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Weakest Link Applied to Nutrition

By Tim Lochhead

“I saw few die of hunger; of eating, a hundred thousand.” ∞ Benjamin Franklin

Shark

This swimming muscle eats and mates all year. Nice life. Maybe we can feel like him if we eat properly too.

This is a critical and often overlooked topic.  First, it’s important to note that ‘diet’ doesn’t mean some short term plan you have to hate and then quit.  Diet is what you eat on a regular basis.  Have you ever watched the Discovery Channel? “The diet of sharks consists of fishes, crustaceans, mollusks, and marine mammals.”  Do sharks diet or are they ‘on’ a diet? No.  But sharks have a diet.  The key is really a “non-diet”; getting you to eat the best way for you.

Venn Timing

“You are only as strong as your weakest link.”

If you eat the right amount of good food, but don’t do it at the right times, then you will run into problems.

If you eat an ideal amount at good times, but eat junk, then you will have problems.

If you eat good foods at good times, but take in too much or too little, you guessed it – problems.

So how do we avoid the problems?

Timing: You are When You Eat

Let’s start with timing, because if you can begin to get this down then you set yourself up for success. Timing refers to eating smaller meals and snacks throughout the day, with a larger intake of calories coming at breakfast and after training.

Eating and digesting takes enzyme activity and energy for the body to process – start your day burning like a machine from the go!

Let’s take a look at a great analogy from Paul Chek’s book How to Eat, Move and Be Healthy!

You Are When You Eat

You Are When You Eat

Let’s say you skip or have a poor breakfast – you start the day with your body thinking it is starving.  It can’t wait until you eat again because it is ready to grab those calories and start storing some fat – it’s trying to do you a favour.

Or, you start off with carbs and set up your blood sugar to rollercoaster hitting highs and lows, so you keep getting those fun cravings all day.  You get home, starved, and binge on huge dinner.  But since you’ve already done a day’s work there is no need to use up those calories so the fat keeps coming.  You go to bed stuffed, wake up, and the cycle continues.

All right – I think we all get the picture – how can we break the cycle?

One step at a time.

I won’t throw too much your way, there is already a lot to digest (pun intended), but I will offer some examples of course.

By exercising your hunger cycle starts to improve, and you start using some of that energy instead of storing it for later.

A digestive test helps determine if your stomach acid is low.  Correcting and improving poor stomach acid also improves morning appetite.

Eating more protein and healthy fat helps you avoid the blood sugar rollercoaster and carb cravings.

One step at a time.

Quantity: You are How Much You Eat

There are two ways to look at this point: through the protein/carb/fat (macronutrient) split or overall quantities.

The macronutrient split is a hot topic and often debated.  There are diets claiming zero carbs, high carbs, and balanced 1/3 splits are best.  Which is right?  It depends – no single diet is right for everyone.

BerriesBut what the debate has in common, and what is correctly targeted, are the quantity of carbs to eat.  This is how we can reconcile all of these ‘best’ diets.  Most carbs basically break down into glucose in our blood stream.  Carbs influence the production of insulin – a hormone that tells the sugar in the blood where to go.  If you constantly eat carbs and don’t train your muscles, glucose doesn’t get stored in the muscle for future energy.  Guess where it goes?  You guessed it – it gets stored as fat, particularly around the mid-section.

So, we have to find what the right split is for you.  This can be a difficult challenge, as many people live far away from the foods where their genetic blood-lines thrived.  And with mixed marriages, even across small territories, the lines aren’t as clear.  Intuitively, many people know their favourite foods – and I don’t mean favourite dessert – I mean that perfect meal that you would want on a desert island.  The one that makes YOU feel your BEST.

The good news is that we can determine your optimal ratios and foods.  I have found the best way to do this is using a method from Dr. Mauro Di Pasquale, author of The Metabolic Diet.  We need to find your carbohydrate set point.  We reduce your carbs and build them back up until we hit the optimal level for YOU.

Now on to overall quantities.

Overstuff yourself and it’s easy to see what happens.  Underfeed yourself and do you think you’ll be malnourished and sickly?

So, how do we eat the right amounts?

Well, this area actually works itself out when you work on the other two.  When you eat frequently and start your day with a good breakfast (protein and healthy fats included) your hunger will regulate naturally.  This may seem simple but simple works – unique circumstances are dealt with on a case by case basis.

Quality: You are What You Eat

“Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are.” ∞ Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

Our bodies’ cells are constantly turning over and being replaced.  How do we replace these cells and build up ourselves?  That’s right – with what we put in our mouth!  If you eat ‘junk food’ what do you think you will be?  If you eat highly processed ‘food’ that’s probably more accurate to call garbage, then what?  Eat natural food loaded with nutrients and what are you?

