We've all heard of good fats and bad fats, the primary good fats being mono and polyunsaturated fats and the primary bad one being trans fats (I'll get to saturated fats later). We know good fats are heart healthy and trans fats, in any amount, are bad for us. But do any of us know the science behind why this is so?
First, we need to know exactly what a fat is. In its simplest form, it is a fatty acid, and the joining of three fatty acids forms a triglyceride, which is what is found in foods and the stores of fat found in our bodies. When our bodies digest these triglycerides, they get broken down into fatty acids and glycerol. These molecules then get used in various ways by our bodies, which will be mentioned later in this article (Berardi, p. 152).
Fat can be found in many foods, whether they are abundant, such as the fats in meat, or in trace amounts, like the fats found in grapes. It is a macronutrient, meaning it is needed in abundance in order for optimum functioning of our bodies. It is also a sorely misunderstood nutrient. While recent research has attempted to restore the reputation of this nutrient, there is little understanding of just what goes on when we consume these fats. In fact, I realized this when I was speaking to a co-worker and patient at my PT clinic about dietary fats, with both of them expressing surprise when I revealed exactly what fats can do to the very cells of our bodies. Their surprise is what prompted me to write this. After all, we hear so much about heart healthy fats, but we don't even understand just why they're healthy. We only know the bad ones can raise cholesterol, clog arteries, and increase the risk for heart disease.
Let's look at the good things fats do for us:
Now let's look more deeply into the different types of fats.
Polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats are unlike saturated fats because they are typically liquid at room temperature--think of vegetable oils. As their prefixes imply, they are composed of one or many unsaturated chemical bonds. Saturated fats, on the other hand, are typically solid at room temperature--think of cheese. Last, you have trans fats, which can occur naturally, but are mostly formed through industrial fat processing to make food products last longer (p. 157). As you can tell, they get their names because of their chemical configurations.
Despite what you may have heard, including saturated fats in the diet is an important component for overall health. It is true that when consumed in excess, saturated fats can increase one's risk for heart disease; however, one need not eliminate these fats from the diet. In fact, certain types of saturated fats may actually lower LDL cholesterol (the bad cholesterol), such as stearic acid, a "saturated fat found in cocoa butter and beef" (p. 154). People who generally consume saturated fats in excess are also consuming too much refined carbohydrates; however, by minimizing refined carbohydrates and including a good dose of unsaturated fats, saturated fats are perfectly fine in the diet (p. 155).
Not only is it important to balance saturated fat and unsaturated fat intake, but the balance among unsaturated fats, those being omega-6 and omega-3, is also crucial. Too much omega-6 can cause excess inflammation. Inflammation, under certain circumstances such as injury, is important for the body, so it is necessary to control one's intake of omega-6. Much of our North American diet includes an excess of omega-6 fats, so it's important to mention why omega-3 fats are crucial. These fats help to keep our cell membranes more fluid, which in turn makes for easier transmission of things like serotonin and increased insulin sensitivity. As a result, omega-3's can actually help with weight loss because hormones have ane easier time interacting with the fluid membranes of our cells (p. 156).
Our last fats are trans fats, and these are not good in any amount. In fact, rather than making our cell membranes more fluid, they instead make them more rigid, causing our cells to more tightly pack together, which in turn increases our risk for coronary heart disease and decreases hormone transmission. Trans fats consumed from just one meal also have an immediate impact on blood vessel function and elasticity. While trans fats can occur naturally in the diet, as long as one is consuming primarily whole, unprocessed foods, consuming too many trans fats is nearly impossible (p. 157).
Overall, optimum health depends on a good balance of fats. This balance is easily obtained through a diet of mostly whole, unprocessed foods.
Dietary fats explained. (2014). In Medline Plus. Retrieved from https://medlineplus.gov/ency/patientinstructions/000104.htm
Berardi, John, & Ansdrews, Ryan. (2016). The Essentials of Sport and Exercise Nutrition. Precision Nutrition.
