The Science of Fat

May 13, 2019 at 9:48 pm | Posted in Books, Health, Science | 1 Comment
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Recently, I read The Secret Life of Fat, a book by Sylvia Tara on modern fat science. Some content is commonly understood but a lot of details are not, even in modern medicine.

For example, we can consider fat an organ that supports our immune system and bones. We need fat and our body keeps a store on hand for times of shortage. Fat works to sustain itself and the body around it.

But belly fat crowds and overloads organs so is seen as the most problematic.

It’s well-known that as we age, our metabolism gradually slows. We often get less active as well so need less food to meet our energy needs. Yet our food habits can be deeply ingrained. As a result, it’s common to gain weight in our middle years.

It’s also become clear that our hormones change substantially in the same period (for men too) which exacerbates the problem.

Not to mention career progress into more desk-oriented work.

Weight is thus gained more easily while also becoming harder to lose. Things that worked for us before become much less effective.

The electric light allows us to stay up later and be perpetually tired. Being tired also slows our metabolism while reducing quality of life.

Stress increases metabolism but encourages fat (energy) retention. Emotional repression can also lead to fat buildup as a natural protective response. Similarly, Highly Sensitive Persons (HSP‘s) often carry extra weight as an ineffective kind of “protection.”

Genetics is another area that influences our tendency to gain weight. Ease at gaining, losing, or not gaining can all be seen in our DNA, if you’ve been tested. Genetics also influences where we put weight on. We’ll usually see examples in our family around us.

Our microbiome has a larger population than all the cells in our body. Many live in the gut and help us with digestion. The kinds of food we eat culture our gut bacteria. They’ll signal the brain went they want more, making it more challenging to change our food habits. They create a momentum to our diet. We have found some kinds of bacteria and viruses shift the bodies tendencies to store fat too. They can affect the bodies hormones and thus our mood and motivations.

Fat can also store toxins. If we’ve had a “leaky gut” problem, there is a tendency for toxins to leach into the blood stream. The liver will then try to store these toxins in fat. If we lose weight, the fat can release the toxins again so the body may work to restore fat as a toxin repository. Toxic load can thus create resistance to weight loss.

Similarly, plastics, pesticides and preservatives can all create a tendency to keep fat. Some chemicals behave enough like hormones to change our behaviour.

As we gain weight, our fat system will create a new set point and seek to sustain itself, despite our efforts otherwise. Obesity drifts into becoming a chronic disease and a major contributor to our largest health issues.

Overall, we have a growing list of influences outside of diet and lifestyle that can influence our tendency to gain and retain fat. Also, refined carbs and sugars are addictive.

The last section of the Secret Life book talks about ways to lose weight and keep it off using vigorous exercise and counting calories. This part of the book is weaker and based on older science.

Curiously, she closes with her own process, some of which conflicts with the previous section. Personally, I’ve never found “fighting” with my physiology productive. Instead, it’s more useful to get to know your body and understand what it needs and what throws it off. Each of us need our own formula to find balance.

Once middle aged, we usually have to move beyond dieting and shift into lifestyle changes or we won’t be able to keep excess weight off.

This isn’t just a personal issue. Our common diet is destroying our health and our environment. It’s unsustainable in multiple ways. Obesity contributes to our most common serious illnesses. It’s a preventable epidemic and yet there is strong medical and industry resistance to change.

The Lancet British medical journal published EAT-Lancet, the “Commission on healthy diets from sustainable food systems.” They titled it “Food in the Anthropocene.”

They recommend a revolution in our modern diet towards a goal of a “healthy reference diet” of 2,500 calories a day based on whole grains, vegetables, fruits, legumes (beans, lentils, and peas), with just 150 calories from animal protein like beef, pork, lamb, poultry, eggs, and fish. In short, a diet that emphasizes whole, plant-based, unprocessed foods. This matches the CHIP program I’ve also written about.

Does that sound like starvation? In 2015 the average American consumed over 3,600 calories daily. In 1961, they consumed just 2,880. Canadians are close behind. In the rush away from dietary fat and an increase in processed foods, we shifted to sugar and low-quality carbs, considerably increasing out daily caloric intake.

