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Rethinking the Calorie

According to the Centers for Disease Control, “To lose weight, you must use up more calories than you take in.” But most people do not find weight control so simple. There are many problems with the simple notation that weight loss is just a matter of calories in vs. calories out. How do we know the number of calories we take in and more importantly, what do our bodies’ do with those calories? Here are some variables:

  • Measuring the number of calories in a food is extremely inaccurate.
  • How many calories each person extracts from a particular food varies from person to person and from food to food.
  • How the food is prepared changes the available calories.
  • The microorganisms in our gut influences how many calories get absorbed.
  • The time of day food is consumed and how much sleep you get can determine whether your body burns or stores the calories.
  • Nutrient density and meal composition, genetics, age, specific hormone levels, body fat, and stress all affect calorie absorption.

“Science has already shown that the calorie is broken. Now it has to find a replacement.”

(see full article The Atlantic)

While we wait for scientists to figure out how much we should eat (something our ancestors and wild animals have known forever), here are some tips. Choose whole foods like vegetables, meat, poultry, fish and fruit. Limit foods that are made from flour and sugar and follow the Best Calorie Control Guide.


Knowledge or Motivation?

Clients seeking my weight loss and fitness services can be grouped into two categories; ones who need knowledge and ones who need motivation.

Needs knowledge – A client looking to lose weight may not know which nutrition program is right for them or how to prepare well balanced meals. Another client may wish to begin exercising, but may have never engaged in prior physical activity and doesn’t know were to start. In either case, my job is to provide them with information they understand and can implement into an effective program in order for them to reach their goals. You can get plenty of practical information by down loading 3 Simple Tips to Losing Weight and Feeling Great (see right side bar)

Needs motivation – When a prospective client does possess the knowledge and knows what to do, but feels they lack motivation; I must determine if they are truly ready to begin a nutrition and/or fitness program. Is this person mentally and emotionally ready to take action? It is difficult to make what may be major lifestyle changes, when problems exist in ones personal or professional life or when someone isn’t prepared to fully commit. No amount of cheerleading, great program design or willpower will motive anyone under stress or dedicated for very long.

If things in your life are going well, then maybe you do just need a kick in the pants. But Dennis Bumgarner thinks, “Our understanding of the relationship between motivation and performance is backwards.” If we somehow decide to eat better or begin working out, and in doing so, we find ourselves feeling better, we see the value in our efforts. Maybe you stop eating sugar for a few days and lose weight or you go for a walk and feel energized or your partner asks you to join him/her in training for a 5-K run. Bumgarner says, “The crucial notion is this: we don’t get motivated and then do something. Instead, we do something and then get motivated. Motivation does not precede performance. Rather it is the opposite. Performance precedes motivation. It is in the doing of the act that we discover motivation.”

The bottom line is not to try to get yourself motivated or hire someone to do it for you; it is to take action and start changing your behavior. If you are unsure of what behaviors to change or how to implement the changes, then we are back to needs knowledge.  


Bumgarner, D. ACSW, LCSW, "Motivating your intellegent but unmotivated teenager" 


Which Works Better - Cardio or Strength Training?

A recent review and meta-analysis published in the Journal of Diabetes & Metabolic Disorders compared the effectiveness of diet, exercise or diet with exercise for weigh-loss. The author, James E. Clark, found that diet and resistance (strength) training was best for body composition changes. Interestingly, the paper showed that the combination of diet and resistance training (RT) was more effective than diet and endurance training (ET) or resistance training combined with endurance training. RT was more effective when exercises were done using progressive amounts of weight for 2-3 sets of 6-10 repetitions, using whole body free-weight exercises. This type of training resulted in lower levels of body fat and the retention of muscle mass. Maintaining or increasing muscle is important when losing weight. Additionally, RT lowered total cholesterol, LDL and triglycerides, along with reducing fasting insulin levels. The author concluded that the “focus of treatment should be on producing a large metabolic stress (as induced by RT or high-intensity ET) rather than an energetic imbalance (calories in vs. calories out) for adults who are overfat.”

A Case Against Cardio, a blog post written by Mark Sisson, covers the paper above and goes on to show that resistance and high intensity cardio training proved superior to low intensity cardio training for treating women with PCOS, patients recovering for heart failure and aspects of vascular function in type 2 diabetics.

