

Just last week I went to my primary care doc for my annual physical.  It’s been a few years since I had any labs drawn and I was quite curious to find out what the results would show.

I wasn’t really concerned about anything in particular, because I live a relatively healthy lifestyle.  Sure I have the occasional ice cream binge, and every once in a while I will crush a Chipotle burrito, but for the most part I eat an array of good food.

However, this post isn’t about “duh” foods like fruits and veggies, because it’s a non starter that anyone looking to improve their health should consume lots of them.  This post is about meat, eggs, and cheese, or at least the component parts of them, fat and cholesterol.

Fat and cholesterol are two of the most demonized nutrients around, and have been for going on 3 decades now.  The low fat craze and the subsequent demonization of cholesterol really go hand in hand.  Anybody that has ever made any sort of health improvements has at one time come across the idea that abnormally high blood cholesterol carries with it an increased risk of heart disease.

Much of the literature surrounding the lipid hypothesis may in fact point to an association of cholesterol and heart disease, but I’m not here to talk about research studies.  I’d like to highlight that associations do not mean there is a cause and effect relationship and that is an important distinction to make.  When two things are associated it simply means that where one thing is found (high cholesterol) there just so happens to be another thing found with it regularly (heart disease).  Understanding why that is important is at the heart of how the lipid hypothesis unravels.  There are also other concerns with respect to how nutrition research is performed that leave much to be desired as well.

These two factors and how they apply to the lipid hypothesis is what we’ll explore today.  The first is that the lipid hypothesis is accepted as fact, when in reality it is not.  If something is to be accepted as fact then it must hold true all the time no matter what, and the lipid hypothesis does not.

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The basis of the lipid hypothesis is, eating animal fat increases cholesterol, this cholesterol then clogs your arteries, and therefore puts you at increased risk of heart disease.  If this was an indisputable fact then anyone who eats a lot of foods high in cholesterol like animal fat etc should have elevated blood cholesterol and basically be at deaths door.  Sadly this is not often the case.  To use myself as an example I’ve eaten roughly 500 lbs of red meat, an equal amount of cheese, and somewhere in the neighborhood of 8,000 eggs(cooked in butter no less) over the past decade.

My total cholesterol from my recent doctors visit was a whopping 152, LDL of 53, HDL of 91, and triglycerides of 39 (pretty stellar results thank you very much:).  Something doesn’t add up?  That means from the eggs alone I’ve consumed 1.5 million milligrams of cholesterol in the past 10 years.  I contend that if the cholesterol we consume were to truly have an effect on our blood cholesterol numbers don’t you think mine, after 1.5 million milligrams, would show just the slightest bit of elevation?  Yet it doesn’t.

Now some may say “well you’ve got great genetics”, but honestly genetics probably have less to do with our health than we might give them credit.  I’m not saying there aren’t certain genetic factors that effect of our health, but I do believe it’s overstated.  Sadly I think when you get the “it’s your genetics card” from your doctor it’s a nicer way of him/her saying I have no fucking idea what else I can do.  Now I know my n=1 example cannot refute an entire body of evidence and is far from scientifically valid, but the fact that one example stands in opposition to the lipid hypothesis means it cannot be a fact.

Aside from my own example, if you ask many of the other fitness professionals in the industry I’d bet you would find they too consume far more cholesterol than is recommended, with little to no effect on their blood cholesterol and health.  If an example from a lifelong health nut like myself doesn’t convince you then let me introduce to you John Smith (John Smith isn’t an actual person but a fictitious conglomeration of the thousands of people I’ve worked with).

You see John Smith is a 48 year old male, who was diagnosed with high cholesterol in his late 30’s and has been on a statin ever since.  He’s completely cut out his red meat, egg, and other high fat food consumption since then and even exercises regularly.  Now if the cholesterol we consume from the foods we eat is the culprit, it would logically make sense that when said foods are removed John’s cholesterol would go down.  This again is not often the case.  John’s cholesterol over the years remains the basically the same, he continues to take the statin, exercise, and be miserable because the poor guy can’t eat a steak occasionally and still his cholesterol won’t go down.

