Tag Archives: Weight Loss

“Odd” Habits – Part 2: Detoxing

I sometimes get anxious about all of the potential things in our environment that can cause us harm.  It’s overwhelming to weigh all of the advice: don’t eat that kind of seafood unless you love mercury…sunscreen can do more harm than good…sure, that food is healthy but did you know that the container it comes in causes cancer?  Good grief!  Is there really anything I can do about all of the things I’m exposed to every day?

When I was thyroid sick, I decided to learn the ins and outs of detoxing, pun intended.  I had no clue what it was, much less whether or not I should be doing anything about it.  Here is a simple run-down of detoxing:

WHAT: Detoxification is a multi-phase process that our bodies go through automatically and continuously.  Some of the primary players in detoxing are the: skin, lungs, lymphatic system, liver, kidneys, and large intestine.  We take in all sorts of toxins from our environment; it is amazing how our bodies were designed to get rid of the bad stuff!  Unfortunately, today we are inundated with toxins, and our built-in mechanisms are overburdened. Consider that Americans of all ages are carrying over 219 toxic chemicals in their bodies, according to the CDC’s 2009 report.  Many don’t realize that they also have genetic predispositions that inhibit their body’s detoxing capabilities.

WHY: I was surprised to learn that many of my symptoms that I shrugged off as “just the way I am,” could be the result of my body’s increased toxic burden.  This burden is described as the point when the level of toxins coming into the body exceeds the body’s ability to remove them.  Toxins can cause a wide variety of symptoms: fatigue, inflammation/joint pain, bad breath/coated tongue, digestive complaints/constipation/hemorrhoids, general nausea/lack of appetite, weight gain, acne, excessive body odor/belching/gas, headaches, brain fog, hot flashes, allergic reactions, sinus problems, and infertility.  Taking steps to support detoxification can improve or eliminate these symptoms, and optimize the body’s metabolism.


Food – It might seem obvious that processed foods, food additives/preservatives, artificial sweeteners/colors, sugar, alcohol, and pesticides are toxins.  Would you believe that excessive amounts of certain foods are also toxic?  Brazil nuts, tuna, cruciferous vegetables (kale, Brussels sprouts, spinach, etc.), and certain spices (cinnamon, nutmeg).

{I personally overdosed on cruciferous vegetables several years ago.  I ate a lot of raw kale and spinach (approx. 7 cups/day) and gave myself a serious iodine deficiency, which was crippling my thyroid.  Our bodies need iodine and I was repeatedly depleting my body of it because those vegetables in raw form steal iodine!  I still eat those foods, but I cook them and balance them with other non-cruciferous vegetables. This was a valuable lesson in the realm of “more isn’t necessarily better.”}

The point is that if certain healthy, natural foods can be toxic in massive quantities, how much more-so are processed, fake foods.

Environment – heavy metals, medications, beauty and self-care products, plastics, air, water (even tap water), and cleaning products.  These toxins can disrupt hormones and cause disease, including cancer.  Good grief. Do you feel like you want to live in an organic, BPA-free-non-plastic, bubble yet?

The Body – Before you start googling alternative living arrangements, you must know that your body is also a toxin source.  Chronic stress alters the body’s metabolic processes, hormonal balance, and immune system functioning.  It can also increase inflammation and the overgrowth of bad bacteria, hampering the body’s natural detoxification processes.  This bad bacteria can produce endotoxins that accumulate in the body’s fat stores and bloodstream, making us sick.

HOW:  So what can we do?  First, detoxification in the liver (our primary detox organ) occurs in two phases, and then the toxins exit through the bladder via the kidneys, or the bowels via the bile/gallbladder.  You may have seen “cleanse” or “detox” products on the market – many of them are merely colon cleanses, and do nothing to help with the first 2 detox phases.

Before you turn to products on the market, here are some things you can do on your own:

DAILY Detoxing 

Decrease the burdens on your body: try natural personal care and cleaning products; drink the cleanest water you can; use glass instead of plastic; choose organic whole foods; eliminate processed foods, sugar, and reduce/eliminate alcohol consumption (which impacts the liver’s ability to detox).

Manage your stress effectively by building in regular activities (daily/weekly) that relax and recharge you: walking (not speed walking), restorative yoga, tai chi, meditation, quiet time, unplugging from media, naps (can I get an amen?), face to face social connections, Epsom salt baths, sauna and spa time.

Nutritionally support body’s detox mechanisms: drink plenty of water; eat plenty of vegetables –especially leafy greens (deeper color is best), beets, carrots, and celery; fruits –especially berries and granny smith apples; and use spices such as turmeric, rosemary, cayenne, cumin, and curry. Fiber and probiotics are crucial. If your liver is good at detoxing, but everything gets backed up in the colon, you’ll make matters worse.  Toxins need an effective exit strategy!


