As things are wrapping up with the pilot program of Project JACKED, and we are getting beta-testing completed, I’m busy collecting data from all the program participants. A sneak peak into the outcomes achieved by the intervention group shows outstanding results. I still have a few people to track down for final measurements so that I can work on a variety of calculations and data analysis prior to issuing a report. However, I’ve been able to collect all data on the control group and in this installation I will review those findings.
As I’ve mentioned several times previously, I felt that the mere existence of a control group in Project JACKED was a bit disturbing for me. The promotion, in any form, of the Standard American Diet (SAD) and sedentary lifestyle (Sed) didn’t feel “right” to me. I imagine you felt the same way. Because it isn’t right. We’ve gone for too long as citizens of this country being fed misinformation about diet, health, and fitness. And we’ve allowed our societal norms to slip into habitual patterns that are the antithesis of wellness and our genetic programming. But my hopes in having a control group were several-fold. First, as in all good experiments, we could compare the results of the intervention group to a group that did not receive the education and programming. Next, we could more clearly identify the dietary habits and health status of the non-participants, attempting to determine whether those habits were benign or potentially deleterious over the 4-month period. And finally, my intention was to use the comparison as an example for all and especially as a motivator for the control group participants to start some behavior change on a path to better health. Let’s look at what happened.
First let’s review the characteristics of the control group. While the group originally numbered 12, it had been reduced to 11 due to the loss of subject CM2 (more on him later). Upon Project completion, I have what I think is very interesting data from the 6 women and 5 men remaining at the terminus. As you may recall, the low age was 29 and the high was 66 among the controls, and the loss of CM2 shifted the average age to 51.4 years. The average age for the females was 42.6 and for the men it was 53.9. I collected weekly data on diet, resting heart rate, blood pressure, and bodyweight with this group, and I reassessed body mass index (BMI), circumference measures, and bodyfat percentage (%BF) at the program’s conclusion. The subjects used activity trackers to quantify their relative lack of activity/exercise during the past 4 months. We also included the same subjective rating scale that the intervention group used with respect to health, fitness, energy, and body satisfaction levels. In the following paragraphs, I’ll describe just what the SAD looked like for this group, some differences between males and females on a variety of characteristics, how we might define sedentarism based on activity, and health outcomes for the participants. Buckle up for this one!
The SAD, at least the version that emerged in the control group, was interesting. Average number of calories consumed per day among the women was 2,164 and the men were at 2,952. These figures are slightly higher than overall national averages, which are at 1,785 for women and 2,640 for men, according to livestrong.com. There a couple of thoughts that occurred to me as I looked at these numbers for total daily ingested calories. First, we were dealing with a verifiably sedentary group, and there have been numerous studies showing that most sedentary people consume more daily calories than most active people. We have to examine this point with an understanding that this is a global look at statistics which does not represent eater-movers who are more than a standard deviation on either side of the mean. In other words, comatose patients and lumberjacks are excluded from this consideration. Next, we recognize that research supports that dietary intake in most nutrition studies is under-reported by as much as 25%. There is the potential, with the use of Cronometer and my nearly constant involvement with the participants that we were capturing more of an actual figure than those national averages. Also, we performed this Project during winter months, when there is a general tendency for people to move less and eat more. Or maybe people in southwest Montana are just heartier eaters than those elsewhere. Can’t say.
