Wednesday, June 9, 2010
Thoughts: Ever heard of CRON? CRON is shortened for Calorie Restriction with Optimal Nutrition.
CRON is made up of studying people who are practising calorie restriction. The first enthusiasts banded together through an email forum in the early 1990s. The group has since evolved into the Calorie Restriction Society International, which now has over 3000 members who refer to themselves as "CRONies".
Needless to say, this lifestyle is not for everyone. Some people report struggling with hunger pangs, and the society warns on its website that side effects can include feeling cold, poor wound-healing and temporary infertility. But many CRONies insist that hunger is not a big problem and that they actually feel happier and healthier on their frugal diet.
CRONies typically cut calories by 10 to 30 per cent of the recommended intake, and most hover around the lower limit of "normal" body mass index, at 18.5 kilograms per height-in-metres squared. To ensure they get all the nutrients they need without busting their calorie quota, their diet is mainly vegetable-based and must be carefully planned, often with the help of a computer program. "People think calorie restriction involves tiny portions, but these people are eating huge amounts of low-calorie, nutrient-dense food," says Luigi Fontana, a professor of medicine at Washington University in St Louis and head of the Division of Nutrition and Aging at the Italian National Institute of Health, who has studied CRONies for the past eight years.
"As I see it, the basics are simple: Subject to certain limits, the fewer calories you consume, the better your health and longevity. Benefits are proportional. The primary payoff is avoiding, or vastly delaying, the major killer diseases: heart, stroke, diabetes, cancer (also see: Calorie Poisoning: Civilization's Exploding Killer Disease). Other benefits include a stronger immune system, increased fitness, and a greater appreciation of food.
Over the longer term, the simplest way to judge calorie intake is weight. However, getting to the minimum, healthy weight should be done slowly - roughly no more than 2% per month for overweight people, 1% for others. In any case, preferably, weight should not fluctuate by more than about 3% (+- 1.5%), measured first thing in the morning."
The lower limit of healthy weight is most easily determined by body fat and BMI.
However, lower calorie intake and low weight are not enough: Good nutrition is absolutely crucial - this is not about starving! Most nutrients should come from foods, not supplements.
There is also good evidence that increased fitness (cardio & muscle) through additional exercise are factors in longevity - even for people doing CRON successfully.
CRON is a lifestyle, not a diet - (i.e. habits you change permanently, not just a short-term weight-loss program However, as your weight gets closer to optimum, focus shifts increasingly from cutting calories to improving nutrition). This implies that you need to work out a way to enjoy doing it - it isn't something you just have to 'get through'. It also suggest that slow, gradual changes are more likely to work - new habits have to be formed. This does not mean one can't go 'cold turkey' on some sub-optimal eating habits.
Make CRON fun, a journey of discovering new tastes and habits. Don't focus on what you shouldn't do or eat, but rather on what great new foods you can bring into your life. Nurture a new appreciation of food as you become more aware of tastes, ingredients, and options. Don't beat yourself up over failures or perceived limitation in your program.
Become knowledgeable about calorie and nutritional content, health markers, and your own psychology (what you find easy or difficult, enjoyable or not, etc). Learn various 'tricks' and techniques that make CRON easier and more fun.
Debunking some major (unfortunate) misconceptions about CRON:
CRON does not have to be difficult or unpleasant, or as detractors like to say: 'a longer life, not worth living'. Quite the opposite: A sound approach to CRON will increase one's appreciation of food, and generally lead to a better quality of life. Hunger does not have to be an issue; many people on CRON actually struggle to eat 1500 calories a day - feeling too full!. Something else to remember is that it becomes easier over time, both because physically and psychologically we adjust to it, and because your relative calorie restriction actually reduces as you reach your target weight.
CRON is not an all or nothing thing. This counters the objection that severe CRON is just too difficult or impractical, or that one can't do certain sports, or look buff, or whatever. Benefits are proportional to the degree of restriction /nutrition - in fact, for most people the greatest risk reduction percentage occurs with reasonably modest CR and nutrition improvements.
CRON does not have to be a lot of trouble. You don't have to spend hours shopping for special foods and preparing them. Most CRON foods are readily available in your local supermarket, and many of them require little or no preparation. You don't have to weigh everything you eat! Just educate yourself on how many calories various portion sizes of given foods have. The more you do this, the better you'll understand the tradeoffs.
Being on CRON does not mean you can't eat out, go to parties, or eat some high calorie, low-nutrition foods. Firstly, one can usually find some healthy fare pretty much anywhere and/ or eat less. Furthermore, because CRON is a lifestyle, not a diet, there is no risk of 'falling off the wagon'.
CRON does not require super-human willpower. It requires some education, and a few conscious choices that enable you to change your habits. On of the key decisions is what foods to buy and have around the house! As simple as that.
