A Few Thoughts on the Game Changers Documentary

I’m not the type of person that talks negatively about any particular way of eating. I wish people could do the same. When a certain way of eating (read: diet) works for you, then why can’t we say:

 

“Hey, I feel more energy, less tired, and feel leaner when I follow X diet. Maybe the same could work for you if you try it.”

 

Instead of:

“Eating X diet is the best way to live, and if every American followed it, we wouldn’t be the most obese and sick country in the world.”

 

Or even worse, speaking negatively about other diets:

“Keto’s bad for you because the high fat will make you die of heart disease at 35, so don’t follow that.”

 

“Calorie restriction is bad for you because it will throw you into starvation mode and decrease your metabolism.”

 

“Paleo is bad for you because we aren’t actually cavemen and can’t live that lifestyle.”

 

I could go on, but I won’t. It’s funny how whatever way of eating or exercising that works for us as individuals all of a sudden becomes the “only way” in our minds. Sure, we can be biased to that approach and desire company in it, but that doesn’t mean it’s for everyone. Because here’s the deal. Sit down for this…

 

If followed, every diet works. 

Another way of saying this is something I say every day to people.

The best diet out there is the one you’ll actually follow. 

 

So, let’s get right to it. Let’s talk about the documentary, “Game Changers.” I’m not going to delve into this deeply, but here are my concise thoughts. 

 

  1. After reading through the research cited in the documentary, I found them to be valid but taken out of context. (valid may be a stretch here since most of the studies were observational or retrospective – and the methods used were retrospectively documenting food… can YOU remember everything you ate in the last 5-7 days? Me neither)

 

  1. The executive producer is the CEO of an organic pea-based protein company (biased? More sales maybe?), Jackie Chan a vegan superstar funded it, and the 8 Doctors referenced are all authors of vegan cookbooks (more sales?)

 

3. There’s no evidence that gladiators were vegetarians, there is only evidence that they at a lot of plants, not that they didn’t eat meat. 

 

4. Film Claim: “Plant-based diets decrease inflammation by 29%” Duh. You’re eating a ton of antioxidants, not because you aren’t eating meat. 

 

5. The only time the documentary gets a bit heated or frustrated is when the dairy industry is called out for funding documentaries against vegan-based diets. Ummm… pot… kettle? 

 

6. Athletes: This part was probably what actually made you consider following a plant-based diet. 

 

    1. Connor (meat-eater) loses to Nate (plant-based) in a fight but did you also know that Connor weighed 15 lbs less than Nate. That’s a big deal in the sport of fighting. 
    2. The strength athletes listed in the film: There was no mention of what they WERE doing. What if they were eating crappy processed foods in large amounts before going plant-based. No wonder their performance went up. 

 

In summation – this isn’t a new diet or a new approach. The information might feel unique to you or be presented in a new way, but it’s not new. There are plenty of diets and ways to eat that make you feel your best. One of those COULD be a plant-based diet, thereby making this documentary life-changing for you. What I do love about this film is that it is a good reminder of all the benefits of fruits and vegetables for our bodies. What I really want people to think about is “what works for me,” “what can I afford,” and “what am I willing to follow based on my lifestyle.” Then start researching your “diet” options by using your own experience or hire someone (shameless plug) to help walk you through it. 

Efficient Rowing

“Rowing will never be easy, but you can become more efficient.”

This statement was one of the opening remarks made at the CrossFit rowing clinic as the importance of strong rowing skills are often minimized. Crossfit athletes often approach rowing as a means of getting from one movement to the next.  They don’t see the value in the movement itself.

Most of us are guilty of just taking a seat and yanking away at the handle without considering what proper form entails. The meters and calories tick away regardless of whether we know what we are doing or not. However, if we want to gain a significant advantage both on how we perform on the erg and how we feel when we get off it to transition to the next movement, we need to do things properly – just like we do when we perform a heavy lift or a gymnastics movement!

