Polynesian Diet Strategies - 7 tips to help you lose weight permanently
By Andrew Pogai
I am constantly amazed when I hear stories of Polynesians who suddenly passed away from heart attack, diabetes, and even colon cancer, at such a young age. My grandfather was very young when he died from colon cancer. My mother who is now 62 has suffered from a long history of chronic illnesses, arthritis, stroke, and now has diabetes. Outside of my immediate family, I see other Polynesians suffering from diet induced diseases, and I fear they will not live to see their grandchildren. So what is happening to our people, and what can we do to stop it?
I am going to give you seven of the best tips you can implement to lose weight, and get back your health starting right now, but first I want to tell you a little about myself.
I am a Polynesian male in my late thirties. I was born and raised in New Zealand to loving parents of six children. I came to the United States in the late nineties to attend school. After the first year of College, I had gained some extra weight, about 15lbs. No big deal right, wrong. As each year passed I was gaining more and more unsightly body fat.
This was extremely abnormal for me, since I was fairly active and played a great deal of competitive sports, such as rugby, basketball, tennis and volleyball. I have always had a good sense about being in shape and was growing frustrated at the elusive body fat accumulating day to day. I ignored it for a long time until one day I was flipping through some photos I just developed. I saw a shot of myself where my back was facing the camera. For a brief moment I was confused as to who that was. I didn't even recognize myself. I was embarrassed and ashamed to realize that the way I thought I looked, and how I actually looked were completely different. Is this what people were seeing?
At this point I bought a pair of scales to assess the damage. After three years of denial I weighed a hefty 246lbs. I was stunned. This wasn't the worst part. I was beginning to have bad chest pains, and experienced dizziness and shortness of breath. I felt tired all the time. I was also becoming more and more depressed. So what was going on? Well, in a nutshell, I was eating the wrong foods, at the wrong times, and way too much of it.
I decided I was going to embark on a mission, to lose 30lbs, after all how hard can that be right. I mean I am a hard worker, should be a snap. So I did what most people do, head out to the local gym, sign up for a membership and personal trainer, bought all the protein bars, shakes and supplements they recommended. I even subscribed to a fitness magazine and purchased products they recommended. All in all I had spent a small fortune in order to get started, but this was fine because I was really committing myself.
I spent the next 3 months working out with my trainer twice a week, and on my own four times a week, with only Sunday off. My workouts consisted of 35-45mins of cardio six days a week and weight training for 60 Min's 5 days a week. At first I started to lose weight by 4-5lbs a week. I was really excited, then slowly but surely, it started to drop to 2lbs a week, then not even one. My trainer told me 'we need to tweak your diet a little, and work a little harder'. Believe me when I tell you I was busting my butt to get in shape. There were days when I was the only one in the gym at 1.30am doing cardio. The cleaners would joke around saying I needed to pay rent I was there so much.
And then it happened, at my next weigh in day I had actually gained 2lbs. My trainer assured me this was muscle gain, and not to worry as the scales don't distinguish between muscle gain, and fat gain, or muscle loss and fat loss for that matter. I was skeptical because I felt so much weaker. I couldn't bench or leg press what I could 3 months earlier, and if I was really gaining muscle, shouldn't I be stronger. It didn't make sense to me. Nevertheless I continued on to the end of our scheduled training program. When all was said and done I weighed 227lbs. I had lost 19lbs, not bad, but a far cry from my goal of 30lbs.
The worst thing about it, was that I didn't look much different, just smaller. It was discouraging to me to think I had worked so hard for 3 months and was still not happy with the way I looked. I was still flabby, still undefined, and still felt tired all the time, some days even more tired than when I was heavier. Then it dawned on me, the trainers at the gym had taken specific courses and certifications to help their clients get into better shape. Perhaps they were not specific enough for me. I started to pay a lot more attention to the things I ate, the types of foods, as well as how they affected me, even the foods recommended by my trainer which I had taken as gospel. Here is what I found.
