Minimize Liquid Calories

This is the seventh and final installment in North Raleigh Fitness’, 7-week journey to “Stop Dieting.” By now you are drinking more water, have an empty pantry, are documenting what you eat, measuring your portions, and have mastered your local super market. 

If you missed  any of the previous weeks you can go back and catch up:

  • Week 1, “Drinking More Water,”
  • Week 2 , “Clean out your pantry and refrigerator
  • Week 3, “Document What You Eat – And Watch Your Portions”
  • Week 4, “The Grocery Store: Go prepared, shop the perimeter, don’t go hungry, and read the nutrition labels”
  • Week 5,  “Eat More Fruits & Vegetables”
  • Week 6, “Eat Lean Protein With Every Meal”

Week Seven: Minimize Liquid Calories

Phew.   We are at Week Seven.  What a ride. If you have been following along and implementing the practices we have suggested you probably are already feeling better and looking trimmer. Most importantly these changes in diet and behavior have started to feel natural and part of who you are. They say it takes three weeks to break a habit or start a new one. Well, here on week seven, you should be on the road to a healthy diet that can be maintained as part of your ongoing lifestyle.  And we still have one more very important topic to cover: Liquid Calories.

A huge percentage of our population gets way too many calories from drinks. And they are mostly empty calories to boot. Soda, energy drinks, sport drinks (taken at the wrong time), fruit-flavored drinks, practically any premium drink at Starbucks, and even 100% fruit juice are ultra-high in empty sugar-based calories that provide almost zero nutritional value. That’s right. ZERO nutritional value. And they wreak havoc on your hormonal balance, drive weight gain, are linked to disease, and actually drive hunger cravings.

Here is short list of popular drinks and the calories and sugar content:

Liquid calories can add up quickly. For example. let’s say you have a glass of juice at breakfast. No big deal.  You hit the coffee shop for a latte mid-morning because you need a little pick me up.  Have a couple cans of Cokes during the day because you were thirsty and you have a job perk of free sodas in the company refrigerator. Then you grab a bottle of Gatorade before your workout because, hey, I need to have some carbs before I hit the gym. Finally, some 2% milk over dinner. Doesn’t sound like much does it. But do the math. That’s over 700 calories and 133g of sugar. 133g is another way of saying 32 teaspoons. Go get you sugar dish and spoon 32 teaspoons into a bowl. Go ahead I’ll wait………Now look at that pile. That’s the sugar you consumed in one day just from drinks! Doesn’t even count the sugars from solid foods.  It’s over one-third of your daily caloric intake if you are on a 2000 calories daily diet. Ugh.

Obviously, this is a serious issue and one of the leading contributors to obesity in the US and around the world. And with essentially no offsetting benefit except they “taste good”. Specifically let’s pick on soda since, well, it’s an easy target. Suffice it to say that soda is just about the worst thing you can put in your body, diet or otherwise. Really.  Soda has been linked to assorted illnesses such as type II, osteoporosis, dental erosion, kidney stones, and heart disease. If you do only one thing to change your diet, give up soda. Believe me, after 2-3 weeks you’ll stop missing it. A sweetened soda will be repulsive and undrinkable. It will change your life.

And while we are at it what about diet soda? Let’s break down the typical ingredients.

  • Carbonated water: Water dissolved with carbon dioxide
  • Caramel color: Food coloring
  • Aspartame: An artificial sweetener with 92 side effects listed by the FDA and use by pregnant women and young children is discouraged.
  • Phosphoric acid: I actually use this stuff. It’s great at removing rust from iron and steel.
  • Potassium benzoate: This can form benzene, a known carcinogen.
  • Natural flavors: Uranium is natural, but I wouldn’t want to taste it.
  • Citric acid: This isn’t the acids that exist naturally in citrus fruits, it comes from a mold found growing on starchy food crops that is also used as an additive in bathroom cleaners

OK, some carbonated water, rust remover, and a bathroom cleaner. No thanks. I’ll have lemon in my water please.

Enough with the soda. What’s wrong with low-fat milk and 100% squeezed juice? They are supposed to be healthy choices, right? Well they do have vitamin and mineral benefits and are not totally without value, but you can certainly get these benefits without the accompanying sugar. Sugar, in whatever form, is still sugar. And (outside of replenishing your body after an intense workout) your body just doesn’t require vast amounts of sugar. The average human carries around about 130g of sugar in their bloodstream. That’s a full tank. When you supply the body with sugar it tops off the tank (usually just a few grams) and puts the rest into a reserve. That reserve is commonly known as adipose tissue, which can be found in abundance around our tummy, thighs, and backsides.  Something that we are all trying to avoid.   The easiest way to lose weight? Drink fewer calories.

The idea is to fill your diet with nutrient dense foods. These are mostly solids – vegetables, fruits, lean proteins, some grains, and healthy fats. Coffee, certain teas, sugar fee protein shakes, and of course water are excellent drinks, but it essentially stops there. Eliminate the empty, sugar-based drinks from your diet and you’ll be saving calories you can apply to healthier foods. As we’ve said before, fill your plate with lean protein, vegetables, and healthy fats. Consume water liberally. The other forms of liquid calories just are not necessary and should be minimized. Can you hit Starbucks a couple times a week? Sure, enjoy, but not every day. Orange juice at Sunday morning breakfast? Not going to kill you. But in the big picture those should be treated as treats, not staples.

