Just say “No” to mixed messages

For all the health and nutrition advice out there, it seems the holy grail of health continues to elude us.  Consumers are still bombarded by conflicting messages, so I continue my mission of trimming the (bad) fat and giving people the skinny on what’s really going to help them lose weight and achieve some personal health goals.   When I read the following excerpt from another registered dietitian’s article today about the book, The Gene Smart Diet, it triggered a reaction in me.  Conflicting advice and mixed messages abound in the press, which is apparent if you have read a recent TIME article about exercise as well.  Please read the excerpts followed by my comments.

Everyone knows that genes are responsible for the color of your eyes, your bone structure, and whether you’ll live to a ripe old age. But are your genes also the key to losing weight? According to The Gene Smart Diet, understanding how your genes work is the secret to weight control and reducing your risk of disease.

Wake Forest University professor, Floyd Chilton PhD, author of The Gene Smart Diet, says that our genes were simply not designed for today’s diets and lifestyles, and that this mismatch is causing us to miss out on important bioactive substances in food that send messages to our genes to keep us healthy.This mismatch, he says, has been a major contributor to the nation’s health crisis, including obesity and chronic inflammatory diseases.

But your genes are not indelible blueprints, Chilton says, and by following the Gene Smart Diet you can change the way your genes are expressed, which can lead to weight loss and better health.

“Follow my five simple diet and exercise strategies to get your genes to work for you and it will help you improve your health by reducing the likelihood of certain chronic disease, slow down the aging process, and accelerate weight loss,” Chilton says.

The five principles of The Gene Smart Diet are:

  • Exercising more.
  • Reducing calories.
  • Increasing fiber.
  • Adding omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Increasing polyphenols (a type of antioxidant found in fruits, vegetables, and tea).

(From a review of this book by Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD, LD on WebMD)


About those five points.  Ok, the last three are good. I agree on all and actually spend a lot of time teaching people daily how to do exactly that — focus on getting enough good fats, fiber and phytochemicals.  It’s what I preach.  Back to the first two points … Who hasn’ t gotten the “exercise more” message by now?   But if you saw the recent TIME magazine article titled “The Myth About Exercise,” you  may be feeling confused, no?!   Here is an excerpt:

You’ve heard it for years: to lose weight, hit the gym. But while physical activity is crucial for good health, it doesn’t always melt pounds — in fact, it can add them.
(By John Cloud, TIME magazine, August 17, 2009)

Both authors may be well intentioned … but if nothing else, the TIME article’s title misleads readers, especially those looking for an out when it comes to exercise.  If they read the entire article, there is good information to take away, i.e. diet really does matter.  However, the title and introduction are all many people read.  In direct opposition, the seemingly helpful and simple edict of The Gene Smart Diet to “exercise more” does not necessarily speak the right message to individuals either.  What I am getting at is that we need to start defining the word “exercise”  or, better yet, start talking specifics about how Americans can simply increase daily activity.  For example, if as a nutrition counselor I tell someone to eat less fat, I am making some strong  assumptions that  1) They know what fat is and where it comes from. 2) They eat too much of it, particularly of the bad kind. Both assumptions could be false.  In fact, never make assumptions.  … That is why when someone professes that “you” (the plural), typically referring to the average American adult, should “exercise more” and “eat fewer calories,” I have to interject some information!  I conduct weight loss programs and counsel clients on weight loss.  I know their frustration with such information.  Many already exercise a lot, and I know many people who actually need to eat more calories (but perhaps different ones!)   Others can’t “exercise” due to health issues.   In other words, making blanket recommendations like that simply confuses and turns many consumers off.  In any case, it is time to start teaching people that it’s not really about exercise per se but about increasing activity. Period.  Take the pressure off people already! Get them m-o-v-i-n-g more!  Walk or a ride a bike and take the stairs. Carry your laundry basket up 2 flights of stairs.  Carry groceries to your car that is parked farther away than usual.  Why are we always saying how healthy the European lifestyle is yet not following it? Do they run to the gym before or after work like we do? Or feel guilty if they don’t? No. But many do ride a bike or walk to work or to the grocery store. My message: spend less time sitting during the day.  Some/any activity is better than no activity.  As for calories, each person has individual requirements.  It is possible to eat too few and not lose weight.  Consult a dietitian for a personal assessment of your daily calorie needs.

About Susan Greeley
Helping others achieve optimal health through good nutrition and lifestyle, Susan Greeley promotes wellness through diets rich in healthy, wholesome foods. She counsels clients in her own private nutrition practice and works as the staff nutritionist for a YMCA.


2 Responses to “Just say “No” to mixed messages”
  1. Maria Barnes says:

    Susan– you mention “bad” fats but don’t let us know what they are… I think you need to do a piece on what exactly constitutes a “bad” fat… and let us know what quantity of any fat constitutes bad… because even drinking too much water will kill you… believe it or not…

    I’d also like to have information on appropriate exercise for people by age group and/or health… in other words, if you have arthritis, what’s a beneficial exercise routine that could complement a diet — and what foods help you if you have arthritis?

  2. Perry Cooper says:

    It is rare to find simple answers to complex questions. Diet and exercise questions are two good examples. The more I learn, and experience over time the more I appreciate common sense. No one “study” about food should be taken as the ultimate truth, and no one exercise is best. Common sense dictates to me that it is good to know more about what, and how much I eat as well as what exercise options are best for me.
    It sure would have been good to figure all this out early in life….But that’s another question!

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