Every 6 months, especially in the spring, you can do a focused detox for 1-3 weeks:

  1. EAT more veggies (7-10 cups/day) and little or no animal protein or dairy (which increases the burden on the liver). Whole grains should be high quality: quinoa, aramanth, millet, or buckwheat. If you like protein shakes, opt for plant proteins powders (my favorite “affordable” powder is Naturade Vegan Smart). Focus on soups, salads, fruits, and healthy fats in food form (i.e., avocados, coconuts, olives, flaxseeds).
  2. DRINK tons of water, no alcohol or caffeine. Herbal teas (especially milk thistle and dandelion root teas). Some experts say green tea is ok, even though it does contain caffeine. I know, coffee lovers, this one kills me too.  It’s just a week or two, right?
  3. ADD fermented foods – cultured vegetables, kombucha (GT’s Organic multi-green flavor has a double benefit due to green ingredients and probiotics), and apple cider vinegar in water. Here is a drink that I make every day. I must give credit to Dr. Axe for the main recipe, and I’ve tweaked it a bit:
  • 12-16 ounces of hot or cold water
  • 1 T – Apple Cider Vinegar
  • 1 T – lemon juice or one drop of lemon or grapefruit oil
  • 1 tsp – wild raw honey
  • 1/8 tsp each: cinnamon, turmeric, and ginger
  • Pinch of cayenne pepper
  1. REDUCE stress – deliberately address your stress daily during your detox week(s) using tips from the list in the previous section.
  2. SWEAT, but don’t overdo the exercise – this isn’t the time to engage in intense exercise, but sweating is an excellent natural detoxifier. Spend some time outside in the warmer months, walk, do yoga, go kayaking, go to a sauna. If you are an avid exerciser, this is a great time to do a recovery week or two.
  3. THINK progress, not perfection. These brief detox periods can be a great way to gradually integrate healthy eating habits into your lifestyle. You may not hit all 5 of the strategies at first and that’s ok!  Strive for improvement each time you do it.  As a special note to women, it’s best not to attempt a detox week during the time of the month when you are ravenous and could eat anything not nailed down.  Believe me, it sets you up for failure!

There are more advanced steps that one can take to support the detox process (i.e., genetic testing for mutations that predispose one to impaired detoxification, supplementation, etc.)  Since I am not a doctor, it is beyond my scope to discuss these things.  I have tackled these issues in my own life with the guidance of an integrative/functional medicine doctor, and highly recommend this avenue for those who have tried all of the above and are still struggling.

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.

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!

Put the Scale in its Place!

dsc08399The only time I have a good relationship with the scale is when I don’t get on it…or when it’s broken…or “lost.”  (I’ve gone so far as to have my husband hide it from me.)  Inevitably, I find that stupid scale again and the dance begins, especially when I know that I’ll be going to the doctor in the near future.  Why can’t doctor’s offices measure us another way, perhaps assessing our desire instead?

The assessment could go something like this.  You say:  I really want to have a certain number on the scale.

The scale readout says:  That’s the correct answer.  It’s yours!  You are now the proud owner of ‘X’ pounds!

I digress a bit.  Seriously, how do we deal with this?  We can’t stop going to the doctor.

I suppose we could choose not to look at the number on the scale.  I found myself in an Urgent Care Clinic on my 40th birthday and I told the nurse, “Hey, it’s my 40th birthday, so I really don’t want to know what the number is.  I’m not about to let it ruin my Fabulous-at-40-Vibe.”  While that tactic was just fine in the moment, making a regular habit of not looking at the number still gave the scale some degree of power over me.

It’s time to put the scale in its place, which requires a deliberate mental shift.

Here’s the thing:  the number on the scale is merely a data point, amidst many other data points that comprise a picture of our health.  We tend to put way too much emphasis on this ONE point, and we lose sight of the bigger picture, sometimes at the expense of other more important numbers.  Other data that make up our health pictures include:  waist circumference, body composition, LDL cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, triglycerides, blood sugar A1C, inflammatory markers, strength, endurance, flexibility, balance, and just plain HOW WE FEEL.  Truly, these data points give us far more information than the number on a scale.  In my own life, there have been times when I was “overweight” or at my “ideal weight” and was quite unhealthy in both scenarios.  Obsessing about a number is flat-out dangerous.

The National Weight Control Registry (NWCR) studies people who have lost 30+ pounds and have kept it off for more than a year.  They have found that participants who weigh themselves daily are the most successful at keeping the weight off.  I’ve been a participant in NWCR’s database for many years; I lost 55 pounds more than a decade ago.  Did weighing daily help me keep the weight off?  Sure.  But it came with a hefty price:  a very unhealthy relationship with the scale, food, and exercise.  Very unhealthy.  Yes I weighed every day, not at the suggestion of NWCR (they make no recommendations to their participants), but due to my own desperate need for control and an obsession to reach some arbitrary “ideal” weight.  That number on the scale dictated my mood for the day, my sense of security and control, and my self-worth.  It even affected my personal relationships, AND my health took a nose dive.  That is a stiff price to pay just to be a certain weight or size!  I came out of the experience just plain angry that a small piece of equipment had such power over me.

Let me illustrate something that I hope will forever change your relationship with the scale.  Below are two pictures of me at different times in my life, but the number on the scale was nearly the same.  In the first one, I’m holding one of my nephews who is now 17 years old.  I weighed 145 pounds and was a size 12.  The second picture is me today, at 142 pounds, and a size 4-6.


This difference is explained by body composition.  Muscle weighs more than fat, but takes up less space.  (I’m a big fan of lifting heavy things, but I’ll save that for another post.)  Muscle mass also makes the traditional BMI (Body Mass Index) irrelevant, because BMI does not account for lean mass.  It only accounts for total weight.  Therefore, I can’t put much stock in the recommended weight range for my height.  The number on the scale tells us very little about what’s going on in our bodies!

So, the next time you step on that blasted scale (because let’s face it, you probably still will, but hopefully with a deliberate mental shift), remember this:  it’s just a number that tells you almost nothing, one tiny piece among many bigger pieces of the puzzle.  At the end of your life, there is no medal for achieving or maintaining a certain weight.  Consider spending more time and effort on the other data points mentioned earlier.  You will be in a much healthier place, and able to live life to its fullest.

Why should such an insignificant number have so much power over us?

Let’s put the scale where it belongs.