Tag Archives: Diet

Move More, Eat Less for Weight Loss? Not so Fast!! ~Part 2~

dsc08472In Part 1 of this topic, I discussed how the “move more, eat less” strategy for weight loss backfires and slows the metabolism.  Research has proven that this method doesn’t work, yet the mainstream health and fitness industry continues to recommend moving more and eating less for weight loss.  The bottom line is that hormones (i.e., insulin, leptin, and ghrelin) are the driving force behind whether or not we gain or lose weight.  What we eat and don’t eat can have a radical impact on the process.

The Standard American Diet (SAD) is comprised of low quality processed foods, unhealthy fats, and sugar.  These foods are devoid of nutrition, facilitate addiction, work against our fullness cues, and throw our weight-controlling hormones out of whack.  How does this happen?

Food is information for our bodies, sending signals that affect burning/storing fat as well as hunger/fullness cues.  For instance, sugar causes insulin to spike, signaling our bodies to store fat rather than burn it.  Given the processed nature of these foods, it is extremely easy to overeat on the SAD.  It has little to do with willpower.  Millions of dollars are spent to increase the “craveability” of this food –the more we eat, the more we want.  The same applies to sugar; it is intensely addictive, which is a topic I’ll tackle in another post.  When we eat these types of foods, we find ourselves eating when we aren’t even hungry because our fullness cues are completely messed up (hormones!).  Have you ever found yourself double-fisting chocolate chips until the bag was empty, saying to yourself when you got to the bottom, what just happened?!  Or…maybe that’s just me.

Not all calories are created equal; it’s about quality over quantity.  “Whole foods” like broccoli contain vastly more nutrition than a bagel.  The bagel is going to signal fat storage while the broccoli is going to energize and protect the body from disease.  Research repeatedly shows that when people eat high quality food, they have balanced hormones, their weight is much easier to manage, and they actually burn more fat than their imbalanced counterparts.  How do we know if we are eating high quality foods?

This is my litmus test for high quality foods:  if it comes in a box/bag/can, reconsider your choice.  The ingredient list should be extremely short; if you don’t recognize something on the list, your body won’t either.  That’s where hormone imbalances come from.  Our bodies were not created to digest and manage overly processed “frankenfoods”—which is what we call food-like products that are created in a lab and end up on store shelves.  A lot of manufactured low-calorie and “healthy” products fall into this frankenfood category, so don’t be fooled by clever marketing.  We need to strive to eat foods in their most natural state.

Non-starchy Vegetables are at the top of the list of high quality foods.  Organic is more expensive, but preferred because chemicals and pesticides (otherwise found in non-organic options) disrupt our hormones.  I completely understand the cost struggle; one option is to purchase only the highest risk produce that you eat the most often.  Here is a website (imbed https://www.ewg.org/foodnews/summary.php) with the highest pesticide-containing fruits and vegetables, if you feel you must pick and choose.  Research shows that we need at least 7 servings of vegetables a day (and closer to 10 is ideal), in order to get the maximum health benefits.  This is why veggies should be a part of every meal, preferably 2-3 options per meal.  I know that is an overwhelming number for most people.  I used to detest vegetables and now I eat 8-10 cups/day by practicing a “veggie-centered mindset.”  If I can do it, you can too!   For tips on incorporating more veggies into your diet, click here.  Strive for “eating the rainbow”… the deeper the colors, the better they are for you.  Raw is great, but some people (myself included) can’t eat every serving that way.  Eating more veggies is more important than whether or not they are raw vs. cooked.  Also, due to their amazing health benefits, make sure you are consuming deep greens every day (romaine, spinach, kale, broccoli).

Lean protein is essential for muscle repair and stoking our metabolic furnace.  We want to stay away from higher fat animal proteins because pesticides, added hormones, and other chemicals from the animals’ diets accumulate in their fat.  That is why larger, fattier fish have higher levels of mercury.  Organic, wild caught, grass fed, and free range is better, though not perfect.  If you are a vegetarian, make sure you are eating high quality plant-based protein.  Recommended quantities vary and this topic isn’t without controversy.  I prefer an individualized approach to diet because everyone’s needs are different.  Many experts believe that we need 30-55 g of protein per meal (100-200 g per day), depending on our size and activity level.  A large chicken breast contains approximately 40 g of protein, 3 large eggs contain about 18g.  Intense exercisers need more protein than less active individuals.  You can always tweak that amount as you learn to listen to your body’s energy cues (which gets much easier when you are eating whole foods).