Ok, so how do we get good quality?

Not real food

Not real food. Not what we want.

No matter what the optimal macronutrient ratio for you, the starting point is to eat REAL food.  I often get asked how to read food labels.  Easy.  “If it has a food label don’t eat it.”  Does a steak have a food label? An apple? Cucumber? You get the idea.

You may have heard about diets like the caveman diet, or the green faces diet.  You ask yourself a basic question when deciding about putting something in you.  Would a caveman have access to this?  Did it have a face (animal), or is it green (vegetable)?  Did it run, fly, swim – or is it green?  Etc.

These are great strategies to incorporate when losing fat.  As you get leaner and your body learns how to store glucose (carbs) in your muscles we can start introducing regular carbs in a certain order and start determining your carbohydrate set point.

Quality is eating nutrient rich foods – rich in minerals, vitamins, protein, healthy fats, and fiber.  It takes nutrients to breakdown the food and digest.  When you eat a natural food item it is loaded with enough good stuff to not only let your body break it down, but it has leftovers to go to work on other good things like keeping your bones healthy and reproductive system in top notch shape.  The refined and processed stuff are also called ‘non-foods’ or ‘anti-foods’ because they take more than they give.  There are not enough nutrients in a ‘healthy’ muffin to break itself down and be digested.  Now you are in a deficit that strips your organs, bones and muscles of good stuff, and you wasted eating those calories on something that doesn’t support you – a double whammy!

The worst is refined sugar – in any shape or form.  Beet sugar, cane sugar, high fructose corn syrup and the list goes on.  Refined and unnatural sugar is sugar no matter what the name and is it bad.  When you eat a grape it has the enzymes within it to breakdown and deal with its own fructose and glucose, as well as having leftover nutrients to give you.  Foods with refined sugar suppress your immune system, so now you haven’t taken in any good nutrients and you’re hurting your ability to fight disease  ([1],[2]). Another double whammy!  There are many more sad things about sugar, but I think we get the picture.  Clearly a key is learning how to manage our sugar intake.

Real food

Real food. What we really want.

Once you’ve got the basics of making natural, whole food choices, another important topic is whether to go organic.  First let’s be clear that we take one step at a time.  Eating natural foods is better than something in a box.  With organic foods the debate often takes the perspective of whether organic foods have more micronutrients (like vitamins, minerals) or not.  This actually isn’t the real reason, the big reason, to consider. (Before I move on though, organic foods are either shown to have equal or greater amounts of nutrients than their non-organic counterparts.  As well, these foods tend to come from nutrient rich soil, not stripped or stressed by chemicals, so obviously the plants are going to get more from their environment.  Lastly, these studies have not considered trace compounds like antioxidants and various phytonutrients, which are valuable for various functions like fighting disease).

So what is the real reason?  It is what is NOT in Organic foods that are important!  Organic foods means that they are not treated with artificial means – like harmful chemicals, pesticides or artificial additives.   In today’s day and age we are constantly exposed to hundreds of harmful pollutants and toxins.  Dealing with this puts a huge stress on our immune system to neutralize and remove harmful agents from our bodies.  Imagine our bodies like a great castle, constantly fighting off attacking invaders.  When the gates are closed we do a pretty good job and the kingdom runs along just fine.  Opening the doors to bad things like junk food or chemically bathed foods is like inviting in the Trojan horse – the invaders wreak havoc when they get in.  This same analogy holds true for the tempting sweet stuff.

But remember, the quality of the initial food is most important.  Recall – sugar is sugar.  Organic sugar?  Don’t be fooled by colourful marketing; still bad for you.  Organic celery spread with organic almond butter?  Fantastic.

Summary

There is a lot of information to consider, and if you have made it this far you have already taken the steps to look and feel your best.  You are only as strong as your weakest link.  Start making better food choices, one meal at a time.  Start with breakfast.  Get better one meal at a time.  Work on your consistency and keeping frequent feedings.  Listen to when you are hungry and eat!  These simple steps should be a good starting point.

Get to the top of your game one step at time!

tim@yourmissinglink.ca
Your Game-Changer


[1] Ringsdorf JR et al. Sucrose, neutrophilic phagocytosis and resistance to disease. Dental Survey 1976, December: 46-48.

[2] Bernstein J et al. Depression of lymphocyte transformation following oral glucose ingestion (abstract). American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 1977; 30:613.