- Mr. Money Moustache in his blog post "The Amazing Waist-Slimming, Wallet-Fattening Nutrient"
"Fat is not fattening. Eating when you don’t yet need refueling is what makes you fat, and high-carbohydrate eating is what causes the craving to eat too often."
- Mr. Money Moustache in his blog post "The Amazing Waist-Slimming, Wallet-Fattening Nutrient"
I don't write on exercise much here. My focus has been and will be how to eat well. But I should expand the focus here to talk about the physical part of the equation of being healthy too.
People have asked me what is the best way to exercise. (To get the health benefits of course, but they also want to know how best to exercise to lose weight.) To which I have always answered with "high intensity interval exercise". People would then reply, "Huh?"
This is because nobody talks about high intensity interval exercise. But experts in the fitness world have been big about interval training for a long, long time because of results they have seen among themselves and their clients.
Lately, the scientific communities that study the fitness part of the health equation are becoming big about interval exercise too. They have shown in small studies that people who are obese lose more weight by interval exercise than by continuous exercise.
A radio story on my local National Public Radio station reminded me of this. It describes a small study where people with diabetes were requested to exercise by the high intensity interval approach. They were told to walk -- yes walk, not run -- for 3 minutes at a slow pace followed by 3 minutes at a fast pace, then slow, then fast, and so on for 1 hour everyday.
A 2nd group of people with diabetes were told to walk at a continuous pace for 1 hour with no change in their rate of walking. A 3rd group was told to carry on with their daily routine. The study went on like this for 8 months.
What did the researchers expect? That both exercise groups would have better blood glucose control -- a critical health goal for diabetics -- than would the 3rd group. But the results surprised them.
The group that exercised for 1 hour every day at a continuous pace showed no improvement in their blood glucose control. But the group who exercised for 1 hour every day by the high intensity interval approach improved their blood glucose control.
The NPR journalist said: "their glucose disposal — the ability to move sugar out of the circulating bloodstream and into parts of the body where it can be used as fuel — improved by 20 percent compared with the nonexercising group. And their hemoglobin A1C levels, a longer-term measure of blood sugar dipped slightly too.
If blood glucose control was improved by fast then slow walking, just imagine what people can do by jogging, bicycling, swimming or running in the same fast and slow interval! So why did the people who exercised for the same amount of time -- but in fast and slow interval -- have such different results?
One of the experts told NPR, "'It's this switch between the intensities that we think is critical here,' says Solomon. 'You're able to work hard, and then rest hard ... rather than just walking at a fixed pace... And during the high-intensity bursts, your muscles need more fuel in the form of glucose.
"'It makes sense that intervals would help people with blood sugar control,' says Dr. Tim Church, a professor of preventive medicine at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, La.
"He explains that our [skeletal] muscles are the No.1 consumer of blood sugar in our bodies.
"So, when we do things such as short bursts of high-impact aerobic activity, 'you're pulling excess sugar out of the blood, which results in healthier blood sugar levels,' Church says."
So the Healthy Indian knows to get better results -- for the health benefits, to lose body fat too -- to exercise by high intensity interval, or basically to go fast for a few minutes when walking, jogging, running or any aerobic, then slow for a few minutes, then fast, then slow and so on instead of spending a really long time in the gym.
Read more about this study in NPR's story here.
"Perfect is the enemy of good."
This famous quote, attributed to Voltaire, is a useful reminder when we embark on doing something new. Because no mindset works against us more when we start something new than the perfectionist's mindset.
Know a perfectionist? You probably do. We all know somebody who decided to do something new, hard, and noble -- quit smoking, learn how to play an instrument, or eat from a new diet. It is all that person would talk about. She or he talked about it all the time because she was obsessed, and also because she was trying to keep herself true and perfect to adopting this new thing in her life.
What happened then when she made one little mistake? When she lit up a cigarette after being good for 3 and not having one, or when she did not pick up the guitar for 2 days after being good about strumming it daily for two weeks, or when she ate a sandwich after swearing off bread and being good about avoiding it for a week?
This perfectionist, after one such small mistake, she quit her noble cause. Why? Because she put way too much pressure on herself. She created way too high expectations for herself on being able to follow through this new thing perfectly. And thus, she set herself up to fail.
So what then is the best mindset when doing something new, hard, and noble, like adopting new foods into what you eat everyday and letting go of old favorites to lose weight and become healthier?