Fruits can have 10-20 times the amount of sugar as vegetables, so it is important to incorporate low fructose fruits such as berries and citrus.  I love fruits, so in full disclosure, I am challenged to keep all of my fruits low sugar.  We only need 1-3 servings per day.  If you aren’t a big fruit eater, no problem.  Just make sure that you are eating more vegetables instead.

Healthy fats are best when consumed in their whole food form:  nuts, ground flaxseed, chia seeds, other seeds, avocados, coconut (unsweetened), cacao, eggs, and seafood.  Keep in mind that oils are processed, but the best choices are coconut and olive, which can be used for cooking.  Make sure you are getting at least a serving of healthy fat per meal, with a serving ranging from 2T for nut butters and 3T for nuts.  One-third of a medium avocado is one serving, while seeds are about ¼ tsp.  Many experts recommend 3-6 servings of healthy fats per day.

What about “other” carbs?  You may have noticed that starchy carbs are missing.  Keep in mind that vegetables are also carbohydrates and are much higher in nutrition than starches.  Breads and all of their counterparts (pasta, cereal, “whole grain” stuff, etc.) are highly processed, except for breads made from sprouted grain, such as Ezekiel.  Applying what we know, these carbs wreak havoc on our hormones.  However, there are a few “other carbs” that I can recommend:  sweet potatoes, wild rice, brown rice, quinoa, other ancient grains (amaranth, buckwheat, kamut, spelt, millet), steel cut oats, and beans/legumes.  One serving is ½ cup, two servings per day.

I know that was a lot of information!  If you’ve made it this far, thanks for hanging in there.  While nutrition takes precedence in balancing our hormones and healing our bodies, exercise is still important.  I prefer to view exercise as an effective tool to help us age slower, rather than to be used as a consequence or punishment for eating poorly.  You can’t exercise your way out of a bad diet.  Over-exercising isn’t good for our hormones either.  However, if we are eating a high quality diet, we will have the energy and desire to move our bodies.  Then we can work on the important aspects of fitness that help us slow aging (and have more fun in life):  endurance, strength, flexibility, and balance.  An excellent fitness plan addresses all 4 of these components.

A few final thoughts:  some of you might be overwhelmed with the number of changes you need to make.  Take it slow.  I suggest getting started by doing an inventory of what you are eating, making note of what is processed.  Then, work to switch out those foods for whole foods.  For tips on increasing vegetable intake, click here.  Practice a “loving yourself to health” mentality.  You are worth it.  We only get one body this side of heaven and by taking care of it, we are able to live out our purpose on this earth.

Disclaimer:  There are other things that contribute to hormone disruption and weight gain, such as food allergies, environmental toxins, and inefficient detoxification.  However, these topics were beyond the scope of this post.

Tips for Increasing Your Veggie Intake

While there are veggie lovers out there, I have to say that I have met far more people who are not fans of these amazing plants.  I used to be one of them.  I really didn’t eat vegetables, unless we were at someone’s house who prepared them for a meal.  I would put a few token pieces on my plate to be polite.  I only prepared them on my own if it was a holiday…or if I literally had nothing else in my kitchen.  When eating a salad, it had to be smothered in dressing to help me choke it down.  Oh, and we can’t forget the croutons and bacon bits!

Today is a different story.  I love vegetables and I commit to eating large quantities of them every single day.  As a trainer, the number one question that I am asked is how to learn to love vegetables and incorporate them into the daily diet.  Here are a few tips:

First, changing your palate (your preferred tastes) takes time, but not nearly as long as you might think.  The taste buds in our mouths have a 2-week lifespan and regenerate every 10-14 days.  This is good news!  We can remove the things that are not as good for us (sugar) and will find that after 2 weeks, we won’t have the same degree of preference for it as we had before.  On the flipside, we can keep adding in new foods (vegetables) and eventually develop a preference for their taste.

Second, it helps to understand exactly what vegetables can do for our bodies.  It is equally beneficial to learn what sugar and processed foods do to the body.  Notice that I said that vegetables do for, yet processed foods and sugar do to the body.  This is an important distinction.  What do vegetables do for us?  They provide many vital nutrients that help with all of the processes that occur within the body.  Without these nutrients, the body cannot run as efficiently.  Vegetables also prevent heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and protect against some cancers.  Green leafy vegetables, such as kale, balances hormones by clearing excess estrogen from our bodies.  Additionally, greens aid the liver in its crucial job of removing toxins from the body.  The build-up of toxins can cause weight gain, hormone imbalances, and disease, so we want to support our livers!

