August 1, 2002

More Myths!

In my book, The Best You've Ever Been, I spend a fair amount of time addressing and exploding the myths and misconceptions regarding fitness and weight loss. It's amazing how these myths travel through our population as an undercurrent often spread by a simple sentence spoken on a TV talk show or a single article in a newspaper or magazine.

At one time Oprah expressed that she had lost weight by changing her eating habits and as a part of that change she stopped eating in the evening. All of a sudden, like wildfire run out of control, the weight loss wanters spread the word making the refrigerator off limits once the clock struck 5 PM. The result? Lots of hungry people, still dissatisfied with their weight and physical appearance.

On July 7, just a few weeks ago, an article written by Gary Taubes came out on the front page of the NY Times singing the virtues of the low carb diets. Almost instantaneously Dr. Atkins became the hero of the day.

All of the "cut carb" fanatics clipped the article so they had a weapon allowing them to utter the taunting, "I told you so."

It's time we as a population recognize that a single sentence, a single article, or a fast spreading rumor is not going to offer a long term fitness and weight loss solution . . . but the power of rumors and the ability to influence the masses can generate millions even billions of dollars in product and program sales. As usual, I'm here to offer you some clarity. In this Update I'll address a four of the more comon misconceptions that have found their way into my office in the Summer of 2002.

The Myths addressed in this Update:

MYTH: Eating Late at Night Makes You Fat

REALITY: Eating A Pizza Before Bed May Lead to Fat Accumulation . . . but . . . meals have a thermic property referring to the amount of heat generated (energy production requires heat generation) during digestion. If you were to eat a high fat meal, your body has a very easy time dealing with those fat calories. Not a whole lot of work has to be done in the act of digestion. The fat molecules are simply broken down and either dissipated as heat (energy) or stored as fat. Because it is so simple to digest fat, very few calories are expended in processing a high fat meal through your digestive tract. The same holds true for refined carbohydrates. These include breads, pastas, anything made with refined flour, and anything containing refined sugars.

On the other hand, if you were to consume a high protein low-fat meal prior to bed, it might actually aid in the process of fat loss! Protein is highly thermic. A lot of work is required to take those protein chains, break them down into dipeptides and tripeptides (small chains of 2 or 3 amino acids), transport them through the wall of the digestive tract, and then virtually reassemble them as new cell tissue. That means your body's going to increase momentary metabolism as you sleep, increasing its caloric burn, absorbing and assimilating those vital amino acids necessary to maintain or increase lean body mass (muscle tissue).

Many of the new "lose weight while you sleep" products result in short term weight reduction because they instruct you to stop eating 3 or 4 hours before you go to bed. Most people consume high calorie snacks late in the evening, snacks abundant in fats and refined carbs. By eliminating those PM calories, they wind up in a caloric deficit where the body may feed off of that vital lean body mass. This of course results in weight loss on the scale, but might seriously stifle fat loss potential.

Meal timing is important, and if fat loss is a goal, you're probably better off consuming the greater percentage of your carbs earlier in the day to keep energy stores filled. The time to consume simple sugars is immediately after a strenuous workout. The best meal to eat in the evening would be a meal made up predominantly of lean protein. It's not a matter of the best times to eat, but rather a matter of the best most valuable fuel to consume at strategic times throughout the day. If you go more than three hours before bed without getting a supportive meal into your body you're actually limiting your potential.

MYTH: A "New" Hormonal Product is Safe and Effective

REALITY: Supplement sellers have learned to make lots of money selling hormones in a bottle. It started with the Hatch law in 1994. Senator Hatch was instrumental in getting a law passed that allowed anything found naturally in plants or in humans to be sold over the counter . . . as a supplement. Shortly thereafter the supplement manufacturers brought DHEA to the shelves and it was marketed as . . . well . . . as everything! It was going to increase muscle, burn fat, increase sex drive, and on and on. The truth is, DHEA is "the mother of all hormones."

Testosterone and estrogen actually use DHEA as their raw material. It's true that as we age DHEA levels tend to decline, but unless you're carefully calculating DHEA "replacement," meaning, you're restoring declining levels to a baseline, you're interrupting the natural processes that govern the hormonal cascade. Here's the Catch 22. If oral supplementation with DHEA actually works to affect hormonal production, then all of the side effects attached to steroids (which chemically alter hormonal production) are present. So, if it works, the risks of liver problems, impotence, hypertension, etc. may all very well follow. When you play around with hormones the effects aren't immediate, and there's the trap. If, for example, you drank five cups of coffee and swallowed a handful of Vivarin tablets, you'd FEEL IT! The hormonal process isn't exactly a drug effect. It's a gradual manipulation of the signals that govern your entire endocrine system. That means the side effects might not show up for 5, 10, even 20 years. Because these products weren't even accessible prior to 1994, the long term research is non-existent.

