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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Heart Healthy Buttery Spreads?

Benecol margarine is a supposedly heart healthy spread “proven” to lower bad cholesterol. It can make this claim because they add plant sterols to the product - not because the spreads have ever been shown to decrease bad cholesterol. The label also claims that the product is “trans fat free.” But take a look at the ingredients:

Liquid Canola Oil, Water, PARTIALLY HYDROGENATED SOYBEAN OIL, Plant Stanol Esters, Salt, EMULSIFIERS (VEGETABLE MONO AND DI-GLYCERIDES, Soy Lecithin), HYDROGENATED SOYBEAN OIL, Potassium Sorbate, Citric Acid and Calcium Disodium EDTA to Preserve Freshness, Artificial Flavor, DL-alpha-Tocopheryl Acetate, Vitamin A Palmitate, Colored with Beta Carotene.

Any type of hydrogenated oil contains trans fats. And vegetable mono- and di-glycerides also contain trans fats but do not have to be included in the total fat content listed on the label because they are not tri-glycerides, the type of fat molecule commonly found in nature.

So while the plant sterols may have a cholesterol lowering benefit, the manufacturer found a way to sneak in significant amounts of detrimental trans fats while still adhering to labeling laws. Any potential benefit of the added plant sterols will be easily off-set by this.

Margarine has been shown time and time again to be much worse for your heart than butter. So the industry changed the name of their product to “buttery spreads” and made an artificial distinction between the effects of hard “stick” margarine and softer “tub” spreads. The only difference between the two is the amount of saturated fat in the product. But when eating margarine the saturated fat content is the least of your worries.

To be safe, I’m going to follow the advice of Dr. Andrew Weil and avoid all foods that have labels!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

How not to lose weight

This is an article I wrote about seven years ago that was originally published at My ideas on nutrition and exercise have evolved since then, and I thought it'd be fun to critique my old work. Comments are in blue. Enjoy!

Are you looking for an easy way to lose weight? You are not alone. According to the Food and Drug Administration, an estimated 50 million people went on diets in a recent year. While some may lose weight, less than 5% of dieters maintain their goal weight.

I don't think anyone in any industry would be happy with a 5% success rate. As a trainer I've had a number of success stories who followed the high carb, low fat diet coupled with cardio to achieve and maintain permanent weight loss of 100 pounds or more, but I've had many others who have failed with this approach. Although I could have blamed their failures on "non-compliance" I'd rather look for alternate approaches.

As a result, many of these people will turn to fad diet pill and products whose sales are driven by unproven claims and clever marketing. The Federal Trade Commission estimated that 37 billion dollars was spent last year on diet pills, products, and programs. The sad truth is that most of these products don’t work.

Still true seven years later.

Many products will promise fast weight loss without diet or exercise. One popular product suggests that by fasting on their special weight loss product you can lose ten pounds in a weekend. While it is possible to loss that much weight in a weekend, you will be losing predominately water – not fat.

The only way to burn fat is to take in less calories through eating than you expend through daily activity.

The body has systems in place to regulate blood pH, core temperature, blood glucose levels, and liver glycogen stores, within very small windows. So why doesn't your body have systems to maintain stored body-fat within those same tight parameters? The truth is it does. There is more and more research that supports the theory of an "adipostat," which acts as a thermostat for body-fat levels. Researchers have identified a hormone called leptin which is released in direct proportion to body-fat stores in the body. This hormone seems to regulate food intake AND energy expenditure. As a result, your body will maintain it's weight by proportionally increasing its energy usage. Similarly, if you shave off a few calories for a short period of time, you won't lose significant amounts of fat.
In obese people this system seems to break down. Over time, the brain becomes resistant to leptin, needing higher and higher levels of the hormone to cause the same effect. This concept, called "leptin resistance," may help to explain why many obese people have trouble losing weight, even when they reduce calories and increase exercise.
Calories in minus calories out can still work - but when it doesn't there is likely more to it than just "willpower."

To give you some perspective, running a marathon will only burn about a pound of fat. So to actually lose 10 pounds of fat in a 48 hour period the typical 150 pound person would need to run 240 miles while not eating anything!

Another weight loss claims is made by a popular home gym equipment manufacturer. They suggest that you can do twice the work in one effortless motion. Unfortunately, you can’t do “work” without “effort”. Just type work into your word processor – they are actually synonyms.

So how do we lose those unwanted pounds? And more importantly, how do we keep them off?

Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh founded The National Weight Control Registry to find answers to these questions. And those answers were not found in a bottle of pills.

