bite my words

Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


21 Day Fix won’t fix much

Image of 21 Day Fix by porcupiny on flickr, used under a Creative Commons Licence.

Image of 21 Day Fix by porcupiny on flickr, used under a Creative Commons Licence.

I was recently asked for my thoughts on the 21 Day Fix program. Not knowing much about it, I decided to do a little bit of research.

If you, like me, aren’t overly familiar with the 21 Day Fix, essentially it’s a diet plan that restricts calories and portion sizes through the use of some colourful plastic food containers. In addition to the containers there’s a fitness program available on DVD and protein shakes (called Shakeology) that you can buy. According to Amazon, the containers alone will set you back $42.83. If you buy a kit with workout DVDs and other accessories, that can set you back up to $175.57. That doesn’t include any of the shakes or cookbooks. The price for the shakes is outrageous; $155.95 for a 30 serving bag. That’s over $5 (not including tax) for a single serving of protein. It’s even more expensive if you want to buy the powder in single serve packets ($6.50 per shake). If you’re really keen on protein shakes, there are plenty of much more affordable options out there. Just be aware that the supplement industry is notoriously poorly regulated and you may be getting ingredients that aren’t disclosed on the label, or not getting the ingredients that are.

Back to the basic program then… According to the method of determining your caloric intake I should be consuming 840 calories a day in order to lose weight. Fortunately, they do advise that if your calculated intake is less than 1200 calories a day that you should stick to 1200 calories. There’s no way that 1200 calories would satisfy me but then again, I don’t actually want to lose weight. I found it a little odd that the calculation doesn’t take into consideration a persons height or their goal weight.

Based on my prescribed intake, I’d be permitted 3 green containers for veg (1 1/4 cups each), 2 purple for fruit (1 1/4 cups each), 4 red for protein (3/4 cup each), 2 yellow for carbohydrates (1/2 cup each), 1 blue for “healthy” fats like nuts, cheese, or avocado (1/4 cup), and 1 orange for dressings or oils (2 tbsp). Just out of curiosity, I plugged some random foods fitting these measurements into myfitnesspal. I ended up with 1276 calories, 121 grams of carbs, 63 grams fat, 82 g protein, 59 mg calcium, and 19 g fibre. As far as macronutrients go, not too bad. But when we come to micronutrients, not great (and I’m sure it would be worse if my report showed more of them). 19 grams of fibre is not enough, nor is 59 mg of calcium. I’m sure each day would vary, but I’m still concerned that this diet would leave someone (especially users on the lower caloric end) nutrient deficient.

The use of the colour coded containers might be help some people with portion control and food selection; there’s no room for prepared foods or fast food so this encourages people to consume whole foods. However, that’s also a bit of a downfall. Unless you’re buying the cookbook and the recipes match your needs, the use of the containers limits your options for meals. You wouldn’t be able to follow a recipe from any old cookbook and have it fit your prescribed containers. I think that I would end-up just filling all the containers, and never eating anything interesting because figuring out recipes that match the containers I’m allowed would be too complicated. This really limits your ability to eat socially as well. Imagine showing up to a potluck with your little containers. It also seems like a great gateway to orthorexia.

Can you imagine eating this way for the rest of your life? I sure can’t. You would probably lose weight if you could stick with this plan but what about micronutrients you might be lacking and what’s going to happen when you go off it? 21 days might be bearable but what will you do once those 21 days are over? Not to beat a dead horse, but if you want to see sustainable weight loss, you need to make sustainable changes.

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The spice for life


A recent study was being touted in the media for the benefits of eating spicy foods. The study looked at the diets of 512, 891 people (yes, that’s a huge sample size) in several areas of China. Participants were asked how often they ate hot spicy foods; never or almost never, only occasionally, 1 or 2 days a week, 3 to 5 days a week, or 6 or 7 days a week. Spicy foods were defined as; fresh chilli pepper, dried chilli pepper, chilli sauce, chilli oil, and other or don’t know. They found that those who consumed spicy foods most frequently were 14% less likely to die in the next five years than those who never or almost never consumed spicy foods.

Now, I love spicy foods, but I don’t eat them to live longer and this study isn’t really convincing me that any of us should be. One big precaution is the fact that the research was only looking at people in China. The effects may not apply to people of other ethnicities. Also, “spicy” is subjective. Something that I find only slightly spicy might be unbearably spicy to another person, and vice versa. There’s a huge risk of confounding variables when looking at things like this. It’s hard to say for certain whether any reduced risk of mortality can be attributed to the spice. In addition, the study looked at a huge range of ages (30-79) and many causes of mortality making it extremely difficult to ascertain whether or not spicy foods could be held accountable for keeping people alive. In fact, we don’t know if these people actually lived for longer, just that they were less likely to die during the course of the study.

Go ahead, go for the jalapenos if you like them, but don’t suffer through fiery meals 6-7 days a week in an effort to live a little longer.


Greens vs Grains


Yes, I can get behind the statement that “we can all benefit from more veggies in our diet”. After that, I diverge from this weekly nutrition challenge. I don’t think that replacing grains with greens makes nutritional sense. Maybe if all of your grains are refined baked goods. Otherwise, there are nutrients in both grains and greens and replacing all of your grains with vegetables isn’t necessarily a nutritional win.

Grains tend to provide more fibre than vegetables. They’re also a good source of B vitamins and minerals such as iron and magnesium. The fibre in grains can help promote digestive health, lower LDL, and feeds the probiotics in our intestines. The gut microbiota is a fascinating emerging area of research. There seems to be many relationships between the bacteria living in our digestive tracts and other aspects of our health. Fibre also contributes to satiety. Sure, greens have lower caloric density than grains but they also don’t keep you feeling full.

