From the Desk of The Nutty Nutritionist

Archive for the ‘Weight Loss’ Category

Exercise for Maximum Calorie Burn

In Exercise, Weight Loss on May 20, 2012 at 1:55 PM

If you have been abiding by my “Ten Laws of Weight Control” and are yet to see the weight loss results you are looking for, it may be that your application of rule # 7 (“Exercise is Essential”) has been ineffective.  We all hear guidelines and recommendations regarding exercise at every turn from various sources.  The American Heart Association recommends a minimum of 150 minutes a week of moderate to vigorous cardiovascular activity (a.k.a “cardio”) to get your heart pumping enough to maintain a healthy heart.  Unfortunately, this minimal amount of recommended exercise is rarely enough to help people shed pounds and keep them off.  Sorry folks…  Exercising 5 times a week for 30 minutes  is good for your health, no question, but if you want the numbers on the scale to budge, it requires a lot more effort to burn body fat and adequate calories.

The type of activity you choose will also have in impact on calorie burn, as it requires a heck of a lot more energy (i.e. calories) to jog 3 miles in 30 minutes than taking a joy ride on a bike around your neighborhood in the same about of time.  Exercise is a must for optimal weight control and it is not just about “putting in the time”…it is about intensity.

Think you have been working out hard enough?  Well, if you are trying to lose weight and not seeing results, you may want to do a little detective work.  A good way to monitor your intensity during exercise is by measuring your heart rate.  The harder you exercise, the higher your heart rate will go, and the more calories you will burn. In today’s technological times, you can get your hands on an inexpensive heart rate monitor (such as the Timex Easy Trainer for $50) that will provide the appropriate feedback to inform you whether to ramp up or ramp down your intensity to get the desired results.

The first thing you want to do is determine your maximum heart rate, or MHR.  This number is determined by your age (older folks get a break here), and a number you should try not to exceed for optimal performance.  The “gold standard” formula for determining MHR is 220-your age.  For example, I am about to turn 43, so my MHR would be 177 beats per minutes (bpm).  Considering that my resting heart rate is typically low (55-60 bpm), I would really have to be cranking in high gear to have my heart rate rise 122 points! The lower your fitness level (hello, couch potatoes) the faster your heart rate will climb upon exertion.  WIth my higher than average fitness level,  I am lucky to get my heart rate up to 100 bpm while taking a brisk walk… So, when I am looking to drop a few pounds, I gotta choose activities that challenge me and make me WORK!  In other words, the fitter you are, the harder you have to exercise to adequately raise your heart rate. So, if you have been exercising diligently over months or years and have now hit a weight loss plateau, your exercise habits need to change to challenge your body again and help you burn more calories. Our bodies are very adaptable machines.

You will want to exercise differently day-to-day based on how much time you have available for exercise as well as wanting to shake things up and keep your body guessing.  This is the best way to fit effective workouts into your schedule as well as keeping your metabolism burning unwanted fat and calories.  If you are short on time, say 20-30 minutes, you will want to work hard (reflected by a higher heart rate) for this shorter duration.  Like I said before, a leisurely 20-30 minute bike ride or stroll “ain’t gonna cut it”…  If you have more time, like 45-90 minutes, you can afford to go at a more moderate pace and still burn unwanted fat.

Here’s how:

1.  Warm up and cool down for 5-10 minutes aiming for 50-65% of your MHR.  This allows your body to “prepare” your muscles, heart, and lungs for work, as well as allowing the body recovery time after intense periods of activity.  For a 43-year-old, the warm up and recovery zone would be 88-115 bpm.  So that brisk walk I referred to earlier keeps me in the warm up/recovery zone around 100 bpm, and is not going to be enough to challenge my body and burn lots of caloriesshucks.

2. The ideal “fat burning zone” is when your heart rate falls between 65-75% of your MHR.  For a 43-year-old, that translates into 115-133 bpm.  This range is generally manageable enough to maintain for longer periods of time, allowing the body to switch from burning sugar (from bloodstream, muscles, and liver) to burning fat.  If you only exercise at this intensity for 20-30 minutes, your body will burn sugar but will not have enough time to convert over to using fat for energy.  I’m sorry to say, but that is just the way our bodies work…  The bottom line is this– if you want to lose weight (and keep it off), you have to exercise long enough to burn the fat. (Please note:  you should be able to carry on a conversation at this pace but if you can sing the national anthem while you exercise, then it’s time to pick up the pace!)

3.  If you are short on time, you can aim to do what is called “interval training” to force your body to burn off sugar more quickly and start burning fat.  In such a case, you would crank up the intensity for short periods of time (generally 90 seconds to 3 minutes) alternating with periods of recovery (90 seconds to 2 minutes).  To do so, you would aim for 85-95% of your MHR for the intense training period (150-168 bpm for a 43-year-old), which will challenge your body enough to significantly improve your physical stamina and rev the heck out of your metabolism.  Generally, this intensity cannot be sustained for long periods, so the recovery time is much appreciated (by both your body and mind!) and gets you ready for the next intense interval.  Alternating between hard and easy intensities is an excellent way to rev your metabolism, keep the body guessing, and stoke the fire for hours after your workout as well.

Here’s an example on how to incorporate these ideas into your weekly exercise schedule:

PART 1:  Choose 2-3 days a week for long, slow calorie burning exercise, maintaining your heart rate between 65-75% of your MHR, for 45-90 minutes.  This can be a brisk walk (unless you are super fit), jog, or time on an elliptical, stairclimber or stationary bike.  Changing your activities helps keep your body guessing too, so you may not want to just jog day in, day out (unless you are training for a race, of course!) in order to accomplish substantial weight loss.

PART 2:  Another 2-3 times per week, you will want to perform fat burning intervals, which is ideal for people who tend to be short on time, but still want to have an effective, intense workout.  After a 5-10 minute warm up at 50-65% MHR, start 90 second intervals of preferred activity at 85-95% MHR, alternating with 90 seconds of recovery at 50-65% MHR.  You will be working VERY hard during the intense periods, so make sure you breathe and stay focused, as a recovery period is just seconds away 😉 Repeat these intervals 5-8 times, then cool down for 5-10 minutes in the recovery HR zone.  Workout is done in 20-30 minutes!  Granted, it will be a hard 20-30 minutes, but well worth it.

