Monthly Archives: December 2013

Get the whole review of Jumpstart to Skinny in one easy location under the 'book reviews' tab at the top.

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I'll go ahead and preface this post by saying I don't have a lot of disagreements with Harper's exercise instruction.  It's better than I've seen from a lot of other trainers for sure.  I like to think that pre-The Biggest Loser, Harper was a wonderful trainer with integrity.  I suppose I can see how easy it is to compromise your morals when millions of dollars are on the line and it doesn't really seem like you're hurting anyone - even more so when hundreds of thousands of people tell you daily what a wonderful thing you're doing.

While I have few problems with his technique instruction or his form (only problem I have is with his kettlebell swing instruction), I do disagree with what he's asking of people on 800 calorie per day diets.

I much prefer people to do Russian swings over American (pictured above).

Your only goal on so little fuel should be to maintain your muscle mass - not to try and burn off what little fumes you may have left.  He provides 7 different workouts, some of which I like more than others.

Workout 1: 

  • 20 sit-ups
  • 15 squats
  • 10 push-ups
  • AMRAP (as many rounds as possible) in 20 minutes

This workout is decent - but I fear that 10 push-ups may not be feasible for many of the people reading this book, especially any beginner women.  As well, 20 minute AMRAPs for beginners is usually pretty tough.

But, I understand he is trying to make a semi-difficult workout for a wide variety of skill levels with minimum equipment.  That's a tall order.  AMRAPs are one way to try and take care of that problem - people who are less experienced would just go more slowly and complete fewer rounds than more seasoned workout veterans.

Unfortunately, there are going to be plenty of readers who can't do a proper squat or push-up - what about them?  I think it would have been a good idea to provide alternatives to commonly problematic exercises.  Maybe something like:

Workout 1 - Advanced Level

  • 15 Reverse Crunches (bring hips off floor)
  • 10 squats (3-8-x) Meaning, take 3 seconds to lower yourself to the bottom of the squat, hold for 8 seconds and come back up.
  • 10 push-ups
  • 3-5 rounds

Workout 2 - Beginner Level

  • 10 Reverse Crunches (keep hips on floor)
  • 10 chair squats
  • 3 push-up negatives
  • 3-5 rounds

Anyway, I appreciate that it is difficult to write programs suitable for whatever number of people is required to have your book become a New York Times bestseller.  But with just a tad more content, the most obvious problems can be rectified.  I'm sure Harper is a good enough trainer to know that, so I'm not sure why it's not included.

There are some workouts that I really have to question the intent of, however:

Workout 4:

  • 20 medicine ball push-ups
  • 20 medicine ball sit-ups
  • 20 medicine ball squats
  • 20 no-wall balls
  • 20 medicine ball burpees
  • One round for time

Now, I get that it's only one round, but just imagine: it's day 16 in a row of eating 800 calories.  You've already done 12 exhausting workouts and you're sore, famished and completely exhausted.  It's all you can do to walk up the stairs without getting light-headed.  What would be the best thing to do?  Apparently push-ups and burpees on an unstable surface!  Brilliant!

Not the training effect we're going for

Not to mention this workout is very unsuitable for a beginner.  It's unsuitable even for people with a couple months of basic training under their belts.  To be fair, he does state on the burpees and push-ups that if it's too difficult to do with a medicine ball you can go without.  I think that this would be another good time for an Advanced / Beginner split.

Burpees are hard.  Burpees are really hard when you're light-headed from only eating 800 calories per day.  Burpees are really really hard when you're only eating 800 calories a day and you just did a bunch of other exercises that make the blood rush to your head.  (Push-ups / Squats / Wall balls (involve squatting))

Moral:  Generally the main gripe I have is just that it's unrealistic and miserable for a half-starved person to be given high-intensity crossfit-esque workouts.  You need the proper fuel to even get anything out of it.

Again, the best you should hope for on this steep of a deficit is to maintain your muscle mass if you want this to be a little bit less of an awful experience.

Review

Again, you can find all the segments of Jumpstart to Skinny's review under the "book reviews" tab at the top.  You'll find all the segments of The Skinny Rules there as well.

