Seasonal Affective Disorder

For all of my followers in the northeast United States, it’s that time of the year again!

The sun is rising late and setting early, the sky is cloudy, and the temperature is dropping. All this can contribute to a condition known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D.).

S.A.D. affects about 6% of the United States every year. Common symptoms may include oversleeping, low energy, carb cravings, poor focus, social withdrawal, lack of pleasure, and hopelessness.

It is believed that S.A.D. is caused by a lack of sunlight, resulting in a skewed circadian rhythm and lowered serotonin levels.

Fortunately, there are many things one can do to combat symptoms and improve their emotions and outlook.

The first step is to purchase a “lightbox” for light therapy. These emit a much brighter and whiter light than typical lamps. Exposure to this bright light, particularly first thing in the morning, will simulate the sunrise, improving serotonin production and establishing a healthy circadian rhythm.

I am in the process of purchasing such a light source and will provide a review of my personal experience with this protocol.

The second recommendation is to stay active. Find 30 to 60 minutes every day for exercise. Exercise is known to improve mood by providing a sense of success as well as releasing endorphins in the brain.

The last recommendation I can make is to eat healthy. This means starting your day with a large serving of protein and ending your day with a moderate serving of carbohydrates such as sweet potatoes or fruits. Adequate protein in the morning, and throughout the day, will provide the body and brain with amino acids necessary for healthy cognitive function and stable emotions. Carbs at night will help induce sleep and up-regulate serotonin production. Eat fewer carbs throughout the day to avoid blood sugar crashes, causing lethargy and furthering negative emotions.

Many people find success with certain supplements. I personally have tried 5-HTP (a serotonin precursor), GABA (a dopamine precursor), and melatonin (the brains natural sleep chemical). Thus far, the melatonin seems to be the most effective, but only at regulating proper sleep-wake cycles. I noticed no results from any other supplement, regardless of timing or dose.

I do increase my supplemental Vitamin D in the winter from 2,000 to 5,000 or 10,000 a day. I don’t notice a direct result from this but I’m lucky if I get 5 minutes of direct sunlight a day when the temperature drops below freezing. Sunlight is our only significant source of vitamin D, and low levels have been linked to depression as well as many physical conditions.

Finally, there is always the option of medications. If feelings of hopelessness or despair become strong enough, visit a doctor to discuss further options.

I will post a follow up after I experiment with light therapy / dawn simulation for a few weeks. Try these tactics and let me know if you have some of your own!

SAD

Meal Comparison, Part 3: Dinner

Today’s post will be the last side-by-side comparison of a Standard American Diet (S.A.D.) meal and a grain-free, unprocessed meal.

For Part 1, a breakfast comparison, click here. For Part 2, a lunch comparison, click here.

The healthy American dinner consists of:

Pasta1 cup whole wheat pasta (enriched)

1 cup generic tomato sauce

2 ounces low-fat ground turkey

1 cup skim milk (fortified & fortified)

1 brownie (using a recipe recommended by Ellie Kroger, Registered Dietician)

The whole foods meal contains:

Burgers

8 ounces ground beef (grass-fed)

½ avocado

1 cup asparagus

1 large sweet potato

Both meals provide 650 calories.

First, let’s look at the macronutrients and fatty acid profile:

. Total Carbs Fiber Net Carbs Protein Sat Fat Mono Fat Omega 3 Omega 6
S.A.D. Dinner 90 10 80 25 5 5 250 12500
Whole Foods 45 15 30 45 10 17 500 2000

As we saw in the previous comparisons, the S.A.D. meal provides almost 100 grams of carbs with only 10 grams of fiber and very little healthy fat. Even adding sweet potato to the grain-free dinner results in only 30 net carbs, fewer than half the carbs in the Standard American dinner.

The whole foods dinner offers a more adequate amount of healthy fat, particularly saturated and monounsaturated, aiding in absorption of vitamins, providing a stable energy source, and maintaining healthy cells.

