on December 7, 2013
Thoughts and Precautions on Trim Healthy Mama
Currently, the latest fad diet in Christian circles is Trim, Healthy Mama by Serene Allison and Pearl Barrett, the cover of which boldly proclaim “No More Fads.” Unfortunately, the deciding factor for any program’s fad status is not its self-proclamation that it is not one, but rather how it is handled by its users. The authors base their 'not a fad' assertion on their insistence that it must be adopted for life, however almost every diet out there makes the same claim or provides some sort of ‘maintenance’ program at the end. Right now THM’s star is rising, but it will be another shooting star, not the north one.
The cover of this book also proclaims that it is a “Common Sense” guide to satisfy cravings and energize your life. While healthy eating will most certainly satisfy cravings and energize your life what they promote in this book is anything but ‘common’ sense. Their program is based on their limited understanding of metabolism and blood sugar control; an accumulation of knowledge gained from a plethora of other diet books and various low carb websites and blogs. While much of the information is accurate and the metaphors they use to simplify the body’s insulin response to food are helpful, they fall short of the big metabolic picture.
You must understand that I really wanted to like this book, and from a recipe source standpoint I actually do. I use the recipes almost daily in my home. My favorite lunch is based on one of them. My refrigerator is rarely without a batch of skinny chocolate, secret agent brownie cake, or choco pudding (though I add whey protein to the pudding). I am very grateful for the introduction to Joseph’s bread and many other great products. But the plan, I can not recommend.
When I first read this book I was very optimistic about it. They were on the right track in so many areas. Eating the food God made versus man-made frankenfoods and not excluding any of the macro-nutrients (carbs, fats, or proteins) is right on target. Illustrating protein as the fulcrum in a meal’s balance was sound,though I would have gone with more of a foundation approach. Unfortunately, they then plummet into a ‘tandem fueling’ tangent and base their entire plan on this faulty premise. With every page of Satisfying and Energizing nonsense, all my hopes for a solid resource to share with my personal training clients went right down the drain.
If they had designed their program based on what they call cross-overs and S-helper meals I would have been a happy trainer. Alas, they did not do that, but in fact dared to tell people that they can’t lose weight tandem-fueling! Now I have to credit them that they did not leave out all carbs from their S meals, nor exclude all fat from the E meals, I will give them that. But they also claimed that calories don’t matter as long as they are just S or just E per meal with adequate space in between. This is flat out wrong. Too much fuel, no matter what source, will result in storage of the excess as fat. Yes, even protein calories can be converted to stored fat.
Proper, God-designed nutrition is based on tandem fuel. While fat can be burned as fuel it only happens in the presence of carbohydrate. It is not fuel on its own. Think of it as the ethanol added to your gasoline. When your body accesses stored fat to compensate for a fuel shortage in what you eat, you must have carbohydrate in your system to access and metabolize that fat. If you don’t your body will resort to cannibalizing your muscle tissue to get at the glycogen in the cells and reassemble the proteins through glyconeogenesis so that it can access the fat. Muscle is the furnace that burns the majority of the fuel we take in, so less muscle results in lower metabolism.
‘But, my friend (fill in the blank) has done this plan and lost (fill in the blank) pounds, and she swears by it.’ I have friends like that too. The thing is people lose weight on all kinds of diets, that's how they get popular and sell. It doesn't mean they are right. So far, I have yet to hear anyone say they did the program and didn’t lose any muscle, or they did the program and lost weight consuming twice their daily caloric needs in food every day. Unless I initiate it I doubt anyone ever will, because according to Serene and Pearl you don’t have to fuss with calories, so no one if going to track them while THMing.
In my own use of the recipes I have logged a few things, because I log my foods regularly. So far all their recipes come in very reasonable calorie wise, so if you stick with just their recipes while you do the plan you are very likely going to stay under your daily calorie goal which will result in weight loss. The strong emphasis on protein in the plan is what stabilizes blood sugar levels and is absolutely essential for this to work.
I do think their plan can be done without muscle loss if the practitioner alternates between S and E meals throughout the day. This should provide enough carbs for the body to keep the furnace fueled without muscle loss. Sadly, Trim, Healthy Mamas are not encouraged to alternate, they can do as many S’s or E’s as they want just so long as they keep them separate.
As a certified personal trainer with an above average understanding of metabolism and nutrition I can not endorse Trim,Healthy Mama's program. I do highly recommend the book for the great recipes and the Foxy Mama chapter. ;o)
If you still want to try their plan I encourage you to do the following:
Add crossovers and S helpers regularly.
Alternate between meal types. No all S days, no all E days.
No fuel pull days-EVER. In fact, no fuel pull meals. Have good meals and save the fuel pulls for snacks and desserts.
Try to keep your macro-nutrients properly balanced per meal and day. The following are percentages of your total CALORIC intake, not portions. That means you have to know what you are eating.
Carbohydrates at 45-65% of your daily caloric intake based on activity level
Proteins 10-35% (stay on the higher end, 25-30% every time you eat)
Be sure you eat 5-6 times a day with 2 1/2 to 3 hours between meals
No matter what you call it proper nutrition IS for life. Embrace it!
THM can be done safely and with good results, but is can also easily fall into the same metabolically unsafe pitfalls as other low carb programs. It is overly complicated in its design and misses the big metabolic picture because it is overly fixated on the faulty premise that tandem fueling in and of itself causes weight gain. Still, if you follow the guidelines I have listed above you should be fine, and I do totally love the all the recipes I have tried. For me, that made it a worthwhile purchase even though it is not the client resource I had hoped it would be.
May God bless you on your fitness journey. It is totally worth the trip.