April 18, 2014

The Down & Dirty: Part 3

Did I bare my soul enough in parts one and two of this series? My apologies for the sob stories and wallow-fests those turned out to be, but I wanted to set the stage appropriately for what’s to come. And you’ll be happy to know—assuming you’re still here reading, which is iffy thanks to those semi-pathetic ramblings—that from here on out, it’s about the good stuff. And the reason I can better appreciate the good stuff now is because I experienced the bad. So all was not for naught. If having firsthand experience with some pretty awful feelings has given me a desire to more deeply study and more fully understand human physiology, then I can only be grateful. (Easier to do in hindsight!) I’d like to think that having “been there” also makes me a better and more empathetic practitioner.

So yeah, about being a practitioner. Now that I know what I know, I want to share it with people. Does that make me sound preachy? Do I sound like a born again something-or-other who goes around knocking on doors, hocking books, and inviting people to my church of the rejected “Eat Less Move More” movement? I don’t mean to. But in a way, I can see where preachers and proselytizers are coming from. When you feel like you have THE ANSWER (or at least an answer, and a pretty darn good one, at that), you can’t help wanting to share it with everyone you see. (In my defense, the difference between me and the doorbell-ringers is that I don’t come uninvited.)

Here’s why it’s hard for me to keep what I’ve learned to myself:

After all those years of calories counted, treadmill miles logged, saturated fat grams avoided, tears shed, and dressing room mirrors cursed, I now eat coconut oil with a spoon. (91% saturated fat!) I sauté vegetables in bacon fat. I eat cheese. Good, rich, creamy cheeses, not the rubbery day-glo orange brick stuff. (Okay, fine, I do eat that stuff once in a while, too. What can I say? It goes on sale and is hard to resist as an economical fat & protein-rich snack.) I eat dates stuffed with goat cheese, wrapped in bacon. I eat scrambled eggs cooked in lard. (Yes, lard! I said it! The L word!) I eat steak and I don’t automatically cut the fat off. I use real cream in my coffee. (You can keep the soy milk way over there, thankyouverymuch.) And I darn well also eat the occasional cookie, piece of cake, or gigantic tub small scoop of ice cream, but I’ve found a balance that works well for me—for my physical and mental health. I do miss some of my former favorite foods, but I don’t miss my larger clothing. And I don’t miss the monthly bloating and pain that came from a general underlying state of inflammation that happened to be exacerbated by monthly hormonal changes. I don’t miss exercising myself stupid for no results. And I DO NOT miss feeling like a failure.

I love food. I no longer fear it. It’s not the enemy anymore, the object of scorn and hatred. It’s not something to limit, micromanage, measure, count, and weigh. Meals are to be savored, appreciated and enjoyed, not relegated to adventures in advanced calculus. (I like to tell my clients, “No math at the table!”)

I enjoy food. I relish it. I eat with gusto. I love thinking about food. I love talking about food. I love cooking. I love reading cookbooks. I love food shopping. And I really love farmers’ markets. Just call me Foodie McFooderson.  ;-)

I like watching certain cooking shows because of how excited the chefs get about ingredients: the muskiness of a good aged blue cheese; the unctuousness of a runny yolk in a soft boiled egg, and how perfect it is with nothing but a sprinkling of fleur de sel; the utter perfection that is the simplicity of an endive salad with sliced pears, walnuts, gorgonzola, and a glass of white wine.

I’m no longer ashamed or embarrassed to talk about how much I enjoy the experience of food because I’m afraid someone will be thinking, “Of course the fat girl likes food.” ‘Cuz you know what? I’m not the fat girl anymore. She’s still inside me somewhere, but she’s not the woman I see in the mirror most of the time. (Once in a while, she gets to me, but I can shut her up with chocolate.) I’m no supermodel, and for sure, I have lots of room for improvement, but I’m not exactly a beached whale, either. (For those of you who’ve seen this movie, say it with me: “I’m not Josie Grosie anymore!”)

And yet, sometimes it’s very hard for me to recognize this. I don’t have body dysmorphia, but I do have a raging case of FFGS—former fat girl syndrome. I still gravitate toward the size 14s on the clothing racks, when I’m a fair bit smaller than that now and have been for a few years. When I notice men looking at me as I pass by in the hallway at work or going up on the escalator while they’re headed down, my first thought is still, “What are you lookin’ at, buddy?” (Hey, I’m from New Yawk; that’s only natural.) And my second and third thoughts are, “Is my fly open?” and, “Did I spill something on myself?” It’s only after all those more natural FFGS thoughts come and go that the possibility—the wild, crazy, insanely unbelievable possibility—dawns on me: They’re not looking at me because something’s wrong; they’re looking at me because I’m cute! (Well, I don’t actually consider myself “cute,” but the way this thought came to me for the very first time, thats the word I heard in my mind.)