Another fat burning interval option would be performing at 80-90% MHR for 3 minutes, alternating with 2 minute recovery periods at 50-65% MHR.  Repeat 5-8 times and finish with a 5-10 minutes cool down.

It is time to stop fooling yourself into thinking 30 minutes of easy-going exercise will be enough to help you accomplish your weight loss goals. Grab a heart rate monitor, calculate the heart rate ranges appropriate for you age, choose a few different activities you enjoy, and start employing these suggestions to get shape just in time for bathing suit season!

Should  you have any further questions, feel free to ask!

Happy Summer!  Happy Life!

Advertisements

Ten “Laws” of Healthy Weight Control

In Dining Out, Weight Loss, Wellness on March 21, 2012 at 10:34 AM

Similar to January 1st, the first day of spring extends an invitation for new beginnings and a fresh start.  How have you been doing with your promise to live healthier this year?  Are your health habits making you feel like a beautiful rose blossoming in the sun or more like a shriveled crocus getting its head lopped off by a bunny rabbit?  Do you still desire to shed those unwanted pounds before the boat goes in the water and the lazy days of summer begin?  Whether you want to feel better, lose weight, or prevent gaining a few extra pounds this season, incorporating these ten basic lifestyle “rules” can help you look and feel as bright as a sunny clear blue sky:

1.  Calorie awareness is essential

  • calories in (food) = calories out (activity) = weight maintenance
  • calories in < calories out = weight loss
  • calories in > calories out = weight gain
  • doesn’t matter the source of calories–if you eat too much, you will gain weight
  • overly restricting calories shuts your metabolism down so DO NOT undereat either (see #2)

2.  Do not eat less than 1200 calories per day

  • read labels and examine online resources to increase awareness and count calories if necessary
  • women:  aim for 300-400 calories/meal; 100-150 calories/snack
  • men:  aim for 400-600 calories/meal;100-200 calories/snack

3.  Monitor your current food intake and exercise habits regularly

  • record what you eat, how much you eat, & when you eat to uncover unhealthy habits
  • make comments regarding your eating situations–boredom, stress, watching TV, restaurant choices, etc.
  • select specific habits you are willing to change and make a plan to follow through

4.  Set small, achievable goals based on food diary revelations, such as:

  • increase fruits & vegetables, whole grains, water, exercise, fish, and/or making healthier snack choices
  • decrease sugary beverages, alcohol, fried foods, restaurant meal frequency, “indulgences”, sedentary activity

5.  Plan ahead for small, frequent meals to manage appetite

  • no meal skipping, as this just revs your appetite up for an evening binge
  • eat a healthy meal or snack every 3-4 hours
  • bring healthy choices with you when “out & about”  (pack your lunch!)
  • grocery shop from a list 1-2 x/week, and stick to that list!

6.  Adopt habits you can maintain long-term

  • no extreme dieting—this is only a temporary fix and will set you up for “yo-yo” weight fluctuations
  • no foods are completely off limits unless you choose them to be  (deprivation = binge later)
  • healthy weight loss is 1-2 pounds/week — patience is a virtue!
  • “weight loss plateaus” will happen every 10-20 pounds — you must change up your diet and exercise routine frequently to keep your body from getting complacent
  • if you struggle to develop a plan on your own, hire a nutrition professional (like me!) to assist you

7.  Exercise is essential

  • regular activity that increases your heart rate and breathing rate is best
  • building muscle increases metabolism (which increases “calorie burn”)
  • plan exercise time into your schedule
  • choose activities you enjoy
  • the more the better—aim for 60 minutes a day as often as possible (break it into smaller chunks if necessary)

8.  Get adequate sleep

  • 7-8 hours best for most people
  • lack of sleep increases appetite and decreases satiety (feelings of fullness)
  • feeling well-rested keeps you motivated to maintain your healthy habits

9.  Manage stress

  • chronic stress increases cortisol levels leading to increased belly fat
  • feeling anxious & stressed increases the likelihood of emotional overeating
  • exercise is an excellent stress manager

10.  Make smart choices when dining out at least 80% of the time

  • Beware of calories—obtain nutrition info from outlets & online to increase awareness of your choices  (try to stay between 300-600 calories most of time)
  • Breakfast–avoid bagels, muffins, smoothies;  choose egg white wraps, oatmeal, Egg McMuffin at “quick grab” restaurants
  • Lunch–avoid pizza, pasta, high fat meats, large sandwiches; choose salad, soup, and sandwich combinations instead (but avoid creamy dressings and soups)
  • Dinner—choose chicken, turkey, and fish with vegetables/salad;  limit starches & bread; if portions are large, share or take half home for another meal
  • Coffee houses—many specialty drinks are LOADED with calories

I can taste a healthy and happy summer already!  Can you?

Any questions?  Feel free to ask! 

Live well!  Be well!

Making Sustainable New Year’s Resolutions

In Weight Loss, Wellness on December 28, 2011 at 6:25 PM

It’s that time of year again!!!  Time to start thinking about your New Year’s resolutions….  It is no surprise to hear that the most popular resolution is to adopt a healthier lifestyle—whether that means quitting smoking, eating better, losing weight, exercising more, finding a less stressful job, or all of the above.   Every January, I receive a higher volume of phone calls and emails from prospective new clients, each requesting my assistance with adopting healthier lifestyle practices. 