As far as a final word on this book, I have to say that I'm greatly saddened by what's in here.  I'm sad because so many people read this book and think that quick weight loss is something attainable, normal and even desirable.  I'm sad because there is not a single peep from Harper about the drawbacks to following a crash diet.  I'm sad because there are probably thousands of people who bought this book with high hopes only to find themselves facing failure after being unable to keep up with unreasonable restrictions and rules.

This book, and The Skinny Rules, will give the impression to people who try it that weight loss simply must not be for them.  If these rules are non-negotiable and necessary to lose weight, while at the same time being unsustainable, then what's the point?  Why even try?

If you tried to follow the rules in this book and came up short, it's not your fault.  Harper mentions his 'expert' status several times in this book - no true expert in healthy weight loss would give out these suggestions.  You are being misled.

If you want to lose weight, here's a more realistic plan:

  1. Manage your expectations.  You do not need to lose 20 pounds in 3 weeks to have a good time at your reunion, wedding or vacation.  If you want to lose weight, recognize that to do so and keep it off it necessitates a long, slow process.
  2. Maintain a small deficit.  If you're counting calories, try something small and barely noticeable, like 200-300 calories.  If you're not counting, try just eating 80% of what you're eating now.  One less spoonful of potatoes at dinner.  Half of a normal piece of toast at breakfast.  Manageable stuff.
  3. Strength train in a way that makes you happy to maintain your muscle mass.  This could be doing bodyweight exercises, training with weights, hiking, pole dancing, whatever.

When you're just starting out, that is seriously all you need.  Could you do more?  Sure.  But if you've been hopping from one diet to the next for years with no lasting results, why not try something a little more manageable?

7 Comments

This video is low-hanging fruit, I'll admit it.  But it was such a perfect compilation of the flawed language used by the fitness industry at large that I couldn't resist the opportunity.

First of all, let's watch this thing, then go over it line by line.

Okay, so here we have a 5-minute piece with celebrity trainer David Kirsch.  He's here to tell us how to get legs like Heidi Klum or <insert model here>.  (So I guess this article should be renamed 'David's Tips for Killer Legs'!)  Let's get started:

Katie: "Seriously David!  Aren't you just born with A-list legs?"

David: "No.  Sexy, tone, long and lean."

I'm not sure what that line is supposed to mean.  It sort of seems that he just picked out every buzzword as his opening statement.

  1. "Sexy" is subjective, but I suppose we'll assume that it entails the next three adjectives.
  2. "Tone" could be added to your legs through exercise, true.  (Although I loathe that word for a myriad of reasons)
  3. "Long" - now here is something no exercise can do.  If you're 5'0 with a long torso, long legs just aren't in the cards for you.  You could perhaps make them look longer with certain cuts of shirts or heels, but there's only so much that can be done and there's no exercise routine that can elongate your femur.
  4. "Lean" is something that can be achieved through diet and exercise, true.

Katie: "When clients come to you, David, and they say, 'Really, I want my legs to look better', you don't ever say 'Honey, it's genetic'?"

David: "No...never...there's not a one size fits all.  You gotta visualize the legs you want to have.  Whether it's Heidi's or Kate's..."

This is another bizarre exchange to analyze.  After all, what does "look better" mean?  Again, we'll assume that it's to have longer, thinner legs with low body fat.  His response of "there's not a one size fits all" right next to the requirement of visualizing what individual's legs you want is rather odd.  If there is no one size fits all, then why are you striving for the exact legs of another woman?  That sort of sounds like one size fits all to me.

Katie: "Well don't I have to grow a foot or two to have Heidi Klum's legs?" (For reference, Katie is 5'1 and Heidi is 5'9)

David: "No, I've seen you wear crazy shoes.  Wear those high heels, you've got the length - and you have...the genetics, you have that shape there."

Here we have direct contradiction #1.  Above David said that genetics don't play a role in what kind of legs you have, and here he tells Katie she has the genetics to have Heidi Klum's legs.  A bit ridiculous since Heidi is a good 8 inches taller than Katie and also has a habit of wearing crazy high heels.

