Wait, Food is NOT Fuel?

Precision Nutrition is a coaching, mentoring and support system that trains individuals to become Certified Nutritionists. These qualified professionals in turn help tens of thousands of people with their food choices and diet. To date, the Precision Nutrition coaches have helped 35,000 individuals lose over 450,000 lbs.! Precision Nutrition has advised companies like Nike, Equinox and Life Time Fitness, and has done consulting for sports organizations like the Seattle Seahawks and the USA Olympics. To put it simply, these professionals are on a mission. They have found excellent success in helping people achieve better health…and, yet, they don’t believe that food is fuel…hm…how can this be?

Girl at cafe

Dr. John Berardi of Precision Nutrition recently published an article for fitness professionals called “No, Food is NOT Fuel.” Dr. Berardi writes:

“Something’s been bothering us lately. We keep hearing this analogy:

‘Food is fuel.’ You know, like gasoline.

And we keep hearing:

‘The human body is like a high-performance race car.’ You know, like a Ferrari.

So, you have to get enough fuel to run your car. Without getting too much, of course. Or else the Ferrari — uh, you — will get fat.

You also have to choose only really high-quality, high-octane, and expensive fuel. Or else the Ferrari — oh, right, you again — will gunk up and break down.

We’ve heard this analogy — this story — repeated over and over again. Ad nauseam.

And we think that’s a real problem.”

Sushi display

Why is this a problem?

For starters, if food were only fuel, and our bodies only cared about calories in versus calories out, then we could eat a handful of candy bars every day to get our “fuel” without negative consequences to our health. I’m trusting that readers are intelligent enought to figure out that this just simply doesn’t fly. 

How our bodies handle energy and gain or lose weight is far more complicated than this. Our bodies don’t just care about calories in vs. calories out for weight control. Our bodies are dynamic, complex organisms that are impacted by stress, oxidation, inflammation, hormones, the metabolism, and “toxins.”

Dr. Mark Hyman, author of New York Times Bestseller, Ultrametabolism, helps debunk the notion that food is merely fuel by highlighting “7 Myths that Make You Gain Weight.” These include:

1) The Starvation Myth: Eat Less + Exercise More = Weight Loss

Not always the case!

2) The Calorie Myth: All Calories Are Created Equal 

FALSE!

3) The Fat Myth: Eating Fat Makes You Fat

We need fat…big time.

4) The Carb Myth: Eating Low Carb or No Carb Will Make You Thin

We need all 3 food types: fats, carbs and protein.

5) The Sumo Wrestler Myth: Skipping Meals Helps You Lose Weight

Not ideal for metabolism, need we say more?

6) The French Paradox Myth: The French Are Thin Because They Drink Wine and Eat Butter

If only…

7) The Protector Myth: Government Policies and Food Industry Regulations Protect Our Health

Sadly…we’re not protected. 

As you can see, there’s a lot more going on inside our bodies than meets the eye. For this reason, you may actually eat more than usual and somehow LOSE weight! Or you may forego all the usual culinary temptations and suddenly GAIN weight!

Friends over food

Laura Ingalls, a Certified Holistic Health Coach, NASM Personal Trainer, and Certified Running Coach, wrote an article for Run Haven titled “I Trained for a Marathon and Got Fat.” For the record, I’ve run a few marathons myself. During the first one I lost too much weight and was malnourished…the second one, yup…you guessed it, I gained way too much weight.

Laura writes “unfortunately, food is about more than calories. Food is about nutrients.” Her three reasons for gaining weight, in spite of exercising more, include:

You are replacing calories but not nutrients.”

Ex: Too many carbs like breads/cereals/pastas but not enough healthy proteins for zoochemicals and fruits/veggies for phytonutrients.

You are hitting the sugar hard, and you don’t even realize it.”

Ex: Too many sports drinks and supplements to replace the lost energy and water. 

“You are overtraining, under-recovering, over-stressing, and thus over-taxing your endocrine system.”

Ex: Only getting 6 hours of sleep after a long training run and getting up early to hit the gym for another hour of hard exercise. 

Laura and I both gained weight because of #3. Honestly, when I look back on my former training mistakes, I can only thank my body for trying to protect me. It thought I was in a state of emergency! I mean, major sleep deprivation combined with high stress, labor-intensive work days, a lack of proper nutrition AND marathon training? Are you kidding me? I would never disrespect my body like that again. But, thankfully, biology sent me a strong signal with an added 12-15 lbs. of weight, primarily added in my mid-section and baby face (didn’t need the extra puff!), so I got the picture. After a mild panic attack (or two), I got back on track and learned the importance of nutrition for the first time in my life…and by “learned” I mean internalized why it’s so important.

Like me, everyone has heard of the importance of healthy eating and exercise. It’s not fresh-off-the-press news. But, somehow we have a much harder time implementing changes in nutrition compared with understanding why those changes are important.

Spices in spoons

Why is implementing changes in our diets so hard?

I have trained a few dozen women who have come to the United States from other countries and, for the first time in their lives, have packed on weight. Most of these women have been thin and small-framed their entire lives, so when they suddenly bloat and gain weight, it’s very alarming for them.

Part of their weight gain could be due to a difference in how fresh and organic foods are in their cultures compared to the heavily modified and pumped-with-preservatives foods that are in abundance here in America. But, I think an equally important part of the sudden weight-gain equation is due to how food is tied to our culture…our identity…

A lot of people fall into one of two camps when they go through a major life change that challenges their identity:

Food-Averse Anxiety

-or-

Emotional Munching

The first group avoids food and often loses energy and weight. The second group also loses energy but it’s because their bodies are getting overtaxed by too much food processing on a daily basis due to emotional overeating (it takes a toll on the body to turn food into fat stores!). These two juxtaposed relationships with food reflect how intimately tied food is to our emotions…and guess what? That’s okay.

Boat of food

Food is a part of our life story.

So, I implore you to think about the following question: “What does my food say about ME?

Does it reflect that you’re feeling shameful or joyful during this season of life? Does it give you comfort or cause you stress? Most importantly, Dr. Berardi suggests you ask yourself:

“What would you like food to be?”

Once you start delving into that answer, a whole new world may open up. And, it’s yours if you want it.

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

wellnesswinz blue sea

 

 

 

 

 

 

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