A bear, however hard he tries,
Grows tubby without exercise.
Okay, that's how to be thin. The secret was just hidden in a poem by A. A. Milne, and needed re-examining. I recently rode a bicycle the length of England, and can attest to the truth of Mr. Milne's statement. I ate what I wanted, when I wanted, and still managed to look less Winnie the Pooh-like by the end. The moral of the story being this: you can gorge yourself on almost anything, provided you exercise vigorously for around five hours per day. For those of you who don't have the time or energy to do that amount of exercise, let's continue with the Geek Girl's guide to being healthy.
The reason for this is quite obvious. Our hunter-gatherer ancestors ate fresh, varied produce, did a good amount of exercise, and consumed very few toxins. You see, the human body deals far better with under-feeding (consuming fewer calories than expended on any given day) than with over-feeding. Farming, and the surplus it created, allowed us to over-eat. Our bodies did what they were programmed to do – store the extra food in case of famine – and the fondness for big butts was born. Farming isn't necessarily a bad thing, but Mark Bittman has some eloquent words about how we turned it into a bad thing.
Modern farming came with a few added perks. It gave us the opportunity to fill our food with antibiotics, hormones, and pesticides. Add that potent cocktail of chemicals to the BPA and other toxins that leach into our food from packaging, and it's no wonder most of the developed world is considered to be overweight.
Our bodies store toxins; they're not sure what to do with them; we have no enzymes for processing those chemicals. In other words, there's no evolutionary protocol for those molecules, so we put them in our fatty tissue in case we need them for a rainy day. Other animals store up toxic chemicals, but they do so as a defence mechanism against predators; we're storing hormone-mimicking molecules in our emergency food reserves.
spending an hour each day with a hosepipe up one's backside isn't easy to incorporate into a busy schedule
Step 1: Detox
Pretty much everything we eat these days is packed full of preservatives, colourants, flavourings, etc. and what isn't is packaged in plastic, vinyl, and polystyrene; toxins and carcinogens (cancer-causing chemicals) find their way into our mouths in shocking quantities. As previously mentioned, we store these as a barrier between our capillaries (the tiny little blood vessels that run through our tissues) and our fat cells. The net effect of this is that when we exercise, the first thing we burn is all the icky remnants. You probably won't lose much weight until the chemical remnants of a modern diet have been purged from your system. So, to speed up the weight-losing, health-gaining process, detoxify your body.
Engage in an on-going detox program; three days of eating only grapes isn't going to cut it. I've had colonic irrigation, and found it to be very helpful. However, four days of detoxing isn't enough to get a lifetime of junk out of one's system, and spending an hour each day with a hosepipe up one's backside isn't easy to incorporate into a busy schedule. I'm a big fan of aloe vera detoxes, because they're easy to work into my daily routine. Another alternative is algae capsule detoxes. Basically, you need something that actually works on neutralising toxins that you can take for six to twelve months after the initial deep-clean phase.
What to look for in a detox program:
- An intensive initial phase and a realistic maintenance plan.
- Based on solid nutritional research. If a detox program is accredited by a nutritional authority, the sales people will tell you. Google the nutritional authority they cite, because not all food authorities are equal.
- At least phone support, but preferably find a detox program that comes with a person to answer questions and provide hugs and cheer-leading.
Step 2: Move
The American Medical Association recommends thirty minutes of exercise 3 times per week. However, growing evidence suggests that the more you move, the better (within reason; there are severe consequences to over-training and/or exercising compulsively. Livestrong.com has a good article on the subject, but Wikipedia has the most complete list of symptoms). In fact, just sitting around for most of the day may be shortening your life.
Tips to work exercise into a busy schedule:
- As long as your heart rate is elevated (the average is 72 beats per minute, but this varies greatly in response to stress, exercise, fitness level, etc.) and movement is sustained for ten minutes or more, you can count it towards your daily exercise total. For example, if walking to the shops takes fifteen minutes at a brisk pace, shopping three times per week meets your quota.
- Cleaning counts as exercise. Even if you hate both, you can at least console yourself that you're multitasking.
- Do social forms of exercise, for example a team sport or a dance class, and take a friend.
- Find a form of exercise that you enjoy, and you'll want it in your schedule.
So what is good food? The talk by Mark Bittman linked to above makes a compelling case for eating vegetables, which, strangely, is what doctors think we should eat too. If we think about our hunter-gatherer ancestors, he's probably not far wrong; meat was a luxury reserved for those times when the men brought home a kill, and the rest of the time we ate plants gathered from the land around our homes. In reality, you only need two grams of protein per kilogram of body mass (multiply your weight in kilograms by 0.002).
Next week, I'll go into detail about the correct proportions of foods, and explain GI (glycaemic index). Until then, carry on with the sleep-and-food journal, adding exercise into the mix. Instead of focussing on the numbers involved in food, try doing a qualitative analysis on what you eat. Before you put something in your mouth, ask the following questions:
- Would my hunter-gatherer ancestors recognise this as food? If it has a long list of ingredients, the answer is probably no. The more preservatives there are in something, the less good for you it is.
- Does it nurture me? Is it nurturing my body, or am I eating for reasons other than physical hunger? Hint: there's nothing but fat and sugar in ice-cream, your body probably isn't craving it for nutritional reasons. For a list of foods that have documented anti-cancer and potential anti-obesity effects (the focus of the research was cancer, but it's likely to be effective against a few other disorders, including obesity), check out this link
- Is it yummy? If it isn't tasty, you will probably grow tired of it, unless it contains an addictive agent like MSG, sucrose or caffeine. Experiment with herbs and spices for an alternative to the “just add salt” philosophy of cooking that gives you heart disease.
Bridget Schuil - Lover of science, plants, tea, wine, peaceful pursuits and fast cars. You can follow Bridget on Twitter and read her blog here If you missed last week's Live Long & Prosper guide you can read it here