December 14

Obesity map and poor dietary advice

9  comments

I ran across this obesity map while searching for something else. I made a PowerPoint presentation of this same data that I use when giving talks, but I couldn’t figure out how to post it. Then I found this.
Despite the fact that the measurement is BMI, these slides really show dramatically the increase in obesity in this country over the last 20 years or so.
If course this slide show is accompanied by the dietary recommendations of the MSN moron in residence. One Martica Heaner, M.A., M.Ed., who fills this position for MSN, tells us that if we fall in line with the her recommendations, we will never have to worry about being fat:

1. Eat as many vegetables as you can.
2. Drink no cal or low-cal.
3. Eat more fruit.
4. Eat more good fats. [Of course her definition of good fats is much different than mine.]
5. Never skip breakfast.

There you have it, the secrets for weight-loss success. Follow those rules, so says Ms. Heaner, and your fat will melt away.
If only.
Based on the recommendation of one of the readers of this blog, I ordered the book Real Food by Nina Planck. Although not a low-carb book per se, Ms. Planck does know the value of restricting carbs for weight-loss.
At the very beginning of the book she recounts her early dietary history. As do many teenage girls, she became enamored with vegetarianism. Although raised on a farm, when Ms. Planck left home for college, she avoided the ham, bacon, sausage, pork chops, and the rest of the food she had grown up on. In their place she substituted what she calls her “virtuous foods.”

Fear of fat dominated our…kitchen. Even a hint of slippery, creamy food on the tongue sent me into panicky disapproval. Peering at labels, I stocked the pantry with low-fat foods. In those days, I believed the conventional nutritional wisdom: that unsaturated fats were good for cholesterol and saturated fats were not. Monounsaturated olive oil–the star of the vaunted Mediterranean diet–was the only fat I trusted…but not much of it. The taboo on cholesterol and saturated fats meant no beef, eggs, cream, chocolate, or coconut. Our only dairy was nonfat yogurt, and there was plenty of rice milk and soy ice cream

She lays out her “Virtuous Diet.”

Real Foods Off the Menu
Beef, lamb, game, poultry, fish, shellfish, milk, cream, butter, cheese, and eggs.
Chocolate and coconut.
Real (But Rich) Foods Strictly Limited.
Olive oil
Avodcados
Nuts
Real Foods I Ate Plenty Of
Fruits and vegetables
Brown Rice and beans
Whole wheat bread
New Foods I Tried to Love
Various imitation foods made with soy and rice
Fat-Free, Sweet Things I Ate Quite a Lot Of
Juice
Nonfat frozen yogurt

So, based on her “virtuous diet,” which is right along the lines of the 5 steps to avoid being overweight as espoused by MSN’s Martica Heaner, you would figure Ms. Planck to be the slender picture of health. How did she fare?

As for my health, I felt terrible. My digestion was poor, and I was moody, tearful, and tender in all the wrong places before I got my period. In cold and flu season, I got both. I was depressed, too. Partly to stave off the gloom, I ran three to six miles a day, six days a week. On this virtuous regimen I also gained weight steadily–and before I knew it, I was plump. How plump? Well, women and weight is a treacherous topic; no one agrees on the definitions and people get touchy, so I’ll try to be objective. I”m almost five feet five inches tall and weight 119 to 125 pounds, much of it muscle. In my vegetarian days, I was 147 pounds and soft all over.

The moral of the story? Marvel at the obesity map, ignore the weight-loss advice that accompanies it, and read Nina Planck’s excellent book. If you want to avoid adding to the statistics on the map, eat real foods and watch your carbs


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  1. Poor Martica. Wonder what SHE looks like.
    I read Nina’s book and enjoyed it so much we are giving it as a holiday gift to all our clients.
    And, btw, Nina is as lean and as muscular as she says she is. I trained her at Serious Strength a few months ago. She just had a beautiful baby boy.
    Best,
    Fred
    Hi Fred–
    Glad to hear that Nina is as lean and muscular as she says she is in her book.  What a great gift for your clients.
    Cheers–
    MRE

  2. Do you happen to have handy the year when the BMI considered obese was lowered (thereby including more people). I’m just curious how that correlates with the slide show.
    Hi Cathy–
    I don’t have the date handy.  In fact, I didn’t know that the classification levels had changed.  If you’ve got info on it, I would love to see it.
    Best–
    MRE

