Oh, the holidays. Before you say “bah, humbug!”, rest assured we’re going to help you stay healthy.
Everyone knows the holidays are a spare tire waiting to happen. Alcohol, rich desserts and indulgent carbs are practically throwing themselves at you, begging to be eaten and taking it personally if you don’t. You know what we’re talking about – food is emotional, and powerfully so. It’s that bizarre twinge of guilt for attempting to say no to foods which, come holiday season, seem to take on actual feelings. It’s almost like you’re insulting the food if you don’t eat it. There’s a reason for this. Rich foods, particularly sugary desserts, have long been combined with emotional events. In the Middle Ages, these items were called subtleties, and they still exist today: in the form of Easter chicks, Easter bunnies, Valentine’s hearts, advent calendars, Christmas cookies, and so on.
That’s really great, you say. But it still doesn’t help me say no to unhealthy foods or avoid gaining ten pounds before the New Year knocks at my door.
Hey, we hear ya. So, here’s a quick-and-easy realistic guide to getting through the holidays, enjoying them, and maintaining your sanity.
Part 1: It Ain’t Just the Sugar
A lot of holiday health guides point to the obvious no-no: sugar. Of course you want to stay away from sugar, but that’s probably not realistic, no matter how disciplined you are. We suggest you instead focus on limiting portions. A lot of times, we simply expect too much from ourselves. “No sugar, period. I will be healthy and eat only bean casserole, being careful to remove the crispy fried onions.” This works fine for about five minutes, until peer pressure, Aunt Louise and mulled wine conspire to destroy your best-laid plans. Before you know it, you’ve eaten three cookies, two slices of pie and eighty-three truffles. You feel guilty, bloated and sick, you give yourself a pep talk, and at the next party…you do it all over again.
Step 1: No ridiculous standards. Do not set a goal for yourself that you know you probably won’t reach (from past experience or awareness of your weak points). This just makes you feel bad, and no one is putting that pressure on you, so be nice to yourself. Who needs the added stress? Find a middle ground. If you normally end up indulging through the holidays, try giving yourself a “one freebie” rule: one treat at every party or event.
Step 2: Portion control. The amount of indulgence is more important than anything else. If you love carrot cake, eat a big bite or two, and stop. It won’t taste any better if you eat the entire thing, and you’ll have accomplished two great things: some enjoyment and some discipline. One bite of sugary cake isn’t great, but it’s not going to be cause for regret. You can try out a few of your favorite treats this way without doing any serious damage to your health or waistline – but limit yourself to just a few things at each party or event.
Step 3: Stress! Do you ever wonder why people get sick during the holiday season? It’s not just because we’re indoors and sharing the same old air. It’s not just because of all the sugar in everything. It’s also because of the stress. The holidays are the most depressing, dangerous, stressful time of year. That’s a fact with no sugar coating. Yet it’s supposed to be the happiest time of year. And therein lies the problem: pressure. Combine lack of activity from being indoors with excess amounts of sugary foods with the pressure of gift-giving, travel and entertaining, and it’s no wonder people have a hard time when Santa comes to town. Give yourself a break. The best thing you can do – possibly even better than obsessing or feeling guilty about food – is to get as much exercise, rest, and “me time” as possible. Part 2 of our Holiday Survival Guide will tell you just how to do that.
WORKER BEES’ DAILY BITES
Almost Deserves a Sherlock Award…
The New England Journal of Medicine has announced that Vitamin D is so good for you, it might even help prevent multiple sclerosis, a tragic and degenerative disease of the nervous system that affects about 350,000 people. Actually, the study is really worth checking out, although we’re a little annoyed (hey, we’re bees). Science has long shown Vitamin D to be a crucial nutrient for all sorts of health issues, from nerves, tissues and teeth to eyes and bones. In fact, a lot of people don’t realize Vitamin D is just as necessary for bones as calcium. But we bet you know that.
Gut Bugs – Yum!
The news that digestive germs play a role in making you fat is already causing a big hot mess in the health world. One doctor in the article is quite the contrarian, saying flatly, “I think it’s totally wrong.” The article didn’t go on to explain if he had reasons for his belief, but we’re going to recommend you read it for yourself and also be sure to see Mark’s related gut-bug post. Hmm…gut bugs. What a term! Suddenly, we’re just not hungry…
Check out the germ clickativity.
