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Archive for the ‘nutrition’ Category

The Incredible Edible Egg

So much fuss has been made over the poor little egg. Eggs have pretty consistently gotten a bad rap in recent dietary history. Are they good for you, bad for you, neutral, or really good for you? New research points to the latter.

When talking about the “egg” from here on out I’ll be mostly talking about standard white chicken eggs, but most bird eggs have a similar nutritional profile, and are equally delicious (although I have a particular fondness for duck eggs).

Who, besides Zooey Deschanel[1], doesn’t enjoy eggs for breakfast, lunch, or dinner? For me, the three most beautiful words in the English language are “breakfast served anytime.”

Yolk It Up

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While there are numerous parts of an egg, when we talk about eggs as food we generally discuss only two parts: the yellow egg yolks and egg whites[2], known scientifically as the albumen. Nutritionally the whites are a good source of protein… and little else. Given the cholesterol scare of the past half century many people have started eating egg white omelets or otherwise avoiding the yolk. Why so much fuss about such a tiny little yellow embryonic sac?

Is it because of the saturated fat? A single egg yolk contains only 1.5g of saturated fat, and contains about 80% of the calories of both the yolk and white combined, since the egg white consists of about 90% water, which has zero calories. An average large egg white has around 17 calories, whereas a whole egg (white + yolk) is between 70 and 100, depending on size (for calorie counting purposes I always record a 100 calorie egg regardless of whether I’m eating large or extra-large eggs).

While an egg’s protein is split nearly an even 50/50 between the yolk and the white, the yolk contains dozens of nutrients, and is rivaled only by wheat grass juice in packing a nearly complete nutritional profile for humans in such a small package. The only major nutrient you can’t get from eggs is Vitamin C. So drink a glass of orange juice with your breakfast (or better yet, eat an orange, the fiber is better for you than the juice).

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Eggs are one of the most perfect sources of protein available to the human diet, supplying all nine essential amino acids necessary for proper health. They’re high in Vitamins A, D, B12, E, riboflavin, folic acid, iron, calcium, potassium, and choline, an essential nutrient for brain development, especially in fetuses and babies. Some eggs are “fortified” with omega–3 fatty acids (the same found in avocados and fish oil) by feeding the laying hens kelp meal, whose nutrients are then passed through to the eggs.

The Vitamin A in the yolk actually helps your body to better assimilate the protein, so when you make an egg white omelet you’re doing yourself a disservice both in missing the nutrients present in the yolk, but also in degrading your body’s ability to process the protein you get from the whites, which we should once again mention is the only real nutrient in the egg white.

Is it an added bonus that egg yolks are delicious on just about anything? Drop a poached egg onto just about any sandwich and you’ll greatly improve the quality of that sandwich. I can’t remember the first time I ate a burger with a fried egg on top, but my pupils dilated like in Requiem For A Dream.

Shell Game

Most eggs produced in the United States are white, although in New England brown eggs are more common than elsewhere in the country. There is no difference in taste between different colored eggs, whether they’re uniform in color or speckled, or even their size. Different colored eggs are nutritionally all the same. I’ve noticed that brown eggs in my local supermarkets tend to be more expensive than plain white eggs, so unless you want brown eggs for their aesthetic properties, you may as well stick to the cheaper and more plentiful white eggs.

Health Scares Aren’t All They’re Cracked Up To Be: Egg Myths Debunked

Myth: Cholesterol in eggs raises your blood cholesterol.

British researchers have determined that there’s little evidence to support the common wisdom that the cholesterol found in eggs has any effect on raising blood cholesterol in people who consume them.

From the British Nutrition Foundation’s publication:

The egg is a nutrient-dense food, a valuable source of high quality protein and essential micronutrients that is not high in SFA or in energy. In the current difficult financial climate, eggs can play a useful role as a relatively inexpensive source of nutrition for all and especially for people on low incomes. The high protein content of eggs may help with weight maintenance or loss, a significant factor in the context of the current fight against obesity. It is high time that we dispelled the mythology surrounding eggs and heart disease and restored them to their rightful place on our menus where they can make a valuable contribution to healthy balanced diets.

That’s why I eat eggs but pass on Egg Beaters™. Given the choice, I’d rather consume a food made by nature than one manufactured by a giant corporation[3]. You don’t always have that choice, at least not without the tradeoff of convenience or price, since locally grown eggs from chickens who haven’t been raised on a diet of corn feed and growth hormones are not as readily available at the supermarket as those from mass chicken farms, and even when they are available they can cost several times more (although many would argue that they’re worth it, as they taste better).

Dr. Uffe Ravnskov has written a number of books on the subject of cholesterol myths, and quotes Dr. George V. Mann, research participant of the famous decades-long Framingham Heart Study:

The diet-heart hypothesis [that suggests that high intake of saturated fat and cholesterol causes heart disease] has been repeatedly shown to be wrong, and yet, for complicated reasons of pride, profit and prejudice, the hypothesis continues to be exploited by scientists, fund-raising enterprises, food companies and even governmental agencies. The public is being deceived by the greatest health scam of the century.

Consider also that Japan[4], the country with the highest consumption of eggs in their diet also has one of the lowest rates of heart disease. That can’t be a coincidence.

Myth: Eggs cause type2 diabetes in adults.

It was once thought that eggs (specifically the yolk) was a cause or major contributor of type 2 diabetes in adults, but that myth was also recently debunked.

Myth: Egg pasteurization reduces their nutritional content.

Nope. Eggs are pasteurized through applying a little heat to a simple water bath. Unlike many vegetables, eggs lose none of their nutrients through cooking (although runny yolks are delicious on just about anything).

Myth: Raw or undercooked eggs may contain salmonella.

Okay, this one’s real. While getting salmonella from eggs is rare, it still does happen. Salmonella is a dangerous (to humans) bacteria that is found in many chickens. You can reduce your risk by:

  • Only eating eggs where both the white and yolk are fully-cooked.
  • Ensure that the raw egg doesn’t touch anything else that you plan to eat.
  • Eat only pasteurized eggs (most eggs from the supermarket are pasteurized, but read the label).

Granted, while we tend to buy pasteurized eggs I love a good runny yolk, and will even order over-easy eggs at a restaurant.

If you want to be scared about egg safety, though, you can read Scrambled Eggs a publication produced by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI, which sounds like a government agency, but isn’t) which describes both the problem and suggested solutions for how the government can help to reduce our risk of contamination, like requiring more frequent inspections of egg-producing farms and requiring that farms refrigerate eggs sooner.