What perhaps matters more is where those calories came from and what were the metabolic effects on those who consumed them. This brings us to the macronutrient breakdown. In JACKED, we have remained consistent with listing out macros in order of fat/protein/carbohydrate and I will continue with this sequence. While there is some variance, many authorities will describe the SAD as being comprised of approximately 35% fat, 15% protein, and about 50% carbs. This is a moving target which in most cases shifts a bit from person to person and within a person with respect to seasons, social occasions, etc. However, our numbers are a little different. The JACKED control women ate a diet that averaged out at 27/13/60. They ate a little more lowfat per most current (although generally incorrect) recommendations, were lower than typical with respect to protein, and pounded carbs. I’m not going too far down this rabbit hole, but there are ostensibly many different reasons why we eat, and some might be gender-specific. Hormones rule everything, and since I have no desire to sleep in the doghouse, I’ll just objectively observe that the ladies in this portion of the project watched their fat intake, skimped on protein, and gravitated toward carbs. The dudes, however, presented a different picture. They averaged out at 35/20/45. I recognize this is a small sample but it is indeed a significant difference with respect to macro ratios. At least in this study, the guys gravitated toward more meat and fat, and put a little less emphasis on carbs. Some of the women reported that one of their go-to comfort food trips was to hit Starbuck’s for a grande mocha and a blueberry muffin. And the men admitted somewhat sheepishly that a fast food burger and fries occasionally did the trick.
Now let’s take this analysis further. Cronometer is a fantastic tool and we were able to look very closely at what was going on in the control group diet. Whereas in the JACKED interventions, we emphasized food quality and broke down many of the scientific underpinnings of nutrition and metabolism, this was not a part of the control experience. Not only were the control subjects left to their own devices, they were encouraged to continue in their preexisting eating patterns and not change them. Consistent with SAD practices, the fats in the control group came primarily from processed foods, and from cooking with those industrial seed oils which are inaccurately labelled “vegetable” oils. These fats are excessively high in Omega-6 fatty acids, prone to oxidation, and often contain trans fats. Not healthy. Protein came from a variety of sources, mostly animal-based. Overall, terms like grass-fed/grass-finished, wild-caught, free-range, pastured, and the like were not used as descriptors in the dietary entries of protein for the control group. A disturbingly high portion of their protein intake came from fast and processed foods. But the carbs were really where the control group diet represented the SAD most accurately. There just were not many fresh, organic vegetables and fruits in the diet. Most of the carbs came from the refined, processed carbage we have come to recognize as one of the major disease drivers in the world. Chips, cookies, crackers, bread, pasta, rice, cake, and all their cousins which reside in boxes or bags made up most of the control group carb intake. Much of that was in the form of processed and fast food which provides that triple whammy of inflammation-provoking rancid seed oils, high-fructose corn syrup, and high-glycemic starches and sugars.
Before I go on let me give some specific examples. While we did something unique in the JACKED diet every month, many of the participants would report that they felt great eating two delicious meals per day, with no snacks. Brunch might have been a jumbo veggie omelette with cheese, avocado, and salsa. Dinner may have been meat or fish with either a giant salad or several heaping mounds of steamed vegetables. But the control group’s eating preferences and habits were much different. Keep in mind I’m coming at this from a point of love and concern and not one of chastization and beat-down. Most of the control group tended to eat 3 square meals per day, with 2-3 snacks as well. Breakfast might have been instant oatmeal with fruit-flavored yogurt and orange juice. Then a mid-morning muffin and latte. Lunch was a sandwich with chips and a cookie. Afternoon featured a granola bar and a soda. Dinner was a pasta, meat, and veggie casserole. A bowl of ice cream ended the day. Overall, this isn’t a huge amount of food and it’s not too different from how many of us, including yours truly, used to eat. But this eating pattern is filled with processed, empty-calorie foods that are devoid of nutrients, and the constant feeding creates the potential for chronically high blood glucose and insulin levels, in most cases.
The problem with the picture the last paragraph just painted is one that the SAD not only contributes to poor health, but it leads to powerful addictions. In such an eating strategy, the high-carb foods create a sugar-dependent metabolism, and the brain actually depends upon and demands its frequent doses to function. Inflammation goes wild, and the crappy oils, along with the absence of antioxidants (due to the broccoli deficit) make a person feel very dependent upon a fairly steady trickle, along with a large bolus here and there, of the excess sugar that both sustains and steadily kills its host. This is true addiction, and it of course comes along with delusion and denial. We harbor delusional views that we need all that sugar in the diet, based largely on the propaganda that the USDA and so many other organizations and “experts” have force-fed us for generations. And we get into fairly serious denial that we might have a problem and there might be a clear solution.
