The Food Fakers

As all TOJs know, one of the best things you can do for your fitness and long term health is eat more natural, whole foods, and eat less industrial, processed foods.

However, there are corporate armies trying to block your path by lobbying Congress for subsidies and deception on food labels. They use psychologists and chemical engineers, like the ones who work for a soulless corporation (Givauden) featured in this excellent segment that appeared on CBS 60 Minutes, to lure you into what resembles a chemical dependency, like a drug addict. What is so remarkable, as you'll see in this video, is they are shameless about what they are trying to do.

These people seem nice enough, but if you listen carefully to what they are saying, it's obvious your health is not their top priority. It's not just the problem that many artificial flavors are simply unnatural chemicals which have no business being introduced into your body, or that few credible studies exist as to the damaging long term effects of insulting your gut with them.

What is most insidious is that they use their engineering to fool your senses into putting something into your system that you would find tasteless or repellent without it. Their flavors make adulterated foods taste like something real and nutritious. They turn processed gunk into flavorful chicken nuggets and sugar water into "fruit" juice.

Humans co-evolved with food. Our senses and brains are hard-wired to seek certain smells and tastes and avoid others. Millions of years of evolution taught us what tastes bad might be bad, i.e., poisonous, or dangerous. It's no wonder the illusionists in the video use real fruits, rich in flavor and nutrients, to disguise empty calorie foods with no nutrient value whatsoever, like soda pop.

Ironically, the segment was sponsored by Lipitor, often prescribed to people who no doubt have diabetes and cardiovascular disease caused by eating  bottled, canned, and packaged fake foods disguised with their memorable flavors. A sick win-win.

At the Top of Their Game

In the past day, TV covered the two extreme ends of the exercise and fitness spectrum. First, the World Strongest Man Contest from South Africa, in which humongous guys (bigger than NFL lineman, with lats so developed their arms lifted away from their sides) dead lifted cars and carried 250 lb. kegs over twenty yards of 6 inch sand. Brutal! And, second, the U.S. Marathon Trials in Houston, in which skinny ectomorphs ran and ran and ran. The announcer spoke of a 5:50/mile pace for the runner in third toward the end of the race. Damn fast after already running twenty miles!

The winners in these events are at the top of their games. They had proof: who lifted the most weight, who had the fastest time on the clock. Genetics, training, diet, and coaching paid off for them.

Of course, they are only good at their game. The strongest men could not even run a 10K at a 10 min/mile pace because they are so heavy and muscle bound, and the marathoners would be lucky to dead-lift 250 lbs because they are almost muscle-less. At the very level top of any sport, the winners train for mastery of specific motor skills.

My son emailed me the link to an article in Men's Journal in which the writer, a recreational surfer and rock climber, lashed out at the fitness industry - expensive machines, long term contracts, mediocre trainers, faddishness, wall-mounted televisions, and one-size-fits-all exercise regimens. He was lost and bitter in the fitness maze, doing lots of different exercises and, unlike the strongest men and marathoners, not getting better at anything in particular. He realized the problems were not just with the fitness industry, but also himself because "vague goals beget vague methods."

Then he had a personal exercise enlightenment at a minimalist, no-nonsense training facility in Jackson, Wyoming, operated by a what sounds like a re-incarnated Spartan warrior. No wimpy exercise machines at 25 reps. No dweeby trainers in golf shirts. This place trains people in special ops. Here's the demanding, ultimate weight lifting goal for exercisers there:

To Front Squat 1.5x your body weight
To Dead Lift 2.0x your body weight
To Bench Press 1.5x your body weight

Up in Wyoming, Daniel Duane discovered the enormous physical rewards for getting down to weight training basics: "True sport-specific training, for literally everybody except elite athletes, isn’t sport-specific at all. It’s about getting strong, durable, and relentless in simple, old-school ways that a man can train, test, and measure." For him, they were squats, dead lifts, and bench presses.

He discovered how important it is to have measurable goals. They provide him direction and purpose. He found his fitness game.

The One Best Exercise

I just gotta say it: There is no one best exercise for everybody. Period. Don't waste your time looking for the final exercise answer.

We are all the same in some ways, and in others we're very different. I have a friend who's a runner. That's all he likes to do. I have a friend who's a skier and biker.That's all he likes to do. I enjoy many kinds of excercise, but not yoga. (Yep, I knew it. Yoga can be dangerous. The NY Times had a great article about the injuries caused by yoga excesses.)

If you find one or more forms of exercise you like and gets you close to the results (healthy weight, feel happy, strength) you seek, you're as close to the final desitnation as you will ever get. It's the journey, there's no final destination.

Months ago, you might remember the video posted here in which Dr. Mercola discussed High Intensity Training, including how he pushed so hard he felt dizzy and nauseous to attain the maximum benefits. Well in his latest Dr. Mercola talks about how he had to back off. The exercise was so intense that he could only do it once a week. Dr. McGuff, with whom he talks on the video in this post, advocates very slow, high resistance exercise for very, very short periods of time. His priority is to gain strength and cardio fitness in the shortest period of time. (He also makes an innane comment that you never see animals jog. Has he ever watched films of caribou migrating for hundreds of miles?).

I respect the research and earnestness that people like this put into their work. Both are worthy of attention because they know the human body. But what they advocate is very one-dimensional. If an exercise is too painful or uncomfortable or repetitious, few of us will continue to do it on a regular basis. Notice in how much Dr. Mercola frets about what is the right exercise, the right intensity, the right duration.

Movement of any kind is good. Hard, easy. Fast, slow. Inside, outside. Resistance, cardio. We exercise for all kinds of reasons. To stay healthy. To feel good. To fill the time. To compete.

Today it's snowing. I went to my favorite trail for a run.  It probably wasn't very efficient, as I  trudged up, slipping and sliding. But I breathed hard and my legs got sore and tired. Better yet, the snow was beautiful collecting on the sage.