Mindlessly Eat Better at Mealtime

Eat Better at Meals - Without Thinking

Eat Better at Meals – Without Thinking
Image courtesy of iclipart and Microsoft Images

“The best diet is the one you don’t know you’re on.”  Sage advice from Brian Wansink, Director of the Food and Brand Lab at Cornell University and author of Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think.  Eating healthy doesn’t mean you must forsake all indulgences and subsist solely on oatmeal and salads.  Instead, what if you just made a few small changes to your eating routine that could lead to gradual, sustainable results?  My recent blog post on the Healthy Eats blog at Food Network provided a few tips to do just that when cooking and eating at home, inspired by Prof. Wansink’s good read. Click here to read all about it.

http://blog.foodnetwork.com/healthyeats/2013/09/11/5-ways-to-cut-calories-without-even-thinking/

Four Key Post-Pregnancy Fitness Tips: Part 2

The first part of Key Post-Pregnancy Fitness Tips discussed getting the right muscles firing again and returning to exercise gradually and safely.  Part 2 goes a step further by discussing how to re-balance your body physically and nutritionally in the weeks and months following giving birth with the goal of promoting long-term post-pregnancy fitness.

Get to know your body…again

Your body may have locked down into new, less ideal positions and movement patterns over the final months of pregnancy (any aches or pains?).  The problem is, if you don’t address them within the first months, those new patterns can stay with you and become a source of chronic discomfort.  The first way to combat them is to be aware of them and take steps to re-balance the equation (see Part 1).  The next step is to become aware of any new stresses on the body that result from having a bundle of joy around:

  • Will you develop a tendency to shift your weight to one side of your body, such as holding the baby in one arm vs. the other.  See if you can stay balanced by alternating and paying attention to posture and not shifting your weight over too far while holding your child.
  • Reaching over repeatedly to pick up your baby.  Just like picking up any other precious load, be sure to get as close to your child as possible before picking him/her up to minimize the strain on your lower back.  Also, if you have to pick them up from the ground, be sure to squat rather than lean over from your back.
  • Carrying/pushing baby seats, strollers, etc.  I alluded to this earlier in the post with the tight chest/weak upper back muscles, but another potential side effect of anterior weight is a rounded chest and hunched shoulders called “upper cross syndrome”
upper cross syndrome

Good Posture – Poor Posture. You Pick.
Photo Courtesy of: http://zachdechant.wordpress.com/

If you’re constantly carrying a baby seat or pushing a stroller, you may be feeding into this syndrome if you don’t pay attention to posture.  Stay tall through your spine, keep your shoulders down in their sockets, keep the handle(s) close to your body, don’t reach with the arms when pushing, and alternate which side you carry the baby seat with.

  • Less attention to movement and posture due to poor sleep.  Being sleep deprived is never a good thing, and it can creep into all aspects of life – eating, exercise, and even how we move throughout the day.  Gentle movement and breathing exercises including low-intensity yoga can do a lot to realign and reinvigorate yourself.  Simply try this sequence 6 to 10 times:
  1. Stand or sit up tall.
  2. Take a deep breath in.  While breathing in, get long through the spine (imagine a string is pulling the crown of your head up toward the ceiling – do not tip your neck back or chin up) and slowly raise your shoulders up toward the ceiling (don’t force them fast or hard).  You should feel the weight of your torso almost lifting off of your legs and back.
  3. Then slowly exhale.  Maintain the height you gained by lengthening the spine, engage the abdominals and allow your shoulders to slowly fall down and away from the ears. Aim to feel the muscles underneath the armpits engage at the bottom of the shoulder motion in addition to the abdominals.  Advanced progression: If you’re standing, as you’re exhaling, engage your butt muscles (glutes) a bit and try imagining like you’re trying to lightly twist the ground apart with your feet – without actually moving your feet.  You should feel your butt muscles engage without any strain in the lower back or down the side of the leg.
Nutrition: Focus on recovery at a time when recovery is hard

For the first few months after having a child: think recovery, not record-setting.  This tone was already established with the previous tips from a movement/exercise perspective, but as a Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist, I had to touch on the food component as well.