I heard on the radio this morning that 85% of Americans fail to maintain their New Year’s resolutions for longer than 2-3 months.  Hmmm…why do you think that is?  In my opinion, I believe many folks set overly ambitious goals for themselves, and expect perfection right from the start.   Maintaining resolutions to live healthier lives may be more attainable by setting a series of small goals over the coarse of the entire year, rather than setting one BIG goal in January.  Want to lose weight in 2012?  Rather than trying to drop 20 pounds as quickly as possible by over-exercising and under-eating in January, February, and March (hello BURNOUT!), make small changes to your eating and exercise habits over the course of the year.   Allowing yourself 12 months to achieve small, sustainable goals will add up to something big come December, without the fatigue and frustration of “too much too soon”.  Not only are you more likely to sustain the effort with each small accomplishment, your new health habits are more likely to stick long-term.  When it comes to sustainable weight control habits, patience is a virtue!  To help you get a jumpstart on this realistic goal-setting endeavor, I will offer some easy, yet effective, common sense advice for losing weight and feeling great the whole year through: 

First and foremost, be realistic about weight loss–

The amount of weight you need to lose to improve your health may be much less than you think.  Whether you want to have more energy, improve your blood sugar or cholesterol levels, lower your blood pressure, or prevent obesity-related chronic disease, losing just 5-10% of your starting weight can impart substantial health benefits.  That is a mere 10-20 pounds for a 200 pound person!  Seems attainable, doesn’t it?   Setting a modest weight loss goal like this is both realistic and worthwhile.  Once you drop those first 10-20 pounds, you can then decide if you are ready and able to lose more. It is best to start the New Year with a realistic goal you can achieve.  Setting an overly ambitious goal, such as losing 50 pounds right off the bat, increases your chances of abandoning the effort within the first 2-3 months.

Keep a journal to identify unhealthy habits

Achieving long-term weight loss is most easily accomplished by setting a series of small, specific, realistic goals.  Keep a food and exercise journal for one full week to identify areas for change.  Record what you eat, how much you eat, when you eat, as well as comments regarding your whereabouts (in car, at restaurant, on the couch, etc..) and feelings or emotions that may be driving your food choices (starving, bored, lonely, sad, stressed out, etc.).   Keep track of calories by measuring portions and reading food labels.  To monitor activity, write down what you did, when, where, and how long you exercised on any given day.  Keeping a diary like this will help you identify areas for improvement as well as provide reinforcement for maintaining healthier habits.  Even if you are not trying to lose weight this year, identifying unhealthy behaviors is the first step towards improving your overall lifestyle.

After that first week, review your journal by asking yourself some questions:  What types of foods am I overeating?  Am I getting enough fruits and vegetables?  How can I improve the timing of my meals?  Am I eating in restaurants or ordering carry-out too often?  Am I consuming too many calories from beverages?  How can I set limits on my favorite foods without feeling deprived?  Do I need to increase my overall activity level?

Set the right “action” goals

Once you have identified areas for change, choose one or two small, specific behavior goals to focus on for the next week, such as:

I will walk five days a week for at least 30 minutes.

I will pack my lunch for work three times a week.

I will eat breakfast every day.

I will avoid white flour products and consume only 100% whole grains.

I will stop drinking beverages containing sugar such as regular soda and juices.

I will stop drinking high-calorie coffee drinks.

I will eat dinner in restaurants only two times per week.

I will not order fried foods in restaurants.                                                                         

I will eat at least 1 cup of vegetables at lunch and dinner every day.

I will not skip meals.

I will eat every 3-4 hours to control my appetite.

I will limit each between-meal snack to 100-150 calories.

I will eat fish instead of beef two times per week.

I will eat only a half sandwich at my favorite deli.

I will use a pedometer to track the number of steps I take each day.

Effective goals, such as “I will walk five days a week for at least 30 minutes” or “I will eat at least 1 cup of vegetables at lunch and dinner every day”, have three valuable components: they are specific, attainable, and forgiving.

A specific goal is one you can easily measure:  have you walked at least 30 minutes for five days this week?  Did you eat at least a cup of vegetables at lunch and dinner every day?  You would be able to measure your success by reviewing your food and exercise diary.  Setting a less specific goal such as “walk more” or “eat more vegetables” makes it difficult to determine if you truly met your goal.

An attainable goal is one that you are likely to reach.  Setting a goal to exercise 90 minutes a day may be too ambitious for someone with a hectic schedule.  Promising to “exercise at least 30 minutes five days a week” allows you to achieve this goal whether you have time for an hour or only 30 minutes of exercise on any given day.  You want to feel gratified and successful meeting your goals rather than discouraged. 

Finally, a forgiving goal is one that allows you to be less than “perfect” and prevents the all-or-nothing mentality.  In other words, setting a lofty goal to exercise every day leads to feelings of failure if you only manage to exercise five times in a given week.  In this case, allow yourself some flexibility by planning to “exercise 5-7 days a week” to eliminate any feelings of guilt on days when you really are too busy or don’t feel well enough to exercise.  Whether you exercise 5, 6, or 7 days a week, you have met your goal.  Feeling successful reinforces new habits.

Create a healthy environment

Learn what social or environmental cues seem to encourage undesired eating, and then attempt to change those cues.  For example, if you tend to eat more while watching television, you may try to stop watching as much TV or try not to eat while watching television—make a plan to eat only at the kitchen table, with the TV turned off.  In general, visible and accessible food items are often cues for unplanned eating—-do not leave food out on the counter—keep it packed away in the pantry.  Or, better yet, keep your favorite high-calorie foods out of the house altogether–out of sight, out of mind! 

Do not rush meal time.   Did you know it takes 15-20 minutes for your brain to get the message that your body has been fed?  Eating more slowly will give your body more time to send this signal, so that you end up eating less.  Eating high fiber foods, lean protein, and vegetables can help you feel full longer.  Try serving food on smaller plates so that moderate portions do not seem so skimpy.  Keep serving bowls off the table to discourage second helpings. 

Setting regularly scheduled meal times may also make it easier to eat smaller portions. Delaying or skipping meals ultimately results in overeating from a ravenous appetite.  Aim to eat a meal or snack every 3-4 hours to best control your appetite.  Going out to a restaurant?  Eat a small snack before you go, such as fruit, yogurt, or a small handful of nuts, making it easier to resist unhealthy choices and over-sized portions. 

