I hope everyone’s weekend is going fabulously! Today I went to the Bay Area Childhood Obesity conference and It. Was. Awesome. I think that healthy living blogging in general is a lot about making the healthy healthier. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, I mean that is the audience! But people rarely talk about obesity and the public health issue we have today. I took plenty of notes today, and was definitely well fed! So I’m going to share some interesting things from today and try to only minimally rant.
First-the food. Breakfast was plain yogurt, fruit, granola (mine was gingersnap!) and coffee. The granola wasn’t crazy sweet either!
Lunch was an amazing salad-some type of green and creamy dressing, chicken, giant white beans, carrots, and lentils. What was really great about this was that the veggies were all actually seasoned!
There were also plenty of snacks. This bar was a favorite of mine:
Plus some other little things.
As a college student, you know there’s no way I’m saying no to free food-especially good food!
There were also some people doing a blender-bike demo outside!
So let’s get into it, shall we?
The first speak was Dr. Robert Lustig. He’s the guy fighting against sugar as the cause of obesity, and his book is was my whole project was based on. So I was super excited to see him speak!
He didn’t go super into the Biochem, but he did talk about one specific chemical reaction that I thought was super cool, and I’m so glad I learned about sugars in OChem this week because it made so much sense! I was actually going to nerd out and use my chemical structure drawing software to show you guys the reaction but I’ll spare you that. The gist is that the browning reaction that happens when you cook meat? That happens in your body as you age. And sugar makes it happen faster. If anyone loves Organic Chemistry or Biochemistry and wants me to go into more details, let me know!
One interesting point he made about scientific studies is that you really need to look at the funding source to get a sense of the study. A lot of studies are funded by the food industry, and the results are often different. Out of some of the studies he discussed of sugar on weight gain, only 1 of 6 studies funded by the food industry reported that sugar had an impact on weight gain. On the studies NOT funded by the food industry, 10 of 12 reported that sugar had an impact on weight gain. So much of our food policy and governmental nutrition recommendations are tied up with the food industry. One interesting thing is that if you look at the currents nutritional guidelines, when referring to what you SHOULD eat, the guidelines discuss specific foods such as fruits and vegetables. But the foods you shouldn’t eat are listed as general food groups, such as “bad fats.” Because the meat industry would have gone crazy if the government had recommended eating less animal fat!
Here’s something else that is scary and relevant about the national health problem we currently have. 30% of our population is obese. However, obesity does not equal disease-metabolic dysfunction equals disease. Metabolic dysfunction (such as insulin resistance) leads to things like type 2 diabetes, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, heart disease, and cancer. Of these obese people, 80% are metabolically ill. Fair enough. But get this: of the normal weight people, 40% are metabolically ill. Which means they have the same high risks of disease as those 80% of the obese! A general indication of metabolic disease is liver fat, and lots of sugar (or alcohol like the more traditional fatty liver disease) directly leads to liver fat.
I’m sure we all know I like to rant about sugar, and while it’s definitely not THE ONLY problem leading to obesity and metabolic disease, it’s a BIG one! What compounds this problem is besides just the metabolic dysfunction, we have sugar “addiction.” I use that in quotes because whether it’s technically an addiction is debated, but I’m sure everyone here can think of a time when they just could not stop shoving sugar down their throats. And it becomes an even bigger problem when sugar is the norm. Heck, I couldn’t even stick to the project for a month! But the changes in my body after JUST TWO WEEKS without sugar and processed food where dramatic. My fasting blood sugar dropped almost 20 points! It was at the upper range of healthy, and after just 2 weeks, it was lower than it’s ever been as far as my records. I also lost 7 pounds, and looked noticeably different (although it should be noted that carbohydrate holds onto a lot of water). And that’s just 2 weeks! And I’m reasonably healthy! It’s crazy.
I had the chance to quickly talk with Dr. Lustig between speakers, and I asked him for resources about the mechanisms of the metabolism of sugar metabolism, since again, as we all know, I’m kind of in love with it and think it’s the coolest thing ever. There is NOTHING out there! He suggested a book that is coming out sometime within the year, but other than that, there is nothing! This got me thinking-if there are facts out there that could guide public health policy, as well as nutritional studies, we need to be using them! And I guarantee that when the people in charge of public health make decisions and statements, they don’t look at the Biochemistry. I’m totally biased since I’m a scientist, but if we can explain a process, why not use that information to guide us? To find a solution, to predict an outcome? Ok, rant over. Moving on!
The next speaker discussed intervention in schools in terms of food and health education and school meals. Kids today eat 35% of their calories at school, and many schools even serve up to 5 meals a day! She also discussed how in low income areas, the life expectancy is significantly lower. But what I think is really powerful to take away from her talk is this quote: “Facilitate change, but give up the illusion that you can direct change.” As my generation starts trying to change the world, I think this is important to keep in mind. People don’t always want to change, and you can’t just order someone to do something. However, you can guide them in the correct direction.
One of the last things I want to discuss is the speaker who discussed child psychology in relation to the obesity epidemic. I think this applies to far more people than just children, and I think a lot of you guys will be able to relate to this. First-happiness and joy are not the same. All joyful moments are happy, but not all happy moments are joyful. Joy is that sense you get when you think of those you love the most-it’s the sensation that runs through your body when it’s a beautiful day and you’re off to see a loved one. Joy is created through love and deep connections with others. And when we don’t get joy, we turn to artificial, short term rewards such as screen time or ice cream. She described 5 brain states: 1 is joy, and 5 is the most absolutely stressed. In states 1-3, which she termed the “homeostatic circuit,” we are capable of reasoning with ourselves are making rational decisions. But when we hit states 4 and 5, we are stuck in the “allostatic circuit,” or the “survival” circuit. AKA the fight or flight response. In the allostatic circuit, we are stuck in unstoppable drives with no shut off switch-it’s just how our brain is wired. Once this gets triggered, there’s no stopping your behavior, whatever it may be-such as binging. The cool thing is that you can change the wiring of your brain by having a different result come from times of stress-such as a loving connection, which while make you stop going to food for that artificial comfort. Her overall point behind all of this is that these behaviors happen because the way our brain in wired, and often times we replace love with food. Which is especially relevant for children growing up in a stressful environment.
That’s all I have from the conference! I really, really enjoyed it and I definitely feel inspired and even more sure this is the area I want to work in. I would definitely attend this again next year! I hope you guys were able to get something out of the reviews, or at least not fall asleep! So let’s look at more food, shall we?
One of the speakers today discussed food marketing. He works for Bolthouse Farms, and they are trying to sell carrots as “the next junk food.” They came out with this cool idea of seasoning carrots, just like chips! These were ranch, and they were really good!
And after a day of eating VERY well, I was inspired to eat some veggies at the dining hall! It’s parent’s weekend, so they definitely stepped it up! I had a salad with olive oil and vinegar, plus HUMMUS. We never have hummus! And I discovered I like beets much better in salad form…Plus some herbed spaghetti squash-something else we never have!
And then at the end of the day my parents wanted to see me, so we went to my favorite ice cream place and I actually got something different-but equally delicious. Salted butterscotch with chocolate fudge.
And yes, I realize this is after I totally ranted about sugar. But it was delicious!