Saturated Fats. (2016). In American Heart Association. Retrieved from http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/HealthyLiving/HealthyEating/Nutrition/Saturated-Fats_UCM_301110_Article.jsp#.V8OYfzWqFhY
What are Polyunsaturated and Monounsaturated Fats? (2014). In Your Guide to Diet & Diabetes. Retrieved from http://extension.illinois.edu/diabetes2/subsection.cfm?SubSectionID=46
Last month, I earned my Level 1 Precision Nutrition certification, and I'll start by saying that despite the hefty price tag ($828.00 for me, financed at $69 a month), it is worth every penny.
Nutrition has been a massive interest of mine since recovering from an eating disorder. I did not merely want to learn the basics, but I wanted to be able to further my knowledge and actually apply it. Precision Nutrition does just that. I had looked into other nutrition certifications, but a lot of people stated that while they learned the science behind nutrition, the certifications never taught them how to actually apply it. Of course, PN's section on applying nutrition does make the scope of practice for a trainer a little fuzzy. After all, many CPT certifications will tell you to refer out for more in-depth nutrition counseling. PN, however, gives you the tools to counsel on your own while making a point that medical nutrition therapy is off-limits for fitness professionals without a license in dietetics.
This course taught me a variety of new information that I did not learn from my own certification and even supplementary resources on nutrition. I learned the science behind why fats such as mono and polyunsaturated fats are so good for the body's cells; what losing fat in some places while being unable to lose fat in other places can mean; an unbiased look into the efficacy of supplements; specific dietary needs of athletes; pre and post-workout nutrition; nutritional formulas for different body types and dietary goals; nutrition for competition days; how differing diets, such as high-fat, high-protein, ect. influence body composition; how cells specifically react to macronutrients; and basically anything you learn in a nutrition degree with all the fluff removed.
So how does Precision Nutrition function? Well, they open spots up I believe two times a year, and the spaces are limited. You can get on their per-registration list, which makes the certification cheaper. However, the fierce competition for spots means you need to register fast so that way you can secure your place. Why there are limited spots, I haven't the slightest clue. I suspect it's a marketing ploy, but I wasn't too concerned about that.
The studying of this certification can be set to own's own pace. I took about four months to receive this certification, mostly because there was a period of time where I wasn't studying it. The course recommends that you study a chapter a week, but when I really got back into the course, I studied a chapter a day since I didn't have any difficulties with absorbing the information. I also didn't find the certification too difficult to earn, although I have read accounts from others who state the certification overall was difficult for them. In the past, they required that you pass a timed comprehensive exam, but now it seems you take a quiz every chapter, and all of your correct answers create a cumulative score at the end that determines a pass or fail. If you fail, you do have to take a comprehensive exam that is timed. Even so, despite the obvious open-book nature of the quizzes, you still need to read the chapters so that way you understand what the quiz questions are even asking. To challenge myself, I took all of the quizzes with a closed book. While Precision Nutrition argues in favor of open book due to a trainer's career naturally being an open book, having certain information already ingrained in your mind can make answering the nutrition questions of your clients easier.
Precision Nutrition also offers a workbook with questions you can complete after every chapter read. This certainly helps to solidify what you've read, as a lot of the quizzes' questions do come from the workbook. They also offer videos, which can help to solidify the information, but I wish the videos would have been more classroom-like, with Dr. Berardi actually offering the lectures and not just video slides; thus, the videos were rather boring. However, this is the only criticism I have for the certification.
Overall, I feel this certification has adequately prepared me to address the nutritional needs of my clients, barring medical nutritional therapy, which the book obviously does not cover. This is the one text I actually keep on top of my desk; the information contained within is just too excellent to simply shelve the book. I plan to write plenty of nutrition articles based on what I've learned from this course.
When I entered college back in 2009, I really thought I knew what I wanted to do with my life. I thought I was going to major in photography, maybe have my own tiny business, and work in the big bad world of publishing in New York. Then I thought I'd be happy with journalism. Then freelance editing. Then being an English teacher. Then freelance editing again.
