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Lean is the New Fit

By Joseph E. Scherger MD, MPH

With 70 percent of Americans being overweight or obese, most people have excess body fat. Being lean means having low body fat, and many of us with this healthier state are often accused of being underweight.

What makes us have excess fat? This is commonly misunderstood. Our genes play a role, but that is generally only about 20 percent of the cause. UC San Francisco endocrinologist Robert Lustig points out that being fat today is not our fault or the fault of our parents. Simply doing what Americans do, following the glamorous and fun commercials we see on TV, makes us fat. We have a fat inducing culture with a fat inducing standard American diet. The problem lies with the processed carbohydrates.

Another aspect often misunderstood is that eating fat does not make us fat. That myth is well debunked in Dr. Mark Hyman’s book, Eat Fat, Get Thin. It is the carbs that make us fat. All carbs become sugar in our body. Most Americans consume more carbs and sugar than we can possibly burn even if we exercise. Our body is well equipped to store this excess energy in the form of fat through a process called lipogenesis, driven by the hormone insulin which is stimulated every time we consume a carbohydrate. If we do this often enough, and for most Americans that is multiple times a day, we become resistant to the effect of insulin and our blood sugar goes up, often resulting in type 2 diabetes.

Worse yet, processed carbohydrates with the resulting fluctuations in blood sugar, drive us to be hungry and consume more. Carbs are the only foods we become addicted to which we affectionately call a “sweet tooth.” We do not get addicted to broccoli and walnuts which are possibly the healthiest foods for our brain.

Those of us who are lean resist all the marketing of processed carbohydrates. These are foods made from grain flour such as bread, cookies, and cakes; foods that are sweets such as candy, sodas and ice cream; and alcoholic beverages, especially mixed drinks with fruit juice. I refer to grains, sweets and excess alcohol as the “three sins.” Good news is that if you avoid the grains and sweets you can have one alcohol such as a glass of wine (preferably red) or a glass of beer (preferably light) most days.

Lean people eat the real food of nature. These foods have healthy fats, adequate protein and are low in carbohydrates. Eating this way removes the hunger drive, the most noticeable change when you give up the carbs. Exercise is important and we need to move to be healthy – and it is so much easier when you are lean, which is accomplished mostly from healthy nutrition. We should all make an effort to be strong in the upper body, the core and the lower body.  

A good resource is the website www.leanandfitlife.com where I also provide a daily meal plan, list of superfoods, advice on supplements and additional research on the topic.

Lean people generally feel great; knowing you are healthy makes life all that more enjoyable.

Dr. Scherger is an Eisenhower Health Primary Care 365 physician, a core faculty member of the Eisenhower Family Medicine Residency Program, and a team physician for Reliance Hospice. He is also an author and his third edition book Lean and Fit: A Doctor’s Journey to Healthy Nutrition and Greater Wellness is available at www.Amazon.com.

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