It’s spring, which quickly leads to summer, so naturally many of us are thinking more and more about losing that winter weight and shaping up for the season, as is our annual custom. But this year, let’s try to implement our strategy differently and more effectively. Here’s help. Personal trainer and fitness expert Daniel Reynen is the author of the controversial new book The Diet Is Dead: Why Traditional Diets Fail and How You Can Succeed. This guy is seriously down on diets and dieting, and all for healthy and lasting lifestyle changes. And he’s a firm believer that there are four pillars to any weight-loss program that guarantee success. End of story. They are: behavior shifts, assessment, monitoring, and ongoing support. Reynen really tells it like it is (which we appreciate), so I asked him five pointed questions about dieting and weight-loss myths, strategies, and techniques that he brings up in his book:
You mention the “workout enigma.” Is it true that exercise doesn’t make certain people fitter, no matter how hard they work out?
The workout enigma was our response to an article in The New York Times. In that article, author Gretchen Reynolds made several outrageous statements that ignored the facts. The most glaringly inaccurate was when she said, “…there are those who just do not become fitter or stronger, no matter what exercise they undertake.” Her story was based on a study conducted at the University of Jyväskylä in Finland.
I ordered a copy of the study. In it, the authors said that every single person in the group who did both strength and endurance training saw improvement. Some only improved their strength, some only improved their cardio, but they all showed improvement in some area. There were no “negative responders.”
That wasn’t the case for people who did only strength or only cardio. Some of them did regress. Years ago I used to see that in my personal training practice as well. So I started making sure all my clients did both strength and endurance training. Then they all saw results, but for some it was only in a single area, the same as the Finland study. I spent three years charting the differences to figure out the problem. It always boiled down to one thing: The failure was always in what and when they ate.
Failure to prepare your body before you work out leaves you weak and unable to get an effective workout. And failure to properly nourish it after a workout can dramatically decrease your ability to add muscle. It was only when I became diligent about tracking my clients pre- and post-workout meals that I was able to guarantee results from everybody, for every type of exercise. Appropriate exercise is half the equation. Proper nutrition — at the right times — is the other half.
I’ve always been pro-multivitamin. What are the cons associated with taking a daily multivitamin?
Up until four years ago I told every client that a good multivitamin was a reasonable thing. I, too, was a faithful customer. But the first bombshell dropped in 2006, when the National Institutes of Health in their State-of-the-Science Statement concluded that, “the present evidence is insufficient to recommend either for or against the use of MVMs (multivitamins) by the American public to prevent chronic disease.” That was certainly bad news for the vitamin companies, but it only got worse. In 2009, researchers from the Women’s Health Initiative published the results of a long-term study of 160,000 midlife women. The study began in 1993 and data was collected through 2005. In the end the researchers said that, “[the] study provided convincing evidence that multivitamin use has little or no influence on the risk of common cancers, CVD [Cardiovascular Disease], or total mortality in post-menopausal women.” That means if you’re taking a daily multivitamin not prescribed by your doctor for a specific condition, you’re wasting your money. You may also be putting your health at risk. Which brings me to the next fact you need to know:
Multivitamins taken daily may be dangerous to your health. In 2007, the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) published a paper titled, “Mortality in Randomized Trials of Antioxidant Supplements for Primary and Secondary Prevention.” Medical researchers wanted to see what all those pills with antioxidants were doing to us. They looked at 68 randomized trials with 232,606 participants. What they found was that people who took the antioxidant supplements, beta carotene, vitamin A, and vitamin E experienced greater mortality than people who took a placebo. Simply put, people who took antioxidant supplements died sooner than people who didn’t. Dozens of studies still show that eating foods high in antioxidants are good for you, but getting antioxidants in pill form is dangerous.
That leads me to the next important fact: Multivitamins and antioxidant pills do not prevent heart disease. In May 2010, the American Heart Association stated that, “healthy people [should] get adequate nutrients by eating a variety of foods in moderation, rather than by taking supplements.” Long-term studies showed no benefit was derived from a daily pill regimen. That position is shared by the American College of Cardiology. The final important thing you need to know is that multivitamins and antioxidant supplements do not protect against cancer. In 2009, the Division of Public Health Sciences, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center concluded that, “The Women’s Health Initiative study provided convincing evidence that multivitamin use has little or no influence on the risk of common cancers…” The American Cancer Society agrees, recommending that we eat, “…a variety of healthful foods — with most of them coming from plant sources — rather than relying on supplements.”
The problem is this: Supplement companies don’t have to test their products for safety and they don’t have to prove that they’re helpful. The only real responsibilities they have are to their bottom line and their investors. Rather than being the helpful little pills that give our bodies an extra boost, in study after study, multivitamins have been shown to be useless or potentially dangerous. I can’t in good conscience tell my clients to pay good money for something that offers no benefit and may kill them sooner. After reading this, you may think that I’m against vitamins of any kind, but that’s not true. There are several cases where individual vitamins can help correct imbalances. Pre-natal vitamins for expectant women have proven to be very beneficial. The same is true if you’ve been diagnosed with low levels of a specific vitamin and are taking a doctor-prescribed supplement such as D, folate, omega-3, calcium, or iron.