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So if you eat all the wrong foods (me) with no effect or you avoid all the wrong foods (John), and neither can conclusively be shown to have the expected result, I’m not real sure why the lipid hypothesis is still spewed out like gospel?  The answer is that if you tell a lie often enough people will begin to believe you, and that is how the lipid hypothesis became “fact”.

The second part of the problem is that much of the research in nutrition is done via dietary recall.  This means the test subjects get a form and the authors of the study say write down what you ate over the last month.  While I’m sure it’s a bit more in depth that’s what it boils down to.  Now I’m not sure about you but I can hardly remember what I 2 days ago, let alone one month ago, and the kicker is humans are notoriously awful at dietary recall.

So to say the information gathered for many of the studies is less than perfect is in my eyes an understatement.  Even with the existing association of heart disease and cholesterol it is really nothing more than that, an association because there is no way to control for the number of other factors that explain why a person gets heart disease.  There simply are too many variables present and it is short sighted to say that one factor, cholesterol, is the cause of heart disease when there are so many other factors that are overlooked.

At the end of the day I’m no doctor and I’m in no way saying that the book on cholesterol is closed and that people can eat whatever they want willy nilly.  I am saying that there is more to the story than just the idea that eating fatty foods will increase your cholesterol then your heart explodes.  Likewise I’m not attempting to call out doctors or any of that, I’m simply saying when our so called truths don’t hold up that we be humble enough to accept that we don’t know everything and continue to look for new answers and broaden our knowledge.

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Get Your Learn On 4.25

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Happy Friday! Hopefully you’ve got some most excellent plans for the weekend.

It’s funny how just the fact that the weekend is within grasp can drastically change your mood.

I’ve got a pretty solid list of excellent reads today. Some fitness based and some not. While the focus of my writing centers around fitness and health I’ll commonly read articles on politics, religion (I know two of the most contentious topics around) and many others.

I’ll share some of the ones that I find most interesting and thought provoking even if they don’t directly have to do with fitness.  Hence my first article on anxiety:)

How I Cured My Anxiety- Charlie Hoehn

While this may not be a “cure” for anxiety I’m certain it can help.  Not all methods work for all people, I’m not a fan of large broad sweeping statements like this one, as it is just link bait.  However, I do thing there are some nuggets in here that can help people better deal with anxiety.

I’ve had my own personal battle with anxiety, and have found that simply being a bit more self aware has helped me immensely.  Either way if anxiety is something that affects you this is at least worth a read.

Why You Should Not Be Running- Mark Rippetoe

There has been a lot of sentiment in the fitness community hating on running, and that is not why I’ve posted this.  As I’ve mentioned before I really try to be a champion of all types of physical activity.  If someone likes to run go for it, if cylcling is your thing have at it, hell if prancercizing is your thing by all means(ok maybe not that’s just weird).

However, running is not the health panacea that it has been made out to be.  In fact, in my opinion, there are superior modes of exercise(strenth training) to help you achieve your health and fitness goals.  This article helps to outline that.

Building Muscle Slowly- Brad Pilon

This piece I can’t suggest enough in that building muscle and great fitness is a slow process.  While you may engage in a 12 week contest or something that kickstarts success, a long term focus on building great fitness and health is the only true way to reaching your goals.

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Exercises To Try Out: Goblet Squats

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This is an exercise made popular by renowned strength coach Dan John. Some trainers will suggest that you should only back squat or you shouldn’t squat at all.

Well that’s just a load of crap! Squatting is a fundamental human movement that we sometimes just need to learn how to do better.

One of the ways to improve your squatting proficiency is to practice without a heavily loaded barbell on your back. That’s why the goblet squat is a great variation to implement.

This variation is great because by holding the kettlebell or dumbbell in the goblet position you turn on the anterior core. This is a big plus for those of us who tend to slip into anterior pelvic tilt.

Not only does it help with anterior core activation, it also helps us groove a good squat pattern by forcing us to sit back into the squat a bit more. You can’t really pitch forward too much while holding a weight in front of you.