HeidiHeels

Katie: "Let me ask you about diet...I mean how important is that to having great legs?"

David: "It's huge.  I had a new woman come through today.  She's shorter and she's got hips and thicker thighs and she's not working out properly.  You know, she's doing a lot of squats and...just like...stop.  No squats...no traditional squats.  I said...visualize...I want a 'window'...here's your window, right up here, inner thighs.  When your legs get too bulky, this space gets lost.  So I want a window, I said I want to shave [the butt] and I want to lift it."

Well, first off she asked about diet and somehow this got turned into a conversation about exercise.  Anyway, this section sets up for a bit more hilarity a couple of minutes later, but let's go over a few of the things here.  First he is implying that squats make your legs too 'bulky' for a thigh gap.  Oh wait, did I say thigh gap?  Sorry, "window."  Other things that can get rid of your thigh gap include genetics.  It's been said a million times already, but even the skinniest of girls can manage to lack a thigh gap.  Just depends on your anatomy.

Also, for a good example of heavy squatting not making your legs big, see Jennifer Petrosino or Nia Shanks.

Sup guys, just deadlifting almost 3 times my bodyweight. No big deal or anything.

So just to sum up what he just said, Window=Thigh Gap and Squats = Bad, Bulky and never to be done.  Got it?  We'll be quizzing you on this later.

David: "So if you're eating cheese - I live in Italy, cheese, pasta, bread - I'm like, no.  No more dairy.  Zero dairy.  Because it's going right [to your butt and thighs]."

So...dairy by some magical property goes right to the hips and thighs as opposed to other kinds of foods?  Many women may nod their head in agreement because when he says that food goes right to their hips and thighs, well, he's relating to their struggles.  You've probably heard women in your life say that <insert 'bad' food here> goes straight to their thighs - maybe you've even said it yourself!  But here's all that's happening:

  • Women tend to gain weight on hips and thighs
  • Dairy can have a lot of calories in it and things like cheese can add up quickly to a caloric surplus.
  • Dairy is then associated with going straight to the hips and thighs, even if it doesn't do so more than any other food.

I have a hard time believing that David truly believes what he's saying, but it is possible he is hardcore into Paleo.  Who knows.

Katie: "But please don't be obsessed with this thigh gap thing, because a lot of girls are going crazy if they don't have thigh gaps, and they're starting to get eating disorders because of it."

David: "No, I'm not about eating disorders...look I have two twins, 4-year-old twins.  And so, it's not ever about...we don't use the word 'diet', we don't use the word 'fat'...it's moving your body.  It's doing correct moves.  So all these moves, whether it's a single leg deadlift or sumo lunge or reverse crossover, will shape and tone your legs.  And you'll get the inner...you'll tighten up...if you go like this and you tighten it up, you're gonna get the window."

I'm actually kinda proud of Katie on this one, I have to admit.  I'm sure she wasn't intentionally calling him out on his "window" bullshit, but she inadvertently seemed to put him on the defensive.  Just watch the video during this segment, it's really amusing.  You have to watch him during this to get the most out of it.  He is literally signifying a thigh gap with his hands and almost says "the inner thigh gap" but catches himself.  Apparently using the word "window" is better than "thigh gap," and he clearly states that's what he wants for his clients, while somehow at the same time coming across as being anti-thigh gap.

It's probably because he pulled the "I have children" card, though he didn't mention if either of the twins were girls.  So he doesn't use the word 'diet' and is anti-eating disorders but his clients aren't allowed to have dairy?  "Fat" isn't okay but "bulky" is?

We also have our first claim of exercises being able to spot-reduce areas, but expressed with the word "tighten" instead.

The rest of this video, nothing much of value is said.  David does say either the word "tighten" "shave" or "tone" 5 times in about 1 minute though!  David takes us through three bodyweight lower body movements.  Katie could use a little work on sitting back at the hips, but I suppose if I only had 90 seconds to show someone three exercises I wouldn't worry too much about it either.

David also says that if you want to avoid getting bulky, a big fear for many women, then the answer is to increase your repetitions and only use bodyweight exercises.