But taking a daily multivitamin pill for good health? No. It’s a waste of time, money, and may kill you sooner. Quit doing it. That’s not my opinion; those are just the simple facts. (By saying this, I realize tjat I give up millions of potential dollars in vitamin endorsements. I’m okay with that. I’d rather give advice that helps people live longer than make a quick buck on dead people.)
Wow. Here, here! Okay, I drink a fair number of protein shakes and like to think I’m doing my body a service by doing so. But what are the real health drawbacks of protein shakes?
A typical protein shake can be a very good thing, but you have to watch out for the “extras.” Protein shakes by themselves tend to be bland or bad, so companies jazz them up with sugary fruit juices, fats like peanut butter, and high-calorie shots of coconut or chocolates. Getting a protein smoothie from your typical juice bar can be a frightening nutritional experience. I sent undercover buyers to five different smoothie places outside of gyms. The buyers were told to order the bestselling “protein shake.” What they gave us averaged 677 calories (a big meal), 70 grams of sugar (your entire day’s supply), and 58 grams of fat (the same as two McDonald’s Big Macs). These were not healthy choices. Take in too much sugar and your body will convert the excess to fat. Take in too much fat and it slows down your digestion so your body doesn’t get the protein it needs as quickly after a workout. Drink too many calories and even though you’re working out, you’ll end up bigger than when you started.
For healthy protein shakes, the rules are simple:
A. Limit the calories. Only eat as much as you’ve budgeted for.
B. Keep sugar to no more than 1 gram per 40 calories.
C. Don’t let fat exceed more than 20% of the total calories.
I like to think I’m pretty savvy when it comes to reading nutritional labels. But what are the top three things I’m missing when I scan them?
A. Trans fats. Companies are allowed to claim “zero trans fat” if the amount is 0.5 grams per serving or less. Unfortunately, the National Institutes of Health has determined that there are no safe levels of trans fats in the diet. When you’re eating from one of these food groups, (cookies, cakes, muffins, crackers, or pastries) look for the words, “partially hydrogenated oils, shortening, interesterified, or stearate-rich.” Those are all code words for hidden trans-fast. If you see those in an ingredient list, put the product back on the shelf.
B. Salt is everywhere. A simple way to see if the levels are reasonable is to compare the milligrams to calories. The milligrams of sodium shouldn’t exceed the calorie number. Here’s how it works. We’re allowed to eat between 2,000 and 2,400 calories a day. If the milligrams of salt equaled the calories, at the end of the day you won’t have eaten more than 2,400 milligrams of sodium. That’s right in line with the dietary recommendations.
C. Don’t count carbohydrates; count sugar. Fiber is something most Americans need more of in their diet, but fiber is a carbohydrate. People who obsess about carbs end up putting higher-fiber foods away and are ultimately hurting themselves. It’s the simple sugars that are killing us. So ignore the carbs, and try to limit sugar to no more than 1 gram per 40 calories. When everything else is equal, choose the food with more fiber in it.
Why can’t people realize that diet and dieting are counter-productive terms that will never actually help them lose weight? And what will it take to change their minds?
An amazing 95% of diets fail. Would you go to a school and spend thousands of dollars on an education if you had only a 5% chance of graduating? Of course not! But Americans want a quick fix. We want a body makeover that succeeds in under a week, abs we can sculpt in less than ten minutes, and a diet that allows us to eat cookies while the pounds melt away. Those things are all fantasy but they sound so much better than the work that’s required. Here’s the reality:
Psychologists have identified two primary ways to make successful long-term changes. The first way is through a traumatic event. The death of a loved one, a life-threatening illness, the beginning or end of a relationship, a change in jobs, a natural catastrophe, or a move are all things that shake people out of their comfort zone. When something traumatic happens, you’re forced to do things differently. People who survive the trauma are often able to redefine themselves and make significant changes. But before you start plotting the “lose weight through disaster” diet, there is another way, which is through small steps. Good habits are built, much like buildings, one brick at a time; they don’t magically appear. For most people, there are just too many habits to break all at once to make a big resolution stick. But if you break them down into something manageable and decide to make just one change at a time, your chances for success rise dramatically. Take small bites, as your mother may have said the first time you had spaghetti noodles hanging from your mouth.
Here’s how: Start by picking a single healthy pledge for yourself. Get a card and write it down. Now you’re going to concentrate on that one thing and work at it until you’re comfortable and it’s become as much a routine as eating or sleeping. Here’s why it works: Carrying around that reminder every day, you’ll be reading what you’re supposed to do and why you’re taking action. You’ve identified what needs to change. After 30 days, you’ve turned that one small step into a habit. Then, pick one more small thing and spend the next 30 days making that a habit. We’re trying to get the message out by posting healthy tips, recipes, and exercises (all free!) on our website, Twitter and Facebook pages. Every day we’re giving people ideas about things they can do to start living a healthier life. Americans love shortcuts, but they love results even more. As people start getting healthier, they’ll tell their friends, and the message will spread. That’s our belief.
Daniel Reynen is the author of The Diet Is Dead: Why Traditional Diets Fail and How You Can Succeed. As President of WeBeFit Personal Training, Reynen is a member of the Key West Chamber of Commerce and the Key West Business Guild. An award-winning businessman, Reynen is an Aerobics and Fitness Association of America (AFAA) Certified Personal Trainer, and has published fitness and weight loss content for nearly a decade. He received a B.A. in Communications from University of Iowa. Like Daniel on Facebook or follow him on Twitter at @WeBeFit.