Monthly Archives: January 2009

Who’s right and who’s wrong

A thought…

You go and get your yearly physical.

After reviewing your blood report, the well-meaning, Harvard graduate doctor tells you that your cholesterol level is too high. She tells you you need to be on statin medications to lower your cholesterol level and to eat less eggs and cheese. This bothers you.

You really don't want to takes any medications nor do you want to give up your soft boiled eggs and brie. You've read and heard about the controversy surrounding cholesterol lowering medications so you go to another doctor to get a second opinion.

The second doctor, a well-meaning, Yale graduate says your cholesterol levels are high by current guidelines, but that research reveals that it doesn't really matter that much if at all what your cholesterol levels are. That statin drugs damage your liver and nervous system and that eating eggs and cheese do not raise blood cholesterol levels.

One of them is wrong.

But who?


Riding in the car to Michigan over the holidays, I listened to Malcolm
Gladwell's new book Outliers. It's a fascinating treatise on how the very
successful got that way. According to Gladwell, it's more than just being born
with a giant brain or a perfect pitch. It has more to do with your particular
set of life circumstances – where and when you were born, what your parents did
for a living, what month you were born in, etc.

In other words, just because your IQ is 19 billion it does not necessarily
follow you will become a Nobel Laureate or a virtuoso violinist. In fact, you
may wind up being nothing more than a bouncer in a bar. Check out Chris Langon.

From a fitness perspective this is an important concept to understand. If
fully understood, it would save millions of people from despair and regression
in their fitness endeavors. Allow me to explain.

This impossibly 'perfect' man (Frank Zane)

is an Outlier. He inherited or,
rather, was born with several rare and unalterable (or attainable) genetic
factors like the shape of his skeleton (wide shoulders and narrow ribs), more
total muscle fibers, longer than average muscle length and width, low amount of
total fat cells, and several other hormonal markers which allowed him to have
the body he has. Lifting weights simply amplified these effects.

The same is true for this gal:

Now, I am NOT suggesting in any way that these people are to be envied; nor
am I suggesting that these people are perfect or beautiful. I am just pointing
out that if these types of bodies are something you are aspiring towards, the
chances that you will achieve your goal – or even come remotely close – are slim
to none.

These people and those like them are true genetic outliers. They are one in a
million. It is not because they eat right, or exercise more, or sleep better, or
anything else. If you don't already posses a body like this or close to it you
can never have it.

Think of it this way – since there are over 9 billion humans on the earth, if
only one half of one percent of all humans inherited the rare set of genetics
necessary to have bodies like these people (or even close), this means that
there are millions of people with such genetics.

All, and I mean ALL of the 'perfect' people you see in the magazines, on TV,
movies, etc. are one of these outliers. It is no different than having extremely
blue eyes, full, thick hair, or if you are very tall. It also pertains to the
opposite – being bald, short, stocky or freckled. None of these are good or bad
mind you – all have their advantages.

So remember, if you are exercising properly (strength training) and eating
healthfully (low carb/paleo) you should be able to reach YOUR complete genetic
potential in 1-2 years time. What you will see in the mirror at that time will
be about as close to YOUR ideal self as possible. Rejoice in this whatever it
turns out to be.

Oprah’s dilemma

Take a look at this.

It's a story about a well-meaning personal trainer from Canada, Jessica Zapata, who is trying to appeal to Oprah to try her way of training to lose the weight she has regained. Kudos to her for giving it a shot. But Oprah already has a top, expert, veteran trainer by her side named Bob Greene. It is doubtful Bob doesn't know everything Jessica knows and then some.

The interesting thing is though Ms. Zapata is correct that a busy person like Oprah needs to keep her workouts simple and focus on strength training (pretty much like anyone else), her recommendations are anything but simple. In fact, the workouts Zapata recommends are overly complicated, hugely cumbersome and way overkill. If you haven't clicked on the article yet please do so and take a look. Clearly she means well, but I would cut the volume of exercise she suggests in half – at least.

I watch Oprah from time to time. The unfortunate thing for Oprah is that she, like Jessica Zapata and many others, believe that exercise is part of the cure for obesity. It's not and literally has almost nothing to do with it. Sure, be active. Run, skip jump all you like. But it won't do much at all for losing fat. That's a fact. Inactivity is not how we become fat in the first place. We all know lean, inactive people and over fat active people.

So how do we become over fat? I'm going to bold the answer for emphasis:

We become fat mainly because we eat too many carbohydrates.

Fat loss (and gain) is a hormonal game, not a calorie game. And the specific hormone is insulin.

Some people are more susceptible to fat gain due to having a less robust hormonal tone. But ALL people function the same in that eating carbohydrate increases the hormone insulin. One of the main jobs of insulin is to store body fat. In fact, without insulin, you can eat anything you want and you will remain lean.

Of course, without insulin you'll be dead too. But before you die you won't store a molecule of fat.

If Oprah really wants to lose fat and keep it off forever, she needs to eat foods that will not allow her insulin levels to rise too high. And restricting carbohydrate is the key to keeping her insulin levels low. A previous show revealed an eating plan that science would suggest included too many total carbs. Though her choices were smart for being lower on the glycemic scale, she still had far too many total carbs on her menu.

It's this simple. It really is. And again it's science, not my opinion. If she eats the menu she talked about on her show, she's going to have a tough fat loss road ahead. It's not that it can't work the way she is approaching it mind you, but it will be harder to achieve – all the while with a loss of lean mass (muscle and bone) to boot. Her diet is too low in fat and protein to maintain her current lean mass.

Again, this is not my personal opinion – what I am saying is rooted in science. 'Don't shoot me – I'm only the messenger!' as it were. Anyone reading this who disagrees with me and perhaps is getting slightly ticked off by my words I urge you to delve deeper into the current research on the issue. Go here to start your journey.

Call it Atkins. Call it Protein Power. What both these eating plans have in common is science. We've known that restricting carbs is the way to leanness and better health for a century or more. It's nothing new. These two diets are not fad diets at all. The fad diet is actually the current food pyramid which suggests that almost 80% of our calories come from carbohydrates. No wonder there is an obesity/diabetes epidemic!

I hope Oprah succeeds. More than likely she will. But it is far tougher to go the route she is going to travel than the one science suggests she should. We must all be willing to step outside ourselves – our opinions – and take a fresh look at many of the ideas and tenets we hold onto especially when it's painless to do so. Heck, you never know what you might find out.

"Science as a candle in the dark." – Carl Sagan

ABC Eyewitness News

For those of you who missed the Eyewitness News clip here it is.

The people at ABC, especially Michelle Charlesworth, were extremely warm and friendly.

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