The Egg and I

I enjoy eating eggs. I’m an egg-enthusiast. If I’m going to eat a bunch of vegetables together, I’d rather wrap them in some ovum protein in an omelette than eat them any other way. Omelette possibilities are endless – you can basically stuff them with anything – vegetables, cheese, meats, or any combination of the three. I tend to not add more than three fillings to keep the flavor from becoming too much of a melange, and of course some things go better together than others. Add some spinach, tomato, olives, and feta cheese for a Mediterranean flavor. Bacon, tomato, and cheddar make for a nice burgery sensation. Avocado, shallots, and goat cheese and you’ll eat like a Californian (provided all of the ingredients are local, sustainable, and organic).

Sometimes I just want to experience the pure joy of eggs themselves. For my money, the perfect expression of the egg is poached. I even bought a fancy egg poaching spoon produced by celebrity chef Michael Rhulman for easier separating of the white and then retrieval of the eggs from the poaching liquid.

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If you’re looking for ways to introduce more eggs into your diet, indulge me on a Bubba from Forrest Gump exploration of the various ways eggs may be prepared:

  • hard-boiled
  • soft-boiled
  • poached
  • scrambled
  • coddled
  • shirred
  • fried
  • over-easy
  • over-hard
  • sunny-side-up
  • pickled
  • omelette
  • frittata
  • eggs benedict
  • spanish torta
  • strata
  • french toast
  • soufflé
  • custard
  • quiche
  • croque madame
  • egg salad
  • mayonnaise
  • hollandaise
  • meringue
  • egg foo young
  • huevos rancheros
  • loco moco
  • toad in the hole / egg in the basket / bird in the nest / one-eyed jack
  • scotch egg
  • eggs in purgatory
  • migas
  • shakshouka

So now that we know that eggs are both delicious and nutritious, won’t give you high cholesterol or diabetes, you can eat your unfertilized chicken embryos without guilt, apology, or having to worry about getting any metaphorical egg on your face.


  1. She’s allergic to eggs. Alas, it would never work out between us.  ↩

  2. The egg white is actually comprised of two parts, a more solid protein and another watery part. When you make scrambled eggs you usually just crack the whole thing into a bowl, but most chefs will actually separate out the two parts of the egg white before poaching an egg as it makes for a prettier finished product (and you don’t end up with little strands of the thinner albumen in your poaching liquid).  ↩

  3. I’ll concede the point that the eggs we buy at the supermarket also arrive there by way of a large corporation and are as much a product of chemistry as cultivation, but given the two evils, I’ll take the one with the shorter ingredient count. Plus, I try to avoid things that are known to cause death in rats.  ↩

  4. In 2006 a group of Japanese researchers studied over 90,000 subjects and found that cholesterol was actually higher in the group that consumed fewer eggs.  ↩

Lowering Cholesterol

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For the past few years I’ve been getting an annual physical that includes a blood test for various vitamin concentrations, a blood glucose test to screen for diabetes, and a lipid panel to test for cholesterol levels. The lipid panel has to be taken after you’ve been fasting for at least twelve hours because fat in food you’ve recently eaten can artificially raise your triglycerides and throw off the results.

I had a “holy shit” moment this year when I got my results back and found my total cholesterol and LDL (the “bad” cholesterol) were both high for the first time. When I dug up my results from the last two years it’s clear I should’ve been concerned about this sooner. Last year I was right on the cusp of having high cholesterol and didn’t think anything of it. My doctor even warned me about it in her letter accompanying the results, but I paid it no mind, probably because it was just under the normal range.

Here’s how my cholesterol has crept-up since 2010:

Total Cholesterol LDL HDL Triglycerides
Normal Range 125–199 0–129 40–135 30–149
2/8/2010 168 109 43 80
1/21/2011 199 129 50 101
2/27/2012 220 151 50 94

This year, though, my doctor’s letter contained an implied threat: if I couldn’t get my cholesterol down through diet and exercise alone in three months, I’d have to start taking statin drugs. Challenge accepted! Statins are a prescribed medication that have various side-effects and other nasty business of which I want absolutely no part. Could I really reduce my cholesterol naturally? I was determined to try.

What The Hell Is Cholesterol, Anyway?

Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like steroid found in every cell of your body. About 75% of your cholesterol is produced by the liver, and you get the other 25% from the food you eat. Your cells need cholesterol to function, and they get cholesterol delivered to them via the bloodstream. If a cell has enough cholesterol, then the cholesterol globules continue through your body until they’re reabsorbed by your lower intestines where they’ll go back to your liver to be recycled.

When you have an abundance of cholesterol in your blood, though, that won’t be accepted by cells and is more than the liver can re-process, your body will start to store it throughout the areas where your blood travels, usually throughout your arteries, gunking up the walls of the little tubes your blood flows through. Yes, even your blood can get fat. Then it will start to build up in the heart, which can impair its function and eventually cause a heart attack.

The problem with having high cholesterol is that there are no symptoms until you have your first heart attack. Getting a cholesterol screening can help diagnose potential issues while you still have a chance to remedy the situation.

Cholesterol is a kind of fat and can be screened by what’s known as a lipid panel or lipid profile (“lipid” being the fancy scientific term for “fat”).

A lipid profile typically includes measurements for:

  • Total cholesterol
  • High-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL)
  • Low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL)
  • Triglycerides

An extended profile (which is much more expensive, and not typical) may also include:

  • Very low-density lipoprotein (VLDL)
  • Non-HDL

However, most cholesterol testing doesn’t include a full lipid panel, and instead only measures LDL cholesterol and total cholesterol, and then the results of the others are calculated from those. If your initial cholesterol screen looks like you may have high cholesterol, your doctor may order a more complete profile.

Cholesterol levels are measured in mg/dL, or how many milligrams of each cholesterol lipoprotein are contained in a deciliter of blood. When I refer to “points” or “levels” I’m talking about a measurable quantity of mg/dL. For reference, Americans, a deciliter is a little less than half a cup. The average human body contains about five and a half quarts of blood (depending on size different people will hold more or less blood in their body). So the cholesterol test takes a sample and then projects how much total cholesterol you have.

LDL vs. HDL

Low-density lipoprotein, or LDL (“bad” cholesterol) is a fatty protein that transports cholesterol through the bloodstream when your cells reject its delivery (because they have enough). It’s “bad” because it deposits excess cholesterol in the walls of arteries, or wherever else it can. It just stuffs it wherever it’ll fit.

When that happens white blood cells attack the LDL and try to digest it, but are unable to, so the LDL is converted into a toxic, even waxier substance called plaque, which builds up in arterial walls and makes it harder for red blood cells to carry oxygen through those parts of your cardiovascular system. Plaque tends to build up over time, and eventually can cause a rupture, on which a blood clot can form and if that clot breaks free and travels to the heart, can cause a heart attack.

High-density lipoprotein, or HDL (“good” cholesterol), scavenges LDL cholesterol and returns it back to the liver where it can be broken down and essentially recycled for when it’s needed again. HDL also scrubs the walls of your blood vessels so that plaque doesn’t form.

