Food for Thought

The following is a guest post from Tucson personal trainer Mike LaCoss, who is a friend of mine. His remarkable passion for health and wellness is an inspiration to us all.

I’ve been in the fitness industry for almost 20 years. When I began training clients, I thought I was going to have the Midas touch, transforming everyone into statuesque physiques.

I assumed everyone could effortlessly change if I trained them. I was 22 and fresh out of playing college football at U of A. I had also worked out every day since I was 12, and thought I knew everything. My naiveté combined with my enthusiastic ego had me thinking everyone could do exactly what I did. I believed there’d be 100% success rate because of what I knew. Boy, was I wrong.

What I didn’t know was how hard it is to change. I started asking questions like, “Why can’t my clients be disciplined like me? Why can’t they eat for fuel like me? Why can’t they lose fat on command? Why do they fail to follow a prescribed meal plan? Why can’t they achieve their goals with ease?” The hard reality I faced was that change is hard and it’s much more complicated than I thought– it was a humbling experience.

The hard reality I faced was that change is hard and it’s much more complicated than I thought

People form bonds with food

people form bonds with food
People form bonds with food that become difficult to break or change.

One of the big obstacles I was up against, and still am to this day, is people’s emotional, cultural, addictive and religious bonds with food. Many people use food as a coping tool for underlying problems like past abuse, neglect, PTSD, molestation, depression and much more. Combine these issues with unlimited access to addictive, commercialized foods making profit off our wants, and desires, and you have a recipe for disaster.

Eat “All the food!”

eat all the food
We take food in its natural state and change it into something unnatural.

We’re up against companies that have stripped the nutrition out of the foods, pumped in artificial flavors, added sugar, preservatives and colors to keep us coming back for more, plus the bombardment of advertising. Eating as much food as possible while conserving energy to survive is ingrained in our DNA from hunter gatherer days. It’s our natural instinct to eat “all the food” to survive common famines.

But with today’s ample supply of food with endless synthetic flavor options, we’re up against businesses making profit off our wants, desires, and our evolved instinct to eat naturally flavorful foods high in nutrition.

The more we eat human-made flavors and added sugar, the further we trick our brains to wanting more – similar to the cocaine, heroin, gambling and alcohol reward pathways. All this has been the catalyst of today’s obesity epidemic which has manifested more diet books, weight loss centers, and gyms than ever before.

If someone googles “how to get fit and lose weight,” they’ll find 120 million results with all kinds of conflicting information. I suggest you try it and do your best to navigate through the chaos. What does one do with all this data, and where did we go wrong?

Food for Profit

Since the invention of the taco flavored Dorito in the late 1960’s to Starbuck’s unicorn frappuccino of today, the marketing of engineered, colored and chemically enhanced food has hijacked our pleasure centers so much that it’s now a source of addiction, disease and emotional coping. Food scientists have figured out how to take advantage of our innate expert flavor sensors which have a firm grip on our minds–they drive our behaviors and control our moods.

Beginning in the late 70’s, the USDA food guide advised to eat low fat and large amounts of carbohydrates to support agricultural and food processing interests. This stemmed from John Hickson, a big sugar executive, paying off Harvard researchers in 1965 to favor sugar in the studies they published. This was the big lie of the 20th century.

Blame-shifting and Food Obsession

The New York Times published an article in Sept, 2016 called “How the Sugar Industry Shifted Blame to Fat,” exposing that the sugar industry had initiated research expressly to absolve sugar as a major risk factor for coronary heart disease. Today, the saturated fat warnings are still prevalent.

However, in recent years, the American Heart Association, the World Health Organization and other health authorities now agree that refined carbohydrates, and especially sugar-sweetened beverages, are risk factors for cardiovascular disease.

It’s no surprise during the term “foodie” was established in 1980 by New York Magazine as food and beverage was becoming increasingly commercialized from the explosion of artificially produced flavors and added sugar. There’s nothing wrong with having an interest in food, in fact, this popular trend is helping the food movement thrive.

But there’s a cost to all of this; the biggest obesity epidemic the U.S. has ever seen. It’s not our fault that we have the tendency to overeat when something tastes good.

food industry
The food industry is changing.