Now it is up to you!  Identifying areas for change and setting small, sensible goals is a straightforward way to start changing unhealthy habits this year.  If you are unable to meet a specific goal after 1-2 weeks, re-write the goal to be more realistic or set a different goal.  Successful, long-term weight management is always best achieved by making permanent lifestyle changes, not by following a prescribed “diet” for a short period of time.  Take small steps that are easy to achieve, and with patience, time, and perseverance, you will be rewarded with a thinner, healthier you!  Whether you want to lose weight, lower your blood sugar, cholesterol, or blood pressure, have more energy, or prevent problems in the future, creating healthier lifestyle habits will help you feel better and live a longer, more productive life.

Have a happy and healthy 2012!

Linda

The Diet and Sleep Connection

In Weight Loss, Wellness on October 27, 2011 at 8:43 PM

Do you have trouble falling asleep or spend a great deal of time tossing and turning at night? Did you ever stop to think how your food choices and lifestyle habits could be negatively impacting the quality of your sleep? Or, did you know poor sleep habits can make it more difficult to manage your weight?  It’s true.  The less time you spend in restorative slumber, the easier it is to gain weight and the harder it is to lose. 

I was recently interviewed for an online article exploring how one’s diet and sleep habits can affect weight gain.  If you are interested in learning some useful strategies for eating and sleeping better tonight, check out the full article: http://www.livestrong.com/article/547009-the-wellness-connection-diet-and-sleep/

If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask.  ENJOY!

Take Me Out to the Ballgame

In Weight Loss, Wellness on August 23, 2011 at 11:02 AM

“…take me out with the crowd.  Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jacks and hot dogs and nachos and ice cream and beer, I don’t care if I get really fat!”  Oh, wait…that’s not how the song goes?  Hmmm… that’s the version that plays in my head as I sit and watch spectators pig out on one thing after another throughout an entire game.  And for season ticket holders, their bootie-patooties don’t stand a chance!  Joking aside, I have been asked to offer suggestions for some healthy stadium fare, at a time in which our beloved Detroit Tigers look like they will be playing well into October this year and football season is about to start.  (Go Blue!)

Traditional stadium fare often includes the likes of hot dogs, kielbasa, peanuts, pizza, nachos, cinnamon sugar coated almonds, and soft pretzels.  Where are the fruits and vegetables?  Fortunately, healthier choices such as veggie burgers, wrap sandwiches,  BBQ chicken, vegetable hoagies, and salads have been popping up in stadiums around the country, but you really have to make the effort to seek them out.  You will not find them at the general concession stand where you can buy the hot dog, chips, and beer.  For example, as a season ticket holder for U of M football, I make a loop around the entire stadium during the first game of the season to scout out the available offerings and memorize where the healthiest fare is located.  A bit obsessive?  Nope, I don’t think so, as my health and well-being are worth it, especially since I will be attending 8 games over the next few months.  If it was just one game, it wouldn’t matter as much.    In my case, I choose to stalk Mr. Pita.  He showed up at “The Big House” several years ago but changes his location every year, so I have to make the effort to hunt him down.  He is not necessarily located conveniently near my section, but figure the extra walking is good for me anyway, and I avoid the crowds by heading there during a commercial break as opposed to half-time.  A little planning goes a long way towards ensuring a light healthy meal that I can feel good about.  I encourage you to do the same.

Here are some tips to help keep you slim and trim during your next trip to the ballpark or stadium:

1.  First and foremost, don’t go to the game starving.  This is one surefire way to guarantee an all-out feeding frenzy.  One whiff of those hot cinnamon sugar coated almonds and you will have that 1000 calorie bag down the hatch in no time!

2.  If you are tailgating with a group of peeps beforehand, make sure some of the available food choices will be healthy.  You can ensure this by contributing a veggie or fruit platter or wrap sandwiches filled with lean meat and vegetables.  Don’t forget the bottled water!

3.  If you have already eaten at a tailgate party, there is no need for anything more than a light snack while attending the game.  Choices such as Cracker Jacks (120 calories), soft pretzel (190 calories), or a beer (150 calories) are certainly reasonable.  Better yet, save money and pack your pocket with a small baggie of nuts or trail mix to munch on during the game.  Think the traditional staple of hard shelled peanuts are an acceptable substitute?  Guess again.  1 cup of peanuts has 860 calories—you will get at least that much from a bag of peanuts sold at the game.

4.  If drinking alcohol, alternate with at least a cup of water in-between.  Not only will this help you save calories, but it will also keep you hydrated if you are sitting out in the hot sun.  Forget the fresh squeezed lemonade that sounds ever-so-tempting on a hot day—you land an extra 300 worth of sugar calories (or more).

5.  If you do not tailgate pre-game, and must rely on stadium fare for sustenance, I highly recommend avoiding the generic concessions stands that offer the hot dogs, chips, peanuts, nachos, and candy.  You will only fill your belly with a bolus of artery-clogging saturated fat and blood-pressure raising sodium to give you a heart attack the next time the opposing team scores…  Seek out something new and different like a BBQ chicken sandwich, turkey wrap, or vegetable hoagie.  Your heart and hips will thank you!

Of course you want your team to win, but if you follow these suggestions, your waistline will end up a winner too!

Go Tigers!  Go Wings!  Go Lions!  Go Pistons!  Go Blue!

O.K.  fine, Go Spartans too!  (I certainly don’t want to alienate my hometown readers , but I will never say Go Bucks!) 

Enjoy the season!