It’s long been thought that higher levels of HDL in your blood prevented heart attacks, but new research conducted in May 2012 suggests that raising the HDL levels of people with low HDL doesn’t lower their chances of getting a heart attack, probably because of other factors that lead to heart attacks, such as a sedentary lifestyle and poor diet.

While HDL alone may not be the panacea for your heart’s health, higher levels of HDL are beneficial mostly because they control the levels of your LDL cholesterol, and that’s good.

Triglycerides

Triglycerides are the main form of fat in the body. When you consume excess calories, food is broken down into triglycerides and stored in your fat cells (adipose tissue) where it may be used again when you burn more calories than you take in. Triglycerides are packed together in the liver and wrapped up inside the strands of very low-density lipoprotein, or VLDL, and then go on their way through your bloodstream until they’re tucked neatly away in one of your body’s fat stores.

It’s not currently known how high triglyceride levels in the blood affect the heart. Part of the reason is that high triglycerides tend to occur when you have other risk factors for heart disease, like high LDLs or high blood pressure.

There is also a direct correlation between alcohol consumption and high triglyceride levels. Drinking more than one drink per day for women, or two drinks a day for men may raise triglyceride levels considerably. Of course, if you’re trying to lose weight you’ve already cut back on drinking alcohol for the calories alone.

How Can You Lower Your Cholesterol?

Besides medication, there are some all-natural ways you can lower your cholesterol:

  • Aerobic Exercise
  • Diet
  • Supplements

I wrote them in that order so they wouldn’t have the acronym “SAD.” By fighting cholesterol on all three fronts you may have a better chance of lowering it, and thus lowering your risk of heart disease.

Exercise Lowers Cholesterol

So how does exercise lower your cholesterol? Exercise raises the level of your lipoprotein lipase (LPL) enzymes[1] which in turn attach to triglycerides to essentially remove them from the bloodstream, thus lowering your triglyceride levels too.

Exercise also increases the size of both LDL and HDL cholesterol, which means that the LDL can’t nestle into the tiny nooks & crannies of your heart and blood vessels.

While there’s a direct correlation between exercise (especially aerobic exercise like walking, running, or otherwise moving your body without resistance) and lowering cholesterol, researchers aren’t quite sure why exercise works, but they know it does.

A 2002 study at Duke University Medical Center found that more intense exercise lowers LDL cholesterol far more than moderate or light exercise. People who exercised more vigorously also raised their HDL cholesterol. Win-win. So you have to push yourself harder to have a greater effect in lowering cholesterol.

Foods That Lower Cholesterol

In addition to exercise, certain foods are known to help lower cholesterol.

  • Oatmeal – Oats contain a substance called beta-glucan which absorbs LDL cholesterol and removes it from your body. If there’s any one magic bullet for lowering cholesterol, oats are it. If anything, since the 1980s when the FDA allowed oat-based foods to carry a health claim, additional research has proven that above all other foods, oats can lower cholesterol by as much as 20%.
  • Fish – Especially those high in omega–3 fatty acids, like salmon, herring, sardines, and tuna, can lower your cholesterol. Sure, you can take a fish oil supplement, but you gotta eat, and adding more fish to your diet can help lower your cholesterol and provide healthier proteins than red meat or poultry.
  • Flax Seed – Flax is like a wick that soaks up that bad cholesterol and removes it from your body. Add a tablespoon or two to your oatmeal, yogurt, or other healthy food, and you probably won’t even notice it’s there. Flax seeds are also high in omega–3. Do you see a trend? Fiber and omega–3 fatty acids work to reduce cholesterol.
  • Chia Seeds – You know those novelty terra cotta Chia Pets that grow little greens? Eating the seeds rather than planting them may help reduce your LDL. Cha-cha-cha chia!
  • Olive Oil – Not only does olive oil help to lower LDLs, but because it’s a monounsaturated fat it doesn’t lower your HDLs, so a little olive oil in your diet can help you in more ways than one.
  • Avocado – Speaking of omega–3 acids, avocados are loaded with the stuff, and taste great when mashed up with a little lime juice, onion, cilantro and salt. I could probably eat guacamole every day.
  • Walnuts – Also high in omega–3 fatty acids (unlike most other nuts), which can help slow down the growth of plaque in your arteries. Other nuts, like almonds, pecans, pistachios, and peanuts also help to lower cholesterol, mostly because they’re high in fiber, but none are as effective as walnuts.
  • Blueberries – The high level of antioxidants in blueberries have been found to reduce cholesterol… in hamsters. However, they taste great in oatmeal, so it’s worth trying (plus blueberries contain numerous compounds known to be beneficial).
  • Red Wine – In vino veritas… and it has been found to lower cholesterol, too. Only the red wines, though, ladies. Your chardonnay, while delightfully crisp and oaky, won’t have much effect because white wines do not contain a chemical known as a flavonoid, which has a protective effect that makes your heart and arteries less able to accept LDL cholesterol for storage. The flavonoids are stronger in red wine because they come from the grape’s stem, seeds, and skins, which are skimmed out of white wine earlier in its fermentation process. The tannins in red wine also suppress the peptide responsible for hardening arteries. As beneficial as red wine can be for your health, it still contains a lot of alcohol and therefore should only be consumed in moderation (one glass per day for women, two glasses for men).
  • Dark Chocolate – The darker (i.e. containing more cacao) the better. Dark chocolate also contains flavonoids (as well as 300 other chemical compounds known to cure a great many ills both physical and psychological).

If these foods have anything in common, it’s that they’re high in calories. So moderation is key. Try replacing some other food you were going to eat with these heart-healthy choices and you’ll be lowering your cholesterol in no time.

In addition to eating these special foods, though, improving your overall diet, eating the proper number of calories, and getting ample nutrition is going to be the most effective in preventing various diseases.

Foods High in Cholesterol

It’s not all sunshine and oatmeal. There are a number of (primarily animal-based) foods that contain a lot of cholesterol, such as:

  • Egg Yolks – While egg yolks only contain 1.5 grams of saturated fat, eggs have become the poster child for high-cholesterol foods. Of course, eggs have many other health benefits (I’ll write more on how great eggs are later).
  • Red Meat – Steak, hamburgers, pork, bacon, etc. are all high in fat and dietary cholesterol.
  • Dairy Fat – Dairy fats like butter, cream, cheese, and even whole milk contain cholesterol.
  • Shellfish – Shrimp, lobster, oysters, and mussels are all high in cholesterol.

While the dietary cholesterol you ingest doesn’t become “serum cholesterol” in your bloodstream, consumption of saturated fats may stimulate cholesterol production in the liver. It’s long been considered a given that the type of fats you consume influences the types of cholesterol you produce.

My dietician suggested that I reduce (or eliminate) my consumption of the above foods, but there is an abundance of research to suggest that a diet high in saturated fat has no correlation to increased blood cholesterol levels. I expect we’ll see more research in this area in the near future.

