Use Nutrient Density to Lose Weight by Eating Better, Not Less – Part 1

Fruits and Veggies - Nutrient Density Dynamos

Fruits and Veggies – Nutrient Density Dynamos
Image Courtesy of: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It is entirely possible to eat all day and lose weight. The key is what you choose to eat. When you eat, your body’s goal is to get all of the necessary nutrients (carbs, fat, protein, vitamins, minerals and water) into your system regardless of the number of calories you consume. Of course you must consume a minimum number of calories to keep your body functioning properly, but the calories themselves are just one variable. The other important factor is the nutrients each food provides along with its calories, dubbed “nutrient density.” Nutrient density represents a food’s nutrient bang for its calorie buck.

Think of your body as a high-performance car. You need fuel in your car to have it run every day. Calories are the amount of fuel you put in the car. You need a certain amount of calories or fuel every day or your engine is going to stop running. The body’s engine is your energy level and metabolism. Have you ever been on a diet that had you eat very few calories day after day after day? After a while did you start to feel tired, lethargic, cranky and hungry? And then after a little while longer did you stop losing weight? When you significantly restrict your fuel, your engine (lean body mass) starts to break down, and ultimately your metabolism slows down. You need a minimum amount of fuel each day to run properly.

However, the quality of the fuel is the pivotal factor. Nutrients are the quality/octane of the fuel (those 87, 89, 91 numbers you see at the pump). The higher the octane, the better the car (a.k.a. your body) is going to run on the amount of fuel you provide. Better fuel leads to better performance, a better running system (think about GI issues like bloating, constipation, etc.) and a lower chance of breakdown, especially when many demands are placed on the car. The same goes for your body, especially when you are physically active. Greater physical activity requires greater nutrients for the body to recover and perform.

Have you ever noticed that you can eat lots of junk food all day, eat a ton of calories and still feel like crap? That’s because despite giving your body lots of fuel, the fuel was low-grade and only provided minimal capacity to run rather than energizing and improving the system. And just like cars, the body typically needs less fuel (calories) to function properly when the quality (nutrients) of the fuel is high. But having less calories does not mean you need to eat less.

Consider whether you could eat the following in one sitting:

  • A quarter-pound fast food burger with cheese
  • Medium fries
  • Medium soda

Most people can polish that off and maybe even want a bit more. Now how about this meal:

  • 2 Roasted Chicken Breasts w/ 2 Tbsp. BBQ Sauce
  • 1/2 lb. Lobster w/ 1/2 Tbsp Butter
  • 2 Sweet Potatoes w/ 1 Tbsp Brown Sugar and Cinnamon
  • 2 Cups Steamed Broccoli w/ Lemon
  • 2 Cups Spinach Sauteed in Garlic & 1 Tsp. Olive Oil
  • AND a 6 inch turkey Subway sub (no cheese or oil)

Most of us probably can’t pack away that much food in one sitting. But what’s the one similarity between the two meals? They are the same number of calories! About 1321 calories to be exact. This is how high calorie, low nutrient foods make us gain weight. We can eat more of it and still not be satisfied! The second “meal” can probably satisfy you for lunch, dinner and a snack or two!

Also, foods with higher nutrient values tend to keep us feeling fuller longer because:

  • 1. We are providing our body with both the quantity and quality of fuel it needs to run
  • 2. High nutrient foods usually have fiber, protein and/or water which helps us feel full faster

By following the idea of nutrient density, we can classify thousands of foods into one of four categories based on calories (high vs. low) and nutrients (high vs. low). Let’s take a look at each of the categories with examples:

  • 1. Low Calorie, High Nutrient Foods: Most fruits and vegetables
  • 2. High Calorie, High Nutrient foods: High starch vegetables (potato, sweet potato, corn, etc.), whole grains, avocado, nuts, seeds, legumes, beans, minimally processed oils, low-fat dairy, lean meat, fish
  • 3. Low Calorie, Low Nutrient Foods: Lo-cal/”Diet” foods, hard candy, Popsicles
  • 4. High Calorie, Low Nutrient Foods: Doughnuts, ice cream, candy bars, cake, cookies, fried foods, triple bacon cheeseburgers, alcohol