Greens provide you with plenty of other nutrients. It doesn’t have to be an either or situation. I don’t understand why so many people want to attach guilt to specific foods or food groups. Grains and greens can both co-exist in a healthy balanced diet. Yes, even some refined grains.

In my mind, challenging people to eliminate food groups is not a sensible or sustainable challenge. But what do I know, I’m just a dietitian; not a “strength coach, nutritional expert and practitioner of Chinese medicine”. And greens for grains is pretty catchy. I guess catchy is more important than realistic, sound nutrition advice.


The truth about weight loss


I so often hear people complaining about how they’ve fallen off track with healthy eating, exercise, and need to lose weight. It’s so hard to sit silently by, but in my experience, most people don’t want to hear the truth. Fortunately, I have this lovely blog where I can write the truth and if you want to read it that makes me very happy, but I’m not interjecting my educated opinion into your pity party.

You say, “I need to get my ass back to the gym”. I hear, “If I just workout harder/longer/more often I’ll lose a bunch of weight and wow everyone at the beach this summer.” The truth: the vast majority of weight loss occurs in the kitchen. Most of us eat more calories than we burn in compensation for workouts, negating efforts exercise might impart on body weight. I don’t want to discourage anyone from exercising. If you know me, you know that I love to workout and that running is my drug of choice. There are plenty of good reasons to workout for physical and mental health. However, it’s unlikely that you’re going to lose much weight in the gym.

You say, “I need to start eating clean again”. I hear, “Im going to start an unpleasant diet that I won’t be able to stick to for the rest of my life”. The truth: Weight management is more about the maintenance than the loss. If you’re following a diet that you loathe and are forbidding yourself from having foods that you love, you’re not going to be able to stick with it for the rest of your life. If you can’t find a healthy diet that you can enjoy for life then you’re not going to maintain weight loss for life. Healthy eating can be delicious. Clean eating is bullshit. I don’t know anyone who enjoys eating boiled boneless skinless chicken breasts and steamed broccoli for every meal. You need to have variety. You need to cook the vast majority of meals yourself. And you need to find a way to include treats that doesn’t mean you’ve derailed your entire diet. As I’ve said before, if you want to see sustainable weight loss you need to make sustainable changes. There is no one-size-fits-all method of weight loss. You need to figure out the method that works best for you and ignore the nay sayers.

You say, “I failed”. I hear, “I am weak. If I was just more disciplined I could be thinner”. The truth: It’s not your fault. Our society is set-up in such a manner that it’s far far more difficult to be thin than it is to be over weight. We value putting in long hours at work, rather than spending time cooking with your family. It’s a point of pride to scarf something down at your desk rather than taking a lunch break. There is a proliferation of nutritionally questionable grab-and-go foods available, while most healthy choices necessitate time and planning. It’s not all down to you and you don’t have to go it alone. Most people benefit from having support and accountability when they’re trying to lose weight. You might want to go to a registered dietitian, join a weight management group like Weight Watchers or TOPS, or team up with a friend or your significant other.

You say, “I need to lose X number of pounds”. I hear, “I’ll do whatever I have to, to attain an arbitrary number on a scale”. The truth: The numbers on the scale don’t matter. It’s about how you feel inside your own skin. Not everyone can have the physique of a supermodel. We come in all different shapes and sizes and even those at the same weight may have very different body shapes. You may be able to torture yourself down to the same weight you were at twenty but if you’re miserable, then what’s the point? Stop judging yourself against others. Stop focussing on the scale. Health and weight are not the same thing.


Thoughts on “The Myth of High-Protein Diets”


Image used under a Creative Commons Licence. Photo by Sean_Hickin on flickr.

Part of me is a little hesitant to address the op-ed piece by Dr Dean Ornish in the New York Times last week. This because, the low-fat zealots have already attacked me for criticizing Dr Esselstyn in the past. But, you know me, when something gets under my skin I can’t leave it well enough along.

The piece was titled: The Myth of High-Protein Diets. One would think that the accompanying article would be about pitfalls to following a high-protein diet. However, Dr Ornish focusses solely on animal protein, with an emphasis on meat and fat. The gist of his argument is that if you eschew animal products you will live longer, as will the planet. Okay, so it’s not the myth of high-protein diets. It’s the myth of high-animal products diets.

One of the studies Ornish cites is one that I blogged about a year ago. At the time it ignited headlines proclaiming that protein was akin to smoking and that animal protein would contribute to our premature demise. Suffice to say, the study was flawed and these conclusions were tenuously drawn. In fact, in older adults, diets that were higher in protein were actually positively correlated with reduced mortality. And there was no negative effect from plant sources of protein at any age. So, even with the poor quality of this research, some of the results were in direct opposition to Ornish’s interpretation of them.

I read articles like this and think to myself “it’s no wonder that people are confused about what to eat and don’t trust any health care professionals”. You have one doctor insisting that a low-carb diet is the key to a long healthy life, another insisting that it’s low-fat, another insisting that it’s high-carb, another insisting that it’s blahblahblah. Of course, they all have the book to sell you. Maybe they’re all right. Maybe you can be healthy one any of their highly-restrictive diets. As I’ve said before, the best diet is the one that you can enjoy and follow for life. For me, that involves eating fat, protein, and carbs from both plant and animal sources. Yeah, I know it’s not sexy, but balance and variety are the hallmarks of a nutritious diet.