  3. This isn’t the first story I’ve heard about people who gain weight on high carb even while running–and on a daily basis! Years ago, when I was doing high carb, I belonged to a gym and took an evening aerobics class. The instructor was a young 20-year-old and she was plump. I thought that was very strange, but was too uncomfortable to ask her about her diet. Some time later, I overheard her talking about her schedule–she taught aerobics three times a day! I was really confused, and decided she must be a binge eater! Never did I make the connection to the effects of high carb.
    New postal workers, the ones who become walking mail carriers, find that even with their new habit of walking miles to deliver the mail, gain weight snacking on junk food. So adding exercise while eating high carb/processed foods makes no difference in weight gain for carb-sensitve people.
    I am really mystified, why researchers refuse to investigate these stories, preferring to imply that it’s a moral failure on the part of the people involved.
    Hi LC–
    Perhaps they refulse to investigate because it’s a moral failure on their part…
    Cheers–
    MRE

  4. In 1998, the U.S. National Institutes of Health brought what were the curent US definitions of normal weight into line with World Health Organization guidelines – that lowered the normal/overweight cut-off from a BMI of 27.8 to 25. That basically had the effect of redefining approximately 30 million Americans, previously defined as “healthy” to “overweight,” therefore at risk.
    Hi Regina–
    Thanks for the info.  I hate the BMI as a measurement of obesity, so I tend to ignore anything I see written about it.  And if I had seen this tidbit, it’s just the kind of thing I can never remember.  I appreciate your digging it up or out of your memory.
    Best–
    MRE

  5. Thanks to Regina for digging that up.
    I looked again at the obesity map, and I don’t know if that is a factor or not. In the beginning it says BMI >30. So they may have gone back to the raw data and used a BMI of 30 to indicate obesity, even back to 1987 (or whatever year the map started). I didn’t notice a huge jump in 1998, so my guess is that that wasn’t a variable in the data.
    I also don’t like BMI as a measurement. When they changed the obesity limit, my boyfriend immediately became “obese”, but he is a weight lifter, and is definitely not obese. Recently we both went and had our body fat tested by under-water testing. We both have a little extra fat (i.e. we are not in the athletic range), but are still in the normal range, not overweight.
    Hi Cathy–
    That’s my problem with the BMI, too.  According to the BMI 90% of the players in the National Football League would be considered obese.
    Cheers–
    MRE

  6. Wishing you all a happy and healthy season eating lots of real food – here at my house that means meat, poultry, fish, lots of eggs, lots of whole milk and cream and raw milk cheese, and lots of fruit and vegetables. We love nuts and coconut oil, too.
    Julian (my new son) is on an exclusive raw milk diet now. But I am at work on my next book, Baby Food, which will cover, along with The Fertility Diet and Eating for Two, First Foods. I am amazed at how many nursing mothers think it’s healthy to be vegan, low-fat, and vegetarian.
    So my request to you is: do you know stories (or more scientific accounts) of first foods in baby diets in traditional societies? For ex, lightly cooked egg yolk (many), liver (Africa), and Parmigiano Reggianno with olive oil (Italy). Here, of course, the idea is all grains. But babies lack sufficient amylase. My feeling is that the overwhelming requirement from 0 to 2 is for quality fat and protein.
    Send stories about what your grandmother fed your mother, or tales from abroad, to info@ninaplanck.com.
    Keep up the excellent dialogue.
    best wishes Nina
    Hi Nina–
    Thanks for writing.  Enjoy your baby boy; we’ve reared three and enjoyed (almost) every minute of it.
    I’m engrossed in your book.
    Best–
    MRE

  7. Here is something I find interesting. When I began my low carb diet 4 years ago, I weighed 163 lbs. I managed to lose over 35 lbs but gained much of it back after I began taking chromium. What’s interesting is I can still fit into my “skinny” clothes. I,at 160 lbs today, look much slimmer than 160 lbs 4 years ago. I wear a size 8 pants. If I exercise seriously for 2 weeks or so, I am commented on my weightloss when I hadn’t lost anything.
    Reading the remarks about babies really makes me think. I wish that I had a high fat/protein, low carb diet when I was pregnant. All of my babies were jaundiced and had breathing problems that I think would have been avoided if I had avoided things like flour and rice. They also had learning problems that I think would have improved, or atleast benefitted from my present lifestyle.
    Hi Mary– 
    Muscle weighs a lot more than fat, so when you trade the same weight of muscle for fat your weight doesn’t change but you become a lot smaller.
    I agree with you about the diet and fetal health.  I have a friend who is doing a lot of research on the issue of what to feed the mother while she is pregnant.  He has come to believe that the best thing is a diet low in refined carbohydrates during the first trimester and a diet high in fat and protein during the last trimester.  The growing fetus is laying down the cells that will become the pancreas during the first trimester, and a diet high in refined carbohydrates will cause the fetal pancreas to be overstimulated and cause problems for the child and adult later on.  The recommendation for the high-protein diet in the third trimester is because that is the time of maximal fetal growth, and that growth needs protein.
    Best–
    MRE 

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