Despite our currently volatile political climate, the title of this week’s post is not about the ugly mess in D.C., but rather about the continuing tendency to single out carbs and calories by those seeking to lose body fat. This past weekend my nephew mentioned that his entire office was going to stop eating carbs and wanted him to join in. He cited all my reasons why that is an ill-advised way to permanently lower body fat levels, but they ignored him/me.
A few days later my niece was ordering a salad and I advised her to add protein onto it (for her fitness goals) and she lamented that doing so heavily increased the calories. Once again, the top two faux pas “dieters” make is to eliminate carbs and calories!
Therefore, today I want to once again strongly advise you all to stop seeing carbs or calories as the enemy and start seeing nutrition as one tool (vs. obstacle) in your quest for a healthy lifestyle that facilitates proper and permanent fat loss.
Carbs are necessary! They are essential to providing the energy required to get through your day, least of which is to get you through a killer workout (another necessary element of fat loss). Carbs come in two primary forms – “healthy” (aka complex carbs) and “crap” (aka simple carbs) – and this is where the confusion sets in for most people. By lumping all carbs together and then avoiding them, you are not only reducing your primary energy source, but you are also robbing your body’s “muscle-rebuilding” of nutrients required to burn the fat while building up lean muscle tissue.
Any overly-processed snack foods (chips, crackers, cookies, etc.), breads and pastas are “crap” carbs. But things like vegetables, nuts, whole grains (including certain breads and crackers), and fruits are “healthy” carbs. You’ll need them to successfully lower body fat levels, and because you’re not restricting something from your system, there will be no “bounce back” (regaining of body fat) once you stop the restriction (dieting).
As for calories, once again, the reason counting calories became a societal focus back in the 80’s was because Americans on the whole were over-eating, and over-indulging in a lot of “crap” foods. While counting calories is a great way to make one aware of how much they’re consuming, the down side is that the focus is on a number and NOT on WHAT they’re putting into their body.
If you simply pay more attention to the quality of foods ingested, and the consistency of intake (how much and how often you eat), you do not need to count calories. Unless you’re eating high-fat, high-sugar, and/or overly-processed foods, a moderately balanced daily nutrition intake, with a regular quantity of effective exercise is all that’s required to ultimately shift your body from over-fat to healthy.
So stop pointing fingers and blaming passive nutrition for your fat gain, and start exercising regularly and eating healthy balanced nutrition (with allowances for the less healthy foods that you enjoy) and you will change your body for the better and not have to anguish over the micro-management of your food.
If you’ve followed me for any length of time you know that I despise the word and concept of DIET as it means a temporary change in nutrition to achieve a single (and misplaced) goal. Along with my aversion to the word diet and dieting in general, is the commonly associated word CHEAT.
I often hear people say I cheated and ate something bad. The problem with using the word “cheat” (and bad) is that it implies a negative behavior and sets your brain up to rebel against your goal and therefore leads one to failure. Since no one can deprive themselves of the things they enjoy eating indefinitely (nor should they), diets always fail because the aftermath of a temporary nutritional change is to regain the lost weight/fat as the subject usually resumes eating they way they had before the diet.
So today I offer this advice to those of you who still insist on dieting – do not say that you’ve cheated or been bad when you eat or drink something not “allowed” on your diet. Food is not your spouse, you’re not married to it, lying to it, on trial, or in school – the only areas where the word cheating applies. You will be far more successful in your fat loss goals if you just acknowledge that you want to eat something that gives you pleasure and consume it, albeit ideally in a small quantity. Then resume your diet and get on with it.
The other area of “cheating” that I want to address is that of your workouts. This time of year newly motivated fat-loss seeking customers flock to gyms or sign up with personal trainers to institute new workout plans in conjunction with their new diets. Although I never hear a client state I cheated on my workout and skipped a day, the altering of their fitness plan does occur on as regular basis as the diet-cheating, just without the self-inflicted negative chastising of calling it cheating.
If you are committed to following a workout and meal plan to lose fat, then even if you’ve chosen to do so for a short and temporary period of time – don’t cheat. Workout out to the limits of your strength and endurance, and keep your nutrition focused. Again, if you veer off the diet for a meal/day, or skip a day/week of workouts, just get back on track without any negative shaming of yourself.