Over the last seven weeks we have introduced you to concepts and ideas that could change your life. But quite honestly everything we discussed during this journey you already knew. Basics really. Stuff you have heard over and over again, but perhaps took no action on. Drink more water? We are all born with the innate knowledge to consume water. Eliminate junk food from your pantry? There is a reason it’s called “junk food” and we certainly all know why. Documenting what you eat? That’s just a basic list of what you eat, and most of us have used Dailyplate, myfitnesspal, or some other tracker at one time or another. The grocery stores? In this day and age, we all know the dangers of processed food. Eat fruits and vegetables?  Our grandmothers all taught us to eat vegetables before we could read. Lean protein? The value of protein is basic human knowledge woven from eons into our DNA. Liquid calories? Nobody drinks a coke because it’s healthy. The point is we really just teed up some basic principles for you to take action. The rest is up to you. Remember this isn’t a diet. You have seen them come and go and know they fundamentally don’t provide lasting change. This is about behavioral modifications that transform your lifestyle. Forever. Eat better, feel better, look better, live longer, have an amazing life.

And I’ll bet you won’t miss your old way of eating that much at all.  Now stop waiting for Monday. Go drink some water!

 

Eat Lean Protein With Every Meal

This is the sixth in North Raleigh Fitness’, 7-week journey to “Stop Dieting.” By now you are drinking more water, have an empty pantry, are documenting what you eat, measuring your portions, and have mastered your local super market. 

If you missed  any of the previous weeks you can go back and catch up:

  • Week 1, “Drinking More Water,”
  • Week 2 , “Clean out your pantry and refrigerator
  • Week 3, “Document What You Eat – And Watch Your Portions”
  • Week 4, “The Grocery Store: Go prepared, shop the perimeter, don’t go hungry, and read the nutrition labels”
  • Week 5,  “Eat More Fruits & Vegetables”

Week 6: Eat Lean Protein With Every Meal

High protein diets are in vogue these days. Not necessarily for the right reasons but the end result is a good one. A diet high in protein will increase metabolism, improve body composition, boost essential amino acids, and drive favorable hormone production and balance. And most sources of proteins eat pretty good too!

A Little Science
First of all let’s understand proteins. They are molecules made up of amino acids, and as Jeff Goldblum says in the original Jurassic Park, “they are the building blocks of life”. There are two main categories of amino acids in the body. Essential amino acids, those that the body can’t make on their own and we must procure from food, and nonessential amino acids, those that the body can usually make for itself.

These aminos pool in your bloodstream but are not stored the way carbohydrates and fats are. They just circulate in the blood waiting to be used. They travel around, rebuilding cells and transporting various substances throughout the body as necessary.

The cyclic nature of amino acid use dictates that you eat protein regularly to keep amino level “full”. It would be great to eat a 16 pound steak and be done with protein for the week, but alas your body needs protein stores to be replenished regularly, which means that you should consume protein regularly throughout the day. Without necessary protein intake, our bodies can’t function well at all. Bottom line: eat protein with every meal to keep that pool of aminos topped off and able to take care of your body.

 

Image source: DJ Millward, The Metabolic Basis of Amino Acid Requirements.

 

A Little More Science
Protein can crank your metabolism just by eating it. The metabolic processing required for digestion, absorption, and storage of protein is a lot higher than that of carbohydrates and fat. What does that mean? You burn more calories by simply digesting the protein.

We all chase the almighty calorie. Well, maybe most of us try to run away from it, but really calories are simply a measure of energy. And when it comes to losing weight it’s all about energy in versus energy out. Think back to third grade and the laws of thermodynamics. According to these laws, energy is never really created, and it’s never really destroyed. Rather, energy is transferred. And when you expend energy it’s really transferred via heat and work.

Most of us think of energy out as exercise, but an abundance of energy is burned through processes just keeping you alive and upright every day. Among those is digestion, and digesting protein takes a lot of energy. This is known as the thermic effect of food (TEF) and protein leads the way. Protein requires up to 35% of the energy it provides to digest while carbs and fats require less than 15%. Let’s compare using a simple 100 calorie sample:

 

Macronurtient

TEF Calories after TEF

Protein

20-30% 70-80
Carbohydrate 5-15%

85-95

Fat 0-5%

95-100

All this means it takes more energy to eat proteins than carbs or fats. Energy to chew, swallow, churn the stomach, make the acid in the stomach, make the enzymes, to make the muscular contractions known as that drive the food through, and so forth. That in turn increases your metabolic rate which of course drives an associated caloric burn and subsequent fat loss. It’s a win-win.

Why Popeye Ate his Spinach

Popeye as a 2- dimensional, cartoon character, had some guns. And when he downed that can of spinach he went through a Bruce Banner like transformation that him gave him Hulk like power without being green. But how? Spinach gives you superpowers? Not really. But spinach is high in protein especially for a vegetable. And, back to all those aminos traveling around in your bloodstream, they help cells in your muscles rebuild themselves. This is called protein synthesis.