The Dukan Diet

In Trends, Weight Loss on August 2, 2011 at 9:24 PM

Several readers have inquired about “The Dukan Diet”, which has been on the bestseller list for much of 2011, and would like to know my thoughts about it, especially since the author is a medical doctor.  There has to be some merit to a diet designed by a physician, right?  Not necessarily, as medical school curriculums do not put emphasis on nutrition.    (I should know…I’m married to one.)  This is a common misconception among the general population, which most likely contributes to the “bestseller” status of Dr. Dukan’s book.  Unfortunately, this is a perfect example of just another diet fad that is unlikely to help you lose weight and keep it off long term.  Here’s why:   

The Dukan Diet is essentially an updated version of the low-carb Atkins diet of years past, and I wouldn’t expect any better weight loss results than was seen before.  The Atkins Diet was first published in the 1970’s and experienced a wildly-popular rebirth in the 1990’s.  Sure, many people following Dr. Atkins’ plan lost weight initially, but found it unrealistic to maintain long term and promptly gained the pounds back (and then some).   I’m sure you know someone who has first-hand experience with this, perhaps even yourself.  This rapid weight loss and regain phenomenon is common with super-restrictive diet fads and a very unhealthy pattern for your overall health and metabolism.  (Did somebody say “yo-yo”??)   A doctor should know better, wouldn’t you think?  Well, Dr. Dukan has decided to recycle the carbohydrate-prohibitive craze by adding some new twists to make it seem better than ever.  (Yeah, right.)  His gimmicks include eating lots of oat bran and drinking a boat-load of water.  Hmmm…  Let it be known that water will never take the place of solid food to help keep your appetite in check, and you will likely find it impossible to severely restrict carbohydrates for the rest of your life.  He doesn’t put much emphasis on adopting an exercise routine either, which has been proven time and again to be an essential adjunct to any successful weight loss “diet”.   Doctor or not, this diet will not keep you slim and trim for a lifetime.   No point in wasting your time.

Any other questions?  Feel free to ask!

The Realities of Sugar

In Nutrition Basics, Trends, Weight Loss on July 26, 2011 at 8:05 PM

Let’s settle the HFCS vs. table sugar debate once and for all, shall we?

Do you think foods made with high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) will make you gain significantly more weight than those made with other forms of sugar?   This is what we were led to believe last year when results from a Princeton University study revealed that rats fed a HFCS solution developed more belly fat and higher blood triglycerides compared to those fed a sucrose (table sugar) solution.  Hmmm…  The study was apparently simulating our mounting obsession with sugary beverages, as HFCS is most commonly found in American-made soft drinks and juices.   Pepsi and Mountain Dew jumped all over this news and went as far as to introduce “throwback” formulations (from the early 70’s) containing “real sugar” instead of HFCS, in the hopes of increasing sales.  Whoopin’ Frickin’ Dew. (pun intended!)  This is really quite laughable.  Can we honestly believe that soda made with table sugar (sucrose) is healthier and will not affect our waistlines?   LOLOLOLOL  I’m falling out of my chair from laughing so hard.  People are so anxious to hear that their beloved junk foods are good for them that they will hop on any train that supports such nonsense.  Sorry, junk food junkies, but too much sugar of any kind is unhealthy, whether it comes from HFCS, corn syrup, ordinary table sugar (sucrose), honey, agave syrup or nectar, apple juice concentrate, brown sugar, corn syrup, evaporated cane juice, fructose, glucose, dextrose, grape juice concentrate, maple syrup, molasses, raw sugar, Confectioner’s sugar, or beet sugar.   Many people have become so conscious of avoiding HFCS that they forget about avoiding all the other added sweeteners too.  If you eat more sugar calories than your body can burn off, you will gain weight, regardless of the source.  The debate is over. 

Let’s egg on the debate a little bit further, just for amusement’s sake…

So what do we do about all the non-soda foods that also contain HFCS, such as bread, cereal, granola bars, yogurt, ketchup, and baked goods?  I say, avoid them as much as possible.  Will avoiding all HFCS-containing foods put an end to our obesity crisis?   Absolutely not.  The pervasiveness of HFCS in our food supply certainly contributes to the problem, but added sugars in all forms are equally abundant and need to be limited if we want to control our waistlines.  Much of the paranoia seems to surround the “high fructose” part of HFCS.    Fructose is naturally abundant in honey and most varieties of fruit.  So frankly, we could also label these sources “high fructose”.  Then why aren’t we ranting about the need to avoid these natural sources of fructose as well?  Good question, eh?  Yes, HFCS is lab created and not “natural”.  HFCS is made from corn syrup that undergoes enzymatic processing, converting some of corn syrup’s glucose to fructose, that produces a sweeter tasting and more water-soluble product with higher levels of fructose than regular corn syrup.  Hence the name, “High Fructose Corn Syrup”. Food manufacters prefer to use HFCS over other forms of sugar, including regular corn syrup, as it is cheaper and the higher fructose content affords a softer texture to foods while maintaining moisture and freshness.   As a result of all the bad publicity, food manufacturers are now replacing HFCS with regular corn syrup, sucrose, and a whole bunch of other “natural” sugars, like those listed above.  Avoiding HFCS only to load up on “natural” corn syrup or cane sugar (sucrose) doesn’t make much sense. 

Sugar is sugar, and we as a population are addicted to it.   There is an abundance of evidence suggesting that added sugars, from sweetened beverages, coffee drinks, candy, chocolate, cakes, cookies, muffins, pies, ice cream, cereals, granola bars, etc., may raise the risk of obesity, heart disease, diabetes, fatty liver disease, and gout.   Have an interest in preventing these formidable diseases?  Cutting back on all added sugars is one positive step towards doing so, whether it comes from evaporated cane juice, HFCS, honey, or agave syrup.   Sugar adds a lot of extra calories to foods, which most certainly can lead to weight gain.   Sugar is not evil, it just needs to be consumed in moderation.  As a country, we eat way too much junk food, period.  Fat or no fat.  Sugar or no sugar.  If we cut out the junk, we will shrink our waistlines, pure and simple. 