Ultimately you will only succeed at permanent fat loss if you change your approach to nutrition on a long-term basis, while still keeping the less “lean and healthy” foods to a smaller and more moderate level (quantity). Eat 6 times a day and drink lots of water. Simultaneously prioritize and schedule high intensity workouts (both cardio and weights) 3 times a week at a minimum. Remember to change up your workouts (increase intensity and/or time spent) at least every 6 weeks so you do not plateau. Also remember that if you start building more muscle mass you might actually need to eat more — but eat smart!
This is the only sure-fire way to reduce your body fat for good! So don’t cheat – just make a health plan and remind yourself that it’s okay if the plan changes or your get off track briefly. It’s all about the long haul.
Nutrition is a vast and confusing topic, and healthy nutrition can be even more so. With fad diets and an annually targeted “evil ingredient” (i.e., saturated fats, carbs or gluten) added into the mix, it is no wonder that so many of my clients and friends call upon me for advice and guidance about what to eat.
The first thing I can advise/remind you is that lean protein is an important tool to lowering body fat – assuming that you’re engaging in regular and effective resistance training. Secondly, you should already know by now that I NEVER recommend a carb-free diet! As I always point out “diet” implies temporary, and carbs are not our enemy. Processed carbs, and foods that have high levels of sugar, sodium, or saturated fats should definitely be avoided, but carbs themselves are quite necessary in keeping us balanced and healthy.
With all this stated, today I thought it helpful if I review my favorite high-protein go-to snacks/meal replacements, listing my top choice for each of the following food profiles: sweet, savory, salty, and drinkable.
SWEET: Chocolate Cake & Quinoa by Carve Bar (formerly DNA Life Bars)
While there are four fantastic flavors of these gluten free, dairy free, soy free, corn free and non-GMO bars, this flavor is the best hands down. With a moist consistency and a ganached exterior, their texture is reminiscent to Hostess Ding Dongs. The added perk is that these bars have only 2 grms of sugar, none of which comes from refined white sugar. They offer 14 grams of protein, and being under 300 calories (per pack), they make a great snack when your sweet tooth is calling in the middle of the afternoon, or after dinner.
SAVORY: Turkey, Sweet Potato, Cranberry and Pumpkin Seed Raw Bar by Bricks Bar
Despite the ridiculously long name, this gluten free, grain free, and antibiotic free option provides 10 grams of tasty protein in it’s 130 calorie bar, and only 11 grams of carbs. It reminds me of a pile of thanksgiving leftovers mushed together, and although that may not sound appetizing, I really do enjoy the taste of this bar when I’m craving something hearty and savory that can serve as a great snack/meal replacement on the go. When lightly microwaved the nuances of flavors come alive.
SALTY: Sea Salt Baked Protein Chips by Quest Nutrition
Made by the Quest Bar people, these sort-of “potato chips” are thin, crisp, and salty satisfying your need to munch on something like a chip or pop corn, while containing 21 grams of protein in one small bag (and only 5 grams of carbs). At only 120 calories per serving (a bag) this a great protein option to take to the movies or enjoy alongside a salad or sandwich.
DRINKABLE: Biochem 100% Whey Protein Powder (Vanilla)
As a personal trainer I’ve tried a lot of protein powder, and this product has won my loyalty for many years now. Two scoops provides 20 grams of protein, 0 fat, and 6 carbs in 110 calories. It has no chalky texture, mixes easily, and has no bitter aftertaste from the glycemic index-friendly stevia sweetener. While it is not a choice for Vegans, everyone else can enjoy this gluten-free protein powder. I choose the Vanilla flavor for it’s versatility as you can mix it into fruit or veggie juices (can’t do that with Chocolate flavor), or into milk-based shakes with peanut butter or chocolate chips, etc. I also recommend their “natural” flavor which is unsweetened.
Hopefully you’ll give these products a try as they really do help you always have a quick, healthy protein rich snack on hand, while taking some of the guess work out of your nutrition. All of them are available at affordable prices on-line through Amazon or Vitacost, or on their specific websites.
Very often when faced with that dreaded moment where you must choose what to eat that will be quick, tasty and healthy, we make assumptions that we know which option is better (i.e., more nutritionally healthy), and that assumption is usually based upon limited knowledge.