I don't see a thigh ga- I mean, window, on a single one of these girls.  This is bullshit!

I don't see a thigh ga- I mean, window, on a single one of these girls. This is bullshit!

omg so bulky

I have a theory to why so many women fear getting bulky from a training program.  It's because of people telling women they should be afraid of getting bulky on a training program.

Let's also point out how all three of the moves involved many of the same muscles as a 'traditional' squat.  If a squat made you bulky, then so would these moves.

Katie: "Now what's that good for?"

David: "...Cardio, right?  You're gonna get your heart rate up, you're gonna start metabolizing fat so it'll lean you out."

Sort of.  The kind of workout you'd get doing all these moves in a row seems like it would be on the higher intensity side of things, as opposed to an easy walk.  The higher the intensity, the less percentage of fat you'll use to power the movements, the lower the intensity, the more fat you'll use.  However, it's important to bear in mind that the macronutrient you're utilizing (for most regular non-athlete trainees) doesn't matter for overall fat loss.  It just comes down to how many calories you burn.  (I may have mentioned that a couple of times before...)

Conclusion

In summation we get a good synopsis of the main pieces of misinformation spread by the fitness industry.

  • "Spot Reduction" being a thing, though apparently now going by the name 'shaving' and 'tightening'.
  • Mysterious and nonsensical food elimination rules that must be obeyed to lose fat.  Dairy, in this case
  • Use high repetitions and light or no weight to avoid bulking during training.
  • Use of words like 'tone', 'shape', 'tighten' or 'firm' specifically in regards to women's fitness.
  • Automatic assumption that 'sexy' equals tall, thin with little muscle or fat.
  • Claims to be able to defy your own anatomy to obtain certain features such as 'long' legs or a thigh-gap, aka 'window'.

I'm honestly surprised to see something like that come on air so recently.  I thought we were beyond things like spot reduction and fear of getting bulky - apparently not.

Chapter / Rule 12 - Lay off ALL Booze!

I'll start off with something positive here.  Going out to drink will not help you get closer to any weight loss goals you may have, I agree with Harper there.

However, I don't feel we need to demonize booze to get that point across.  You're smart, you know alcohol has calories.  If you recognize that and still want to go out and have a good time, by all means, go for it.  If you only give yourself 3 weeks to lose as much weight as possible, then yeah, it doesn't sound like a good plan.

But if you're getting ready for a wedding (one of the examples for why one may need this diet program that Harper states over and over), do you want to miss out having fun with your friends on your bachelor / bachelorette party?  Are you going to drink at your rehearsal dinners?  To each their own, and if you don't need to drink to have a good time, more power to you.  But personally I'd be a little upset if I didn't get every ounce of joy from those once-in-a-lifetime experiences to try and look slightly thinner in some pictures.

Anyway, that's all fluff.  Let's go over the justifications on why to not drink alcohol:

"Alcohol...is a central nervous system depressant.  You don't ever want that..."

Probably a time you'd want a little liquid courage.

Probably a time you'd want a little central nervous system depression.

Many bar-goers beg to differ! (Fun fact, did you know that archery competitions typically ban alcohol since it calms archer's nerves, decreasing hand tremors and improving accuracy?)

"Booze will alter your metabolism and slow down fat-burning."

Now this isn't an untrue statement.  But I think many people see statements like this and assume that consuming alcohol will decrease your metabolic rate in general, for which I haven't found any good evidence - please correct me if I'm wrong.  (I actually found a study - albeit a very old, small one - showing that it increases metabolism)

However, your body will process alcohol before anything else, by proxy lowering specifically "fat-burning."  We've mentioned before that it doesn't matter too much if your body is burning fat or carbohydrates - everything will catch up eventually if you're eating at a caloric deficit.

"...then there's the simple fact that this is a low-calorie, three-week diet, and alcohol contains calories..."

Very true.  If you're eating 800 calories a day, it would be best to get those calories from nutritious foods.  (But you should probably not only be eating 800 calories a day.  I think I've said that a couple of times.)

"Last but not least, it may surprise you that my objection to alcohol while on Jumpstart is less about calorie intake...