“Ooooh, but it’s an organic cookie made with brown rice syrup instead of sugar!  It must be good for me then, right?”  Oh my….I honestly hear this all the time.  A cookie that lists “brown rice syrup” in its ingredients still has added sugar and is most certainly not a health food.  Organic processed foods can be just as junky as the rest of them.  Don’t be fooled.   Become privy to a food’s sugar content by not only reading the grams of sugar per serving as listed on the Nutrition Facts label but by checking the ingredients list for those more misleading forms of sugar.  Unfortunately, at this point in time, there is no distinction between natural sugars and added sugars on the Nutrition facts panel, so you must rely on the ingredient list.  As a general rule of thumb, if a food contains little or no milk or fruit (which have natural sugars), then the ”Sugars” number on the package will let you know how much added sugar you are getting in each serving.  Don’t worry about the naturally occurring sugar in whole fruit, milk, and plain yogurt.  There is nothing wrong with getting some of these natural sugars. 

The greatest problem with added sugar is that it is a source of “empty” calories—essentially no nutritional value, regardless of it’s source.   Added sugars either crowd out healthy, nutritious foods (such as fruits, vegetables, lean protein, low-fat dairy, whole grains), or they make you gain weight if you eat too much of them in addition to healthy foods.  It is important to realize that most sugary foods are junk foods—high in sugar and calories, and low in nutrients.  Many are also packed with virtually worthless white flour (refined from wheat) and come in sizes not suitable for just one person watching his or her waistline.  The tempting “breakfast muffin” at Panera or Starbucks is essentially a large piece of cake, and certainly not the best way to start your day whether it is sweetened with sucrose, HFCS, or agave syrup.

Enough said…

Achieving Weight Loss Success During the Dog Days of Summer

In Weight Loss on July 20, 2011 at 9:37 AM

Summer is a challenging time to stay on track with healthy eating and lifestyle habits.   The extra social opportunities that long days and warm nights afford, not to mention late-evening meals, ballgames, and trips to the local ice cream parlor, can most certainly wreck havoc on anyone’s well-intentioned weight loss goals.   I will share some pointers on how to set realistic, sustainable goals, while still enjoying the dog days of summer:

Achieving a substantial, long-term weight loss goal is most easily accomplished by setting a series of small, specific, realistic goals.  It may prove helpful to keep a food and activity journal for one full week to identify areas for change.  Record what you eat, how much you eat, when you eat, as well as comments regarding your whereabouts (in car, at restaurant, at a friend’s house, on the couch, etc..) and feelings/emotions that may be driving your food choices (starving, bored, lonely, sad, stressed out, socially anxious, etc.).

As you are reviewing your food record, ask yourself some questions:  What types of foods am I overeating?  Am I getting enough fruits and vegetables?  How can I improve the timing of my meals?  Am I eating in restaurants or ordering carry-out too often?  Am I consuming too many calories from beverages?  How can I set limits on my favorite foods without feeling deprived?  Do I need to increase my overall activity level?

Once you have identified areas for change, choose one or two small, specific behavior goals to focus on for the next week, such as: I will eat two servings of fruit every day; I will walk briskly at least four times per week for 30 minutes; I will pack my lunch for work three times a week; I will eat breakfast every day; I will avoid white flour products and consume only 100% whole grains; I will stop drinking beverages containing sugar such as regular soda and juices; I will stop drinking high-calorie coffee drinks; I will only eat a small serving of (insert vice here) three times per week; I will eat dinner in restaurants only two times per week; I will not order fried foods in restaurants; I will eat at least one serving of vegetables at lunch and dinner; I will not skip meals; I will limit each between-meal snack to 100-150 calories; I will eat fish instead of beef two times per week;I will eat only a half sandwich at my favorite deli; I will use a pedometer to track the number of steps I take each day.

Whatever habits you decide to change, make sure you are being realistic.  The amount of weight you need to lose to improve your health may be much less than you think. Your health can be greatly improved by a loss of 5-10% of your starting weight.  (i.e. 10-20 pounds for a 200 pound person)  Setting this initial weight loss goal is both realistic and valuable.  After this first goal weight is attained, you can decide if you are ready to lose more.  Setting your goals too high can be very discouraging, especially when faced with the aforementioned challenges of summer.  If you are particularly social or travel a lot throughout the summer months, setting goals to simply prevent weight gain maybe more realistic and attainable.

It is most valuable to set appropriate goals that work for you.  Focus on specific dietary and exercise changes that will lead to long-term weight loss and weight maintenance, rather than following a restrictive fad diet that forces you to make too many changes at one time.  Select two or three goals to work on at one time.  Once one goal is achieved, you can add another. 

Effective goals have three valuable components: they are specific, attainable, and forgiving.  The goals suggested above contain each of these components, such as “I will walk for at least 30 minutes, five days each week” or “I will eat at least 1 cup of vegetables at lunch and dinner every day”, or “I will limit ice cream to two small cones per week”.

A specific goal is one you can easily measure:  have you walked at least 30 minutes for five days this week?  Did you eat at least a cup of vegetables with meals every day?  Did you make only two trips to the ice cream parlor this week, and did you order only a “small” cone?  Setting a less specific goal such as “walk more” or “eat more vegetables” or  “eat less ice cream” would make it much harder to measure your success. 

An attainable goal is one that you are likely to reach.  Setting a goal to exercise 90 minutes a day may be too ambitious for someone with a hectic schedule.  Promising to “exercise at least 30 minutes five days a week” allows you to achieve this goal whether you have time for an hour or only 30 minutes of exercise on any given day.  You want to feel gratified and successful meeting your goals rather than discouraged.  If ice cream is your passion, do not swear it off completely, as this sets you up for a binge somewhere down the line.  Setting limits on your ice cream intake is more reasonable for both your waistline and your tastebuds!

Finally, a forgiving goal is one that allows you to be less than “perfect” and prevents the all-or-nothing mentality.  In other words, setting a lofty goal to exercise every day leads to feelings of failure if you only manage to exercise five times in a given week.  In this case, allow yourself some flexibility by planning to “exercise 5-7 days a week” to eliminate any feelings of guilt on days when you really are too busy or don’t feel well enough to exercise.  Whether you exercise for 5, 6, or 7 days, you have met your goal.  Yay! 