The answer is the mindset that let's you feel okay failing on occasion. In fact, build failure into your diet. Use Pareto's principle of 80/20, where you do things right 80% of the time, and 20% of the time you give yourself leeway to do the wrong thing.
If you plan to eat the right foods and not any bad ones for 4 weeks, I encourage you on 1 day to eat all the crap food you like. For 6 days, eat the right food. And if on one of those weeks, you eat the wrong food on 2 days, be okay with it. Just go back to eating right 6 days a week.
The wrong mindset tells you to try eating right for all 7 days a week, all 4 weeks a month,. The pressure and expectations to follow through everyday is much too high for our human nature, so you will quit doing the right thing altogether. Try to be perfect, and oddly enough, you will be far from achieving your goal of losing weight and become healthier versus if you tried to perfect most of the time and imperfect on a day or two each week.
So the Healthy Indian knows this well: Aim to be almost perfect, but never perfect, when doing something new, hard and noble like eating better food and not the old crap food you liked so much, in order to achieve success.
Think about this for a minute. Imagine you had a kid (maybe you have one) and you had just baked cookies for some occasion, and you put them on the countertop to cool down.
Your kid comes home, and you greet him. Then you tell him to stay put because you need to clean his shoes, so you leave. He sees those cookies waiting there. He smells the sweet aroma. And you're not there. Guess what he does next? He eats those cookies (and makes a mess doing it), which you already know.
You may have laughed a little when imagining this scenario because you recognize how universal this kid's action is. You also recognize the human nature underlying it, and in this may you see the kid as a caricature of us adults.
Yes, you and I, logical adults with big frontal brains that help us control our impulses and direct our behavior (so we think), guess what would we would do in a similar scenario, when coming home from work, hungry, and see crap food sitting out in the open when we walk in? We will eat that crap food.
It's human nature. And importantly, we act on our impulses -- despite knowing we should not do this -- because our environment gave us a cue to act toward seeking the pleasure gained by eating this crap food.
Making habits is also human nature. Habits are routine behaviors we tend to do automatically, without thinking about what we're doing. Following habits is the easy thing to do, because if we had to think though every possible action every hour of every day, we would tax our brains too much, we would become overwhelmed, and end up doing nothing.
Our habits help us live, and our they largely center on cues available in our environment. For example, say you want to form a new habit of working out. And your gym is 30 minutes away. You probably will not make a habit of going to the gym regularly. It's too far, it's not in the immediate environment, and too much energy and motivation will be needed to make the action of going to the gym a habit.
But say if you move. Then your new gym is only a 2-minute walk away. You will probably make a habit of going to the gym all the time, because not only are you motivated (like you were before). Now the action is easy to do as it is only a short walk away. What I am trying to illustrate in this simple example is this: it is easier to form a habit when you change your environment to make it easier to do the action you're hoping to make a habit.
Same with the food we eat. If we keep junk food in the home and it is easy to see, then you will eat junk food. No matter how much you commit to eating healthy food, you will eat the junk food because you're environment is set up that way.
If you hide the junk food, but put the good food out so the eyes can see it, then you're far more likely to eat the good food and not the junk. More importantly, you're far more likely to make it a habit, because the cue in your environment is "Hey, here's some food." The food just happens to be good. And habits are important because it makes us who we are.
So don't do the hard thing. Don't try to make a new habit by keeping the old environment around you. If you have crap food out where it is easily grabable, then you'll have to think "Don't eat this" a lot, you'll strain your brain thinking about this even at a subconscious level, and you may give in to the crap food because there is only so much psychic energy to battle your desires. Trying to change your habits in the same old environment is like swimming upstream, which is hard work and sometimes impossible.
Swim downstream, not up. Do this. Move the crap food out of sight. Hide it in the darkest corner of your cupboard or closet. Or throw it away. Put some good food like nuts and fruits where the crap used to be, so your eyes can easily feast on it. It will make it much easier for you to follow through and start eating better, not just today, but tomorrow and for the future.
So the Healthy Indian regards this tip highly: Change your environment to help you make better habits, instead of trying to make better habits in the same old environment.
National Geographic Magazine ran an article on sugar in their August 2013 issue. What makes it interesting and worth a read (available for free here) is you learn much of the history and social aspects of sugar production and consumption. For example, did you know sugar was being refined and turned into the white powder we are familiar with today -- back in 500 A.D.?