Finally, the omega-3 to omega-6 ratio, which should ideally be close to 1-to-2, is 1-to-50 in the Standard American Diet meal. The tomato sauce and “healthy” brownie both contain canola oil, molecularly the same as corn oil, causing inflammation and cardiovascular disease.

Next is the vitamin content of both meals:

. Vit A Vit C Vit D Vit E Vit K Vit B6 Vit B12 Folate
S.A.D. Dinner 4500 20 0 3 30 0.5 1 50
Whole Foods 27000 42 0 7 83 2 5 180

No surprise here! Vegetables, meats, and healthy fats provide far more vitamins than refined grains, diary, and oils.

Finally, the mineral content of each meal:

. Calcium Iron Magnesium Potassium Zinc Copper Manganese Selenium
S.A.D. Dinner 570 5 150 1500 4 0.5 2 55
Whole Foods 130 10 150 2000 13 1 1 36

If you recall the previous comparisons, you’ll remember that grains and dairy provide more of certain nutrients.

The Standard American Diet provides more Manganese and Selenium, and ties for Magnesium. However, just a handful of nuts would close this gap and set the whole foods meal ahead in all categories.

In conclusion, the dinner based on whole foods provides more for the body, with less detriment, than the S.A.D. dinner.

I will do one more follow up post totaling the days’ worth of macro- and micro-nutrients. In the meantime, feel free to ask any questions about particular values, foods that may address shortcomings, or if you’d like me to analyze your own meal options.

Thanks for reading!

Epsom Salt Baths

Most times of the year, I schedule a workout 5 days a week. This gives me 3 or 4 days of strength training and 1 or 2 days of conditioning. Including a warm-up and cool-down, my workout takes just over one hour.

If I can find an hour everyday to workout, I can certainly find under an hour to go through some recovery techniques.

One recovery method previously discussed is foam rolling. Today, I’ll talk about my other favorite technique – taking an Epsom Salt bath.

Epsom salt consists of magnesium sulfate, a combination of magnesium, sulfur, and oxygen.

The planets water and soils used to contain far more magnesium, but due to overpopulation and unsustainable farming practices, the Earth’s stores have been greatly depleted. This in turn means that we are not consuming nearly as much magnesium as we once did.

Low magnesium levels can cause weakness, cramps, arrhythmias, anxiety, tremors, confusion, depression, hypertension, and seizures. Countless times I have seen clients eliminate foot cramps or difficulty sleeping by simply raising their magnesium levels.

Another cause of these symptoms is our high consumption of dairy and calcium fortified products. Magnesium and calcium work together in the body. Calcium causes muscles to contract while magnesium allows them to relax. Consuming massive amounts of calcium, without properly balancing magnesium levels accordingly, can contribute to tension, muscle tightness, and electrolyte imbalances.

Some choose to consume powdered or tablet forms of supplemental magnesium. Although this is effective for raising magnesium levels, oral bioavailability of magnesium varies greatly and high doses may have a laxative effect.

For this reason, on workout days, I spend a minimum of 15 minutes in a hot bath, with 1 cup of Epsom salt, before bed.

This is the perfect way to relax at the end of a long day. The hot water and magnesium relaxes the muscles while the still nature of the water and peaceful setting can greatly calm the mind.

Epsom salt is inexpensive and causes no dangerous side effects. The worst that may happen with soaking too long, or using excessive amounts of Epsom salt, would be lethargy or a heavy feeling in the limbs.

I have noticed that since I start incorporating this workout technique years ago, I recover from workouts sooner and fall asleep much faster.

Next time you’re at the store, spend a few dollars on a bag of Epsom salt and take a 15-minute bath that day. Let me know if your results are as worthwhile as mine!

Bath

One Size Fits All

In exercise and fitness training, a “one-size fits all” approach does not work.

This is one of my favorite aspects of being a personal trainer and health coach.

