506, 2017

Why Willpower is NOT enough for weight loss (and what DOES work)

By |June 5th, 2017|Uncategorized|0 Comments

You decide to lose weight. You need to get ready for a vacation, reunion, or you just want to fit into that pair of pants that seemed to get smaller overnight. You vow that this time the diet is going to work! You’re going to eat what you’re supposed to – follow the diet and go to the gym.

But here’s the problem. If you’re relying on willpower alone to meet your goals, you’re probably going to fail.

Why doesn’t willpower work? Are we weak? Do we not have enough willpower? Some studies have shown that willpower is a limited resource [1, 2] and can be depleted through the use of mental energy and stress.  Using willpower can even deplete glucose, the sugar our brain runs on, and there are more self-control “failures” when glucose levels are low [3]; still other studies argue against the “limited resource” theory of will power and say we have unlimited amounts [4]. Yet other studies said that if someone believes in unlimited willpower, they actually do better in self control tests than someone who believes willpower is a limited resource [5, 6].  So, if believe you have more willpower, you do!  It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy, apparently.

The truth is, it’s hard to eat well in our society. We live in an “obesogenic environment” which is just another way of saying that we have access to cheap, tasty, high-calorie food everywhere, and lots of conveniences to keep us from moving around too much. If you wanted to make someone gain weight, our environment is the perfect place to make that happen. So, if you want to eat healthfully, you are swimming upstream in our environment, and willpower is unlikely to be enough to keep you on the right track.

There are many things that get in the way of willpower, like:

  • Food is EVERYWHERE
  • Emotional eating
  • Stress
  • Food cravings
  • Lack of time to prepare food
  • Convenience
  • Distracted and mindless eating
  • Physical hunger
  • TV commercials, billboards, social media as constant cues to eat
  • Highly palatable foods that hijack our brain’s reward system
  • Food addiction
  • Temptations
  • People pushing us to have food
  • Habits

What DOES work:

Have balanced, healthy meals that fill you up.  Incorporate some protein, fiber, or healthy fat at each meal to be most filling.  The best source of fiber is non-starchy vegetables, which helps you feel full and provide valuable vitamins and minerals that will keep you feeling energetic. Include multiple colors of vegetables and fruit every day to provide the best balance of nutrients.  The best source of healthy fat is plant-based whole food sources like avocado, nuts, and olives.  Reduce or eliminate refined flours and sugars, because they are empty calories and will have the opposite effect of making you feel full.  They will spike blood sugar and leave you feeling hungry for more refined carbohydrates, and they lack key nutrients.  Also, drink plenty of water.  Dehydration can sometimes be confused for hunger as well as cause a sluggish metabolism.

Get beyond “diets” and be kind to yourself. Just because you eat unhealthfully for a meal (or a day!), doesn’t mean you’re a bad person. Forgive yourself, and move on. Better yet, don’t set stringent rules to begin with. I’m a firm believer that diets do not work, and I wrote about it here: http://freshapproachnutrition.com/why-diets-are-doomed-to-fail-and-what-to-do-about-it/ and along that same line, remember that hunger is a physical need, and fighting our physical need to take in food is like trying to hold your breath – eventually you’ll have to take a breath!

Always have a (general) plan for what to eat. You don’t have to plan out your meals exactly. But if you have a pack of nuts, piece of fruit, or a protein bar in your bag, you will not be as tempted to stop for fast food while you’re out running errands. Pack lunch for work, or have an “emergency meal” like a frozen dinner or container of soup at your workplace so you always have options that don’t involve going to the drive-thru. Another strategy is to make grocery lists and plan some basic ideas for meals in advance. Bonus: this can relieve dinner-time stress.

Create healthy habits that fit into your lifestyle. Try replacing bad habits with good ones. It’s much easier to replace bad habits rather than extinguish them. Examples would be that instead of hitting the vending machine or coffee shop for a caffeine or sugar fix in the afternoon, take a 10 minute walk. It’s more refreshing and will make you more alert. Bonus: you’ll sleep better without the caffeine, and sleep is crucial to weight loss and overall health. Make healthy choices the easy choice by placing fresh fruit in a bowl on the counter, and cut-up vegetables and hummus or other healthy snack options in your refrigerator at eye level where you can see them.

Set small goals and subgoals.  You can’t overhaul your entire lifestyle in one step.  Our brain is comfortable with familiarity and resists huge changes because it seems threatening. A more effective strategy is to set smaller goals and related subgoals. For example, to stop drinking soda could be a goal, and a subgoal could be to buy unsweetened sparkling water or some stevia-sweetened water enhancer that you can try to see if you like it.  Make a plan to order water or seltzer water with lemon or lime or unsweetened tea when you go out to eat.  Once you have made the switch and feel that it is a habit, you can move on to another goal.