But what makes this article really interesting to me is it's perspective on sugar's effect on health. This passage is the tastiest morsel, but I encourage you to take the whole course.
"[Fat] makes up a smaller portion of the American diet than it did 20 years ago. Yet the portion of America that is obese has only grown larger. The primary reason, says [kidney doctor Richard] Johnson, along with other experts, is sugar, and in particular fructose...
Table sugar (called sucrose) is half glucose and half fructose. Glucose, which is used by nearly every call in the body for energy, also stimulates the production and release of insulin, the hormone that signal our fat cells to become fatter.
Fructose, on the other hand is the sweeter sugar found in fruits and also processed foods, is metabolized primarily by our liver, which makes blood fats called triglycerides. To quote the NGM article:
"Some of these fats stay in the liver, which over long exposure can turn fatty and dysfunctional. But a lot of the triglycerides are pushed out into the blood too. Over time, blood pressure goes up, and tissues become progressively more resistant to insulin. The pancreas responds by pouring out more insulin, trying to keep things in check. Eventually a condition known as metabolic syndrome kicks in, characterized by obesity, especially around the waist; high blood pressure; and other metabolic changes that, if not checked, can lead to type 2 diabetes, with a heightened danger of heart attack thrown in for good measure. As much as a third of the American adult population could meet the criteria for metabolic syndrome set by the National Institutes of Health."
On this blog, I have focused on the harmful effects of glucose because that is what our experts have studied and understood well. Fructose though has largely been ignored, but at our peril. Luckily experts like Dr. Robert Lustig are shining the light on fructose.
Bottom line is still the same: sugars are bad for us, and eating too much causes us to become fatter and eventually obese. And thus we should avoid processed foods with easily digestible sugars (as they have little to no natural fibers to slow down sugar digestion, unlike most fruit).
The best infographic that tells us in simple language why foods with lots of easily digestible carbs (white rice, breads from white flour like chappati, potatoes, and fried snacks) are worse than foods with lots of dietary fats. (Courtesy of Massive Health.) Enjoy!
If you want to lose body fat and lose it quickly, the most effective thing you must do it cut down all carbs completely. By carbs, I mean all processed foods, but also all grains and sugars and forms of starches.
So cut out all white rice and breads from (wheat) flour like naan and chappatti. Cut out all potatoes too as they contain starch. And you must cut it for 1-2 weeks, which is an "induction period".
You must cut down even whole grains. Yes, whole grains. You know, brown rice, whole wheat, and multi-grain products. Cut down on the beans too. Sure, these foods are definitely on the healthy side because they have fiber and nutrients, and they definitely belong in the The Healthy Indian Diet. But they are easily digestible carbs because of the starch inside. So you should cut down on them for a while if you want to lose weight.
Rule #6: Cut All Grains, Sugars and Starches for the First Two Weeks
Where is the evidence that a low-to-no carb diet can help you lose weight. Is there any? Yes, plenty.
The A to Z trial done at Stanford examined the effect of diet on about 310 obese women, where roughly a fourth were on one of four popular diets for a year. Guess which diet let to the greatest weight loss... It was the Atkins Diet. The Atkins Diet is low-carb, high-protein, and high-fat.
This result surprised the lead researcher Dr. Gardener, and he admits in his lecture seen on YouTube that he was also surprised that the Atkins Diet improved blood fat (cholesterol) levels the most, too.
An Israeli trial among about 320 moderately obese people examined the effects of three diets: low-fat, low-carb, and Mediterranean diets. Conducted over 2 years, those who adhered to the low-carb diet ate the least amount of carbs and the most amount of protein and fat compared to the others. Who lost the most weight? Right, the people on the low-carb (and high-fat and protein) diets. The same result is seen in a trial on 200 overweight people in Germany, where low-carb dieters lost more weight than low-fat dieters.
These results show that eating very low levels of carbs is the most effective thing for losing weight. They also show that dietary fat does not equal body fat, though related, and that eating a lot of dietary fats do not make us fatter the way that eating a lot of carbs do.
