Ask Your Doctor if Placebo is Right for You!

Just as good as homeopathy, psychic surgery and faith healing.

While reading through one of the books I recommend at the end of the BS-Detection guide, (Bad Science by Ben Goldacre, seriously amazing read.  If you enjoy my work at all you’ll love this book) I came across an interesting study on placebos.

(He even made a note saying that if you had a possible explanation for the results of this study, that you should write a blog post.  So…here we are!)

This is a good study to try and read into a little bit, even if you’re not a statistician.  We may not be able to decide if their statistical analysis is any good (considering my ‘C’ grade in high school statistics, I’m gonna go ahead and put myself in the ‘not expert’ category on that one), but most of the study is in language any lay-person can understand.

Can the placebo effect improve the benefits of exercise?

Let’s go over the structure of this study real quick:

What is the study trying to show?

In the first few paragraphs of this study, below the bolded abstract, the authors give us some interesting background on the surprising effects of placebos.  Their definition of ‘the placebo effect’ is:

The placebo effect is any effect that is not attributed to an actual pharmaceutical drug or remedy, but rather is attributed to the individual’s mind-set.

And that’s a very accurate definition.  Let’s expand on that a bit with an entertaining example from the wonderfully crude TV show It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.

In the episode “Manhunters,” two of the main characters (Dee and Charlie) are persuaded by Dee’s father, Frank, that they’ve accidentally eaten human flesh.  Over the course of the episode, Dee and Charlie experience increasing cravings for human flesh, culminating in them kidnapping a homeless man to bring back to their apartment and eat.

Thankfully, Frank informs them in time that it was actually raccoon meat, and he was just fucking with them the whole time.

This example was just an excuse to post this youtube clip.

But Dee and Charlie feel the cravings for human flesh so intensely, they are convinced Frank is lying, and go on to attempt to eat him instead.

So, placebo effect is thinking you’ve eaten human flesh, causing the effect of craving human flesh, even though you only ate raccoon meat.

Where were we?  Ah, right, so the researchers were trying to determine:

…the role of the placebo effect (the moderating role of mind-set) in the relationship between exercise and health. We hypothesized that the placebo effect plays a role in the health benefits of exercise: that one’s mind-set mediates the connection between exercise and one’s health.

In other words, does simply telling people about the benefits of their current exercise increase the benefits of said exercise without changing anything else about their lives?

How did they conduct the study?

Researchers took 84 maids from 7 different hotels.  About half went into a ‘control’ group, and the other half were referred to as the ‘informed’ group.

The paper details exactly how they picked the maids and how they controlled for confounding factors like age, ethnicity, socioeconomic standing, etc.  As well, they made sure that the maids from different groups didn’t talk to eachother, to ensure the placebo effect didn’t spread to the ‘control’ group.

A control group is standard in most all experiments.  A control group basically exists as a reference for the changes made in the experiment group.

For instance, in this study, if we had no control group, we would have no way of knowing whether any changes that occurred in the experiment group had anything to do with the actual experiment changes, or changes in say, the weather, or any other natural fluctuations.

What were they measuring?

Researchers measured:

  • How much exercise the women believed they got
  • How much of their job they thought counted as ‘exercise’
  • Weight, body fat percentage (via one of these), and waist-to-hip ratio
  • Blood Pressure

They measured the first two bullet points by just surveying the workers.  This would give insight into how their mind-set changed over the course of the experiment.  The second two bullet points showed actual objective data to see if those changes in mind-set actually affected their measurable health levels.

What were the differences between the ‘informed’ group and the ‘experiment’ group?

Both groups were educated on their daily recommended amount of exercise, based on the Surgeon General’s recommendations; about 200 calories worth per day.  They were given handouts and posters were put up in their work lounges to remind them.

However, the ‘informed’ group was told that their jobs more than fulfilled said recommendations.  The ‘control’ group was not told this.

So basically, the only difference was that the informed group had the peace of mind and satisfaction of knowing that they were surpassing the amount of exercise recommended for them to obtain and maintain good health, while the control group did not.

What were the results?

Four weeks later, the informed group had:

  • Much higher perceived amount of regular exercise
  • Regarded their job as contributing much more towards their exercise
  • Lower systolic (the first number in blood pressure readings) blood pressure by 10 points
  • Lost an average of 2 pounds
  • Lowered waist-to-hip ratio and body fat

These changes were not seen in the control group.  In fact, they felt that their jobs counted less as exercise than before the experiment!

Ever watch Hoarders? Cleaning up that mess definitely counts as exercise.

So can the placebo effect help me to lose weight?

Possibly.  But don’t get too excited about the results yet.  First of all, the body fat and weight loss results could be erroneous.  The scale they used to measure body fat is highly inaccurate and very susceptible to changes from water content in the body.  As well, many people experience weight fluctuations of 2+ pounds on a day to day basis regularly.