Prepare plans for moments of weakness. You know they’re going to happen. Why not be prepared? Examples: If you’re going out to eat at a restaurant, then plan in advance what to eat. Look online for the menu and make a decision while you’re not overly hungry, and order first so you don’t end up changing your mind. Practice saying “no” to food pushers. Take a different route that doesn’t take you right by your favorite ice cream shop after work, if that’s a weakness. Don’t grocery shop while hungry or after a stressful day. What are your areas of weakness? How can you plan to conquer them?

Monitor your thinking for negative or self-defeating thoughts. If you find yourself thinking “this is too hard,” or “I’m never going to reach my goal,” replace those thoughts with more positive thoughts like “I can get to my goal one small step at a time,” or “developing new skills takes time.” These thoughts are realistic but positive enough to keep you going.

Learn strategies to deal with temptation.  Avoid tempting situations in the first place by making a public commitment to change, and ask friends and family not to tempt you.  When you are tempted, distract yourself with a walk, or have a cup of herbal tea or flavored water. You could even distract yourself by brushing your teeth. The minty flavor it leaves in your mouth might be enough to keep you from desiring the food you were craving. Another strategy is to remind yourself of your goal. You might write some self-reminders that you can look at when tempted, like “I’m going to feel so great when I lose the extra few pounds,” or “I will have so much energy if I get 30 minutes of physical activity today” or whatever inspires you.  You can put them on your phone to look at and set reminders several times throughout the day.  There are even apps that help you do this.  One such app is MyDietCoach and I’m sure there are others if you do a search.

Bottom line, don’t rely on just willpower and you will have a MUCH easier time with staying healthy!

2904, 2017

Can Diet and Exercise Improve Mental Health?

By |April 29th, 2017|Uncategorized|0 Comments

Today’s blog post is from Paige Johnson, Personal Trainer at Learnfit.org

Photo by: Pixabay

When you think of dieting and exercising, the first thing that pops into your mind is likely weight loss and an improved figure. However, mental health can be improved as well, and there are fun and creative ways to start the process.

Take a Look at Your Diet

As you are looking for ways to improve your mental health, take a look at your diet to find items that could be bringing you down and replace them with mind and body boosting nutrients. According to research, increasing your intake of folate, which is found in leafy greens, is associated with a lower risk of depression and boosts the health of your hair, skin, nails, eyes, and liver. Rates of depression are also higher in people with a Vitamin D deficiency, and a lack of this important vitamin is thought to play a significant part in Seasonal Affective Disorder, which is depression that occurs in the fall and winter months. Other health benefits of Vitamin D include strong teeth and bones, healthy muscles, and a stronger immune system.

Most foods don’t naturally contain Vitamin D, and are instead Vitamin D fortified such as milk and orange juice. However, your body produces Vitamin D as a result of being out in the sun, so get out in the fresh air for at least 5 to 30 minutes twice a week. Get creative with your sun time and find fun activities such as walking your dog, hiking unknown areas near your home, or learning yoga. Involve the family and go on a scavenger hunt, play a game of tag, or pack a picnic lunch and hike to a scenic spot. Keep in mind that while sun exposure is beneficial, any exposure over 30 minutes requires sunscreen to prevent sun damage.

Exercise Has Mental Benefits

Exercise is a great way to keep your body in shape, but it can keep your brain healthy too. According to several studies, it was determined that elderly adults who exercised regularly had fewer “senior moments” as well as improved memory and cognitive function. Researchers aren’t sure how physical activity protects the brain, but they speculate that physical activity promotes heart health, which in turn creates a steady flow of nutrient-rich blood going to the brain to nourish neurons.

The symptoms of anxiety and depression can also be reduced with regular exercise. When you exercise, your brain releases feel-good brain chemicals that may ease depression such as neurotransmitters and endorphins, while simultaneously reducing immune system chemicals that can worsen depression. Exercise doesn’t just affect brain chemicals, but touts psychological and emotional benefits too. Regular exercise can serve as a distraction from the negative thoughts that feed anxiety and depression, allowing you to take your mind off your worries and focus your mind elsewhere. Physical activity also helps you to cope with your anxiety or depression in a healthy way by implementing a positive coping strategy rather than a negative one such as eating junk food or sitting in front of the television.

When you think of ways to incorporate more exercise into your daily life, you may be quick to think of common exercises such as running on the treadmill at the gym, but exercise includes anything that gets you moving and your heart pumping. Get active by washing your car, gardening, or walking laps around your house. Turn mundane chores into a fun activity by divvying up the work and having a race to see who can finish their assigned task first. Find activities that you like and incorporate them into your weekly routine such as sports, dance, or other hobbies.