I love that by learning about how my body works, I can go to any restaurant and order something enjoyable without worrying how many points it has, how many grams or ounces of this or that, and I don’t have to contemplate how much penance I’ll have to do on the elliptical machine the next day. I’ve learned how to dine and how to nourish myself, and those are different things than just tossing any old thing down the hatch. I still exercise regularly, but it’s no longer a punishment; it’s a privilege. I do it for all the reasons I know it keeps me healthy. I do it to keep myself feeling well now, and also to build a reserve of muscle that will keep me feeling well for years to come. (Metabolic flexibility, anyone?)

So the gloves are coming off, kids. I’m going to be writing more about how this all works. I came to learn it the hard way – after half a lifetime spent following advice that failed me at every turn. (Yes, the advice failed me, not the other way around.) And the reason I want to tackle these topics is so that others don’t have to learn the hard way.

It’s time to make friends with food again. To bury the hatchet and stop grinding the axe.

I hope some of you are willing to come on this journey with me, knowing I’ve come a long way but am still very much a work in progress. I’m not perfect. I still struggle. I learn more about this stuff every day. But I also have a completely different understanding of it than I did years ago. And because of that, I get to enjoy food without fear. Gourmet without guilt. Cheese without chastising.

Here are the kinds of things I plan to cover:
  • The morality of obesity: Why being overweight or obese is neither a character flaw, nor a moral failing, nor primarily the result of laziness and lack of discipline
  • Willpower: Why it’s mostly (but not entirely) bunk
  • Basic human metabolism: Fuel partitioning & energy usage
  • Macronutrients: Fat, protein, and carbohydrate; what they do, and how they influence our hormonal milieu
  • Fat loss fundamentals: How the aforementioned hormonal milieu shapes our shapes
  • Stress & Sleep: How they affect the hormonal states that govern fuel partitioning
  • Exercise: It’s less about “burning calories” than giving glucose somewhere to go; maintaining mitochondrial flexibility; and building muscle tissue for metabolic purposes and also strength, mobility, and flexibility as we age, so we don’t turn into the little old man or lady who can’t carry our own groceries into the house when we’re 75, or who can’t get out of a chair under our own power. (Like Carl Lanore from Superhuman Radio says, “Muscle is metabolic currency. Go to the gym and make a deposit today.” We’ll learn why.)

See folks, it’s about what we eat, but even more, it’s about what our bodies do with what we eat. And how our minds influence it all. And yes, there’s a role for exercise and physical movement, but it’s probably pretty different from what you think it is.

So if you believe that your body—your beautiful, wonderful, vibrant, dynamic body—is more complex than a dime store calculator, and that keeping it healthy and fit is about more than the mathematical equation of calories in minus calories out, this is for you. 

If you find it incomprehensible that we can put a man on the moon but cant figure out how to lose weight and keep it off for good, this is for you.

I don't claim to know everything. (For certain, I dont.) But I will present things as I currently understand them. Like I tried to do throughout my series on digestion, Ill present some basic physiology and biochemistry, interspersed with enough common sense, logic, and helpful (I hope) analogies for us to make the necessary connections to figure all this out. I apologize in advance for occasionally oversimplifying things. Time constraints will no doubt prevent me from going too deeply down any particular rabbit hole. (If someone out there wants to pay me a regular salary to stay home all day and read journal articles and textbooks, email me and lets set something up! I am so game!) 

Were going to have to stick with the basics on a lot of this stuff, but believe me, thatll keep us plenty busy. And the truth is, by the time were done, you'll likely know far more about this than your doctors remember from human metabolism 101. (Assuming they ever even studied it.) Neuropeptide Y? Leptin and ghrelin? Peptide YY? The esoteric stuff is enough to make your head spin. (And put you to sleep.) So yes, I believe the basics will be more than enough to keep us off the streets for a while.

Let’s try and make sense of this together. There's a world of delicious eats out there, and healthy bodies just waiting to go after it.

Remember: Amy Berger, M.S., NTP, is not a physician and Tuit Nutrition, LLC, is not a medical practice. The information contained herein and the services provided are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any medical condition.


  1. Read your post to the end, but heh, the dates stuffed with goat cheese wrapped in bacon, just keep dancing through my head. Next snack recipe to try...Wait a second, bacon? J.

  2. It's time for part four after 6 years. ;)