As I continue to try to grow as a person and as a health coach, I admit I “got into it” a few times with these subjects during my visits. Carbohydrate addiction is a disease (whether you want to say the problem is insulin resistance, inflammation, difficulty with stress and hormone balance, etc.) whose power has been underestimated for a very long time. In fact, it causes many of us to become what I call Emotional Carb Defenders (ECD’s). An ECD will be loaded, cocked, and locked with all the reasons why they need their 400 grams of daily processed starches and sugars. They will fight you HARD to show why they are unique and can’t cut back like some other people. You can put your arm around them and offer to show them the way, and most likely that will have no effect, so powerful is the addictive force (shown to be as much as 8 times more than that of cocaine). Let me be clear here, I’m not suggesting that every person, all the time, should be on a low carb diet. But I am saying that most of us might want to at least temporarily consider a lower carb diet.
Let’s get back to that argument again. The ECD will rightfully claim that they need their carbs and don’t feel well without them. That’s absolutely true because their metabolism is not adapted to efficiently burn fat for fuel, and an absence of sugar produces rapid metabolic stress. But my crusade is primarily focused in getting the junk and processed carbage out of the diet, and encouraging most people to get the majority of their carbs from fresh plant sources. What’s so complicated about all that? Sure, if you look at the literature, and you find a person who is lean, healthy, active, has an ancestral genome concentrated in equatorial or Mediterranean regions (which tolerate carbs better than those from more temperate or polar regions, on average), and who has not had their metabolism wrecked by decades of the SAD, then YES, those people thrive on moderate and sometimes even high carbohydrate (most of which is fresh, fibrous, or fermented – not processed) diets. But they are the exception and not the rule and we must be cautious to know the science, not immediately extrapolate it across all populations, and always stay true to the experiment of one which is JACKED.
Collectively, the control group underwent a composite weight gain of 4.6 pounds over the 4-month period. Women averaged 2.1 pounds of bodyweight increase (going from an average beginning weight of 158.1 to 160.2 lbs.), while the men were at 5.3 pounds (moving from 193.3 to 198.6 lbs.). Hip circumference increased in the females by 1.1 inches and waist circumference in the males by 1.9 inches. Total control group BMI increased from 26.2 to 26.9 in the overweight category, inching closer to the obese designation. For men, the starting figure was 26.5 and they finished up at 27.3, and for the women, the change went from 25.8 to 26.3. Bodyfat percentage for the group started at 27.9% and finished up at 30.4%, with the females registering a change from 28.6% to 31.9%, and the males going from 26.5% to 29.4%. In several subjects, we noted a slight loss in lean body (muscle) mass in conjunction with their fat gain.
Measurements of blood pressure and resting heart rate revealed very similar effects across both genders. Average blood pressure for the group increased from 132/88 to 136/89, which used to be considered pre-hypertensive but now under the new (2017) American Heart Association (AHA) guidelines is termed stage 1 hypertension. Resting pulse elevated from an average of 88 to 94 beats per minute, indicating a degradation of cardiovascular fitness.
Using activity trackers to record the number of steps taken daily, we saw almost no change in activity levels. This was expected as we were not encouraging control group participants to increase activity beyond their normal amount during the 4-month period. Most of us are familiar with health information that recommends 10,000 steps per day, and we’re aware that the average American usually gets just under half that amount. The control group, also being fairly consistent among genders, registered 2,044 steps in the initial week of the program and 2,198 steps in the final week of data collection.
We also recorded self-rating scores of 4 wellness variables at initiation and completion. I will list these as the average before/after figures for the group (these were provided to the nearest tenth on a 0-10 scale):
- Perception of overall health – 6.2/5.8
- Opinion of current fitness – 5.3/4.7
- Status of daily energy level – 6.6/5.9
- Satisfaction with body – 5.1/4.6
Unfortunately all of these variables trended downward, or in a negative direction.
I don’t know about you but I think that’s enough data for now. When Project JACKED (The Book) gets published later this year, I’ll include the table of raw data and all calculations as well.