Diet and exercise can not only improve your mental health, but help you find fun, and creative new ways to get active to improve your mind and body. Tap into your interests, and turn it into a health-boosting activity

About the author: Paige Johnson considers herself to be a fitness nerd. She has a great love for strength training. In addition to weight-lifting, she is a yoga enthusiast and avid cyclist.

Photo credit: Pixabay

2504, 2017

What to Eat if You Have High Blood Pressure

By |April 25th, 2017|Uncategorized|0 Comments

If you’ve been told you have high blood pressure (also called “hypertension”) lifestyle changes can help to lower your blood pressure. An eating plan called the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet is a dietary pattern that can improve your blood pressure. Since it’s an overall well-balanced, healthful diet, the DASH diet has been named the #1 best diet overall by US News.

Here are the basics of the DASH diet.

Reduce sodium intake:

This is the most commonly known part of eating to help your blood pressure. But it’s really only part of the picture – more on that in a minute. The effect of sodium on blood pressure varies, but in general, if you have high blood pressure, are over age 50, or have diabetes or kidney disease, you would likely benefit from lower sodium. If you think that because you don’t use a salt shaker on your food you can skip this section, you need to know that 97% of the salt in our diet is what is already found in food! Especially foods you eat that are in a box, can, package, or from a restaurant. If you have high blood pressure, you need to keep your sodium intake to less than 2000 mg per day or less. Just to give you an idea of what that looks like, there are 2400 mg of sodium in a teaspoon of salt. But since most of your intake comes from packaged food, it is crucial that you read labels of those foods when you choose to eat them, but it’s important that a majority of the food you eat is food without labels (produce in particular!). In case you think this is a life sentence to bland foods, please know that there are a lot of ways to flavor foods that don’t include salt!

Practical tips to reduce sodium in foods:

  • In general, make gradual changes and know that as you adjust salt intake, your taste buds will adjust and you will learn to enjoy foods with less salt.
  • Use herbs, spices, and salt free blends like Mrs. Dash or other flavored blends.
  • Also remember that acidic foods, like vinegar or lemon/lime juice can add flavor without added sodium.
  • Don’t forget to add some heat! Spices like cayenne pepper powder or fresh peppers added to foods can add a lot of flavor, and might even add a small boost to your metabolism.
  • Also think about sautéing onion or garlic (or both!) as a base for foods to add flavor and nutrients.
  • Rinse canned foods to lower the sodium.
  • Buy low- or reduced sodium versions of foods.
  • Remember that even foods that are not “salty” like breakfast cereals and bread can have sodium, so check all labels!

Increase fruits and vegetables
Vegetables and fruits add a lot of vitamins, minerals and fiber to your diet. Added potassium and magnesium can be especially beneficial for blood pressure, and some studies show that these minerals may be just as important as reducing sodium. Be sure to get a variety of colors of vegetables, including leafy green vegetables like spinach, as well as cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower, and yellow and orange vegetables like sweet potatoes, yellow squash and carrots. Consider replacing a meal with a green smoothie to your day to increase your intake of veggies and fruits.

Increase calcium in your diet
Low or non-fat dairy or dairy substitutes like fortified almond, soy or rice milk can help lower blood pressure because of the high calcium. Don’t forget that calcium is also found in the plant world, including in chia seeds (300 mg in 2 tablespoons, the same amount in 1 cup of milk or fortified milk substitute), bok choy, a delicious green leafy vegetable commonly used in Asian cooking, which has 150 mg in 1 cup, as well as tofu, if prepared in calcium (258 mg per 1/2 cup) and figs, which has 150 mg in 1/2 cup of dried figs.

Go easy on the alcohol  
Excessive alcohol can increase your blood pressure. So keep your drinking to a moderate level which is up to 1 drink a day for women, or up to 2 drinks a day for men. A drink is:

  • 12 ounces of beer
  • 5 ounces of wine
  • 1  1/2 ounces of 80-proof whiskey

Physical activity
Aim for 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week, or 2 1/2 hours of moderate activity per week. You also need to add weight training/resistance exercise to maintain muscle mass, which can increase your metabolism and help with weight loss.

Weight loss
The DASH diet will likely help you lose weight, because it is lower in calories. One study showed participants lost an average of 19 pounds on the DASH Diet. Weight loss helps with blood pressure. It also helps reduce sleep apnea, which is important, because sleep apnea can worsen high blood pressure.