Every single day, I encounter something new. Whether it’s a client’s specific goal, preference, injury, or condition, everyone has different wants and needs. This requires alterations, to say nothing of completely different programming.

My oldest client is 91. My youngest is 13. I have middle-aged clients trying to lose weight. I have young men playing soccer at division 1 colleges. I have new mothers that want to return to their favorite sports. I have seniors reversing rheumatoid arthritis and regaining balance and energy. Some of my clients want to get off a long list of medications. Others just want a fun and challenging workout a few days a week.

These differences between individuals contribute to my hesitation to recommend routines based entirely around weight machines.

Machines allow you to adjust the height of the seat, and sometimes make an adjustment for leg length, but beyond that, you’re pushing or pulling in a pre-determined range of motion. Different people will need to move differently based on their build and body mechanics. And, just as importantly, these types of actions won’t transfer as effectively to real life.

When you pick something up, push a heavy object, or take a very high step up, there is nothing guiding your body through space. Your muscles and joints will be working on their own, free of outside influence.

Machines are useful to isolate a muscle group, and help an individual develop a mind-body connection with that muscle, but they should not be where you spend the majority of your time.

I start most my clients with a series of assessments, performing different movements that are common in everyday life. Their ability to execute these actions, along with the goals they have stated, will specify exactly what we must do together.

These assessments usually consist of a gait analysis, squatting down into a chair and back up, bringing the arms overhead, and holding a plank or pushup position. But, as previously mentioned, I may omit some of these, use alternatives, or do something completely different based on the client.

The same mistake of using a “one-size fits all” approach is apparent in our nations nutritional recommendations. The USDA recommends that everyone consume 45-65% of their calories from carbs, 10 to 30% from protein, and 25 to 35% from fat.

This is akin to recommending that 15% of all calories come from dairy…or that 5% of calories come from peanuts. What if an individual is lactose intolerant or allergic to peanuts?

As evidenced by our current diabetes and obesity rates, most Americans cannot tolerate upwards of 50% of their calories coming from carbs. Through years of trial and error, I’ve learned that if I average more than 40% carbs, more than 4 days a week, I start to gain fat, even in a calorie deficit.

Remember, carbs are fuel for high intensity activity, while dietary fat is truly essential for optimal health. After a lifetime of consuming more carbs than the body can safely store and burn, it loses its “insulin sensitivity”. This means that the sugars last too long in the blood (causing inflammation and cardiovascular disease) and are eventually forced into fat storage.

I work with my clients to find the most sustainable and healthy nutritional path for them. I base my nutritional recommendations not only on their dietary restrictions, activity level, and current conditions, but also their preferences and lifestyle.

I personally cook a few big meals on weekends so I have leftovers available on weekdays. However, I may have to suggest a different approach for clients that don’t have the time to, or interest in, trying this. Some of my clients are vegans or vegetarians that require more vitamin supplementation and creative protein options. If a client has sugar or chocolate cravings, we’ll work to find the healthiest options and optimal timing for indulgences.

Some foods are healthier than others, but I’ve never insisted that a client consume a certain food or avoid another. I merely work within their parameters, to find out what will guarantee them success in the long term.

These examples show the importance of individual personalization. Personal trainers, and health professionals of all kinds, must be able to tailor the theories learned through education, to best serve each client.

No two people are the same, so why should their exercise and diet be the same?

diverse

New York Times Op-Ed Piece

I had prepared a post for this week and was in the process of editing it when I received a New York Times article in my e-mail inbox from a family member…and then a coworker…and then a printed copy from the owner of my gym!

Below is an excerpt but I would highly suggest everyone follow this link to read the full article (which is only a few paragraphs longer).

“That the worm is turning became increasingly evident a couple of weeks ago, when a meta-analysis published in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine found that there’s just no evidence to support the notion that saturated fat increases the risk of heart disease. (In fact, there’s some evidence that a lack of saturated fat may be damaging.) The researchers looked at 72 different studies and, as usual, said more work — including more clinical studies — is needed. For sure. But the days of skinless chicken breasts and tubs of I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter may finally be drawing to a close.

