Article Response #7: Running on unhealthy

Article: http://www.runnersworld.com/health/running-empty

Author: Caleb Daniloff

Title: Running on Empty

Main Topic: This article talks about personal stories that took their obsession with running too far and let it develop into an eating or exercise disorder, and analyses different takes on the situation with the goal of raising awareness on the issues and finding more ways to get out of them.

 

This is quite a lengthy article, but I believe that it is well worth people’s time to read it – especially for runners who can learn much from the advice and anecdotes contained within. Several runners tell their stories, which are collected and relayed by writer Caleb Daniloff. These stories usually start out with the narrator being a dedicated, fairly healthy runner, who then hears that being lighter can improve running speed. Each runner-narrator then responds by gradually starving him/herself in order to beat his/her running records. Strangely enough, this tactic works, and the runners do in fact improve – quite noticeably, even. However, even after they revert back to healthier eating and gain back the often redundant weight they lost, their running continues to improve! I am glad that Daniloff mentions this, because it raises a suspicion in the readers that maybe being anorexic and running better are not so much a cause-and-effect as a coincidence.  It is certainly not a good thing for more people (especially active athletes!) to get positive ideas about conscious starvation. I’m a little frightened that other runners will read this article and only take from it the notion that losing weight improves running. It’s easy to ignore things such as long-term health issues when you can do something that gives you quick, short-term results.

I would have preferred if this article gave more information with regards to the health of runners and how they should be taking care of themselves. It talks a lot and gives a lot of opinions, but barely any scientific and nutritional information. All the people with eating disorders that tell their story end up becoming healthy eaters – but do they really? Caleb Daniloff mentions them eating burgers and fries, and endorsing the notion that it’s a diet that is completely fine. (Maybe that was the reason for their weight gain in the first place.) I’m not saying that even if you really love fries, indulging in a small serving once in a while is unheard of. I just don’t think such foods should be eaten regularly, because they’re not much of a good fuel for running, or much of a good fuel at all, if we get down to it.

I like the way this article gives advice and stories from accomplished runners to people who look up to them, but I think the direction strays from where it should go. I had really hoped it would be the sort of encouraging, “moral is: eat healthy and don’t be afraid to have a cookie here and then, and DON’T starve yourself!” kind of article, but it kind of left me hanging at the end. I’m not sure if the author intended for the audience to scratch up their own selection of advice from the article, or if there is in fact not supposed to be a moral. With something as severe as eating disorders among heavy athletes, I would expect there to be one.

I was also surprised how people who exercise so much can find themselves with considerable extra weight in the first place. If they are running through 600-1000+ calories with each training session and they train several times a week, then they must eat absolute junk to have 20+ extra pounds! There is an easy solution that everyone seems to ignore: the balance. I think there should be a middle ground for these runners, somewhere between their obsession with eating little and super healthy, and their later (or original) “burgers and fries” slack attitude. Runners need good fuel; all of carbohydrates, protein, fat, and fibre, but not in the form of ice cream and cookies for lunch! It is possible to stay in good shape with a well-balanced diet even without running marathons, so I’m sure these runners will be able to accomplish their fitness goals as long as they make smart decisions. I just hope they know what smart decisions are.

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Article Response #4: Controversial gluten

Article: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jj-virgin/gluten_b_1834836.html

Author: JJ Virgin

Title: 7 Ways Eating Gluten Makes You Fat, Sick and Tired

 

The introduction of this article contains (subtly) the sort of fact controversy that so often (and frankly, easily) happens in today’s informational paradigm. The article’s author, JJ Virgin, provides a link to an article written by Dr. Glenn Gaesser that goes on to explain how gluten is presumably good for people. Although the latter article is no longer accessible, it supposedly briefs readers through several health benefits of gluten such as those to the heart, gut, and immune system. JJ Virgin continues her article by expressing her disagreement with Dr. Gaesser, and goes on to explain the various ways your life will improve if you remove gluten from your life. More specifically: how avoiding gluten will make us thinner, healthier, and more energetic.