 

Muscle in the body goes thru turnover regularly, constantly replacing old cells with new ones. This is part of your adaptive and growth system. (Popeye obviously had quite an overactive and fast responding system). By increasing your protein intake you can increase this rate of protein turnover resulting in improvements in muscle quality, which in turn drives faster muscle growth, more strength, less fat, and a higher metabolism. This is really to say that higher protein diets help your muscles recover and grow more quickly, and drive fat loss in the process. The best of both worlds. Just a lot slower than Popeye.

How Much Protein Should I Eat?
Great question and the range is wide, from .4-2g of protein per pound of bodyweight daily. Your activity levels, goals and objectives will drive the appropriate level to consume. The basic recommendation for a sedentary person is 0.4 grams of protein per pound of body weight. So a 150 lb person would consume around 60 grams a day. This really isn’t much, roughly equivalent to an egg (6g), 4oz chicken (38g), and a container of Greek yogurt (17g).

And this amount is only to prevent protein deficiency. It’s not optimal for those who train regularly and hard. For active people, especially those doing high intensity training, protein needs might go up to about .8-1 g/lb of body weight. Our 150 lb person would then need about 120-150 g of protein per day. Think 2 eggs(12g), 8oz chicken (72g), two cups spinach (2g), a protein drink (40g), and a Greek yogurt (17g) every day. We need a small amount of protein to survive, but when we are active we need a lot more to thrive.

Of course, you can overeat protein. Excess protein will be converted into glycogen or fat which generally results in undesired effects. Like anything, moderation is a good thing.

A Quick Hint
Start a meal by eating vegetables and protein first, before carbohydrates. The slow rate of protein digestion slows down release of sugar into the blood stream when the carbs are consumed and reduces post-meal glucose levels. This stabilizes your insulin levels, which can offset storing those sugars as triglycerides (adipose) and prevents a sugar ‘high’ and then crash. It also keeps you fuller and limits hunger pangs.

Ok So What Do You Recommend?
Obviously protein is essential to your existence and can go a long way to controlling your appetite, producing muscle, and helping achieve your weight loss goals:

  • For basic protein synthesis, you don’t need to consume more than 0.4-0.9 g/lb of protein per day.
  • If you are exercising regularly you should consume higher levels of protein, up to 1g per pound of body weight.
  • More protein may help you feel satisfied after eating.
  • You should consume some protein before and after training to ensure adequate recovery.
  • And remember we can’t store protein, so the consumption needs to be regular, at every meal.

So be like Popeye and eat your protein.

 

Eat More Fruits & Vegetables

This is the fifth in North Raleigh Fitness’, 7-week journey to “Stop Dieting.” By now you are drinking more water, have an empty pantry, are documenting what you eat, measuring your portions, and have mastered your local super market. 

If you missed  any of the previous weeks you can go back and catch up:

  • Week 1, “Drinking More Water,”
  • Week 2 , “Clean out your pantry and refrigerator
  • Week 3, “Document What You Eat – And Watch Your Portions”
  • Week 4, “The Grocery Store: Go prepared, shop the perimeter, don’t go hungry, and read the nutrition labels”

Week 5 – Eat More Fruits & Vegetables

Now that you have that cartfull of produce it’s time to enjoy it. Fruits and vegetables are full of vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, and fiber that are essential for good health. Really no other change will have a bigger impact on your overall health.

Let’s start with a little trivia. A Vegetable is actually just the edible part of the plant: roots/tubers, stems, leaves, etc. A fruit is the seed-containing part of a plant (actually the ovary of the plant). Most fruits are sweet to the taste but not all, and we often confuse fruits and vegetables.  In fact, the list below may surprise you:

Fruits Vegetables
Avocado
Coconut
Coffee (Yes that’s right caffeine lovers, the coffee bean is actually a fruit.)
Cucumber
Eggplant
Pepper
Squash
Tomato
Beets
Cabbage
Carrots
Kale
Onions
Potatoes
Spinach
Yams

 

Don’t Be Dense (unless you are a vegetable)

One of the great things about vegetables is they are nutrient dense. They have a high water and fiber content so they’re low in calories relative to their volume. In fact, as we have discussed before, vegetables almost do not count toward your daily calorie counts. Consuming them on a regular basis can result in a higher volume of food intake and a high consumption of low calorie density foods can help to control food intake and better manage your body weight.

Want to lose weight? Think about where your calories come from.

Most of us eat between three to five pounds of food per day. This can be four pounds of celery or it can be four pounds of candy bars. It’s not the food or calorie content that matters.  It’s the volume that counts. Obviously, there are some big nutrient differences between celery and candy bars, right?

Here are some extreme examples:

  • 4 pounds of raw veggies will provide 400 calories
  • 4 pounds of raw fruits will provide 1000 calories
  • 4 pounds of cooked whole grains/legumes provides 1600 calories
  • 4 pounds of nuts/seeds provides about 10,000 calories
  • 4 pounds of Lucky Charms, Pop Tarts, Cheese provides about 10,000 calories

Extrapolate this out to a less extreme, real world average diet. Most people in the U.S. are consuming (on average) the following amounts of food each day:

2.0 pounds of meat, dairy and eggs
1.5 pounds fruits and veggies
0.5 pound grains
0.5 pounds added sugars, fats and oils
= 4.5 pounds = about 3,700 calories per day

What if we switched this around?