My guess is that we all get the picture by now. It’s not a pretty picture and it’s one which leads us to an intriguing but potentially uncomfortable discussion. I’m going to represent some of my concerns by presenting them as questions and providing some viewpoints and interpretations.
What is so bad about the SAD? The Standard American Diet, although difficult to consistently be quantified, is filled with compounding factors. It is both nutrient-devoid and toxin-rich. All those processed foods work against us by increasing blood glucose and insulin levels excessively and promoting glycation, oxidation, and inflammation, while at the very same time not supplying optimal levels of various micronutrients and high-quality building blocks for ideal metabolic function. You and I are not just what we eat…we are what we eat eats. So a cow that is supposed to eat grass but is instead fed a diet of corn, soybeans, and Skittles (yes, believe it) doesn’t cause an enhancement in our food chain. Nor does a GMO crop soaked in herbicides and pesticides.The SAD is unfortunately filled with compounds like high fructose corn syrup, artificial colors, flavors, preservatives, and glyphosate, just to name a few…and these demons put a strain on our organs, diminish our cellular function and disrupt our endocrine systems. And the SAD does not provide enough omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals that we so desperately require for a thriving existence. Maybe not this audience so much, but America has slipped into a level of complacency with diet that is actually killing us.
How does activity factor into the health equation? We are designed to move. We are not well-adapted to be sedentary and experience long periods of circulatory and metabolic stasis, at least during most of our waking hours. Over roughly the past century, we’ve downregulated our movement levels far from how humans existed for nearly 2.5 million years prior. Here’s where it gets interesting. You don’t need to be an Olympic athlete to get all the health and longevity benefits that activity can provide. When we consider the epidemiologic data upon which the 10,000 daily steps model is predicated, or take a close look at the Blue Zones around the world in which centenarians are concentrated, we realize that we don’t even need to exercise (officially) at all. We just need to be active. Now, granted, to get most of those benefits we need to walk a lot, do tons of chores, some of them vigorous, and of course couple this with a joyous, balanced, and meaningful life. But not everyone loves exercise, and I get that. Exercise can increase our mobility, strength, endurance, and other fitness characteristics, but we should add that on top of our general activity levels if that is a goal. There is no option, no substitute, and no compromise when it comes to getting the general daily activity that our health requires. We have to own that.
How do the SAD and sedentarism work together to aggressively deteriorate health? The short answer is by creating a state of chronic inflammation, hormonal imbalance, and metabolic dysregulation. I’m honestly a little surprised to see in our control group, again recognizing the small sample size, that this progress is actually quite rapid, powerful, and sinister. The literature until very recently termed the gradual weight gain and development of metabolic syndrome symptoms as “creeping obesity” and it was almost generally accepted as what inevitably happened to you as you got older. If we coin a term for the evil combo, SAD/Sed, it’s a one-way ticket to decreased health and probably a diminished lifespan. But things don’t have to be this way, and we’ll see that when we look at the intervention groups results later. And fortunately, most of the effects of SAD/Sed can be rapidly reversed with simple and easy lifestyle practices (the basis of JACKED).
What happened to Subject CM2? At the time of this writing, as I am concluding the collection and analysis of Project JACKED data, I can’t consider Subject CM2 as someone who is having a high degree of health success, is a shining example of the principles of The Lifetime Body, or is an indicator of my proficiency as a healthcare provider. CM2 is the gentleman who withdrew (most appropriately) from the control group when he was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. He was treated in the local medical system, placed on prescription medication, put on a high carbohydrate, lowfat diet, and given some vague recommendations to get more exercise. He declined my assistance to help him set up a safe, effective exercise program and to potentially revamp his diet using more current, evidence-based approaches. His diabetes has progressed to the point that he is now using daily injectable insulin, and his weight gain was higher than anyone in the control group. This is a tough one for me, because I think there are treatments that represent truly helpful options for CM2. But in the end, everyone believes what they want to believe, and they will do what they do, despite what we may know otherwise and regardless of what we consider our best efforts to help our fellow man. Figuratively and literally speaking, my door is always open for CM2 if he’d like my help, and I really hope that he can somehow defy the strong statistical odds not working in his favor.