For instance, the other day I was pressed for time for lunch (but as always wasn’t going to skip a meal or suffer inferior (fast) nutrition), so I hit my freezer and had two choices: a Trader Joe’s Chicken & Bean Burrito or an Amy’s Organic Mushroom Risotto. My brain riffled through my solid base of nutritional understandings and told me that the burrito was the way to go because it would have more protein, less carbs, and probably be lower in fat and calories as well. After all, Risotto is pasta-ish and rice-ish both of which are high in carbs and sugars, right?
Well then the trainer in me took pause, and decided to read the labels and compare the stats. To my shock I found out that I was not only wrong in my assumption, but really way off on my perceptions. Here’s what I found:
THE RISOTTO: THE BURRITO:
240 calories 400 calories
8 grms fat 12 grms fat
590 sodium 950 sodium
35 grms carbs 51 grms carbs
2 grms sugars 1 grm sugars
7 grms protein 20 grms protein
While clearly I was correct that the burrito had more protein (almost 3x as much), but it also had almost double the carbs and sodium, and 4 grams more fat! Who knew? To help you grasp this further, lets compare a typical Subway sandwich to one of McDonald’s supposedly “healthier” sandwich options than their typical Big Mac:
SUBWAY 6″ COLD-CUT McDONALD’S GRILLED CHICKEN SANDWHICH
350 calories 350 calories
12 grms fat 9 grms fat
1030 sodium 820 sodium
46 grms carbs 42 grms carbs
13 grms sugars 8 grms sugars
7 grms protein 28 grms protein
While I vehemently oppose ever spending a dime in a McDonald’s, when push comes to shove, I have to admit while I (and many of you I suspect) would assume that a deli-style “cold-cut” sandwich from Subway would always out-health anything from McDonald’s, clearly the facts prove otherwise. In case you missed it, Subway’s sandwich while having the same calories, had far less protein, and more fat, carbs, sugars and sodium.
So the next time you make an assumption about what you’re about to eat, stop and get the real facts and then decide. Your body and fitness goals will thank you for it!
We humans are the only creatures living on Earth who have elevated our need for sustenance to something close to worship. We obsess over food, turn it into art, and attach emotional elation to substances that pass over our tongue and into our system. The downside of this food obsession is that we actually give up much of our self-control to one of the tiniest parts of our bodies – the taste buds.
Taste buds are tiny microscopic hairs that send messages to our brains detailing how something tastes – i.e., bitter, sour, sweet or salty. Our brains then send us a message back (and this is where we differ from all other creatures save for maybe primates) and somehow we’ve assigned emotions to those messages. Food was not designed to be a vehicle for emotions, yet we humans combined the two nonetheless.
The problem is that we forget that WE are in charge – not our minds, not our tastebuds – and so we indulge and indulge and indulge. With so many foods being processed with sugars and salts that electrify the tastebuds and then the brain, we find it difficult to stop eating what tastes soooo good! Because of this, America in particular has suffered the worst affects from these over-indulged tastebuds, as we have the highest rates of child and adult obesity in the world!
Now scientists, nutritionists, and personal trainers like myself have been telling the masses for sometime that if you give yourself 5-10 minutes after completing a moderate sized meal or snack, that gnawing message from your brain to eat more WILL cease.
Our amazing systems also initiate a message from our stomachs to our brains when we are full. However, unlike the hyper tastebud the stomach’s signals cruise at a much slower speed, there’s a lot going on in the digestive track after all. Thus if you wait the recommended 5-10 minutes, the message finally gets through and the brain tells the tastebuds to calm down – we’re full.
So the next time you relish that decadent chocolate dessert or delightfully salty bag of chips, remember that your tastebuds are NOT in charge. Moderation is key, and after a few weeks of this “retraining” you’ll find the reward in your waistline!