Every now and then, while driving home late at night...I see a line of guys outside the local open-late burger place.  All of them fat and...drunk."

Typically what the line at Cook-Out in Durham looks like at 1:00 AM.

Typically what the line at Cook Out in Durham looks like at 1:00 AM.

Harper then goes on to describe what all of us are probably familiar with - late night drunken food runs to Cook Out or Taco Bell.

(Sooo it is about calorie intake then?)

Who hasn't done that once or twice?  But I feel compelled to mention that there are plenty of skinny people who have this habit as well.  Will drinking 800 calories of beer followed by a 2,000 calorie hush-puppy & corndog combo help you lose weight?  No - but that doesn't mean there aren't people who do this on occasion without being fat.

I suppose my issue with him implying only fat people have this habit is that it says you're not allowed to party or have fun if you want to be at a reasonable weight, which is simply untrue.  Being thin does not mean subjecting yourself to a life of constant restriction and misery.

Moral: Alcohol doesn't seem to lower your metabolism.  (Correct me if I'm wrong) However, it does have calories and can lower your inhibitions towards food which will not help you achieve your weight loss goals.  Sure is fun though.

Chapter / Rule 13 - An espresso a day...or two or three

Coffee has had quite a few news articles singing its praises.  (Not endorsing that article, just showing there are a lot of claims around coffee)

Harper agrees with a few of them and gives us a couple of studies:

  1. This study showing that coffee consumption is correlated with lowered risk of metabolic syndrome in men.
  2. Another study showing that dark roast coffee had more antioxidants than light roast and that it contributed to "significant" body weight reduction.

A few issues with using the first study:

  • Diet was assessed through questionnaire, which as we know by this point can be prone to error.
  • There was no corresponding correlation with the women in the study, which is suspect.
  • The study acknowledged that this is an association and not enough to prove causation.

With study #2, the full text is really required.  I will try to get access to it and amend this post - the abstract gives no context to the claim of "significant" body weight reduction.

French people drink coffee.  French people are thin.  Therefore coffee makes you thin.

French people drink coffee. French people are thin. Therefore coffee makes you thin.

Anyway, coffee has claims to increase fat metabolism (although whether the broken down fat gets used more readily as fuel during exercise over existing carbohydrates doesn't seem to be clear), and it also serves as an appetite depressant! (it is possible that decaffeinated coffee does a better job of this)

Harper makes a last point about why you should drink coffee on this plan - it will get your energy up for the workouts he'll talk about later.  And on 800 calories a day, you'll need all the help you can get.  I personally drink caffeine during my workouts - it may be placebo but I feel it helps me stay focused and energized when I'm going up for my eighth set of squats or whatever.

Moral: Coffee can be helpful for the dieter due to appetite-suppressing qualities.  It could increase fat metabolism during exercise, maybe.  As well, the increase in energy can help improve your performance during workouts.

Whew!  Okay, that's a lot of rules.

But wait, there's more!

This book also contains a lovely workout plan, which I will enjoy reviewing in a bonus section!

'Let's Sharpen Our Bullshit Detectors' Update

Still working on my little guidebook for navigating the health & fitness industry.  I'm about done and all I need are a couple of people who would be willing to give it a critique.  I'm sure I've missed quite a few typos and there are probably some segments that don't make any sense.  I could use another pair of eyes, so if you'd like to help me out, just shoot me an email at:

kat@capitalstrength.com

Chapter / Rule 10 - Fall back on veggies!

This chapter is short and sweet.  And it also makes sense, for the most part.

Vegetables

On this diet, you are allowed to eat an unlimited amounts of a long list of vegetables Harper provides you.  They are, for the most part, very low in calories but very satiating.  And when you're only eating 800 calories per day, if you want any hope of your stomach not rumbling all day, tons of vegetables are a good plan.  Have you ever tried to eat 500 calories of broccoli?  It's tough.

Harper takes note that if you are eating all these vegetables, you'll be taking in a lot of fiber.  While he comments on the benefits of fiber - feeling full, regular bowel movements, moving digestion along - it should be noted that if you are going from a low-fiber diet to a nearly all-fiber diet, you might have a bad time adjusting.