Fruits and Veggies: An Essential Component of Post-Pregnancy Eating

Fruits and Veggies: An Essential Component of Post-Pregnancy Eating
Photo Courtesy of Corbis / Microsoftimages.com

Most of the general rules for healthy eating apply – eating lots of veggies and fruit, whole grains, lean meats, etc. – however there are a few extra things to note for new moms:

  • Breastfeeding burns about an extra 500 calories per day in the first 6 months, and about 400 in the next 6 months (assuming you’re still breastfeeding).  This often leads to a gradual weight loss over the first year post-partum.  But be sure not to over-restrict your calories, as you then may start to produce less breastmilk.
  • Breastfeeding also requires increased intake of Vitamin C (which also helps with iron absorption too!).  And vitamin C doesn’t just come from citrus – you can get great amounts from red/yellow bell peppers, broccoli, dark leafy greens, strawberries, pineapple and cantaloupe.  Here is a great list of foods rich in Vitamin C:

http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=nutrient&dbid=109

  • Higher intake of omega-3 fatty acids, particularly DHA, has been associated with lower rates of post-partum depression and reduced inflammation.  DHA is typically found in fatty fish like salmon, mackerel and sardines.  Salmon tends to be lower on the mercury scale for fish, but they still contain some, so you may need to limit your weekly portions of salmon intake to 2 or 3.  Vegetarians can consume foods rich in another type of omega-3: ALA (a precursor to DHA).  ALA can be found in flax, walnuts and dark leafy greens and soybeans/tofu.

http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=nutrient&dbid=84

  • Limit caffeine intake, as more than a couple of cups of coffee per day can cause caffeine to reach significant levels in breastmilk and potentially cause a reaction from your baby.
  • Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate!  You’re using a lot of fluid to produce breastmilk, stay active, and remain focused.  Studies show that even 1 to 2% dehydration can lead to a decrease in mental and physical performance, so be sure to drink water and eat foods that are rich in fluids like fruits and veggies!
  • Consider that certain spices are anti-inflammatory such as ginger, garlic and turmeric (often found in curries and other Southeast Asian food).

Here’s an interesting link to “12 Foods For New Moms” by WedMD.com

http://www.webmd.com/parenting/baby/breastfeeding-9/breast-feeding-diet

 

More Links/References:

More post-partum nutrition and weight loss information: http://www.nmh.org/nm/prentice-postpartum-nutrition-weight-loss

Exercise after pregnancy: How to get started: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/exercise-after-pregnancy/MY00477

Critical micronutrients for pregnancy, lactation and infancy: Considerations for future research: http://www.karger.com/Article/Abstract/332062

Nutrition and the psychoneuroimmunology of postpartum depression: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3564601/

The Epic Quest for Six Pack Abs

Six Pack Abs and a Band.

Six Pack Abs – and a Band.
Image Courtesy of imagerymajestic and FreeDigitalPhotos.net

In Death of the Diet, I stress the importance of determining your Why – the true motivating force driving you to improve your eating and physical activity habits.  While many people “would like” six pack abs, not everyone realizes the amount of effort required to not only attain, but sustain such a low percentage of body fat (likely in the mid-to-high single digits for men, and the low double digits for women).  However, I understand some people still want to give it their all and see what they can accomplish, so this blog post is my contribution for those committed to the epic quest for six pack abs.

 

1. A Disclaimer: Genetics Often Dictate the Effort Required to Attain and Sustain Six Pack Abs

Consider that six pack abs are the “pinnacle” of body composition, much like professional athletes or CEOs achieve the pinnacle of their respective fields.

Genetics play a tremendous role in how easy, or hard, it is for a person to attain the highest levels of performance, or six pack abs (see my “proprietary” drawing below).  While it would be nice to achieve them, do not place your entire self-worth on seeing those six abs.  You are more than just a set of abs – appreciate the healthy eating and physical activity habits you will be performing to achieve those results, and consider which ones you can continue long-term.  Everyone can be healthy, fit and happy, regardless of the number of abs you see.

Genetic Slope to Six Pack Abs

Genetic Slope to Six Pack Abs

While I sincerely hope you do achieve them, be ok with the fact that the effort you put in to achieve six pack abs may not be sustainable long-term.  Even the leanest of the bunch, bodybuilders, only maintain their shredded physique for a few days of the year for their competitions.  Look at them two weeks after a competition, it’s usually a whole different story.  Just like other accomplishments, give yourself a major pat on the back for achieving something many others will never do (myself included, thus far). I’ll discuss my personal attempt at six pack abs at the end of the post.

2. Make Your Body Inefficient

Research has shown that those who tend to lose weight easily (ectomorphs), have more “inefficient” bodies.  They have more brown fat – a type of fat that burns calories (researchers don’t know how to apply these findings…yet).  They tend to have more non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT), a.k.a. they fidget and move around more.  And they are also usually quite active. In other words, their bodies require more fuel (calories) to perform their daily routines.  While you may not be able to channel your inner brown fat, there are methods for eating and physical activity that can increase your personal inefficiency:

Nutrition / Eating

Increase your thermal effect of food (the amount of calories needed to break down and digest the food you eat) by having less processed, whole foods rich in fiber, water and protein such as fruits, veggies, lean meats, oatmeal, nuts, beans and dairy (for those that are lactose tolerant).  Think of it this way: The less processed the food is, the harder it is for your body to break down those plant cell walls and proteins to get the available calories.  For example, recent research has shown that your body actually attains about 20% less calories from raw almonds than listed on the package.