Since there are no obvious health detriments to reducing your consumption of saturated fat, however, why not reduce your intake to be on the safe side?

Do Any Vitamins or Supplements Lower Cholesterol?

I’ve been taking Benecol Smart Chews which are essentially a concentration of plant stanol esters. Sounds tasty, no? Plant stanol esters are naturally occurring in vegetables, fruits, nuts, and other natural whole foods, but in such limited quantities as to have little effect on the body. The refined, esterified, and hydrogenated stanols bond with LDL proteins and remove them from the bloodstream. Sterol esters have a similar effect, but are partially absorbed by the body, and thus raise levels over time. Studies suggest that this may be a problem so I’ve stuck with the stanol instead of the sterol esters.

Statins

I’m not down on statin drugs, as they can help reduce cholesterol for a lot of people who can’t rely on exercise and diet alone to reduce it. I just try not to take any more medication than I absolutely have to, and am trying to hold back the march of time on my body. For people who need them, I’m sure that statin drugs are a godsend.

Statin drugs work by blocking production of an enzyme in the liver that is responsible for producing cholesterol (the enzyme is called HMG-CoA reductase, or as it’s known to its friends, “3-hydroxy–3-methyglutaryl COA”).

Statin drugs are the most common prescription drug in the world. Some statin brands prescribed include Lipitor, Crestor, Zocor, Mevacor, Altocor, and the comically named Lescol (for less cholesterol?), Livalo (live a little longer?), and Pravachol (which, uh… prevents cholesterol?). Whatever the brand name, these statin drugs actually provide different statins, so if one doesn’t work another may work better for you. Lipitor recently fell out of patent protection and therefore a generic may be prescribed in its place (although in Summer 2012 the generics aren’t much cheaper than the brand name drug).

Station drugs are known to have some fairly serious side effects, though, including nausea, dizziness, cramping, diarrhea, constipation, headaches, and bloating due to gas. Lovely. The worst side-effect seems to be myositis, or inflammation of the muscles, which can cause injuries when trying to exercise. None for me, thanks.

So How Did I Do?

After improving my diet, adding copious amounts of foods known to help lower cholesterol to my diet, chewing Benecol with each meal, and increasing the amount of exercise I get each day, I gave blood again for another lipid panel.

Here are my cholesterol levels after my most recent blood test:

- Total LDL HDL Triglycerides
Normal Range 125–199 0–129 40–135 30–149
2/27/2012 220 151 50 94
6/19/2012 164 111 36 84
Difference –56 –40 –14 –10

My total cholesterol reduced by 56 points, and my LDL cholesterol went down by 40 points in three months[2]. Oddly, my HDL, the “good” cholesterol, also decreased, which is typical for those taking statin drugs but unusual for people who achieve lowered cholesterol through diet and exercise alone, especially since exercise is known to lower LDL and raise HDL cholesterol. Puzzling.

I’m not stopping now. While my total cholesterol is now well within the “normal” range you can’t really ever get your LDL too low, and I’d like to lower my LDL as much as possible while raising my HDL even higher.

I’m going to re-check my cholesterol in four months to see how I’ve been progressing, and I’m going to pursue lowering my cholesterol as a good excuse to lose weight and get healthier, and continue to act like my cholesterol is high. After all, heart-healthy foods like oatmeal, avocados, salmon, sweet potatoes, blueberries, walnuts, and olive oil aren’t exactly hard to fit into your diet, because they’re delicious.

Being diagnosed with slightly high cholesterol was just the kick in the pants I needed to get back on track with my Clean Livin’. I’ve lowered my cholesterol by 56 points naturally, yes, but I’ve also lost over 30 pounds in the same interval.


  1. Not to be confused with LDL, the “bad” kind of cholesterol.  ↩

  2. Yes, I know that February to June is actually four months, but I didn’t get the results of my blood test in the mail until March 19th, so my next blood test was actually exactly three months after I started making changes to my diet and increasing my exercise.  ↩

Drink Water

Of all the things you can do to help you lose weight, consuming mass quantities of water is probably the most important. It doesn’t matter whether you drink sparkling or still, bottled or tap, mineral or filtered, as long as you’re getting copious amounts of good ol’ H2O, you’re on the rocket train to Hydrationtown.

Glass Half Full
Glass Half Full

You never know what other benefits drinking water could provide. Maybe someone will want to trade the “good package” for a simple glass of water.

Our bodies are comprised of about 60% water, so it’s no wonder we need an intake of fluid in order to function properly. The average person can survive a week to ten days without food. Without water you wouldn’t survive more than 2–3 days, tops.

We’re not interested in mere survival and standard body functions, though. How does water help you lost weight?

Ways That Water Helps You Lose Weight

  • Tastes Great. More Filling – Water fills you up. If you drink a big glass of water before eating you’ll eat less because you’re full of water. It sounds stupid, but it’s effective. Water, which has no calories, displaces other things that contain calories.
  • Reduces Water Retention – This one’s counter-intuitive, but if you’re not properly hydrated your body will retain as much fluid as it can so all of your systems can function properly. Drinking more water actually makes you retain less water. Easing water retention by pumping plenty of water through your system means you won’t be weighing that excess water when you step on the scale. Reducing the amount of water you retain is the cheapest and easiest way to lose body weight.
  • Stops You From Confusing Hunger With Thirst – Your body can’t really tell the difference between being hungry and being thirsty. If you keep your stomach full of water for most of the day, you won’t feel as hungry as fast.
  • Gets Your Body Moving – Researchers have discovered that drinking a lot of water helps to increase sympathetic nervous system activity and constricts blood vessels, which prevents pooling of blood throughout your extremities.
  • Increases Your Metabolism – Drink water, burn more calories (slightly). Some will tell you that drinking really cold water will burn calories just warming it up, but really it’s not that hydration increases your metabolic rate as much as when you’re dehydrated your body slows it down in order to conserve water. By hydrating properly you’re making sure that your metabolism runs at a full clip as often as possible.
  • Lubricates Your Joints – Water helps your muscles contract and lubricates your joints (which is why athletes that don’t properly hydrate get muscle cramps). The last thing you need when you’re trying to add more exercise to your life is to have cramps from not drinking enough fluid.
  • Displaces Caloric Beverages – If you’re drinking as much water as possible, that means you’re probably replacing some caloric beverage with water, which in and of itself could save you a large number of calories depending on your drinking habits. Calories from alcoholic and sugary drinks (about 7 calories per gram of sugar or alcohol) add-up very quickly. Having said that, all non-alcoholic water-based beverages hydrate you, just none as much as pure water.
  • Helps Your Kidneys Take Out The Trash – I read quite a few articles (that I won’t link to) that said something to the effect of “drinking water helps flush impurities and toxins out of your body.” The problem with this mumbo-jumbo is that it’s sorta true, from a certain point of view. Your kidneys are like your body’s filtration system, and are responsible for producing urine and for depositing waste into it, so if you drink more water you’ll keep the crap from staying in your body and get it into your urine faster. If you’re interested in how your kidneys work, How Stuff Works has a pretty good explanation.