Everyday my Tumblr, Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest pages are filled with posts promoting clean eating, paleo recipes, fat-burning smoothies, raw and vegan recipes paired with photos of girls in their early 20’s with 14% body fat and super flat tummies. The psychological ramifications of these posts are far reaching – girls and women subliminally ingest that this look is desirable and vow to strictly adhere to clean, raw, paleo, or vegan diets to obtain this ideal that most of them will probably never achieve. They enter into a vicious cycle of strict micro-managing of their food and exercise, followed by depressed binging when they fail to achieve their goals.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that following these nutrition plans isn’t a good idea – for many Vegan or super-clean (nothing processed) diets are essential to keeping them healthy and illness-free. The problem occurs when your day is spent tenaciously focused on every minutia of what you eat. The daily glamorous photos of raw fruit and veggie smoothies, or oatmeal bowls laden with peanut butter, chocolate and chia seeds may look enticing and suggest a path to fat reduction, but don’t be fooled. Both the photos below depict a meal or snack that can be 400-600 calories each.
As always, I am not a proponent of counting calories, but I mention this to make a point. Sometimes even eating “right” can be wrong for you. The sugar in an average kale and fruit smoothie can be 35-65 grams (depending upon the size). The American Heart Association recommends only 25 grams of sugar in a day! The facts are simple, have too much sugar in your body (i.e., fuel not spent) it will be converted and stored as fat.
Fruit-loaded, nutrient rich meals are better than any fast food meal – always, but you can still be eating too much of a good thing! Not to mention that preparing meals of raw clean food is often very time intensive (if you’re not a good time manager) and can be more costly than one’s budget may allow. That’s not to say that eating healthy is hard or expensive like many people use as an excuse, but it does take a little more thought and energy than just grabbing whatever from wherever.
If you’ve read my blog for any length of time, you are well aware that my philosophy on all things fitness is moderation. While to maintain healthy lean nutrition does take some forethought, planning, and preparation, it should not occupy 40-70% of your day or mind. Yet for many their obsession over nutrition does just that – consumes upwards of 70% of their mental energy and free time. That’s too much if you ask me.
So please, eat clean and lean, but don’t make your world revolve around food. Life’s too short. If you don’t have time or money to prep and enjoy a fresh kale, pineapple and chia seed smoothie – just grab a small glass of fresh OJ, a banana, and a handful of almonds. Both are great for you, though one is a clearly less time intensive, and while they both can help you get/stay leaner, neither is the secret to that flat stomach you’re desiring. That only comes from consistency and moderation with your nutrition, effective cardio, and sweat equity.
In the last couple of weeks, at least three people (ranging from acquaintances to friends) have shared their frustrations with me about still “being fat” despite strictness of diets and/or hours of cardio and resistance-based workouts, wearing Fitbits, parking further away, taking the stairs, etc.
I too would be frustrated if I was that diligent with my nutrition and exercise and didn’t see a difference. But (no pun intended) what I know that they do not is that there’s no one-size-fits-all formula to successful reduction of body fat. Further, there’s more to it in many cases than just restricting and/or burning more calories. One must factor in emotional stress, sleep-deprivation, physical stress, illnesses, food allergies (that you may not be aware of), thyroid malfunctions, etc. etc. etc.
A more important concept to me is that our society on the whole needs to look at fat differently. The World, and especially America, considers FAT unattractive. However, a huge majority of our population is visually fat and many have successful careers, happy marriages, are physically active, and live long lives despite their physical condition so what does that tell us?
Fat in foods is still widely misunderstood by most people – if avocado and peanut butter is okay, what’s wrong with butter and cheese? Sugar is still not really acknowledged as being one of the largest culprits in epidemic obesity, yet it is. Carbs are considered evil, yet I challenge you to get through a workout without them.
Internally, there are obese people who do not have high blood pressure or diabetes. Conversely there are “skinny” people who have dangerously high cholesterol or digestive issues that cause them to not absorb essential vitamins and minerals from their nutrition.
So in answer to everyone who has ever lamented why am I still fat I say look at your life as a whole entity, one in which every nuance plays a part in your physical health and body composition. There are so many negative “life” aspects that can affect your body:
- High stress levels at work
- Emotional stress at home
- Illnesses, injuries, digestive or auto-immune disorders, cancer
- Lack of sleep
- Eating too fast
- Drinking too much alcohol
- Not drinking enough water
- Over-exercising (yes that’s a thing)
- Not exercising enough or effectively
- Eating out too much
- Yo-yo dieting
- Worries about money
and the list goes on! Take stock of what’s going on in your life that might truly be sabotaging your efforts to be healthy inside and out. Then try to improve as many of these aspects as you can, or at least improve your perspective.