However, it’s harder to mess up a blood pressure reading.  With an average decrease of 10 points, something was definitely going on to improve the health of the ladies in the informed group.

The researchers stated that it doesn’t appear that the ladies in the study changed their dietary habits.  Nor did they report exercising more.  So, did being informed that they were doing exercise magically cause these improvements in health?

I think what’s probably going on here is some combination and waterfall effect of:

  • Realizing that they’re not lazy people, and healthier than they thought
  • Figuring that maybe they’ve got a little bit more of their shit together than they realized
  • Perhaps having a little more fun with the job, potentially increasing their physical exertion without consciously registering it
  • Decrease in stress
  • Increase in duration and quality of sleep
  • Decrease in caloric intake due to stress reduction and increase in sleep, as well as because they think of themselves as healthier, fitter people than before.

These changes wouldn’t have been a conscious decision by the ladies, so they wouldn’t have reported any changes in their habits.

It’s a bit of a stretch, I admit.  But it seems more likely than a simple change in mindset decreasing one’s waist-to-hip ratio.  Those kinds of direct physical changes don’t seem to be in the realm of placebo, kind of like how placebo can’t re-grow limbs or alleviate paralysis.

What’s the take-home?

Realize that exercise is ANY KIND of physical exertion.  If you work a physical job like walking dogs, construction, teaching, cleaning, whatever, then you are getting exercise.  If you enjoy playing frisbee with your dog, you are getting exercise. Exercise does not have to happen in a gym or even as a conscious effort.

As well, recognize the awesome power of a positive mind-set.  Trust me, I know that this is easier said than done.  I have not in any way accomplished this yet in my own life.  But just feeling like you’re just a little more in control of your life, eliminating just one source of stress, or maybe thinking of yourself as a bit of a healthier person can have huge effects on your actions and motivations.

Interested in learning more about how awesome and interesting the placebo effect is?  Pick up Bad Science by Ben Goldacre.  Seriously.  This book is amazing.

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Book Review: “The Virgin Diet” by JJ Virgin – Food Intolerance Pt2

In my BS Detector guidebook, I have a “BS Checklist” – Things to look out for during a commercial, in a book or on the cover of a magazine. One of the items on that list is an authority claiming to have a “secret” in regards to gaining muscle, losing fat, or whatever.

SuperSecretSecret

The only secret is that there are no secrets.

So when you see the line:

“…I’m about to share with you the secret to weight loss.”

followed by an extremely simplistic solution:

“The key to weight loss is avoiding and overcoming food intolerance.”

Then your BS detector alarm needs to start ringing.  

Just think about that statement – she is saying that for the millions of people who struggle to lose weight and keep it off, the answer isn’t that they’re eating too much.  It’s not that they move too little.  It’s not that the food environment encourages over-consumption, it’s not that long work hours and high amounts of stress are not conducive to home-cooked meals or taking walks.  

It’s not the fact that people are notoriously terrible at reporting their food intake, even when they’re taught how.  

It’s not agricultural subsidies or that adults who don’t cook raise children who never learn how.  It’s not even the plethora of diet and exercise books out there with contradictory information, slashing your favorite foods left and right, and leaving you completely confused of how to proceed.  

It’s having digestive issues with a certain food or foods.  

Does this sound right to you?  

Now I’m not discounting the discomfort that can occur from ingesting a food you don’t handle well.  Let me tell you about the time I ate two protein bars totaling 22g in sugar alcohol before a 3 hour long seminar.  (Actually, I’m going to pass on that story.  Just read these reviews for sugar-alcohol gummy bears instead.) 

THE WARNING IS NOT JOKING.

But to say that intolerance is the sole cause of weight gain and difficulty in weight loss is asinine.  And to be clear, that is what she just stated above and what this whole book is about.  

“…if you weigh more than you like and look older than you’d prefer, you are most likely struggling with food intolerance.” 

So if I’m 57 but would prefer to look 25, I have food intolerance?  Got it.

Here is a checklist given for how to tell if you have food intolerance: 

  • Have you tried unsuccessfully to lose weight?
  • Is what you used to do to lose weight no longer working?
  • Are you a yo-yo dieter?
  • Do you frequently experience discomfort after eating, such as bloating, gas or indigestion?
  • Can you only lose weight by starving yourself or exercising like a maniac – or possibly not even then?
  • Are you feeling and looking older than you should? 

She then states if you fit even one of those bullet points, you’re likely eating foods you’re intolerant too.  Doesn’t that seem like a bit of a stretch? (Especially when the bolded point is the only real one that indicates any sort of digestive issue!) 

So you, like almost everyone else on the planet, want to lose weight and look younger.  Ergo, you have a food intolerance.  What are the foods you’re probably intolerant to?

