The book Lights Out – Sleep, Sugar, and Survival was recommended to everyone in the Huntsville Crossfit tribe by our trainer. He has given us a few lectures on proper diet before, and I always just half listened. You see, I’m one of those guys that exercise so that I can eat whatever I want, whenever I want. It has worked out for me so far, but this book has me rethinking everything I thought I knew about eating. It exposed my fundamental misunderstanding of how the body ingest food and converts it to energy and stored energy.
The book, published in 2000, is co-authored by two researchers, T.S. Wiley and Bent Formby, from the Medical Research Institute in Santa Barbara, CA. T.S. Wiley is an anthropologist and medical theorist with a background in investigative journalism, and Bent Formby holds a doctorate in biochemistry, biophysics, and molecular biology. The background of the two authors combines for an easy to read book presenting an interesting hypothesis of how Americans are adversely affected by one of the most important technological advances in the last century and widely held pseudo-scientific claims about our diet and health.
According to the book, the electrification of the United States with the widespread use of the light bulb is having a tremendous effect on our bodies. The extended daylight afforded by the light bulb allowed Americans to become the brightest and best as well as the sickest people in the world. For being one of the most medically advanced countries in the world, we are by far some of the most obese people dying from diseases related to obesity such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. The effect of the light bulb coupled with the ingrained belief that a healthy diet is a fat-free diet is literally destroying our bodies.
How do these two play together (in layman’s terms from my single read of the book)? We have photo-receptors in our body that trigger certain bodily functions based on the amount of lights we receive each day. Long before urban living, humans ate what was in season. During the late summer months, when most of the plants were bearing fruit, we ate carb heavy diets. Due to the length of sunlight during the day, our bodies knew that winter was coming, so we crave carbs like mad. Carbs convert into blood sugar to provide energy to the all the cells in our bodies. Once the cell get enough energy, their insulin receptors shut down and the liver sends the message out to store all the remaining energy in your body as fat (since winter is coming). Now think about the light bulb. We now have control over our night and day. We don’t go to sleep with the setting sun, we go to sleep 5 hours later and only let our bodies get 7 hours of sleep. Due to our light exposure, our bodies think we are living in a perpetual August! Therefore, we crave carbs like an addict craves a hit. And this is where the fat-free lie kicks in. Since we have been lead to believe that fat in our diets is unhealthy, we buy fat-free foods. Fat-free foods are extremely carb heavy, and most of them are processed carbs that absorb into the blood stream fast (insulin spikes, cell are full of energy, energy dumped to fat). Have you ever wondered why everything in your kitchen is fat-free except you?
The obesity rates in this country are rising fast. Checkout the U.S. Obesity Trend Maps on the CDC website from 1985-2007. This is scary. There is something fundamentally wrong with the way we are living. The book suggests it’s the exposure to light during the night that makes us think we are living a few months away from hibernation – craving cabs. The majority of the stuff in the grocery store is carbs (sugar is one of the main preservatives in foods giving them a long shelf life). Carbs are killing us!
The ideas in the books are so simple that it is almost unbelievable that the medical community as a whole hasn’t supported it. The book starts to go a little X-files-conspiracy-theory on us suggesting that the CDC is too coupled with the government that is heavily influenced by PACS supported by the grain industry. It also says that Doctors in this country are trained to fight illness and are not trained at all at homoestasis, health, or prevention. I don’t know if I agree with all of that, but I do know that the health of this country is deteriorating quickly. Eating what we were programmed to eat for millions of years makes a lot of sense to me.
You will find me shopping on the outer perimeter of the grocery store from now on. It’s been nice knowing you, Oreo. I’m going to miss you (A LOT!)