During the eras of hunting and gathering, survival meant to eat more and move less. If there was something that tasted sweet or satiating(high in nutrition), the hard-wiring in our genes told us to eat as much of it as possible to put on weight–especially to survive the harsh winters in certain regions.

Too Much (Unnatural) Flavor Tricks Our Brains

Food scientists are well aware about this predisposition programmed into our DNA. They have pumped in thousands of flavors to Sprite, Coke, ginger ale and seemingly wholesome foods like raw meat, butter, soy milk, yogurt, tea, while restaurants and fast food chains utilize these same flavors, and the list goes on.

too much candy
Real food doesn’t actually taste like this.

All these drug-like flavors trick our brains into thinking that what we’re eating is full of nutrition, when in fact they’re stripped of nutrients and designed to make us come back for more. Fast food anyone? Nature bestowed us with our most advanced bodily system because it carried out the body’s most essential task: assimilating essential nutrients to thrive.

“All these drug-like flavors trick our brains into thinking that what we’re eating is full of nutrition.”

By tampering with our advanced and most direct source of pleasure, we have distorted our connection with the fuel our bodies run on, food. Our advanced brains have evolved to sense complex flavors but we’ve taken advantage of that system and become victims of our very own technologies in food science.
We all know what to do, in theory.

We Should Eat Whole Foods – But One Size Doesn’t Fit All

Ask anyone how to achieve an optimal weight through healthy eating, and most have good ideas where to start: Eat whole, unprocessed foods. Sounds simple enough, but there’s thousands of books on how to eat which means there’s not a one size fits all approach.

whole food

Two people can have the exact same meal with drastic differences in how they react in terms of insulin response, allergies, assimilation of nutrients, fats and proteins and sustained levels of blood sugar. Now, more than ever, it’s crucial to understand the flavor blinders over our eyes and why we’ve been eating the wrong foods.

Armed with this information, we can be better informed consumers, educate our friends and family and lead by example by choosing foods that are unadulterated, minimally processed and forged by nature. Devour a meal from organically grown, fruits, veggies, herbs, spices, roots and pasture raised heirloom chickens, cows, goats, bison and experience flavor that is out of this world good.

The problem is it takes time to “flip the switch” in our brain from bland, synthetically flavored food, to nutrient dense foods that haven’t been tampered with.

Retrain Your Brain to Enjoy the Taste of Whole, Natural Foods

People might complain that eating from nature is boring, but the reality is the pleasure centers in their brain have been used to the endorphin rush from chemically altered, sugary foods. It’s like switching from cocaine to herbal tea, of course it’s gonna be boring.

Retraining our taste buds is similar to learning a new language. Once we eliminate artificially flavored foods and beverages and start making meals from home our taste buds begin to crave unaltered, unprocessed foods while taste gets better and better.

We start craving foods that have high nutrient density. We start feeling, looking, and sleeping better.

natural food
Eat this, not that.

Having lots of energy and feeling good is our natural state but we’ve been tricked into craving the wrong foods which zap us of our vitality. The evidence is in front of us–we love these flavors. We love coke over plain sugar water, nacho cheese chips over plain corn chips, fried breaded chicken over plain chicken and some have learned to hate water! Let’s do something about the rampant state of sickness and obesity Americans are facing and take responsibility for our health.

“In nature’s economy, the currency is not money, it is life.” -Vandana Shiva

Food for Health

food for health

The best starting place is in the vicinity of “good” (no perfect plan exists otherwise there would be only one go-to health book out there) based on what we know today.

I start my clients with the bare bones MED (minimum effective dose) which includes

  • Optimizing sleep (7-8 hours a night)
  • Exercise 2-3 times a week (walking, yoga, CrossFit, dance, swimming or whatever the person enjoys most)
  • A healthy eating protocol by eliminating added sugar first, especially sweetened drinks.

I’ve seen people go off medications, hit their goal weight, normalize hormones and get their health back following the MED.

Figuring out what to eat

When it comes to choosing what to eat, it can be overwhelming with all the information online, but there are programs with great track records and convincing research to help you arrive at a smart starting place:

  • Paleo diet,
  • Bulletproof diet,
  • The Zone,
  • AIP diet,
  • Low FODMAP diet,
  • Whole30,
  • Ketogenic diet,
  • Elimination diets,
  • And many others.