The science behind this counter-intuitive concept is the effect of glucose, a sugar released from carbs during digestion of foods, on the hormone insulin, and insulin's signaling fat tissue to get fatter (using a glycol backbone from carbs and fatty acid chains from dietary fats), which makes us fatter especially in areas deemed unhealthy, namely around our abdominal trunk. (You know, "Beer Gut" or "Wheat Belly"!)
A Healthy Indian thus cuts out all rice, all breads -- wheat products like chapati, roti, and naan, and also stuff made of millet, chickpea flour and other such stuff --, all sweets, all fried snacks broadly called "nasta" which is essentially a mix of carbs and burnt oils, and all potato foods, for at least 2 weeks. And honestly, a Healthy Indian barely eats this stuff after the 2-week induction period.
So then, if you cut all these carbs for 2 weeks, what can you eat?
Plenty! Foods with proteins and foods with good fats. If you eat meat, it is relatively easy. I advocate healthier stuff like fish and chicken. Eggs are one of the most perfect foods in my opinion. And if a vegetarian, you can easily eat high-protein and high-fat foods such as yogurt and milk, avocado, and all kinds of nuts.
If you must eat beans or whole grains for whatever reason or cravings, keep them to an absolute minimum. As a rule of thumb, eat in half the portion you're accustomed to, such as a single roti instead of two. Also, eat foods fruits and vegetables, essentially carbs, because they come with fiber and are not starchy, meaning the sugar (glucose) inside will not affect your body as quickly or strongly as sugars coming from starch-dense foods like beans and potatoes.
So the Healthy Indian, knowing it is difficult but it is also doable, will eat low-to-no carbs for at least 2 weeks to lose body fat and transform him or herself into a healthier person!
Now for the first rule on eating LESS of something, instead of MORE. That something is processed foods, the single category I believe is responsible for people getting fatter more than any other.
Rule #5: Eliminate Processed Food (or Eat Real Food)
If you've read "The Healthy Indian Diet", you know easily digestible carbohydrates are associated with people becoming fatter. The explanation is straightforward: carbs breakdown into glucose in our intestines, and this glucose is absorbed into our bloodstream and causes levels of the hormone insulin to spike. Insulin then signals our fat cells to get fatter. So the higher our digestible carb intake, the higher our insulin levels are, and the likelier we are to get fat.
Easily digestible carbs -- particularly flour, sugar, and products made from them -- are the bulk of processed foods. By processed foods I mean fried flour products like sev and other dry nasto ("snack food"), chips, cookies, and Indian sweets, and also fast food (like McDonald's burger and fries) and street food (like pav bhaji).
These fried carbs, in addition to fast and bountiful amounts of glucose, give the body free radicals which are created when oils are heated in high temperatures. Free radicals lead to oxidative stress, which has been linked to inflammation generally and specifically to obesity.
But beyond the effects of flour, sugar and other easily digestible carbs on our glucose, insulin, and body fat levels, why are processed foods so bad for your weight and your health?
Well, according to this insightful editorial in 2011, processed (or "ultraprocessed") foods, made possible thanks to food technologies, have ruined much of our natural food and made us fatter for many other reasons.
Those reasons are being high in calories, largely thanks to there being so many sweeteners. They are eaten in large portions because we do not get easily satisfied or full. They contain very little fiber, which helps in weight loss. (They also contain too little nutrition.) Also processed foods contain many chemicals, some of which some experts believe cause harmful hormonal effects on our bodies including making us fatter.
In contrast, real food -- unprocessed foods (like vegetables from your garden) or lightly processed foods (think yogurt from the store) -- is lower in calories, have more good fats and good carbs (such as fiber, a non-digestible carb), is more satisfying so we don't eat as much, and does not contain potentially harmful chemicals. So the Healthy Indian gets rid of all processed foods in the home and eats only real food to lose weight!
So far our rules on losing weight have all been about eating MORE. Can eating MORE of some foods actually help you lose weight? The answer is yes (to lose weight you should eat MORE of some foods than you do now). And one of the most important foods to eat MORE of are those that are high in protein.
Rule #4: Eat Protein
Some clinical trials have tested whether high protein diets made any difference in terms of weight loss, and they largely concluded that yes, they do. Look at a study published in 2010 on roughly 500 obese people in Europe who completed being first on a low-calorie diet then on one of 5 different diets based that differed based on content of protein and easily digestible carbohydrate.
If you have read this blog before, you probably predicted the results: people on the high-protein and low-easily digestible carbs diets lost weight or had less weight regain than those on low-protein or high-easily digestible carb diets.