Obviously we want to shift from high calorie, low nutrient foods toward low calorie, high nutrient foods. But look again and consider where you see the “healthy” foods. It’s not as simple as high calories vs. low calories. Some foods that are high in calories, such as nuts, olive oil, avocado, salmon, low-fat milk and brown rice give us a lot of other great nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, fiber and omega-3 fatty acids that our body needs to survive and perform. But we need to control how much of them we have, because ultimately eating more calories than we burn leads to weight gain. Ultimately, we want to eat foods that give us something back in return.

Your Take Home Message: In the end if we are trying to lose weight, we want to maximize nutrients while reasonably minimizing calories so we can satisfy our body’s needs while still being in a moderate calorie deficit. In other words, we want to maximize the “nutrient bang for our calorie buck.”

My post next week will discuss each of the four nutrient density categories in greater detail and the roles they play in our eating habits.

Stuck? An Activity to Overcome a Chronic Dieting or Defeated Mentality

Overcoming Chronic Dieting

Overcoming Chronic Dieting: How About Half a Burger and a Big Salad?
Image Courtesy of Microsoft Images

I frequently work with clients who have “tried every diet” and feel stuck, frustrated, and sometimes even defeated by their excess weight or declining health.  They keep trying the latest fad diets – eating like a caveman, avoiding all gluten, drinking endless juices – gain a little traction and then lose it, sometimes slipping back further than when they started.  Lose 20 pounds, regain 30.  Wash, rinse, repeat. They come asking, “Why can’t I stick to any of these diets?  What’s wrong with me?”  And those questions are actually the key to the answer.

You see, most diet plans breed a destructive all-or-nothing mentality where if you don’t follow their program perfectly, you’re labeled a failure.  Do this enough times, and you may even start to believe it…which is the furthest thing from the truth.  It’s actually all of the diet plans and cleanses that are flawed because they leave out the most important part of the equation: YOU!  Do you really want to go the rest of your life without a cookie, a glass of wine or a slice of pizza?  Or would you rather determine a set of sustainable eating and physical activity habits that get you the results you want, while allowing you to live your life, too?

How Your Health and Fitness is Like a Car

A metaphor I often use in my coaching classes is that you’re driving a car, which represents your life, health and fitness.  At some point you may realize that you’re driving down a road you don’t want to go down, but you can’t see any other alternate route out yourself.  So you try handing your steering wheel (and money) to someone else who promises to lead you away: a powder, a pill or the latest NY Times best-selling “diet” book.

Unfortunately, their foggy path isn’t what you really wanted, but they promise to get you off your current road, so you go along for the ride.  You labor on this new route for a while, not really understanding what you’re doing and just hoping it gets you somewhere you want to be.  During this process, you may start to feel helpless, out of control or overwhelmed – which makes sense since someone else is driving your car (parts of your life) for you!

Eventually, the road gets too bumpy and out of frustration, you reclaim the wheel and u-turn back to your original path.  Or you end up on a worse path, broken down in a ditch (injured) or just stuck in the mud.  But you don’t have to be. From this point forward you can choose to make repairs, take back the steering wheel for good, and ensure any future plan or fitness/nutrition coach becomes a motivating, guiding passenger rather than a dictatorial driver.

An Activity to Reclaim the Steering Wheel

A great first step for taking back the steering wheel, whether you’ve dealt with chronic dieting for decades, or you just feel “stuck” in your current habits is the activity below, excerpted from Death of the Diet:

“Divide a piece of paper into five separate columns. At the tops of the columns, write down the last five diets you were on. Then for each diet column, write down the following information:

  • How long you were on the diet (specific dates work best, in chronological order).
  • What the diet involved doing/restricting/changing.
  • The results of the diet.
  • How you felt during the diet.
  • What caused the diet to end?
  • What happened to your weight or physique over the six to twelve months following the end of the diet (assuming you didn’t start a new diet)?
  • What about the diet worked for you? Think about things you could see yourself doing again…for the long-term.
  • What did not work for you in the diet, and potentially led to you ending the diet?