The tip of this iceberg has been visible for years, and we’re finally beginning to see the base. Of course, no study is perfect and few are definitive. But the real villains in our diet — sugar and ultra-processed foods — are becoming increasingly apparent. You can go back to eating butter, if you haven’t already.

This doesn’t mean you abandon fruit for beef and cheese; you just abandon fake food for real food, and in that category of real food you can include good meat and dairy. I would argue, however, that you might not include most industrially produced animal products; stand by.

Since the 1970s almost everyone in this country has been subjected to a barrage of propaganda about saturated fat. It was bad for you; it would kill you. Never mind that much of the nonsaturated fat was in the form of trans fats, now demonstrated to be harmful. Never mind that many polyunsaturated fats are chemically extracted oils that may also, in the long run, be shown to be problematic.

Never mind, too, that the industry’s idea of “low fat” became the emblematic SnackWell’s and other highly processed “low-fat” carbs (a substitution that is probably the single most important factor in our overweight/obesity problem), as well as reduced fat and even fat-free dairy, on which it made billions of dollars. (How you could produce fat-free “sour cream” is something worth contemplating.)

But let’s not cry over the chicharrones or even nicely buttered toast we passed up. And let’s not think about the literally millions of people who are repelled by fat, not because it doesn’t taste good (any chef will tell you that “fat is flavor”) but because they have been brainwashed.”

– Mark Bittman, New York Times Contributing Op-Ed Writer

I post this not only because it is written in a fun and approachable manner, but because it sums up the exact philosophy I attempt to convey on my blog and in my sessions.

Articles like this, and the studies it links to, help keep me positive that in the next 5 to 10 years our aversion to fat and protein, and obsession with constant sugar feedings, will come to an end.

I hope this article is a nice break from my slightly more dry (and nerdy) posts. Haha.

Next week I’ll get back to posting my original content.

Thanks for reading!

How To Improve Your Cholesterol Levels

As promised, this week I’ll give you a few easy tips to improve your cholesterol levels. Before I start though, I want to remind everyone that “improving” cholesterol levels does not necessarily mean lowering them.

If you remember my post about cholesterol, you’ll remember that the body creates and uses LDL as a temporary bandage that, once the threat to the body is resolved, HDL will transport back to the liver to be excreted. It is only when inflammation persists in the body that LDL becomes oxidized, hardening and risking blockages in the arteries.

In fact, low total cholesterol levels in the body have been linked to shorter lifespan! Therefore, for this post, we’ll talk about how to adjust your cholesterol levels to the optimal zone…as opposed to the range statin companies usually promote.

First off, the easiest number to alter is your HDL. This is what carries cholesterol back to the liver after it has served its purpose.

The best way to boost your HDL is to consume more monounsaturated fats, such as olive oil and avocado. Consuming these in a raw form, as opposed to cooking them, will be more beneficial. Also, conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) found almost exclusively in grass-fed beef and dairy, will help raise HDL.

In addition, weight training and moderate aerobic activity are shown to increase HDL.

Now, on to LDL. To reiterate, high LDL is not necessarily a bad or dangerous thing. However, LDL can become oxidized in the blood so I understand why people may want to lower their LDL numbers.

To lower LDL, be careful when consuming other saturated fats. Saturated fat is actually the safest to consume, and most stable source of energy for the body, but make sure you’re consuming it from natural sources. This would include coconut products (again, with minimal processing), grass-fed beef, and other humanely raised animals fed a natural diet, with plenty of space to roam and forage.

Exercise may also help control LDL levels since low-level aerobics will improve the body’s ability to metabolize fats for energy.

Finally, the only truly problematic form of cholesterol found in the body is triglycerides. Anytime you see claims that cholesterol in the blood is dangerous, I will guarantee the samples were people with extremely elevated levels of triglycerides and low HDL.