Canada has updated its Food Guide, similarly reducing the emphasis on dairy and meat.

The CHIP program and the more stringent Ornish program emphasize changes in lifestyle that supports health:
– a whole foods, plant-based diet. This is naturally low in fat, refined carbs and sugar.
– moderate exercise, like walking. CHIP suggests working up to 10k steps a day.
– stress reduction, such as through meditation and yoga asana
– healing emotionally and culturing close relationships

The benefit of such an approach corresponds to the degree to which you adopt it.

NutritionFacts website has a free phone app for tracking a dietary balance of 12 food groups. The idea is helping you transition to a healthier diet. They also offer a free downloadable eating guide from this page.

Ayurveda
I next read The Prime, a book by Kulreet Chaudhary. “Give up the fight and win the war.” She’s a neurologist who had to take some medication she prescribed her patients and realized how badly it served them. Her mother recommended an Ayurvedic doctor she went to in desperation. Long story short, Ayurveda worked, she ended up referring patients, then training as an Ayurvedic doctor herself.

She brings up many similar points to the Fat book, but with less background science and more application. She covers food addictions, neuroadaption, the buildup of ama (undigested sludge), and why that leads to inflammation, weight gain, and other issues.

While Western medicine is very good for broken bones and infections, it’s much less effective at systemic issues as it doesn’t know how to balance the physiology as a whole. That is where Ayurveda shines. It focuses on restoring balance so the body can heal itself.

Dr. Chaudhary realized that many of her neurological patients were also losing weight because of restoring balance through Ayurveda. No dieting, just a natural restorative healing. She ended up developing a 4-step program for weight loss without dieting or exercise. Instead, gentle detoxification, healing, and balance bring weight loss as a side effect.

More broadly, Ayurveda recommends a vegetarian diet and recognizes we all have different physiologies that are supported by somewhat different diets. A gentle approach like The Prime, supplemented with points like CHIP above will place you in good stead long term.

If you have the opportunity, I recommend an Ayurvedic cleanse. It’s a great way to jump-start the restoration of balance and health.

The ideal is panchakarma in a spa or clinic. This is a more focused and personalized treatment including warm oil massage, steaming, and related treatments. Several friends have traveled to India for less expensive treatment but there are spas in N. America and Europe. You have to be careful their Vaidyas are properly trained and the herbs well-sourced. Those trained in Maharishi Ayurveda have high standards and use a milder approach suitable for westerners.

But such things are not cheap and can take time and attention. The Prime is a simple approach and a good way to get started.

I’ve also found it’s good to have support during and after a program so you sustain the lifestyle changes. Otherwise, you have more influences to fall back again and undo the benefits in short order.
David

A Vegan Challenge

December 10, 2015 at 4:36 pm | Posted in Economoney, Health | Leave a comment
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Recently, I’ve talked about the CHIP program and a shift to a more whole foods, plant based diet, otherwise known as a Vegan diet.

I’ve concluded that this body isn’t going to go that far but I will favour a mostly vegetarian approach. I learned a great deal from the CHIP program to support good lifestyle choices.

When I watched the film Cowspiracy, I discovered their web site had an offer for a free 30-Day Vegan Challenge by vegan author Colleen Patrick-Goudreau. There are a lot of reasons to make dietary changes but the motivation on the site was to reduce meat consumption so we reduce our impact on climate change*. Even eating one less hamburger makes a surprising difference. Colleen also speaks about the compassionate treatment of animals, something modern factory farms have left by the wayside.

I decided to take her program – not to become vegan but to enhance my healthy choices and options.

I quite enjoyed the program and have picked up some great tips. Much like the CHIP program, she broke through some myths and went into some detail on key nutrients. She even covered a few details CHIP had not.

The program is designed for those with a typical North American diet, so there was a lot of recommendations for what I’d call “faux food” – foods designed to mimic meat and dairy products. That is – replacing one processed food with another possibly even more processed. Now I certainly enjoy a good veggie burger but am more interested in yummy dishes than eating foods pretending to be something else. I can see where such products might have a transitional role until we have more menu diversity but long-term use of heavily processed foods is not a great idea, vegan or not.

