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What we eat, and how much of it, already mattered, for a ton of reasons, including cognitive decline… and sleep quality/quantity … But with COVID, it matters even more all of a sudden.

(The cool thing is, at least now we know the reason why Covid hits the overweight harder: inflammation.)

Food, Movement and Health: It’s All Connected

Okay, let’s get the disclaimer out of the way right now: I’m not a nutritionist — but I think it’s pretty obvious that our fuel affects our health and physical performance, which is my domain. Food, movement, and all aspects of our health are intimately interconnected.

Sadly, It’s All About the Carbs

The association of Canadian Clinicians for Therapeutic Nutrition lays it out clearly : “We are in the midst of a staggering nutritional disease epidemic. We have record numbers of people with diabetes, obesity, fatty liver, metabolic syndrome and other dietary diseases, mostly since we started telling Canadians to eat less fat and more carbohydrates. […] We now have good evidence that sugar, as opposed to fat, is the main driver of obesity and diabetes. We also used to think fat caused heart disease, but research now shows that sugar is actually one of the main culprits in heart disease.”

Carbs Hurt our Blood Vessels Too

From Dr. Ted Naiman’s website : “There are actually a number of similarities between smoking and consuming refined carbohydrates. The oxidative damage is somewhat similar between the two, especially looking at damage to the vascular endolethium (lining of all of our blood vessels).”

Back to our Immune System and the Age of Covid

Is it a coincidence that “cold and flu season” also happens to be the best season for the sugar and candy industries? Probably not!

This study found that sugar has immediate effects on the immune system: Drinking a one-liter bottle of soda or eating 100 grams of sugar was shown to reduce the reactivity of white blood cells by 40%, with the immune system becoming effectively partially disabled for up to 4 or 5 hours afterward.

Speaking of Soda

A study last year questioned if Canadians had been able to reduce sugar consumption over the course of a decade.   I found it interesting that beverages remain among the top sources of total sugar for Canadians of all age groups — so one immediate step you can take toward improving your health is to remember what good ol’ H20 tastes like. (From my own experience: it tastes SO much more drinkable when no other sweets are going into your mouth.)

How Do We Adapt to Life with Less Carbs?

You know, this was the first time in my entire life that I have made it without any sugar whatsoever throughout the whole Thanksgiving/Hallowe’en/Christmas period, and I”ll be honest, it made me a little sad. Life seemed a bit more…flat.

Hats off to those who can handle moderation with the stuff! Unfortunately, that isn’t me. Registered dietician Diana Rodgers explains what is often wrong with the whole “moderation” idea.

Maybe you’re one of those who can handle moderation, or you are recovering from an eating disorder and have to stay away from anything extreme. If so, there are tons of approaches! I personally lean towards things like Mark Sisson’s Keto Reset or Robb Wolfe’s Wired to Eat approach  — but again, you need to do your own research and possibly have a discussion with your health care provider before embarking on anything unknown.

And the Minimum Requirement for Carb Consumption Is…

Actually zero. Life is more comfortable after an adaptation period, which will vary greatly depending on where you’re coming from. Again, this is for you to do your own research. Here’s some pretty cool vintage footage of Vilhjalmur Stefansson, who spent years in the early 1900s exploring the Arctic and was one of the first Westerners to experience and then advocate a zero carb (i.e. plant-free) way of eating. Science is starting to back this approach, as detailed in sources such as Paul Saladino’s Carnivore Code.

(Yes, I know, one of the first things I hear you cry out is: “But what about constipation?” Surprisingly, removing fibre from the diet has actually been demonstrated to help resolve that nasty problem.)

Covid-Specific Nutrition Detour to Vitamin D

And finally, I’m going out on a limb even more regarding nutrition, so check with your physician on this one!

Having said that: You know how recommendations change based on experience gained from people going crazy with things like supplements? For example, the sheen on higher doses of Vitamin E has become somewhat tarnished.

Similarly, many people are taking more Vitamin D these days due to Covid.

Now, while “some” of anything good is good, “lots” may be less so. From the Harvard Medical School, “Large doses of vitamin D (such as more than 4,000 IU a day) should be taken only under the advice of your health care provider.

Taking too much supplemental vitamin D can be toxic in rare cases. It can lead to hypercalcemia, a condition in which too much calcium builds up in the blood. This could cause deposits to form in the arteries or soft tissues. It may also predispose you to painful kidney stones.”

At the very least, if you do take D supplements, consider taking Vitamin K2 as well to ensure that the calcium gets into your bones, where it belongs.

The Elephant in the Room

I’m going to take a stance that is unpopular in our current “healthy at every size” climate. Now that in our part of the world at least, we live in a land of relative plenty, many of us are just too darn big to be healthy.

Dr. Ted Naiman states that one simple test could replace “half of the lab tests that I order as a physician”: that of waist to height ratio. It’s unforgiving, and could not be simpler to test.

And if you still need convincing on the belly fat: one study followed over 6,000 people over a decade and a half. The results: “Obesity and larger waist circumference were associated with increased dementia incidence.” An unhappy outcome, and one over which I am happy to be able to exert some control.

Back to the Movement Part of the Equation

Personally, I don’t usually work with people whose primary, overarching goal is weight loss. (Why? I just find it too emotionally draining.) But I love working with people of any size who want to hurt less, get stronger, move better or breathe more easily. I feel that those parts of the equation truly have to mesh together… or it won’t just work well, really.

Any movement counts!

Some people have lots of time and/or cash to spare, others none at all of either, and there is a way for every single person along that spectrum to seek external support in improving their movement habits.

For a quick chat to point you in the right direction, or better yet to celebrate a “win” story, please get hold of me.

And if it’s been a while (if ever) since you’ve been active, or if you need help prioritizing, here are some pointers on easing (back) into it. Better yet, come to a free meetup on Thursday afternoons for a half-hour of gentle fitness, held outside for social distancing.