Urination: Your New Hobby

Let’s get this out of the way – if you drink a lot of water you’ll have to pee a lot. Think of this newfound activity as a hobby and use your bathroom breaks as a good excuse to get up and move around every hour or so.

Your urine should be mostly clear in color (except for the first pee of the day which may be cloudier). An easy test for how hydrated you are is to look at the color of your urine.

So having to pee a lot is annoying, especially when you’re out and about and have to rely on public restrooms. When at home or at work, though, at least drinking more fluids will get you moving a little between getting up to refill your water glass or getting up to go use the restroom.

How Much Water To Drink

The conventional amount suggested is eight 8oz glasses of water per day. The truth is that the amount of water you need varies per individual, amount of activity, how much you sweat, how hot it is outside, how much you exercise, your altitude, and all sorts of other things you can’t easily measure. Heck, you lose 1–2 liters per day, which is half of your daily water loss, just through breathing[1]. So we can’t really go strictly by volume.

The Mayo Clinic recommends drinking 2.2 to 3 liters per day, which is close to the minimum 1.9 liters (8 x 8oz) various health organizations suggest.

Another rule of thumb is to drink half your weight in pounds in ounces of water. So if you weigh 150 lbs., to drink at least 75oz of water per day (which is more than 8 glasses). That seems high to me, but again it really depends on the person. Maybe you need that much water. Maybe you don’t. So how much water should you drink?

You should drink as much water as you can. Drink so that you urinate frequently (once an hour or so is probably the right amount) and that your pee is clear instead of yellow (your first urination of the day may be darker). If you’re drinking a lot of water, peeing a lot, and your pee is clear, you’re probably getting enough water.

Food generally attributes about 20% of your fluid intake as well, as many foods contain water, so you’ll also get some hydration simply by eating, but not nearly as much as by drinking water.

How Much Is Too Much?

It is actually possible to drink too much water, although it’s really difficult to do so. When you drink too much water the electrolytes (salt and other minerals) in your blood gets diluted and your kidneys can’t process the water fast enough. You develop a condition known as “hyponatremia,” the most severe symptom of “water intoxication” caused by the overconsumption of water.

However, it’s not just the sheer amount of water that is a problem, but rather how fast you drink it. The kidneys of a healthy adult can process about 15 liters of water throughout the course of the day. If your kidneys process water linearly (and they don’t – they actually work harder while you sleep than while you’re awake) that means they can process about half a liter per hour, outside of what your stomach and the rest of your body holds. So you’re going to be hard-pressed to overdo your water intake unless you try to drink several liters at once.

As with anything, it’s better to regulate your intake and have a steady and constant amount of fluid going through you rather than trying to get it all in at one time.

For people with healthy kidneys the most common side-effect of drinking too much water is more frequent urination.

Diuretics

A diuretic, like coffee/caffeine or alcohol is considered to make you urinate more frequently and to dehydrate your body. That’s true, if you consume vast quantities of coffee or other caffeinated beverages. In practical use, though, you’ll get more hydration from the water in coffee than the diuretic effect of the caffeine can remove.

Alcohol is a different story, not because there isn’t water in a lot of alcoholic beverages (in beer and wine more than hard liquor), but because alcohol affects the kidneys and increases your rate of urination. For every 1g of alcohol drunk, urine excretion increases by 10ml[2] (for the duration that alcohol is in your bloodstream, which is a complicated matter that depends on numerous factors[3]).

Let’s put that into perspective. An “alcohol unit” is a standard measure for what constitutes a single alcoholic drink. In the U.S. one alcohol unit is about 10ml or 8g of pure alcohol (while a pint of water may weigh a pound, alcohol is a little lighter than water). A pint of beer is about 568ml. For our purposes we’ll say that our pint of beer is a standard lager containing about 5% alcohol by volume for a drink that’s around 200 calories. That means that there’s 22.4g of alcohol, which means that your urine excretion rises 224ml per hour.

Keep in mind that the diuretic effect of alcohol doesn’t just expel extra water from the alcoholic beverage you’ve consumed, but any water in your system. You can see why alcohol is said to dehydrate you.

Sparkling or Still?

You should drink water more than any other beverage, but carbon dioxide (CO2) contains zero calories, so if you like fizzy water, get a Sodastream or buy Seltzer.

Beware store-bought soda that isn’t flavored, though, as these are not all the same:

  • Seltzer – Just water with CO2 bubbles dissolved in it. 0 calories / cup.
  • Club Soda – Seltzer water with bicarbonate of soda (baking soda) dissolved in it. Usually 0 calories, but often a lot of sodium is added as well. Some brands will use the terms seltzer and club soda interchangeably.
  • Tonic Water – Seltzer that has quinine added to it for flavor. It’ll protect you from malaria, and if you shine a blacklight on a bottle it’ll glow even though the concentration of quinine is very low. Actually, many cheap supermarket brands don’t even contain quinine anymore, instead opting for another chemical that has a similar flavor. Most tonic water also contains sugar or high-fructose corn syrup. For example, a 12 oz can of Canada Dry Tonic Water contains 140 calories, almost as much as a can of Coca-Cola (which has 160 calories per can).

Drink water or seltzer water. Drink the other two in limited quantities, and know that it’s not a health drink when you do. When in doubt, check the label or better yet, make your own seltzer.

Bottled or Tap?

Water Bottles

Either one will help you stay hydrated, but is bottled water worth the additional cost over plain ol’ municipal tap water?

Before we contrast and compare, consider that nearly half of all bottled water is actually sourced from local tap water.

There are some major disadvantages to drinking bottled versus tap water:

Cost

At an average cost of $3.79/gallon, bottled water is about 1,900 times more expensive than tap water, even when bought in bulk. Smaller single-serving bottles can be as much as five thousand times more expensive. At the airport or movie theater, twice that.

So the next time you buy a bottle of water, consider if its convenience makes it 5,000–10,000 times better than tap.

For what it’s worth, I buy bottles of water all the time when we’re out and about and prefer simple filtered tap water like Aquafina or Dasani (bottled by Pepsi Co. and Coca-Cola respectively). Sometimes it’s just not convenient to carry your own refillable water bottle. When I do buy bottled water, though, I know I’m being overcharged for it, and resent it. You’re on my list, Regal Cinemas.

Quality

Municipal water quality varies from location to location, whereas bottled water quality tends to differ only by brand.

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) did an enormous study a few years ago to determine the quality of various brands of bottled water, and published a scorecard on a scale of A-F, as in school. A few brands received a grade of B or C, but the majority received Ds and Fs.