Now, some good news. Most of the new hormonal products don't work! So why is that good news? Well, it's far better to waste a few dollars than to jeapordize your health. Unfortunately far too many people are spending far too much money on ineffective hormonal products. It didn't end with DHEA. A few years later the press broke a story that homerun king Mark McGwire was using a product called "Andro." Nobody really understood what it was, but it flew off the shelves like crazy! Andro, more accurately known as androstenedione, is a precursor to testosterone. That means that somewhere between DHEA and testosterone, in the chemical conversion process, you create androstenedione molecules. The marketing positioned the product as a great testosterone enhancer. After the public grew confused by all of the sudden publicity for this new product, ESPN pulled their andro ads. Sales soared even further! Those in quest of muscle believed that if the professional sports arena was keeping something from them . . . it must work! The NCAA banned androstenedione. Sales continued. Recently, some very credible research revealed a possible truth as it relates to oral supplementation of andro. In a clinical study, after orally supplementing with "andro," subjects wound up, not with increased levels of testosterone, but of estrogen, the female hormone! If it's truly "safe," it probably doesn't do much of anything . . . and if it "works" it isn't safe! 'Nuff said.

MYTH: Whey Protein is "The Best" Protein for Building Muscle

REALITY: Why Protein is a good protein option. Thanks to marketers of whey protein supplements with long scientific names (cross flow ion-exchange blah blah blah) the muscle wanting public has come to blindly accept that whey protein is "the best." Interestingly, when I ask the question at seminars, everyone agrees whey is superior. I then ask the question, "what's whey?" Rarely does anyone even venture a guess (something Goldilocks ate with her curds?). That in itself should illustrate the power of advertising in creating blind acceptance of rumor as fact. I can answer the "what is whey" question pretty accurately with two words. Cheese waste. It's the "leftover" in cheese manufacturing.

Whey is in fact a very efficient protein due to its amino acid structure. It very closely resembles that of human muscle tissue. The challenge with using a pure whey protein as a supplement lies not in quality as much as in its propensity for quick gastric emptying. Whey protein is quickly broken down into small amino acid chains which repidly leave the stomach and continue along the digestive tract. The amino acids, once broken into smaller chains than the configurations of complete proteins, are rushed into the bloodstream leading to a momentary elevation in serum amino acid levels. In order to get the most from a whey protein supplement, it appears that the inclusion of some caseinate or another slower release protein provides better utilization.

MYTH: The Atkins Diet is Good For You. It's Been Proven!

REALITY: A single article was released in the NY Times that took a mix of opinion and factual information and offered a huge leap to unfounded conclusions. Written by Gary Taubes, the article was titled, "What If It's All Been a Big Fat Lie." Let me expand on it just a little bit. The article opens by immediately condemning the American medical establishment for the long time scrutiny of Dr. Atkins. In the same paragraph Taubes insinuates that the criticisms of Dr. Atkins were unjust and that Atkins was "right" all along. Let me first address the issue of "right" and "wrong."

I believe the biggest mistake the opposing diet gurus make is waging all out war, attempting to make it a black and white, "right" or "wrong" issue. "In this corner, the low fat diet, in the other corner, the low carb diet!" The truth is, they both have their virtues and shortcomings, and if you truly want to master your own body you owe it to yourself to become educated in precisely how nutrients are utilized, not only how two nutrients pitted against each other compare. I know the idea of education isn't sexy or compelling. That's why people continue to seek out quick fixes. Education seems like too much work.

People want someone to say, "here's what to do," but that's why our nation suffers an escalating obesity problem. The dieters are forever following extremes put out by self appointed gurus hoping the next attempt will be the true solution. The gurus, through positioning and marketing, attract willing followers who blindly follow like livestock being led right off the edge of a cliff, and of course, lots of dollars in profits result.