2.5 pounds of fruits and veggies
1.0 pounds of grains and legumes
0.3 pounds nuts/seeds
0.3 pounds meat, dairy and eggs
0.1 pounds added sugars, fats and oils
= 4.2 pounds = about 2,075 calories per day

Use this exercise with your typical diet. You don’t have to weigh everything but estimate and you’ll get an idea where you are and what you are eating. If you struggle with body fat tend you probably tend to fill up on calorically dense, processed foods. This means extra body fat. Eating four pounds of real food like fruits and vegetables gets us lots of nutrition with a calorie count that our body can handle.

And it’s good for you too

That is just the effect a good selection of fruits and vegetables can have on your weight and fat loss efforts. The REAL benefit comes with all the amazing nutrients you are feeding your body which help you feel better and live longer. Fruits and vegetables are alkaline producing, which can help to preserve bone mass and muscle tissue. They are rich in antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, fiber, and phytonutrients. They contain lots of water to help you stay hydrated. Most of all a regular diet of fruit and vegetables is associated with a lower incidence of:

Cardiovascular disease

Colon cancer

High blood cholesterol

High blood pressure

Prostate cancer

Type 2 diabetes

Obesity

Stroke

Eye disease

Asthma

Cervical cancer

Breast cancer

Endometrial cancer

Gastric cancer

Lung cancer

Lymphoma

Osteoporosis

Ovarian cancer

Pancreatic cancer

Thyroid cancer

 

The colors in our fruits and vegetables actually tell a story as well. Each color (and you need them all) offers insight into the phytonutrients they provide.  The chart below from Precision Nutrition provides a great view on what colors you need to eat to help you be healthy. You can download this free Cheat Sheet, print it out, and stick it on your fridge. It’ll help you track how many servings of each color you’re getting every day.

 

It’s Simple

It’s really simple to eat more fruits and veggies. Target 5-9 servings daily. Sounds like a lot, but if you are eating 4-6 meals/snacks a day, it’s really just a serving to a serving and a half per meal. Blueberries for breakfast, some carrot sticks for a snack, couple servings of vegetables in your salad for lunch, an apple in the afternoon, and a side salad and some cooked vegetables for dinner and you are well on your way. Nothing to it.

One caution: be careful with your salads. Heaping on several metric tons of dressing will add fat and sugars that you just don’t need. Opt instead for healthy oils like olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Olive oil is full of healthy fats and vinegar has additional phytonutrients and also gives the added boost of being a fat burner. Low sodium salsa also makes a great topping for your salad, just read the label to be sure it’s not loaded with sugar and salt. And while we are at it, limit the butter of your corn or asparagus. Learn to enjoy the taste of your vegetables naturally or with healthy oils. It may take some time, but most are quite appetizing one your taste buds adjust.

I hope this has been a refresher for you on how important fruits and vegetables are in your diet. It’s not just that they help you lose weight, fight hunger, and make you feel better. They fight disease and are nature’s ultimate preventative health care. And they taste good. So be sure to get them on your plate every day, every meal.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Week 4 – The Grocery Store: Go prepared, shop the perimeter, don’t go hungry, and read the nutrition labels

This is the forth in North Raleigh Fitness’, 7-week journey to “Stop Dieting.” By now you are drinking more water, have an empty pantry, and are documenting what you eat and measuring your portions. 

If you missed  any of the previous weeks you can go back and catch up:

  • Week 1, “Drinking More Water,”
  • Week 2 , “Clean out your pantry and refrigerator
  • Week 3, “Document What You Eat – And Watch Your Portions”

Week 4 – The Grocery Store: Go prepared, shop the perimeter, don’t go hungry, and read the nutrition labels

This blog is really a metaphor for “buy healthier food”. Unless you go by the name “Old MacDonald” or  have a pig named Arnold (look it up millennials) you probably procure most of your food from the local grocery store.  The grocer has gone through a health driven transformation in the last several years and premium stores such as Whole Foods, Sprouts, Fresh Market, and Earth Fare seem to be on every corner. And our heritage stores like Harris Teeter and Kroger offer heathy alternatives for practically any type of food. Healthy options are all around you and there is no excuse in these days to make questionable healthy buying decisions in your favorite supermarket. Today we are going to talk about making those choices.

Making a List: A good shopper, like a boy scout, is always prepared. That means make a list. Plan ahead, take the time to put a list together, and stick to it. Survey the refrigerator and document what you need. Need broccoli? Write it down. Chicken breast? Put it on the list. Doritos? Well you can leave that one off. You obviously get the idea, I am sure you have made a shopping list before. The real point is this list acts as a shield against impulse buys and in store choices. It tells you exactly what to buy. Get what’s on your list – nothing else. No extras jumping into your grocery cart, no grocery gimmicks out to get you. Just you, your cart and that list!