The study’s conclusion was that while for the most part bottled water quality was on-par with municipal tap water, it was rarely, if ever, better.

Bottled water is often just filtered tap water, but filtering removes many of the valuable minerals in the water. One essential mineral that is missing from most bottled water is fluoride, which is added to most municipal water sources to prevent tooth decay. Of course, most toothpaste also contains fluoride.

Safety

Bottled water is regulated by the FDA whereas tap water is regulated by the EPA. The FDA is also responsible for inspecting bottled water plants, although according to the FDA web site:

FDA monitors and inspects bottled water products and processing plants under its general food safety program, not a specific bottled water program. Because FDA’s experience over the years has shown that bottled water has a good safety record, bottled water plants generally are assigned low priority for inspection.

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) performed a study in 1999 to determine the quality of more than a thousand bottles of 103 brands of bottled water and found:

While most of the tested waters were found to be of high quality, some brands were contaminated: about one-third of the waters tested contained levels of contamination – including synthetic organic chemicals, bacteria, and arsenic – in at least one sample that exceeded allowable limits under either state or bottled water industry standards or guidelines.

The afore-linked-to EWG study on bottled water quality also lists several safety concerns:

Laboratory tests conducted for EWG at one of the country’s leading water quality laboratories found that 10 popular brands of bottled water, purchased from grocery stores and other retailers in 9 states and the District of Columbia, contained 38 chemical pollutants altogether, with an average of 8 contaminants in each brand. More than one-third of the chemicals found are not regulated in bottled water.

The types of chemical pollutants found were quite varied:

Altogether, the analyses conducted by the University of Iowa Hygienic Laboratory of these 10 brands of bottled water revealed a wide range of pollutants, including not only disinfection byproducts, but also common urban wastewater pollutants like caffeine and pharmaceuticals (Tylenol); heavy metals and minerals including arsenic and radioactive isotopes; fertilizer residue (nitrate and ammonia); and a broad range of other, tentatively identified industrial chemicals used as solvents, plasticizers, viscosity decreasing agents, and propellants.

Drink up!

Environmental Impact

There’s an environmental cost to getting water to people no matter whether it flows through pipes or is bottled and shipped on a truck, but consider the added environmental costs of bottled water over tap:

  • The bottles have to be manufactured.
  • The bottles are manufactured from petroleum (usually).
  • Many states don’t offer a return on five-cent deposit on water bottles like they do for beer and soda.
  • Because there’s no deposit, a lot of water bottles end up in landfills.
  • Even those bottles that do get recycled have costs associated with recycling the plastic.
  • Bottled water is often sold far from where it’s bottled, meaning that it has to be shipped on trucks, barges, etc. throughout the world. Consider also that water is heavy[4].
  • Local communities often get shafted by large water-bottling corporations who take their ground or spring water without repaying the community.

Considering that nearly half of the bottled water sold is tap water anyway… why not drink the stuff that’s better regulated, safer, and cheaper?


  1. The clock in the bedroom where I walk on the treadmill shows relative humidity, and after 20–30 minutes of walking on the treadmill the humidity in the room tends to rise by 3–5%, which I can only account for my breath making the air more humid.  ↩

  2. Cf. The diuretic action of alcohol in man  ↩

  3. Eating high-protein foods will slow the rate of alcohol absorption, but it won’t stop the alcohol from getting into your bloodstream. Also of note is that your blood alcohol level continues to rise even after you’ve stopped drinking.  ↩

  4. Not to be confused with heavy water.  ↩

Food Energy

In terms of weight loss the most important thing to measure is the intake of food vs. expenditure of energy. Let’s make sure we understand what all of these things mean.

The dictionary defines food as “any substance your body can translate into energy.” By this definition water isn’t a food, but let’s say that it’s “anything you can eat or drink that supports your body’s energy needs.” Your body is a complex amalgam of many systems, but to simplify we’ll only be interested in the body as a mechanical and chemical system. To use a car analogy, your body needs fuel in order to function. The best part about food energy[1] is that it can be measured, so we can know (albeit sometimes with some difficulty) what’s going into our gas tanks (stomachs).

You’re probably familiar with the unit we use to measure the amount of energy in food when consumed. It’s listed on the back of every pre-packaged food item in the form of Calories.

Cal or kCal?

Prometheus stole fire from the Gods and gave it to man.
Prometheus stole fire from the Gods and gave it to man.

The Calories in food are actually kilocalories in the scientific sense. Sometimes these calories are divided into small calories and big (or large) Calories, and it’s customary to use a capital C when referring to that unit of measure, although I’ll probably use the lower-case more often because it’s less obnoxious to read that way.

Nutritionists’ calorie, kcal, or just Calorie, is the amount of energy needed to increase 1 kilogram of water by 1° C. While it’s a metric measurement, in scientific circles the use of the SI-unit “joule” is more common. In current usage the calorie almost always means the amount of energy in food, specifically.

Input / Output

How much energy does it take to burn a pound of body fat?

There are 453.6 grams per pound. You have to create a calorie deficit of 3,500 calories to burn one pound of fat. Dietary fat has nine calories per gram.

9 calories per gram × 453.6 grams = 4,082.4 calories.

Since burning a pound of body fat only takes a deficit of 3,500 calories, we can do some more simple math: 3,500 calories divided by 453.6 grams = 7.7 calories per gram of body fat, which is less than the 9 calories that we know fat to contain per gram. So why does it take fewer calories to burn the fat than it does to intake the same amount of fat?

The reason is because stored body fat, called “adipose tissue” by scientists, isn’t pure fat like the dietary fat you consume. Adipose tissue is comprised primarily of fat, but also contains protein and a lot of water. Protein only has four calories per gram as opposed to fat’s nine, and water doesn’t have any calories, so that’s why it’s biologically easier to burn body fat than to store a pound of fat due to an excess of food intake. Of course, it’s easier to sit on your ass watching TV and eating potato chips than it is to exercise, and calorie-dense & nutritionally vacant foods comprise far too much of the average diet, making losing weight harder from a psychological and practical standpoint than gaining weight is for most people. Nature is on your side, but Human Nature is against you.

Time To Lose

If you only created a calorie deficit of 100 calories per day it would take five weeks to lose a single pound of fat. To lose 1–2 pounds per week, which is the most you’ll want to lose safely (i.e. without causing harm to your body) you’ll need to create a deficit of 500–1,000 calories every day. You can do this with a combination of calorie restriction and exercise. Just keep in mind that exercise will only do so much. The 80/20 rule applies here: 80% of your weight loss will come from your diet, and 20% should come from exercise. Walking briskly only burns about 100 calories per mile. Since you’ll have to walk almost six miles to burn off one Big Mac, altering your diet will result in greater results than exercise. That doesn’t mean that exercise is useless, just that if your only goal is weight loss, exercise is less important than diet. One advantage of exercise, though, is that it increases your metabolism.

