“I want more muscles! I go to the gym three or four times a week with a personal trainer. I can afford that now. I can’t put on weight though, no matter how much I eat.” -Christopher Parker
Many of us struggle in all sorts of aspects of our lives: to balance work and leisure, friends and family, responsibility and fun. For nearly all of us, something eventually goes awry, and when it does, we suddenly can’t meet all our commitments at once. Regardless of where you come from or what you like, this is a problem we all have to face at some time or another. For this week, I’d like to introduce you to Gangstagrass, a bluegrass-hip-hop band, which are honestly two genres I never thought I’d hear combined. Not only have they done so, they’ve done so phenomenally well, as you can hear by their song,
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.
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.
So if you want to eat healthy, you want to eat foods that don’t aggressively spike your insulin, that do stimulate that feeling of satiety, and, of course, that properly provide the nutrients your body needs. Through a very clear presentation (two sample pages are shown below), this book tells you exactly what types of foods you should base your diet around (and what foods you should avoid) if you want to eat healthy, according to your body’s metabolism. He develops his own index for determining which foods you should and shouldn’t eat, and while the acronym (SANE) isn’t the easiest to remember, learning what is good for your body vs. what’s not good becomes very clear very quickly.
- 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!
Over the past couple of months, I’ve worked to incorporate these changes into my diet, to just make this part of the way I live. It’s fortunate for me that I like cooking, and that I have access to some pretty amazing ingredients (and a couple of pretty amazing farmers who supply me with all sorts of vegetables year-round) at my disposal. My meals have gotten a lot healthier, I feel a lot better, and my clothes are fitting better, too. In fact, here’s one of yesterday’s pictures from the 2012 West Coast Beard & Mustache Championships:
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…