For some, too much fiber too quickly can result in cramping, bloating and constipation.  You'd probably get over this after 3 weeks though.

He also notes that some vegetables are "natural diuretics" as an extra benefit.  Considering he was very anti-diuretics in chapter 5, I find that worth mentioning.  Obviously any diuretic properties of a vegetable likely nothing compared to a concentrated drug, but it's still just another gimmicky way to lose unnecessary water weight.

Moral: Vegetables are filling.  They might help make a 800 calorie-a-day diet more bearable.  They can be pretty tasty too.  (If you follow me on facebook, you'll remember: FUCK YEAH ROASTED BROCCOLI!)

Chapter / Rule 11 - No fruit during week 3

I got a little depressed reading this chapter, I'm not going to lie.

There's just...so much bullshit guys.  I'm sorry.  I need a moment.

There's just...so much bullshit guys. I'm sorry. I need a moment.

Well it looks like Harper listened to that popular lecture by Dr. Lustig.  The gist of the lecture being, fructose is more harmful than other sugars like maltose or glucose.

Fructose is known as the "fruit" sugar since you can find it in most fruits like apples or berries.  In fact, Harper has an entire chapter in "The Skinny Rules" dedicated to you eating plenty of apples and berries everyday.  (Every. Single. Day!) He also wants you to eat simple sugars for this diet (see rule 3), of which fructose is a big one.

However, he wants you to cut out the fructose in week 3.  Why?

"[Fructose's] metabolic profile is different from that of sucrose (usually made from cane or beet sugar) in one critical way: over-consumption of it skews our metabolism toward fat storage rather than fat burning."

Everytime you spout nutrition bullshit, a puppy cries. Why do you hate puppies Harper?

There is only one kind of over-consumption that drives our bodies to store fat rather than burn it: calories.  Whether those calories come in the form of fructose or sucrose or skinless baked chicken breasts and steamed broccoli, it doesn't matter.  If you are eating 800 calories per day (assuming you are not a 100 pound girl in a coma), regardless of where you are getting those calories from, you WILL lose fat.  (until the inevitable binge happens)

"Many believe that our stepped-up consumption of fructose, usually through ingestion of all that high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) in soft and "fruit" drinks, plays a key factor in America's twin scourges of obesity and diabetes.  That's why New York passed its ban on large soft drinks recently."

The attempted ban on soft drinks was not due to their HFCS content - it was due to their caloric content.  If it truly had anything to do with HFCS, they would have made the law to replace it with sugar.

I was also going to point out how HFCS is nearly identical to sucrose in terms of fructose content - it's only got about 5% more fructose.  But I'll let Harper explain with flawless logic why that's not good enough:

"Other researchers...believe that HFCS has been unjustly maligned, pointing out that the syrup contains only 5 to 10 percent more fructose than regular sugar.

I wonder what those guys would say if their mother's prescription for say, Lipitor, contained 10 percent more than she was supposed to take!"

This is a very bad argument.  When I originally typed that sentence out, there were so many negative adjectives that I just gave up trying to articulate how bad it was.

As far as we are aware now, fructose does not appear worse for human consumption than simple sugar.  The negative health effects of sugar result from eating a caloric surplus of sugar - and the nature of sugar makes it easy to do that.  However, many cultures have thrived off high carbohydrate diets (Japanese, for instance). Comparing fructose consumption (of which we can take in vastly varying amounts and be okay) to altering a sensitive drug that requires a doctor's permission to take is asinine.

He then cites a study and concludes that fructose consumption impairs insulin sensitivity and makes it difficult to bring blood sugar down.

Unfortunately in this study, they were limited by the fact it was not conducted in a metabolic ward.  Subjects were only required to log 3 days worth of food between visiting researchers (Which happened after 3 weeks).  While that's certainly something, we are notorious at counting and measuring our food, even with kitchen scales.   The fact that many foods contain high fructose corn syrup and sucrose outside of the sweetened beverages the participants were required to drink makes this study difficult to verify for accuracy.