The 7 “High Food-Intolerance” Foods

  • Gluten
  • Eggs
  • Soy
  • Corn
  • Dairy
  • Peanuts
  • Sugar & Artificial Sweeteners 

Where did this list come from?  Well, it appears that parts of it came from the eight foods that comprise 90% of all food allergies, (soy, dairy, eggs, peanuts) part of it from hot topics of the day (sugar & artificial sweeteners, gluten) and one I’m not really sure of the origin of (corn). 

While this diet protocol has you re-introduce these foods after a 3-week washout period, she states that she would like for you to leave out sugar, artificial sweeteners, corn, and peanuts forever.  Why?  

Peanuts 

“Peanuts have a high risk for aflatoxin mold, which is toxic and provokes a lot of allergies.

Peanuts are also high in phytic acid and lectins…”

Corn

“[corn is] one of the worst of all the grains because it tends to be allergenic, is high on the glycemic index and has a pro-inflammatory omega-6 fatty acid profile.”

She also notes that it is high in lectins and that “almost all U.S. corn is genetically modified.” 

Sugar & Artificial Sweeteners 

There is quite a long list of reasons given to avoid sugar, everything from saying it “disrupts your insulin metabolism,” to “sugar depletes nutrients.”  Yikes.  

Artificial sweeteners are stated to be horrible for the same reasons as sugar, on top of it being a “neurotoxin.”  And then, aspartame turns into formaldehyde when “it’s raised over a certain temperature”!  Doesn’t that sound terrifying?!

Apples – just one of many foods that contain formaldehyde naturally. (taken from ameribestprayers.com)

Once we get to the actual chapter-by-chapter review of this book, we’ll go over what’s true and false about those statements.  For now, just know that you really don’t have to be this scared of food.  It’s certainly not the instrument of impending death and illness it’s made out to be above.

What happens when you eat a food you are intolerant to?

This can be a difficult thing to ascertain, because it’s difficult enough to just figure out who is intolerant to a particular food or component of food as we mentioned in Part I.  But we can get an idea by looking at lactose-intolerance, which tends to be better understood.

With lactose-intolerance, your body doesn’t have (or have many of) the proper enzyme (lactase, to be specific) to digest lactose, a sugar found in milk and other dairy products.  Therefore, it doesn’t get digested properly in your small intestine.

When the lactose shows up only partially broken-down in your large intestines, bacteria ferments it, which causes gas and bloating.  This is also often followed by diarrhea, as the lactose doesn’t get fully absorbed or broken down before passing through.

While the mechanisms for other types of food intolerance are not well understood, we’ll pretend it is something similar to the above.  One prevailing idea of why food allergies and intolerance are on the rise the the “hygiene hypothesis.”

Because of modern society’s obsession with cleanliness, the hypothesis goes, we’re depriving ourselves of the helpful bacteria that have helped us with a multitude of functions, including digestion.  For instance, the human body only produces 20 enzymes that break down carbohydrates.  But a group of just one kind of bacteria has over 260 such enzymes.  It seems logical to me that depriving ourselves of helpful bacteria with a hand-sanitizer obsession could lead to an increase of food intolerance.

Must rid ourselves of evillll germmmmssss

(But again, this is just a hypothesis)

This leads back to the prevailing theme of our book…

So, is food intolerance really the “secret” to why so many of us can’t lose weight?  Let’s review what we’ve gone over about food intolerance:

  • Food allergies are on the rise, with some estimates saying 4% or more of the U.S. population having at least one.
  • Food intolerance could be rising as well, but with such difficulty in diagnosis, it is hard to say and impossible to give an accurate figure.
  • Food intolerance is characterized by an inability to digest a certain food or food component. (Malabsorption)

So we have no idea how many people have food intolerance, but for those that do it means digestive upset due to an inability to break down and absorb the food properly.

Think about that – the nutrition from the food item cannot be absorbed.  That’s unabsorbed vitamins, minerals…and calories.

As well, it’s uncertain how many people suffer from an intolerance.  How could anyone be confident enough to say that EVERYONE who struggles with weight loss has an intolerance?  There is no evidence to back up that assertion at all.

But that doesn’t mean this whole book is worthless.

Yeah, it’s shitty to make big, bold claims that can’t be proven.  But for someone who does suffer from extreme bloating and misery after meals, this diet could be helpful.  Elimination diets can absolutely help you figure out if you have ‘problem foods’ (provided you do one correctly), and help you to find relief.  It may not be 100% accurate and you may not know the exact component that is causing you distress, but you’ll likely feel better.

Just don’t expect it to solve all of your weight-loss woes.

Next up: the up-and-coming buzzword of inflammation and how it relates to food intolerance / sensitivity.  How exciting!!

As always, leave me any questions, comments or suggestions below!

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Book Review: “The Virgin Diet” by JJ Virgin – Food Intolerance Part I

I’m definitely one of the lucky people when it comes to allergies.