I also cringed when she got into calorie counting for weight loss. It’s very true that weight changes come by shifting the balance of intake and output in calories but tracking that is not something I’ll ever do well.

But the program is full of recipes and healthy food choices, shopping tips, and food knowledge. Leaning veggie is not as difficult as it might seem. Many of the foods we already eat are vegan and there are many very tasty options. We just need a little knowledge and a few new habits and choices.

I would describe the CHIP program as superior but it’s not available everywhere and is not cheap. This program is free and can serve as a good introduction to making some healthy changes. Healthy for all of us. And she can help you save money too.
David

*research indicates meat production produces vastly more greenhouse gases than all forms of transportation combined. See the article with links.

A Flourishing Life

June 7, 2015 at 11:29 am | Posted in Health, Psychology | 2 Comments
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As the CHIP program is a Complete Health Improvement Program, the last classes have covered emotional health and changing your environment to better support your improved health. The same principles of eating nutritiously and getting enough exercise come up over and over again. Good sleep habits and exposure to natural environments also help life balance and health.

Class 16 covered stress relief, including the Relaxation Response. This is a technique that was developed in the 1970’s after early research on Transcendental Meditation at Harvard. In a broader technique context, it would be classed as a body-awareness technique. This can be very handy for simple relaxation. It’s also used in classical meditation as a way to handle strong purification events. However, it’s not recommended as a long term practice because too much tends to dull the mind. A good first step, but I’d suggest graduating to an effortless meditation practice to get the best long term benefits.

In the last class, we explored the results of research on happiness. They outlined 5 domains, each of which bring us progressively deeper and more sustained happiness.

1 – Positive emotions – favouring the positive can be developed as a habit. But the positive always ends.
2 – Engagement – having something in our life we enjoy where we get focused and immersed.
3 – Achievement – paying attention to what we have accomplished brings greater satisfaction.
4 – Relationships – bring deeper connection to our lives. We become like those around us, so choose our social relationships well.
5 – Meaning – the feeling of belonging to something bigger than ourselves brings the most lasting contribution to our happiness.

To this list I would add self-knowledge. Not just superficial details but a deeper sense of our larger Self within. This connects us to a deep well of inner happiness. Like the above, an effortless meditation can be a key way to connect to our deeper values. This also has the advantage of supporting all of the prior domains, like bringing that greater-then-self meaning, more positive emotions, and so forth.

I’ve made good progress with the recommendations of the program. My doctor has been impressed and I’ve avoided the need for the medications he expected to have to prescribe. There is still more to come, but the approach to make lifestyle changes rather than temporary fixes like diets is clearly superior.

To your health!
David

Forgiveness

June 2, 2015 at 2:26 pm | Posted in Health, Psychology | 3 Comments
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An entire lesson in CHIP is on forgiveness. Very simply because if we carry old resentment and anger, it will not only interfere with emotional health, it can directly effect our physical health and well-being too.

For example, if we’re carrying chronic anger, we’re much more likely to have high blood pressure and heart disease. As well, with the fire burning, the body releases fat for energy. If that’s not used because it’s not actually expressed, it floats around in the bloodstream as cholesterol. Through the mechanisms discussed prior, this can lead to a host of diseases.

As another example, if we have old unresolved fears, they may thwart our ability to get healthy or to keep weight off. They used the example of a woman who felt unsafe when she was slim and attractive.

The lesson itself was given by Dr. Dick Tibbits, the author of Forgive to Live. I notice his book is available in a couple of styles – as a secular and a more Christian version. But the approach itself is based on science and is used in his hospital.

Forgiveness does not mean condoning or accepting or forgetting what happened. They describe “forgive and forget” as a myth. Forgiveness means letting go of the charge and our investment in it, not forgetting.

This is not just about people. You may need to let go of old unhappiness about past (or present) circumstances too.

