Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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The case for breaking up healthy eating and physical activity

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Have you ever noticed that healthy eating and physical activity are often lumped together? I’ve worked on Healthy Eating Physical Activity (HEPA) teams and seen Healthy Eating Active Living (HEAL) strategies and Healthy Eating Active Fun (HEAF) programs. If you haven’t already noticed it, you probably will now that I’ve introduced that thought to your brain. The thing that I’ve been wondering lately is “why”? At what point did someone say, “hey, let’s lump these two health behaviours together”? And what was the reason for that?

On the face of it, if you’re thinking about healthy eating and physical activity purely from a weight management standpoint it seems to make sense. Most people trying to lose weight will incorporate some sort of combination of the two. Although there are people who will argue that one of the two is more important than the other, but generally in our minds they’re linked. But does it really make sense? I don’t actually think that it does.

On the one hand, you’ve got a health behaviour that involves choosing, preparing, and ingesting food. On the other hand, you’ve got a health behaviour that involves moving your body. These are not two sides of the same coin. They are two completely separate coins. Yes, they both have positive effects on our health and they can both contribute to reduced risk of certain chronic diseases and conditions. However, they are completely independent activities. You can absolutely eat a terrible diet and exercise regularly. You can also eat a super healthy diet and be highly sedentary. If you really wanted to lump health behaviours together why not pair healthy eating and alcohol consumption? Those make far more sense together than physical activity and healthy eating do.

I think that putting physical activity and healthy eating together all the time diminishes the importance of both these activities. It implies that neither is important enough to focus on, on its own. Allowing organizations and those in healthcare and related industries to focus their efforts on one over the other or to spread time thinly across the two. I think it may also help to perpetuate the notion that these behaviours are only important for weight management. When you hear about the two together, what first comes to mind? Is it enjoying a healthy life or is it a certain degree of torment undertaken to stave off obesity?

It’s time for physical activity and healthy eating to break-up. This relationship isn’t healthy and it’s affecting everyone around it. We need to recognize that these behaviours don’t necessarily go hand in hand and that they each have things to offer. If we actually start to value healthy eating and physical activity independently for their own strengths we might be able to improve our own individual relationships with both of these behaviours.

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Planet Fitness, judgement-free or lacking judgement?

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A new gym just opened in town and I was considering joining after not having a gym membership for years. I was attracted by the $10 monthly membership fee (that’s less than one visit to Goodlife!) and I thought that it might be nice to augment my running and home workouts with access to more equipment. Even if I only went once or twice a month I figured I’d be getting my money’s worth.

I hadn’t done anything more than toy with the idea though and yesterday my friend texted me suggesting that I write a blog post about them because “they truly don’t have your health at the centre of their business plan”.

Apparently when you enter their facilities you’re met with literal buckets of tootsie rolls at the counter. Their website proudly proclaims “Welcome to Planet Fitness. Home of the Judgement Free Zone®”. Yes, their judgement-free zone is trademarked. No one else can have judgement-free zones. Anyway… I’m passing judgement right here because presenting people who are (presumably) going to the gym to be fit and healthy with buckets of tootsie rolls is certainly devoid of good judgement.

Wait. It gets even better. In addition to the copious quantities of free tootsie rolls, “black card” members are also entitled to such perks as half-price gatorade after a workout. No matter that gatorade is really only worthwhile for endurance athletes and of no benefit to most gym-goers. In addition to the unnecessary gatorade, Planet Fitness also offers weekly “reward” free bagel and free pizza days.

Don’t get me wrong. I have no problem with bagels, pizza (especially not pizza), and tootsie rolls as part of a balanced diet. My issue here is with the clear cognitive dissonance. How does a company that’s supposedly in the business of encouraging people to be healthy and active not realize that promoting the consumption of candy, and using food as a reward, is actually detrimental to the health of their members?

On top of all of the disappointing food promotion, Planet Fitness also offers unlimited tanning for an extra $9.99 a month. This despite the indisputable fact that tanning beds increase your risk for melanoma and the World Health Organization has classified tanning beds as a known carcinogen. They also offer this bizarre “total body enhancement” which is some sort of therapy involving red light that ostensibly results in “fat loss”. Which I can tell you is complete and utter bullshit. For a company that is so proud of being A Judgement Free Zone® that they’ve trademarked it, they sure do push a lot of treatments to transform our “unruly” bodies.

Planet Fitness says in their mission statement that they are, “A diverse, Judgement Free Zone® where a lasting, active lifestyle can be built”. It’s a shame that they don’t take the entire lifestyle into consideration, only the active piece.


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Which fitness tracker gives you the best calories burned for your workout? An experiment

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Remember my rant a little while ago about how you shouldn’t think of exercise and food as an equation to balance? Or my post about not using the exercise component of calorie counting apps? Well, I just wanted to add a little more to that conversation today.