The National Weight Control Registry surveyed people who had lost at least 30 pounds and kept it off for at least a year. What they found was that moderation, determination, and exercise were the real keys to long term success.

Almost all participants went on a balanced diet. Sorry carb cutters, but less then 10% used a fad diet that eliminated one or more type of food completely. In fact, most of the participants found that eliminating foods completely led to failure – not success.

More people likely succeeded on the "calories in, calories out" model because more people follow that approach. This statistic tells us nothing about the success rate of either diet. And at this point I would no longer call low carbohydrate approaches "fad" diets. I also think it is important to point out that there are many different low carb approaches and they are not all equal.

Very few participants reported using a fat loss supplement. In contrast, over 75% of participants exercised more than two and a half hours per week.

What these successful dieters had learned was that to maintain weight loss, they had to make changes they could live with forever.

If you have tried unsuccessfully to lose weight in the past, don’t get down on yourself. Most of the study registrants had failed at several previous attempts towards weight loss.

One more interesting note: A follow up study of registry participants compared the low carb dieters to the traditional approach dieters. The low carb dieters consumed more calories, burned less calories from weekly physical activity, and ate more saturated fat. But they actually had more success maintaining their weight loss than those who followed a more traditional approach!
In summary, the human body is extremely complex and a simple "calories in, calories out" model does not fully explain metabolism. What you eat may be equally as important as how much you eat.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Supercharge Your Cardio

Where many people fail in exercise is that they never change their program. They start a workout plan, and achieve some immediate results, but after three or four weeks they plateau. They get frustrated and quit. This lack of results justifies being inactive. "I walked a mile and a half a day for three months and only lost one pound! It's just not worth it!"

You know what? It's not. But it could be if you knew how to do it right. The trap many people fall into is caused by the law of adaptation. When you start an exercise program, the body perceives it as additional stress. In the example of walking, it adapts to the added stress by changing. You lose a pound or two of fat to make the body easier to move. You build some increased lower leg strength to help move the body more efficiently. Then the changes stop. You have already adapted. Walking a mile and a half is no longer stress. The body has changed, and your current workout plan will no longer help you become more fit.

The good news is that this is easy to fix. You just have to keep making the workout slightly harder on a regular basis. Occasionally you will have to change it all together. But first, let's focus on the basics: walking. Anyone can do it, and it doesn't require any special equipment. Now let's get to the actual plan.

We will start with a moderate goal. Go for a walk three times a week, for twenty minutes each workout. (If you are already doing more than this, keep doing it. Just follow the program I will outline below to improve the effectiveness of your current cardiovascular routine.) Preferably do this first thing in the morning; if you can't, don't worry about it. Exercising first thing in the morning does burn more fat. This is due to a myriad of physiological reasons, but without getting caught up in too much of the science, remember: the important thing is that you take action.

Now here comes the good part. Make sure to bring a watch with you. Walk away from your house for ten minutes at a brisk pace. After ten minutes, turn around. Remember exactly how far you got. It will be important the next time you exercise. Now walk home, making sure to maintain the same pace to ensure that you finish the workout in twenty minutes. Use a notebook or an exercise log to record how far you traveled during your workout.

The next time you walk, travel the same route. But make sure you get further. Make sure you cover more ground in the same amount of time. It doesn't have to be much more; even five or ten yards will make a difference.

By doing this, you ensure that each workout is a little bit harder than the previous one. It ensures that you are always putting added stress on the body and burning more and more calories. You will continue to make progress on a daily basis and your body will continue to adapt to the new stress.

If you prefer to workout on an exercise machine, no problem. Most treadmills and elliptical machines read distance. After your twenty minutes, write down how far you traveled and make sure you beat it next time you workout. DO NOT lower the incline level between workouts, as this could lower the intensity even though you travel a further distance. This will defeat the purpose and waste your time. Your time is too important to waste.

How does that plan sound? Pretty simple, right? Now get going and start walking!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The South Beach Diet

I can't go a day at the studio without someone mentioning the South Beach Diet. Clients tell me about their friends' success (or failure) with the diet, they ask me if it works, if it's healthy, and if they should go on it. This fascination with the diet spreads well beyond the studio. People everywhere are talking about it. While some of this is certainly due to clever marketing, there is no doubt about it: The South Beach Diet is sweeping the nation.

So what is the South Beach Diet?