Third, be intentional about adding vegetables into your day.  Experts agree that, in order to get the maximum health benefit from vegetables, people need to have at least 7 servings per day.  Plan your meals one to two weeks ahead of time on a printable calendar or device.  This will allow you to shop for everything you need, including vegetables.  When planning your meals, list vegetables FIRST before your protein, fats, and healthy carb.  This will give you a “veggie-centered mindset” that puts vegetables in the forefront, rather than the typical afterthought that they have become.  You’ll have them in stock because you’ve made your list and done your shopping.

If you currently do not eat vegetables, start intentionally adding them into your day, one cup at a time.  For breakfast, chop up spinach or peppers/onions and cook it with eggs.  You can’t go wrong with salads and soups, or even hiding veggies in a healthy smoothie or protein shake.  Blending greens like kale or spinach into a smoothie with half of a frozen banana and some berries will cover up the “green” taste.

Healthy eating is an evolution and doesn’t happen overnight.  It requires intentional persistence, as it takes time to retrain your palate.  Just because you tried something and didn’t like it doesn’t mean that you will never like it (I used to say that about Brussel’s sprouts).  Maybe it needs to be prepared differently or seasoned in a new way.  Challenge yourself to try new vegetables and recipes several times a month; you never know when you will find something that you like.  Don’t give up; if I can do it, you can too!

Move More, Eat Less for Weight Loss? Not so fast!!

dsc08472You have probably heard that if you want to lose weight, you simply need to move more and eat less.  What if I told you that this concept is outdated and potentially dangerous?

While recovering from an eating disorder, I felt like I had lost the owner’s manual to my body.  I was determined to understand what had happened to me, scrutinizing all that I was taught as a personal trainer.  I suspected that many of the mainstream ideas about health & fitness actually contributed to my downfall.

In my exhaustive search for the truth about how our bodies work and what we can do to support our health, I confirmed my suspicions.  The widely taught principal of moving more and eating less (calories in/calories out) is a completely false notion when it comes to healthy weight loss.  Eating less than what our bodies need, while increasing energy demands, can have a detrimental effect on our metabolism.

You might be thinking, I’ve lost weight by exercising more and eating less in the past, so that has to work… right?  In the short term, it might work.  We can do almost anything for a limited time and get temporary results.  But in my opinion, most people have one chance in their lifetime to lose weight in this way.  ONE CHANCE…after that, Mother Nature is going to put up a fight.  Maintaining this weight loss will require drastic, unsustainable measures, and the weight will come back on with a vengeance.  Any future attempts at weight loss will be more difficult, since the metabolism becomes slower every single time we practice the “move more, eat less” strategy.

When we restrict calories, the body perceives a threat and works hard to compensate.  This occurs through complex interactions between our brain and hormones.  If energy coming in is low, then the body makes sure that it expends less energy.  This metabolism slowdown happens by:  reducing the number of calories needed for the body’s daily processes, adjusting hunger and fullness cues, and breaking down muscle while storing fat.  This can still happen when exercise is a part of the equation; I witnessed it first-hand.  Have you ever noticed that you are literally working your rear-end off (in terms of exercise and diet), but not really losing your rear-end like you’d hoped?  In reality, the body might be packing on fat while losing muscle!

One of my favorite studies that illustrates the effects of restricting calories is one conducted at Columbia University Medical Center.  People weighing around 335 pounds were put on a starvation diet of about 1400 calories/day, and their weight dropped to approximately 220 pounds.  Researchers then compared the energy needs for this 220-pound group with the needs of a group that had NOT restricted calories and weighed 138 pounds.  They found that the individuals who weighed 220 pounds required significantly fewer calories than the 138-pound, non-starved group.  These individuals needed 1480 fewer calories per day than the group that weighed 82 pounds less than them!  How is this possible?  Generally, the more a person weighs, the more energy (calories) their body requires on a daily basis.  However, this study demonstrates that the metabolism can be radically altered, practically injured, by restrictive dieting.  (See the full Columbia study here: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6694559)

Numerous studies support this finding, yet the mainstream health and fitness industry continues to recommend moving more and eating less for weight loss.

Beyond the results of eating less, what about exercising more?  Exercise obviously has numerous benefits for the body.  But when examining its effectiveness for weight loss, the research is surprising.  Today, our population is intentionally exercising more than ever, yet obesity rates are at their highest.  What gives?