1. Many of the carbohydrates I was eating, even the healthy fibrous carbs, had an adverse affect on me.
2. I could stuff myself with veges and fruits all day long and still be hungry.
3. I would eat less then 36g of fat a day for weeks and still be flabby.
4. Eating the forbidden red meat made me feel strong and induced powerful workouts.
5. Eating coconut, a food rich in saturated fats curbed my hunger, and accelerated my fat loss.
6. Eating larger meals less often, gave me unbelievable energy, despite the accepted idea of eating smaller frequent meals.
7. Healthy grains, such as oatmeal, and wheat bread slowed my weight loss.
8. Cardio sessions left me feeling weak and depleted, and you guessed it, still smooth, not cut.
9. Weight training energized me.
10. All the protein shakes I was using were making me fat.
11. White rice surprisingly did not.
12. Although yams were sweeter than potatoes, they helped my progress, where potatoes hindered.
13. I could eat a lot, and I mean a lot of fish, and still get lean.
I realize now that there is a uniqueness to the Polynesian body and how many of the accepted laws and practices of the fitness industry do not apply to us.
Last year I travelled to Cambodia. While I was there I couldn't help but notice how slender and healthy the people of that culture were, despite being a third world country, or perhaps due to it. Obesity was practically non existent, and I thought to myself there must be something to the way they eat. I really doubt the average Cambodian has a membership to Golds Gym, and I didn't see them out running all the time. Many of them where just sitting around on the streets.
When I flew back to the US my first stop was San Fransisco Airport, and there was no mistaking being back in America. Eight out of ten people I saw were either overweight or obese. I thought more about the Cambodian culture. What did they eat so ordinarily that kept them in shape? Then it came to me. They eat the foods their bodies have evolved to assimilate. It was an epiphany of mass proportion. Once I realised this I could apply it to myself right. Well, I couldn't have been more right.
I began to research more and more about my heritage. Where did I come from? Who are my parents? Where are they from? What did the people from that region of the world eat before the introduction of commercially processed foods? Now I was getting somewhere. It all led to genetics.
I researched several case studies from the early sixties concerning cultures from the isles of the sea. It was amazing to see the differences in what they ate and how they obtained their food. It was also sad to see how their health has plummeted as they have strayed from that food. It has long been understood that in order to discover truth, you must go to the source. Unchanged and untainted, it is the wellspring from which all knowledge will flow. Cheap imitations may mimic the truth, but from their fruits, they will be revealed.
What I am speaking of are fake foods, fake fats, fake sugars, engineered additives, harmful chemicals, and unnatural preservatives, powders, shakes, and meal replacements to name a few. All in all they eventually reveal themselves through unsightly bodies, crippling health issues, and the loss of quality of life. As soon as I started eliminating all processed foods, refined sugars, and all so called health foods, my fat loss skyrocketed. In just a few weeks, I had lost 14lbs, and the weight continued to come off. My energy levels were very high, and this made me more excited and motivated to exercise. Over the next 3 months I had lost a significant amount of body fat and a total of 38lbs not including the 19lbs I had lost working my butt off. Funny thing was that I was working out half as much as I was to lose those 19lbs, as I did to lose the 38lbs. I was really onto something. All in all I had lost a total of 57lbs.
One day at the gym, a trainer was blown away by how I looked. He had the audacity to ask me 'what happened?', as if I had survived a life threatening disease. He then asked 'what's your secret', and I found myself caught in the irony of telling a trainer that my secret was diet and exercise. This was the same advice I had paid over $900 for three months earlier. If only that advice were the right diet, and the right exercise for a Polynesian. Well, back to genetics.
I discovered something very interesting about my heritage. My parents are from the Polynesian islands. My father was born in Lotopa Upolu, and my mother in Suva Fiji. Genetic mapping shows that these cultures have strong links to the indigenous people of Taiwan, and that they are more closely linked to this culture than any other. I thought, hm, seems plausible; Polynesians love chop suey, eat a lot of rice, love their fish, even eat it raw like the Asian cultures. All I did was eat more of the foods they would have eaten on those islands fifty years ago, and why, because these are the foods my body has evolved to assimilate, despite the fact that my diet can contain as much as 60% saturated fats. Yep, you read it right. I can eat a lot more fat and be lean and healthy if they are natural fats, but I cannot eat a small amount of sugar and get away with it.