Part of making a list is making is a plan for the week. How many people are you shopping for? Is your spouse out of town? Are the kids staying at a friend’s house this weekend? Are you dining out Friday night? Without planning it’s very easy to “over purchase” and therefore overcook (and as a consequence overeat) during the week. Map out as best you can the true needs of the household and shop accordingly.

Be in control. Create the list. Stick to it.

Shop the perimeter:  You’ve probably noticed that most grocery stores have their produce, meats, and daily along the outer rim of the store. The store does this to provide vendors external access to their butcher shop (normally in the back) and refrigeration sections which are easier to maintain on the perimeter of the building. Coincidentally this is also the types of food you’ll want to have on your grocery list: fruits, vegetables, lean meats, and some dairy products.

Now obviously we all need to venture in to the inner jungle to procure personal hygiene products, laundry detergent, cleaning supplies, and the like, but the goal here is to stay away from the Snickers and Corn Doodles on aisle 6. If you must go down an aisle, enter and exit at the same end. There is rarely a reason to wander the entire aisle. Get in, get what you need and get back to the safety of the perimeter.

Focus on filling your cart with fresh produce (after all you’ll be eating 5-9 servings daily), lean meats like chicken breast and 93%+ fat free beef, eggs & egg whites, Greek yogurt (very high in protein), skim milk (or milk alternatives like almond milk), and cottage cheese. These will become your staples as you evolve to your new eating habits and you’ll find them all on the perimeter of practically every grocery store known to man.

Don’t Go Hungry: Never go to the grocery store hungry. You crave everything in those shiny boxes and buy things you do not need. And if your blood sugar drops, you’ll find it harder to make good decisions or follow your list. So before hitting the local supermarket be sure you are well fed. If you can’t go directly after a meal have a satiating snack (nuts or even a good protein bar is a great choice).

Never let your hunger influence a buying decision in the grocery store. Be strong and resist the temptation. Even if you are hungry buckle down and stick to your list. You’ll be home soon enough and able to munch on much heathier options.

Read the nutrition label:  A supermarket is really just one giant marketing campaign filled with packages that are essentially a billboard for the manufacturer to persuade you to buy food you don’t need. They bombard you with meaningless terms like “reduced fat” and “healthy choice”. Do yourself a favor and ignore anything on the front of a box except the description of what’s contained inside. Frosted Flakes. Got it. It’s corn flakes with a coating of sugar. That is all you need to know. You don’t need an overgrown cartoon tiger telling you it has 25% less sugar.  25% less than what? That’s meaningless, not (as Tony would say) Gr-r-reat.

Make your buying determinations based on fact and data. These are usually on the back of the package in small type – the nutrition label and ingredients. This label is mandated by (in the US) the FDA and is where the truth about the product is revealed.

  • Ingredients
  • Nutrition information (e.g. calories, grams of fat)
  • Suggested serving size

How much sugar. Any protein. Serving size. Very important stuff that tells you exactly what you are buying. As a rule, anything with an overabundance of sugar or ingredients that you can’t pronounce goes back on the shelf. What’s most important here is that you are in charge of your food choices. Don’t be “sold” by pretty packaging or too-good-to-be-true claims. Do your homework, know what you are buying, and be a critical consumer.

Also watch for those products that are highly processed. These products typically are so over processed that the healthy vitamins, minerals, fiber, and other nutrients are removed along with the unhealthy or dangerous stuff they are trying to filter out. As a result, manufacturers fortify these products by putting synthetic representations of these healthy items back it. For example, many advertise products that are “high in fiber”. It may even actually have legitimate higher fiber content. However, the fiber has been added and is not natural. The processing stripped the natural stuff out, so manufacturers must add it back in. The fiber may actually come from wood pulp or plant roots. The added nutrient is not the same as the real thing. Same story with milk. Pasteurization degrades the nutrients resulting in a loss of vitamins A, B6, B12, C, D and E. Calcium and other minerals are also impacted (milk can actually weaken bones instead of strengthening them). Then they fortify with artificial substitutes derived from coal tar and other petrochemicals.  Stay away from processed foods.

So make that list. Hug the outside of the store like a NASCAR driver. Snack before you hit the supermarket. Buy stuff in bags instead of boxes. And read the label. Remember everything that comes off that shelf will at some point find it’s way into your belly. Be sure it belongs there.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Week 3 – Document What You Eat, And Watch Your Portions

This is the third in North Raleigh Fitness’, 7-week journey to “Stop Dieting.”  If you missed Week 1, you can go back and catch up on “Drinking More Water,” or  Week 2 which provided instructions to oust unhealthy food from your pantry.  Follow this path, build healthy habits and adopt them into your lifestyle.   And, get yourself off the dreaded, rotating wheel of dieting!

Do you know what you eat?  I mean really know?  Most people think they do until they write it down.  A bowl of cereal for breakfast…ah but wait, I did pour another half bowl of flakes.  Did I measure the milk – was it a ½ cup or closer to a cup.   I know I had a salad for lunch…uh but I did steal a half-dozen fries from my boyfriend’s plate.  And how much dressing did I put on the salad.