What I saw in between the lines of the article was a dilemma of contradicting facts which all appear to be equally supported. JJ Virgin did not include any direct claims that say that gluten is good for you, but many authors write about that topic, including Dr.Gaesser, whom she provided a link to. It may thus be a little strange for me to talk about the authenticity of the information in JJ Virgin’s article when none of her statements contradict each other; but I think that every good reader should not naively gobble up every “fact” they come across. It’s important (especially with the internet!) to apply critical thinking and logic to analyze if the information you’re reading makes sense, and if it’s an absolute truth. In this case, you can’t be sure. Who to believe, then? This sort of dilemma happens very often nowadays because things people say are often: a) not backed up by enough supportive evidence (or none at all), b) not verified, c) myths with false evidence, or d) what people want to believe, so it’s accepted as truth with no second thought. Dr. Gaesser and JJ Virgin cannot both be correct; If Dr. Gaesser is correct in his statement that gluten is healthy for us, then it would be incorrect for JJ Virgin to argue that we should remove it from out diets. Perhaps there is a middle ground on which they are both right. Gluten may have benefits for some body types, or if eaten in moderation. On the other hand, in excessive amounts or for some people, it may become detrimental to our health, figure, and energy.

About the claim of weight gain due to eating gluten, I agree with how JJ Virgin states that calories-in, calories-out is what really matters. Whether junk food is gluten-free or not, excessive amounts will still make you gain weight. Further into the article, the author backtracks and states that eating gluten also stalls weight loss by exacerbating cravings, inhibiting nutrient absorption, and worsening thyroid gland performance (which regulates the metabolism). These were rather interesting pieces of information, and they reminded me of the sort of claims that are made in the book “Flip the Switch, Lose the Weight”. I am referring to claims of the likes that just doing some movement every half hour will keep your metabolism running fast (even if the movements are very easy, such as walking around the room a few times). Such claims are nice to believe, which is primarily what makes them come off as truthful, because people feel more comfortable believing the information then going through the tedious process of verifying the facts and finding out they are wrong. However, the question of whether or not they are correct still remains open. Similar pleasing-to-the-thought ideas (“just don’t eat ____ and you’ll lose weight!”) appear rather most ridiculous when analyzed with any degree of logic. For example, there’s the claim that certain foods (including many fruits and most vegetables) make you burn more calories than they give you. If that would really be true, then if you ate a ton of those foods, you would become increasingly more skinny and emancipated until you’d supposedly die of malnutrition (while you’re stuffing your face with food). Now, I know apples and carrots are healthy, but they are not a magic weight loss pill. It just does not make sense for nature to give us food that does exactly the opposite of its intended purpose. Yet, there was a whole book based on this claim (“Foods That Cause You To Lose Weight: The Negative Calorie Effect”, written by Neal Barnard) and it was backed up by “facts” as well.

It is apparent, then, that misunderstandings do happen rather easily in the modern information era. I am not saying that I equate JJ Virgin’s words to ludicrous statements that should only be regarded skeptically; perhaps she is completely right. But, we don’t know if she is. A trick that helps to discern authentic statements is looking for possible false claims and telling them apart from real evidence. JJ Virgin seems to provide substantial evidence in her article advocating the removal of gluten, including explanations of some functions of the digestive system, but we know that even studies and researches can be faulty. There have been many cases of this already, and certainly many more to come; there are dozens of published studies whose thesis is the complete opposite of an opposing study.

Therefore, as I am no health or nutrition science expert, I feel I have to remain skeptical about the content of this article, and I think that any information given to people should be viewed in a similar manner instead of being naively accepted as gospel truth. However, I think that JJ Virgin’s words may be interesting and helpful to read. If nothing else, then it at least provides a thought-provoking perspective on a fairly easy (since almost everything out there has a gluten-free counterpart) way to diet .