What ultimately should be your focus is: (1) are you able to do what you want physically (strength and endurance)? and (2) are you surrounded by people who love you and find you beautiful from the inside out? If the answer to both is yes, then who gives a hoot about the fat?! If they’re no, then work on fixing that (i.e., focus on building strength and endurance, not fat loss, and surround yourself with more appreciative and quality people).
In the end you’ll either successfully reduce your fat levels because your life isn’t fighting you on that goal, or at least you’ll realize that you’re healthy and happy so who cares about the rest.
Fat has a bad rap. Yes, American’s are overall too fat, with over 34% (78 million) of adults being clinically obese (a BMI of over 30), but our response to this epidemic is to say all fat is bad. This is not true.
Body fat exists to help us have energy when we’ve run out of food in our systems, it keeps our temperature and circulation level, it gives us healthy skin and hair, and transports essential vitamins and minerals throughout our body.
Fat in foods helps us maintain healthy levels of body fat – provided, that the fats you are consuming are natural vs. animal based, and kept to a healthy minimum. Good nutritional fats are avocado, certain nuts, olives and their oil, and fatty fish (wild caught salmon, etc.). But with our tendency to lump everything into a “bad” or “good” column, most American’s see all fats as bad and when they’re focused on lowering their fat percentage of weight, they eliminate these essential fats.
Another misunderstood aspect of “fat” is that sugar has no fats and therefore it’s okay to eat – especially demonstrated by fat free snack foods (cookies, etc.) that are high in sugar to compensate for the lack of creamy additives from animal fats (butter, cream). But what many adults fail to realize is that excessive sugar in their bodies (and their children’s bodies) will convert to fat for later use – said later use usually not happening because of so many American’s put exercise and activity on the non-priority list in their lives.
Same thing has happened to carbohydrates. The fad-fitness industry decided to label all carbs as bad, and Atkins type “diets” became the rage. But ask any of my clients who come to me declaring they eat no carbs, carbs ARE essential. They usually learn this lesson after I push them just enough in a workout to cause their carb-lite systems to flip into hypoglycemia and they are reduced to a weak sweating pile on the floor. You NEED carbs – you just don’t need processed, man-manipulated carbs (i.e., white bread, white rice, crackers, cookies, mashed potatoes, etc.
So here’s the bottom line – you’ve got to understand that fat is important and essential to a healthy body. If you keep your healthy fats, sugars (non-refined), and carbs (unprocessed), you will be able to reduce and manage your body fat percentages. Keep eating animal facts, sugar-laden goodies, and nutrition-void breads and crackers and you’ll have more fat than your body can deal with. As I always say, do NOT diet (that implies temporary) – change your nutrition to a moderate and balanced six meals/snacks per day, and enjoy an indulgent periodically (from wine to ice cream or fried chicken), and of course, exercise effectively at least 3-4 times a week.
As the year winds down and the holidays rear their busy, caloric, stressful heads I want to take a moment to remind you to be accepting and compassionate – OF YOURSELF! Clearly all of us should be accepting and compassionate of others, but I find that so many people can give love and compassion to others but NOT to themselves. Therefore, this time of year that type of person is even tougher on themselves which leads to more stress and less enjoyment of what should be a wonderful time of year. Is that you?
The most typical topics that we you might beat yourself up about are:
- I didn’t reach my goals
- I didn’t get in shape
- I’m still at the same dead-end job or relationship
- I have to buy so many gifts and have no money
So listen what I am yelling at you right now: STOP IT!
If you didn’t reach your goals because you didn’t try, okay, so now you must see that inactivity and/or indecisiveness clearly doesn’t work. So find stronger motivation and perhaps an easier goal to reach (i.e., the first step towards the total end goal) and come January, get off your ass and start moving towards that goal!
If you didn’t get in shape because you didn’t stick with healthier nutrition and an exercise regiment, again, nothing will change until you do. But you are human and not alone in this – so stop beating yourself up about it. Just follow this blog, join a gym, find a trainer, or whatever it is that will MOVE you (pun intended) toward your fitness goals in the new year.