My older brothers got the short end of the stick.  I think they must have taken the hit for me – both allergic to peanuts, one also allergic to tree nuts and pollen on top of cat and dog hair, the other raw eggs and peas.

Dogs and peanut butter – all a girl really needs in life.

Me?  None.  Zip.  Zero.  Even the list of foods I don’t tolerate well can be limited to sugar alcohol.  This is becoming a less and less common thing as the years go on though.  Here are some fun statistics:

  • Eight foods account for 90% of all allergic reactions: milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, wheat, fish and shellfish. (1)
  • While most children grow out of food allergies, allergies to peanuts, tree nuts, shellfish and fish tend to be lifelong. (1)
  • In the UK, hospital admissions for food allergy increased by 500% from 1990 to 2006. (2)
  • Food allergies among children increased approximately 50% between 1997 and 2011. (3)
  • The increases in allergy prevalence is seen almost exclusively in developed nations.

More on why they included the increase in C-sections on this graph in my next post.

There are a lot of parallels between food intolerance and food allergies – but one should NOT consider food intolerance as a kind of ‘light’ food allergy.

The mechanisms between the two are very different:

  • Allergies cause an immune reaction, typically through increases in Immunoglobulin E (IgE)
  • Food Intolerance does not cause an immune reaction in the same way as allergies.  There may still be one, but it’s unclear if there always is and how or why it may be caused. (4)
  • Gluten intolerance in particular does not appear to cause ‘leaky gut’ – aka causing your intestines to be more porous, allowing other matter in your gut to get into the bloodstream.  (4, 5)
  • Celiac disease in particular is neither an allergy nor an intolerance – rather it is an autoimmune condition.

A note on leaky guts

“Leaky gut” is a proposed mechanism for a lot of different conditions – from arthritis to heart disease.  While it is certainly a thing that can happen (such as in celiac disease), food intolerance does not seem to cause it.

In looking around for information on leaky gut, what exactly causes it seems to be a bit of controversy.  Only in the last decade or so are there many studies affirming that it’s a thing that could happen from food in the first place.  The one clear thing I got through is this: how common, what causes, how to diagnose and how to treat ‘leaky gut’ is NOT clear.

Diagnosing is hard.

Pin-pointing exactly what compound you are having a reaction to is pretty tough.  Self-diagnosing can be even more unreliable.  Imagine this scenario:

You suspect that you may have a gluten intolerance.  You cut out regular noodles and replace it with cauliflower rice.  Your daily lunch-time sandwich gets replaced with a vibrant salad.  Instead of cereal for breakfast you’re having two hard-boiled eggs and fruit.

The result?  You feel great!  Full of energy all day with none of your usual brain fog.  Must have been the gluten, right?

Or could it be that you’re eating more fruits and vegetables and replaced your high-carbohydrate breakfast for a high-protein and fiber one? 

Okay, so what if you don’t replace everything with healthful foods, but you still cut out gluten?

Your breakfast of a protein shake goes out the window.  Maybe you replace it with some gluten-free cereal or toast or something.

No more mid-morning protein bar for you!  Replace it with some kind of gluten-free treat from Whole Foods maybe.

Don’t let going gluten-free keep you from delicious pastries! (Taken from wheatfreeliving.com)

Your gum-chewing habit is nixed.  (Even many gums have gluten in them, who knew?)  Replace it with diet soda.

Certainly didn’t have a more nutritious diet there, but you still feel loads better than before.  Definitely the gluten then!

Or could it be that you’ve gotten rid of sugar alcohol and protein powder – two substances that often cause gas, diarrhea and discomfort in some individuals? 

Let’s get even more precise!  Suppose you think you have an intolerance or allergy to fish – so you eliminate all fish from your diet.  Bam, feel better, but never eat fish again.  No more sushi nights for you, right?

But what if your intolerance or allergy wasn’t to fish it all – it was to a compound found in the environments of Atlantic Cod fish, but not Nile Perch? (6)

Or you think that you’re going to have to live a life without ice cream – everytime you have some Americone Dream you’re running to the toilet 5 minutes later for a miserable half hour of digestive rioting.  (Worth it for ice cream, maybe?)

But actually you’re just allergic to Carrageenan – thank goodness you went to the doctor to figure that out and now you can enjoy some Stonyfield ice cream in peace.

Okay, so you go to the doctor to get tested for a food sensitivity.  That’s the way to actually find out exactly what’s going on, right?

Maybe….but then again maybe not.

Diagnosing is hard.  Some people won’t show the same symptoms as others, won’t have the same reactions on their skin or in their blood.  Some people can handle different dosages of a particular substance before symptoms show up.  On top of these difficulties, with all of the buzz about the dangers of dairy, gluten or <insert dietary fear du jour>, nocebo effect can be a plausible explanation for some patients’ symptoms.

Nocebo Effect: Negative reactions from a harmless substance as a result of a patient’s expectations about how the substance will affect him or her.

