Random Thoughts from a Restless Mind

Dr. Darrell White's Personal Blog

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Posts Tagged ‘diet’

It’s Too Expensive to Eat Healthy Food, Right?

While I write this I am in the company of a group of women who ride horses. Some of them have nearly limitless means and the expense of owning and riding horses does not require any sacrifice whatsoever. Others, once having identified their passion, must prioritize their financial world, dropping things that others consider essential so that they can continue to pursue their equestrian goals. When we discuss proper nutrition one of the first things I hear is something along the lines of “it’s too expensive to eat well.”

I don’t buy it.

How often have you heard some version of that phrase. Whether it be Zone, Paleo, Whole 30, or just “stay out of the middle of the grocery store”, this is uttered with some degree of exasperation and oppression with a kind of mind-numbing, self-fulfilling frequency.

How so? Per the folks at Whole Foods, regularly skewered for being too expensive (seriously, they sell fancy potatoes), on average we in America spend 7% of our disposable personal income–that’s SEVEN–on food. 50 years ago that number was 16%. We now spend less than 1/2 of our after-tax income on food compared with what we spent 50 years ago.

And eating well is too expensive.

If we dig deeper into that stat alone we see that modern food production has decreased the cost of food relative to both income and inflation. The cost of producing food of all kinds has risen much more slowly than income. Why? Partly because junk, carb-laden food is cheap. High-fructose corn syrup costs a fraction of grain sugar. Corn-fed protein sources, with or without antibiotics or steroids, is grown faster and cheaper than grass-fed. Stuff like that. Less expensive to produce + incomes risen at a greater rate across the entire spectrum, top to bottom.

How then is it too expensive to eat a more healthy diet. We have 9% of our after-tax income to play with, right? Is some other necessity (shelter, transportation, medical care, etc) eating that up? What are we doing with that 9% (16-7) that we can’t find some of it to eat better? Ah, Grasshopper, now we begin to see. It’s a ‘Nando thing, it’s superficial. It’s not how healthy you are, it’s how you look, or something like that.

Some stuff might be more expensive, but the seemingly obvious culprits are actually false targets (eg. healthcare which for this audience represents only a tiny % of new cost c/w 50 years ago because of insurance, govt. programs, etc. despite all of the apocalyptic talk on SM). Nope, it’s how we CHOOSE to spend that freed-up 9% that makes it feel like we don’t have money to buy better food.

Think about that household in the 1960′s or even the 70′s. One car. One TV. One radio. Once purchased all data was free. A pair of shoes and a pair of boots. Sneaks if you were a jock. You didn’t get your hair done if you were a guy, you got a haircut. You didn’t get your acrylics touched up every 2 weeks; if you wanted long nails you grew ‘em. Stuff like that.

Fast forward to today and think about the stuff you’ve acquired, stuff you are convinced you can’t live without, stuff that costs money that you choose to spend every single day. The ratio of drivers to cars in a household is seldom less than 1.5 people/car, and it’s usually closer to 1:1. The ratio of phones to people over the age of 10 is seldom less than 1/1—everyone carries a phone. It’s not enough to have a phone, or even a phone with an unlimited text plan, nope, it’s gotta be a phone that will let you post your thoughts on today’s weather in Bimini to FB. Right now, from anywhere. If you don’t have Netflix available on each of the 4 flat-screen TV’s in the house you are considered a Luddite.

Listen, I certainly am not saying that all that stuff isn’t great, that it’s not a ton of fun and really convenient (as I type on one of the Apple products that literally litter our household, through the WiFi network at the barn, so I don’t deplete the battery on my phone by using it as a hotspot), or anything like that. What I most certainly AM saying, though, is that people who whine about how hard it is to afford to eat better almost always do so via a FB post from their iPhone 7 while sitting in the salon having their hair done, hungover from too much Bellevedere they consumed last night while noshing on Doritos smothered in Cheez-Wiz.

9 %. The stark reality is that we have let our things become more important than ourselves.