I went on to discover many important aspects of health that are specific to Polynesians, which cannot be addressed in the scope of this article, but here are some guide lines to help you lose weight safely and permanently.
Tip #1 You must lower your carbohydrates and eliminate processed foods
Before the white man showed up on the islands, organic foods were called ordinary foods. Nothing was processed, and the work effort alone to provide food for your family would be enough to keep anyone lean.
Tip #2 Increase your fiber intake
Tip #3 Drink more water. Get rid of sodas, sports drinks, alcohol, diet beverages, and caffeinated drinks, with the exception of green tea. Polynesians can benefit a great deal from green tea as it has been used by their ancestors (Asians) for medicinal purposes for more than 2000 years. Can't be wrong.
Tip #4 Eat more protein. Eat whole foods in the form of organic pork, organic beef, and fish. Hey this is the best part. It's what we love and our bodies are designed for it.
Tip #5 Replace your olive, vegetable and corn oils with coconut oil. Although olive oil is highly recommended and a mainstay of most diets, last time I checked no islanders descended from Italians. Again believe me when I say, our bodies have evolved to assimilate coconut oil better than any other. Various studies show that although there is little nutritional value in coconut oil, many people lose weight by eating it.
In the islands coconut and coconut cream is used in everything. Sixty percent of the normal diet is comprised of saturated fat compared to the typical western diet of thirty five to forty five percent fat, yet the islanders had less heart disease and less blood cholesterol. Diabetes, and colon cancer were completely absent before the introduction of processed foods. Problems arise when you combine these high natural oil diets with refined sugars, and processed foods containing chemicals, additives and preservatives that wreak havoc on the typical Polynesian body type. Things like spam, and canned corned beef that use fake fats are dangerous, and should not be eaten.
Tip #6 Avoid these foods at all cost. High Fructose Corn Syrup Refined sugar Fake fats such as trans fats and partially hydrogenated oil Artificial sweeteners and diet foods Dairy Soy products. If you are eliminating all processed foods you will not have a difficulty with most of these. Also avoid processed meats, such as bacon and deli meats as they can contain modified salts, sugars and dangerous nitrates.
Tip #7 Keep a food journal. You may be surprised at how much you eat, or how little. If you keep a journal, you will have an accurate record of how your body is affected by different foods. This is a very useful tool.
Obviously there are so many things you can learn that break down the very specifics of dieting techniques, but trust me, these simple techniques will work for you as they have for me. I have kept the weight off for six years now, and feel terrific. I do recommend that you do more research as I did, to learn everything you can about successful weight loss, and how it relates to you specifically. Don't be disheartened by all the information that is available out there. A lot of the diet strategies and work out programs won't work for us, but some of them will. Educate yourself, for knowledge is power. Nothing is more important than investing in your own health, and that of your family.
For more info and free advice on proven diet strategies for Polynesians and Pacific Islanders please visit http://www.polynesianweightloss.blogspot.com/
Today's Small Victories
I did not eat out today and have been cooking up a storm!
Run 400 meters
CrossFit One World WOD
Back Squat 5x5
Start a running clock and run 200m. At the 2 minute mark perform a tabata of thrusters 65#. At the 6 minute mark, run 200m. At 8 minute mark perform a tabata of pull-ups (modified on bands). Rest 90 seconds when done, and then run 400m. Count total reps and write down last 400m time.
Joanne's Final Time - 26 thrusters; 35 pull-ups; 2:41 run
Notes (to myself) about this workout: I'm glad that we're doing rx'd and scaled versions of the WOD. This allows me to strategize accordingly without feeling like a cheat. I was proud to do the thrusters rx'd. Though I didn't get a lot of reps in (Freddy wanted 4-5 reps per cycle), I did go over my goal of 3 reps per cycle. I strategized on the run and for the pull-ups, I used two bands to just get into the habit of practicing my pull-ups. Yea.
Oh yeah. I PR'd my 5 rep back squat. Woot!