But here is the shocker: far more people sticked to the high-protein and low-easily digestible carb diets. Why? There's probably a few reasons -- maybe the food tasted better, maybe the weight loss results were better thus encouraging continuing on the diet -- but I bet a big reason is satiety. In other words, people on high-protein diets felt fuller because that's how protein makes us feel when we eat a meal with lots of them.
So what foods are high in protein?
The answers are in the table below (from UHC's larger table).
The Healthy Indian knows that dals (legumes) are one of the most protein-dense foods there is. Sure there are carbs in them too, but they are not easy to digest (put another way, they are low in glycemic index, which is good). This is why a simple dish of dal and rice is so satisfying.
Also high in protein are tree nuts like pistachios, pecans, and peanuts (though technically not a tree nut), dairy foods like milk and yogurt, meats, poultry, and fish, and eggs (my favorite food).
These foods being "whole foods" are really good for your body. They will satisfy your hunger for longer, and help take the wind out of your cravings for crap food. And they will help keep your muscles stay in shape as you get into shape (more on this later in the series), which help burn calories and dietary fats. So the Healthy Indian eats protein-rich foods to lose weight!
If you read our book "The Healthy Indian Diet" or this blog before, you know we are all about a low-carb diet guy. Let me clarify what I mean by "low-carb": I mean all carbohydrate-rich foods that are processed or overly fried or cooked.
So the bad carbs are fried snacks ("nasta"), chips, cookies, sweets, anything with lots of sugar added to it. Cutting this out or down is being "low-carb."
Also "low-carb" means white rice and refined wheat ("flour"), which are foods that almost every Indian, American, and really anybody on earth eats because these processed staples are in most modern diets. Besides being of little or no nutritional value (because the nutrients are largely removed to make profits better for makers and sellers, with no regard to the people who will eat them), these "bad" carbs" make you fatter because of how quickly glucose affects insulin levels in your body.
What about fruits and vegetables? This is what we call "Plants", and are the "good" carbs. Eat them! Legumes ("dals") too. Now, you may say, 'Hey, fruits contain sugar, and vegetables are carbs too!' This is true, but there is a lot of nutrition in these plants, and they do your body a lot of good. And for weight loss issues, the fiber (soluble and insoluble) found in fruits and vegetables will help you lose body fat and keep your body lean.
Rule #3: Eat Plants
Consider the Harvard study I mentioned in the last post. Among 120,000 people whose diets and weight loss or weight gain were analyzed, those who ate fruits, vegetables, and whole grains (brown rice, whole grain bread) lost between 1/2 and 1/4 lbs (1/10 and 1/4 kg) every 4 years. Doesn't sound like much, especially compared to almost a whole lb (1/2 kg) lost by regular yogurt eaters. But consider that people who ate plants lost weight, while the average person in the same study gained about 3-1/2 lbs (1-1/2 kg) every 4 years.
And consider the "A to Z Weight Loss Study" from Stanford University. There they compared four diets, including a low-carb high-fat/high-protein diet ("Atkins") and a high-good carb low-fat diet ("Ornish" and "LEARN") by looking at weight loss and blood lipids (i.e., blood fats) in pre-menopausal overweight/obese women without diabetes over 12 months.
Guess who lost the most weight in this trial? The women who adhered to the low-carb ("Atkins") diet, which includes an induction period of 2-3 months of very low carb and then a relaxing of the low-carb rules for the remainder, lost the most -- 4.7 kg (10-1/2 lbs), while the women on low-fat diets lost 2.2 and 2.6 kg (5 and 6 lbs) over 1 year.
An important corollary in this series on losing weight is that you should eat more plants while following other advice in this series. As the "A to Z" trial shows, a low-fat diet that is high in good carbs (not bad carbs) is still not as effective for losing weight as a true low-carb diet that is also high in fats and proteins.
Still, eating lots of plants -- as opposed to processed or overly cooked carbs -- give you lots of fiber, helping you prevent from becoming fat because fiber prevents too much glucose from entering your bloodsteam. Plants also give you nutrients you don't get in crap food.
After a short induction period where you cut out all bad carbs and many good carbs, which will help accelerate weight loss, the Healthy Indian knows it is important to eat plants, as much as you can, to lose body fat.