If you don’t have a history of chronic dieting but feel stuck in your current habits, despite wanting to make a change, think about and answer the following questions on a piece of paper:

  • Was there a time when you were happy with your health, fitness or weight? Describe that time, and the habits you had then.
  • How did you get into your current situation?
  • What has changed between then and now? How did those changes create your current habits?
  • Is there anything you used to do that you can start doing again?
  • If you’ve never been happy with your health, weight or fitness, consider what you think you may need to feel or experience to know that you are breaking out of your current habits and making positive changes.

Using this information, you can likely get a sneak peek into which actions and Easy Eight Habits will be easiest for you to start with. For example, if you know you like fruits and veggies, it might be easier to start adding in food to your diet rather than cutting things out. By adding those fruits and veggies to your meals and snacks, you will likely get fuller faster or be less famished at meals, so you will naturally eat less. And eating less results in fewer calories consumed, which typically means a slimmer waistline!”

If you feel more confident in changing your physical activity habits rather than eating, you may choose to focus on going to the gym or playing a sport a consistent number of days per week (or month), or increasing your daily step count.

Different eating and physical activity approaches work for different people, so learn from your past, consider your present, and confidently, gradually drive your car towards long-term results knowing what works for you.

FEEDBACK: What do you think of the car metaphor?  Can it be made better?  Considering your current road, what is one eating or physical activity habit you would like to improve to start down a fitter, happier route?

Revolutionizing the Resolution…Set Health and Fitness Goals that Stick!

A Veggie + Chicken Stir-Fry Resolution

Image: Stoonn / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Guest post by Dwayne Brown, CSCS

The date is January 1st. Today is the day when most people are trying to put into action the resolutions that they hastily made on New Year’s Eve. Gyms across the nation will be bursting at the seams with new members and I’m pretty sure Weight Watchers’ business is always at its best right after the New Year. For the next couple of weeks people will make a valiant effort to keep those resolutions. Then after the New Year buzz wears off (pun intended), people usually fall back into the same old patterns that led them to make their New Years’ resolutions in the first place.

So how can we avoid resolution hangover (the disappointing feeling of not accomplishing goals)? The first step is to take a serious look at your resolution once you’ve left the New Year’s Eve party, preferably once you have had time to let your head clear. Look at them with a critical eye and decide whether they can be realistically attained and/or if you really want to attain them. For example, you and your significant other’s decision to become vegan this year might not seem as enticing when you open your refrigerator and find the parts of four different animals staring back at you saying “eat me”. A better resolution would be “I’m only going to eat red meat once a week”. This way it’s not such a shock, and once it becomes easy, you can progress it further.

The next step to keeping your resolutions is to get them on paper. Studies show that writing things down makes them more likely to actually happen. Once you write your resolutions down, make copies and put them in places where you’re sure to see them. So if you have a weak spot for cookies and you resolve to lose weight then tape that resolution to the cookie jar. You’ll quickly begin to realize that these kinds of reminders will either deter from doing the wrong things or encourage you to do the right things.

The final tip for keeping resolutions is to keep them everyday. What I mean is whatever the resolution is…do it every day. If you resolve to be more physically active, aim to move a little bit more everyday rather than just blasting yourself with one extra workout on the weekend. This means if you have the option of taking the stairs or the elevator, then there is no option. You’re taking the stairs. When it’s feasible take the extra time to walk to the store instead of driving.

These are just a few suggestions for avoiding the “I didn’t keep my resolutions” blues. Remember:

  • Make sure your resolutions are realistic and attainable.
  • Write down your resolutions and place them in places that will motivate you to take action
  • Take steps towards achieving your resolutions every day…practice makes perfect!