If you want to read all the details from the National Institute of Health, there is a 20 page PDF about the high blood pressure here.

903, 2017

Getting Back on Track With Your New Year’s Health and Fitness Resolutions

By |March 9th, 2017|Uncategorized|0 Comments

Today’s blog post is from Paige Johnson, Personal Trainer at Learnfit.org

2017 is well underway — and although many of us began the year with the best of intentions, we may have already all but abandoned our New Year’s Resolutions.

New Year’s Resolutions are fun to make but are not always easy to keep. It’s no wonder that only about 8 percent of people who make resolutions actually find success with them. The new year arrives and we start thinking about how this could be the year we focus on fitness. Before you know it resolutions are made and we hope we can make it happen, even though we failed to follow through in the past.

It is possible to achieve your health and fitness goals and stay on track for good. You might have to change your perspective and priorities first. Most people focus on losing weight or looking a certain way. Superficial goals will not keep you going long term. You have to be determined to get healthier and fit because it is good for your body and mind. Weight loss and muscle tone will naturally come if you continue to seek a healthier body and lifestyle.

And if you’ve already thrown in the towel on your resolution and are looking to get back on track, don’t sweat it! Forgive yourself for your missteps, reevaluate and perhaps even adjust your goals, maintain a positive outlook on the future, and try the following tips during your next attempt. Before you know it, you’ll be back on the path to success.

Ease into your exercise routine if you have been out of the loop or are new to working out. Schedule some specific times to workout during the week and try not to skip them. Work up to going at least 3 times per week. Stick to low to moderate workouts until you feel stronger and more confident in what you are doing.

Find the type of exercise routine that you can tolerate or even love. It might take a bit of experimenting at different gyms, classes, or sports until you find the right ones. You may like indoor rock climbing and boxing, so you can do both or switch it up when you get bored with one of them. If you try something and hate it, don’t feel bad about taking it off your list. You are more likely to keep up a workout program if you actually enjoy it.

Think of some realistic goals that you can reach in a short amount of time by getting active, like running a 5K or losing 5 pounds. Short term goals that are within reach can boost confidence and keep you going to the next goal once you reach them. Reward yourself when you hit these milestones by getting a new piece of workout gear, then make a new goal to strive for.

Commit to staying active even when it’s difficult or your schedule gets crazy. You can plan for situations that could threaten your active lifestyle, like work trips, holidays, and vacations. Getting even a small workout in once in awhile when you are out of town or your schedule is disrupted can keep you from getting derailed. Mini workouts are better than none at all.

Adopting healthier meal choices can be difficult. Don’t overwhelm yourself by trying to completely overhaul your diet immediately. Introduce healthier choices gradually so you can get used to eating more fruits and vegetables without getting frustrated or hungry. Over time you can start to limit sugar and other junk food as you learn to make healthier meals that you enjoy.

When you need to slow down or get injured, you can still find ways to exercise and be healthy. Swimming or pool workouts are easy on your joints and can be done by almost anyone. And when you are ready, you can easily go back to your previous workout program. Staying healthy and fit is a way of life and if you treat it as such, keeping your new year’s resolution will not be that hard after all.

About the author: Paige Johnson considers herself to be a fitness nerd. She has a great love for strength training. In addition to weight-lifting, she is a yoga enthusiast and avid cyclist.

Photo credit: Photo via Pixabay by Skeeze

803, 2017

7 Secrets Dietitians Use to Stay Slim

By |March 8th, 2017|Uncategorized|0 Comments

Today is Registered Dietitian Day!  I’m a dietitian and after having eaten many meals with other dietitians, I have noticed some similarities in the way we eat.  That’s not to say there aren’t differences from one dietitian to another, but there are some common themes.  Here are some tips and tricks that dietitians I know use to stay at a healthy weight.