They explained that anger is not stored. What is stored is memories and associations. When we bring the memory up again, it triggers the ideas and emotions we’ve associated with it. Thus the primary approach Dr. Tibbits noted was reframing. Shifting our frame of reference for the memory. Seeing it another way. That shifts the associations too and thus how we remember those past hurts. Seen differently, we can release the charge.

Myself, I found culturing gratitude very useful for raising the emotional tone. Not making a mood of it, just thinking of different things in your life you are grateful for here and there in the day. Humor is also benefical. This helps shift our attention off dwelling on past struggles and opens the door to release as forgiveness.

As may be obvious here, self-reflection is a valuable tool. Part of this process is becoming conscious of our inner dynamics. We don’t have choice if we’re in unconscious reactivity. But with a little self-reflection, we can become conscious between stimulus and our reactive response. And then we can choose.

It also helps to recognize we’re doing this to ourselves – that’s the part we want to heal. Waiting for someone else to say sorry is just giving them the power over you. Forgiveness is taking back your power. That’s one of the surprising revelations about this process. As they noted, you can’t take a poison pill and hope the other person dies.

Also, remember that “letting go” is not a concept. We can’t think our way through this. This is a release of energy, usually experienced subjectively as emotion. We’re letting go of the charge, the emotion. Then the idea of it, the memory, becomes more neutral.

Our life is defined by the choices we make, not the cards we’re dealt. We always have the choice to forgive. We can point to those born into poverty who became happy and successful. And those born into wealth who self-destruct. It is just a long series of small steps that take us down our chosen path.

The class also explored various details, like handling anger and the stages of personal change.

Now we’re getting to the last couple of weeks of classes.
David

Minimizing Cancer Risk

May 13, 2015 at 10:40 pm | Posted in Health, Science | 4 Comments
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Our bodies are naturally self-healing if we give them the right nutrition, activity, and environment. This doesn’t have to be perfect – just within reasonable ranges.

However, our modern lifestyle has lead to some poor habits that, over time, create imbalances in the body that gradually throw systems out of whack. That leads to a wide range of common illnesses, including Cancer. Yet, cancer itself is not actually an illness – it’s a symptom of an illness or imbalance that leads to an out-of-control healing (cell-replenishment) process, much as chronic inflammation leads to many other troubles.

If your immune system is in good shape, you won’t get cancer. The body will take care of naturally occurring problems, including malignant growth.

What is the largest influence on the risk of cancer? Lifestyle habits. Carcinogens have links to cancer but are a far smaller influence than lifestyle. And lifestyle is something you can control.

The World Cancer Research Fund International has been running an ongoing and continually updated meta-analysis of published papers on cancer research. They have reviewed over 9,000 studies of some 17 cancers.

Their recommendations to reduce the largest risk factors:

1) Loose Excess Weight and maintain a healthy weight (a BMI of 21) through a balanced diet and exercise.
2) Be Physically Active at least 30 minutes each day. As fitness improves, aim for 60 minutes. Limit sedentary activity, like being a couch potato.
3) Limit consumption of Energy-Dense Foods – these are foods high in fat and/or sugar and low in fibre. Avoid sugary drinks and limit fruit juices (some have more sugar than pop plus low fibre). Limit fast food and processed food. When foods are low in fibre, we don’t feel full and continue to eat, leading to weight gain. Not to mention that cancer lives solely on sugar. People who die from cancer effectively starve to death as the cancer consumes all the bodies energy. Energy-dense foods feed cancer.
4) Eat mostly foods of plant origin: vegetables, fruits, whole grains and pulses. Favour unprocessed cereals. These foods have lower energy density and higher fibre. They help fill us up and carry away toxins. They reduce cancer growth by reducing fuel.
5) Limit red meats and avoid processed meat.
6) Limit or avoid Alcoholic Drinks. Purple grape juice offers the same health benefits touted for red wine. But moderately as it’s also energy-dense.
7) Limit consumption of Salt (and salty foods and salt preserved foods). Check the labels on packaged and canned goods. Many have high amounts of sugar and/or salt, even “healthy” and organic foods. Also – avoid mouldy grains and legumes.
8) Don’t use dietary supplements to protect against cancer. Aim to meet your nutritional needs through diet.
9) Breastfeed – this protects both mother and child
10) Cancer survivors should also follow these guidelines: before, during and after treatment

Put simply – favour a whole foods, plant-based diet and get active. Again, this is research-based. Alcohol, sugary drinks, fat, and other energy-dense foods all produce sugars that feed cancer, add weight, and increase inflammation.