I’ll see you next week…

–bingo

Musings on “Exercise as Medicine”

The “exercise is medicine” movement is kind of a confusing thing. On the one hand we in CrossFit are the uber example of how exercise as an independent variable can enhance health. On the other we have the “Big Sugar” industry funding research and promoting the notion that exercise is all that you need, that there is no effect of nutrition on health. Train your way out of any kind of diet, if you will. This has led to the toxic effect of “BS” industry money supporting academic research that is in effect little more than marketing for their products. (Visit TheRussells.CrossFit.com for details). Indeed, the soda industry in particular has come in for some very pointed criticism which includes being accused of acting like the tobacco industry ( https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/food-matters/if-soda-companies-don-t-want-to-be-treated-like-tobacco-companies-they-need-to-stop-acting-like-them/ ). Pretty harsh, but probably deserved.

Here’s the rub: exercise really is a medicine equivalent for a very large number of medical problems. Heck, if it were only to work for cardiovascular health and Type 2 diabetes it would be considered, or should be considered, a miracle treatment. Not only that, but exercise very well might work independently of diet. While exercise should not be used as an excuse to consume a poor, dangerous diet, you may actually be able to at least partly out-train a poor diet to at least some degree.

In 2009 a study was published in the International Journal of Epidemiology (http://m.ije.oxfordjournals.org/content/39/1/197.full) examining the effect of aerobic exercise on longevity (hat tip to Michael Joyner, MD at Mayo). Mind you, the study was enrolled prior to the creation of the CrossFit fitness program (completed in 2003), so the definition of fitness (aerobic health) will be viewed as incomplete by CrossFitters since it includes only aerobic fitness. In addition, what is defined as an unhealthy diet would only partially pass muster here; we would agree that simple carbohydrates (sugars) are unhealthy, but there is a plethora of more recent data that strongly suggests that red meat and healthy fat do not render a diet worrisome in the least.

A careful reading of the study revealed a couple of nuggets that should not surprise even a little bit. Eating the unhealthiest diet was associated with a 40% increase in all-cause mortality in comparison with the healthiest diet. Those who ate that worst diet and reported that they did moderate or greater levels of exercise had a 13.5% decrease in mortality. That group of bad eaters who exercised and were proven on a modified cardiac stress test to actually have greater aerobic fitness levels had a 55% decrease in mortality. Let that sink in for a minute: people who ate a shitty diet who exercised to the degree that they were fit by the testing criteria in the study were half as likely to die in any period than those who were unfit.

Boom.

Frankly, I don’t care who funded this study. Eating a shitty diet that is high in sugar increases your risk of death by 40%. Proof. Exercise that produces improved fitness, even fitness that I would view as partial or incomplete, reduces all-cause mortality in people who eat a diet high in sugar by more than half. Proof. Yeah, sure, I get that this could be used to justify or excuse eating that way, but the reality has always been that most people don’t exercise at all. Nada. Bupkis. Those who do certainly don’t achieve much in the way of any kind of fitness because they don’t exercise effectively—saying you exercise only got you a 15% decrease in mortality, after all. These results only apply if you get fitness results, and let’s face it, working hard at exercise is not the default setting in the developed world. By comparison eating better is a breeze.

Studies such as this one are mint, man. Especially to people like me, people who follow the CrossFit Rx and other programs that ask you to work hard. It’s exercise AND nutrition. Says so in the study. Sure, we can pick at this one if we want, like I did above, but my bid is that we use studies such as this one as talking points to prove that our worldview is the gold standard by which all public health initiatives ought to be compared. We can turn the cynical “exercise is medicine” campaign of “BS” on its head and use their own data against them. Eat like a CrossFitter (protein, nuts and seeds, little starch, no sugar). Exercise like a CrossFitter (functional movements performed at relatively high intensity). Seek ever-higher levels of fitness (work capacity across broad time and modal domains) like we do.

“Exercise is medicine” is just fine as long as we continue to call BS on “BS”. Health requires both exercise AND nutrition. People who are fit, especially physicians, are just the right people to tell that story.

 

Eat to Live: The 9% Solution

“Eating healthy is too expensive.” How often have you heard some version of that phrase. Whether it be Zone, Paleo, Whole 30, or just “stay out of the middle of the grocery store”, this is uttered with some degree of exasperation and oppression with a kind of mind-numbing, self-fulfilling frequency. I recently gave a talk to a group of CrossFitters and, as always, this was the instantaneous response from the crowd.