Once you have met and maintained a specific goal for a couple of weeks, keep yourself motivated by rewarding your success.   Rewards that you control can be used to encourage you to reach your diet and exercise goals.  An effective reward is something that is desirable, timely, and contingent on meeting your goal.  Numerous small rewards for meeting small goals are more effective than having one reward for a very large goal requiring a long, difficult effort.  Just be careful not to reward yourself with food!  Treating yourself to a pedicure, new outfit or electronic gadget, massage, or a fun night out is very self-nurturing and allows you to indulge yourself in ways that can meet your emotional needs, without sabotaging your efforts at weight control. 

As mentioned above, summer may be a good time to keep track of your food intake and exercise pattern on an ongoing basis.  Observe how much you are eating and exercising every day—keep a food and exercise diary to make behavior changes more obvious to you.   If you run around a lot taking your kids here and there, try wearing pedometer to measure how many steps you take in a day.  (10,000 steps amounts to approximately 5 miles of walking!)  Get back to measuring portions to make sure they haven’t grown in size… This will help you identify areas that need improvement as well as provide encouragement to keep up healthy habits.  If you started a diary back when you first set out to lose weight (such as January 1st), you may have stopped keeping it up over the past few weeks or months–get back to it!  This will certainly help you keep tabs on all the extra nibbles that pop in at all the barbeques, picnics, ballgames, happy-hours, and bonfires (ahem…S’mores!) that fill your social calendar.

Try to avoid overeating.  It takes 15 to 20 minutes for your brain to get the message that you have been fed.  Eating more slowly may give your body more time to send this signal, so that you end up eating less.  Eating high fiber foods, lean protein, and vegetables can help you feel fuller longer.  You can also serve food on smaller plates so that moderate portions do not seem so small.  Changing your eating schedule can also be helpful: setting regular meal times will prevent you from skipping or delaying meals, which tend to result in overeating due to a ravenous appetite.

Become aware of situations that encourage overeating.  Learn what social or environmental cues seem to encourage undesired eating, and then attempt to change those cues.  For example, if you tend to overeat while watching television, you may try to stop watching as much TV or try not to eat while watching television—make a plan to eat only at the kitchen table, with the TV turned off.  In general, visible and accessible food items are often cues for unplanned eating—-do not leave food out on the counter—keep it packed away in the pantry.  Or, better yet, keep your favorite high-calorie foods out of your home to begin with.  At meal time, keep serving bowls off the table.  Going to a potluck style barbeque?  Don’t show up starving or you will be loading your plate to the hilt.  Eat a small snack before you head out to make it easier to choose smaller portions and healthier foods.  Do you tend to stuff yourself silly with peanuts, nachos, and a hot dog every time you go to a baseball game, not to mention a beer or two?  This will certainly present a serious weight control challenge for a season-ticket holder!  Acknowledging the situations in which you tend to overeat, and subsequently setting an alternative plan of action, are essential to preventing frequent episodes of over-indulgence that ultimately thwart your weight loss efforts.

If you cannot accomplish a specific goal after 1-2 weeks, re-write the goal to be more realistic or set a different goal.  This is a straightforward way to start changing unhealthy habits.  Successful, long-term weight loss is always best achieved by making permanent lifestyle changes, not by following a prescribed “diet” for a short period of time.  Take small steps that are easy to achieve, and with patience, time, and perseverance, you will be rewarded with a thinner, healthier you!

Have a happy, healthy summer!

The Myths Surrounding “Gluten-Free” Foods

In Gluten-Free diet, Trends, Weight Loss on June 30, 2011 at 9:36 AM

I have been ask to discuss the health value of following a gluten-free diet for weight loss and improved overall well-being.  As a result of all the media hype surrounding gluten-free foods, many people mistakenly believe that such foods are automatically healthier for them.  Gluten, a naturally occurring protein in wheat, rye and barley, is essentially being blamed for making us fat.  Are you kidding me?  While it is true that we are eating gluten at high levels in breads, baked goods, and pasta, we cannot forget that it is just as easy to indulge in naturally gluten-free tortilla chips and salsa when visiting a Mexican restaurant….is that a healthy choice?  Food manufacturers and restaurants are hopping on this bandwagon and going out of their way to generate gluten-free foods and menu choices to entice consumers into thinking they are making  healthier choices, while raising profit margins.   Don’t fall victim to this ubiquitous scam.

Please ignore the idea that avoiding gluten will make you lose weight.  The notion that a gluten-free diet is automatically healthier can be a big mistake.  Many people can just as easily gain weight following a “Gluten Free Diet” because so many gluten-free products marketed today contain an abundance of refined starch, sugar, and fat.  A gluten-free cookie is still a cookie—it is just not made with our traditional refined wheat flour, but refined rice flour or potato flour instead…  How about tortilla chips, potato chips, and French fries?  Corn and potatoes are naturally gluten-free, but what about all the added fat and calories that are added during processing?  If you eat a large bag of potato chips each week while watching Dancing with the Stars, you will gain weight for sure, gluten-free or not.  Weight control still boils down to total calorie intake, whether that be from starches, sugars, proteins, or fats.  Gluten-free DOES NOT mean low-calorie.

Choosing to follow a gluten-free diet is a personal preference, and can be challenging to maintain over the long term unless you are gaining significant physical rewards, such as less gastrointestinal distress and discomfort (discussed below).   The key to following a healthy gluten-free diet is sticking with less processed foods: lean meats, low-fat dairy products, legumes, nuts, fruits, vegetables, rice, oats, and lesser-known gluten-free grains such as quinoa, amaranth, millet, and buckwheat (has nothing to do with wheat, believe it or not).  In other words, stocking your pantry with gluten-free chips, cookies, and other snack items is not the way to go.

Following a 100% gluten-free diet is only absolutely necessary for people who suffer from an autoimmune condition known as celiac sprue disease (CD).  Celiac disease can occur in children as well as adults, and is a lifelong disorder in which gluten-containing foods damage the inner lining of the small intestine.  Even small amounts of gluten can affect people with CD.  Fortunately, the resulting intestinal inflammation and poor absorption of nutrients is reversible upon complete elimination of gluten from the diet.