On the flipside, consider that in many cases processing = pre-digestion.  Machines are doing the digestion for you so absorption is faster and easier.  However, the easier it is for your body to suck up the calories, the more likely they will go to fat if you’re not burning them.  For that reason, the pursuit of six pack abs often means bye-bye to most highly processed foods, sugary foods/beverages, baked goods, alcohol, etc.  Each person is unique – you’ll have to learn how often you can indulge while still maintaining progress towards your ultimate goal – six pack abs.  For some it will be monthly, others weekly, others daily (see the genetic component above).

Exercise

From an exercise perspective, staying inefficient means performing exercises that require large amounts of muscle groups to work, whether it be cardiovascular training, kettlebell swings, upper/lower body splits, interval training, density training or circuit training.  But remember, the more you do something, the better and more efficient your body gets at performing it.   So as soon as your body starts to adapt and an activity starts to feel too easy (usually within 3 to 5 weeks), throw in a deload week to recover, and then change up the routine completely to keep the body learning…and the calories burning.

Also, throw in a heavier weight strength day or two each week to ensure your body does all it can to maintain its metabolically active lean body mass during the weight loss.  Well controlled, multi joint lifts such as pushes/presses, rows/pulls, squats, hip hinges and loaded carries (thanks, Dan John!), not only work the hell out of your muscles, but they also burn a ton of calories.  In summary, tell your body to burn fat, not muscle through what you eat and how you move.

3. Maintain Your Metabolism by Periodizing Your Nutrition

Unsurprisingly, your body doesn’t like feeling starved. That’s why your body burns calories, and fat, best by being in a slight calorie deficit – consuming slightly less than you burn.  If you burn more, you can eat more and still get results (see energy flux topic below).  If you burn too much and eat too little, however, your body will quickly recognize the significant imbalance and return the favor by stalling your metabolism and potentially burning precious lean body mass.  That’s why periodizing your nutrition is so vital.  I discuss the finer, scientific points of stalled metabolism in Death of the Diet’s latest e-book, 12 Reasons Why You’re Not Losing Weight Permanently, and How to Beat ‘Em, available for free to newsletter members.

You can periodize your nutrition on either a daily, or weekly basis (or both – but don’t drive yourself nuts over it):

  • On a daily basis, you could eat a little more on training days (with the extra fuel focused on your workouts and recovery), and have less on off days while aiming to maintain a slight calorie deficit each day.  Once a week, aim to eat a little more than usual to keep the metabolism churning.
  • Or you can couple a few weeks of higher intensity calorie imbalance (eating less, burning more) with recovery phases (increasing your food intake to achieve calorie balance, or even slightly above), much like you need a deload week every 3 to 5 weeks with consistent, hard training.  In fact, you could pair your deload nutrition week with your deload training week. While you may gain a small amount of weight due to the replenishment of your fluid and glycogen stores during a deload week, the act of eating a little more and training a little less will send a signal to your body that all is well metabolically, and it has no reason to horde calories and fat.  Then you can resume your higher intensity phase the following week. It’s all about resting for a moment before the next ascent.

4. Move and Exercise Consistently to Increase Energy Flux

The “afterburn” effect of most exercise sessions is minimal – only about 10% to 20% of the calories actually burned when performing the exercise.  There are two moderate exceptions to this rule: the time immediately after significant, high intensity training (as great as this sounds, be sure to train safe since an injury will undoubtedly derail your six pack dreams), and people/athletes who have “high energy flux.”

High energy flux is a result of being very active each and every day.  It’s why Michael Phelps and sprinters can eat like a horse (pizza, pasta, etc.) and look ripped.  The amount of physical activity they do each allows them to burn through whatever they want and not gain an ounce.  Not only are those calories going to fuel their workouts, but it’s going to replenish glycogen stores, increase intramuscular triglyceride stores (specialized fuel stores for active people), repair their muscles and maintain their significant lean body mass.  Research has shown that achieving significant weight loss, especially six pack abs, is best served by maintaining a high level activity, not just cutting calories alone.  Like the previous point mentioned, your body does not like to feel starved.

Keep that metabolic fire stoked 24/7 by sitting less, walking more, training often and recovering well.  The biggest threat to not achieving six pack abs is an injury.

5. Putting It All Together: Assess Where You Are and Create a Plan

Achieving six-pack abs can be a considerable undertaking, similar to climbing a mountain.  Research recommends climbing mountains over 10,000 feet high in 1,000 foot stages and then resting before continuing on.  Do the same with your six pack ab pursuit.  Are you just getting off the couch (below base camp), or are you halfway up (physically active, but no six-pack)?  The amount of effort you should be putting in should be just a bit beyond your current position.  Get there, get comfortable, then forge ahead.  Perform the six pack abs ascent in stages.  If you go too far too fast, you may get gassed, or worse yet, injured.  Climbing a mountain is a process.  So is achieving six pack abs.

