Monthly Archives: May 2012

Weight loss and maintenance

We’re all aware that poor eating habits wreak havoc on our bodies and lead to health problems, yet it’s difficult to escape. Our society promotes indulgent, mindless eating with ads on TV, magazines and the internet telling us to treat ourselves and “open happiness”. We begin thinking that there’s something wrong with us if we don’t bow to our cravings. Not to mention the looks we get from our peers if we pass on the chips or bread basket.

Adding insult to injury, we’re barraged with ads to “eat more” than chastised for being “too fat”! Then, here we go again, we are overwhelmed with ads for magic powders, pills and exercise equipment that will cure us of our obesity and laziness in no time! Well, aren’t we lucky.

Building on my previous posts about willpower and positive behavior change I’d like to offer some more thoughts on how to escape this cycle.

  • Find support and build your confidence. By learning the basics of nutrition and physical activity and how to apply them to your specific needs you are empowering yourself to succeed. Keep growing your body of knowledge!
  • Nothing happens right away! It takes time and determination to phase out bad habits and relearn new. But as incentive – losing just 10 pounds can make an enormous difference in your health if you are overweight. Don’t give up if you don’t see results right away – and you won’t. Certainly not right away. These things take time, more for some than others.
  • Go slow. Transitioning from highly processed foods to whole foods is difficult, as is transitioning from a sedentary life to an active lifestyle. If you’re like most people when it comes to food, your palette has adapted to the unbelievable high sodium levels in modern food and the artificial flavors that go with them. Guess what – you may not love real food right away! Seriously, it took my husband and I a few goes with the good stuff before we realized how distorted our taste buds had become. Now when we eat, on rare occasion, processed food we feel like we’ve just licked the salt shaker. It’s just plain disgusting.  You’ll see, I promise. I suggest ridding yourself of just one offending item per week. That way the change just sneaks up on you and you don’t feel you’ve altered your lifestyle in any radical way. When you do it that slow, honestly, you don’t even miss it.
  • Plan on changing for a lifetime. Not just for a diet or some “program” but for good. This is your life we are talking about. Do your want to just “fit into your bathing suit” or be around to wear a bathing suit when your older. You decide.
  • Keep a food diary. This way you can keep track of your calories and specific food consumption. At the end of the day, most people tend to under-estimate calories and over-estimate their activities. Bad news for the waistline. Keep a small notebook and pencil in your purse or, better yet, download one of the many great free apps that do it all for you, track your food AND calories.  In this log it may be helpful to include a log of activities as well. As stated above, most people overestimate their activity level.

Having a plan and recording your progress helps you to know what you are doing rather than just what you think you are doing – which is in most cases inaccurate.


Exercise for results

If you’re like most people you don’t have a ton of time to spend on your exercise regime. Luckily, you only need about 30 minutes per day three days per week to see gains in your fitness. The catch is those 30 minutes need to be productive which means they need to be moderately to vigorously intense. Simple terms, you need to break a sweat. In order for your sessions to be productive you’ll need to apply the principles of overload and progression. Without applying these principles you will stop seeing results, in other words you’ll hit a plateau.

As you exercise, your body is making physiological adaptations to adjust to the “stress” you are creating. For example, if you start weight training and lift 8 pounds for three sets of 10 reps, you’ll notice that after time it becomes easier and easier. That’s because your body is adapting by becoming stronger. But your body will reach a point where that 8 pounds 30 times isn’t doing a thing, you need to increase your resistance, which means to add some more weight or increase reps. This is introducing overload to your muscles to which they have to adapt again, again becoming stronger. You can vary your method of applying overload by increasing weight, reps, or sets or by reducing the rest period between sets. A note for women, adding more weight will not make you “bigger”. We simply don’t have the hormones to do it. You will become stronger with more definition, but not bulky. When implementing overload it is advised not to exceed 5% of your current ability to avoid injury.

Progression and overload go hand in hand. Progression is exactly what is sounds like it is, it is the progression of overload in your workout resulting in muscle gains (strength or endurance). When thinking about increasing any variables in your routine  (frequency, intensity, type and time)* you should feel no soreness after your last workout. This is a good indication that you are ready for the next step.

Above I’ve talked about variation in your workout, there are other methods of keeping your workout interesting and challenging. Periodization, which is simply organizing your workout into cycles of intensity. Say, Monday is low intensity, Wednesday is moderate and Friday is high intensity. This is an example of a very condensed periodization cycle, more frequently the cycles are broken down into periods of several weeks or months. Other methods include circuit training which is the practice of cycling through a circuit of specific exercises, one after the other to complete a circuit. Interval training is another way to keep things challenging as you can control the intensity of your training as per your fitness level. An interval training session is typically a cardio workout where periods of high intensity are followed by periods of active rest, then repeated. This method of cardio training is very effective in making gains in your cardio fitness in a relatively short period of time.