How so? Per the folks at Whole Foods, regularly skewered for being too expensive (seriously, they sell fancy potatoes), on average we in America spend 7% of our disposable personal income–that’s SEVEN–on food. 50 years ago that number was 16%. We now spend less than 1/2 of the after-tax income on food compared with what we spent 50 years ago.

And eating well is too expensive?!

If we dig deeper into that stat alone we see that modern food production has decreased the cost of food relative to both income and inflation. The cost of producing food of all kinds has risen much more slowly than income. Why? Partly because junk carb-laden food is cheap. High-fructose corn syrup costs a fraction of grain sugar. Corn-fed protein with or without pharmaceuticals is grown faster and cheaper than grass-fed. Stuff like that. Less expensive to produce/incomes risen at a greater rate across the entire spectrum, top to bottom.

How then is it too expensive to eat a more healthy diet? We have 9% of our after-tax income to play with, right? 16% 50 years ago minus the 7% we now spend. Is some other necessity (shelter, transportation, medical care, etc) eating that up? What are we doing with that 9% that we can’t find some of it to eat better? Ah, Grasshopper, now we begin to see. It’s a ‘Nando thing, superficial. It’s not how healthy you are, it’s how you look, or something like that.

Some stuff might be more expensive, but the seemingly obvious culprits are actually false targets (eg. healthcare which for this audience represents only a tiny % of new cost c/w 50 years ago because of insurance, govt. programs, etc.). Housing as a percentage of take-home pay is roughly flat. Basic clothing is no more expensive than it was 50 years ago, and in some instances is actually less. That 9% hasn’t been shifted to another necessity.  How we CHOOSE to spend that freed-up 9% is the issue.  .

Think about that household in the 1960′s or even the 70′s. One car. One TV. One radio. Once purchased all data was free. A pair of shoes and a pair of boots. Sneaks if you were a jock. You didn’t get your hair done if you were a guy, you got a haircut. You didn’t get your acrylics touched up every 2 weeks; if you wanted long nails you grew ‘em. Stuff like that.

Fast forward to today and think about the stuff you’ve acquired, stuff you are convinced you can’t live without, stuff that costs money that you choose to spend every single day. The ratio of drivers to cars in a household is seldom more than 1.5/1 and closer to 1/1 in Middle Class America. The ratio phones to people over the age of 10 is seldom less than 1/1. It’s not enough to have a phone, or even a phone with an unlimited text plan, nope, it’s gotta be a phone that will let you post your thoughts on today’s weather in Bimini to FB. Right now, from anywhere. If you don’t have Netflix available on each of the 4 flat-screen TV’s in the house you are considered a Luddite. Look around; you know I’m right.

Listen, I certainly am not saying that all that stuff isn’t great, that it’s not a ton of fun and really convenient (as I type on one of the Apple products that literally litter our household, through my WiFi network, in front of my LightBright lamp), or anything like that. What I most certainly AM saying, though, is that people who whine about how hard it is to afford to eat better almost always do so via a FB post from their iPhone 5 while sitting in the salon having their hair done, hungover from too much Bellevedere they consumed last night while noshing on Doritos smothered in Cheez-Wiz.

9 %. The stark reality is that we have let our things become more important than ourselves. Our choices speak for themselves.

Choices: Eating Healthy OR…

“Eating healthy is too expensive.” How often have you heard some version of that phrase. Whether it be Zone, Paleo, Whole 30, or just “stay out of the middle of the grocery store”, this is uttered with some degree of exasperation and oppression with a kind of mind-numbing, self-fulfilling frequency. There is an overarching sense of deprivation here, a feeling that it’s just impossible to find the money to eat lean protein or fresh fruits and vegetables.

How so? Per the folks at Whole Foods, regularly skewered for being too expensive (seriously, they sell fancy potatoes), on average we in America spend 7% of our disposable personal income–that’s SEVEN–on food. 50 years ago that number was 16%. We now spend less than 1/2 of our after-tax income on food compared with what we spent 50 years ago.

And eating well is too expensive.

If we dig deeper into that stat alone we see that modern food production has decreased the cost of food relative to both income and inflation. The cost of producing food of all kinds has risen much more slowly than income. Why? Partly because junk carb-laden food is cheap. High-fructose corn syrup costs a fraction of grain sugar. Corn-fed protein with or without pharmaceuticals is grown faster and cheaper than grass-fed. Stuff like that. Less expensive to produce/incomes risen over 50 years at a greater rate across the entire spectrum, top to bottom.