Here are 3 tips that you can focus on to help improve your rowing technique and efficiency:

  1. DRIVE (Don’t Pull!)

Rowing is not a pull. Yes, you pull for a short stroke at the end of the drive, but it’s not meant to be a full pull. The portion of the stroke where we go from catch (when you’re all the way forward in your stroke) to extension needs to be thought of as a LEG DRIVE, as opposed to an arm pull. You’ll know you are pulling if your biceps get more fatigued than your hamstrings!

The drive through the legs should be so forceful against the erg that you can almost feel your butt pop up off the seat. In more precise terms, the force you push against the erg should take approximately 10-20 pounds off of the chair.

Just like we wouldn’t yank a deadlift off the ground with our arms, we need to initiate our movement on the rower with our legs. Our arms are simply there to guide that handle to our chest as we drive through the extension.

  1. Chill out! – or relax your grip

Loose grip! Tension in the upper body is not only a waste of energy, but it also leads to incorrect positioning through the stroke.  It is entirely unnecessary to white-knuckle the handle.

Instead, it is more beneficial to keep a relaxed grip on the handle and let the thumbs hang down. In addition to a comfortable grip, it is also essential to keep the shoulders and arms loose. If the arms are tensed up, we are much more likely to revert to an upper pull than a lower body drive.

  1. HINGE

Once the leg drive is complete, and you have pulled your handle to your chest, the next step in the stroke is called the recovery. Before initiating the recovery, the seat should slide back just slightly before it begins to slide forward. This motion should be the same sort of hinge pattern you see in a hang clean – it even serves the same purpose! By pushing your butt back first, this loads the hamstrings through the recovery, which sets you up for a powerful and explosive drive.

If you set up for recovery efficiently, your next drive will be powerful.

I don’t think we spend enough time practicing this. It takes time and intentionality to get better at the rower. Take 10 minutes every day to perform good stroke patterns at a low intensity.  This practice will train your muscles and body to move with rhythm and better movement patterns.

The Overlooked Organ – Part 4

Control Your Food Environment

Given everything we’ve talked about and what I’ve studied and learned first hand, if I had one piece of advice to give someone for either weight loss or preventing weight gain, it would be to control your food environment.  What does it mean to control your food environment?  It involves creating a home and living space that doesn’t contain calorie-dense tempting food. I urge you not to allow those foods to enter your house. First, it makes it physically harder to eat the foods when they aren’t within arms reach. Second, you won’t experience the same motivational drive to eat because your brain isn’t receiving cues that the chips are four steps away from you.

Please don’t hear me say that you should never be around these foods and never watch TV because of commercials. I’m just saying if you decrease the amount of time you expose yourself to the temptation of unhealthy foods, the better chance your brain has of winning the food and ultimately weight battle.  If the bad foods aren’t in your house, then your brain doesn’t go crazy with cravings to eat it.

Using Your Brain for Weight Loss

In summary, our brains are powerhouses that need to be considered major players in the battle of weight loss.  Create situations in which your brain can win against high caloric, high reward foods.  Do this by avoiding those foods in the first place, prioritizing quality sleep and creating healthy environments in your home.  Enjoy the occasional indulgence when you go out rather than bringing things into your home that will tempt you and undermine your progress.  Use your brain to avoid temptation, reward yourself with things other than food, sleep more and create a healthy environment at home.

The Overlooked Organ – Part 3

What’s Sleep Got to Do With It?

There’s good evidence from short-term randomized controlled trials that if you restrict a person’s sleep, they will eat more calories, even though they actually may burn a few more calories as well.  You burn fewer calories when you’re asleep and more when you’re awake. However, this additional calorie burn doesn’t make up for the higher calorie intake. People will eat about 300 extra calories a day when sleep deprived which is quite substantial.  What is clear from the long-term observational studies is that there is, in fact, a strong association between insufficient sleep and weight gain over time.

Brain Activity

When you put someone in an fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) machine you can look at their brain activity—if they haven’t slept enough, their brain acts like they’re starving.  That same response is evident in the brain of someone who has recently started a diet and their brain has initiated a starvation response.  They may be feeling hungry, or more tempted by food, maybe they’re feeling a little bit sluggish and cold, those same responses or at least very similar ones occur in the brains of people who are sleep restricted. Inadequate sleep activates some of these same circuits that cause us to be more seduced by food and require more food to feel full. That’s one way it can work.