If you are currently engaging in long duration (30-60 min) low to moderate cardio training (i.e. running, biking, etc.) and enjoy it, don’t stop!

But if you are not achieving your goals using this protocol, based on this research, it may be time to make some changes to your training regime.

Besides being better for weight loss and improved blood numbers, a resistance workout or high-intensity cardio session can be done in 15-20 minutes. Even if it’s been a while since you last exercised, you can still engage in this type of training. You just need a routine designed to accommodate your current level of fitness.


The Right Moment

When I was in my twenties, I used to buy fancy socks to match my best outfits. I had dozens of pairs in all different colors and patterns. Somehow I never found the right moment to wear the clothes, so I never wore the socks. I eventually had to throw the socks away because the elastic broke down from age. I’m now in my fifties and I’m sitting here looking at my whisky collection and pontificating over whether “now” is the right moment to open that special bottle. What am I waiting for? A special occasion? The perfect person to share it with? Both legitimate reasons to wait, but what if the special occasion or perfect person never comes along. What if I die tomorrow? I’ve heard stories of widows selling or giving away their dead husband’s collection. Why can’t a random Tuesday night at 5:00 be the right moment?

When it comes to losing weight or beginning an exercise program, when is the right time to start? Do we need to have a special occasion to attend or the perfect program to follow? Does it need to be January 1st? Is it when we get fed up with the way we look or feel? All legitimate reasons, but what if our lack of action causes us real health problems like diabetes or heart disease. Is it then finally the right time? Why can’t a random Tuesday morning at 5:00 be the day we go for a walk or eat real food for breakfast instead of processed cereal?

Sorry, but I don’t have answers to these questions. We all have different reasons for wanting to pop the cork, lose weight or get in shape. For me, I’ve made the decision to do what I can to maintain my health. I just don’t want to be too late in opening up that 50-year-old bottle I’ve been saving! 


Don't focus on Weight Loss (part two)

In part one of this series we looked at two components of improving health in order to lose weight – good nutrition and the right exercise program. Now lets look at two more – stress management and sleep.

Stress is the body’s response to a threat. When under stress adrenaline is released to increase heart rate, elevate blood pressure and increase energy. While acute fight or flight threats are rare today, chronic stressors like work, traffic, family matters and money issues are daily occurrences. Our body treats these minor hassles as threats (Mayo Clinic) and pumps out adrenaline and cortisol. Constant stress, whether real or perceived, and the subsequent release of cortisol, can be very detrimental to our health. It has been shown to suppress our immune system and is linked with IBD, IBS, GERD, ulcers and psychological disorders.

As it relates to weight loss and digestion, stress slows digestion, decreases nutrient absorption, alters gut bacteria, and increases gut permeability (leaky gut) and food sensitivities. Stress can also cause cravings for sweets. All this leads to weight gain, especially around the abdomen.

Getting adequate sleep is also very important. Consistent sleep allows for the release of growth hormone, which stimulates tissue and liver regeneration, promotes muscle building, breaks down fat stores and normalizes blood sugar regulation. Sleep also acts like an antioxidant for the brain (Pizzorono,

Stress is an important factor to consider when it comes to sleep. Stress can lower the levels of serotonin and melatonin, two neurotransmitters important for relaxation and sleep (Murray). Both serotonin and melatonin are made from the amino acid tryptophan. Adequate amounts for tryptophan containing foods need to be consumed in order to make sufficient amounts of serotonin. Without enough serotonin, not enough melatonin will be produced, and without melatonin it is difficult to fall and stay asleep (Holford).

Stress management begins with identifying your stressors and taking steps to mitigate the physical and emotional impact. While we may not be able to control everything that happens in our life or change our current situation, we can control our reaction and our attitude. How we think and how we react can have a tremendous impact on our body responds.

Strategies for managing stress include eating a healthy diet, which includes plenty of omega-3 fat from fatty fish or fish oil, and eating probiotic foods like sauerkraut, kimchee, and kefir or taking a probiotic supplement. Getting regular exercise and 7-8 hours of sleep per night, if possible.  Practicing relaxations techniques such as a body scan or heart rate training using the Inner Balance Program. As little as 5-10 minutes of quite time per day can make a big difference.