How then is it too expensive to eat a more healthy diet. We have 9% of our after-tax income to play with, right? Even I can do that math. Is some other necessity (shelter, transportation, medical care, etc) eating that up? What are we doing with that 9% that we can’t find some of it to eat better? Ah, Grasshopper, now we begin to see. It’s a ‘Nando thing, it’s superficial. It’s not how healthy you are, it’s how you look, or feel, or something like that.

Some stuff might be more expensive; it probably really is more expensive to put a roof over your head in Manhattan nowadays, both the Island and the Beach. The seemingly obvious culprits are actually false targets (eg. healthcare which for this audience represents only a tiny % of new cost compared with 50 years ago because of insurance, govt. programs, etc.). Nope, it’s how we CHOOSE to spend that freed-up 9% .

Think about that household in the 1960′s or even the 70′s. Average of 6 people under that roof. One car. One TV. One radio. Once purchased all data was free. A pair of shoes and a pair of boots. Sneaks if you were a jock. You didn’t get your hair done if you were a guy, you got a haircut. You didn’t get your acrylics touched up every 2 weeks; if you wanted long nails you grew ‘em. Stuff like that.

Fast forward to today and think about the stuff you’ve acquired, stuff you are convinced you can’t live without, stuff that costs money, cash that you choose to spend every single day. The ratio of drivers to cars in a household is seldom less than 1.5/1. The ratio of phones to people over the age of 10 is seldom less than 1/1, often more than 1/1 if you add in a landline upstairs, downstairs, and in every bathroom.  It’s not enough to have a cellphone, or even a cellphone with an unlimited text plan, nope, it’s gotta be a SMARTphone that will let you post your thoughts on today’s weather in Bimini to FB. Right now, from anywhere. If you don’t have Netflix available on each of the 4 flat-screen TV’s in the house you are considered a Luddite.

Listen, I certainly am not saying that all that stuff isn’t great, that it’s not a ton of fun and really convenient (as I type on one of the Apple products that literally litter our household, through my WiFi network, in front of my LightBright lamp, in the bathroom), or anything like that. What I most certainly AM saying, though, is that people who whine about how hard it is to afford to eat better almost always do so via a FB post from their iPhone 5 while sitting in the salon having their hair done, hungover from too much Bellevedere they consumed last night while noshing on Doritos smothered in Cheez-Wiz.

9 %. The stark reality is that we have let our things become more important than ourselves. We are choosing Apples alright, just not the ones we find in the outer aisle of Whole Foods.

 

The Most Dangerous Man In American Healthcare

The most dangerous man in American health care is Greg Glassman. That’s right, the man who will make the biggest difference in making our country healthier, and thereby reducing the cost of providing health care, is a fitness trainer from Santa Cruz California. And you have no idea who he is.

That’s okay, though; you’re in good company. There are lots of really important, really influential people in American healthcare who have never heard of Greg Glassman. Donald Berwick, head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services? Not a clue. Toby Cosgrove, CEO of the vaunted Cleveland clinic foundation? Nope, never heard of him. So it goes, as well, for the presidents and executive vice presidents of all the various and sundry medical “letter” organizations like the AMA, the American Association of ophthalmology, and the like. The man who might hold the key to economic healthcare salvation is not even a blip on the margins of the healthcare establishment’s radar screens.

So what’s the big deal? Why is Greg Glassman the most dangerous man in American healthcare? There are two reasons, actually. First, he is right. Glassman has identified not only the most fundamental and foundational problem with the health of Americans, but he has also discovered, defined, and implemented the solution. Americans are not fit. There is an appalling lack of physical fitness in the populace. Fat and slow, or skinny–fat and weak, we are a nation of the unfit. What Science Daily calls “frailty” in an article linking a lack of fitness to poor health outcomes (ScienceDaily.com/releases/2011/04/110426122948.htm), Glassman calls decrepitude. Skinny or fat, how healthy can you be if you can’t get yourself out of a chair without assistance?