I use a Garmin watch to track my runs and occasionally I’ll look at the “calories burned” out of curiosity. After a pretty fast longish interval run I noticed that the calories burned seemed rather low so I started scrolling back through and was puzzled to find a shorter easier run that supposedly resulted in a very similar caloric expenditure. That left me wondering how Garmin determined the calories burned during a run. I looked it up and it turns out that it’s related to heart rate. Sometime the heart rate monitor is wonky and (especially when it’s really cold out) will register a heart rate that would be more likely seen when I’m sitting on my butt than when I’m out booking it through speed work. That means that my Garmin (erroneously) registers minimal exertion and thinks that I’m not burning very many calories.

Today I decided to do a little experiment. I wore my Garmin, as per usual, which is synched to my Strava account. I also fired up the Nike+ Run Club app for the first time in ages and I set out on an easy(ish) 10k run. After the run, I also entered the time spent running at the closest average pace into myfitnesspal. All of these apps have my height and weight. Any guesses what the results looked like?

Garmin: 463 calories

myfitnesspal: 517 calories

Nike: 526 calories

Strava: 1371 calories!!!!

Now, I have no idea how many calories I actually used during this run, I’d wager Garmin was probably closest to the mark considering that the heart rate monitor seemed to be working properly. But Strava, what the actual hell?? Considering that Strava gets all of it’s data from my run directly from Garmin I find it amazing that it estimated I burned nearly three times as many calories as Garmin thought I did. I’m sure that if I had other apps and trackers I would have gotten slightly different results from all of them.

All this to say, if you’re exercising and tracking calories burned, you probably shouldn’t give that number too much weight. Try to think of exercise as giving you health and fitness rather than taking away calories and weight.

 


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I DoughNOT recommend the Krispy Kreme Challenge

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Box pile at the Krispy Kreme Challenge. Photo by Dan Block. Used under a Creative Commons Licence

I feel like I’ve heard about the Krispy Kreme Challenge before but I’d never really paid it much attention. The other day, a post by Canadian Running caught my attention. It was about the challenge and I clicked on the link to read the full article. I have to admit that I actually had a feeling of revulsion as I read that participants in this challenge must consume 2, 400 calories worth of doughnuts and run 8k to complete the challenge which is a fundraiser for a children’s hospital (#facepalm). In case you missed my earlier rants about fast food charity, here’s a taste.

A someone who loves to run (I’ve run over 400 days in a row and am currently training for the Boston Marathon) and who loves to eat doughnuts, and sometimes even combines the two, I am not opposed to doughnuts. But the idea of eating 12 doughnuts, equivalent to 2, 400 calories, whether during a run or not seems like too much of a good thing. Considering that I would probably burn just over 400 calories on an 8k run, I would be ingesting an excess 2, 000 calories, essentially all of my calories for the day with none of the other important nutrients. In fact, I would have to run a full marathon (42.2k) to use the energy from all of those doughnuts. Curious how many calories you would burn during the Krispy Kreme Challenge? Check-out this calculator.

This sort of challenge just feeds into the (false) notion that you can compensate for whatever you eat through exercise. Because it’s for charity, you’re left feeling good about feeling ill from eating far too many doughnuts and running a relatively short distance. If you want to support the hospital, make a donation. This challenge is a total doughNOT.


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Have you ever “undone” all your hard work at the gym with a burger? This post is for you.

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Have you ever said, or thought, something along the lines of “I cancelled out my workout by eating doughnuts”? How about “I just undid all my work at the gym by having pizza for supper”? Or, “I earned this treat because I ran today”? I’m pretty sure I’ve been guilty of saying those sorts of things. Many of us probably have. For some reason I seem to have become acutely aware of it recently.

I see articles, blog posts, tweets, overheard conversations, where people make statements like those in the examples above all the time. Since it’s the New Year, I expect that a lot of people are making health and fitness related resolutions. I’ve shat all over such resolutions in the past so I won’t do that again today. Instead of resolving to lose weight, exercise more, eat healthier, undergo metamorphosis, perhaps we should consider resolving to shift our mindsets.

The thing is, you’re never cancelling out, undoing, or negating physical activity by eating too much or eating foods that aren’t super healthy. You’re also never earning them by putting in time on the dreadmill. We need to separate the two. Remember when I talked about my problem with many food tracking apps and websites? We often overestimate how many calories we’ve burned during a workout. It’s more than that though. It’s that both exercise and nutrition contribute to our health and well-being but they are both completely separate entities and we need to stop thinking of them as two sides of a scale.

Regardless of what you eat, exercise is still beneficial. Exercise can improve your sleep quality and duration, it can help reduce stress, it’s important for both physical and mental health and can reduce the risk of many diseases. Conversely, regardless of how much you move, a healthy diet is still beneficial. Good nutrition can reduce the risk of many diseases, provide you with energy, can help you recover from injury… Obviously, the two are important contributors to good health. Obviously, you’re going to reap greater benefits if you are both physically active and eat a nutritious diet. However, if you workout and eat a cheeseburger you haven’t then cancelled out your workout. You’ll still be getting some benefits from being active. You’ll still be better off than if you sat on your butt all day and then ate a cheeseburger.

So, stop being so hard on yourself. Stop thinking you’ve failed if you haven’t done an hour of spin and followed that up with a kale salad. Try to separate your thoughts about exercise and your thoughts about nutrition. Your workout happened no matter what you ate afterward. A burger and fries doesn’t erase a swim.