  1. Splurge once in a while, but only if it’s really worth it.  Don’t eat something that you don’t truly enjoy.  For example, I really love homemade cookies, but I don’t think the boxed version is worth the calories (plus, they are usually loaded with trans fat!).  Remember to keep portion size in check, even when it’s a splurge.  Also, balance splurges with healthier options. For example, if you go out to eat and have a heavy lunch, then opt for a lighter dinner. Balance is key.
  1. Have protein at each meal to help stay full longer and to minimize spikes in blood sugar.  If you eat carbs by themselves, you’ll have an insulin surge and then feel hungry shortly after eating. Protein gives your food staying power. Choose lean proteins, and try to include plant-based proteins when possible.
  1. Read nutrition labels, but also read ingredients. Look at the back of the food label and read the ingredient list. Remember that ingredients are listed in descending order by weight, so the first ingredient is the one that there is the most of.  Know which health claims are legit (and which ones aren’t!) For example, the term “natural” isn’t regulated and doesn’t mean anything.
  1. Don’t drink your calories. Liquid calories are not detected by the brain in the same way as solid foods, and won’t cause you to feel full.  This applies to juices as well as soda and other caloric beverages.  Choose water, but beverages such as tea sweetened with stevia are also great choices.
  1. Never leave home without a plan for what to eat.  Prep bags of nuts, sliced veggies and fruit, and stash in your bag to avoid being caught off guard and eating from a fast food joint or a vending machine.
  1. Choose less processed versions of food, especially carbs, for example, brown rice instead of white rice or sprouted bread instead of white bread. And, as with all foods, watch portion sizes. Add veggies & fruit to every meal and to snacks.  Vegetables (non-starchy vegetables in particular) and fruits are low in calories, but high in fiber, vitamins and minerals.
  1. Find healthy snacking options – fruit with nut butter, sliced veggies with hummus or guacamole, or popcorn all make good options.

No one eats perfectly, not even dietitians. And that’s okay. Food is to be enjoyed, and most dietitians I know love food. I know I do!

 

3001, 2017

5 Tips to Fight Cravings (and Win!)

By |January 30th, 2017|Uncategorized|0 Comments

5 Tips to Fight Cravings (and Win!)

You know the feeling. You suddenly think of a food you HAVE to have. It’s all you can think about. Whether it’s brought on by the presence of the food itself, an image on TV or maybe Instagram or Pinterest (thanks, social media!), you can’t think of anything else. But you’ve set a goal to eat more healthfully or lose weight. So what do you do?

First, prevent the craving in the first place. To do so, let’s look at why you crave foods in the first place, then how to prevent the cravings.

  1. You’re hungry or your blood sugar is low.

Your body has a surprising number of ways to keep you from going hungry, and you naturally have “reminders” to eat. When your blood sugar is low, you usually get hungry, and the longer you go without food, the more likely you are to crave simple sugars or fats because they provide quick, calorie-dense satiation. This is great to keep you from starving, but not so great if you’re trying to maintain a healthy weight.

What to do: Eat regular meals, 4-5 hours apart and make sure you have protein, fiber and a small amount of healthy fat in every meal and snack. This ensures that you stay full longer. If you eat a refined carbohydrate (white bread or a sugary snack), your insulin will surge, which may cause low blood sugar. The low blood sugar will in turn cause you to crave more sweets. The cycle will continue unless you break it. So stop reaching for foods made with refined flours and sugar and stick with unprocessed, whole foods, and always pair carbohydrates with protein or healthy fats to slow the insulin response that can happen if you eat carbohydrates by themselves.

One easy way to differentiate between cravings and true hunger is the “do I want an apple?” test.  If something reasonably healthy doesn’t sound appealing, you’re probablyy dealing with a craving and not true hunger.  But listen to your body – if you’re hungry, feed your body with healthy food.

One way to differentiate between cravings and true hunger is the “do I want an apple?” test.… Click To Tweet

  1. You’re thirsty

Sometimes your brain confuses hunger with thirst. If you notice your cravings are all liquid based (ice cream, coffee drinks, etc) your body might be trying to tell you that you need the liquid in those treats! Even if you’re not craving liquids or foods with high water content, your brain still may be confusing hunger with hydration needs.

What to do: If you have a craving, drink a glass of water. To prevent cravings, drink adequate water and stay hydrated (this will also keep your metabolism humming). How much water do you need? Take your weight in pounds, divide it in half, and that’s the number of ounces of water you should drink in a day. For example, if you weight 150 pounds, you need about 75 ounces of water (for reference, there are 8 ounces in a cup). If you exercise, you need even more.  Hydration is linked with healthy weight. (1)

  1. You are sleep deprived

Sleep deprivation (less than 7-8 hours a night) can lead to increases in the hormone ghrelin that tells your brain you’re hungry – I call this hormone the “hunger gremlin” and it increases if you are sleep deprived, even if you’ve eaten adequate food.(2)

In a recently published study in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, data extracted from 11 studies showed that people with shortened sleep times increased their calorie consumption by an average of 385 calories! (3)

What to do: Sleep is vital to your health, so it is imperative to make this a priority in your life. Aim for 7-9 hours a night. Some health trackers have the ability to keep track of your sleep and tell you how restful your night was. In general, keep similar sleep/wake times each day, darken the room and avoid blue lights from cell phones (no keeping your cell phone at your bedside!) and have a bedtime ritual.