Metabolism is the way your body breaks down food, determines its constitution, and gets the right nutrients to the cells that need them. Your body burns energy all the time, even now while you’re reading this. The more physical exertion, the more energy it takes.

I was going to take some pictures of 100 calories of foods to show volumes of various foods that all have the same number of calories, but someone already beat me to it (with a gallery of what 200 calories of various foods looks like).

Take This To The Bank

Caloric intake is like having a per diem. Every day you get a certain budget, and then it resets for the next day while you sleep. The amount of calories you require on a daily basis varies from person to person, but the USDA’s guidelines for nutritional labeling of food items bases the amounts on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your needs may be more or less than that based on your weight, gender, or age. There are even variations in the metabolism of individuals, so any talk of measuring your intake vs. calories burned will be ballpark figures.

Calorie Density

Some foods are more calorie dense than others, meaning that you can eat larger amounts of some foods without taking as big of a hit in your daily budget.

Nutrient Calories Per Gram
Lipids (fats)[2] 9 calories
Alcohol 7 calories
Protein 4 calories
Carbohydrates 4 calories

Water, insoluble fiber, cholesterol, vitamins, and minerals don’t have any calories but provide other vital nutrients. Practically all foods contain some combination of the above constituents, and food calories are calculated based on the amount of fats, proteins, and carbohydrates that they contain.

How Much Of Each Nutrient Should I Eat Daily?

The Institute of Medicine provides a recommendation table called the acceptable macronutrient distribution range (AMDR) which specifies the percentages of each macronutrients (fat, protein, carbs, etc.) people should consume daily based on their age and gender. For adults, on average, you should base your percentage of macronutrient intakes on:

Macronutrient Daily Caloric Consumption
Carbohydrates 45–65%
Protein 10–35%
Fats[3] 20–35%

As you can see, the totals of the maximum range exceed 100%, so depending on your age and gender you’ll need more or less of each nutrient. Remember, however, that your body weight is a simple balance of caloric intake versus outtake. Calories are calories whether they come from fat, protein, or a jelly donut. You can get all of your calories from eating potato chips and still lose weight. You may die of malnutrition, but you’ll lose weight.

Free Energy

Your metabolism is working all the time, burning energy just to keep your vital functions working, your body heat constant, heart beating, and lungs breathing. The amount of energy needed to keep you alive is called your basal metabolic rate. BMR varies in individuals, but a good average figure is that your BMR constitutes about 60% of your total energy consumption. You also burn energy digesting food, and of course through activity.

The average woman burns 10 calories per pound, and men burn 11 calories per pound.

Let’s assume for example a 150 pound woman (because the math works out conveniently). Her BMR would result in a caloric consumption of 1,500 calories (150 lbs x 10 calories), which is 60% of a total of 2,500, which is the amount of calories she’d have to consume daily to maintain the same weight.

But like I said above, BMR varies based on a great number of factors, including genetics, body frame, height, weight, etc. It’s widely known that the BMR of overweight people is actually much greater than that of fit people since it takes more energy to keep more mass moving, and being overweight stresses the body causing an overweight person to burn more energy than if they weren’t carrying the extra weight. If you’re overweight, this is excellent news.

Your BMR constitutes about 60% of your daily caloric needs. Another 10% goes to digesting food and carrying nutrients to your organs. Only 30% of your daily caloric intake goes to powering your muscles to move your body around through activity. So it seems that you’d be well-served by figuring out how to increase your basal metabolic rate. Of course, to know how to increase it you’ll need to know how to calculate yours first.

Some fancy scales can determine your BMR by sending a small electrical current through your body (one foot to the other) and measuring the resistance caused by water in your cells. It’s a rough estimate. There are also handheld devices that can measure your body fat percentages so you can calculate your BMR more accurately. Your doctor can prescribe far more accurate tests that require expensive equipment, or by suspending you in a tank of water like Luke Skywalker in The Empire Strikes Back.

Personally, I base my intake on an 1800–2000 calorie diet and have been losing weight more rapidly than is recommended by my doctor. I’d have to recommend that you talk to your physician or dietitian to figure out how many calories you should be consuming daily, and what percentage of macronutrients you should target.

Raising Your Metabolism

Here are a few ways to boost your metabolism:

  • Exercise – Not only does exercise help make you stronger and feel better, but you get a small metabolism bump that lasts hours after you’ve finished exercising. That’s why it’s better to work out in the morning rather than at night after work (if you have to choose).
  • Build muscle – Every pound of muscle burns about 6 calories per day through general use, while each pound of fat only requires about 2 calories a day. While you can’t turn fat into muscle (they’re completely different tissues) you can increase your muscle mass through exercise and thus raise your metabolic rate slightly. The more muscle you have, the more energy you burn.
  • Don’t starve yourself. – You burn excess fat by creating a calorie deficit, but if you create too much of a deficit your body thinks it’s starving and slows down your metabolism in order to keep you alive for as long as possible.
  • Get enough sleep. – Sleep depravation slows down your metabolism. Even though you burn fewer calories while sleeping than while awake, you’ll burn fewer calories still if you don’t get enough sleep. Most adults need 7–9 hours of sleep per night.
  • Eat smaller. – I don’t mean eat smaller portions (although you should do that too) but eat smaller meals more frequently. Your metabolism slows down when you’re done digesting food, so eating smaller amounts of food spread out throughout the day will actually keep your metabolism going stronger for longer.
  • Eat more fish. – Especially those containing omega–3 fatty acids. Salmon, sardines, and other rich in omega–3 fish oils have been known to raise your metabolic burn by as much as an additional 400 calories per day.
  • Spice it up. – Studies have shown that eating spicy foods actually raises your metabolism. Some diet pills actually contain pure capsaicin, the protein that makes food taste hot & spicy. Spices also have the added benefit of adding a tasty kick to some blander (but healthier) foods.
  • Drink green tea. – Drinking green tea before a workout is said to increase the amount of calories you burn between 15 and 20%.
  • Drink coffee – The caffeine in coffee is a stimulant and slightly raises your metabolism.
  • Eat more protein. – Proteins take more energy to burn than fats or carbohydrates, which extends the amount of time you spend metabolizing your food between meals. Plus, protein is essential for promoting muscle growth, which also burns more calories.
  • Be younger – Metabolism slows with age, so the best way to speed up your metabolism is to grown younger. Oh yeah, that’s impossible. I guess you’ll have to stick to eating right and working out, then.

OR WILL YOU?!??!?

Burning Calories Through Inactivity

Did you know that you burn calories all the time? Right now reading this is burning more calories than you’d burn if you were sleeping or just sitting still on the sofa. This is sometimes referred to as NEAT – non-exercise activity thermogenesis. This is the activity that you wouldn’t consider activity – fidgeting, shivering, pacing, talking – all of these things burn a small amount of calories.