The South Beach diet is a three stage eating plan focusing on eating the right foods in moderate quantities. The first stage is a low carb, low calorie meal plan. You will eat meat, poultry, fish, vegetables, eggs, cheese, and nuts, but not much else. All starches and fruits are off limits during this phase. Although it is similar to the Atkins diet, there are some crucial differences. For starters, you can't eat endless quantities of bacon, cheese, and other high fat foods. Portions are controlled, and high fat processed foods are off limits. In addition, you are encouraged to eat most vegetables in almost unlimited quantities. And because saturated fat and cholesterol intake is kept reasonably low, you don't have the same health concerns associated with a typical Atkins diet.

One claim made by the author is that your cravings for starches and sweets will disappear after a few days on the diet. I've experimented with various low carb diets for over a decade, and I have never noticed this effect. Most people I have spoken with who have tried low carb eating have never noticed this effect either. So, just like other low carb diets, you will need some will power and personal motivation to succeed.

During the first phase, you will drop weight. Fast. There is no doubt about it, the combination of low calorie, low carb dieting will produce dramatic results. Of course, as with an Atkins diet, you will start eating fruit and starches again. With the Atkins diet, this is where most people fail, often canceling out the fat loss resulting from weeks of carb depletion with a few days of splurging.

However, the South Beach Diet takes this tendency into consideration. Instead of leaving you high and dry (and carb depleted), the author offers two more stages of dieting, each becoming less restrictive.

In phase two, you will re-introduce some starches back into your diet. Fruits, whole grains, and brown rice are all allowed in moderation. Ideally, you will stay in phase two until you reach your weight loss goals.

At that point, you will switch to phase three, which is designed as a lifestyle plan that will last the rest of your life.

While in general, I prefer lifestyle changes to diets, the South Beach Diet is actually both. Phase one is a highly restrictive, low calorie/carb diet that can be very hard to stick with. But if you can make it two weeks and then slowly re-introduce eliminated foods back into your diet, it can also be a great jump start to any fat loss plan.

It wouldn't be uncommon for someone to lose eight, ten, or even twelve pounds in the early stages of this program. On the other hand, it could also be another bad yo-yo dieting experience.

If you are thinking of giving it a try, make sure to set yourself up for success. Follow some of our expert advice to help ensure you reach your goals. Even if you're not going to try the South Beach Diet, we're sure you can still utilize some of the tips listed below.

1) Make a plan. Success doesn't just happen. Plan your meals in advance. Make shopping lists and make sure you healthy food choices available at all times. Decide what you are going to eat before you get hungry.

2) Buy only foods allowed on your eating plan. If you feel the need to buy snack foods for your family, that's fine—just don't buy your favorites. Besides, it won't hurt them to avoid chips and ice cream for a few weeks anyway.

3) Don't beat yourself up if you stray. Winner's need to have bad short term memory. You need to forget about your indiscretions and get right back to your healthful eating plan.

4) Don't let yourself get hungry. Hunger almost always assures overeating in the near future, so avoid it at all costs. Have snack foods pre-portioned in zip lock bags and take them with you everywhere. Eat them before you get hungry to bridge the gap between meals.

For information on the possible downsides of an unrestrained low-carb diet, see the article "Low Carb Diets... not the healthiest approach" by Joye Willcox, Ph.D., R.D., LDN of Healthy Diets, Inc.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Water Beats Ephedra for Fat Loss

Water is without a doubt the most abundant substance in the human body yet it is still taken for granted by many people. It is involved with the digestion and absorption of the foods we eat as well as the transportation of the nutrients extracted from them. Water affects nearly ever biological process and function.

A recent study indicates that drinking water may even increase your metabolic rate and help you lose weight. This new study reports the impact water consumption has on fat loss. The study focused on the activation of the sympathetic nervous system. It showed that increased water consumption influenced blood pressure by increasing norepinepherine levels and also by increasing sympathetic nerve traffic (activity). This activation of the sympathetic nervous system increased cellular glucose uptake and stimulated lipolysis. In a nut shell drinking water increases the ability of your body to lower blood sugar and burn body fat.

In late 2003 Dr. Boschmann and his colleagues studied 14 healthy, normal-weight subjects (seven men and seven women), and assessed the effect of drinking 500ml of water on energy expenditure. They also examined the effect consuming water would have on fat metabolism.

The study showed that drinking 500 ml of 70 degree water increased metabolic rate by 30%. The increase occurred within 10 minutes. The total effect was an additional 25 calories burned during the course of an hour. It was theorized that 40% of the thermogenic effect originated from our bodies’ efforts in warming the water to body temperature. Based on the study results, it can be estimated that increasing water ingestion by two liters of water per day could increase energy expenditure by approximately 100 calories.