  1. It’s a habit

If you hit the vending machine or the coffee cart at 2:00pm every day without fail, pretty soon your body is going to expect it, and it will be a hard habit to break. Is this technically a craving? Perhaps, but it’s probably more of a psychological one.

What to do: Habits can be easier to replace than to break. Perhaps you can look at the real reason why you have developed this type of habit – maybe you need a break from work and what you really could use is some company, so asking a friend for a 10 minute walk to catch up might be a healthier option. Or perhaps your lunch didn’t have enough food or the right mix of foods (see number 1 above) to keep you from feeling hungry in a couple of hours.

  1. You’re looking for a dopamine fix.

Dopamine is a feel good hormone that our body produces to reward us for activities that promote survival, like eating. Healthy foods result in a small rise in dopamine, so if you eat a sandwich or a healthy food you might have a slight rise in dopamine, but if you have Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, or a pastry, you’ll likely produce far more dopamine. Dopamine is implicated in drug addiction, and like drug addiction, you need more of the highly satiating foods to reach the same reward level, a phenomenon known as tolerance, and you may also have cravings, similar to those people have in drug addiction.(4)

What to do: You may need to go cold turkey. After some time without the foods that cause you to release a heavy dose of dopamine, you will find that you don’t need a rich food to reach the same level of satisfaction. If you think that you may have a food addiction or binge eating disorder, you should seek help from a therapist or psychiatrist. Overeaters Anonymous is also a great resource for information and support (https://oa.org)

Cravings can be detrimental to our weight and health goals. If you use these tips, you can take back control. But remember to listen to your body, because cravings are usually telling you something.  And that something might just be to eat!

1710, 2016

Weight Loss – Calories In vs Calories Out?

By |October 17th, 2016|Uncategorized|0 Comments

Is weight loss really about just “burning more calories than you eat”?  Even though doctors and nutritionist have repeated this for decades, current research shows that weight loss is more complicated than a simple math equation.  Food communicates to the cells in your body.  What you eat influences your hormones, genes and even the good bacteria that reside in your body. All of these factors impact metabolism and overall health.

Hormones

Your food intake can affect your hormones. For example, when you eat refined carbohydrates, especially sugar, your insulin levels spike. Insulin is a fat storage hormone, so you do NOT want to have high levels of it. Also, when you eat sugar, insulin may overshoot and actually cause low blood sugar, leading to cravings for more food – namely more sugar.  This leads to a vicious cycle that can easily lead to weight gain.

Another hormone that affects weight is a hormone called leptin, which reduces hunger and helps us to stop eating when we’ve had enough food. The more body fat you have, the more leptin you have. So if that’s true, why don’t people with higher body fat have more leptin and in turn eat less? Two reasons – first, you can become leptin resistant, meaning your body doesn’t respond well to leptin (similar to insulin resistance in type 2 diabetes). Second, because we eat for many other reasons beside hunger! Social cues, availability of tasty treats, pictures of food (think Instagram and TV commercials), can all trigger you to eat, even if you’re not hungry. Also, remember that lack of sleep can wreak havoc on your hormones, so adequate sleep is crucial to weight loss.

Genes

Food can also affect your genes. The food you eat tells your genes to turn on or off. In other words, it’s not a matter of whether not mom & dad passed on their diabetes or heart disease genes, but rather, does your lifestyle turn those genes on? There is a saying, “genes load the gun, but lifestyle pulls the trigger.”

For example, diabetes is a combination of genes and lifestyle factors. You need both to end up with diabetes. You can eat healthfully, get plenty of physical activity and never get diabetes.  Or you can be sedentary and overweight and get diabetes early in life. On the other hand, if you DON’T have the genes that put you at risk, you can drink soda and junk food every day and be the lucky one who doesn’t get diabetes – of course, that doesn’t mean you’ll be healthy just because you didn’t get diabetes.

Good Bacteria 

Also, food affects your GI tract and the good bacteria that live in your gut. Numerous research studies show that the type of bacteria that resides in your body affects your body weight.  What we eat affects the bacteria in your intestines, for example some artificial sweeteners have a negative impact on our bacterial balance, while higher fiber intake has a positive effect.  The bacteria in turn also affect us – the little critters can even cause us to have cravings for nutrients they need!

The bottom line is, there is more to weight loss than calories in, calories out. That’s not to say that calories don’t matter – they do.  But our bodies are more complex than a simple math problem, and our overall health depends on eating foods that communicate the right things to our bodies.

4 keys to weight loss that go beyond calorie counting:

1. Increase plant foods.
Increasing plants, particularly unprocessed, non-starchy vegetables. They provide fiber, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and help you feel full. Avoid refined fruit juices if possible, because without the fiber, the juice just hits your system and spikes your blood sugar. Vegetable juices, particularly those you juice yourself, is another story, but vegetable juices shouldn’t take the place of real vegetables in your diet, because of the lack of fiber.

