Diet and Exercise… Will Never Cure the Obesity Epidemic

After years of proclaiming that “diet is 85% of the game”, this title might leave you thinking that I have just fallen off the turnip truck. But if you sit with me for a few minutes, I will explain why I believe that the current protocol for addressing obesity is doomed to failure.

Diet and exercise: there are two distinct problems in this equation. The first one comes from the inherent limitations of language and misunderstandings around the word ‘Diet’. Secondly, we have adopted a view of physical fitness that does not reach the vast majority of the population. Throw both of those into a solution for combating obesity related degenerative diseases, and the byproduct is a catastrophic fiasco. Does that mean that you should just resign yourself to ‘genetics’ and a future predetermined by forces out of your control? Of course not! Let’s break it all down for a better understanding of what-fails-where, and then we can look at a better solution.

The dictionary definition of the word ‘diet’ does not vary much. Merriam-Webster describes diet as:
a. food and drink regularly provided or consumed
b. habitual nourishment
c. the kind and amount of food prescribed for a person or animal for a special reason, and
d. a regimen of eating and drinking sparingly so as to reduce one’s weight.

In our current culture, D-I-E-T is a four-letter word in every sense. Nobody likes being on a diet. When people talk about diets today, it is almost always in reference to that last definition. Being on a diet is all about denial, limitations, bland foods, and becoming a bit of a social outcast. Dieting has become synonymous with a collection of aberrant prescriptions outlining good and bad foods. Atkins, South Beach, Paleo, Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig and a host of other diets over the decades claim to be the ideal solution for health and weight maintenance.

The real problem is that nobody eats this way as a natural course, so diets are always temporary. That means that eventually, you are going to be back in the same predicament debating which ‘diet’ to put yourself on next to help you lose the extra weight. And, that extra weight will return given that scientific studies show that when individuals diet to lose weight, they rebound by gaining all of the weight lost plus additional weight when they return to a ‘normal’ diet. This is a direct response to the traditional calorie restricted diet.

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Food Substitutions Can Add Nutrients

When we think about food substitutions, it is almost about eliminating something. Low-fat cooking, sugar-free products: these are just a few of the more common examples. Being true to my philosophy on a healthy diet, I believe that substitutions have a greater purpose: ADDING nutrients!


Below I have listed some of my favorite, and sometimes unusual substitutions that help turn the most common dishes into superfoods.

Rolled Oats
I was watching a cooking show about meatloaf. The chef was using saltine crackers soaked in milk, which is a very traditional way to do meatloaf – right up there with breadcrumbs. What I have found is that you get wonderful results using rolled oats in place of the crackers or breadcrumbs. Although oats are also processed, they are less processed and still resemble the whole grain.

Spaghetti Squash
I didn’t believe this when I first heard about it, but it is true! Spaghetti squash is a wonderful substitute for traditional spaghetti and rice in some of your favorite recipes. Just bake the spaghetti squash, allow to cool slightly, and scrape out the strands with a fork. Rinse with cold water to maintain crispness if the recipe allows, or just serve immediately when it needs to be warm. You will be amazed at how flavorful your recipes are with this substitution

This one is a little geeky but it is hard not to be fascinated. We all know that protein is critical to a healthy diet. Proteins are configurations of amino acids, but so are enzymes. Enzymes are present in raw foods (meat and vegetables) and assist in the digestion of that food. The extra cool thing about getting your protein through enzymes is that your body has to do a lot less work. Where we have to break down proteins into the individual amino acids in order to rebuild proteins, we can also build proteins from a supply of enzymes. This can be handy when balancing the grocery budget.

Coconut Milk
Dairy products are such a huge staple in our culture, but in truth, roughly 80% of the world population does not digest it well. Cow’s milk is by far the most difficult. Fortunately, coconut milk offers a tasty alternative. Check out my website for coconut whipped cream, creamy ranch dressing, and cream of mushroom soup (which makes wonderful gravy and scrumptious green bean casserole).

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A Definition of What Exactly Are “Whole Foods”

In the nutrition industry, we have to be mindful of the words that we use and how they are applied to day-to-day contact. Oftentimes terms we use are not obvious to “normal people”. Today we are going to talk in plain English about a definition of what EXACTLY are whole foods.


Sometimes, the concept of healthy nutrition is a lot like my college experience in freshman psychology and sociology classes: everybody and his dog seems to have a theory. This could not be truer in the diet industry.

Reading diet book after diet book, it became very obvious that most diet books are little more than one person’s journal of how they fixed themselves. The problem comes in the habit to bill that one person’s solution as a silver bullet for the vast majority. It sells because, with that promise, people are captured by the hope that they too could experience true joy and self-acceptance if only they can follow ‘this’ meal plan for a month or two. Diets do not work because they do not typically reflect real life – Your Life!

The basis of my practice and preaching revolves around whole foods, but a friend recently pointed out to me that she did not really understand what defines whole food.

A definition of whole foods

Whole foods are foods that are unprocessed and unrefined, or processed and refined as little as possible before being consumed. Whole foods typically do not contain added ingredients, such as sugar, salt, or fat.

That might clear up some confusion, but we go a little farther here with examples. Of course, all raw fruits and vegetables are whole foods. Since most of us are not following a raw-foods diet, lets look as some other common foods. Take potatoes for starters. A baked potato is closer to its original form as it was uprooted on the farm than a potato chip. A kettle chip is simply sliced and dropped into a deep fat fryer, and possibly coated with various flavors. A baked potato would be considered a whole food: a potato chip would not.

Things can get a little gray from here, as many of the foods that we do not consider as junk-foods may still not be considered as whole foods. Milk is a perfect example. Pasteurization and homogenization strip milk of nutrients and enzymes that are normally contained in raw milk. Add to that the practice of reducing fats, fortifying with vitamins and mineral , and in some cases, adding artificial flavors such as strawberry and it becomes more clear that the milk you get in the grocery (unless you live in California) is no longer a whole food. It does not matter if you use that milk to make fermented foods such as yogurt or kefir – it is no longer a whole food. Raw milk cheese would be a different story.

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