Friday, March 9, 2012

You are What You Eat - Maybe, More than You Think!

I learned a new word yesterday, "Obesogens". I first read it in an article in The Atlantic talking about how certain chemical compounds in our food, even in micro amounts, are possibly contributing to the over-weight and obesity epidemic in North America. The article is here. It's an interesting and thought provoking read. I would like to thank Professional Triathlete, and sometime race announcing colleague and friend, Jordan Rapp for bringing it to my attention.

Engaging and lengthy threads discussing the content of The Atlantic article sprung up on each of both Jordan and my Facebook pages after first Jordan and then myself posted it up.

There is no doubt that it's a complicated issue with many factors contributing to a persons weight gain and weight loss. One fact is clear - in North America in particular, we are getting bigger and bigger, with a large percentage of the population over-weight or obese, and a growing number becoming morbidly obese!

It's an oversimplification, but many believe that weight gain and weight loss is directly related to the calculus of calories-in and calories-out. If you believe that, you are possibly only partly right. For sometime scientists and nutritional scientists have known that there are chemical compounds, in foods, some/many, introduced in the growth, production and storage of those foods, that have impacts on the bodies own internal chemical systems, such as the endocrine system, which in turn regulates, the calories-in/calories-out balance. It's a valid question to ask and to challenge the agricultural industry and business, why are these chemical compounds in our food in the first place?

The old adage was that if you wanted to lose weight - eat less and be more active. However, for some, that does not work. The Atlantic article claims that for these folks, these "obesogens" may potentially over-ride, the bodies caloric balancing mechanisms and despite best efforts at diet modification and physical activity, a person will still gain weight!

They have come to this conclusion based on isolating some of these so called "obesogens" and also discounting, the popular claim that much of the overweight and obesity epidemic in North America, can be attributed to the fact that we eat more and are less active - That in fact, caloric consumption is about the same as it was many years ago and that activity levels are also the same, and perhaps even higher! It's these two claims, that I find, albeit from my own anectdotal observation, but also backed up by other authors on the subject such as Michael Pollan, strange and out of synch.

From what I have seen in my life, meal portion sizes in North America have increased substantially, and people are far less physically active. A generation ago, as kids, we walked everywhere - to/from school, to friends houses, to the store and to the playground. These days, kids and every one else, walks, very little. Sure there is an obsession amongst a select group of people to be physically active and train and exercise, but overall, we seem to be far less active in our lives.

It's my personal belief that the calories-in/calories-out equation is still important - if you start out, as Pollon suggests, "Eat[ing] food. Not too much. Mostly plants", and are physically active in your daily life, there is a very good chance that you will not put on massive amounts of weight. The claim, that "obesogens" in our food is causing us to get fat, while potentially true, puts us in dangerous territory, of giving the already overweight and the obese another excuse, to not do anything about their weight and health.

If you are reading my blog, you are very likely an endurance athlete - with daily physical activity levels way above, even what is suggested for "normal" health. You are also, conscious to obsessed, with what you eat, and probably strive to eat as healthy a diet as you can. The thing to remember is that we are not normal. Indeed, both Jordan and I, at 6'2" and about 155 lbs each, soaking wet - classic ectomorphs, thanks to our genetics - are not to be believed when it comes to these sorts of things. "You have no idea", many will say with a degree of incredulity. And they are probably right. I know that I could sit on the couch for a week eating only Oreos, and barely gain an ounce! When I stopped racing triathlon at a serious level, a number of years ago, and cut back on the amount I trained dramatically, I lost weight!

So perhaps there are people at the other end of the spectrum, who no matter what, are more inclined to put on weight, and that, these "Obesogens" in our food, drive that equation even further, negating the calories-in/calories-out calculus. If these foreign chemical compounds are in our food as a result of the foods production, why are they there?

What do you think? What has been your experience with food, with weight and your diet?

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Thursday, March 1, 2012

On Being a Triathlete & Seasonal Plans

Finish line scene at Ironman Canada

There is a trend in the sport amongst the recreational crowd, that I find curious - putting all your eggs in one race basket. Typically, these days it's putting all your focus on one big long race, and these days this is very often an Ironman. It's reached the point that I heard of athletes suffering post-Ironman depression - seriously!

It's natural that after a big goal has been achieved, that there is a bit of a let-down. Nothing wrong with this. This is a common occurrence in all manner of things we do in our lives.

To counter this, my suggestion would be to be a triathlete. Even more, be an athlete! If you are a true triathlete you are a jack-of-all-trades endurance athlete. Your range of things that you can do as an endurance athlete is wide. So why focus and obsess on just one event?

My suggestion would be to do two things:

1. Revel in your endurance athlete range, ability and endurance.

2. It sounds cliche, but focus on and enjoy the process of being a triathlete.

Regarding #1 - As a triathlete you can swim, bike and run. You don't have to just race and do triathlons. You have three times the events to look forward to and do, verses the single sport athlete.

Regarding #2 - If you really enjoy the journey and the process of being an athlete, the training, and everything that goes along with this, the goals will come.

Its OK to have a big season end goal - I am not advising against that. What I would recommend is that you have small goals along the way - smaller, other races, perhaps even single sport races and events leading up to the season ending race. Then, if the season-ender does not go so well, you'll have a season long list of other races, and hopefully successes to look back on.

Also, take time to hone your game of being a triathlete, of being an athlete. "Success" in any endurance sport, does not come over night. It takes time to build up the base of fitness and experience to do well, so take the time to immerse yourself in the sport, or sports and enjoy the journey?

Hopefully, what all of this will do is, buffer you from a really big let-down and depression after the end of the season and that big goal race.

What is your main season goal? Do you have little goals along the way?

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