Nov 19, 2011

Eating to Live vs. Living to Eat: Part I - A Primer

There are so many "diets" out there these days. Omnivore. Vegetarian. Vegan. Clean. Paleolithic.  Obviously I am not speaking about fad diets, but rather our preferred diet as a lifestyle.  Which brings me to the topic of eating for life, versus living to eat. 

When we live to eat we are ignoring the makeup of the foods we consume and are focused on the sensory experience.  The taste, the feel, the smell, even the sound.  Eating encompasses so many senses no wonder it is something that we enjoy.  Aside from NEEDING to eat in order to live, we tend to focus on food as some object to have to consume.  We do not tend to think of it as fuel for our bodies. 

I am learning that the first step in correcting eating habits is to start to think of food in terms of fuel and nutrients.  This does not mean that I cannot still enjoy food.  It just means that I am starting to think about what is in the food I eat, where it comes from, and how my body is going to use it.  

What is this food giving me aside from a full sensory experience? Aside from comfort?  Aside from pleasure?  Can my body use the nutrients within to thrive, or is it merely going to survive?

Our bodies need both macro- and micro-nutrients in order to perform at peak levels, in order to thrive,  and I am not speaking about sports performance.  The micro-nutrients are found within in the foods we eat and supplement with.  What we generically call food, science calls a combination of the macro-nutrients: fat, carbohydrate, and protein. 

And yes, contrary to certain fad diets we do indeed require all three in balance for optimal health.  The reason for this is due to how foods break down into our bodies, and how our bodies utilize these components which are the building blocks of a solid body.

Fundamentally speaking if all three nutrients are abundant in the diet, carbohydrates and fats will be used primarily for energy while proteins provide the raw materials for making hormones, muscle, and other essential biological equipment. If one of the three is missing or lacking, or one is in overabundance, this process is altered and it shows in our physique. 

Back in the early days of mankind, we were hunter-gatherers.  We had very limited resources for food options and had to work hard to fill our bellies.  Today, calories are mostly cheap and plentiful, perhaps too much so.  Long gone are the days of having to earn our food.  We do not have to run after a hamburger and pizza is delivered right to our doors. Understanding what the basic macro-nutrients have to offer can help us make better choices when it comes to our own diets.

From the moment a bite of food enters the mouth, each bit of nutrition within starts to be broken down for use by the body. Convenient, eh? One thing that I have learned is that our bodies are nothing if not efficient and highly adaptable.  This is a blessing and a curse. 

I find myself asking the question that if it is so easy, then why are we still a nation of obese people?  Scratch that.  If it is so easy then why am I still fat?  Assuming that I am at the peak of my physical outputs and focusing on the nutritional topic, there must be some common problems that active people face in reducing their body fat.  

Well, guess what?  There is. That commonality lies within the fact that for some reason we seem to not quite understand what food really is. 

Think about that.  I did.  It scared me. 

We have to eat every day to survive, yet we do not understand what we are putting into our mouths. That is sad. And frightening.

I found a great article on this very topic over on Beginner Triathlete by Ken Mierke.  He explained it better than I ever could, so here is what he has to say on the topic of these macro-nutrients. 
Examples of the macro-nutrients

Calories consumed in the form of protein may be used to repair tissues (such as muscle), be used as fuel, or be stored as fat (significant protein will be stored as fat only in extreme cases of over-consumption). This is unlikely. People are not overweight from over-consumption of protein. Athletes trying to decrease bodyfat should eat a lot of protein. I recommend about 0.6 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight.

Under-consumption of protein, on the other hand, may lead to muscle atrophy, which results in decreased metabolic rate, which results in fat storage. Eating enough protein, spread throughout the day, maintains muscle mass and keeps metabolic rate high. This is one key to long-term weight management.   

Calories consumed in the form of carbohydrates may be kept in the blood where they can be used as a fuel source, they can be stored in the muscles as glycogen, or be stored as fat. Two of three results of eating carbohydrate are good. The important point is that which of these results occurs is largely under our control. How our bodies use carbohydrates is affected by when we consume them, which types of carbohydrates we choose, as well as what other foods are eaten together with the carbohydrates. 

Carbohydrates are necessary for burning fat. Avoiding carbohydrates is absolutely not the answer to anyone’s weight management problems.Nobody ever got any leaner by depleting carbohydrate storage. Incorporating carbohydrates into a nutrition plan in such a way that they are used as fuel instead of stored as fat is the answer.
Calories consumed in the form of fat may be kept in the blood until they are burned or stored as fat. Most fat calories consumed will end up in fat storage. Unlike protein and carbohydrate consumption, increasing fat consumption has very little effect on metabolic rate. Basically, eating too much fat makes you fat (as well as other health destroying consequences).   

So,  if we eat an extra 100 calories of protein at breakfast, and none of it is stored as fat, this is a good thing.  That protein helps prevent carbohydrate consumed with it from being stored as fat (yay) , triggers feelings of satiety (yay), increases resting metabolic rate (yay!), and maintains muscle mass (yay!!). 

The first step in shifting the food paradigm is to understand what food is.  Hopefully this primer was a first step and inspired the desire to learn more.  I am researching the calorie in - calorie out paradigm and will post up my findings and thoughts under Eating to live vs. Living To Eat: Part II - Caloric inequalities.

The Challenge... Week 3 Wrap Up

This post also comes on the eve of the wrap up for week 3 in the challenge.  If you are in the challenge feel free to post up your progress or email it to me.  If you are interested in joining the challenge let me know!  Every day take time to educate and give back to yourself.  What takes time to develop will only give back to you in the future. Consider the development of these healthy habits today an investment in your future.  

Knowledge gained and action taken are deposits into the bank account of life. 

1 comment:

Joe T. said...

Still on track for my challenge. Been doing core work and/or running daily, including the weekly Tuesday night Boot Camp butt kicking. I can tell the boot camp workouts are really good for me, but will have to make them up somehow over the winter without an instructer to drive me.