Using the information and ideas above, the best first step you can take to achieve six-pack abs is to create a personalized action plan to get there.  Choose the one or two ideas that resonate most with you, and then write down exactly how you’re going to do them.  The more details, the better. Why is creating a plan important?

  • It organizes your thoughts.
  • It gives you immediate actions you can take to start getting results.
  • You can track, and manage, the execution of your action plan to see which changes are getting you the best effects and make adjustments as needed.

Epilogue: My Personal Attempt at Six Pack Abs

My personal attempt stopped at around 9.8% during my initial weight loss in 2005.  I looked good, but still only had the initial outline of four abs.  And I realized that I was cutting out many of the foods and cooking experiences I enjoyed, which took a toll on my overall happiness in life.  My personal Why evolved into one more focused on confidence in my body (even if I could only count two abs, not six) along with my long-term health, strength and happiness – which means staying active, but also giving in to my foodie self on occasion.  When asked what I eat, I typically tell my clients and workshop attendees, “I eat chocolate and broccoli.  I just make sure I eat more broccoli than chocolate.”

TELL ME: Have you attempted, or achieved six pack abs?  What did it take?  Share your story and help others learn about the process.

Three Tips to Maximize Exercise Results Each Session

Maximize Exercise Results

Three Ways to Make This Lat Pulldown More Effective
Image Courtesy of: Microsoft Images / Corbis

Being physically active is an important habit (Habit #6) for maintaining health and fitness, but after attending the 2013 American College of Sports Medicine conference, I have even more reason to believe so.  A classic 1956 study by Jean Mayer showed that those who eat the least number of calories tend to have light/moderate activity levels.  Higher calorie intake comes with those who are more active (makes sense – work more, eat more) or those who are sedentary (hrmm…too much time on our hands?).  In addition to citing the study above, obesity researchers James Blundell and Greg Hand presented a compelling case to focus on energy flux (the amount of calories going through your system) rather than just energy balance (calories in vs. calories out).  A few research-backed, logical reasons why exercise is a crucial part of long-term weight loss:

  • Increases our resting metabolic rate due to the exercise itself along with increases in lean body mass.
  • Can promote gains in lean body mass (muscle, bone, etc.) when consuming excess calories.  Eating excess calories when sedentary usually leads to body fat.
  • Allows you to eat more and still get results (i.e. minimizing risk of feeling deprived)
  • And all of the usual benefits of physical activity on the heart, brain, lungs, etc.

So we’re all exercising, yes?  When gearing up for your workouts this week, keep these three tips in mind to get the most metabolic bang for your exercise buck:

Before – Warm-up First

Adapted from Death of the Diet:

“A warm-up helps restore healthy movement patterns and prepares your brain and body for the upcoming workout or physical activity. You’ll get the most out of your workouts this way – moving better, farther and harder – while minimizing your risk of injury.
Whatever you choose to do, know that an effective warm-up must do two things:

1. Release any tight muscles to prevent putting strain on the wrong joints or ligaments when training, which is a major cause of chronic pain and injury.

2. Get all of the target muscles and joints “awake” and engaged before you start your physical activity or workout.

Some components of an effective warm-up: myofascial release (foam roller, pinky ball), dynamic or active stretching and movement preparation.”

In simplest terms, the easiest warm up for an activity is a lower intensity version of that activity.  I recently wrote a post on running warmups here.

During – Have a Plan

You’ve seen the people without a training plan roaming around the gym – eyes always looking around, doing one set here and one set there.  Taking lots of time between sets even though they’re easily doing 15-20 reps.

Having an exercise plan allows you to maximize your calorie burn and strength gains.  And isn’t that why you’re working out to begin with?  Three targeted 1-hour workouts can do more than four 90-minute aimless jaunts around the gym just like it’s a lot easier to build a house with a blueprint rather than your contractor “trying a few things” until it works.

Know your warm-up routine for the days’ exercises/activities, sets/reps, target weights/intensities, scheduled rest times, etc.  Then write down what you did to set the foundation of future progress.

After – Eat Something

Research shows that eating a bit of protein and some carbohydrates right after exercise (within an hour) can help promote better recovery and increased lean body mass:

  • Recover better and you can exercise harder the next time you’re at the gym, or going for your run.
  • Increase your lean mass and boost your metabolism and lose inches, even if you don’t lose weight.

If the exercise is really intense, it’s best to wait at least 30-40 minutes.  Otherwise, sooner is better.  It need not be a ton of calories (unless you’re trying to gain weight), 20g of protein and 20 to 40g of carbs ends up being a 160 to 240 calorie snack.  If you’re looking to lose weight, just make sure you have a usual meal planned for after your workout rather than adding an extra snack.

Do you have a method for maximizing your workout results?  Share with other readers below!

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