I'm Gonna Put You Down.I've always been someone who's prioritized taking care of myself, physically, as those of you who've hung around here for some time have likely noticed. But this past April, I gave myself a nasty injury, and found that I needed to take some time off from intense physical activity to heal. (It happens.) And while I've come to adopt relatively healthy eating habits, I started noticing the inevitable... well, you know.
You start using the larger holes on your belts, you start asking yourself if you can have that dessert you've had your eye on, and you start trying to cut down on portion sizes, you avoid eating later in the day, and you even go back to counting calories.
And, if you're anything like me, you combine that reduced activity level with a calorie-restricted diet, you start feeling like crap. There are a whole bunch of different diets out there and a whole bunch of people and organizations -- including the USDA -- telling you what you should eat to be healthy. And, if you're anything like me, what you'd really want is the actual, scientific information as to how nutrition, your body, your diet, and fat gain/loss work.
And it just so happens that a couple of months ago, I got an email from Jonathan Bailor, asking me if I cared for an advance copy of his new book.
His book is called, "The Smarter Science of Slim," and it does what no other diet, weight-loss, or fitness book I've ever seen does: it explains the biological workings of your body's metabolism. The first three sections of the book -- and it has seven sections -- are the most valuable book on diet and health I've ever read for the clearly presented, well-articulated and comprehensive information provided inside. Along the way, a lot of myths about food are busted, including the most common one: that restricting your calories and upping your exercise is a solid plan for losing weight, particularly in the long term.
It turns out, unsurprisingly, that people like Christopher Parker, atop (you know, "I can eat whatever I want, my metabolism just burns it up"), are real. But it also turns out that, to a much greater degree than we normally think about, what we eat helps determine our metabolism. I'm going to give you the most basic redux of how your metabolism works:
- You get hungry, and so you eat some food that contains some non-zero amount of calories.
- Your body produces some amount of insulin, which helps deal with the sugars and starches in the food, and moves them into your cells where they're stored as fat.
- When your cells get the signal that the nutrition they need is coming in, your body produces leptin (only discovered in 1994!), which is the hormone that tells your body that you're full, and gives you the feeling that your hunger is satiated.
You'll find aspects of a number of popular diets in here, including the Atkins diet, the Paleo diet, and the Sugarbusters diet. But -- for me, at least -- the takeaway message was this:
- Eat meals that are high in fiber, high in protein, and low in both sugars and starches. (That means your good "friends," complex carbohydrates, are not your friends at all!)
- Ideally, you'll get between 30% and 40% of your calories from protein. While this may sound like a "high-protein" diet to you, this is actually (according to your body) the amount you want for a balanced diet! (And no, you won't start seeing liver or kidney problems until that number gets up above something like 60%!)
- As far as foods go, you should be eating vegetables as the base of your food pyramid (or as 50% of your plate). Lean proteins (like fish, chicken, lean red meat, egg whites, etc.) should be the next most common, followed by fruits, nuts, and legumes.
- Eating too much fat is bad, but so is eating too much sugar or starch. Whole fruits are not bad, so long as you're eating the vegetables and lean proteins that you should be eating. Fiber-free juices and sodas are what you want to avoid!
(Image credit: Plutarco Calles. I took 2nd place in the Partial Beard category!)
Learning how your body deals with food and how the different types of calories and nutrients you put into it makes me strongly recommend The Smarter Science of Slim for anyone looking to improve their diet and learn how what you eat affects how your body reacts to it. The fourth and fifth sections -- about the US Government and Corporate influence -- are only okay, and the sixth and seventh sections read like a personal diet and exercise guide, which were a little bit of a turn-off to me. But the solid science of the first three sections, which were the meatiest part of this book, definitely are worth it for anyone who wants to adopt a positive, healthy-eating lifestyle for the rest of their lives!
Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got a delicious, healthy dinner to cook...
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