Did anybody else have a problem? Yes, while I’m on what feels like a negative subject area I may as well get all this over with. We had another issue, which actually became problematic in the last week of the study, with Subject CF4. Her blood pressure rose to the highest recording in the study, at an average in the final week of 142/96, and this caused both CF4 and myself great concern. Recognizing that there can be many factors which can elevate blood pressure, with stress, diet, and medication interactions among them, I encouraged CF4 to immediately see her healthcare practitioner. Fortunately, since CF4 was not using any over-the-counter or prescription medications at the time, drug complications were ruled out and she was issued a referral to undergo an improved diet and exercise program. And, I’m pleased to say, she took me up on my offer to help in this capacity. The story gets better here, and within it I think there is a powerful message. First, I counselled CF4 on some simple sleep hygiene methods to get more restful sleep. Then I gave her a couple mindfulness and meditation tips for stress reduction. I gave her an old heart rate monitor, and she is on a 30’ twice-daily walking program at a heart rate limit no greater than the number 170 – her age. She has noted that this is very easy exercise and that she can walk comfortably on the flats but needs to slow down significantly on the uphills so as not to exceed that upper limit. I loaned her an electronic BP monitor and encouraged her to take several readings daily, and record them as well as report them to me. Then we looked at diet, and we did a cold-turkey pantry cleanout, junk-food elimination program. We talked about how highly processed carbs drive high insulin levels and how this affects water retention in the body, kidney function, and BP. There will be more work on this process, but after only 6 days of our new program, BP is averaging 126/78, and this is a phenomenal example of how quickly the body wants to autoregulate health and reset to ideal when we just do a few beneficial things. Definitely a silver lining here for CF4, the Project, and me.
How many subjects took you up on your offer of free health coaching after program completion? Well, counting CF4, that number is 3. I’m a little ashamed to admit that it’s not 12, including CM2. Two other control group participants have joined CF4 and they are all about to embark on a complete 4-month JACKED journey. That proverbial door remains open, indefinitely, for any of the control subjects who may eventually decide they want to try the JACKED path to health. Or whatever I can do for them. I also still feel a little guilty for having the control group, as I’ve said before. Sure, I found people who were already immersed in SAD/Sed, had no interest in going away from it, and were more than happy to let me sample their data as a few more months rolled by. But that hasn’t made my conscience feel too clean. We’ve all heard the expression “You can lead a horse to water…but you can’t make him drink.” The same goes for behavior change and health enhancement. We can only do our best to offer information, motivation, kindness, and support to those around us in such a quest. Ultimately, each person has to decide for herself or himself what path they shall choose.
What are the take-home messages? You know me to be long-winded, but I can cut to the chase. I see two major messages coming out of the control aspect of the experiment:
- SAD/Sed is a terrible, aggressive detractor from health and quality of life. It’s a killer. It erodes away our vitality and eventually reaches threshold levels that wreck our metabolisms and health. Some can get away with it for decades, but others can succumb to this dark force in just months or years. And it’s happening worldwide. We’ve got to stop this progression. We know what to do. We know it’s not easy, but we need to clean up our food supply, get people moving a bit more, and create opportunity for all to enjoy maximal health.
- The effects of SAD/Sed are almost entirely preventable, in most cases treatable, and in many cases completely reversible. These brilliant human bodies in which we reside actually want to be healthy, and are genetically programmed to rapidly revert to wellness once we remove a few obstacles and provide a few facilitators (like good food and movement). It’s not that difficult or complicated and in general is much less expensive than the medical management indicated if the illness and disease processes of unhealthy lifestyles are allowed to progress too far.
The onus is upon us. We need to get ourselves healthy, and do whatever we can to help all those around us do the same. I want to extend my heartfelt gratitude to every member of the control group for providing us with this powerful message. Let’s go!