In real terms, we can compare this to the ingestion of 50mg of ephedrine three times daily. Shannon et al, (1999) showed that this amount of ephedrine increased energy expenditure approximately 80 calories per day.

Yet ephedrine has been linked to countless strokes, seizures, heart attacks, and even deaths while drinking more water has been linked to nothing more serious than trips to the rest room. So my recommendation is skip the dangerous and soon to be illegal stimulants and pick up a few bottles of water.

How to Choose and Work with a Personal Trainer

How to Choose and Work with a Personal Trainer If you're looking to improve your health and fitness, select a trainer like you would choose a physician. Someone who has the professional knowledge and the personal involvement in your health to ensure that you achieve your goals.

Improved fitness undoubtedly leads to a better quality of life, including fewer medical problems and sports injuries, and enhanced personal and professional performance. Also, both adults and teenagers who follow a fitness regimen can greatly increase their self-esteem and self-confidence.

However, just as people need to turn to physicians to treat medical disorders they often find a personal trainer an invaluable tool in achieving better fitness.

The problem is that there are quite a few pitfalls in choosing and working with a personal trainer. For example, some trainers have a great deal of knowledge but don't put it into practice themselves. Other trainers are primarily athletes, but don't have a sufficient background in physiology, kinesiology, and nutrition. So, I advise looking for a personal trainer who has both knowledge of fitness physiology and a passion for practicing what they preach. It is also important to look for a trainer who has a national certification from the National Strength and Conditioning Association or the American College of Sports Medicine.

Don't hesitate to check out the personal trainer you're considering working with. Talk to their clients and look over their resumes. And don't feel you have to buy forty sessions with them right off the bat. Commit to a modest number. Make sure you and the trainer share the same goals and attitudes, and are personally compatible.

Just as a physician's careful clinical analysis is critical to medical treatment, a trainer's fitness analysis is critical to designing a successful training program.

A thorough fitness evaluation should be completed before developing your personalized fitness program. That evaluation should include detailed measurements of your body weight, body fat and dimensions, and a series of exercises to analyze your strong and weak areas.

The personal workout regimen developed after the evaluation should include a comprehensive set of exercises for both the upper and lower body, a balanced workout of opposing muscles, cardiovascular exercise and stretching.

In addition, don't be impressed by a trainer's array of shiny, expensive machines
. A high-quality training regimen can be accomplished with a minimum of exercise machines and free weights.

A good trainer will also want to help you achieve fitness in your lifestyle, not just in the studio. So, he or she should include advice on diet and lifestyle changes that help you improve your nutrition and achieve your ideal weight.

Training sessions should also be highly interactive. A good trainer will continually ask you questions as you're working out; like whether a given exercise feels right or causes pain. And a good trainer will carefully monitor you as you exercise, suggesting subtle changes in your technique that will make the exercise more comfortable and effective.

Also, a trainer should communicate with you in clear language. A fancy technical name for a training program or an exercise doesn't mean its going to be effective.

Re-evaluations are also a key ingredient for success. Many trainers may gloss this over, because the evaluations might not show the kinds of dramatic gains a trainer likes to boast about. But you really need to know the facts about your progress if you're going to reach your goals.

"While there are benefits in commercial gym memberships, people should be aware of their limitations."

In a personal trainer's studio, it's easy to do a full regimen of exercises with minimal setup, because the place is all yours. This is harder in a gym, where you might have to wait for a machine, skip exercises or concentrate too much on one exercise and not enough on another. Also, it's important to maintain a steady level of exertion, and that's harder to do in a gym, where the extra wait between sets will lower your heart rate and cause your body to cool down. Because of this, you will lose many of the cardiovascular benefits of a well designed weight training program.

While many gyms do offer onsite trainers, they often do not provide sufficient service. Unfortunately, many times they're looking to go through a quick workout with you and cut you loose as soon as possible. It's understandable, given that they work for the gym and not for you, but it's not the best way to ensure continuity and progress in your training.

"While gyms are at first glance cheaper than personal trainers, the ultimate cost could be higher."

Ironically, the cost of a gym membership might turn out to be much more per fitness level achievement than the cost of a personal trainer. If you pay for a gym membership, more often you'll take out a long-term contract, go a few times, and then because of the lack of incentive, just stop. People tend to be more regular in their exercise if they know they have an appointment with a trainer who's taking a personal interest in their health and fitness.