And of course, quit smoking. Whatever kind of plants you smoke.

This approach will also reduce inflammation, much as I noted prior. This means it will also help avoid high blood pressure, heart disease, and so much more. And it will improve not just your health but overall quality of life. And don’t forget to clean up inflammatory emotions. We have to take care of our emotional and mental health too or that will contribute to physical illness.

To your health and well being.
David

Some CHIP Science

April 13, 2015 at 11:57 am | Posted in Health, Psychology, Science | 9 Comments
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As I discussed prior, CHIP is one of the best researched lifestyle upgrade programs available. They lean on a lot of other research. Let’s see if I can explain the basics of the value proposition for health.

Essentially, the bodies immune system produces inflammation at an injury point while the healing is underway. But lifestyle factors like smoking, high fat or sugar in the diet, inactivity, excess alcohol, salt, obesity, poor sleep, and stress can all lead to chronic low-level inflammation. Similarly, the same lifestyle factors create more “oxidative stress”, an imbalance between damaging free radicals and the antioxidents that manage them. If free radicals get the upper hand, all sorts of problems can arise, including higher cancer risk.

We most notice inflammation in the joints when we have discomfort and pain. But one of the primary sites where chronic low-level inflammation develops is in blood vessels. Over time, this damages the vessel walls protection. LDL (“bad”) cholesterol influenced by free radicals becomes sticky and adheres at these points, causing narrowing of the arteries, atherosclerosis. That impedes the circulatory system and the distribution of oxygen and nutrients required by all areas.

The trick is – where that is occurring more is what leads to a chronic ailment in that area. The best known is of course coronary artery or heart disease. But in the brain, it’s senility or stroke. High blood pressure. Kidney disease. Hearing loss. And macular degeneration in the eyes.

The main point – “most chronic diseases have a common cause in chronic low-level inflammation linked to oxidative stress.” This is backed up by a lot of research.

For example, several long term studies, like the Adventist study and the China study, have demonstrated that every step closer to being a straight vegetarian you are, the lower your rate of chronic disease: by a 4 and 5 to one ratio to meat eaters. Meat eaters, for example, have a 5 times higher likelihood of developing high cholesterol (somewhat obviously). This means a 5 times higher likelihood of a lower quality of life. Spread that over multiple issues and you get the message.

CHIP feels these chronic diseases can be moderated and potentially corrected with diet, sufficient activity, emotional health and stress management. They hope to wean you off any related medications for symptoms.

I’ve been surprised how thorough they’re being. They want to really drive the points home. It’s completely your choice how far you want to take it on the diet and exercise scale. But they want you to understand the choices you’re making and their benefits.

And we’re not just talking a longer life but one of higher quality too.
David

The CHIP Program

April 13, 2015 at 11:39 am | Posted in Health, Media, Psychology, Science | 10 Comments
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I’ve been blessed with a robust constitution from a “successful” gene pool. But this has meant it was easy to be lazy about taking care of myself. Although I’ve been “reasonable”, my lifestyle choices have slowly caught up with me. I’ve gradually become more sedentary with a little too much fill the bucket eating.

I’ve tried several diets that made a lot of difference. Loved the Reboot program, for example, but didn’t make the long term changes to keep it off. Once I finished the juice fast, things gradually went back to the old habits. And because basic lifestyle patterns were not changing, things just slowly got worse. It finally started to catch up with me.

The basic problem is, our modern western “healthy” diet is very simply not. The major diseases of western countries are diseases of abundance and excess, ironically. But because it’s common, we see it as normal.