The article doesn't indict blind acceptance as the culprit, but rather the standard dietary recommendations that pervade the mainstream medical community. Taubes suggests that the premise of, "eat less fat and more carbohydrates" is "the cause of the rampaging epidemic of obesity in America." The most important distinction that needs to be made is one between "supportive carbs" and "unsupportive carbs," and the battle fails to address that vital difference. If someone were to eat a diet low in fat, but in that consumed vast amounts of sugar and bleached flour feasting on donuts, white bread, and candy bars, it's not the "low fat" that's putting them at risk, but rather the high reliance upon those refined and processed carbs that absolutely contribute to obesity.

Taubes introduces Walter Willett in the article, the chairman of the department of nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health, pointing out that Willett has been a spokesman for "the longest-running, most comprehensive diet and health studies ever performed, which have already cost upward of $100 million and include data on nearly 300,000 individuals." Taubes quotes Willett as saying the data "clearly contradicts the low-fat-is-good-health message and the idea that all fat is bad for you; the exclusive focus on adverse effects of fat may have contributed to the obesity epidemic.''

"Low fat" is simply a piece of the puzzle, and when we are assaulted with ads for supersizing the already high fat meal at the convenient fast food restaurants, I believe it's an important piece, but a piece does not make up the whole. A proponderance of research suggests, not that "fat is bad for you," but that "an overabundance of fat is bad for you," or that "excesses of hydrogenated and saturated fats can compromise health." There is an abundance of evidence clearly linking saturated fats to increased risk of arteriosclerosis and heart disease. Even some of the "evidence" used to dispel the "reduce overall fat and improve health" idea clearly indicates a difference when saturated fats are reduced and replaced with more supportive and biologically active fats.

A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine (Hu F B et al (1997), "Dietary Fat Intake and the Risk of Coronary Heart Disease in Women" New England Journal of Medicine, 337(21),1491-1499) tracked women, fat intake, and incidence of heart incident over a 14 year period. That's a pretty significant study over a relatively long time period. The conclusions suggested that replacing saturated and trans unsaturated fats with unhydrogenated monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats is more effective in preventing coronary heart disease in women than reducing overall fat intake. That doesn't mean "fat is not a contributor to heart disease," but instead suggests that it's essential that we explore the variations in fat intake in order to find what may in fact be "best." It should also be noted that the same study led to findings that higher ratios of red meat to poultry and fish consumption and of high-fat to low-fat dairy consumption were associated with significantly greater risk. While this doesn't in any way justify unlimited bacon, and it is far from a validation of the Atkins Diet as an ideal, I do agree with a portion of Willet's statement. One mistake I believe the mainstream doctors have made lies in purveying the simple message "fat is bad," without a careful concern for essential fatty acid intake. To indict "all fats" as evil is no more scientific than the lump consideration of "carbs" as evil villains. Another mistake has in fact been the "exclusive focus on the adverse effects of fat." Again, there's more to the picture.

An insightful scientific piece, Dietary fat and adult diseases and the implications for childhood nutrition: an epidemiologic approach, by M Law, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (72(5):1291S-1296S 2000) discussed the implications of fat intake in heart disease and cancer risk. The article suggests that reducing dietary saturated fat by 7% of energy would reduce serum cholesterol by 10% and mortality from ischemic heart disease by 25-30%. It also indicates that dietary change in adulthood, including reduction in saturated fat intake, may reverse the adverse health effects of a high-fat diet in childhood.

The Taubes article repeatedly points out that the obesity epidemic started around 1980 when "low fat" became dogma. The two scientific journal articles I just referenced were published in 1997 and 2000 respectively. What we need to understand is that as people started seeking "low fat," the food manufacturers were in a hurry to rush "low fat" and "fat free" products to the shelves. The primary ingredient in most of the low fat and fat free snack foods . . . sugar!

Neither side is inherently "right." With an understanding of the endocrine system, it becomes clear that simple sugar intake hinders fat release and facilitates fat storage. That doesn't stand up as evidence to support "low carb" as the best path. I have found great success in teaching people to eat a relatively low fat diet, making certain to obtain the essential fatty acids, to eliminate simple sugar and refined carbs, to eat meals combining lean proteins, complex starches, and fibrous carbs, and to exercise both with resistance and with aerobic activity. I don't claim this approach to be "the right way," but I do find that once people develop an understanding of the distinctions between the various fat structures and the various carbohydrate forms they become empowered to trust their instincts and subsist on a sensible and supportive nutrition program.