A fascinating article in New Scientist discusses the impact that germs have on your weight.
In short, our digestive tracts are host to millions of microbes that aid in fermenting and digesting food. There are germs that help break down carbohydrates, germs that help digest fats, and so on. What’s fascinating is the new finding that obese people have more of a particular type of microbe that not only digests “better” but digests carbohydrates “better”.
However, in this situation, “better” is not better at all. In times when food was scarce (certainly not a problem now), being able to maximize every bit of nutritional value from each bite was a benefit. That’s not such a good thing now, particularly for carbohydrate digestion. What this means is that being overweight makes you more likely to become even more overweight.
This is really big news, Apples.
It’s a self-perpetuating system. The more carbohydrates are taken in – because the body is becoming better and better at digesting them – the more those carbohydrates are stored as fat. The body literally is set on a “get fat” course because the digestive tract becomes “efficient” at turning food into stored fat. All thanks to germs.
These digestive microbial bacteria are developed early in life – within the first few years. You can see how a childhood spent eating bad foods sets people up for a lifetime of obesity. And because of the self-perpetuating nature, the more fat you get, the more fat you get.
There’s good news, however. When study participants were put on a reduced-carbohydrate diet, the carbohydrate-friendly microbes began to die, coming closer to levels found in thin people. And, of course, the individuals lost weight. Eventually, the body can be retrained, and the digestive microbes we want – the ones that don’t extract quite as much from the food we eat – increase. All it takes is the first step, and the body can be retrained.
More on this in coming posts, Apples.
Aside from the carbohydrate and weight issues, there’s a further issue to consider: should we be supplementing with beneficial bacteria? And if so, which kind?
Pfizer announced yesterday that they were abandoning their newest “miracle drug”, torcetrapib. Rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it? Torcetrapib.
Turns out that in a recent large-scale controlled study, “rolls-off-the-tongue” killed more people than even the previous miracle drug, Lipitor. Pfizer had invested over $800 million in their most recent attempt to stem the rise of heart attacks and stroke by lowering cholesterol.
The main focus of torcetrapib was to raise HDL (the “good” cholesterol that has been shown to reduce fatty plaque formation on arterial linings). Since Lipitor is coming off patent soon, Pfizer needs a new blockbuster to fill the income pipeline – now at $51 billion a year. Meanwhile, news wire services are suggesting that this is a huge setback for millions with heart disease who have been awaiting another magic pill to reverse the damage brought on by poor lifestyle choices.
Here’s the deal: as long as the medical community continues to approach heart disease by promoting cholesterol reducing drugs, they will fail.
Cholesterol is not necessarily the bad guy here. It is the inflammatory processes of C-reactive protein and homocysteine, occurring within the arterial walls, that begin the process of coronary artery disease. These inflammatory processes are the real culprits. Cholesterol production is merely the response mechanism! Attempting to avert heart problems by reducing cholesterol is literally akin to removing scabs from wounds as they try to heal. (If that analogy turns your stomach, you’ll have an inkling as to how sickened I am by Big Pharma.)
The root cause of inflammation is a combination of poor diet, sloth and stress. The good news is that most cardiovascular disease is completely preventable and largely curable without side effects.
Cholesterol is the unfortunate scapegoat in all this. It’s a shame, because this endlessly-eviscerated lipid is one of the body’s most useful and dynamic substances. Among other duties, it’s a necessary component of every cell membrane and it’s involved in hormone production. The body makes about 1400 mg a day just to keep reserves up. Unfortunately, when you have a stressful lifestyle, toss in a bad diet and lack of exercise and you can get an inflammatory process within the arteries that causes lesions on arterial walls. The inflammation problem is completely unrelated to amounts or types of cholesterol.
Nevertheless, the ever-inventive human body adapts to this inflammation sequence by using cholesterol as a band-aid to cover up the lesions until healing can take place – which, of course, almost never happens since most of us keep living the inflammatory lifestyle with little regard for how destructive it is. We’re inflammation rock stars.