CRON is about limiting calories and minimizing harmful substances, while maximizing nutrients. What mix of foods best meet these criteria?
Most important stick to The Earth Diet: Lots and lots of low calorie, high nutrient, and high fiber vegetables. Secondly, fruit. If you are a meat eater, small amounts of fish, lean meat, or other protein, like nuts, beans, soy, egg (white).
Eliminate beverages containing sugar - (herbal) teas are much better. Dramatically reduce processed foods high in sugar (and fat): pastries, candy bars, many 'cereals'.
Reduce fats - lots of calories, few nutrients, and some fats are rather harmful: Trans fats are bad news - minimize absolutely (anything fried, most baked goods, and most processed foods). Cut back on saturated fats (switch to nonfat dairy & to lean meats) and/ or change to monounsaturated oils (olive, nut). The only type of oil that most people do not get enough of is omega-3 fatty acid (for meat eaters fish, for non meat eaters flaxseed).
Beans are good. Rice, pasta & bread are borderline - relatively high in calories and low in nutrients - eliminate, or dramatically reduce portion size. Brown/ whole wheat are best, try to avoid white/ highly processed.
Some people (especially unfit/ overweight) are overly sensitive to high glycemic foods (foods that rapidly raise blood sugar levels). For those well into a CRON program this is not usually a problem. However, eating many small meals rather than a few large ones, plus having balanced meals - with protein, (mono) fat, and fiber - seems to mitigate metabolic spikes.
Important: Discover for yourself what specific mix of good foods you enjoy, make you feel healthy, present no big hassle, and minimize hunger.
What are the safe, healthy limits to calorie/ weight reduction? When does it become counter-productive?
Not much research has been done, but a number of fairly simple points emerge:
If you feel weak, faint, or more tired than usual, you are probably overdoing it. Also, because (moderate) exercise is crucial to good health, you need to consume sufficient calories to be able to do & enjoy it.
Watch biomarkers such as blood/ urine analysis; strength, endurance, balance & cognition tests, and (important!) bone density. If anything deteriorates abnormally, investigate! On the other hand, various markers - such as reduced basal metabolic rate - are indications that CR is working.
If your BMI drops below 18.5, or your body fat below 5% male (8% female) you are probably close to the limit.
Important: If CR becomes difficult, or if it makes you unhappy, relax & eat a little more!
What other risks and disadvantages are there?
Feeling cold more easily (dress more warmly). Having difficulty sitting comfortably (sit on a cushion). Being hungry a lot while in the weight-loss phase (see: Easy CRON ). Fortunately, these symptoms tend to go away as the body adjusts.
Social pressure on looks or food discipline. Others people may discourage your CRON efforts by unhelpful comments on how skinny you are, or by trying to pressure you into eating as they do. Many people (men and women) also think that masculinity is tied to being a certain (heavy) weight. Dealing with these issues requires the confidence of knowing that CRON is a smart thing to do if you value your life.
Reduced libido. If this is a problem, reducing the severity of calorie restriction and /or conventional libido-enhancing techniques may overcome this.
Anyone embarking on serious CR should carefully monitor their health (look for worrisome symptoms, watch biomarkers), and get professional advice. Ideally you want a comprehensive baseline test of biomarkers before you start. (There are now many clinics and services that specialize in health screening).
Hating it. If you're miserable doing CRON, reduce, change, or discontinue it. Perhaps get some ideas/ advice from others happy with CRON.
For more info on CRON see: Calorie Restriction FAQ
Challenges: Over eating when I know I am about to over eat and have in fact consumed as many calories as I require to fill my cells with energy, yet my body pain is addicted to the over-energy so my body works harder to burn that energy off, and then I get gather more evidence to justify my feeling sluggish by a story I have created about my self and my health and body. Thus the vicious cycle of pain and suffering continues and cements.
Triumphs: “You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.” Yes thank you for reminding me Buddha ;)
What I Ate Today:
Food fest 1: The juice of 5 oranges! So sweet and right after my epsom salts bath soak - the perfect replenshiment for my cells :)
Food fest 2: A beautiful sweet thai avocado salad. Ingredients: Lettuce and corriander (cilantro) from our garden! With creamy avocado chunks, baby spinach and a dressing made up of chopped garlic, spring onions, ginger, corriander, lime juice, a dash of olive oil and himalayan salt and green chillis oh and crushed walnuts are the finishing touch! Divine!
Food fest 3: 3 oranges
Recipe: Recipe for the sweet thai avocado salad (and other creative, fun, boring, healthy, divine salads!) will be in The Earth Diet book published worlwide in November.
Exercise: A 2 hour workout of moving my body - running around the block, walking to the spanish store to buy avocados, dancing to 3 of my favourite Travis songs, standing on my head for 4 minutes, some ab crunches and body holds, then I steam cleaned the carpets! Oooh yeah I got to moooove today!
142 days to go!!!