When you do reach your goals you are ready to enter the maintenance phase. This is the phase we want to get to. At the maintenance phase you are interested in keeping what you’ve worked so hard to get, but you no longer have to be too concerned about overloading your muscles, just keeping them challenged with variety. This can be achieved through varying your exercises. For example, if you usually work on machines, try using free weights or cables. If you use a leg press try a barbell squat. By altering the angle of your joint movement you are forcing your muscles to fire in a different pattern. You’re also using your muscles differently and employing more muscles per movement. So, for example, by moving from a leg press to a barbell squat, you are requiring your body to use muscles to stabilize your body as you stand and perform the squat whereas lying down on the leg press you are isolating your hamstring and glutes. Keeping your workout interesting and rewarding is a great way to ensure you’ll stick with it.

* Frequency – how often are you working out.  Intensity – the resistance or weight, sets or reps. Type – the type of exercise you are performing. Time – How long your session lasts

Basic Nutrition III– Fats

Here’s a fact: Our bodies need fat to function. Fat is necessary for the metabolism of four important vitamins; A, D, E and K as well as playing a vital role in maintaining healthy skin and hair, insulating body organs against shock, maintaining body temperature, and promoting healthy cell function. The problem starts when we eat too much fat or in the case of trans fats, any at all. You see, fat doesn’t make you fat, but coming in at 9 calories per gram it’s twice as many calories as proteins and carbohydrates. It adds up quick. On the other hand it fills you up quick and keeps you full longer. Which is a good thing if you’re trying to keep from munching between meals.

Trans fats are chemically hydrogenated oils and fats. They are not produced in nature but man made and are found in a large amount of commercially produced foods including prepared foods, baked goods, canned tomatoes (the flavored kind), and a host of innumerable other products. These fats are highly stable which means they have a very long shelf life, which is good for the food manufacturers and super markets but terrible for us as they are so common in the food supply that it is difficult to avoid them. Possible but difficult. I takes a lot of label reading. Here’s an example of how these fats hide and find their way into our diet. Just last night I was making tomato sauce for some baked ziti I was making. I added some tomato paste to the chopped tomatoes and noticed that I had mistakenly picked up “tomato paste with basil”. Well, it wasn’t just basil in there! There was high fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated vegetable oil (aka trans fat!!!), and a host of other offensive chemicals and garbage in there. I ate it, not going to throw a pot of sauce out the window but now I’m wiser for the experience. Who would have thought a simple can of tomato paste could have 12 ingredients.

Back to trans fats. They have been found to be much worse for us than the sinister saturated fat. Oh my! The AHA recommends at the very most we can allow 1% of total daily calories in trans fats, with the goal of getting the least possible amount. These must be pretty awful! Numerous studies have shown a link between trans fats and coronary artery disease. They also raise your LDL (bad) cholesterol and lower your HDL cholesterol. Not good folks.

Saturated fats are mostly found in animal products but also in coconut oil, palm kernel and palm oils. Although saturated fats should be consumed in moderation turns out they aren’t so bad as everyone thought. But that doesn’t make them good, just not as bad as those nasty trans fats. So watch your intake but don’t stress and please don’t substitute vegetable shortening for butter in your pie crust thinking its better. It’s not. Weird but true. Oh, and guess what. Lard is good too! Also not expected right! It has no trans fats and less saturated fat and cholesterol than butter. Most saturated fats also have monounsaturated fats too which are the good fats that aid in removing the sticky stuff from our arteries. It’s a crazy, crazy world.

Poly and mono unsaturated fats are the fats found in oils (corn, safflower, sunflower, flaxseed, avocado, walnut, olive, peanut and soy, which is commonly called vegetable oil). From these fats we derive omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Omega-3’s, as we’ve all heard, are very good for our overall health. They have been linked to lower levels of blood triglycerides which reduces the risk of clogged arteries. Omega-3’s are found most commonly found in cold water fish, walnuts, flaxseed, chia seeds and hemp seeds. On the other side is Omega-6’s. These are also good for you but in small amounts. Estimates say we generally eat as much as 10 times the amount of Omega-6’s that we should almost entirely through processed food. When Omega-6 is consumed in excess they actually cause health problems like chronic inflammation leading to arthritis and some cancers. Omega-6’s should be consumed in balance with Omega-3’s in a ratio of approximately 3:1. The oil that provided the closest balance in these two oils in olive oil. Canola, palm, sunflower and soybean (aka vegetable) oils have the highest amount of Omega-6. Sorry to say these are the most commonly used commercial oils so if you want to get your oil balance in check watch the ingredient list on the food you buy. As I said earlier, Omega-6 is not bad for you, just like anything else, its excess that’s not so great. I think this is going to be the next big thing people talk about.

