When it comes to efforts to trim our waistlines, sugar, and carbs (as comforting as they may be in the moment) are not our friends. They are our enemies.
This may sound obvious, but it was part of my nutritional education while I was on the Whole 30 plan. I went on Whole 30 as a type of experiment to see if I’d feel different physically. My wife and I went on the journey together, and overall it was a very positive experience.
I’m perpetually curious about how diet and exercise impact our overall health. This is particularly true because I’m a huge fan research on folks in Blue Zones, where residents tend to have different lifestyles and outlive the average person.
So, a recent article in Forbes caught my eye.
In this piece, the author reviews what she describes as a “scorching” editorial in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. In the Journal’s article, three authors “weighed in” on what they call a pervasive myth – that exercise alone is the key to losing pounds and increasing health.
These three argue that modern research has shown that the real way to achieve physical wellbeing is by cutting out our enemies – sugar and carbs. The critics of the exercise myth said that we could cardio and weight train day and night, but if we’re overindulging in the two evils, we’re bound to get nowhere.
What was even more alarming and eye-opening for me is that these folks said we can be an average weight and exercise regularly, but still be unhealthy. The critical determinant is our diet. The three critics said we all need to rewire our understanding of health completely.
According to the Journal article, exercise alone won’t typically lead to weight loss. Now, it could lead to several other fantastic health effects. But, if you’re not also counting calories and their sources, weight loss won’t be one of them.
“Regular physical activity reduces the risk of developing cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, dementia, and some cancers by at least 30%,” they wrote. “However, physical activity does not promote weight loss.”
Their point, taken in today’s context, makes sense. Over the last 30 years, the percentage of our population that is overweight or obese has skyrocketed in America. During the same period, the rate at which we exercise has stayed the same.
It’s clear that something’s going on here that needs to be addressed.
As it turns out, the type of food we now eat is the real culprit. Over the past three or more decades, our diets have become increasingly laden with highly-processed, sugary foods and sodas.
“According to the Lancet global burden of disease reports,” they wrote, “poor diet now generates more disease than physical inactivity, alcohol and smoking combined.”
If that’s not a disturbing statistic, I don’t know what is. But the news gets worse.
“Up to 40% of those with a normal body mass index will harbor metabolic abnormalities typically associated with obesity, which include hypertension, dyslipidaemia, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, and cardiovascular disease.”
Wow. So, we could be exercising and maintaining a healthy weight while still being at risk for chronic illnesses and related early mortality rates. Now that’s scary.
The authors describe the myth of exercise as the gateway to overall health as highly dangerous. Numerous studies and popular articles have suggested that a sedentary lifestyle is our downfall. Many have pointed the finger at the hours we spend sitting at our desks at work.
So, instead of diet and health information that science knows to be true, “members of the public are drowned by an unhelpful message about maintaining a ‘healthy weight’ through calorie counting,” the team writes, “and many still wrongly believe that obesity is entirely due to lack of exercise. This false perception is rooted in the Food Industry’s Public Relations machinery, which uses tactics chillingly similar to those of big tobacco.” Yikes.
“Sugar calories promote fat storage and hunger,” the wrote. “Fat calories induce fullness or satiation.”
For every additional 150 calories in sugar a person consumes per day (such as one can of soda), the risk for diabetes increases 11-fold, regardless of how much time we spend at the gym. The single most effective thing we can do for our weight, the authors wrote, is to restrict calories – and even more, restrict carbs.
“It is time to wind back the harms caused by the junk food industry’s Public Relations machinery,” they wrote. “Let us bust the myth of physical inactivity and obesity. You cannot outrun a bad diet.”
Their conclusion is scary, but I also believe it’s accurate. Back to Blue Zones, after reading about the Mediterranean diet in a book on these hotspots, I changed my diet again, too. I ate lots of olive oil, veggies, fish and low-fat cheese. I felt great, even without the sugar and carbs. To me, there is substantial evidence out there that our diets make a massive difference in how we feel, and, according to the research, in how we fare health-wise.
In my opinion, refined sugar was the easier villain to get out of my house. I just stopped buying sodas and sweet treats. I started drinking water (both still and sparkling) instead and swapped out desserts for fruit. As for carbs, that was a harder transition for me. But, during my Whole 30 journey, I did it, and I felt great.
Now, it may not be easy to go “cold turkey.” But, we can make a start towards improving our overall health by curbing the sugar and carbs in our diets. We can aim for progress as our goal, and reap the health benefits along the way.