"Does one week of [not eating fruit] really make a difference?  Yes.  It's one more way to cut calories, one more way to push your body into fat-burning mode, one more way to curb your sweet tooth.  And: it works for me and my clients."

If you're already counting out 800 calories a day, removing fruit will not cut your calories anymore because you'll make up for it with string beans or Persian cucumbers or something.  Is it the removing fruit that works for you and your clients, or is it the lack of calories?

Moral: Fructose has not been proven to be any worse for your health than sucrose.  Neither seem to be particularly bad.  There isn't a good reason given in this chapter to avoid fruit consumption in the last week of this diet.  Harper made 4 puppies cry this chapter.

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Chapter / Rule 8 - Cut the Salt

When I read this title I was all ready to jump on the contradiction of telling you to reduce your salt (because it will cause you to retain more water) but to also take an electrolyte supplement (of which salt is a key ingredient)

But, to my pleasant surprise, Harper already addresses this:

"Yes you body needs some salt...(which is why you'll be drinking electrolyte replacements during this program), but too much leads to water retention, which leads nowhere good."

As we previously noted in the electrolytes section, there is little point in reducing simple water weight when you're going for an aesthetic change.  It just isn't going to make a big difference for the most part.  So while a lot of salt leads nowhere good, it doesn't lead anywhere particularly bad either.

This is all contingent on you not having an existing blood pressure issue.  People who have had their blood pressure checked by a medical professional and found it to be higher than it should could consider reducing their sodium intake.  Of course, you should listen to your doctor first before some random chick on the internet.

"...when you're looking to lose weight over the long haul and then stay thin, you should shoot for less than 2,000 milligrams [of salt] a day."

Here Harper just used "thin" and "lose weight" interchangeably.  Many weight-loss products will do this, since most of us associate weight loss with fat loss.  However when talking about water weight, it's important to make sure you're using the correct term.  If you lose scale weight, say 5 pounds, by dropping 5 pounds of water weight (a very feasible thing to do), then to keep that weight off for the long haul, you would likely need to continue eating less salt.  But why bother?  It's meaningless weight that will keep you from enjoying things like bread, french fries or popcorn.

As far as needing to keep sodium below 2,000 to "stay thin," that is completely baseless.  Sodium doesn't lead people to being un-thin.  So don't worry so much about it.

The end of this chapter is a little bit scary:

A box of how to become a big jerk with an eating disorder.

A box of how to become a big jerk with an eating disorder.

Goodness just look at some of this advice.  When your friend is kind enough to offer to make you dinner, you really need to be sure to let them know you've already had 778 milligrams of sodium today - could they make sure to only offer you a portion with 1,222 mg?  Oh, your mother-in-law wants to make you and your husband a delicious home-cooked meal?  Haha nope, you've got a DIET to uphold!  What's more important than that?  Instead of eating at the office party, follow around your hot intern.  She'll dig it.

Moral: Unless you have an existing blood pressure issue, don't worry about your sodium intake.  It won't help you lose fat, and the scale weight you lose is meaningless.

Chapter / Rule 9 - Take advantage of the restorative power of daily fish oil

Want to know a secret?

I'm not particularly knowledgeable about supplements.  It's not a subject that gets me very excited.

There, I admitted it.

So, here's what I'm going to do with this section: We'll use this as a little tutorial on how to traverse through a subject you're unfamiliar with.  This is also a great chapter to do so - Harper throws out a bunch of intimidating science-y terms.  What fun!

Let's start with the opening paragraph:

"You may have heard that taking a fish oil supplement every day is good for your heart...[scientists have] come across the benefits of fish oil for people who diet and exercise as well.  Fish oil can help with post-exercise soreness and also boost immunity."

So here we have 3 claims about fish oil:

  1. Good for your heart
  2. Help with post-exercise soreness
  3. Boost immunity

After this, there is a sensationalist paragraph about how soreness means you're probably going to find an excuse to not work out the next day, so take your fish oil.  This is fluff - entertaining fluff that is relevant to your life, to be sure - but it will not give you a better understanding of if you should take fish oil.