Impaired Judgement

Sleep restriction also seems to significantly impair your ability to have sound judgments. Also, you often develop what’s called an “optimism bias” which means you’re not very sensitive to the downsides of making a decision.  Instead, you are paying more attention to the potential upsides. How that can play out with food is that normally you might say, “Hey, well, you know this donut looks tasty, but I know it’s not good for me.  Therefore I’m not going to eat it.” However, if you haven’t slept enough, you justify your choice to eat it because you “need the energy,” or because you’re apathetic towards your goals and you don’t think you’ll make it without a little sugar pick-me-up.

The Overlooked Organ – Part 2

How Do You Avoid Foods with High Reward Value?

Disclaimer: This one is going to be a challenge.

The actual definition for Reward value is “the motivational value of the food for you individually.” RV is typically measured in research on a scale of 1-10. The reward value of food is different for everyone. For example, I don’t particularly like cake or pastries, so the reward value of those things is not high for me. For someone who loves pastries, the reward value (RV) is much higher. Ask me about pizza though? RV 10 – off the charts!!

Calorically dense foods (donuts, chips, cookies, etc.) typically contain appropriate amounts of sugar, fat, and salt to make them higher in reward value and harder to stop eating. A piece of chicken (protein), or baked potato (carb) however, doesn’t tend to have a high RV. Ice cream (sugar, fat, and salt) typically has a very high RV. Food scientists know this all too well. The perfect combination of sugar, fat, and salt feeds the same pleasure center in your brain as other addictive properties such as cocaine, heroin, and alcohol. That old pringles ad of “I betchya can’t eat just one” was right on.

The Sugar, Fat, Salt Equation

I’m sure you know this, but these concepts are not mysterious to food companies that manufacture processed foods. They employ food scientists that have engineered the food you’re eating to contain the perfect combination of sugar, fat, and salt to trigger your reward center to NEED more as compared to that plain baked potato we talked about earlier. Now that’s a food that would be hard to overeat!

Why does the food industry spend millions of dollars to make food so palatable that we can’t “just eat one”? Here’s a big shock for you. Brace yourself….they don’t have your best interest in mind. It’s true.

They are a business.

They want your money.

They don’t care about your health.

That’s not their line of work. When food is highly palatable, we pull out our wallets and we buy more. Also, fun fact, the more buttery they can make something, the faster you eat it, the quicker it slides down your throat, the more you eat, and you guessed it, the more you buy.

The Wrong Kind of Love

We do this in our kitchens too. We love people with food. Good food!! Not healthy food. You know what I’m talking about…I’m guessing you’ve never served a dinner party with plain steak, plain brown rice, and raw broccoli. We make fantastic food for the people we love because we equate full bellies with a happy heart. I sincerely think this is innate behavior. Think about it. We feed babies, and they become happy and giggly. Its engrained in us to love with food. Hear me correctly. I’m not scolding you for having excellent meals for people you love and delicious dinner parties. I am, however, gently reminding you that there are plenty of ways to love people in healthier ways. So maybe next time you’re going to bring your friend a pan of bars, consider a candle and words of affirmation. Conversely, foods that have a low amount of ingredients (eggs, apple, beef, carrots) don’t touch that pleasure center in the same way. I’m sure you agree. Which is why it’s nearly impossible to overconsume them and why if you eat a diet like the whole 30 (all whole/real foods for 30 days) you find that you eat more food than you could imagine, yet you tend to lose weight. Why? Because you aren’t overeating.  You are eating enough to be full and then able to stop consuming additional food and calories. I should also note that when you lose weight this way vs. calorie restriction, your brain doesn’t trigger a starvation response which leads to rebounding weight gain.

