Tag Archives: diet

Dispatches from the Diet Lab

Belly FatHow would you like to spend your career studying diets and why they do or don’t work? That’s what Dr. Traci Mann does, and now she’s written a book about the experience.

Secrets from the Eating Lab shares many of Mann’s findings–which is that, by and large, diets don’t work–and then provides some advice on what to do instead of dieting. A reviewer from NPR shares these observations on Mann’s work.

Diets don’t work for a variety of reasons, from biology to psychology. Mann points the finger, first and foremost, at human biology. “Genes,” she writes, “play an indisputable role in regulating an individual’s weight: Most of us have a genetically set weight range. When we try to live above or below that range, our body struggles mightily to adapt.”

That sounds great, but I have a couple of quibbles with Mann’s conclusions. First of all, given the recent increase in obesity in the United States, is Dr. Mann suggesting that we have witnessed a monumental shift in human genetics? Second, just how wide is that range that she mentions? Is it a 5-pound range or a 50-pound range? That would seem to make a huge difference.

Beyond that, Mann goes to the brain, which (at least according to the reviewer) apparently is not a biological organ.

Second to biology, Mann blames a combination of neuroscience and psychology. Our brains are hardwired to want food for survival, she explains, so restricting calories creates a psychological stress response, which facilitates weight gain, not loss. Also, she adds: “Studies show that willpower, the thing we all blame ourselves for not having enough of, is in many ways a mythical quality and certainly not something that can be relied upon for weight loss.”

Again, I have to ask for some quantification. How much of a reduction in calories do we need before that “psychological stress response” kicks in? And this idea that willpower is a myth would seem to suggest that everybody ought to weigh 400 pounds.

Of course the problem with studying diets lies in defining just what qualifies as a diet. When Morgan Spurlock ate nothing but McDonalds food for 30 days, that was a diet. So was what I ate when I weighed 55 pounds more than today. At what point does a change of eating habits qualify as a “diet”?

What this book seems to ignore is the spiritual aspect of dieting. When we see ourselves as belonging to ourselves, then we’re pretty much reduced to some sort of inwardly based motivation. When we see ourselves belonging to the creator of the universe, then there’s help and hope for a healthier future.

The Secrets of Longevity

happy old guyDo you want to live to be really old? Here’s a hint: Don’t die young.

A recent story out of the U.K. shares some actual long-life advice from the ultimate experts: the long lived. Amazingly, none of them had the benefit of CT scans or the latest pharmaceutical wonders for most of their decades.

My favorite bit of advice came from Gertrude Weaver, who died in 2015, less than 100 days shy of her 117th birthday.

She focused less on diet and more on outlook.

“Trusting in the Lord, hard work and loving everybody”

“Kindness. Treat people right and be nice to other people the way you want them to be nice to you.”

Those who did mention diet, didn’t spout off nutritional dogma. Nobody said, “I attempted to avoid saturated fats” or “I shunned triglycerides.” These women–and the long-lived are almost always women–seemed to eat what they liked. A Japanese lady enjoyed not just plentiful carbs from ramen noodles but also plentiful animal fats from red meats in the form of beef stew and hashed beef. A 119-year-old American extolled the benefits of milk chocolate turtles and potato chips. I’m sure both of those were organic.

One of the things I noticed in most of the examples was that these women had activities that they enjoyed. They indulged in needlepoint, painting, and pottery. In other words, they had something more worthwhile than reruns of Bewitched on TV to greet them when they rose in the morning.

Today, many people will outstrip the “three score and ten” years that the Bible speaks of as the lifespan of a human. The testimony of these who lived well past 110 is that there’s no magic diet. What would be truly sad, though, would be living such a long life and not having anything to show for it.

The Right Weight

Scale“Where the Bible is silent, we are silent” has long been a slogan among a certain slice of the Evangelical world. While my own tradition does not come from that slice, I admire the idea behind such silence. A church should not, I think, take adamant stands on matters on which the Bible does not speak. For example, what does the Bible say about the use of tobacco? Nothing! Since tobacco is a New World plant, it would have made very little sense for the Biblical writers to share something that would not come onto the scene for another 1,300 years. A church can get by perfectly well without expressing a position on tobacco.