First, increasing exercise naturally causes an increase in appetite.  If you run 3 miles, you might burn 300 calories.  (This number varies based on individual metabolic rates.)  Many people then consume more replacement calories than they burned off while exercising, due to increased energy demands on the body.  But what if you are extra careful about your food intake, even cutting calories?  Based on what we know about the body’s response to eating less, your metabolism will slow down and you won’t burn as many calories while exercising.  Eating less makes exercise less efficient.

Second, exercising more doesn’t automatically increase weight loss.  In a study from the Pennington Biomedical Research Center, three groups of women exercised various durations (72, 136, or 194 minutes) for 6 months.  The results were not what you might expect.  Women who exercised 72 and 136 minutes lost 1.4 and 2.1 pounds, respectively.  But the women who exercised 194 minutes only lost 1.5 pounds.  The research concluded that these lengthy exercise sessions created stress, which caused the body to compensate, and resulted in less weight loss.  (See the full PBRC study here:  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19223984)

At this point, you might feel discouraged, but hang on—there is a way!  Weight loss is all about the hormones:  if you do something to throw them out of whack, you won’t lose weight; if you balance your hormones, weight loss becomes much easier.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this topic next week, where I’ll explain how to lose weight (and keep it off) in a healthy way!

Inspiring Your Kids to Eat Healthy

As a mom, I have control over most of the food that enters our home –at least until my sons get jobs and driver’s licenses.  It’s hard enough to teach ourselves to eat healthy, but inspiring our families to adopt our habits can seem like an impossible task.

The obvious choice is to start when your children are young, so that healthy food is a part of their daily experience.  That’s wonderful, but what about those of us who entered the healthy eating game later in life?  Is it too late?  Or, what about parents who have picky eaters?  This is a real struggle with my own family.  I’m always trying to reign in the sugar maniacs while cajoling the picky eaters.  Over the years I have found a few things to be helpful:

 

dsc07107It takes time, but be persistent.  Chances are you didn’t arrive at a healthy lifestyle overnight, so be patient with your family.  Continue to set an example –educate yourself on the “what and why” of healthy eating.  Children are curious; they’ll ask questions about what you are eating.  It helps to tell them why your food choice is healthy, and to offer them a taste.  They may pass, but remember that we are rarely stagnate in anything; we can go forward or backward.  Your children’s tastes and preferences will change, and we as parents can choose to gradually nudge them in the right direction.  In our house, it is a challenge to get our kids to eat vegetables.  If this sounds familiar, I suggest starting with one meal a day, putting a few vegetables on their plates.  Eventually you can get away with offering it for snacks and other meals.  If they don’t like something, try serving it seasoned or prepared in a different way the next time.

Keep an on-going dialogue about the importance of quality nutrition and what sugar, for example, does to the body.  Since nutrition is one passion of mine, I talk about it often.  But you don’t have to be an expert to educate your children about healthy choices.  Children need lots of repetitions in order to master a concept, so expect to sound like a broken record.  Eventually it does sink in!  Recently I was in a store with my youngest son (age 6); he pointed out a box of Pop Tarts and loudly declared, “This is fake food, people!”  While I was slightly embarrassed, I was proud to see that he was retaining what I was teaching him.  If you have an intellectual and/or slightly older kiddo, consider watching some documentaries about nutrition.  We watched That Sugar Film with my 11-year old son and it was very compelling.  (Two great ones for adults are:  Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead and Hungry for Change).

Identify the most challenging meals/foods and gradually switch out the favorite unhealthy foods…and explain why you are making the switch.  For example, instead of potato chips, buy a mandolin slicer and slice your own potatoes and bake in the oven.  For us, the challenging meal is snacks, so I set out a bowl of fruit, apples, bananas, cuties, pears, and let the kids know that something from this bowl is the first stop when wanting a snack.   Other great snack options are homemade granola bars and trail mix, mozzarella cheese sticks, hormone and nitrate free deli meat, air-popped popcorn, and Greek yogurt with berries or granola.

Tap into each child’s personality. This is probably the most effective tool in a parent’s arsenal for any behavior change.  By focusing on what motivates your child, you can channel their personality in order to positively influence them.  One of my boys sees everything in black and white (he has autism); I can give him a choice between two healthy foods and he will choose one because that is what he was asked to do.  I need to approach my second son intellectually (he’s a thinker):  “This is excellent for your immune system, and I know how much you don’t like to get sick.”  With my third, spitfire-of-a-son (Lord have mercy!), we have to make it all about competition and/or reverse psychology, “Whatever you do, don’t eat all of your salad like your brother just did.”  And he’ll immediately fill his face with salad…every time, without fail!