Gluten and Grains (the controversy continues)

Have you jumped on the gluten-free band wagon? Have you ditched grains because of gluten, the carbs or the anti-nutrients? Just in time to add more confusion to the subject, two well-respected health and nutrition experts have come out on opposite sides of the debate.

Chris Kresser, author of Your Personal Paleo Code and The Paleo Cure wrote a recent article titled, When Gluten Free is Not a Fad. In it Kresser describes non-celiac gluten sensitivity and refutes some of the claims that NCGS doesn’t even exist. He also covers some of the symptoms and conditions associated with gluten sensitivity. He finishes the article by asking (and answering) the question, “Is removing grains from your diet dangerous?” He concludes that whole grains are not very nutrient dense when compared with meat, fish, vegetables and fruit. He adds that, “people on a gluten-free diet are more likely to increase their intake of essential nutrients if they replace flour products with whole foods.”

John Berardi, PhD, owner of the very successful Precision Nutrition Program wants to once and for all Settle the Great Grain Debate. This article provides an in-depth description of the various issues and controversies surrounding the consumptions of grains. These issues include inflammation, intestinal damage, gluten intolerance and obesity. Berardi says, “Grains provide a wide array of nutrients, including vitamins, minerals, fiber and phytonutrients.” Well written and very informative.

Let me know if you’ve tried going gluten-free and what your experience has been.


Don't Focus on Weight Loss (part one)

I realize many of you reading this are interested in weight (fat) loss. But in order for our body to lose fat we must first restore our health. How? Through good nutrition, appropriate exercise, managing stress and adequate sleep. Let’s talk about the first two.

Good Nutrition – Eat REAL food – While there is no official definition for “real food”, my definition is a one-ingredient food that has been minimally processed and that still retains most, if not all, of its original nutritional value. Even most real food has been processed to some extent. Thankfully we don’t have to buy a live chicken then pluck and butcher it ourselves! There are also some packaged products that would still be considered real food like frozen vegetables, organic dairy products and products made with only real food ingredients (i.e. salsa – tomatoes, onions, garlic, cilantro, salt, pepper). Because real food contains essential vitamins and minerals in the right balance, it is more likely to promote health. While highly processed foods, which contain added salt, sugar, unnatural fats and things we have no idea of what they are or where they came from, detract from our health.

Appropriate Exercise is exercise that challenges our muscles and cardiorespiratory system, while taking into account our goals, current fitness level and physical limitations. For example, someone with the goal of losing 20 pounds, who has been exercising and has no health issues, a regime of strength training combined with higher intensity interval cardio training is a great way to build muscle and burn fat.

On the other hand, someone else with the same 20 pound weight loss goal who may be new to exercise, is pre-diabetic and has back pain, may need to start with walking 15-30 minutes per day. Both exercise programs will challenge each individual and is an appropriate place for each to begin.

In part two we will examine the effect stress and sleep have on weight loss.


One Destination - Many ways to get there

If you where planning to travel from Boston to New York City you would have many safe and reliable options for getting there. You could drive, take a bus or train or fly. How you chose to travel would be based on personal preference, time and finances.

If you want to improve your health or lose weight with diet and exercise, the same is true – you have many safe and reliable options. How you choose to achieve better health or weight loss will also be based on personal preferences, time and finances, but will need to include a few others. Your unique genetics, metabolism and age should be considered. The status of your health (i.e. do you have diabetes, heart disease, etc.), how much weight you have to lose and any physical limitations you have, will play a significant role in the option you choose.

Paleo, plant-based, and low carb diets can all be safe and effective nutritional approaches to better health and weight loss. Lifting weights, yoga and walking are all great ways to exercise. The question is, “which are the best options for YOU?”

If a juicy steak with a side of broccoli makes your mouth water, then a Paleo or lower carbohydrate diet might be right for you. If on the other hand you crave big salads and piles of vegetables with modest amounts of low-fat proteins like chicken and fish, a more plant-based diet may be the way to go. Even if you have significant weight to lose or are dealing with a health condition, either approach can work. You would just need to change the ratios of protein, carbohydrates and fat.

Whatever the best individual dietary approach turns out to be, it should be done within the context of eating whole unprocessed foods, minimizing added sugar and avoiding unnatural man-made fats. Your nutrition plan must also be one you can sustain! 