If there’s one thing I would like someone to take away from this post it would be this:

When it comes to food intolerances, sensitivites and how exactly they affect our system…we don’t really seem to know.  Not yet.

But there are steps that you can take to improve how you feel.  And this book actually does have some pretty good ideas for how to do so.  Unfortunately it’s presented in the context of massive weight loss and a manner that is anything but humble –

VirginDiet

and a little humility is exactly what’s needed when it comes to new fields like this.

In Part II I’ll include some choice quotes from the book on this subject so we can compare what we kinda know with what the book is trying to tell us.  Check back next week!

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Book Review: “The Virgin Diet” by JJ Virgin – Introduction

With The Virgin Diet, we’re getting into vastly different territory than Harper’s books.  Some challenges we’ll be facing include:

  • Little to no citations for claims, making our job of verifying information a lot tougher.
  • Venturing into some new, tricky, and controversial topics like food intolerance – where finding appropriate studies will be very difficult.
  • Legitimate points entangled with and lost in an underlying premise of exceptional fat loss.

But first, let’s meet our author. JJ Virgin is a Certified Nutrition Specialist and a Certified Healing Foods Specialist.  She graduated from UCLA in 1985 with a bachelor’s in English.  For two years (2005-2007) she was the nutrition expert on the “Dr. Phil Show”, made appearances on “Extreme Makeover”, and is the co-star of TLC’s “Freaky Eaters.” She’s authored two books, Six Weeks to Sleeveless and Sexy (2010), and The Virgin Diet (2012) and as well is a frequent contributor to The Huffington Post, Livestrong, and Prevention Magazine.

Note on Education & Certifications

JJVirginFakePhD

Her name often appears with a “Ph.D” next to it in her online contributions and first book.  However it is ominously missing from the front of her latest book.  A bit of digging reveals the Ph.D is from a non-accredited online program – which is to say, a much less rigorous program than the Ph.D you would normally think of.  As well, it has no obligation or oversight to provide sound, scientifically proven education.

As in, the curriculum can be made up and based on nothing.

Regarding certifications, in the United States, “nutritionist” is an unregulated term.  To be fair to JJ, however, a cursory glance at the CNS certification seems rigorous and substantial.  There are plenty of legitimate issues to take with the steps needed to get become a Registered Dietitian, in which case a CNS seems like a great alternative. I cannot give a judgement on CHFS.  While my instinct is that it sounds bogus, I haven’t done near enough research on it to say for certain.

What is the Virgin Diet?

The tagline for this diet is “Drop 7 Foods, Lose 7 Pounds, Just 7 Days,” however it is a 21-day protocol. This diet is based on a few different concepts:

  • Food Intolerance is behind many conditions, such as aging, skin conditions, bloating, and weight gain that’s tough to lose.
  • There are a core seven groups of food that many people are “intolerant” to – their immune system believes them to be harmful and chronic ingestion of them will lead to chronic inflammation.
  • Going on an elimination diet – as in, eliminating certain food groups for a few weeks then adding them back in one at a time – will help you discover if food intolerance is causing your weight-loss woes.

The book then details the mechanisms behind food intolerance and how it causes the above symptoms.  It gives more information on the specifics of why each of the seven foods are more troublesome than others. Afterwards, you learn how to re-introduce the eliminated foods back into your diet, then how to sustain your weight loss and symptom relief for life.  The end of the book has a bunch of recipes that don’t contain the seven eliminated food groups.

This book is THICK and has A TON to go over.  So here’s how this critique is going to go down:

Part I – Food Intolerance: The Hidden Cause of Weight Gain

“So listen up, because I’m about to share with you the secret to weight loss.

It isn’t calories.”

In Part I, we will give a brief overview of our current knowledge on “food intolerance.”  What is it, is it different from an allergy, how can you tell if you have one, what should you do about it?

Part II – Inflammation: Fanning the Flames

Is any of this actually true?  We'll go over it!

Is any of this actually true? We’ll go over it!

Here we’ll review what we know about chronic inflammation – a very buzz-worthy topic these days.  What IS inflammation, and why is it bad?  Is it really the cause of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, eczema and every other modern health problem ever?

Part III – Interpreting Testimonials

Each chapter ends with a very convincing-sounding testimonial.  In my Bullshit Detection book, I have an entire section dedicated to going over how testimonials and before & afters work, but this is a good chance to emphasize it!

Part IV – Chapter 2 and Beyond

From here on out we’ll go over the book chapter by chapter, section by section, just like we did with The Skinny Rules.  It will be MUCH easier to do with the framework of Parts I-III in place.

For now though, you’ve learned some interested facts about Virgin’s education history, controversial online education programs, and what’s coming up!

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A Few Updates & Announcements

I’ve made a few additions to the site so I figured I’d give some space to touch on them a bit:

Release of “Let’s Sharpen Our Bullshit Detectors!” – finally!