The Overlooked Organ in Weightloss

Do you know what organ we completely over-look in weight loss?  I’ll give you three hints:

  1. It’s an organ you can’t live without
  2. It’s an organ that can be manipulated and changed
  3. It’s an organ that’s responsible for controlling voluntary and involuntary functions within your body.

Did you guess?

Your brain!

I spent a long time studying metabolism in graduate school because I had an insatiable desire to understand why we get fat. I wondered why our bodies grow, change and age the way they do. After a couple of years of studying food intake, food quality, and metabolic pathways, it became undeniably evident that the brain is the organ we need to be looking at when it comes to body fat regulation and food intake. It makes sense right? Since the brain is the source of all behaviors, including what you choose to eat, how much to eat, how much you move and exercise, then we should start with the brain to change our mindset and ultimately control weight loss. The brain also regulates our physiology which means it directs what organs get which nutrients, what’s going in and out of your liver, what gets digested and what gets excreted.

Work with Your Brain

So how do we work WITH our brain to lose weight? We focus on these four areas to impact our success.

1. Avoid foods with high caloric density.

2. Avoid high reward foods

3. Sleep

4. Control your environment

How Do You Avoid Foods with a High Caloric Density?

Caloric density is the number of calories per unit weight of food. A better way for you to think about it is “calories per bite.” Example: a bite of an apple is less calorically dense than a bite of pizza. Your stomach has sensors in it that detect the volume of food that you’ve eaten. They send a signal to your brain that says “You are physically full so stop eating.” Let’s use the same example while keeping calories consistent. You eat a big apple – the ones about the size of a softball. Your stomach tells your brain that you are full and can’t fit more. It’s worth 110 calories, and you feel satiated for the time being. For the same 110 calories, you consume five bites of a piece of pizza. Your receptors don’t get activated because it’s such a small amount of food, so you continue eating until those receptors do go off. They don’t go off until you finish four pieces of pizza and by then you’ve consumed 795 calories. “Yeah Jen, I hear you, but have you met me? Ain’t no apple big enough to keep me full for longer than a big pizza”. I do hear you, but in that statement, you’ve already convinced yourself (before you even start) that you will fail because apples are not as delicious as pizza.  The other thing about calorically dense foods (pizza/ice cream) is they contain the perfect chemical mix of sugar, fat, and salt to feed the reward center in your brain and cause you to desire more.

Improve your digestion

Whether your goal is your performance in the gym, weight loss or weight gain, digestion plays a pivotal role. “How can that be?” you ask. Think about it for a moment. You consume nutrients in your food. Those nutrients give you energy, they help your metabolism run effectively, they help you lift heavier and recover faster. Therefore nutrients are the building blocks on which everything rests. You digest nutrients in your gut, and your body transports them to your muscles for energy, your brain for cognition and your cells for recovery and metabolic performance. If you don’t digest your food well, your body doesn’t receive the nutrients it needs to reach your goals.

Without diving into the complexities of the digestive system, there’s one thing you can change to improve the process immediately. CHANGE THE WAY YOU ARE CHEWING! Chewing is the first step in digestion, and if done poorly, it makes the next steps harder on your body.

The Power of Chewing

Did you know the recommendation is that you chew every bite of food 20 times before you swallow? Have you ever tried to do that? Let me tell you something. After about nine chews, food becomes liquid, and there’s nothing else to bite into. I know 20 chews are hard, but challenge yourself to 10 and see if you can keep chewing.

Why? Glad you asked.

By thoroughly chewing food, we increase the surface area of the food allowing it to be encompassed by saliva. Our saliva is full of digestive enzymes that start the breakdown process. If food is too large to digest once it hits the stomach, your body can’t extract all the valuable nutrients from the food. This also initiates a stress response is in the stomach that is unnecessary and very detrimental. That stress response leads to inflammation which only inhibits digestion further. For some people, that leads to acne, gas, bloating and often weight gain even without overeating. Consider this; maybe you’re not overeating… perhaps you’re merely under-chewing?

