NUTRITION, EXERCISE, HEART DISEASE, and CANCER
We are strong advocates of living a healthy lifestyle. We spend considerable time counseling our patients about the importance of sensible eating behavior and regular aerobic exercise. There are no short cuts. The reasons we continue to harp on this subject are many and varied. Most importantly, recent studies have shown that heart disease kills 1 in 3 Americans, and that 1/3 of Americans undertake no physical activity of any kind! Studies have also shown that lifestyle choices that could be changed or avoided account for up to 90% of the gene mutations that make cancerous tumors progress!
We have an aversion to the word “diet”. It implies nothing but negatives to all of us. It implies that we are forcing ourselves to adhere to some sort of unpleasant, restrictive, dull eating regimen that’s going to mean major sacrifices and doing without the foods we love. Worst of all, it implies something temporary. “OK, I’m going on this diet for a month to lose 10 pounds.” Of course, after that time is up, no matter how much weight you’ve lost, when you resume your usual eating habits, the weight will creep back.
A better approach is in terms of “Permanent Lifestyle Modification”- small changes you can make in your eating and exercise behavior that you are able to visualize yourself doing for the rest of your life.
Good health does not result from a self-punishing lifestyle, it results from a pattern of making intelligent eating (and exercise) decisions most of the time while giving oneself permission to cheat once in a while. The two most important words in any weight loss regimen are “portion control“.
Don’t misunderstand. We will often give our patients printed “diet” information (for cholesterol, diabetes, etc.) and speak with them at length about appropriate eating behavior, but we emphasize that they are to use the printed diet only as a broad guideline. Our job is to teach our patients what they should do and why, not to give orders.
THE VITAL IMPORTANCE OF LEAN BODY MASS
Your “Lean Body Mass” (LBM) is the metabolically active part of you, consuming most of the energy, repairing the daily wear and tear on vital body structures, and replacing vital fluids and body chemicals – in short, doing all the work of living. By far the largest portion of your LBM is muscle.
It’s what gives you a reason to eat. Ideally, you want to keep all of it- every glorious pound; so you must feed it, water it, exercise it, and be thankful for it.
Typical low-calorie, high-carbohydrate, low-fat diets limit protein intake. As a result, as much as 50% of weight lost can be muscle weight. Each pound of active muscle mass lost reduces your rate of metabolism.
Speaking of metabolism, often overlooked is breakfast. Early in the morning, your metabolism is set relatively low, for rest. If you skip breakfast, your brain keeps your metabolism low, interpreting the lack of food as famine, and trying to preserve calories. By eating breakfast, you are literally “breaking the fast” and your brain is signaled to ramp up your metabolism for the day- just like stoking a fire.
EXERCISE IS ESSENTIAL
Diets alone simply won’t keep your weight down in the long run. If you don’t exercise regularly there is NO WAY you’re going to be able to keep the weight off! Period. If you want to become (and remain) fit, trim, and healthy, you must exercise regularly and intensely.
This is because the only tissue in your body capable of burning fat for fuel is muscle. You can’t burn fat in your brain no matter how hard you think. You can’t burn fat in your lungs or your spleen or your skin.
As we grow older, all of us have a tendency to lose muscle mass just because we’re aging. On top of that, most of us have sedentary lifestyles involving little or no real muscle work. If we were to put your arm in a cast for six weeks, you’d expect your muscles to shrink from disuse. Muscles all over your body react to lack of exercise the same way- they shrink.
As our muscles shrink, we have less and less high-energy, calorie-burning, fat-burning muscle mass. If we’re still eating the same number of calories, there’s an increasing tendency to store those excess calories as fat. As we grow heavier and more out of shape, it gets harder and harder to get motivated to exercise, and this becomes a spiral into obesity and lethargy.
Going on a strict diet to lose weight fast only makes the problem worse. Why? Because when we severely restrict our caloric intake, our body interprets that lack of food as famine! The body thinks, “The food supply is in doubt. If I waste any calories, I may be in danger of starvation.” As the body switches into “survival mode” and turns down its metabolic fires to conserve power, we feel lethargic and lose whatever little interest we may have had in exercising.
If we continue the strict diet, the body does even more to survive. It says to itself, “Hey, this really is a famine. I’d better get rid of some of my non-essential high-energy-burning tissue to conserve more calories.” And what does the body break down to save calories? MUSCLE! So if we crash diet down 10 pounds over a few weeks, perhaps 8 of those pounds are fat; but the other two pounds are muscle mass, our precious fat-burning tissue!
Now that we’ve lost this much more or of our fat-burning mass, when we try to return to “normal” eating, there will be even more tendency to put on fat! This is exactly why yo-yo dieting is detrimental!
If the goal is to lose weight (fat) and keep it off, then obviously we must begin exercising and making “intelligent eating decisions” every day, at every meal, via portion control, choosing lean protein ahead of carbs, etc.
The only way to gain muscle mass is through regular “resistance” training, i.e. working out with machines or weights. If you are not willing to exercise regularly, there is no way you can achieve and maintain a low-fat body. As an added bonus, strength training also prevents disability and frailty, as the decades go by.
To help you get a good start on a healthy lifestyle, establish some reasonable, achievable fitness goals, and put structure into your fitness program we recommend that you read the book “Body for Life” by Bill Phillips, an excellent fitness book.
No one is going to give you a better-looking, healthier body. If that’s what you want, then stop procrastinating. Get to work and build your own. It’s the most rewarding do-it-yourself project you’ll ever undertake.