It adds up.  Quickly.  Write it down and you’ll be amazed at what you are really consuming.

By documenting what you eat you introduce awareness and accountability into your nutritional lifestyle. Awareness of exactly what you ate, how much of it, when you ate it, and, if you use one of the many internet based food trackers, the nutrient composition of what you ate.  This will give you objective data to help make adjustments as you evolve your diet.  And you’ll be accountable, to yourself of course, for what you are recording in your tracker.  Want that milkshake at lunchtime?  OK, but remember you’ll be logging its 600 calories later today.  You’ll find you’ll be much more judicious in blowing off your diet if you are responsible for recording your transgression in black and white.

Tracking also lets you see the breakdown of your foods.  Are most of your calories coming from carbohydrates, fats, protein?  You’ll be able to say; “I felt great today.  I was strong during my workout.” You can see if this happened to be a day with higher % of protein.  Having the data helps you make smart adjustments.

And if you do fall off the nutrition wagon, having the data helps your climb back on be a bit easier as well.   Maybe you’ve had a day that you really wanted that milkshake.   And you wrote it down!  It’s blip on an otherwise consistent calorie chart.   Just one point – among 20 other “perfect” points in your running 3-week chart.  Not a big deal.  Tomorrow’s total can come back down.   Of course, if your daily calorie chart starts looking like a heartbeat monitor, you may need to rethink some things….

I find the easiest way to track eating is to use one of internet trackers. MyDailyPlate, FitDay, myfitnesspal, and many others offer free tracking profiles that reference databases of literally thousands of foods complete with nutrient breakdowns that quickly and easily calculate your calories, carbohydrates, proteins, fats, and other nutrients based.  Spend about 10 minutes every day entering your food and these tools do the rest, giving you an instant view to your intake and your trends over time.  Most have apps for your mobile device that let you record on the fly while you are traveling or in a restaurant.  Check these tools out.

If you can’t seem to master calorie logging there is another way, and perhaps much easier and your hand is all you need. Use can use your fist, palm, cupped hand, and thumb to practice calorie control – while avoiding the hassle of logging your calories. Here how it works:

  • Your palm determines your protein This is meat, fi­sh, eggs, cottage cheese, and greek yogurt. One palm usually contains ~20-30g of protein, or 80-120 calories. For simplicity round to 100 calories per palm of protein.
  • Your fist determines your veggie We are talking about broccoli, spinach, peppers etc… A serving of these vegetables contains little calories, so no need to estimate here.
  • Your cupped hand determines your carb The dreaded carbs. These should be “heathier” choices such as rice, beans, or grains. One palm usually contains ~20-30g of carbohydrates, or 80-120 calories. For simplicity round to 100 calories per palm of carbs.
  • Your thumb determines your fat Think oils, nuts, and seeds. These are calorie dense so we limit the intake accordingly. One thumb is ~7-12g of fat, or ~63-106 calories. We’ll use 80 to keep it simple.

 

Using this method, you can easily gauge what you are eating and with some simple math estimate your calories for a meal or per day. Let’s use an example for a woman trying to lose a few pounds and is targeting 1,200 calories for the day.

  • Breakfast: 2 eggs (about 1.5 palms, or 150 calories), 1 slice toast w almond butter (about 1.5 palms, or 150 calories + 1 thumb of fats, 80 calories) = 380 Calories
  • Lunch: Spinach salad with 1 palm grilled chicken (100), 1 palm quinoa (100), 1 thumb olive oil (80) = 280 Calories
  • Snack: 1 palm Greek yogurt mixed with a palm of mixed berries (100 + 100). 200 Calories.
  • Dinner: 2 palms fish (200) crusted with a thumb of almonds (80), 1 palm broccoli (0), 1 palm rice (100). 380 Calories.

This gives us 1240 calories for the day. Since these are estimates we are well within our target of 1200 calories. It can really be that simple.

Now notice our example didn’t include any liquid calories like soda or alcohol, and certainly no “fly by” snack you grab while passing the refrigerator. That is where all the unaccountable calories add up and your discipline needs to win out. Use your fist, palm, cupped hand, and thumb and practice calorie control

Whether it’s logging your food or using the hand method, try these and you’ll start eating better right away.

Why You Should Stop Dieting – Week 2

This is the second in North Raleigh Fitness’, 7-week journey to “Stop Dieting.”  If you missed Week 1, you can go back and catch up on “Drinking More Water.”  Follow this path, build healthy habits and adopt them into your lifestyle.   And, get yourself off the dreaded, rotating wheel of dieting!

Week 2: Clean out your pantry and refrigerator

You might remember last week we talked about drinking more water.  By now, you’ve hopefully purchased a new, cool, stainless steel, insulated, crash resistant water bottle that set you back $109.   Ok – just a plain old tumbler, some ice and maybe a slice of lemon or cucumber are just as effective.   Whichever your drinking vessel, you are likely reading this blog on your phone, as you rush down a well-trodden path to your closest water closet to complete the final step in the hydration life cycle.   Think of all the extra daily steps that result from adding ounces of water consumption!  Seriously, if you have taken just a small step in consuming more water you probably feel better, are less hungry, and already starting to appreciate the benefits of proper hydration.  Now take another sip and we’ll get to our second “end-dieting” strategy.