I got to a point in my life where I'd be satisfied working a minimum wage job with people I enjoyed and being happily married and writing and doing ballet. At the time, I was happy to settle for just 'good enough.' Not knowing what my degree in English could get me, I was happy to coast along in a job that eventually made me miserable, where being told to have a good day at work was actually an insult.
I'm not sure why I had this "good enough" attitude. At the time, my only two passions were writing and ballet, neither of which are very lucrative careers. I just didn't see myself loving anything else, so I was fine with mediocrity, as long as I could afford to write and dance. After all, I had dabbled in all of the careers an English degree could provide for me, and none of them left me feeling satisfied. Creative writing was the only satisfactory career, and yet most writers can only afford to do it part-time.
So what was I supposed to do? Be a marketing trainee for the rest of my life, hawking off random giveaways, just to attract the homeowners who wanted stuff done? To make minimum wage with spotty commission? This was the sort of life I was going to settle for.
Looking back on all of this, I almost want to say that suffering from an eating disorder was worth it to find the career that I am in now. Yet, I wonder if an eating disorder was really necessary to budge me in the right direction, or if I simply needed more life experience to realize how truly limitless life can be if you allow yourself to explore the unknown.
Having moved to an online college allowed me the chance to work more, allowed me the chance to interact with more people, and allowed me the chance to truly understand myself in a way that I never had before. Sure, what primarily prompted my move to an online college was bipolar disorder. After all, if I was having a bad day, I wouldn't have to stress about getting myself to class. I could just stay in bed and do the work when I was feeling better. Yet, making this transition gave me more free time, which aided in my personal development.
I say all of this because I wish I wouldn't have jumped into college as soon as I graduated high school. I wish I would have just jumped right into the working world in order to really get a feel for what I wanted to do, instead of spending so much time wondering what I wanted to do. Even so, I can't really say I regret not having done this. I just wish I had. I'd probably be more settled into my life right now. Who can say?
I grew up with parents who encouraged me to do what made me happy. That's probably why I never wanted to settle--why I never want to settle. I was so close to doing just that last year, and now I realize that because of how I was raised, I'd never be truly happy settling for less. I can't be like everyone else, the people who are satisfied working a job only for the money to fund whatever their lifestyles are, whether it's just for the basic necessities, or expensive cars and apartments. Or a job to just pay the bills. I get those jobs are necessary, but I truly believe you should always look for better so that way you can lead a life that you're proud of, one where you don't feel the need to live vicariously through anyone else because you're your own inspiration.
Right now I'm working two jobs. I'm a personal trainer and I'm a physical therapy aide. It's not uncommon for trainers to have more than one job. Not at all. After all, most of our pay relies solely on hours where we're training, and building up a book from scratch is not easy. So I took this second job to support my job as a trainer. However, this job and the trainer job have made me realize that I want to take my desire to help people function free of pain even further--right to physical therapy assistant school. So next year I plan to begin a new degree so that I can become a licensed PTA and take my knowledge of training even further. I'm also studying for my CSCS. I still plan to be a trainer, even while I'm a PTA. My plan, however, is to train part-time making full-time cash solely through my own business. If it weren't for this second job, I never would have gotten the push I needed to pursue this path.
This is a story in itself.
Trying to find a second job was extremely frustrating. I threw in the towel after applying nonstop for jobs for two weeks, realizing my energies were better devoted to building up TDW. It was when I threw in the towel that I started getting interviews.
I had one interview for some inventory job that turned out to be a bust. No one was at the interview site. That was incredibly infuriating. I then had an interview at Starbucks. The only reason I applied there is because a friend of mine loves working there, but I honestly was not that thrilled at the prospect of serving coffee and doing other mind-numbing tasks that offered little in the way of fulfillment. My lack of enthusiasm must have been obvious; I never got a call back. I then got a call from one Walmart, but because I was working on the only day the manager wanted to do interviews, that was a bust. I then got an e-mail from Georgialina Physical Therapy to be interviewed as an aide. I also had an interview at another Walmart that same day.
