I’m combining three book reviews plus a documentary review into one post as they all deal with similar subject matter—namely health, fitness, diet and obesity. Be warned, it’s a bit long and somewhat personal, but hopefully not in a bad way…
Loathe as I am to admit it, in less than six months, I will be 50 years old. I don’t feel old, and I’m often told I do not look my age, which I really appreciate because I’m having a hard time thinking of myself as being “middle-aged.” Though I have been an avid excerciser since my 20s, and have instructed group fitness classes for the last ten years, I definitely can’t do as much of, or the same types of exercise as I used to do. Over the last five years, my weight has climbed, probably more due to stress and uncertainty than strictly bad eating habits but it has taken a toll on my overall fitness, strength and agility. Since my family has had no health insurance for over six years, and it doesn’t seem likely we will have it again any time soon, I decided I needed to take better control of my health and I knew that I had some antithetical habits that needed correcting. I’m a long-time expert at dieting and can lose 20 pounds just by cutting back on calories and alcohol, though it takes longer and longer to do as I get older, and now, those pesky pounds always come right back as soon as I find myself in another stressful situation, which these days, is pretty much all the time. I found myself ready to make a more steadfast change.
I had seen Dr. David Agus interviewed about The End of Illness a couple of times on TV and was very intrigued by his observation that the medical profession is very good at treating conditions caused by outside influences such as the flu, but does a horrible job of curing or preventing illnesses such as cancer and genetic disorders that are caused by and created within the human body itself. He posits that it’s time for the medical profession, both practitioners and researchers, to begin approaching illness in a more holistic way—that is, not just treating someone once they are ill, but using preventative measures, specifically tailored to individual circumstances both internal, e.g. genetic and external, e.g. environmental, and work towards keeping the human body healthy and viable in all it’s parts, throughout a lifetime. It makes a lot of sense, but is completely incompatible with the current methods employed by today’s health insurance industry, which offers few opportunities for proactive testing and preventative care and relies almost entirely on reactive medical treatments of the pharmaceutical or surgical variety, or, to put it more succinctly, using the most expensive and least effective methods, as late as possible. As medical technology improves, length of life extends but quality of health degrades from an ever younger age.
Agus believes that medical science must do a better job of understanding the human machine, not just at the set-for-a-lifetime genetic level, but also from an ongoing, day-to-day perspective. Agus has pioneered the development of some amazing technology that moves us toward having a full spectrum of information for understanding our individual benchmarks. He also offers good advice that everyone can use to lessen the impact of both internal and external factors that may affect us. I liked his admonishment to become knowledgeable about one’s personal health history and making informed lifestyle choices and I felt I could easily follow his directives for proactively protecting myself from poorer health as I age. The End of Illness gave me a strong foundation for living healthfully for my next fifty years.
Next, I needed to address my weight and it’s impact on my fitness, strength and flexibility. I come from a family of mostly overweight, and in some cases morbidly obese women. All my adult life, I have committed to maintaining a high fitness level, regardless of the ins and outs of my waistline and I am fairly active with a VO2max more commonly seen in women half my age. Still, my BMI is firmly in the overweight range. At home we eat lots of fresh fruits and vegetables and lean meats, so I assumed it wasn’t because I was eating the wrong things, and most of the time, I wasn’t eating too much. Knowing of the propensity for obesity (and constituently, thyroid issues) in my family history, I started researching metabolism and found two books that offer a nutritional model based on metabolic types. Both books offered excellent and pertinent advice with diet and exercise programs geared for improving health, not necessarily losing weight.
I read The Metabolism Advantage first and I liked it’s non-diet book language. There were success stories, but the information was thoughtful and linear without a lot of hype. I think this is partly because the book is aimed at a primarily male demographic, and is more about becoming fitter than losing weight, which actually made me like it better. The moves in the training section looked like workouts I am familiar with, essentially interval exercise combined with strength training. Berardi discusses how, as we age, our bodies become less effective at burning fuel and gives good lessons in how to stoke the fires and rev metabolism back up. He encourages the use of some supplements to help support healthy eating, many of them also suggested by Dr. Agus in The End of Illness. I was starting to feel like a path was emerging.
Next, I dove into The New ME Diet: Eat More, Work Out Less, and Actually Lose Weight While You Rest by the Teta brothers, Jade and Keoni. I had started reading their Metabolic Effect blog a few months before and was really impressed by the amount of research and practical experience they offer to support their nutritional plan and training regimen. Once again I found straightforward and clear information about the benefits of combining a tailored nutritional plan with a training program geared toward lifelong fitness and weight control, not a quick-fix diet. I took a short quiz to determine what type of burner I am (combined type) and then I just had to stick to the suggested food list. Nothing is expressly forbidden, but certain types of foods are limited. All very doable over the long term. The whole family (OK, not my teenaged son, who lives on peanut butter, pizza and ice cream) has been eating to the plan; I’ve added fish oil and aspirin to my morning vitamins and I’ve dropped a few pounds in two weeks without changing very much at all.
I don’t think I will ever weigh 135 pounds again; as much as I would like to set that goal, it’s not realistic and at my age, I’d be pretty happy just to lose that twenty and keep it off for good and keep teaching fitness classes till I’m 65 or so.
Which brings me to The Weight of the Nation. This documentary, which premiered on HBO this week, scared me, and I mean it really made me frightened for the future of the US. Forget politics, (though politicians have some ‘splainin to do on this issue) the food industrial complex is out to take all of our money while it happily kills us dead, but not before the healthcare industry takes the rest of our money, by plying us with drugs and surgeries to stabilize our fat livers, high blood pressure, cardiac arrests, failing joints and never-healing wounds. Our bones and organs are the wounded soldiers on the battleground of our fat, and growing ever fatter bodies.
The statistics in this series were astounding. One in three children born in the year 2000 will have diabetes—one in two for Black and Latino children. Preventing the onset of diabetes in children begins with establishing healthy eating habits and providing spaces and opportunities for play and movement. In today’s current economy the food lobbyists will do everything they can to keep sugary drinks and high calorie, high fat foods in your’s and your children’s mouths from cradle to (an early) grave. Low income families have little access to fresh fruits and vegetables and school children are bombarded with advertising for low nutritional value drinks and cereals each and every day—not to mention the food lobby deeming pizza a vegetable in school lunches, because it has tomato sauce on it. They know that tomatos are fruits, right?
So find four hours and watch the entire series. They are highly informative and will make you both angry and motivated, or at least I hope they will.
Everyone wants to live to a ripe old age and my father-in-law is always saying, “If I’d known I would live this long, I would have taken better care of myself.” Well, it’s never too late to start.
Update: Here’s a link to a really good review of Weight of the Nation.