Of course the next challenge gets a little tougher.  That’s because it’s about “taking something away” rather than adding something.  Adding, for some reason best known to psychologists, is easier for most people.

Most of us have some “less-than optimal” foods hanging around the house.  Their very presence on your pantry shelf leads to unnecessary snacking and renders the calorie burn from this morning’s workout moot.  We have to remove the temptation.  We must get the Milky Ways, Twinkies, and Doritos out of reach.   Get them out of the house.  If they aren’t there you won’t eat them.  I know, you buy them “for the kids” or “<insert spouse/partner name here>.”  But you know that if they are there, you eat them ….sometimes.  And sometimes can turn into more than just a little.  Those mini snacks of processed food are empty, calorie-dense, nutrition-deficient, foods you don’t need.

Let’s use an example of something almost everyone has in their pantry or cupboard, especially if you have young children. Sugary cereals. Most of these are simply junk food plain and simple. Lucky Charms, Fruit Loops or the like contain roughly 10 grams of sugar per 3/4 cup serving.  Even some of those with healthier sounding names: Raisin Bran, Smart Start, Frosted Mini Wheats, Banana Nut Crunch top the 10-gram mark.  

Serving size is another important concept here.  Studies show that the average American eats 30 percent more cereal than the ¾ standard serving size, and 10 percent of Americans heap more than 2-1/2 times the standard serving size into their over-sized cereal bowls!  Think of it like this—in a 12-ounce cereal box there are supposedly 15 servings. Have you ever in your life gotten 15 bowls of cereal from a single box?  Probably not. This calculates out to your typical bowl of cereal having 15-20 grams of sugar (not including the milk). You, or your beloved family could be starting your day with as much sugar as you’d get in a can of soda, along with a good amount of fat and sodium.

The same applies to chips, candy bars, cookies, most juice, and of course, soda. You get the idea and we need to get them out of the house. Here is a short list of stuff that needs to go:

  • Any kind of chip. I don’t care how healthy the front of the bag says it is, read the nutrition label. I bet it has plenty of sugar, sodium, fat, or both. A small 1-ounce serving can have 160 calories, 250 mg of sodium and 11 grams of fat with zero valuable nutrients. And don’t eat that last handful before it goes in the hefty bag. Close your eyes and chuck them out.
  • The aforementioned breakfast cereals, basically any with more than a few grams of sugar. That will be most of them. You can keep the toy surprise!
  • White bread. It’s basically birthday cake in a loaf and has virtually no nutritional value.
  • Processed pasta. Sorry guys but just like white bread processed pasta has almost no nutritional value. Not to mention that Rigatoni feeds pathogenic yeast in your intestines and inhibit growth of necessary digestive bacteria. So out go the Ramen Noodles!
  • Soda. The worst food on the planet. Seriously.
  • Candy bars, Pop-Tarts, Twinkies, Ho-Hos, basically anything in a box that is processed or high in sugar or has high fructose corn syrup in the ingredients list.

By now I think you get the idea.  Do I expect you to get it all on the first try?  No, not a chance. It’s an evolution and over time you’ll progressively dispense of these things and replace them with healthier alternatives. Think one thing at a time if you must. But remember, a typical human can change an eating pattern in about three weeks. So, as you take these items out of your pantry and out of your life, be strong for just 21 days! Eventually you’ll start to lose your desire for theses sugary calorie bombs and replace them with healthier options. Need a healthy snack to tide you over? How about some almonds or a hard-boiled egg.  Something before bed? Maybe a bit of non-fat Greek yogurt with a few blueberries. Morning breakfast? Steel cut oats are a great source of fiber if you feel the urge for grains. Have an orange, or some snap peas, or slice a red pepper and keep it in the fridge ready for when you need a snack.

The point here is to remove temptations that are close at hand. If it’s not there you can’t eat it. Get rid of it and don’t buy it again. Start to build a new appetite for healthier options that make you feel better, keep that weight under control, and lead a healthier life. Plus, you’ll have a lot more room in your pantry.

Why You Should Stop Dieting

Hey I know what you’re thinking “Aren’t you a nutrition guy? And you’re suggesting to stop dieting? What gives? Have you been inhaling too much hemp protein lately?” Well easy now gang, it’s not what it seems. I am not suggesting we all run out to Ben & Jerry’s for a quart of Cherry Garcia or go inhale a few McRib sandwiches at Mickey D’s. We just need to alter the mindset a little when it comes to the diet concept. Let me explain.

You see I ran into a friend the other day and he started to relate his exasperation in trying to lose weight, again, for what seems like the hundredth time. He’d been on a number of diets off and on for years and nothing seemed to work. Maybe you’ve been there, the feeling that no matter what you tried or what you did, or how much you starved yourself, you were still going to resemble Jabba the Hutt at a pie eating contest. Frankly I had my reservations given his track record, but he seemed staunchly determined this time and I had to admire his renewed sense of conviction. That is until he proclaimed “Monday I start the diet and this time I am going to stick to it.”