If your job still sucks the life out of you, and/or a relationship has run itself into the ground with no hope of revival, then decide if you’d rather be exactly where you are NOW one year from now, or somewhere else. If you can’t bear the thought of still being STUCK this time next year, then again, get off your ass and do something about it. There’s ALWAYS a choice that can be made and implemented.
Lastly, as for the dreaded cost and stress of holiday shopping – I know for a fact that most of us would really rather spend quality time with our friends just sitting around being together, drinking wine, playing cards, watching a movie, having a meal, etc. Same goes for fun or funny homemade or gag gifts that break no one’s bank. A token present or little joke gift to remind someone that they’ve got a friend who cares is really the best gift of all. No one wants a gift when the giver has stressed themselves out over it or incurred debt. The only person who truly demands a certain amount of money spent or certain high quality of gift is usually YOU, the giver. Otherwise, they’re not a person you should be hanging with anyway.
So do what you can to be happy and not bah-humbug this holiday season, and get your ducks in a row to hit the ground running come January. Remember, you’ve got me in your corner – I’m always happy to help keep you motivated!
For centuries people have perpetuated the ancient lore that a fountain of youth existed. A magical pool of water (or some other substance) that could keep or transform youth and long life. Well if you didn’t already know this, it doesn’t exist!
I bring this up because of the current escalation in people using (or rather misusing) the latest fountain-of-youth-fad Human Growth Hormone (commonly referred to as “HGH”). HGH is produced by the pituitary gland, and helps to regulate several body issues such as metabolism, muscle and bone growth (more muscle, less fat), skin and hair quality, and your body’s assumption of sugars and fats. Traditionally it has been prescribed to help skeletally and muscularly underdeveloped children and adolescents grow taller or heavier. But since the body’s HGH levels naturally decrease with age, people have now turned to HGH products with the misplaced idea that it can rev help them lose weight and more ridiculously reverse aging.
Thus, the market was flooded with injectable HGH via Internet pharmacies, anti-aging clinics, weight loss scam web sites, and worst of all, hack doctors (you must have a prescription for these injections). But now, with people always wanting an easier option, suddenly HGH in pill form is being peddled on infomercials or online ads that claim they will turn back your biological clock, reduce fat, build muscle, strengthen your immune system, level your blood sugars (appealing to diabetics) restore hair growth, and even improve your sex drive. However, the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) has found no proof or reliable evidence to support any of these claims especially in light of the fact that when taken orally (pill form) HGH is digested by the stomach long before your body can absorb it. So in case you missed it, swallowing an HGH pill, whether herbal or not (or using an spray), will NOT alter your body in any significant way.
The truth about HGH whether injected or in pill form is that it is NOT a fix for aging or fat loss, and there are dangers to its use as well. While HGH injections have been useful in the treatment of children and adults who have significant growth hormone deficiencies, for the rest of the population there is the potential for a myriad of serious side effects, including:
- Swelling in the arms and legs
- Carpal tunnel and arthritis like symptoms
- Increase in headaches and muscle pain
- On-set Diabetes
- Abnormal growth of bones and organs
- High blood pressure
- hardening of arteries
So once again I find myself standing on my soapbox pleading with the masses to not look for shortcuts when it comes to improving their health. If you’ve been following my blog for any period now, you know that I’m a proponent of making the change to a healthier lifestyle quick, easy, and moderate (no extreme diets or two hour workouts). There are no shortcuts, but honestly, It’s not as hard as you think once you embrace these simple ideals:
- You must eat small healthy quantities 5-6 times a day while still allowing yourself small indulgences along the way;
- You must drink lots of water;
- You must exercise a minimum of 20 minutes, 3 times a week in a manner that elevates your heart rate and challenges your muscles; and
- You must stretch and seek improved or sustained muscle flexibility and balance, while also allowing for enough sleep/rest.
These four simple “musts” can become second nature if you are motivated enough and prioritize them into your life. They are far less expensive than pills or fad equipment or DVDs, and ultimately they will get you to your goal and keep you there. Endorphins help reduce inflammations (like arthritis), improved circulation will result in healthier hair, nails, and skin, and regular exercise elevates your energy all day (which can also directly translate into your sex drive if that’s one of your issues. Who needs HGH now?
Please stop looking for the fountain of youth – for in truth it only exists within your own commitment to stay healthy and active for as long as you’re destined to live.