If it isn’t in your house, it can’t be eaten.  Sometimes I’ve had to take a firm stance on not buying any packaged or favorite unhealthy foods.  The kids freak out a bit, but they eventually get used to having only real food to choose from.  Confession: I use this trick on myself as well.

Ok, Better, and Best.  This is a great concept for teaching kids about the progression of healthy choices.  For example, an “ok” choice might be cereal that is low sugar or a packaged granola bar (not a lot of nutrients there), while a “better” choice would be a homemade, whole food granola bar, and a “best” choice would be a real piece of fruit.  In our house, we try to make the better and best choices more frequently than the “ok” choices.  But hey, we aren’t perfect!

Relax. There are no “Healthiest Kids on Earth” awards being given out anytime soon.  Yes, their health is very important, but it isn’t worth fighting over every morsel of food that goes into their mouths.  It’s ok to allow the occasional indulgence.  It’s ok to be honest about our own struggles with craving unhealthy foods versus knowing that they aren’t good for us.  This helps kids to interpret their own cravings with a healthier frame of reference instead of thinking that they are “bad” or “wrong” for wanting certain foods.  We can’t be perfect, but we can be better.

Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.”  Spiritually and nutritionally, this concept applies.

Please share your tips below!  I’d love to hear what works for your family!

Cholesterol and Fat: What’s the Truth?

Have you been confused lately about what you should be eating in order to keep your cholesterol in a healthy range?  Is there the “right” food plan out there?  High fat diet?  Low fat diet?  Paleo?  Vegetarian?  There is so much conflicting information out there and it can be difficult to separate fact from fiction.  A few doctors and researchers are working hard to bring the latest facts and findings to the general public.

Dr. Mark Hyman, M.D., is one of these professionals and has written extensively about heart disease and diabetes.  He is one of my go-to authorities on these topics.  His article “Is Coconut Oil bad for your Cholesterol?” clears up some confusion on the issue of dietary fat and cholesterol.  I will give you the highlights in layman’s terms, but here is the article link if you would like to read it for yourself:  http://drhyman.com/blog/2016/04/06/is-coconut-oil-bad-for-your-cholesterol/.

There is a certain “profile” that puts you at higher risk for heart disease.  Small LDL (“bad” cholesterol) particle size, along with high triglycerides and the presence of systemic inflammation (measured as CRP, or c-reactive protein) is considered to be the most at-risk profile according to Dr. Hyman.  It is important to understand, too, that systemic inflammation is at the root of all disease, so we want a low CRP number.  Small LDL particles can cause clogs as they imbed themselves in small spaces, which can eventually lead to heart disease.  This is something that can be tested, but it is not a standard test.  You have to request it and you should check to make sure your insurance will cover it.

Coconut oil contains medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), and has numerous health benefits.  These fats are utilized very efficiently by the body for energy; they boost metabolism, burn fat, balance hormones, control the appetite, and improve the lipid profile.  In terms of the lipid profile (the point of this article), coconut oil increases LDL particle size and reduces inflammation (that CRP number).  This oil increases the HDL (“good” cholesterol), which is very important for protecting the heart.  What most people don’t know is that consuming SUGAR actually decreases the HDL!  Not good!

So how can we consume coconut oil?  You can cook or bake with it, or you can melt some and drizzle it on a salad.  Some people like to add it to coffee or smoothies.  I prefer to sauté vegetables and cook my morning eggs with it.  I also pop my popcorn in it, and sometimes I’ll just eat it straight.  It is important to buy unrefined, virgin oil.  Also, it is in a solid state below approximately 74 degrees F.  Most experts agree that we need 1-3 tablespoons a day in order to receive the health benefits, but any amount will yield some benefits.

I could go on and on about the health benefits of coconut oil, but wanted to stick to the topic of cholesterol and heart disease risk.  However, I do want to mention that if you have had your gall bladder removed, coconut oil is essential.  The gall bladder’s function is to break down and utilize dietary fat.  When you no longer have this tiny organ, your body is unable to properly digest fat.  Healthy fats are extremely important and our bodies (and brains) NEED them.  Fortunately, coconut oil is easily digested, even in the absence of the gall bladder.  That is great news for so many people!

How do you incorporate coconut oil into your diet?