You Are What You Eat

you are what you eat
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I’ve written a lot about the role of food and calories in terms of both our general health and how to build muscle and lose unwanted fat. Blog posts include (but are not limited to) Counting Food and Burning Calories with My New Fitness Pal, The Mystery of How Much Protein is Too Much, Exploring Eating Before Lifting, and The Sleepy Weightlifter. So another food related message may be redundant.

But I don’t think so, especially if you have a few (or more than a few) pounds you’d like to lose but can’t seem to get them off.

I sympathize. I’ve lost a significant amount of weight in the past six-months to a year or so, but that last five pounds just doesn’t want to jump ship.

I know there’s something else I’m going to have to change in order to get to my goal weight, but I haven’t discovered what that is yet.

Diana Keeler wrote a very short article for the My Fitness Pal blog called Consider This If “Eat Less, Exercise More” Isn’t Working for You that may be of interest.

It seems to be popular wisdom and just plain good sense that in order to lose weight, you have to eat at a calorie deficit and exercise more to burn excess calories. Logically, if you burn off more calories than you ingest on a day-to-day basis, you should lose weight.

But “logic” can be deceiving.

Keeler cites a particular authority on the matter to support her position:

Turns out, the science behind the slogan is much more complex than it seems. “If you just try to eat less and exercise more, most people will lose that battle—metabolism wins,” David Ludwig, M.D., Ph.D., director of the New Balance Foundation Obesity Prevention Center at Boston Children’s Hospital, tells Time.

Ludwig describes the number of people who can successfully lose weight following that advice as “exceedingly small.” Why? Ludwig and his team say it underestimates the role of how certain foods can affect weight gain-—specifically, refined carbohydrates.

weapon of mass destruction
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I’ve included the links to her various sources regarding Dr. Ludwig in the above-quoted paragraphs so you can do further reading, but what we have here is the idea that in order to lose weight, it not only matters how many calories you ingest, but what those calories are made of.

To continue…

Eating refined carbs, like certain breads, white rice, pasta, chips, crackers, and so on, raises insulin levels, which in turn can spur cells to store fat, leading to weight gain—to some degree regardless of caloric intake.

Just Google “obesity epidemic” and the search engine will return a plethora of results from to Health Day, declaring in no uncertain terms that there definitely is runaway obesity in America and what seems to be the contributing factors.

But as stated above, it’s not just a problem of eating more calories than we expend, but eating more calories made of crap.

There are plenty of sources, such as Traditional Foods and The New York Times that say the American food supply has been depleted of much of its nutrition over time, probably since the end of World War II.

I’ve even heard that the fast food industry, over the past 30 years or so, has managed to change, not only the quality of food served in fast food establishments, but the quality of our food supply as a whole.

That’s a pretty scary thought. It means even if you are attempting to eat in a healthy manner, just about whatever you buy at your local grocery store is likely nutrition deficit, all because of corporate greed including big ag.

It’s why my wife buys our meat from local ranchers who raise free-range cattle. Of course, we don’t farm our backyard (although we do garden a little bit), so we do depend on shopping at the same stores as anyone else in our community (Fred Meyer, WinCo, CostCo), so we could be eating better.

But most of what we eat is non-processed. I have the good fortune to live with two “foodies,” my wife and my daughter, so there are a lot of good tasting and “good-for-you” foods handy.

breakfast in america
Breakfast in America – Photo credit:

But most Americans eat crap and don’t know the difference…well, that is until they look at their waistline or experience the various lifestyle related illness that go along with a diet bereft of the nutrition our human bodies are designed to require.

Here’s a rather long quote from Keeler’s article, but I think she sums things up nicely.

For a simple illustration of this seeming paradox, consider the work of diabetes researchers like George Campbell. In the mid-1960s, Campbell studied a community of Indian immigrants in South Africa who performed extensive manual labor and ate only around 1600 calories per day, but were, in his words, “enormously fat.” Campbell came to believe that the culprit was their diet, consisting of around 80 pounds of sugar per year (representing approximately 25% of their caloric intake) and refined carbohydrates. Another long-term research project, The Tokelau Island Migration Study (TIMS), which began in the 1960s, studied the impact of imported foods on a Polynesian community. In 20 years, the islanders transitioned from a diet nearly devoid of refined carbohydrates to one in which they played a central role: “Through the 1960s the only noteworthy problems were skin diseases, asthma and infectious diseases. In the decades that followed, just as diabetologist George Campbell predicted, diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, gout and cancer appeared.”