Next is a passage that is a bit tough to digest:

"Bear with me: in the human inflammatory cycle, a molecule dubbed E2, or PGE2 (for prostaglandin), signals other cells to become inflamed and, thus, painful.  So the research question was: Can we inhibit this process in a healthful way?

To find out, the investigators tested the effects of 8 different dietary oils containing high amounts of the anti-inflammatory molecule called docosahexaenoic acid.  Result: "It was identified that fish oil best inhibited the PGE2 signaling...[and] docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), found in abundance in fish oil, was identified as a key factor of inhibition of PGE2 signaling."

Whew, that was a mouthful.  Confused yet?  Don't worry, Harper will sum it all up for you:

"In essence: yay fish oil!"

Well, I personally would like a bit of a deeper understanding - something between that difficult-to-comprehend first passage and a simple "yay!"  You deserve that too.

First, let's establish what we're trying to figure out here:

  • Harper is using a study to confirm his assertion that fish oil helps with soreness and inflammation.
  • We need to determine if this study actually does confirm that fish oil helps with soreness and inflammation.

So, let's look up this study.  I use PubMed to find almost all of the studies I've looked at in these series.  You could also just Google the title of the study.  (Harper has a works cited section in the back of the book, thankfully.)  We lucked out with this study - the full text is available for free.  Many journals require you to pay to access more than just the abstract (A brief summary of the study).  Sometimes you can miss crucial context without the full text - so it's best to reserve complete judgement on a piece until you can read and understand the whole thing.

After a cursory glance over this paper I have reached one conclusion:

This is WAY over my head.

I'd say it's over the head of most non-biologists.  I have very little hope of understanding what is going on in this paper - so I will stick with the parts that are generally in English: the "Discussion" and "Conclusion" sections:

"Finally, we conclude that fish oil is a promising dietary oil used to prevent and reduce inflammation-mediated diseases, such as heart diseases, cancers, arthritis, and pain."

"... taking 500 –1000 mg fish oil daily is recommended based on the findings in this study."

So we have determined that this study concludes what Harper says it does, and even gives us a recommendation for how much fish oil to take.  Sadly, the methods used to gather and analyze this data are way over my head.  It could be complete crap - I wouldn't know the difference.

What do you do when you don't understand a study?

The further you step away from the root of the study, the more caution you should take.  I do have a few trusted sources I turn to for nutrition information.  I went to 3 different sources who look at research and give layman's descriptions of them:

Alan Aragon

Examine

Precision Nutrition

So, in comparing these 3 different sources, there are some common conclusions:

  • Fish oil can help with inflammation.
  • Enough fish oil can help with muscle soreness.
  • Too much fish oil can have a negative effect on your immune system.

This last point makes a sort of sense to me (I could be wrong), since inflammation is a response of your immune system.  Reduce inflammation too much, you're compromising your immune system.  Maybe.

Based on this, I would conclude that taking fish oil to help with decreasing inflammation and muscle soreness may be a good idea and perhaps something worth pursuing.   1-6 grams is a wide range of recommendations, and is also a crap ton of pills.  The upper doses seem to be the ones that help best with soreness.

That doesn't sound very conclusive, Kat.  This didn't help at all.

Well, that's because I haven't devoted more than about 3 hours to look at all this stuff, compared to a lifetime of some of these researchers.  Yeah, 3 hours is how long I've spent reading everything above.  It probably sounds like a lot.  But even if it doesn't, imagine the fact that you may find yourself needing to do similar research for your multi-vitamin, calcium supplement, creatine, or even if you should eat eggs.

That's a lot of time.

That's especially a lot of time for not coming up with a very definitive answer.

If you don't have the time to devote towards researching a topic thoroughly, that's fine!  Most of us won't bother to do everything I just did above.  The answer then is to just not take yourself super seriously.  Don't take a hard moral stand on something you're not willing to look at the studies for.  

Moral: Fish oil has a ton of positive research around it.  It would appear that fish oil is helpful in reducing inflammation and even preventing muscle soreness if you take enough.  Too much, however, and you may suppress your immune system.  1-6 grams seems to be the range of recommendations.