Somewhere around 2001 Greg Glassman co–founded a fitness system which he dubbed “Crossfit”(http://www.crossfit.com). He offered  the first actionable definition of fitness ever created: work capacity across broad time and modal domains. How much stuff can you move, how far, how quickly. It’s not enough to be strong, you must also be able to travel long distances. By the same token, it’s not enough to be able to travel long distances if you are not strong enough to lift your own body. This definition led to a measurement of fitness, power output or work.

To achieve this level of fitness Crossett offers the equivalent of a prescription. Exercise should consist of “constantly varied, high intensity, functional movements.” Intensity is the key. Fitness gains are not only magnified but are achieved in the most efficient manner when the exercise is performed at relatively high intensity. Functional movements include fitness standards like running, swimming and biking, but also weight training using major lifts like the deadlift, the clean, and the squat. Crossfit has returned those staples of gym classes in the 60′s, pull-ups, push-ups, and squats, to a prominence not seen since the days of Kennedy’s Presidential Council on Fitness.

Caloric intake matters; you can’t out train a bad diet or a bad lifestyle. Crossfit’s dietary prescription is quite simple: “eat meats and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch and no sugar. Keep intake to levels that will support exercise but NOT BODY FAT.” Crossfit preaches the merits of both quantity and quality when if comes to food. Carbohydrates with a low glycemic index, protein containing all essential amino acids, AND FAT are all essential to producing physical fitness. Food should be seen as fuel and should be measured as such. Even the highest quality foods consumed in the most balanced proportions will produce increased body fat and decreased fitness if taken in too high volume

A funny thing happened on the way to revolutionizing the fitness industry. In addition to increased strength, increased endurance, and decreased body fat, which translated into a dramatically fewer inches and lower dress sizes, it seemed as if everyone who did Crossfit became healthier. Lower cholesterol. Lower resting heart rates. Decreased blood pressure. Elevated moods. It looked like a move away from decrepitude and frailty was actually a move TOWARD health. Toward WELLNESS.  A scientist at heart, Glassman digested this information and in 2008 made the following statement: fitness is a proxy for health. Indeed, Glassman declared that fitness EQUALS health. In this, Greg Glassman is right, or at least more right than not. At a minimum, fitness is the foundation upon which health is built. A healthy nation is one that need not expend countless $Billions on curing diseases that could be prevented by becoming fit. This is the first reason why he is the most dangerous man in American health care.

The second reason is that he doesn’t care.

Greg Glassman is like the little boy standing at the side of the road watching the naked emperor parade by who declares “the Emperor has no clothes!” He is standing there watching a parade of the fat and the weak and he is saying “hey look…they can’t get their butt off the throne!” It’s uncomfortable to hear someone say that, but he doesn’t care; it needs to be said. The standard dietary dogma of high carbohydrate, low-fat diets with little or no meat? A straight ticket to decrepitude! He doesn’t care that statements like that make all of the Oz’s and Pritiken’s sputter and squirm. When asked once upon a time how to gain weight for a movie role Glassman famously responded: “ easy…non–fat frozen yogurt.” It’s no different with exercise. Walking and other low-intensity exercises? Better than nothing, but only almost. Cue the howls of the Jillians and the Jakes, and every glossy, muscly, fitnessy magazine editor in the English speaking world. Glassman is right, and he doesn’t care.

Greg Glassman has looked at what is wrong with the health of Americans and he is willing to say what that is and say it out loud. He is willing to say that we as a people are unfit, and that this is the primary cause underlying our lack of health, and our accelerating need to spend money to cure disease. He is willing to say that the vast majority of the advice that we have received to fix this is flat out wrong, whether it comes from the government or the cover of Fitness Magazine. He is willing to say the the road to economic salvation in American Healthcare leads through the gym, the grocery store, and the kitchen, not to or through something as meaningless as an “Accountable Healthcare Organization” (whatever that may be). Although he is convinced that he is right he is presently spending gobs of his own money studying the effects of the Crossfit prescription on the health of regular people.

Yup, Greg Glassman is right, and he doesn’t care that all of the so–called experts in healthcare don’t know who he is yet, or that they wouldn’t agree with him if they did. Judging by what’s going on in the physical fitness world right now as Crossfit grows 30% PER MONTH, I’d say that makes Greg Glassman the most dangerous man in American healthcare.

Better learn how to spell his name.