Heart disease and stroke are leading causes of death in America, according to the American Heart Association. For African Americans, we account for nearly a quarter of the 610,000 people that die every year from heart disease.
The recent death of filmmaker John Singleton following a massive stroke sent shock waves throughout the African American community. Black men in the U.S. are at a greater risk of having a stroke and are more likely to have one at a younger age, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Diabetes and higher rates of obesity are a few of the culprits.
Black Americans also suffer from some of the highest rates of high blood pressure in the world. The American Heart Association reported that more than 40% of Black men and women have high blood pressure, and we’re getting it earlier in life.
That hit home for me. John Singleton was 51. My grandfather died of a heart attack at 45. My mother was diagnosed with hypertension at the same age.
In March, at 37, I decided to make major changes in my lifestyle that will hopefully save my life. As I near the age my mother was diagnosed, transitioning to a healthier lifestyle was more than trying to look good in a bikini. I hired a trainer, ditched meat and began intermittent fasting. Although I’m not vegan, I frequent local vegan restaurants.
New York Times best-selling author Dr. Ian Smith visited the Queen City to promote his latest book, “Clean & Lean: 30 Days, 30 Foods, A New You.” We met to chat about nutrition, fitness and fad diets.
You were appointed by President Obama to the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports, and Nutrition. During your time on the council, what was the most alarming health fact that you discovered about African Americans?
What I first found surprising is that the Council had no jurisdiction or enforcement ability. We would make policy suggestions, but we couldn’t legislate it. We were more in an advisory role. We worked with First Lady Michelle Obama on the Let’s Move campaign. I wanted to have a solidified interventional role.
I’ve been doing this for a very long time. I focus on everyone, but obviously, I have a predisposition to be overly concerned about African Americans. It just confirmed things that have plagued us for a long time such as levels of obesity, levels of inactivity and dietary lifestyles. It’s what I’ve been fighting to reverse and get people to change their lifestyles.
What are the biggest misconceptions that you hear from people who are considering making the transition to healthier lifestyles?
African Americans have to tear themselves away from the fallacy that we are genetically predisposed to be large or big boned. Our bones are no bigger than anyone else’s.
Now, we are predisposed to be more curvaceous, but that’s different, that’s soft tissue. Our bones are the same size. What we pack onto our bones is up to us, the shape of it is genetic. The way we deposit fat and soft tissue is in a curvaceous form. We are made to be more curvaceous but not to be heavier.
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As you travel around the country, what have you found that people struggle with the most?
People are having a hard time being able to access and afford healthy foods and figuring out how to squeeze their workout into their day. Granted, some of that is that people just don’t like to work out. Another part of that is that people are stressed and busy. You have single parents and people with scheduling issues.
My intention with “Clean and Lean” was to think about someone with a limited income, someone who’s busy and doesn’t have two hours to spend in the kitchen cooking. I wanted to create a program that would work for them.
Let’s talk about a popular weight management trend, intermittent fasting. Critics say those who commit to the practice will gain the weight back when the fasting period is over. Is there a certain profile (age, weight, pre-existing conditions, etc.) that you’d recommend avoiding intermittent fasting?
Everyone intermittent fasts. When you are asleep, you are fasting. Intermittent fasting is periods of eating, or fueling, with periods of fasting. Some of us have longer fast periods. Some of us are more disciplined in respect to fast. I think intermittent fasting is healthy, if not done to the extreme. The three tracks that I believe in are: 16-hour feeding with an 8-hour fast; 14-hour feeding and a 10-hour fast, and a 12-hour feeding with a 12-hour fast.
To speak to the issue of gaining weight back, typically if you are losing weight via an extreme measure, then when you stop applying the extreme measure, you’re going to gain the weight back. To me, keto is extreme. Keto is effective for short-term weight loss. However, when a person stops eating in a keto fashion they will gain the weight back plus some.
Now that Dr. Ian explained why we should stop blaming weight gain on being big boned, it’s time to begin making healthier lifestyle choices. Maybe it’s increasing your physical activity or decreasing your intake of processed ingredients. Instead of focusing on summer body goals, let’s make changes this spring to improve the quality of our lives.
Nakisha Washington is a journalist who interviewed America’s first self-made female billionaire, a presidential candidate and her favorite reality TV personality all within 72 hours. Catch her talking career and lifestyle tips to curious millennials on her blog, theprofashionalist.com.