Mouse on over to the sidebar or the “Free Fitness Industry Guidebook” tab to download your copy!  No email address, you won’t get added to any unwanted newsletters, just click to download.

This one has been a long time in the making and I’m already thinking forward to something much larger.  I must have cut out at least 20 pages of material just to trim it down to a reasonable size.  In any case, I put a fair amount of time into this one so please let me know what you think once you get through it – and if you enjoyed it pass it along to a friend.  I encourage sharing.

Next on the chop block: “The Virgin Diet” by JJ Virgin

Tactful title, don't you think?

Tactful title, don’t you think?

This one is going to be a lot of work.  I’ve only gotten through the first 2 chapters so far and there’s a lot to learn as well as a lot to critique already.

The premise is that the root of all our weight woes is food intolerance.  A lofty claim with a lot of smaller parts that each need to be addressed.  I was spoiled by Harper’s books since he would provide references to many of his claims – no such luck here.  I foresee a lot of time exploring PubMed in my future.

I’ll probably be needing to get some outside help on this one, so if you are or know anyone who would be a good source for information on:

  • Gut bacteria
  • IBS
  • ‘Anti-nutrients’ such as gluten and lectin
  • Inflammation

and would be willing to help out, let’s get in touch!

Openings for Online Training

There’s another shiny new tab at the top – I’m opening up some time to take on a few more online clients, hooray!

While in the past I’ve taken clients for almost any goal, I’d really like to start fine-tuning and tailoring my approach.  I’m looking for beginner clients – ones who don’t have a ton of experience with training and exercise, maybe having never even stepped foot in a gym!

Since it’s fairly niche, I’m always looking for other online providers to refer out to if someone who inquires isn’t a good match.

In any case, that about wraps up my announcements for now!  Let’s close out with one of my favorite puppy videos:

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Alliteration makes it true! Get a ‘Bombshell Bikini Body’ in 14 Days with Tracy Anderson: Part III

Read Part I and Part II of this review.

Finally down to the LAST segment here of what has become an unexpectedly long review of a very short spread in Cosmo UK.

Before we start reviewing this last segment, I noted that all of the pictures from Anderson’s blog have been removed for some reason.  So, I took the liberty of searching around for cached pictures and uploaded them to imgur.  We’ll be focusing on the last page today.

Get Gwyneth Paltrow’s Legs

Anderson has often stated that repetitive exercises, like running or biking will ‘bulk’ your legs.  This leads to some confusion because of her usual suggestions.  How much repetition is too much by her standards?

After all, she’d like for you to work up to doing 80 reps of each exercise (I’m assuming 80 reps per leg), would that be better or worse than taking 160 steps running?  You could obviously argue that the impact from running causes a stronger adaptation in your legs, bulking them – so what about biking?  is 160 rotations on a bike more or less likely to bulk than the exercises she gives in this section?

I suppose I’m being overly critical since almost no one is just going to take 160 steps or 160 rotations, but you can question the principle.

In any case, just take a look at some marathon runners to see that running a lot of miles doesn’t automatically ‘bulk’ your legs:

Such bulk.  Much muscle.  Wow.

Such bulk. Much muscle. Wow.

And an endurance cyclist for good measure:

Here are the things a person needs to do in order to put massive bulk on their legs:

  1. Eat a caloric surplus – this is a must.  If you are eating less calories than you burn throughout the day, your body isn’t going to put a lot of resources into building NEW muscle.  It must devote all of its energy to keeping your current body functioning.  As well, a good portion of said calories need to be protein.
  2. Train in a way that promotes muscle growth – this will typically be lifting weights that are difficult to do in a ~12-20 rep range.  Definitely not endurance running, definitely not long distance cycling, and for most all women not lifting heavy shit for less than 10 reps.  However, if condition #1 above is not being met, this point doesn’t matter.
  3. Get enough sleep – good for a lot of things, like optimizing muscle growth.

Do all those though, and it’s still going to be very, very difficult to put on a noticeable amount of muscle if you’re not really trying at it.  You will never just wake up one day and look like a body builder on accident.

Secret Move #1 – The Frog Cross Leg Lift

“…stimulates the accessory muscles – key to pulling in the larger ones.”

Even if working your “accessory” muscles (not sure what this term is supposed to mean) could pull in muscles five times their size, this exercise is working some very large muscle groups, such as your glutes and thighs.  This exercise is basically like a lying clamshell followed by a lying hip abduction.  Big, powerful muscles being worked here!  So again, I ask, WHAT accessory muscles?  What defines an accessory muscle?

The second ‘secret’ move worked the same large muscles as the first.  Nothing special here.