I’d say there’s enough evidence to at least suggest that processed foods and particularly refined carbs contribute to the acceleration of diseases such as “diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, and cancer,” the leading causes of premature aging and death in our nation.

You may have heard the phrase you are what you eat. If you eat crap, crap is all your body has to rebuild itself with and as a result, you are building a deficit and defective “you,” at least physically. Also, keep in mind that your brain is part of “you” and your diet affects your brain as much as any other part of your biology. What if what you eat affects your emotions? What if it even contributes to neurological disorders such as Dementia and Parkinson’s?

This is definitely a first world problem (not that “underdeveloped” nations don’t have issues with nutrition let alone access to clean water) and it’s a big one.

There’s probably nothing anyone living in a “developed” country can do to eat a perfect diet, but there are things we can do to educate ourselves and to eat better than the typical American. has a pretty good list of general suggestions about how to eat in a healthier manner, and you could have a look at Paleo Diet 101 and The Beginner’s Guide to the Paleo Diet to reorganize not only how and how much you eat, but what your diet is made out of.

I admit to not having all the answers and also to not always eating well. We do occasionally have “junk” in the house, and my employer keeps a lot of chow, some healthy and most not, in our corporate break room. Sometimes I give in to temptation.

sedentaryI’m not a “food fascist” and I don’t believe you have to keep to a super-strict dietary plan. Most of those plans fail because they are too inflexible and people, at least occasionally, like to cheat and eat “fun food”.

All I’m saying is that you should take a look at what you eat habitually, day in and day out. Apps such as (there are plenty of others out there, so feel free to choose something you like and will use) can help you keep track of what you eat, how much, and especially what it’s made out of. I use it just to remind myself of those very things and it can be quite sobering if you’re willing to enter into the app everything that actually enters your mouth.

This isn’t just a matter of being overweight or having trouble losing body fat, although I started out this blog post on that topic. As Bill Gifford suggests in his book Spring Chicken: Stay Young Forever (or Die Trying), how we age including how fast we age may be affected to at least some degree by our level of nutrition.

If you want to lose (fat) weight, even just those last 5 or 10 pounds, not to mention live longer, and have a better, “younger” quality of life during those years, part of the solution can be found in the gym but much more of it can be found in your kitchen.

There are no traffic jams along the extra mile.

Roger Staubach


5 thoughts on “You Are What You Eat

  1. Hi James, another great blog post. While I do watch what I eat and really try not to eat junk( just ask my grandkids, they are always disappointed when they come over and look for a junk snack), I have given up the idea that I will ever have a six pack. I sure know that it was easier to loose weight easier when I was younger . In the past two years I have went from trying to loose weight to gaining some. When I weighed 200 lbs I looked thin in clothes but still had a little of those love handles, now at 220 I look better in clothes, more like a guy who lifts, and have a little less belly fat. Here is a link to an article that changed the way I began to think about the body image issue. I will sent a link to all Mark Rippitoes post in another reply, I think you will find them interesting.


    1. Thanks for the links, particularly the first one, Jerry. Interesting and informative, although they are so loaded with flash ads that it takes a while for the pages to load sufficiently so I can scroll and read.

      I’ve been hovering around 190 pounds for a bit now and can’t seem to lose that last 5 pounds to get to my goal weight. It probably didn’t help that I had a couple of hotdogs last night for dinner and salted, buttered popcorn while watching Clint Eastwood in “Escape from Alcatraz” (1979). Like I said above, I’m not a “food fascist”. Life should be enjoyed.

      I doubt I’ll see a “six-pack” in my life. That’s not really my goal, although I do like being narrow at the waist (still got some “jiggling” stuff there, alas) and looking good in a t-shirt and jeans.

      But like “Rip,” my primary goal isn’t to build a sculptured body but to build muscle and become stronger. As a person who also has grandkids, I want to sustain what I’ve got for as long as I can and build as much as I’m able to support my body as I age.

      Weight is only a very basic indicator of health. It really depends on what that weight is made out of, which brings me back to the subject of this blog post. Health is about defining a goal, determining how to get to the goal, and then taking the necessary steps, both in the gym and in the kitchen. The results show, not just on the bathroom scale or in the mirror, but in how we feel and what we are capable of doing, like keeping up with a bunch of active grandkids.

      That’s a life worth living.


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