Some people have what is called “non-celiac gluten sensitivity”, in which they develop symptoms such as bloating, gas, abdominal pain, and/or diarrhea, following gluten intake.  It is important to note that no physical damage occurs to the intestinal lining in this situation.  Making a point to consume only small amounts of gluten-containing foods at a time can be enough to relieve symptoms.  Should you suspect a gluten-sensitivity, you can try eliminating all gluten-containing foods from your diet for one week to see if gastrointestinal distress resolves.   If so, you can choose to continue to eliminate gluten, or slowly introduce small amounts of gluten-containing foods back into your diet.

If you are thinking about trying a gluten-free diet to relieve any gastrointestinal distress, first review the symptoms of celiac sprue to determine whether or not you need to have a blood test or small intestine biopsy:

-recurring bloating, gas, and abdominal pain

-chronic diarrhea, constipation, or both

-unexplained weight loss or weight gain

-unexplained anemia (low hemoglobin/iron levels)

-vitamin K deficiency

-fatigue, weakness, or lack of energy

-frequent canker sores inside the mouth

-delayed growth or onset of puberty (children)

-behavior changes, irritability, depression (especially children)

 If you, or someone you know, exhibit three or more of the above symptoms, make an appointment with your medical doctor to rule out the possibility of celiac sprue. 

A lesser-known form of gluten sensitivity occurs as a chronic skin rash known as dermatitis herpetiformis.   It presents as an intensely itchy, blistering rash, with symptoms ranging from mild to serious, but they are likely to disappear if gluten ingestion is avoided.  If you develop a rash that does not respond to other forms of treatment, consider asking your doctor for a blood test (for IgA antibodies) or a skin biopsy.  If the test comes back positive, a strict, lifelong gluten-free diet must be followed to relieve symptoms. 

If you don’t have celiac sprue disease, dermatitis herpetiformis, or other gastrointestinal signs of gluten sensitivity, then the choice to follow a gluten-free diet is entirely up to you.  If cutting out the likes of pizza, pasta, bread, and traditionally made cakes, cookies, and pastries helps you cut your total calories and lose weight, that is great.  Just be sure you don’t substitute them with a bunch of gluten-free junk foods, otherwise you are back to square one.

Alcohol Calories Count Too

In Trends, Weight Loss on June 13, 2011 at 5:07 PM

Summer is a time when a variety of fruity, sweet, alcoholic concoctions take center stage at social gatherings.  Before you accidentally grow out of that bikini or Speedo, let’s discuss the potential impact these fashionable delights can have on your waistline.  Even someone who drinks moderately can end up with excessive calories that are likely to be ignored.  Most people acknowledge that fast food and desserts are “fattening”, but are less likely to consider alcohol intake into their weight management strategies. 

Let’s review the basics first:  a serving of alcohol is considered 12 oz. of beer, 5 oz. wine, or 1.5 oz. of distilled spirits.  Generally, 12 oz. of regular beer will cost you 150 calories (200 if it’s a pint), 90-100 calories for a “light” beer, or 55-65 calories for an “ultra” beer; most table wines will contain 100-110 calories a glass (185 calories if it’s a dessert Port); and 1 oz. of 80 proof liquor contains about 85 calories.  Mixed drinks are bound to get you into the most trouble as they usually contain multiple shots of liquors/sweetened liqueurs/juices/soda, etc.  (FYI: Alcohol has 7 calories per gram.) 

In your effort to limit calories this summer, do you think the overly-hyped “Skinnygirl Margarita” is your saving grace?  Well, guess again…while it is true that 4 oz. of this fruity, easy to drink concoction has only 100 calories, who realistically pours themselves a 4 oz (half cup) serving?   This portion contains the same number of calories as a glass of wine, but with its sweet, fruity flavor, it goes down the hatch easier than wine, setting you up for a refill…or two.  Realistically, you are more likely to start with at least an 8 oz. serving.  While the bottle claims “Skinnygirl is the margarita you can trust”, this only applies if you can trust yourself to have the restraint for a single, 4 oz. glass.  Otherwise, it has the potential to pad your hips and thighs as easily as all the other margarita mixes out there.  Don’t be fooled by all the marketing hype.

Here are some suggestions to help keep you from consuming too many calories from alcohol this season:

1.  Don’t drink alcohol!   Of course, the best calorie-saving choice, but if you desire to do so, alternate alcoholic beverages with a large glass of water to help keep you hydrated and slow down your pace of drinking.

 2.  Avoid calorie bombs such as dessert drinks (like chocolate martinis);  fruity, frozen concoctions (Pina Coladas can contain up to 800 calories depending on the size); and drinks with multiple alcohols and mixers (a Long Island Iced Tea typically contains 780 calories per drink!)  Even an innocent looking Bailey’s Irish Creme shot to mix in your coffee has 130 calories in it…(Hey Bravo, are you reading this?)

 3.  Cut the calories by choosing diet mixers instead of regular soda and juices (an 8 oz. vodka cranberry has 200 calories). Turn wine into a “spritzer” or a lager into a “shandy” to dilute the alcohol content.  Sorry guys, but Leinenkugel’s “Summer Shandy” is not what I am referring to here…the lemonade adds too much sugar. 

4.  Plan alcohol into your daily calorie “quota”.  (i.e. instead of ordering dessert, have a glass of wine, NOT BOTH!)

 5.  Don’t skip meals or drink on an empty stomach—this increases the rate of alcohol absorption which can lead to low blood sugar and the resulting increase in appetite, also known as  ”the munchies”.  Alcohol also reduces your inhibitions so you are more likely to throw your diet goals out the window and overindulge.

 A final note:  drinking in “moderation” is considered no more than 1 drink per day for a woman and no more than 2 drinks per day for a man.  Binge drinking is not only detrimental to your waistline, but to your liver and safety as well.

Have a safe and happy summer!

%d bloggers like this: