Myth: Food cravings are our body's way of telling us that we need certain nutrients.
If today's myth were true, you would crave peas, tuna, oysters, spinach, and Swiss cheese since these foods are high in zinc, omega 3 fatty acids and Vitamin D. These three micronutrients are the most commonly inadequate in our diet. Cravings for pizza, ice cream, chips, chocolate, fries, bacon, cheeseburgers are all learned behaviors.
Before we dive into today's myth let's first use some common language. Cravings are a state of heightened eating motivation that is directed at a specific food. Hunger is a nonspecific motivation for calorie-containing food in general. It's important not to interchange the two. If you're really hungry, you'll be willing to eat fish and steamed broccoli. If you're not, you're most likely craving something based upon a learned response to it. Cravings follow a predictable pattern of cue, routine, reward.
Our brains are hard-wired for specific physiological and psychological needs such as water, social support, physical comfort, sex, and of course, food. When we successfully acquire one of those things our brain releases dopamine. Dopamine is an incredibly powerful feel-good biochemical that we instantly want more of. We form an association, a cue, that the thing we just ate, drank, touched, or had sex with is what makes us feel so good. Of course, we don't know that we feel so good because of the dopamine release. We just want more of the thing. Every time we get it we get more dopamine which reinforces the thing and thus our routine is created.
Let's explore a real world craving example of pizza. In the very primal part of our brain, pizza is an outstanding source of calories from delicious fat, carbs and perhaps protein. As you eat it your brain releases dopamine and also catalogs all of the smells, sights, and tastes of the pizza. The association becomes so strong that all you need now is a reminder of the pizza and you'll start salivating and craving it. You experience this when you see a pizza commercial on TV or when someone suggests going out to Bridger Brewery after Friday night's workout. You start salivating and obsessing about pizza. This is because the last time you ate it your brain released one of the most addictive chemicals on earth into your blood stream. Here's an illustration of how this works from the smart folks at Examine.com.
Since we're all unique snowflakes some of us crave salty things and some of us crave sweet things. But none of us crave healthy things. That's because cravings are a hold-over from ancient times when highly-palatable high caloric food wasn't available 24 hours of the day. Back when we had to hunt, gather and travel for miles and miles just to get something calorically dense our brains rewarded us. It motivated us to find that amazing food source again. Now, all we have to do is call and it will be delivered to our front door.
Chocolate and sugar cravings are even more interesting because of the addition of another highly addictive biochemical called theobromine. Theobromine is a stimulant that accentuates fat and sugar’s natural ability to spike dopamine signaling. That's why sugar cravings are the hardest to control. Some research suggests that sugar is the most addictive drug on the planet, more so than crack, cocaine, meth and heroine. Good luck controlling that craving!
Since cravings are driven by sensory cues (sight and smell) the most straightforward way to control cravings is to avoid exposing yourself to those cues. If temptation is not around you can more easily avoid it. Clear out your freezer, fridge and pantry and "it's out of sight out of mind."
So the next time you see a social media post about how cravings are our body's way of telling us that we need certain nutrients you can confidently call "bullshit." There's a LOT of silly bullshit on social media and I want you help you identify it. Do you have a myth you want me to explore? Tell me in the comments.
The Myth of the Cleanse
Now that people are slowly emerging from our #stayhome order I am hearing more talk about doing a cleanse or needing a reset to help us rebound from all the delicious homemade bread we ate and the day drinking we did. Let me just put this up front. You don't need to "cleanse" or do a reset. Just start by increasing your fruits and vegetables at every meal and drinking more water.
When I decided to bust the myth of a cleanse today I wasn't sure I would be able to do it in less than 250 words. There's just so much to say about the fallacy of cleansing.
First, let's just apply some basic biology. You already possess an amazing cleansing and detoxifying system in your body. This system features (FOR FREE:-) your liver and kidneys, and to a lesser extent your lungs and skin. The PRIMARY job or your liver and kidneys is eliminate biochemicals from our body. Yep, it's true! Our lungs and skin also have a role to play through ventilation and and sweating. Our body is an amazing and adaptive collection of organs, organelles, and tissues and it's in our best interest to quickly and effectively shuttle undesirable biochemicals out of our tissues.
Second, and this usually stumps most people, what it is EXACTLY you're trying to rid yourself of. Most folks, and especially the people who are trying to sell you the magic cleansing product, will answer with the dreaded T words, toxins. Well, which ones? What kind? How do you know what's toxic? Anything, even WATER, is toxic if it is ingested or inhaled in the wrong amounts. When someone drowns they die of inhaling water in toxic amounts. You can even die by DRINKING too much water. It's called hyponatremia and it's a real problem.