Now this isn’t an exercise you’ll load way up, so I usually like to go high rep with it so 2 sets of 15 or so. I’ll usually add these to the middle or end of a leg workout, or start with these when I’m on a lower volume day.

Happy squatting!

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Get Your Learn On 4.18

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Here I am again with a baby strapped to my chest….seriously the Ergobaby carrier rocks!  Our baby girl is so comfortable in this thing and it’s great because you now have the luxury of using both your arms instead of just one and carrying her in the other.

Now I’m certain it won’t last and I’ll have to find a new way to entertain her when she’s mobile and I want to write.  However, for now it’s like the best thing since powdered protein in my opinion.  At any rate, I’ve got a pretty solid list of articles today that will most definitely add approximately 68 points to your IQ this week.

Running For Fat Loss- AKA Why I’m Quitting Marathons- James Fell

I don’t do a ton of running anymore, and I’ve done my fair share (2 half marathons), but this article hits it on the head as to why running isn’t the panacea it at times is made out to be for fat loss.  To paraphrase James, getting lean is done in the kitchen not through exercise, anyone can use a nutrition program to lose weight but the more important question is are you losing body fat?

If weight loss or more specifically fat loss (yes there is a difference) is your focus then running a marathon likely isn’t the most effective way to do it.  If you love to run then by all means do it, but I’d advise don’t be upset if it doesn’t yield the fat loss results you desire.

Eating Clean Vs. Orthorexia- TC Luoma

I fel this was a great article on how people can start to develop some pretty poor habits and views on food and eating.  TC always has a way of just cutting through the bullshit and does it beautifully here.  Food for the most part is not good or bad, yes there are certain foods we should eat less of and other foods we ought to eat more of.

However, generally we need to eat mostly whole unprocessed food 80% of the time.  If most of us would do that then most of the diseases and lifestyle issues would likely begin to fade away.

The Fatigue Fallacy: Why You Should NOT Finish Your Workouts Exhausted- Nia Shanks

A great explanation of why you shouldn’t be a walking ball of sweat each time you finish a workout.  You don’t need to puke up your spleen or shit a liver everytime you step into the gym to make progress, in fact most days you should leave feeling refreshed and energized as Nia points out.

Whether you are designing your own workouts or you’re working with a trainer, make sure they can explain why they are prescribing each exercise.  Each exercise in a program should have a purpose and it’s not just to make you tired.

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Dieting Slower For Better Results

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The last two weeks have been a bit of a wild ride.  It seems like only yesterday my wife was telling me that contractions had started and then 4 short hours later we were making the midnight sprint to the hospital to meet our new baby girl Isabella.

She was born April 2nd, happy and healthy, mom too, and it’s been a world wind ever since.  We have also had lots of family and friends visiting and we couldn’t feel more blessed.  Even the sleep deprivation is a small price to pay to finally meet our little girl after the long wait.

In fact, she is strapped to my chest in an Ergobaby carrier as I type this, and I can’t help but look down at her every few seconds to check out her cute face.  Ok enough about baby Bella, let’s talk a little nutrition.

The other day a friend of mine on Facebook, Tim Berzins, made a comment that we should be dieting slower.  This is such a great callout that I thought it deserved an entire article.  You see we are all caught up in this right now society, where we expect to be able to have everything at the click of a mouse button, but this is all wrong when it comes to nutrition, fat loss, and fitness in general.

Looking at this a bit more through a nutrition for fat loss lens, we really need to start applying this mindset of dieting slower when we plan to shed body fat and more often than not, we will achieve better results.  Most of the nutrition plans out there are selling “Six Pack Abs in 12 Weeks!” or “6 Weeks To Look Great Naked!”.  While these are admirable goals, the results are not typical (the fine print usually says so), and don’t really help us with long term sustainable results.

They are flash in the pan diets that most average people wanting to look and feel better won’t be able to adhere to, and adherence is really the name of the game when it comes to fat loss.  One of the biggest issues I find with these diets plans is they place a specified time limit on how you plan to change your eating, and therein lies the rub.