Eventually, the cholesterol band-aids harden (sclerosis), narrow the arteries and sometimes break off, causing a heart attack or stroke. Of course, we blame the cholesterol for all this and embark on a national campaign to rid the body of this important substance by dousing everyone with drugs, instead of focusing on the foods (and other stresses) that promote inflammation in the first place. And these drugs have some pretty nasty side effects. And yet, we continue to worship at the idol’s altar.
Bottom line: In my opinion, diet, exercise, stress reduction and prudent supplementation should be the primary focus of any primary care physician.
UPDATE 12/11/06: Another interesting analysis.
THOUGHTS ON THE FOOD POLICE, INFORMATION TRANSPARENCY, & RELATIVE GLUTTONY
Right now, our gifted men and women in the House of Representatives are tucking into the MEAL Act, and the Senate may consider a similar measure soon. The MEAL Act (Menu Education And Labeling) is the latest clever acronym brought to you by the food police. And I have to ask myself – and you – if one more piece of litigation or legislation will do a lick of good.
The MEAL Act would require restaurants with more than 20 locations to post basic nutritional information on their menus (special and seasonal food items excluded).
Let’s step into the world of the MEAL Act. You mosey into McDonald’s, taking a gander at the bright, colorful panel of meal choices. Caloric information is duly noted. Choice #1: 970 calories. Choice #2: 890 calories. Choice #3: 650 calories. Let’s say you choose option 3 – hey, it’s healthier, right? Enter relative gluttony. Would caloric information really matter in the Cheesecake Factory, where a single slice of carrot cake weighs a pound and the best alternative to that slice (the original cheesecake) still comes packed with over 600 calories? You probably know that a salad with a little vinegar and generous helping of veggies delivers, at most, 300 calories, but you don’t eat at McDonald’s, either. The unfortunate consequence of a little sprinkling of caloric information could be relative gluttony; the easing of the conscience because 650 calories is better than 970 calories. At most, I predict a temporary blip in increased chicken sandwich orders before everyone reverts right back to whatever bacon-cheese-beef monstrosity is normally favored.
I am strongly in favor of information transparency – open doors are always in the best interests of the consumer. It almost goes without saying that the food, drug and chemical industries would get away with a lot less if there weren’t doors to close in the first place. More information, more education, more legislation – these are rational, logical, well-intentioned goals.
In a rational culture, such measures would work. But we already have information. We have media specials and documentaries. We have lawsuits. We have weight-loss centers and therapy and steps. We spend billions on diets and diet books and diet foods and diet pills – and billions more on pharmaceuticals and surgeries.
And yet, we have the top 5 causes of death being entirely preventable through better diet choices. We have a majority of the population suffering from the effects of this national food problem. That includes children. More education? More legislation? Those are rational solutions to problems stemming from things like simple misunderstanding or glitches the free market hasn’t had time to correct. Guess what? We’re not dealing with anything rational.
Our problem is far more troubling: it is emotional. Our problem as a nation is food addiction. The fact that bacon-cheese-beef monstrosities even exist is evidence enough of that. Like alcoholism, Americans are in an emotionally addictive grip that I fear no amount of intervention or good intentions can resolve. Alcoholics cannot function normally. They cannot stop their behavior even when death is a very real possibility. Consider how many Americans cannot even do a simple push-up or a jog around the park. How many require larger seats on airplanes and in restaurants? How many can keep up with their children? How many have balanced blood sugar levels so that they do not feel anxious, stressed or depressed by daily life? How many millions of Americans are affected by food addiction? Certainly more than those affected by alcoholism. This is addiction on a massive scale, with entire industries – diet books, diet foods, diet pills, health care, surgery, exercise gimmicks, pharmaceuticals – created in service to the addiction.
The rational has gone out the window – please pull forward to the second window.
How do we cure the addiction? Do we numb it with drugs? Attempt to sate the cravings with diet foods like an alcoholic might with a non-alcoholic beer? Find a crutch to prop us up, like government or schools or support groups? Is that freedom or slavery by another name?
How do we cure it? Tell me.
Technorati Tags: addiction, gluttony, MEAL act, food police, restaurant nutrition information, top causes of preventable death, weight loss industry, pharmaceutical industry, Cheesecake Factory, public health, information transparency, government regulation, obesity
© 2014 Mark's Daily Apple