These protocols eliminate common allergens like dairy, grains, processed sugar, alcohol, nightshades, pro-inflammatory oils and legumes. Although these diets differ, there’s a common theme seen throughout all of them: unprocessed, unadulterated whole foods.

These foods are life giving, delivering nutrients our bodies need so that we’re satiated, healthy and nourished. Effective programs like the ones above typically start out with a 30 day reset to give your body a break from all the problematic foods while you get to experience what thriving actually feels like. Blood sugar normalizes, brain fog is lifted, stubborn body fat gets metabolized, systemic inflammation decreases and mood, sleep and energy are restored.

Hopefully this momentum is enough to continue as a lifestyle but unfortunately many of us fall victim to previous patterns of the wheels falling off, feeding the reward systems in our brain sabotaging our goals.

30 Day Resets Get Results

All of my client’s 30 day resets (whole30 or elimination diets) are hugely successful with 10-25lbs dropped, and they feel better than ever. Many continue this lifestyle and turn these habits into their way of living permanently. My hope is to see them have everlasting change while no longer needing my help and influence everyone around them for the better.

But, I’ve had 2 clients see positive change for the first 30 days, then resort to their old ways of emotional eating. This is hard for me to witness, because I want so badly for them to be healthy and feel good. I knew they needed more help than I could give which was outside my scope of practice.

Food wasn’t the issue for them (although it’s especially hard with all the addictive foods that override “I’m full” signal out there!). Instead, it was an unhealthy coping tool for their unresolved hurt, anger, neglect, abuse etc.

Don’t Rely on Food for Therapy – Seek Outside Help

Sometimes when we binge on junk, all we’re really looking for is connection, love or a hug. Aha moment!!! Those same clients poured their guts out to me explaining how they were never shown love through words or affection, but only through food.

emotional connection
Sometimes, what we’re looking for is love and emotional connection.

Their associated feelings of love through the medium of food continued into adulthood. This prevented healing the underlying issue: never being truly loved from their parents, caretakers and ultimately themselves. Eventually, this hindered them from listening to the innate wisdom of their own body.

Whether using food for love, or a coping tool for past traumatic events, my ethics prevented me from training them further. I knew they couldn’t heal until they got professional help first.

After 8 months of little to no progress towards their goals and self destruction, I told them I couldn’t train them any longer. I strongly advised them to talk to a counselor or psychologist. This realization took me 10 years to figure out as a personal trainer. However, it’s saved me a great amount of time and angst by referring clients for outside help.

Extra help and resources

If fixing sleep, exercise and nutrition aren’t enough, sometimes people need the further aid of a good doctor. A doctor trained in functional medicine will get to the root of the problem. They won’t just just put a band-aid over it.

There is a laundry list of issues that require the help of a doctor, but here’s a list of some common issues that can easily be tested, managed or healed:

  • SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth)
  • Auto-immune issues (these include but are not limited to hashimoto’s, rheumatoid arthritis, celiac, lupus and MS)
  • Parasites
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Out of whack hormones
  • Food sensitivities

Doctors that really care will spend up to two hours with you the first meeting. This is so they can find out the origin of what’s going on. During that time, they’ll address any other underlying issues to heal (sleep, stress, depression etc).

If your doctor hassles you over your wishes to improve your health and lifestyle, consider finding a different doctor happy to work with you. Think about choices outside the old hat paradigm. Reaching optimal health can be a complicated process. However, there are plenty of MD’s, DO’s, naturopaths, functional medicine specialists and holistic chiropractors who will be genuinely supportive of your journey. And they’re not that hard to find these days.

If you’re in Tucson, Blue Oak Clinic (ND’s Ardeschir Mehrabani and Stephanie Stark) and Dr. Tim Harrigan at Synergy Wellness are fantastic and know how to get to the root cause of your health issues. Here’s to your health!

Mike LaCoss Tucson
Author Mike LaCoss

Mike LaCoss trains clients privately at his home and is also a member of the advisory board for DNX, a whole food based bar company consisting of grass-fed beef and bison with organic fruits and vegetables. He helped develop them for people that want nutrition without compromise, especially on the go. The website is dnxbar.com and also available on amazon at http://a.co/aSdza3T
For further inquiries you can contact him at mike@dnxbar.com.

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