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You plan to go on this ultra restrictive diet for 12 weeks that promises to yield a better physique, but in the end it leaves you frustrated, exhausted, and defeated when you can’t adhere to it.  That’s where the idea of dieting slower comes into play (I’m not a huge fan of the word diet but just roll with me for now).

Now how exactly do I slow down my dieting and what does it really mean you might ask?  Good question and you’re in luck because I happen to have the answer for you.  The first step in any fat loss plan is to look back and assess whether you have gained body fat/weight, maintained your body fat/weight, or lost body fat/weight over the last month or so.  Then you need to analyze your nutrition habits and get a realistic idea of how many calories you are currently consuming each day (Myfitnesspal.com or any of the other approximately 400 gadjillion calorie counters is great for this).

The gaining/maintaining/losing info tells you whether you are in a calorie surplus, calorie maintenance, or calorie deficit respectively, over that time period. Provided you haven’t changed your eating too much while food logging you then have a starting point with which to make changes.  As an example if you have been maintaining your body fat/weight on 2300 calories daily you may want to start with a deficit of 300 calories by shooting for 2000 calories.  A deficit of 300 calories is much easier to handle than a deficit of 600 or 700 calories.

You can then stick with this deficit for 2 weeks or maybe even 4 and then assess whether or not you are making progress toward your goal.  After 2 weeks you may need to make your deficit 400 calories and shoot for 1900 calories daily if nothing has changed, or you may decide to wait a few more weeks.  Either way patience is critical.  Every few weeks though you may need to make small adjustments based on how things are going, but realize there will be plenty of weeks that it seems nothing is happening, and that is normal.

This line is what we envision fat/weight loss should be.

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This line is a much more realistic illustration of how fat/weight loss actually happens.

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By creating a smaller deficit you may get slower results but you are ultimately less likely to have a wicked rebound once you decide to add more calories back in, and you should be adding calories back in once you reach your goal.  The current train of thought seems to be that you should eat at calorie maintenance for at least as long as you were dieting.  So 10 weeks of a calorie deficit should be followed by at least 10 weeks of calorie maintenance, in order to allow the body to adjust to the increased food intake.

So instead of doing Jimmy Fitness Trainers Ultra Fat Blaster 4,000 diet plan, use a realistic approach, set a smaller deficit, and practice your patience.

 

 

 

Exercises To Try Out: Single Leg Lowering

I have decided to start a new series on the blog that will feature some exercises that you might want to consider adding to your program.  Most of us, I think, tend to get into a routine and don’t vary our exercises very often, so the point of this series is to give you some new and different exercises to try out.

I always try and program new and different exercises in client’s programs, admittedly maybe even too often sometimes.  When adding new exercises you should keep them in your program long enough to get proficient at them, and then ultimately progress them in some way, be it adding weight, adding reps, or another variable.

The first exercise I want to feature is called single leg lowering, check it out below.

 

This is a great exercise to turn on the core before getting into the nuts and bolts of your training.  For those of us that tend towards an anterior pelvic tilt the focus should be on flattening the low back out and engaging the anterior core to prevent that poor low back positioning.

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I like to use this as a warm up exercise to start to bring about that kinesthetic awareness of good core positioning so that when we go to lift heavy weights our spine doesn’t flip us the bird.  One commonly overlooked function of the core is to resist movements and this exercise does that as we are forced to resist going into lumbar extension as we move that leg closer to the floor.

I’ve used this one in my own programming plenty in the past, but rediscovered it last year at a conference, and really like it.  An easy regression on this exercise, if it proves challenging or painful, is to bend the knee at 90 degrees and then simply lower the leg until the bottom of your foot hits the floor.

I think you’ll find there is a bevy of benefits to be had by adding this to your program, and can not only be utilized as a part of your warm-up but also as a core exercise for later in your workout.  If used as a warm-up I’d recommend 1 or 2 sets of 6-8, or if you’re looking to add it as a core exercise bump the sets to 3 and the reps to 8-10.

Happy Lifting!

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