Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Moderation. Is It That Simple?

The other day while having my morning cup a Joe, I ran across the best article I've read in a long time on the issue of diet. The headline read "Low-Fat or Low-Carb? Which Diet is Better?" (by Laura Casey of Contra Costa Times as featured in The News & Record, April 11, 2011). The article supported what I've basically believed for many years and had reinforced with my 100hrs of nutrition classes as a part of my schooling at NPIT and ACSM certification. Fats and need them both.

Americans are so funny when it comes to diet. Common sense is usually the last factor to come into play. We're always looking for the quick fix. The first "fix" came in the late 70s when Nathan Pritikin wrote The Pritikin Program for Diet and Fitness." All of the sudden fat was bad and carbs were the "in thing." Then the 90s brought the Atkins Diet craze which basically had everyone doing the exact opposite of the Pritikin diet. Now suddenly carbs were the enemy. (Makes you wonder if you should avoid any diet created by someone with a name ending in "kin." Don't worry there's no RunnerDudekin Diet in the works.)

The problem is that both diets do help you lose weight, but the question I always had was, "why go to such extremes?" Why do we always go to the extreme to find a solution to losing weight? I guess maybe it sells better? The article I was reading really hit the nail on the head by conveying that "...many diet experts, including local doctors, reel over the low-fat verses low-carb dieting discussion. It misses the point, they say. Americans, 60% of whom are overweight or obese, need to eat less and lower the amount of sugar in their diets, through reducing carbs and sweets. They need to eat real food, not overly processed, sugar-added treats. And they need to think about what they're eating instead of mindlessly consuming whatever tastes good."

Now, I think there's a lot that impacts that "mindlessly consuming whatever tastes good." Our hectic busy lives often dictate what we eat. Quick-n-easy often overrides cooking "real" foods at home. When families more-than-not have both parents working, preparing healthy meals can be a real challenge. I'm not making excuses, but being the parent of 3 kids and having a wife that works as well, I can attest to that challenge, not to mention the added expense of eating healthy. When it comes down to having just a few bucks left in your pocket to feed a family of five for dinner, 3 boxes of $.49 mac-n-cheese will be the choice more than not. Believe me, I've been there. Just pull-up to any fast food drive-thru menu. Check the price of that healthy grilled chicken sandwich and side salad and compare it to the cost of the regular cheese burger. And you wonder why so many low-income individuals eat unhealthy. Again, not making excuses, but just pointing out the obvious. But, I digress...back to going to extremes to lose weight.

The fact is that your body needs fat, carbs, and protein. Each plays an important role in keeping you healthy. The daily recommended allowance (DRA) of each is as follows
Carbohydrates = 45%-65% of your total caloric intake
Protein = 10%-35% of your total caloric intake
Fats = 20%-35% of your total caloric intake

Carbohydrates are your basic fuel system. They also play a part in helping regulate protein and fat metabolism. Continuous intake of carbs as well as the stored carbs (glycogen) is vital to proper functioning of your nervous system. Protein is key to tissue building and repair, a strong immune system, and it plays a role in your body's metabolism, and water-balance system. Fat can be used by the body as fuel for energy production. Fats aid in the digestion process and help transport fat-soluble vitamins important to the body, just to name a few of it's important roles.

Too much of a good thing can actually be bad. During the Atkins Diet craze researchers began to realize the effects of consuming too much protein. Your body only needs a certain amount of protein. Ingesting more will not make you have bigger muscles or make you stronger or leaner. Actually, when you consume more than you need, your body will deaminate the excess protein. That means is removes the nitrogen from the excess protein. That excess nitrogen puts a huge burden on your kidneys as they work overtime trying to get rid of it. Also, just like carbs, that excess protein has to go somewhere. Yep, similar to carbs, the protein that's not used is either stored as fat or used as energy. So if you're a sedentary person, the extra protein and/or carbs can cause you to pack on additional body fat.

Society seems to need an extreme method to latch on to to help modify their weight instead of looking at a more sensible approach (i.e., follow the guidelines and eat in moderation). For most Americans, if they make a concerted effort to reduce portion size as well as cut back on the amount of sugar and refined foods they're eating, they'd probably be very surprised to find the scales with a little lighter reading the next time they hop on them.