The best way to decrease your triglyceride count would be to avoid processed or heated polyunsaturated fats which are highly unstable and prone to oxidization.

I’m not saying to fear nuts and seeds and every food containing high amounts of omega-6 (the primary inflammatory constituent of poly-fats). Just avoid foods that are high in this AND have been processed or altered. Examples of foods to avoid would be corn oil, soybean oil, and other vegetable oils.

Finally, limit your sugar and refined carb intake. Again, no need to fear fruits, sweet potatoes or other whole foods; instead, skip the center aisles of the market made up of processed and packaged food.

Please keep in mind that all my suggestions of what to eat more or less of are based on the assumption that we already know things like candy, chips, ice cream, and soda are unhealthy. Fortunately, our health and nutrition systems have not yet become so infiltrated by major corporations that McDonalds and pizza is labeled as healthy.

Nonetheless, as exemplified by my own past food choices, there is still a great deal of confusion regarding what is optimal for our bodies. Just last month Mazola ran a massive marketing campaign (and must have spent billions of dollars) to convince researchers and doctors to claim that corn oil is “safer for the heart” than extra virgin olive oil!

And with that, we should all have a decent level of knowledge regarding what to consume and not consume to maintain the most beneficial cholesterol levels in our bodies.

Hope it helps!

Two Interesting News Articles

Over the past week, I came across two news articles that I’d love to share with all of you.

The first article is from MSNBC.

This article reveals that billions of dollars’ worth of subsidies goes towards producing and distributing unhealthy food. The reason I want to share this is not solely to point towards archaic food subsidies as a major barrier to health…but to exemplify the conflicts of interests involved in allowing the USDA to dictate dietary guidelines.

The United States Department of Agriculture was created to sustain adequate food production for our country’s growing population…it now exists to ensure its agricultural endeavors remain profitable. As the USDA was able to invest more resources, they were also able to start dictating policy and recommending what Americans should and should not eat.

And guess what studies, research, and information dissemination they funded? Anything that even remotely suggested complex carbs and unsaturated fats are best for human consumption. And guess what the USDA produces best? Corn, dairy, soy, and wheat – all foods that are high in carbs, polyunsaturated fats, and low in protein.

And now, even though humans are consuming more of these foods than ever, the organizations are still searching for any means to increase sales and profits. Thus, they have started using subsidized foods to create a “value-added” product that they can market and package…and oh yes, genetically modifying foods to override hunger-signaling and light up the pleasure-centers of our brains!

The second article I found on NBC.com.

This article discusses how organic milk is more healthful than regular milk. Again, my motivation for sharing this article is not just to convey the direct message but rather to discuss the reasoning that they gloss over…the fact that cows are meant to eat grass!

They discuss organic milk as being optimal as if it’s the label organic that ensures a better nutritional profile. However, for milk to be labelled organic, the cows must consume grass for a certain number of months out of the year. This article does mention that grass-feeding, as opposed to grain-feeding, is what results in a better product…but why is it discussing organic milk rather than local, 100% grass-fed milk?

It also mentions that 2% or full-fat milk is preferable because of the healthy fat content. Again, I have to ask why the article is focused on organic versus conventional milk while local, raw milk will be grass-fed AND contain its natural fat profile, seeing as it is not manipulated or processed.

The answer is that organic milk is a marketable product that results in greater profits. The profits that federal agencies receive from small family farms are far less, or, at times, nonexistent.

These issues of subsidizing the corn, soy, and dairy industry, as well as the value of dairy in general, are both topics I’d like to discuss in greater depth down the road. However, I’ll wrap up here because sometimes, no matter how hard I try, I get emotional or frustrated with our current food and healthcare system.

The positive takeaway is that these issues are coming to light! The general public now has easy access to the concept of omega-3 vs omega-6 content in milk and the power of food production conglomerates. And remember the old adage: “Knowledge is power”!

So, let’s keep learning and hopefully, we can reverse our spiral of steadily declining health in the modern world.