Gym / Fridge Friend

Our gym friend is the bike – with the stipulation that you shouldn’t “overdo” it.  If overdoing it on the bike leads to massive bulk, it would certainly be nice to know what ‘overdoing it’ actually means.  Does it mean you shouldn’t bike for more than 30 minutes?  That you should keep it under a certain number of rotations per minute?  Not to bike up hills or at a higher resistance?  Can you do intervals?

My advice – just do what you like.  Remember that if you’re not following the 3 muscle-building musts outlined above, you won’t be able to build much muscle.

Our fridge friends are a random assortment of high fiber foods because,

“High-fibre foods boost metabolism…”

It’s possible that foods that are high in fiber take a little more energy to digest than say, pure fat.  However just know that the calories of fiber have already been taken out on your food labels.

Go ahead and do the math. 1g carb/protein = 4 calories. 1g fat = 9 calories. So, (1×9) + (25×4) + (2×4) = 117 calories. But the label says 60! Well, 14g of fiber, so: 117-(14×4) = 61. Pretty cool.

As well, I’ve been unable to find any studies to substantiate the claims of “negative” or “zero” calorie foods like celery.  The claim is that they take more energy to digest than they give – haven’t been able to find anything to back that up.  If you find something, let me know.

In any case, for most people eating fiber is a good plan – it’s satiating so you’ll end up eating less calories, and it might even help you poop.  Woohoo!

The Secret Celebrity Trainers DON’T Want You to Know!

(Yes, that headline is very, very tongue-in cheek)

I’ve had many criticisms of my criticisms of celebrity trainers.  I’ve been told I’m just jealous and hating on their success, that not everyone wants to be a bodybuilder, that they personally really enjoy their workouts and DVDs, etc, etc.

The only one that really bothers me, though, are comments like “the proof is in the pudding!  If her methods don’t work, why are all of her clients so small?”

Stick with me here, I’m going to drop a bomb:

Her clients already looked small before they ever even heard of her.

Yes, this is the key to being a successful model or actress – you must already look amazing.

Don’t believe me?  Anderson’s first superstar client was Madonna around 2007.  Here is Madonna in 2005 vs. 2010:

Looks about the same to me.

Looks about the same to me.

What about some of her other clients?  Let’s look at Gwyneth Paltrow:

Paltrow

Shakira became a client more recently:

Shakira

You know the show America’s Next Top Model?  All the girls on there are gorgeous.  They were gorgeous before being models, they’ll continue being gorgeous after becoming models regardless of if they pick up a “trainer to the stars” or not.

Conclusion

I’m not trying to discount the hard work any of these ladies probably put in to maintain their figure.  But the moral of the story is that Anderson didn’t ‘make’ their bodies.  She didn’t give them their figure.  She’s not defying their genetics.  I would say that her success is actually because of their genetics.

Thus concludes my first Anderson rant of 2014.  Hopefully I won’t have to do more – but I probably will.

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Alliteration makes it true! Get a ‘Bombshell Bikini Body’ in 14 Days with Tracy Anderson: Part II

In our last segment we went over the introduction and first segment of a Cosmo UK spread telling us how to best get a beautiful bangin’ bombshell bootylicious bikini bod in a mere two weeks.

Bangin’ Burger Bikini Body

If that sounds too good to be true, it’s because it is.  Let’s delve into why in Part II of our investigation:

Get Jennifer Lopez’s Abs

“Tracy says plain crunches won’t work; some smarter moves are required…”

Here’s the deal on exercising to get great abs:

You could be doing the best exercises for abdominal activation in the world, but it wouldn’t matter if you don’t lose the fat along with increasing the muscle.  Now, to be fair, the introduction to this article states you are to be eating 1,200 calories per day – anyone will lose weight on that.  (Not that I advocate eating that little) For most women, this would be enough to get closer to the abdominal muscles they want.

Tracy is also correct that plain crunches don’t do a lot for your abdominals.

But, heavy squats and deadlifts activate various core muscles better than other bodyweight “ab” exercises like a sideplank.  (After all, your abs are a big player in keeping you upright during these lifts, as opposed to crumpling over that heavy weight on your back or in your hands) As well, doing certain exercises on an unstable surface doesn’t seem to be doing us many favors either.

Here’s an important question to ask yourself: What are you trying to accomplish with these ab exercises?

After all, 80 reps of any fancy ab exercise isn’t going to build you much muscle.  And you’re not going to spot-reduce away your belly fat.  So what are these abdominal exercises really accomplishing?

Maybe they’re burning a few calories.  Maybe if you were completely sedentary before, 80 reps would build a little bit of muscle – but probably nothing that would cause a big visible difference.

Here are a few reasons to do abdominal-isolation exercises:

  1. To increase your core strength – so you’d want to stick on the lower end of repetitions if that was your goal.
  2. For aesthetics – if you’re at a low body fat percentage already (or plan to be) and want bigger abdominal muscles.  You still wouldn’t be doing 80 repetitions in a row for this.
  3. Physical therapy – many people who suffer from lower back pain go through a progression of core-strengthening exercises (most all of which involve your abdominals) to return to function.  Still not doing 80 reps in a row.