Getting these oils in balance is easy. Cut down on processed food and if you don’t eat a diet rich in Omega’3 sources take a high quality supplement. I’ve read a lot of books about nutrition and have found the one that distills this information the best and most easily understood is not even a book about nutrition. It’s a book about exercise called “The Women’s Health Big Book of Exercises”. I recommend buying the book, or looking over a copy at your library. First of all its the best book I’ve found illustrating exercises and mapping out workouts but as a bonus I find the information beyond exercise to be as good. Mostly because its short and incredible easy to understand and not to mention spot on.

Palm Oil

Palm oil is a common oil used in commercial foods such as cookies, pastries, savory snacks (potato chips, etc) and in personal care products and cleaning products. The problem I’d like to alert you to is the fact that palm oil is imported from places like Malaysia and Indonesia where vast amounts of oxygen producing rainforests are being destroyed in order to establish palm oil plantations. This practice releases enormous amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere as well as displacing animals and people who live in the rain forests and depend on them to live. Ultimately, we all depend on the rain forests to live as they filter the air and contribute oxygen to the atmosphere.

I urge you to pay attention to details like this and do your best to make conscious decisions you feel good about in your daily life. We should endevour to not  go about our lives making habitual choices without realizing how these choices effect our lives on a greater scale.

Basic Nutrition II- Proteins

This week I’ll run down the basics of protein. Proteins are made of different amino acids, some your body makes and some you need to get from the food you eat. Your body proteins are constantly changing, old ones broken down and new ones being made using these amino acids as building blocks. The very fact that our bodies are literally made from the stuff we eat is a clear indication we need to pay attention to what we put in our mouths!

Many of us get way too much protein. If you refer back to my post on carbohydrates you’ll see the recommendation is 15% – 20% of your total calories. This is the maximum and most of us are not very active which means we need more like 10% – 15%. Consuming too much protein can have some negative effects that put a strain of your body. One effect is the excretion of excessive amounts of water. Most of the miraculous weight loss folks on the low-carb diets is actually caused by loss of water weight, not of fat. Fact is, they may weigh less on the scale but the fat cells are still there, lurking about, just waiting to be re-hydrated then PLUMP – belly’s back.

So that’s the quantity part, now the quality part. Animal protein is the easiest source for your body to obtain the essential amino acids it does not synthesize for itself. But, that is not to say that animal protein is better than non-animal sources. It’s not. The only thing with obtaining enough protein with a vegetarian diet is getting enough variety in your diet. So, for you vegetarians, pasta every night is not doing much good! If you are getting your grains, beans, nuts, seeds, fruits and veggies, your good. You don’t like tofu, that’s cool, you don’t have to eat it. You just need to eat lots of other great things. You also don’t have to eat things together like beans and rice, which was the old thinking. You just have to eat some sort of grain and some sort of protein at some point in the day, not necessarily together. It’s really quite easy to do. If you do eat meat, also cool, you still need to eat a variety of food. The truth is this: western diets rely on meat way too much! You should only be getting 10% of your protein form animal sources, the rest can easily be had through vegetarian sources. You are very well already getting enough protein through these sources and not even be aware of it.

I suggest keeping a food journal so that you can become more aware of what you put into your body. Ask yourself questions about the quality of the food you are consuming: Am I getting enough variety? How much red meat am I eating? How many fruits and vegetables? How much processed food do I eat? Asking yourself questions like this will get you in the habit of making better choices. Eventually you won’t even think about it, it will be part of your lifestyle. Remember, what your eat is literally what your body is using to build itself, day in and day out. You can provide the pieces to build a healthy, well oiled machine or a broken down junker. You may feel good today but what about tomorrow, or the many more tomorrows I hope you see?

Protein rich foods:

Tuna 3oz – 16grams

Salmon 3oz – 17grams

Peanut butter 1TB – 19grams

Black Beans 1cup – 15grams

Barley 1cup – 20grams

Tofu 1/2cup – 10grams

Soybeans 1cup – 22grams

Cottage chz 1cup – 22grams

Steak 3oz – 30 grams

Joggers Live Longer, Study Says

Joggers Live Longer, Study Says.