The exercise component is also paramount. Dieting in any form without a concern for the stimulation of muscle tissue is likely to leave a compromised metabolism due to (whether carbs or fats are restricted) calorie-restriction-induced muscle catabolism. Aerobic exercise has direct benefits to the entire circulatory system. A mix of aerobic and resistance exercise in conjunction with sensible eating will continue to emerge as the consistent solution.

The NY Times article does address exercise. Taubes writes, "As far as exercise and physical activity go, there are no reliable data before the mid-80's, according to William Dietz, who runs the division of nutrition and physical activity at the Centers for Disease Control; the 1990's data show obesity rates continuing to climb, while exercise activity remained unchanged. This suggests the two have little in common." Just as looking at a single nutrient as a culprit is a flawed approach to discerning what is "best," looking at exercise without considering the vital balance between activity and nutrient intake is going to leave results across the board. I've discussed in many articles that without a concern for proper nutrition, it's possible to exercise and lose muscle, or exercise and slow metabolism over time. That doesn't negate the fact that a carefully structured exercise program combined with supportive eating leads to a plethora of health and performance advantages.

In any debate pitting "high fat" against "low fat," Dr. Dean Ornish's work can't be ignored. In one study (Ornish D et al, ‘Intensive lifestyle changes for reversal of coronary heart disease.’, JAMA 1998 Dec 16;280(23):2001-7), Dr. Ornish demonstrated that lifestyle changes in both activity and reduction in fat intake led to lowered risk of coronary disease. Interestingly, this 5-year study showed that the risk reversal was greater after 5 years than after 1 year while the control group continued to increase risk progressively.

Donuts vs. Steak?

The lines drawn by Taubes and many other proponents of the "carbs are bad" dictum continuously position a low carb diet against, not a sensible balance of protein, complex carb, fiber, and essential fat intake, but against meals including simple sugars and refined carbs, i.e. "Special K with low-fat milk, a glass of orange juice and toast." How about comparing the Atkins-endorsed bacon and eggs breakfast to an egg white omelet with fresh spinach and mushrooms with a side of oatmeal? Whenever opposing camps contrast one end of the spectrum against the other, a complete ignorance for the middle ground emerges, and that's where the long term solutions for the masses can usually be found. Somewhere in between the two extremes.

Later in the article Taubes does discuss the distinction between saturated fats and foods high in unsaturated fats such as olive oil. He then, however, jumps to an assumption that this distinction somehow proves that saturated fats may not be as deleterious as we've been led to believe. He references information by Harvard's Willett to say, "you will gain little to no health benefit by giving up milk, butter and cheese and eating bagels instead." I agree. But that doesn't mean that someone who consumed a diet high in whole milk, butter, and cheese will not benefit by shifting to a lower fat intake if the eliminated fats are replaced by a mix of lean proteins and unrefined complex carbs. Taubes includes the statement, "More than two-thirds of the fat in a porterhouse steak, for instance, will definitively improve your cholesterol profile," and then follows that "definitive" statement with "(at least in comparison with the baked potato next to it)." Again, Taubes' bias is using the public's affection for carbs as a tool by which to "prove" that the fat in steak is actually good for you. It's important to note that a potato or any starch consumed by itself does result in a significant change to blood sugar and the inevitable insulin response that we'd like to avoid, however, when that same potato is ingested along with a lean protein and some fiber, the release of the sugar molecules is slowed, making the reference to "a potato" an variable reference depending upon the conditions under which that potato is consumed.

I unequivocally agree with Taubes on two points. I believe he offers an important discussion on insulin and its potential role in negatively impacting body composition. I discuss this in every single one of my seminars. I also agree that the "low-fat" approach has been oversimplified. Neither of those points, however, give me any cause to alter the feelings I expressed in my previous article addressing low carb diets (

Here's another quote from the article that leads to a flawed leap of insinuation, "In the early 70's, J.P. Flatt and Harvard's George Blackburn pioneered the ''protein-sparing modified fast'' to treat postsurgical patients, and they tested it on obese volunteers. Blackburn, who later became president of the American Society of Clinical Nutrition, describes his regime as ''an Atkins diet without excess fat'' and says he had to give it a fancy name or nobody would take him seriously. The diet was ''lean meat, fish and fowl'' supplemented by vitamins and minerals." That's very different than "eat all the bacon and steak you want."