2. Decrease or eliminate sugar and refined flour intake.
It doesn’t matter what sugar, whether it’s white sugar, coconut sugar, sugar in the raw, or if it’s white flour that gets turned into sugar rapidly in our bodies, it all can have a negative impact on our insulin levels, and doesn’t provide any substantial micronutrients, like vitamins and minerals. In addition, it leaves you hungrier and more likely to reach for more sugar.

3. Increase lean protein and healthy fats.
Protein and fat helps keep you full longer and should be included in every meal. Plant based proteins are particularly healthy. Beans and legumes are great choices, because they are full of protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals.  Nuts are also great choices because they contain healthy fat and protein. Try adding nuts, seeds or avocado to salads, smoothies and side dishes.  Also include sources of omega-3 fat, such as fatty fish.  If you don’t eat fish, you can get your long-chained omega-3 fats where fish get it – algae (available in supplement form)

4. Increase intake of good bacteria.  
There are many sources of good bacteria, the most popular being yogurt – preferably unsweetened Greek yogurt.  If you don’t eat dairy, there are other options there are other options, such as sauerkraut, Kombucha (fermented tea), and tempeh (a fermented soy product that’s high in protein).

1801, 2016

The 21 Day Fix – A Dietitian’s Perspective

By |January 18th, 2016|Uncategorized|0 Comments

A Dietitian’s Opinion of the 21 Day Fix

It’s tough to keep up with diet trends – there are seemingly endless options for diets and most are gone almost as quickly as they appear. But one that keeps popping up on social media is the 21 Day Fix, which is a BeachBody fitness and diet system that includes fitness DVDs and a diet program. As you may know, Beachbody is the company that brought us P90X, Insanity, and other fitness programs.

I am a dietitian, not a fitness trainer, so I will focus on the dietary aspects of the program.

The good:

It’s great that the program includes a diet regimen. Diet makes up approximately 75-80% of weight loss, so “hitting the gym” really doesn’t make a huge difference in weight lost, but it is definitely crucial for your overall health and it does boost your weight loss efforts and helps with weight maintenance.

Here’s how the diet part of the system works: the 21-Day Fix comes with a set of containers that are color coded by food group. There is a green container for veggies, and a purple container for fruits, holding 1 cup each. There is a slightly smaller red container for proteins, a smaller yellow container for starches and grains, a very small blue container for healthy fats and a tiny orange container for seeds and dressings. It also includes a Shakeology Shaker cup (BeachBody sells Shakeology products). Based on your calculated calorie needs, you are allotted a certain number of containers of each color per day.

I have to admit, I like the simplicity of this system, because it does boil down the basic tenets of healthy eating (eat mostly plants, adequate protein, and small amounts of carbs/starches and healthy fats) into a visual system that anyone can use in their kitchen.

The bad:

It’s a 21-day program. It ends, and I think the promise of losing “up to 15 lbs in 21 days” is not attainable for most. I notice on the sales page on the BeachBody website, in the small print below one of the impressive before and after pictures, it said “completed 11 rounds” which sounds like it is actually more like a 231 day fix!

Also, even though I like seeing diet as part of a weight loss program, I’m never thrilled when a fitness trainer/bikini model is the one behind the diet plan. Although the instructor is certainly qualified as a fitness trainer, she is not a registered dietitian or adequately certified in nutrition.

Accordingly, the calculation used in the program to obtain daily calorie needs is strange: multiple your weight by 11, then add 400 for the workouts, then subtract 750 calories to create a deficit for weight loss. So basically, they are assuming you burn 400 calories for the workouts. But in reality, how much you burn when you work out is VERY individual and depends on your age, gender, muscle mass, etc. And 750 calories for a deficit is quite a lot.

When I calculated my own level of calories using this calculation, I came up with a little over 1000 calories. Wow, that’s low! And even though a 1200 calories level appears be the minimum suggested level (which is good, since that is the lowest level recommended for women outside of a doctor’s care), it still may be too low with the activity from the workouts. Eating too few calories sets you up for binge eating and is hard to maintain over time.

How many calories do you actually need? Here is a comprehensive article covering how many calories you need to lose weight in depth. There are many well-researched calculations that are used to determine recommended calories. The Mifflin St. Jeor calculation is among the most used for weight loss, and a calculator for it is available here.

Another caveat about the program is that it’s not cheap. It’s “three monthly payments of $19.95” (plus $12.95 for shipping and handling), so about $73.