On the other hand, an individual cannot live life with a silent position on many matters on which the Bible is silent. For example, if I am pulled toward smoking–which, happily, I’m not–then I have to either determine that it is acceptable or reject it. To do that without trying to discern God’s will would be foolish.

What does the Bible say about weight? How much body fat should I carry around with me according to Paul? Search all you want, but you’ll find no clear answer to that. The Bible neither praises nor condemns fat people or thin people. It does have a fair amount to say about gluttony, but that’s not precisely the same thing. I can be a glutton today and still keep a lean body if I watch my eating the rest of the week.

I say this as I have been watching the scale tick downward over the last several weeks. A year ago, I held my weight between 180 and 185 for about eight months. Then I bounced up to around 195 in the wake of some very stressful times. For the past eight months, I’ve been between 188 and 196. When I last weighed in, I tipped the scale at 190.6. Hopefully, a few more steady weeks will have me back in the 185 range.

But I ask myself, how much of my desire to see a certain number on the scale is vanity and how much is good stewardship. Since the Bible is silent on this matter of weight, where do I turn for guidance? I’d like to look at some possibilities in upcoming posts.

Vitamins–No Shortcuts

Vitamins and SupplementsI’ll proclaim my bias right here. I have never been a dietary supplement kind of guy. I’d prefer not to get my nutrition in a pill. Still, it is pretty clear why people would want to opt for the convenience of the supplement. After all, why labor through all of that chewing to get your B vitamins or beta-keratin when you can down it in an easy-to-swallow capsule?

A recent study presented at the American Association for Cancer Research annual meeting suggests that excessive vitamin doses–the sort of doses you’re only likely to get by swallowing pills–are a negative influence on our health. Dr. Tim Byers presented his findings:

“We are not sure why this is happening at the molecular level but evidence shows that people who take more dietary supplements than needed tend to have a higher risk of developing cancer,” explains Byers, associate director for cancer prevention and control at the CU Cancer Center.

Some specific findings of the study showed bad results in the form of increased incidence of cancer from excess vitamin E, folic acid, and beta-keratin. This shouldn’t come as a tremendous surprise to us. God gave us a multitude of nourishing foods, foods that will, if eaten wisely, will provide all of the vitamins and minerals our bodies need and more. What fools we humans are to think we can effectively short-cut that process in the form of a pill.

I was never a “Flintstones Kid” when growing up. After reading this study, perhaps I should thank my mother for not jumping onto that bandwagon.

What’s on Your Plate?

“What’s for dinner?” Is any more important question ever passed between spouses during a Sunday morning lull in the sermon? What could be more spiritual than considering in advance the contents of your dinner plate? This morning, however, that sermon urged me to think not about literal food but about metaphorical food. “What’s on your plate?” in terms of responsibilities and projects.

plate 2

Over lunch today, I wrote down my priorities–the activities that I would hope would fill my life–on a paper plate. At the center of the plate I placed God. I’d hope any Christian would aim to put God at the center of life, even if He gets pushed off toward the Brussels sprouts from time to time.

Around the perimeter of my plate I arranged three items: Family, Writing, and Teaching. Those are my items. Yours, more than likely, will be different, perhaps Time Travel or Nuclear Fusion.

But then I sat back and thought about the amount of time that I spend running, biking, eating right, and doing other health maintenance activities. Should these things have gone alongside Family, Writing, and Teaching on the plate’s edge? I don’t believe they do go there. Instead, my fitness activities, whether they be physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual, serve those other items already written on my plate.

Think about it. By eating right and keeping my body reasonably fit, I’ll have more energy to teach, more years to write, and a greater ability to serve my family. Rather than sacrificing part of my plate to accommodate running and healthy eating, I recognize that these activities actually help me have a bigger plate.

Whatever you have on your plate, wherever God leads you to invest your time, good stewardship demands that fitness matters have a place on the platter. It’s not that controlling your blood pressure or eating more vegetables are ends in themselves. Similarly, sharpening your mind or increasing your emotional intelligence will strengthen you in all areas and help you to achieve more wherever God calls you.

What’s on your plate? Whatever it is, a serving of fitness will aid the digestion. Now if only that burrito I had for lunch would do the same.