My advice for exercises to get better looking abs are to supplement heavy squats and deadlifts with abdominal isolation exercises that are difficult to complete in the 12-15 rep range.

In any case, there is nothing secret about the two moves presented here.  They’re just a couple of exercises that activate your abdominals.  You could accomplish the same thing with a variety of other moves as well.

Gym Friend / Food Friend

Our gym friend is swimming and the treadmill.  Perhaps because you need to be at a caloric deficit to reveal your abs, and exercise can help accomplish that?  Don’t see much of any other reason.

Our fridge friends are cherries, red grapes and blueberries.

“The chemicals responsible for their colouring are anthocyanins, which, according to research, can burn abdominal fat.”

There have been a couple of studies showing that, in obese rats, fed either a very high-fat or very low-fat diet, consumption of blueberries or cherries appear to reduce markers for various metabolic diseases and a decrease in abdominal fat when compared to an equal-calorie control group.  (Well, the link about the blueberry study doesn’t specify if the control group had an equal-calorie diet, but I’ll assume they did.)

Unfortunately, rat metabolism can differ from human metabolism.  Truly all we know right now is put quite succinctly in the conclusion of one of the studies:

“In conclusion, in at-risk obese rats fed a high fat diet, physiologically relevant tart cherry consumption reduced several phenotypes of metabolic syndrome and reduced both systemic and local inflammation.  Tart cherries may reduce the degree or trajectory of metabolic syndrome, thereby reducing risk for the development of type 2 diabetes and heart disease.”

So, eat cherries and blueberries if you like them – but I wouldn’t count on it to make a large difference in your abdominal fat.  (But, on the other hand, it might – we really don’t know one way or the other!)

Get Jennifer Aniston’s Arms

“If I’m working with someone who needs to see some results fast, I will focus on their arms because they really don’t take long to show results,” Tracy says.

This can be true, especially if you have a client roster like Tracy’s – people who are already pretty thin and lean.  For most women, the arms and upper body in general don’t hold much fat relative to the lower body. (Minus the girls, of course.) So you’re already 50% of the way to toned / firm / sculpted / shapely / whatever buzzword you want to use arms.  The other 50% is just adding some muscle.

Michelle Obama arms

How to get firmer arms: Step 1 – Have little bodyfat Step 2 – Have some muscle

Both of the moves Anderson gives work large muscle groups – exactly what she says will cause bulk.

“Tracy says using small weights in different rotations is the key to great arms.”

The only key to ‘great’ (by which we are to understand, means small with low body fat) arms are Step 1 and Step 2 outlined above.  You could accomplish that with no weights and just do bodyweight resistance exercises like push-ups, or you could accomplish it with heavy bench or overhead press.  Doing 100 repetitions of overhead press with 3 pound dumbbells is essentially like doing cardio on an ergometer, except less shoulder-friendly.

Gym / Fridge Friend

Our gym friends are the rowing machine or arm bike (the ergometer like I linked above).  I’m surprised that Anderson is okay with these, considering she is often quoted as saying running will bulk your legs.  So wouldn’t an arm bike bulk your arms by that same logic?

Anyway, if you’re going at an easy pace, whether or not you use your arms in your cardio doesn’t matter that much.  The only thing you’re looking to accomplish here is burning overall calories – you can’t spot reduce arm fat by using them during lifting or cardio.  If you’re doing high-intensity intervals it’s a little different, but for the most part just do what you enjoy if you’re looking to get a little extra calorie burn in.  I’d suggest walking the dog or playing with the kids!

Our fridge friends are eggs, salmon and lean meat.

“Flabby arms can be due to low testosterone.  Good fats in eggs, organic salmon and lean meats can help.”

If I’m reading this correctly, Cosmo is admitting that saturated fat is not a ‘bad’ fat like it has so often been labeled, which is awesome!  Yay!  (Chicken and eggs contain saturated fat)

Moving on to flabby arms being due to low testosterone – I’m uncertain what they are basing this off of, but my guess is it’s off Charles Poliquin’s Biosignature method.  (Which has a wonderful, in-depth critique here)

How hormones control fat distribution according to the Biosignature Method. (Which bear in mind has a ton of flaws)

In any case, there isn’t much clear-cut evidence for low testosterone causing you to store an abnormal amount of fat on your arms.  Your best bet based on what we know now is to just lose overall bodyfat and gain muscle in your arms.

However, eating the ‘fridge friends’ above can absolutely help you with that – they’re great sources of protein which can help you build lean muscle as well as keep your calories down.  And most importantly, they’re delicious.

We’ll finally conclude this in Part III.  I really only intended this to be one post, but apparently there’s a lot to say on a simple two-page spread!

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