I was a diehard Intermittent Fasting (IF) opponent. As a matter of fact, I was frustrated by those who promoted it, believing that it was setting people up for a “starve-binge” cycle. After all, there IS evidence that people who skip breakfast tend to engage in unhealthy eating by the end of the day (here’s an easy-to-read synopsis from Science Daily of a recent study at the University of Missouri). And, being a student of psychology, I felt that it would only encourage a deprivation mentality.

Breakfast is served!

I was right, kind of. But that was because there was one aspect of IF that I didn’t take into consideration. It’s called fat-adaptation, and Mark Sisson (of Mark’s Daily Apple) does a great job of explaining it here. So, yes, if you were to try to engage in IF on the Standard American Diet, which is far too high in starchy, processed carbohydrates, you’d run into problems.

But even as I was cursing the IF fans, my own diet was becoming increasingly fat-adapted as I began eliminating starches (my simple sugars were already low) and increasing my nut intake. Then soy and beans became a rarity on my plate, and even my beloved whole-grain breads were replaced by larger amounts of fresh, in-season vegetables.

But what pushed me over to the fasting way of life was that I had a bad reaction to onions one night. And the pain in my stomach made me so wary of putting anything else into my mouth that I simply chose to skip my morning protein smoothie.

And, surprise, I felt good. Very good, in fact.

I ate about noon that day. Then tried it again the next day and lasted until 3:20. No headaches, no irritability…and no insatiable hunger either. I also found that I could train intensely (rowing, heavy weights, interval training) and simply not bonk — I even set some PRs while fasted. There was no feeling of deprivation, only an understanding that I won’t be eating now, but I will eat in a little while. Psychologically, that is the easiest concept for me to handle. I practice “staying in the moment”, the same mindset that enables me to work through high-intensity exercise. I accept what I’m feeling in that segment of time without worrying about what will happen later.

After all, why worry? I see so many people eat when they’re not hungry because they’re afraid that they’ll be hungry later. And these are not individuals who live under food-insecure conditions. Food will still be here in a couple of hours, or tonight, or tomorrow. We live in such a food-abundant nation, now more so than at any time in human history, and yet, that fear of being hungry exists.

Don’t believe me? Check out the “snack” aisle. Just a little something to hold you over until your next meal. We Americans snack incessantly. Snack foods have taken on a life of their own.

One of the things about IF…I don’t snack. I don’t worry about being hungry. I focus on what I have to get done, and if it’s not time yet to break my fast, that’s okay.

I realize that I’m simplifying the process of my dietary changes in this post, along with how I came around to accept IF (and by that I mean my own version of it), but you can see that it took a while for my body to get ready to do this, and for me to accept that this was an viable course of action to take. I have to admit, had it not been for Mark Sisson’s article on how he fasted “naturally” — not adhering to a strict schedule — I might not have succumbed to trying it. But as someone who puts a high value on being aware of my body’s cues and staying in tune with them, I felt that Mark’s comments clicked with me.

So I’m about a month into a low-starchy carb, higher protein/fat IF way of eating and I know that it’s something I can continue. I don’t have anything pulling me back into my prior feeding schedule, not that there was anything terribly wrong with that either. But this way, I am more at peace with my body’s signals. I will be doing more research into the science behind this and continuing to monitor my response, but for now, this is working quite well. Sometimes I hear water gurgling through my intestines, and I reassure myself that I will definitely eat…

…later.

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Disclaimer: I do believe that there are people for whom any form of IF is inappropriate. I do NOT feel that this is a one-size-fits-all way of eating; personal issues must be taken into consideration. However, there are individuals for whom this can be an effective meal schedule. If this is something you are interested in, DO.YOUR.RESEARCH!

Paracelsus (1493-1541) :

“All things are poison, and nothing is without poison; only the dose permits something not to be poisonous.”

If you’re familiar with triathlons, you may know that, in addition to age-groups and relay teams, it’s not unusual for there to be a race division referred to as Clydesdale (for men) and Athena (for women). In order to participate in this division, competitors must meet bodyweight requirements, generally 2o0lbs for men and 150lbs for women. This enables heavier athletes to compete and medal in a sport that’s often populated by smaller and lighter racers who have a distinct advantage at speed. In doing so, many individuals who might otherwise not consider such a race can not only get inspired to train, but also benefit from increased fitness levels as a result.

Personally, I think that’s great. But I witnessed something last weekend at a local triathlon that really drove home the concept of  “all athletes not being equal” in the eyes of society.

First, a little background about me, in case you’re new to this blog. It took me until my 40s to figure out that, for many people, the key to losing weight was more than simply the “eat less/move more” strategy that is often espoused by the already-lean. I never had a weight problem, so, obviously, I was an expert on how people should lose weight, right?

Obviously not.

It wasn’t until I was introduced to the concept of weight bias/stigma on both a personal level via friends, and an academic level through research at the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity (Yale University) that I realized not only how widespread anti-obesity bias is, but how acceptable it’s become to berate heavy individuals. It’s probably one of the most pervasive and persistent biases that society holds, and it has been documented throughout history.

Fast-forward to last weekend. As the racers from the Clydesdale division got into the water prior to their swim, the announcers tried to explain to the spectators what a Clydesdale was. They described the competitors as “not wanting to share their pizza”, and promised them beer at the end of the race, saying “that should keep them motivated.” They giggled about trying to be politically correct in their description of this race division. All this over loudspeakers.

There was more, but I was too shocked to remember it. None of us knows why these individuals are heavier than competitors in other divisions. They are, at least, competing, which is more than I can say for myself, since I was only there to cheer someone else on. No one poked fun about the other race divisions. But comments about stereotypical eating habits of overweight individuals were okay?

If you want to call me hyper-sensitive, stop. After all, if singling out a single group of people based solely on societal biases about their body types were justifiable, why would I care? Especially when I don’t have a weight problem.

But I do have a brain. And a close friend who carried a lot of excess weight due to complex factors, whose attempts to “move more” were met with insults yelled from cars as she walked down the road. I know thin people who are self-conscious about exercising in public — you think someone who’s heavy and been dealing with colorful commentary for most of her life should be able to shrug off invectives?

My guess is, if you’re unsympathetic, it’s because you feel that insults are motivating and that a heavy individual is deserving of verbal abuse. Maybe it’s tied into your feeling that anyone who carries extra pounds is gluttonous, greedy, unmotivated, lacks self-control…and taking that further, is stupid and evil and ugly. History is replete with these types of descriptions.

What if they’re not? What if the reason someone is heavy has nothing to do with personal character?

Ponder that thought. Please.

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Here’s a side note: notice that the weight requirements of the Clydesdale/Athena divisions are not particularly high, given the relative size of the current U.S. population. Because of the direction that we’re heading, maintaining our fitness is paramount to keeping ourselves healthy.

Wouldn’t it be a travesty if someone opted NOT to train and NOT to race simply because they feared opening themselves up to ridicule?

It’s been established that obesity rates are highest for those in the lowest socioeconomic classes (see a report by Gearhart et al., 2008 for a list of supporting references). At the same time, these are also the individuals most likely to rely upon government assistance programs to support themselves. No big surprise there. But is it reasonable to expect that food stamp recipients will be able to eat healthfully on that budget?

This is the question addressed in the new documentary by Shira and Yoav Potash, Food Stamped. As noted on the film’s official website:

“Food Stamped is an informative and humorous documentary film following a couple as they attempt to eat a healthy, well-balanced diet on a food stamp budget. Through their adventures they consult with members of U.S. Congress, food justice organizations, nutrition experts, and people living on food stamps to take a deep look at America’s broken food system. (62 minutes)”

I haven’t seen it yet (that’s my disclaimer), but I think it brings up an interesting issue. If you Google an image of  “healthy meal”, you get something like this:

Healthy eating! But on a food stamp budget?

In the documentary, the filmmakers, one of whom (Shira) is a certified nutritional educator, set out to serve up healthy meals on an average of $1 per person, per meal, the amount you’d be living off if you were a food stamp recipient.

This begs the question, Can you eat salmon on that budget? Should you even expect to?

Note: I know this issue brings up loads of political angles for discussion. Some may argue that it’s a travesty that we don’t offer more for our poor. Others may argue that the poor are only poor because of decisions they’ve made. Either way, the arguments become very heated, particularly during an election year, so, for the record, this blog is veering clear of such discussions. There are plenty of political forums available if you want to fight for your points.

Final thought to ponder: wouldn’t it be interesting to see whether there’s a connection between the two? What if the food stamp programs paid for by the taxpayers are contributing to the expanding waistlines of the poor? Most will agree that a number of our social programs are in need of overhauling. Is it reasonable to think that we could modify them for the better?

Prepare yourself for some ridicule. Because when you set foot in the gym, the “regulars” will look at you and roll their eyes. They might make comments. Or give you icy stares if you break the rules of gym etiquette. They might even be trying to intimidate you so that you retreat to a safe corner where the cardio machines are. When you do eventually give up going to the gym (yes, the odds are stacked against you) you won’t be tempted to even consider returning.

Here’s my advice: ignore them. I know this is easier said than done, but I want you to focus on this. You’re not embarking on an exercise program so that people like you. You’re doing it to save your life. You’re doing it so that you can be stronger, run faster, live longer. Your goals are yours, and yours alone. Others in the gym don’t care if you fail or succeed. But you do.

Those others? They were beginners once too. They might have done biceps curls in the squat rack or tried talking to someone who was in the middle of a set . But 9 times out of 10 even the “regulars” can be pretty clueless, and that includes the personal trainers. The seasoned veterans who DO know what they’re doing didn’t learn everything overnight. It took time and practice and a willingness to ask questions and search for accurate information. And yes, even make mistakes.

Please don’t give up. Our kids are growing up in a world where everyone’s getting increasingly more sedentary. Technology has provided us with myriad more opportunities to move less. What we need now are people willing to buck that trend and establish another that moves us in the direction of more activity and a healthier future. They are people like you, who choose the first of the year to start something new.

You can do that, but you have to keep going.  Little by little, bit by bit.

And all those naysayers at the gym? I hope you kick their asses some day. Metaphorically speaking, of course.

I’m counting on you.

…and no, I haven’t fallen off the face of the Earth. 😉 It’s simply hard to get much done with the kids still out of school. But believe me, I have a lot on my mind that I’ll be blogging about come fall.

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for the past couple of decades, you’re aware that we’re in the middle of a childhood obesity epidemic. What you might not be aware of, however, is that we may unwittingly be perpetuating this problem even as we struggle to find a solution. Here’s an example of how this happens:

My 8-year-old took the California Standardized Test over the past few weeks. I had asked her if she was nervous beforehand, she said no…she was looking forward to it because following every test session her teacher was going to give snacks: Goldfish crackers. That’s a rare purchase for us at home because I’m not a fan of processed crackers. But what I’m even less a fan of is equating a job well done with a food prize.

Now, granted, Goldfish crackers aren’t the most evil of concoctions, and I’m actually delighted that the reward was merely crackers rather than sweets even though the idea that we need to offer snacks to mark a good performance (no offense to her teacher, whom I adore!). How about playing a fun game or offering extra recess time?

Great job! Here, have a cookie.

While the above is a mild example of a “food as reward” pairing, what happens when that’s taken a step further and kids are rewarded with unhealthy foods? I learned of a school from out-of-state that threw a junk food-heavy shindig as a spectacular end to their testing weeks. These celebrations are organized by adults who look back at what they ate as children and how many wonderful memories of youth it brings back, and want to share these good feelings with the younger generation. Sadly, these childhood memories don’t mesh with the reality of today, and the current state of our collective waistlines.

Equally important is the mixed message that this type of event sends. On the one hand, there are obesity awareness programs at schools, teaching kids healthy eating, encouraging them to increase their fruit and vegetable consumption. On the other hand, they throw all of that out the window with such a festival, as if acknowledging with a wink, “You know all that healthy-food stuff we taught you? Well, we don’t believe it either.”

I freely admit that rewarding ourselves with food is not a new concept. Special meals for birthdays, graduations, promotions, etc. are to be expected. Sharing joy across the table is part of being human. Meals unite us. Food is pleasure in a small, legal package —  and a very powerful motivator. I’m neither disputing that nor trying to squash long-established mealtime traditions.

But you know those ‘special events’ that we chose to celebrate? Well, every day has become special. TGIF? Why raise the bar so high by waiting ’til the end of the week? “It’s Tuesday, lets celebrate!” Indulging yourself has gone from a once-luxury to something that’s commonplace. With food as accessible as it is, in the varieties in which it’s available, we really run the danger of rewarding ourselves into a host of health problems.

As a result, we do our children a disservice by rewarding them with food when the opportunities for rewards seem never-ending and the quality of food has degraded. And some of you might gripe that I’m taking all the fun out of eating. That may be, but with staggering childhood obesity rates that are NOT getting better, and the knowledge that these children are likely to grow into obese adults, it’s time to stop joking around.