If you like the idea of the food containers, there are many copycat containers on Amazon for less than $20 per set. And if you’re like me, you already have plenty of fitness DVDs. 🙂

So what happens after the 21 days are over? Well, hopefully you’ve learned some healthy eating habits you can continue.   But is the 21 Day Fix the best way to do this? That’s for you to decide, but remember that the best weight loss regimen is one you can stick with long term as a lifestyle, not a diet.

2411, 2015

How to Eat Well and Enjoy Thanksgiving

By |November 24th, 2015|Uncategorized|0 Comments

I realize that there are those who would tell you how to watch portion sizes or choose less calorie-dense foods on Thanksgiving. But I am not one of those people. Surprise!

I believe that Thanksgiving is a time to enjoy family, friends, and yes, food. I think that the meal itself should be enjoyed, savored mindfully until you’re full (not uncomfortably stuffed to the point of near-explosion) and then done. Think about giving yourself permission to enjoy treats you might not normally partake in, like your aunt’s pumpkin pie, your mom’s famous stuffing, or other equally special items that you don’t normally have.

However, don’t think of the holiday as an excuse to go on a 3-day binge that includes pie at every meal, or eating mashed potatoes and gravy to get the sweet taste out of your mouth, or eating an extra turkey sandwich just because you don’t want leftovers to go to waste. You can make amounts that are realistic for the number of people served, or wrap up leftovers to send home with those who want them.  That way, you can relish the meal, but then get on with eating healthfully.

You can also think about adding some physical activity into your Thanksgiving.  You can take a brisk walk or play a game of family football or run in a turkey trot or one of the many walk/run races on Thanksgiving day to burn off the calories.  Doing the cooking or the dishes?  Hey, I’m counting that as activity.  😉

Bottom line, if you watch every morsel that goes into your mouth, you will likely feel cheated, and you might even make up for it later by eating something like a junk food or dessert that doesn’t really even appeal to you, rather than enjoying a treasured family recipe that you only get to eat once or twice a year. Give thanks, savor spending time with those you love,  and enjoy the Thanksgiving meal.

So, bon appétit and Happy Thanksgiving!

1311, 2015

Are you being deceived by food labels?

By |November 13th, 2015|Uncategorized|0 Comments

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When you see words like “natural,” or “good source of…” on food labels, do you ever wonder what it really means?

The FDA regulates food labels and has many, many rules that are probably too complex (and hard to remember) for the average consumer, but that doesn’t stop the food industry from exploiting these to their advantage.  Here’s how to avoid being deceived.

There are some things on a label that are legitimate and monitored by the FDA as approved.  For example, nutrient content claims that have the word “Free,” “Low,” or “Reduced/Less” when talking about calories, total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium, and sugar (except “low sugar,” which is not allowed) have a specific meaning.  It depends on the nutrient, but for “reduced/less” it generally means 25% less than a comparable product.  On the other end of the spectrum, words like “high” (meaning a food contains at least 20% of the daily value) or “good source” (which means it contains 10-19% of the daily value) are also allowed but only for nutrients that have a specific % daily value.

Also, qualified health claims are allowed and include things like “Scientific evidence suggests but does not prove that eating 1.5 ounces per day of most nuts [such as name of specific nut] as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol may reduce the risk of heart disease.”  There is a list of specific nutrients/disease claims listed by the FDA that are allowed, and there is a whole list. But in general, if you see the type of wording used above you can safely assume it’s legit.

Some sneaky things to watch out for on labels:  trans fat can be listed as 0 grams, as long as it has less than 0.5 grams per serving.  The daily limit is 2 grams, so you could get 0.49 grams (almost 25% of your daily limit!) even when the nutrition facts say “0 grams.”  The best way to determine what’s really in a product is to read the ingredient list, and look for words like “partially hydrogenated” because that means you are getting trans fat, even if it says 0 grams on the nutrition label.

You should also look at the ingredient list for items that are actually just different names for sugar, like words ending in “-ose” such as sucrose, dextrose, etc.  Things that say syrup are also sugar, even if it’s brown rice syrup (the brown rice part of it sounds healthy, right?).  But it’s just sugar.  Since labels are required to list the ingredients in order of how much is in the food, with the first ingredient being the most, it is to the food company’s advantage to have multiple sources of sugar, so that those multiple sources can be listed later on the list, rather than one big source of sugar being listed first.

As for the word “natural,” the FDA hasn’t yet decided what it means!  The FDA is currently accepting public comments on whether it is appropriate to define the term “natural,” if so, how it should be defined and how the term should it be used on food labels.   They started accepting comments and will continue accepting comments until February 10, 2016.