No one is going to suggest that you replace your daily 30 minute workout with fidgeting on the sofa, but by keeping in mind that just about everything you do with your body burns calories you can make a game of it by trying to burn as many calories as you can per day.

The following figures are based on the Compendium of Physical Activity, a reference that assigns a MET value (defined as the ratio of activity to a standard resting metabolic rate) to various activities based on their intensity. Sitting still is the baseline of 1.0 METs per hour. The METs are considered an average over time, which is why gardening is higher than surfing – surfing may be higher intensity for brief intervals, but constant gardening beats out waiting for that perfect wave to come.

I’d argue that sexual activity is rated far too low in terms of physical intensity, but then I’d be bragging.

Calories burned per hour
per pound of weight.
Activity Calories
Men Women
Sleeping 9.9 9.0
Sitting Still 11 10
Standing 13.2 12
Sex (moderate intensity) 14.3 13
Sitting (Reading or Typing) 16.5 15
Showering, Toweling-Off
(while standing)
22 20
Cooking (while standing) 22 20
Washing Dishes 25.3 23
Walking (light stroll) 27.5 25
Surfing 33 30
Walking (3mph) 44 40
Gardening 56 50
Moving Furniture 66 60
Bicycling 88 80

None of these things are generally considered “exercise” (except maybe bicycling, which I included because it’s not work if it’s fun, right?) yet all of these activities burn some calories. Cooking burns more calories than sitting. Reading burns slightly more calories than watching TV (I wonder if that’s because of the page turns). Walking tends to burn more calories the faster you walk, but the interesting part about walking/jogging/running is that you burn the same calories over the same distance no matter your intensity. So running one mile burns the same number of calories as slowly walking that same mile (although running will burn them faster).

So get out there and burn some calories. Or just sit here in front of your screen and burn slightly fewer calories.

Science. It works, bitches.


  1. If you’re reading a book or article about nutrition and the author refers to the “energy” in a food in some vague new-agey bullshit sense, like “carrots contain so much positive energy,” that book is garbage and should be thrown away, composted, or burned for heat. The only true “energy” in food is measurable in Calories. Also beware anyone who claims to be a “wellness expert” as that generally translates to “totally and completely full of shit.”  ↩

  2. Butter has only 7 calories per gram instead of 9 because it contains about 25% water and other solids. European butters contain only 20% water so are slightly more caloric (but creamier and more delicious).  ↩

  3. Of the 20–35% of fats, only 0.6–1.2% should be polyunsaturated, and there is no safe recommended amount of saturated or trans-fats.  ↩

What a Shame

Shame is like everything else; live with it for long enough and it becomes part of the furniture.

— Salman Rushdie, Shame: A Novel

SHAMEOne of the hardest psychological stumbling blocks to overcome is a feeling of shame about your condition. Unlike alcoholism, cancer, depression, and other diseases & afflictions, anyone with eyes can see your weight problem. If you’re as grossly obese as I was, people can tell from pretty far away. “Oh look, there’s a fat person.” An overweight person’s body is a mark of shame that would make Hester Prynne blush.

Feelings of shame are manifested when trying to do common things in a world made for thin people. I had a difficult time fitting into most armchairs, theatre and airplane seats, putting a seat belt on in someone’s compact car, and so on. I’m also pretty tall, at 6’4″, which compounds the problem, but isn’t something I feel shame about, because I’m naturally tall – but I made myself fat.

Guilt vs. Shame

Guilt is the feeling of having done a wrong thing. Shame is the feeling of being a wrong thing. I see a lot of advertising for low(er)-calorie snack foods that come with the promise of being “guilt-free,” but I’ve never seen any foods as promising a release from shame.

What causes shame about our body-image?  While not being able to fit into small spaces itself can be embarrassing, most of my shame regarding my weight was related directly to food and eating.

I found that eating in public, especially if I was eating something less than healthy, made me particularly self-conscious. Most of the time I don’t really care about what other people think, but this in particular made me feel really uncomfortable. Maybe it fed into (excuse the pun) my already intensely negative feelings about my body. For me, eating something like an ice cream cone at a street faire or neighborhood festival is so unpleasant that I just stopped doing it. Granted, I shouldn’t be eating those things regularly anyway, but as someone who enjoys food the shame that I feel about my weight impacts my enjoyment.

While I have a pretty thick skin about most things, I am more sensitive about my body. To a certain extent I can take a fat joke – and they’re usually not very clever. Yeah, I’m fat. I get it. Har har. It can be especially hurtful when you hear friends or family members make a crack about your weight since these are the people you rely on for support, but I can’t be too hard on them. We live in a society that values super-thinness and derides the obese.

My friends have been very very supportive for the most part. They ask me how my progress is going. If they do see me eating something that doesn’t help me achieve my fitness goals, they may say something about it being “not exactly clean livin’, eh?”

One of my co-workers tells me that he hopes I lose weight, but not to the point where I get super-fit, because I’ll be insufferable about it. I tell him that being smug about having lost a lot of weight is one of my primary motivators. He’s put on some weight himself since he’s gotten married, and I joke with him that he’s my own personal Dorian Gray picture – he’s putting on the pounds that I’m losing. Every Monday morning I would tell him how much weight he gained last week based on how much I’d lost. So yes, even I am guilty of making light of other peoples’ weight, although if you knew this co-worker you’d encourage me to be crueler to him. He’s one of those people who talks smack about everything (but in a fun way – he’s actually a really good guy and a friend).

Finding Pride

This is the point where I’d usually offer a helpful tip or trick telling you how I overcame this problem, but the fact is, I haven’t. I still feel a little ashamed of my eating habits, especially if I eat something unhealthy in a public place. I don’t know if it’ll ever get better. The only thing I can tell you is that I try to use my shame as a tool to help keep myself on track. I may eat a cheeseburger and fries from time to time, but the people at the restaurant didn’t see me walk four and a half miles to get to there, or the 45 minutes of weight lifting I did that morning.

Shame isn’t always a bad thing as long as you can learn how to use it to help you meet your goals.

I’m pretty sure there’s a lot more to life than being really, really, ridiculously good looking. And I plan on finding out what that is.

— Ben Stiller, Zoolander

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Disclaimer: I am not a doctor. I'm just some guy who lost a lot of weight and studied up on nutrition, diet, and exercise in order to improve my personal fitness. The contents of this site in no way contains medical advice. You should visit your doctor before making any dramatic changes to your diet or activity. While I make every attempt to be as accurate as possible regarding current knowledge and scientific studies (please feel free to let me know when I'm wrong about something), and may from time to time post updates to correct inaccuracies in previous entries, the information on this site is provided "as-is" for entertainment purposes only. Don't do something stupid and then sue me. I'm just trying to help. Thanks.