I started to think about what he said. I mean literally. Like why we always start something on “Monday”. I understand it’s the proverbial start of the week, and psychologically it signifies a starting gate, but wasn’t he talking about improving his health and well-being? And up against a challenge that has beleaguered him for years? Why wait? Why not do it now, today, immediately. Go ahead and get started. If you were being chased by a Grizzly Bear, would you wait until Monday to start running? It seemed he had already had positioned procrastination square in front of his journey. And “stick to it”? Why have the previous diets been so hard to stick to? Is it so hard that he cannot hope to carry it out? Did he have an achievable plan? And what happens if he does stick to it, does he ever go off this diet? What happens if he does?

Obviously, I am being a bit facetious, but the implications of this one sentence made me think about how we approach the concepts of losing weight and dieting. Buckle down, watch what you eat for a few months, hit the gym a couple times a week, drop a few pounds (hopefully), declare success (or failure) and go back to your old habits. This of course after a few months puts you right back where you started (or worse). It’s an ineffective, predictable pattern that dominates our society.
The point here is that we generally take on “dieting” as a singular, temporary action when it should be about changing lifestyle permanently to maintain a healthy and desirable level of fitness. Not many humans are genetically capable of eating the typical western diet without slipping into obesity. And going thru the dieting cycle over and over, losing 10lbs here and gaining 15lbs there, is just not effective long term. Like a Ponzi scheme, it may look great short term, but ultimately the strategy will fail. But there is an answer, a time-tested solution that is practically guaranteed to work every time. Suspense killing you? It’s easy stuff really: a permanent change in eating habits focused on nutrient-dense foods, adoption of regular exercise, and making these an integral part of your lifestyle. That’s it. Nothing to it.

So now you are saying “Yea right, no kidding. But that’s easier said than done. I can’t make those kinds of changes forever. Too hard, too limiting, too much work.” Well maybe for some. But isn’t all the off and on dieting hard too? All the mental anguish of short term success with long term failure. The agonizing feeling you have every time you look in the mirror? The legendary basketball coach John Wooden once said “If you do not have time to do it right, when will you find the time to do it over?” Isn’t that what all this cyclical dieting and sporadic exercise is? We don’t want to limit our eating, we don’t have time for the gym every day, but every few months we force this into our lives, probably give up, and then end up just doing it over again.
Now I am not saying that this is something you can do overnight, and it’s certainly no piece of cake (pun intended). It’s a journey, an evolution. But it’s achievable. And you don’t have to do it all at once, but you should absolutely start today. Don’t wait, make the commitment now. After all, that Grizzly Bear is right on your heels.


To begin your journey, I have laid out seven simple steps you can take to begin your transformation. I’ll introduce them weekly so you’ll have plenty of time to adapt to these changes without doing too much at once. None of these are particularly challenging and I am sure you have heard of, if not tried, most of these before. But follow the plan, stick to the changes, and make them part of your lifestyle. These simple steps will get you headed in the direction of a change that will transform your life. So why wait until Monday, let’s get going!

START TODAY: Drink More Water

Simplest first, and, unless you happen to be reading this in the Sahara, you can start right now. Drink water, lots of water. It’s easy and essential. How much should you drink? The rule of thumb is 1/2 ounce for every pound of body weight. So, a 150 lb person should target at least 75 ounces (or about 10 glasses) daily. More if you exercise a lot or work outside in the heat.

So how do you know is you are getting enough? A good gauge to determine your level of hydration is the color of your urine. Generally speaking, the clearer the urine the better your hydration. Proper hydration should reveal a gradually lightening shade as you go thru the day (it’s always darker in the morning) resulting in a very pale shade of gold by midday. You’ll want to keep this shade throughout the rest of the day. If it’s too dark, just adjust your intake. Eventually you’ll get a feel for the amount of water you need. Practically speaking you can’t drink too much, so get yourself a water bottle to carry around with you and drink up.

Drinking that much water can get a little tedious so add some lemon or lime to juice to give your water some flavor. Mint is also great, and it doubles as a natural appetite suppressant. And add some ice to keep it cold. Cold water always tastes better.

An advanced trick is to add apple cider vinegar to one cup a day, preferably around a starchy, high carbohydrate meal. Research shows this can help level out blood sugar spikes because it interferes with starch and carbohydrate absorption, reducing glycemic response and decreasing post-meal glucose levels, which can also reduce inflammation. It’s a little sharp tasting, but a couple teaspoons in a glass of water around a meal can be really healthy.

Staying properly hydrated is critical. Studies show that most people in our culture suffer from some level of dehydration and yet are unaware. Dysfunction as a result can start when you are as little as 2% dehydrated, effecting brain function, digestion, muscle and connective joint regeneration, nutrient absorption, and practically every other critical function in your body. Water is critical to your well-being.

Another plus of regularly sipping water is you’ll feel more satiated and will be less likely to snack and/or binge when given the opportunity. Often times when you feel hungry you’re really just thirsty, so unless it’s time to eat drink up.

Next week we’ll introduce some kitchen habits to help you avoid temptation. Until then, like the most interesting man in the world, stay thirsty my friend.