As you and I age, maintaining muscle mass is vitally important for bone density and metabolism. Therefore it is imperative that we perform some type of exercise. Resistance training can run the gamete from body-weight exercises to strength-based yoga and Pilates to weight lifting. Endurance exercise options include walking, cycling, swimming and running. Whichever forms of exercise you choose to do, just remember to consider your current fitness level and ability. Above all, make it enjoyable!

Check out some great recipes and exercise videos!



Melt Fat and Flatten Your Belly!

Are you ready for the New Year’s onslaught of weight loss plans, diet products and exercise devices? Popular media advertisement will soon bombard us; along with infomercials and Internet gurus trying to convince us there are magic pills and specials programs to ‘Melt Fat and Flatten Your Belly!’ Most people know when something is a complete hoax, but many intelligent folks, including myself, have fallen prey to the lure of quick results and great marketing tactics.

I am also here to warn you of another hoax. One perpetrated by the medical profession and our government for the last 30+ years. They continue to tell us a low fat / low calorie diet coupled with increased exercise is the best treatment for obesity. Meanwhile the rate of obesity (and all its complications) have sky rocketed.

We’ve heard the message, “Eat more fruits and vegetables and avoid red meat and saturated fat.” I agree people should eat more vegetables and fruit, but high quality protein and the essential nutrient – fat? Protein and fat are extremely satiating, not to mention absolutely necessary for optimal health. Not including sufficient amounts of either in your diet necessitates the discipline to live with constant hunger while depriving your body of essential and required nutrients. You can only hold out for so long and then wham! You just can’t take it, give in, and then blame yourself. What I’ve found is probably what you’ve experienced – unsatisfactory results, displeasure with food choices and lack of long-term compliance – not exactly a recipe for success. Obesity statistics and research confirm these plans have not and will not work in the long run.

I am sure you or someone you know has experienced success following this advice. I would argue the weight loss occurred in spite of and not because of these recommendations. These diets only address a symptom (obesity) and ignore the reasons why people gain weight.

Weight loss is not a simple matter of calories in vs. calories out. It has more to do with how the different macronutrients affect your body’s biochemistry than it does the amount of food consumed. Two-thirds of the people in this country are not overweight or obese because they eat too much and exercise too little. They have a metabolic disturbance most likely caused by the over consumption of processed carbohydrates, added sugar and unnatural fats. Eating less and exercising more is at best a temporary solution and not a long-term plan.

There are no magic fat loss formulas or exercise routines. Certain strategies work well for some people and not so well for others. There are individual genetic differences, body types, personal and socio-economical situations to consider. All will play a role in designing the most appropriate program for you to achieve the best outcome. And who will design your ultimate program? You will! And I will teach you how. It will be a program you can follow for a lifetime because it will be customized by you to fit you.

In a series of post over the next few months I will present practical advice on how to optimize your health, manage your weight and get fit by eating real food and exercising smarter. Stay tuned and happy holidays! 


Let The Cows Eat Grass

Let The Cows Eat Grass

The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) published an interview in their October 2011 issue of Nutrition Action with Robert Lawrence, director of the Center for a Livable Future and former director of Primary Care at Harvard Medical School. In the interview titled, “Fewer Cows, More Vegetables”, Mr. Lawrence says it takes 7 pounds of grain to produce one pound of beef and 840 gallons of water to grow that grain. He talks about the problem with the consolidation and concentration of how we raise animals for human consumption and the disposal of the animal waste, which he states used to be a rich source of organic fertilizer.

“We have lost [farming] diversity because of the large concentrations of row crops, particularly the corn and soybeans that feed the animals we eat. We have also come to rely more and more on fossil fuels to produce synthetic fertilizer, pesticides and herbicides.” (I assume he means we need these for the crops.) His solution – eat less meat!

Here’s a better solution – let the cows it grass. Let’s look at what this solution would accomplish. Replacing the corn and soybean fields with grass would not require nearly as much water and allow the cows to eat what they where meant to eat. No fossil fuels to make fertilizer for the crops. The cows will do a nice job at fertilizing the grass, eliminating the need to get rid of the waste. And by the way, not only will the cows be healthier by eating their natural diet and being out in the sunshine, humans will be healthier by eating their natural diet of quality meat raised in a natural humane environment.

For more information about the supposed benefits of eating less meat, read The Vegetarian Myth by Lierre Keith.