When I was a youngster, a meal at McDonald's consisted of a hamburger, fries and a soda. Actually that's all they had to offer. A little later they added the fish sandwich, but basically that was it. Oh yeah and the size of those burgers back then were the size that's in the kid's meal today. So 35 years ago an adult was basically eating one regular hamburger, a small fry, and a small soda. Still not all that healthy, but a lot better for you than the 1/2-pound Angus burger, large fries, and 32oz soda that many adults pickup today. Just the soda alone will eat up many of your daily calories. Did you know that the American Dietetic Association recommends that calories from sugar not exceed more than 10% of your total calories? One 12oz can of regular Coke exceeds that. Count up the number of regular soft drinks you consume each day? Then factor in your activity level? Guess where those calories are going if they're not quickly used after consumption

Almost all diets that impose strict limitations have an initially high success rate but then over time, individuals on those diets tend to gain back the weight. Why? It's hard to live a life of "I can't have that." Why not have a diet where you eat carbs, fats, and proteins, but in moderation?

So, now you know I'm big on "moderation." I'm also big on "education." Just like anything, there is a good side and a bad side. Same thing occurs with carbs, fats, and protein. This article would be 100 pages long if I shared the good and bad of each macronutrient, so make a point of reading up on each. Basically stay away from refined grains and sugary processed foods and look for whole grains and high-fiber foods. Steer clear of trans fats, try not have more than 10% of your fat calories come from saturated fats and comprise the bulk of your fat intake with healthier fats (mono- and poly-unsaturated as well as omega 3s). Explore a variety of both plant (legumes, soy, quinoa, nuts, etc.) and lean meats for protein sources. Food preparation also plays a huge role. Try baking, boiling, broiling, or grilling more than frying. Be careful with the types and amounts of condiments you use on your foods. You don't have to do without, but be a little choosier about what you put on that turkey sub or salad.

Enjoy eating. Just eat in moderation. I know that's easier said than done. I was an overweight child through middle school and lost a little over 40 lbs before going to high school. Once a "fat kid" always a "fat kid", in your head at least. Like I said, it's a life chage, not a quick fix. Make common sense choices. Get active. Start slow. Maybe just start by switching to whole grain bread, then leaving off the fries, then swapping the Coke for a Diet Coke and then maybe eventually to water. Add a 15-20 minute brisk walk to your regimen each day. Then make it 20-30. Then maybe try running. Make whatever you do a habit. Aim for losing weight over time. Quick weight loss almost never remains lost. Decreasing your total weekly caloric intake by 3500 calories (or 500 calories per day) will help you to lose 1lb a week. Just think in 5 weeks with little effort, you may be 5lbs lighter.  Whatever you do, start today. There's no better time!


Sierra and Ryan said...

I recently found your blog from a link on I am a beginner runner and have loved our thoughts! Thanks for this post! This is how I have been trying to live--moderation, moderation, moderation! I feel like when I have tried the fad diets I end up gaining wait because I binge on all the things I can't have.

RunnerDude said...

Hi Sierra! Welcome to the blog!

Caratunk Girl said...

I would like to print this and post it...everywhere. People are looking for an instant fix, that is why fad diets are so popular (IMO). I have a friend doing the 17 day diet and she has to drink lemon juice while standing on one foot and chant "Dr. Phil" 17 times or something crazy like that. Moderation is so KEY! You can have ice cream - just not the whole gallon, and not every day. Great post.

Chad said...

HEy Runnerdude
Just a couple of thoughts. We as a family end up going to Mcds once in a while, and to save money and try to get them to eat the actual burger, we buy a supersized fries and split it, same with a supersized softdrink. Just a way to limit the waste (our kids dont ever finish their fries, and thats good!) and our pocket books/waistlines. Another question, how do you feel about aspertame? might be a good subject, I have not seen to much from the running front about this. Im a bit of a diet coke-freak. Cheers!

RunnerDude said...

Thanks Caratunk Girl!

RunnerDude said...

Hey Chad! Great idea with the Mickey D's meal. Harder to do when your kids are 10, 15, and 19. LOL! I think we can all have one vice and Diet Coke is probably mine too. Aspertame may not be the best, but compared to the full-leaded sugar drink I don't think it can be worse. At least it's not spiking your blood sugar.

Pepper Culpepper said...

Well said. I'm going to post a link to your post on my blog.