In 2010, Michelle Obama kicked off the "Let's Move" campaign to help combat childhood obesity. This well-intentioned effort drew national attention to a serious topic that needed to be addressed.
Sadly, I knew the campaign was doomed to fail; because failure is easy to spot when you wage war against the wrong enemy.
Exercise and healthy eating were central themes of her effort. I am the first to admit that exercise is vital to maintaining overall health, considering that I made my living as a personal trainer. But as I explain to all of my clients, exercise is a lousy way to lose weight, in spite of its many benefits.
Every week, I interview doctors, scientists, and researchers who are on the front lines of combating obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, and other metabolic syndrome conditions.
The fact is our diet is almost exclusively to blame for these issues. For years, we have been focusing on the wrong enemy, as healthcare professionals, encouraged by the federal government, told us that fat in our diet was the root cause of these diseases. The so-called ‘experts', aided by activist front groups, demonized saturated fat, and advised us to eat ‘heart-healthy' grains and lean proteins. It turns out that this was exactly the wrong strategy.
Americans began eating more grains and processed foods, often loaded with hidden sugars, including high-fructose corn syrup. The results of this misguided approach are clear; we are heavier and sicker than ever before. Fortunately, people are starting to recognize that it is time to change the status quo.
Change requires a shift away from the view that fat is the enemy and recognize that the real dietary enemies are sugars and grains. I termed my approach to this lifestyle "No Sugars, No Grains," because it really is that simple: Eat meats, healthy fats, vegetables, nuts, and limited amounts of fruits and dairy.
It is important to note that I call this a lifestyle, not a diet. Diets have beginnings, middles, and ends, while lifestyles are meant to be lived. Similar approaches like Paleo, Atkins, or Ketogenic diets, prescribe limiting carbohydrates. But there is a big difference between what I call ‘dead' carbohydrates, like wheat or sugar, and ‘live' carbohydrates found in vegetables. Vegetables contain vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients, and generally do not cause a glucose spike or a glycogen load, conditions that contribute to the diseases we understand as metabolic syndrome.
We must also get past the notion of "calorie in, calorie out." As it turns out, laws of thermodynamics notwithstanding, weight gain is attributable to hormonal reactions to dead carbohydrates in the diet, and those hormonal reactions are also contributing to a growing list of chronic diseases.
Reversing our current course requires a wholesale change in the way we think about food. People like the late Dr. Robert Atkins, Gary Taubes, Nina Teicholz, and myself, who were promoting these ideas a few short years ago, were considered kooks. But the message is finally getting through.
Through my book, Fitness Confidential, my podcast, speeches and consultations, I have been able to coach countless people into adopting this sugar-free, no-grain lifestyle. The results are remarkable, and I get messages every day from people who have lost anywhere from 10-15 pounds, up to a few hundred pounds.
So how do we get more people to adopt a healthier dietary lifestyle, when we are bombarded with so many conflicting messages by the media, and government agencies?
I am not advocating for new mandatory nutritional guidelines, but there is an undeniable link between what our government promotes, and how people behave. And for that, we need to hold these institutions accountable.
Let's go back to the "Let's Move" campaign. There was nothing wrong with encouraging exercise — it's a good thing, in fact. But when the government encourages dietary choices rooted in bad science, through the "Choose My Plate" effort, it makes us all less informed and less healthy.
Even today, in 2017, people look to their elected leaders and institution to promote the best information available about how best to live our lives. It is incumbent on those of us who defer to science over special interests to hold those leaders accountable for doing the same.
Vinnie Tortorich, a fitness trainer, is the author of "Fitness Confidential, Adventures in the Weight Loss Game," and host of the "Fitness Confidential" podcast on iTunes. Thinking of submitting an op-ed to the Washington Examiner? Be sure to read our guidelines on submissions.