Often, a cleanse is usually accompanied by a fast (24-48 hour fasting is the most popular) thus the cleanse has some weight loss element. Let's think about what's really going on here. We need a "re-set" because we've been making a series of lifestyle choices with regards to food, alcohol, sleep, and exercise and we just want to start over. Well, you can do all of that FOR FREE with your next meal. Then you can do it again without any special product or magic drink at your next meal. It's called choice and we all posses the ability to make one. If you're attracted to the fasting element, then just try that. Fasting costs you nothing and yes, you will probably lose some weight.
One thing that I can advocate that will help you re-set is to drink water. Water, the universal solvent, is amazing in its ability to lubricate the detoxifying systems of your body. Water will help your kidneys and liver do all of the amazing cleansing they naturally do so well. Water will fill your belly so you don't feel so hungry. Water will make you pee which means your kidneys are doing their job. Water will help you poop which means your digestive system is doing its job of elimination. How much water? Let's start with 1/3 to 1/2 your body weight in ounces. If you weigh 140 pounds then try drinking 46-70 ounces of water. You know what's best of all? Water is free:-)
Do you have a myth you want me to bust? Tell me in the comments!
Myth: Squats and Deadlifts are bad for your back and don't strengthen your core.
If I had a dollar for every time....yada...yada...yada.
There is a reason we train squats and deadlifts, there are exceptional for strengthening the muscles that stabilize your spin and a stable spine is essential for a healthy back.
One of my favorite Coaches, Mark Rippetoe, addresses this myth in the video below. Coach Rip is an old school strength and conditioning coach who quite literally wrote the book on strength training.
We get injured when we squat and deadlift when our spine MOVES under load. This happens when we move a load heavier than we should or when we move a lighter load without paying attention to our mechanics. Both of these things can happen to anyone. Today we will me moving a load deliberately and with much attention paid to our mechanics.
Deadlifts get such a bad reputation. Deadlifts are not deadly or have anything to do with death. They are called deadlifts because the lift starts with the bar at a dead stop.
If deadlifts are uncomfortable because of flexibility then you can Sumo, or you can do Romanian, or you can do rack pulls, or you can do good mornings. There are many, many training variations of the deadlift that you can do to re-hab or pre-hab a prior injury, or just to do something different.
When your friends or family tell you that deadlifting is bad for your back, ask them how they move furniture. How do they pick up a heavy object and put in on the ground without dropping it? Yes, that's what I thought. You have been taught by a strength coach on how to do this correctly. You are stronger and harder to kill. That's a quote I ripped off of Coach Rip:-)
Come to the gym and do wallballs or stay at home and do thrusters. What kind of choice is that?
Last Tuesday I wrote about the lovely predictability of probabilistic statistics to help us determine what's possible, or how to get by with a little help from mathematics.
Sometimes, people who want to gaslight us into believing conspiracy theories use what looks like statistics to "prove" their point. They'll show graphs, charts, tables and other scientific looking things to show us the "real" truth.
Statistics in and of themselves mean nothing without thorough analysis and exploration of confounding variables. Two of the most common pitfalls of erroneous statistical analysis are correlative causation and confirmation bias.
Correlation is not causation means that just because two things have a relationship it does not mean one thing causes the other. An example might be, every time you have a PR your Coach is wearing black pants. Therefore, your coach's black pants are the reason you PR. Sounds crazy right? What about when someone shows you the data?!? Here's one of my favorite examples of correlation is not causation. This graph shows a relationship between the U.S. per capita consumption of cheese and the number of people who died by becoming tangled in their sheets.
Based on the data you could erroneously conclude that eating cheese increases your risk of death by becoming tangled in your sheets. But, you won't conclude that because there is no causal relationship.
But, what if the data was something you thought could be "possible." What if it shows two things that you believe "could" be related. That's where we get into trouble with conformation bias. We are more likely to believe a relationship is causative if it reinforces our beliefs.
You want to believe that a specific public health measure does or doesn't work? All someone needs to do is show you correlative data and you'll believe it because of your own personal confirmation biases.
EVERYONE can fall prey to their confirmation biases, that's why when a scientist conducts a statistical analysis of the data they use something called a confidence interval, a mathematical projection of the probability of relationship. This confidence interval is symbolized by the letter R and it has a real value that helps guide statistical analysis. The stronger the R value the more confidence we can have in the analysis.
There are other more robust and exciting ways to measure confidence and I don't want to get into the statistical weeds in my blog about CrossFit:) When all this craziness dies down and you want to talk about ANOVA and ANCOVA over whiskeys at Bozeman Spirits I will so happily meet you there.
For now, I encourage everyone to think in terms of probability not possibility and to have confidence (or not) in scientific analysis rather than belief. Try to recognize what your personal confirmation biases (hint, they are deeply rooted in your beliefs) and see if you can look at things through an objective lens. Good luck!
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