You’ve all heard that the hunger response takes time to reach the brain. Remember your mom always said, “You’re not hungry, you just haven’t given the food enough time to reach your bell.”. The hormone that allows us to register a feeling of full is called Leptin. When you chew thoroughly, your stomach has the time to release leptin and signal your brain that you are full. When you feel full, you stop eating sooner and don’t over consume.

Food position makes a difference

Here’s a trick to help you chew more thoroughly. Strategically position your food in your mouth when you are eating. Did you know that the front half of your tongue is voluntary while the back half is involuntary? This means that once food touches the back half of your tongue, your throat has an automatic response to swallow. If you keep the food in the front half of your mouth, you can control when you swallow. If you try the “ten chews rule” make sure to keep your food on the front of your tongue
Whether you’re trying to control your weight, or increase your performance, start by supporting your digestive system. Chew slowly, enjoy your food and get the most out of your macro’s.

Fake it ’til you make it

Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t….you’re right. – Henry Ford

I don’t know about you, friends, but this mentality has gotten me REALLY FAR in my life. I can’t tell you how many times I have walked into a last-minute situation and had to “play the expert” or “act like I know what the eff I’m doing” when I actually don’t! 99% of the time it works out just beautifully. The other 1% of the time I’ve had to admit that I have no idea what I’m doing and pray to Jesus that someone finds pity on me and helps a sister out!

Faking it moments

I have plenty of funny examples to help you understand where I’m going, but I’ll give you two. First, there was the time I showed up to the first day of graduate school, and they handed me my class list (the classes I was going to be teaching). Exercise Physiology, Chemistry Lab, Intro to Sports Pedagogy…..Racquetball. Wait, go back, Racquetball!? How am I supposed to teach AN ENTIRE SEMESTER WORTH OF CURRICULUM about how to play a sport that I’d never touched, watched, understood or fancied? And to a bunch of 19-25-year-old adults none the less? Oh and classes start tomorrow? Ugh. Cool. I got this. Talk about faking it until you make it!

Second, I used this mindset in basketball all of the time! I remember the first time I got to take a game-winning shot. As I dribbled down the court I told myself that I’d never missed a game-winner before. Technically that was true since I hadn’t ever taken a game-winning shot before. Based on that logic I felt confident that I was not going to miss this one. Anyway, I digress…

The Amygdala Theory

The theory states that “things become true because we are acting as if they already are true.” Think about what that means. Think about how many things in your life and your training could be made better without much effort other than changing your mindset. You could go from being a decent athlete to becoming a good athlete, or from sitting on the cusp of being a great athlete to achieving the status of being considered a great one without even adding one more hour in the gym.

The reason the theory works is because of a tiny part of our brain called the Amygdala. It’s a bundle of nerves in our brainstem that filters information for us. The amygdala is the reason you buy a new car, and then all of a sudden feel like everyone has the same car as you. It’s the reason you learn a new word, and then you start hearing it everywhere. It’s the reason you can hear your name in a room of loud people. Your amygdala takes what you focus on and creates a filter for it. It then sifts through and eliminates all other information. Isn’t that cool?

Validating Your Beliefs

In the same way, your amygdala seeks information that validates your beliefs. Meaning, if you believe you’ll hit a lift (within your physical ability of course), you’re much more likely to hit it. Conversely, if all you can focus on is missing a lift, your amygdala forces you to focus on all of the things that can go wrong and you’re most likely, if not guaranteed to miss it.

For instance, have you ever had any of these thoughts –
“This WOD is just not in my wheelhouse.”
“Ugh! Double unders? I’m awful at these”
“Everyone else competing has more experience than me.”
“I just can’t get under my split jerk.”
I could go on and on, but the point is these are all negative thoughts that only serve to make it nearly impossible for you to overcome the task at hand. Like the saying says… Confidence doesn’t guarantee success, but the lack of confidence almost guarantees failure.

Of course, in reality, these things aren’t as easy as I’m making them sound. However, I do believe that you can train yourself to think more positively, visualize what we want and then let our subconscious and conscious minds work together to make it happen! The science is already there to prove the positive mindset theory, and now it’s up to you to change your amygdala filters.