I did my interview at Georgialina and was told I'd get called and that I could also let them know if I was truly interested or not after thinking it over. I then did the interview at Walmart and got immediately hired on the spot because the manager had seen me work at the YMCA. It's pretty obvious I didn't immediately take it. While it paid more. I wasn't happy about the 2-10 PM shift and the possibility that I wouldn't have a say in how many hours I worked week-to-week. After all, I just wanted a second job to give me a little extra money. I wasn't looking for a job to overtake my primary one. The one at Georgialina presented me with fixed hours that weren't ungodly.
Of course, I was trapped in a dilemma. If I didn't hear back from Georgialina soon, I'd have no choice but to take the job at Walmart. Not only this, but my fiance was pushing me to get the one at Walmart, just because it paid a dollar more and offered more hours. My dad even suggested that sometimes you have to do what you don't want to do in order to do the things you do want to do.
I certainly took what they said to heart. I certainly understood that I wasn't just getting this job for myself but also for my fiance. But being where I am now, I realize that if I had taken that job at Walmart, I never would have been encouraged to take my job as a trainer even further by challenging myself to earn my CSCS and going back to school for PTA. It was all thanks to my stubborn insistence that I knew I deserved better--and by better, I mean something that is mentally stimulating. Yeah, I spend time folding laundry, cleaning bathrooms, and wiping down tables, but I also spend time teaching exercises to patients, listening to the therapists as they teach the patients about their own injuries, learning about the range of therapeutic exercises available for those who need them, learning about the different diagnoses and the treatment involved in them, and being able to ask questions that directly benefit my job as a trainer. Not only this, but this job provides me with plenty of patient contact hours that will make me a competitive candidate for the program.
So what did I do? I immediately e-mailed Georgialina, letting them know I needed an answer soon because I received another job offer. And now that the technical college in my area will be offering the PTA program in 2018, I have an even greater incentive to try and take on more hours at Georgialina--which means more money, which means my fiance will be pleased.
You can't allow yourself to settle for good enough. If you don't know what you want to do, explore what there is to do out there. There is something for everyone. It is possible for everyone to live a life they feel passionate about. And you may not find that passion until you're well into your 20s. That's cool. That's okay. I'm 26. It took me 9 years after graduating high school to fully realize exactly what I am capable of.
While there are no guarantees in life, there are always regrets. If you want to do something, do it. I'm willing to take on student loan debt in order to develop the life I desire. I'm willing to use my credit card more than I'm usually comfortable with to pay for my continuing education as a trainer. I'm speaking in terms of money right now, but it isn't always a financial risk. Sometimes you have to leave your loved ones for a time to cultivate the life you desire. You have to go to a school hundreds of miles away from everyone and everything you know. You have to say good-bye to your steady job. You have to leave friends behind. You have to sacrifice, sacrifice, sacrifice. Smart sacrifices, but sacrifices nonetheless.
I recognize that I am in a privileged position, but you can't be in the mindset that your desires are out of your reach because of x, y, and z. I don't want to sound like some cheesy life coach telling you that all you need is a good attitude and strong will and you can get whatever you want. But what I will tell you is that you need to get to a point in your life where you realize that you have no choice but to be persistent. Being persistent doesn't require a good attitude or even a completely cheery outlook. It just require grit and a refusal to give up. If you tell yourself the only choice is to be persistent because the other option is to be miserable, you're going to do whatever you can to avoid misery.
ACE Certified Personal Trainer, NSCA Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist, nutrition coach, young adult author, moody ballerina.
I help people perform without pain.
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The views expressed on this blog are entirely my own. Any advice I offer is not to be taken as medical advice. If you think you have contraindications to exercise, please see your physician before implementing any sample workout plans I present on this blog.
All images are either my own, from Canva, or Creative Commons