The western medical system is allopathic, designed to treat things like infections and broken bones. But MD’s are not typically well-trained in lifestyle and nutrition, nor are they set up to guide a patient through such changes. When people come to them with chronic issues related to lifestyle, they can offer some advice to loose weight or relax, then pills to treat the symptoms. But none of this addresses the cause. As a result, in most cases the patient does nothing or doesn’t find anything effective long term and fails. The chronic conditions get worse, the prescriptions climb, and people keep returning to their doctor for help. Yet they do little to help themselves, often because they don’t know how.

We need to change our thinking and recognize we have to take responsibility for our health. Often, we take better care of our cars than our bodies. It’s estimated that 70% of doctor visits are related to lifestyle issues they’re not set up to address. The major health issues of our time are dominated by lifestyle-related ailments like heart disease, diabetes, and cancer, developed over many years of bad habits.

Why is our diet so bad? In the 50’s, researchers determined that our western diet was too high in fat. They introduced lower fat recommendations. Not only did this lead to the low-fat craze but it also lead to far more processing of foods. Taking out the fat also took out the flavour. So they compensated with things like sugar and salt, massively increasing our intake. Food research sought the “bliss point” of sweetness to be appealing, even in baby food. They also discovered that sugar and caffeine could make a food addictive. Many foods became increasingly unnatural designer foods, made to appeal to our base tendencies. The long term result – a massive increase in obesity.

When someone begins to realize how their lifestyle is affecting their health and quality of life, they may look to make changes. Most visible is gyms and diets. If you’re lucky, you’ll find the right resources and motivation to make the changes needed before there’s a health crisis. But often, people end up trying a long list of fad diets and programs that have more of a yo-yo effect than long term benefit.

What many need is some support and filling in some of the gaps in our self-care skills. We need a dose of preventative medicine.

In my own case, I needed lifestyle changes, but an approach that was straightforward and real. This is when I ran into the CHIP program, recommended at the end of a health article.

CHIP stands for Complete Health Improvement Program. It began some years ago as a heart-health program similar to  Healthy Heart. The second is mainly for people already with a serious health issue, often offered at hospitals and the Y. CHIP broadened the approach because the principles are true of many common chronic health issues, not just the heart. While Reboot had paid support programs, this was in-person groups working together.

CHIP is also one of the best researched programs available and arose out of a history of prior research. Large, long term studies have shown that the greater the amount of animal fats in the diet, the higher the risks of developing chronic illness. This science is well understood but not widely known. I’ll write more on this shortly.

What has really impressed me about such a mainstream program is that none of the advice I’ve objected to. I’ve studied traditional health systems like Ayurveda and the advice aligns very well with it. It is really good advice: whole, plant-based, unprocessed foods, variety, and plenty of exercise.

The principles are very straightforward but do ask for real change. And not temporary change either. This is not a diet to try but a change in lifestyle. Not a temporary fix but a long-term shift.

There is no calorie counting and no starving. You can eat lots and loose weight, if you choose the right whole foods. Without the addictive foods in your diet like sugar and caffeine, you won’t get the cravings that ruin many a diet.

But also, diets without exercise are not a solution. Your body is not designed to be a slug. We’re built to be active. Yet lots of exercise without changing what you put in your mouth isn’t a solution either. This is about improving your whole quality of life long term. When you get into the swing of exercise you like, it feels really good. And this doesn’t take long.

If you’d like a metric, under 5,000 steps a day is sedentary. That includes most of us. 10,000 steps brings you an “Active” status. Unforced, it also brings the yummy experience of stepping into “the zone”. The program comes with a pedometer. Worn throughout the day, it will easily track how you’re doing.

CHIP is 18 classes, packed with tips and research to back up the recommendations. A cookbook too. For me, I’ve lost weight, waist size, and feel quite a lot healthier than I have in awhile. And we’re only at class 4. Fun stuff like dancing isn’t exhausting now. I use the car much less. My food bill has dropped markedly. And many are telling me how great I look. While I’m still in the keener phase, I can heartily recommend the program. It’s taught all over North America.
David

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