I believe Taubes presented a well researched piece, one that should certainly open up some important discussions among those who spearhead nutritional education efforts directed toward the general public. My criticism is not one of the information presented, but rather of the opinionated sway toward "Atkins was right" as opposed to the spotlight being placed upon the shortcomings of the simplistic low-fat approach. Despite the reports in the media of an article in the Times proving the "Atkin's way is the best way" (leave it to the media to throw our population into utter confusion), the article does not present actual research that proves the Atkins Diet is healthful or a long term fat loss solution for the masses. Those inferences are made with obvious bias. Read the article carefully and I believe you'll agree. You can find the article at:

The Next Seminar:

January is going to be life changing for those of you who live in South Florida and plan on attending my "Breakthroughs" seminar. It's taking place January 9, 2003, at the Marriott Marina in Fort Lauderdale from 7 - 10 PM. There are still significant discounts available on tickets if you call Holly now at 1 800 552-1998.

For those of you who live on the West Coast, you too can learn the secrets of physical change! I'll be conducting "Breakthroughs" in a special one-time event in Manhattan Beach (Los Angeles), California on October 24! How do you reserve your seat? The same way Floridians do. Call Holly. 1 800 552-1998.

If you won't be in South Florida or Southern California and you can't attend the Breakthroughs seminar . . . get the book that shares it all!

The testimonials keep coming.

"Phil, you've given me sight where I was blind! Your new book has been so helpful to both my wife and I we tell everyone we know about it! The 38 pounds I've lost are nowhere near as impressive as the incredible change in energy we both feel (oh, and my wife is back to the weight she was proud of in college!). We just completed the Novice program and we're ready to tackle the Advanced version! I've read every best seller on fitness and weight loss in the last 15 years. It's a shame yours isn't at the top of the list. No other book comes close to sharing the crystal clear truth. I know with your honesty you've had continuous challenges in getting your books out to the mainstream, but I want you to know, your honesty is appreciated and is changing lives! It's certainly changed ours. Stick to your guns. This confused nation of ours desperately needs you!" - Daniel Muhalik, Akron, OH

Find info and ordering details by clicking here.

The Small Group Sessions

As many of you know, I've reintroduced my Small Group workshops and am conducting them in my Miramar Florida office with the next session beginning Monday, August 6, 2002. At the time that I'm writing this Update, there's only one opening left for the August group. If you want to work with me personally, call for details on this 4-week interactive program. It's only $249 for the entire four-week course (one night per week for four weeks).

Of Interest to Fitness Professionals:

  • The New Health & Wealth Newsletter - the success secret of the fitness elite!
  • The PEAK Weekend is now an international full blown conference event! The Fort Lauderdale event was awesome, and now . . . we're going West! 500 more trainers from around the world will learn how to power up their businesses and profits . . . but they'll learn to do so by actually doing some good for people . . . and, they'll enjoy a weekend at one of my favorite escapes, Manhattan Beach, California! Call Holly for details at 1 800 552-1998 (are you sick of me saying that yet?) or sign up on line!

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Previous Updates:

Update 6/20/02 - Giving Credit Where Credit is Due
(Phil's twisted awards ceremony)

Update 5/11/02 - Miracle GH, What "Works"
Update 3/25/02 - Women on Steroids and More on Core Training
Update 2/15/02 - the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of Fitness
Update 1/14/02 - Counting Calories
Update 12/28 - 'Twas the Night Before New Years
Update 12/8 - The New Electronic Ab Offerings
Update 12/12 - The "Magic" is Within You
Update 11/20 - Holiday eating!

Update 11/3 - Weight Loss Bread and other Nonsense!
Update 10/29 - Supplement Values
Update 10/3 - Getting Back to Doing What We Do
Update 9/19 - Tragedy and Love, RE: Sept 11
Update 8/15 - Myths, Fallacies, False Beliefs
Update 8/1 - The Internet, Leptin, Steroids, and more
Update 7/9 - The New Supplements
Update 6/14 - Seminar offerings and clarity on "Brownies"
Update 5/29 - Lose Weight, Eat Brownies?!?!?
Update 5/1/01
- Pizza, Beer, and Fitness
Update 4/7/01 - "Phil-osophies" and Rip-Off Realities!
Update 4/1/01 - Gourmet Recipes!
Update 3/15/01 - Research Has Proven?
Update 3/1/01 - Preparing for The New Infomercial
Update 2/1/01 - Time, Space, Matter, and Energy
Update 1/15/01 - Atkins hits the UK
Update 10/7/00 - Supplements, Additional Clarity
Update 7/27/00 - The Experts Round Table, Almada, Colgan, Parillo
Update 7/3/00 - Core Training & Metabolism Boosters

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