Even though we only make New Years’ resolutions one day in the year, it takes 365 days (and more) to keep them.

How Thinking Like a Kid Can Improve Your Health and Fitness

Kid Playing Bball

Photo courtesy of: photostock / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I have the pleasure of training some awesome clients at a boutique gym in Jersey City, Hamilton Health and Fitness (HHF), that has an on-site pool. Pools are coveted in urban areas, so there are a lot of swimming programs at HHF – including many for kids. As a result, these kids briefly walk near the training floor on their way to the pool. I’m always amused at how they look at all of the weights and machines in wonder. Sometimes they’ll just stare and other times they ask their parents, “What are those people doing?” We are, of course, training and exercising. And every so often a kid will start imitating a movement or climbing on a piece of exercise equipment (to the behest of their parents).

One time I watched a young boy, maybe 4 or 5 years old, walk over to a 90 pound dumbbell, squat down (in perfect form, I might add) and try to pick it up. Unsurprisingly, the weight won. But still, I was intrigued at how this kid just saddled up to a huge weight most adults wouldn’t go near (and a weight that was definitely heavier than him) and just “give it a go.” While some may view this boy’s attempt as foolish or unrealistic, I found a few lessons to be learned that adults can use to improve their chances of success when making positive changes to their eating and physical activity habits:

Kids Explore Possibilities

As adults it’s way too easy to get stuck in a rut or routine. And sometimes that routine is what leads us to an unhealthy lifestyle. We need to break that status quo. Kids’ minds, on the other hand, are a blank slate looking to explore; they look at everything with wonder and curiosity. They seek to interact with and understand the world around them, regardless of whether they go to a new country on vacation or are adventuring in their friends’ backyards for the 1,000th time. They notice changes in their environment and come up with lots of ideas of what they can try in a particular situation (can I pick this up? can I go there? can I climb on that?). Similarly, you can take a curious approach to eating better or becoming more active.

See your “old” surroundings with “new” eyes and build awareness about ways to live healthier. You’ll start to notice things you never knew existed, but in fact may have been right under your nose the entire time, such as a new area to go for a run near your house or an area of a kids’ jungle gym that you can use for an outdoor workout space. Or you could decide to take a walk around your workplace or neighborhood and stumble across a new place to grab a healthy meal or snack. Maybe you’ll see a new fruit or vegetable in the produce aisle that you want to try.

Kids Are Optimistic

Kids don’t know no and can’t; they assume yes and success. They smile much more than they cry. They want to be baseball players and astronauts regardless of whether they can swing a bat or breathe in space. They imagine what could be and then work towards it, assuming they will achieve it. They don’t have “baggage” that negatively influences their future pursuits. Similarly, no matter what you’ve done or tried before, approach each new health or fitness opportunity with the belief: if I put in the effort, success is inevitable.

Unlike kids, however, you may have to deal with baggage from previous experiences. But remember, with experience comes wisdom. Consider what’s worked for you in similar situations in the past and learn from what hasn’t. As I always say, “there’s no such thing as failure, only feedback.” Take your wisdom and leave your baggage; it makes for a much lighter, and easier journey.

Kids Are Persistent

Kids experiment. That’s how we learn to ride a bike or play a sport/instrument. If a kid falls down (or misses a note or fly ball), they don’t just throw their hands up in the air in exasperation and say it’s impossible. They get back up and try, try, try again. And eventually, they get better at it. Eating better and becoming more active is no different.

To get the results you want, you will likely need to develop new skills such as running, lifting weights, cooking, reducing how often you indulge or ordering different menu items when you’re at restaurants. And if the skill is new, you’ll probably mess up a few times. But rather than just give up and stay down after one slip up (i.e. oh no I ate dessert tonight, my diet is ruined, I’ll just eat whatever I want the rest of the weekend), accept what happened, get back up, dust yourself and keep moving forward. Think of each mistake you make as a missed note when playing the piano; one or two off-notes rarely ruin the entire performance, especially if we get back on key as soon as we realize it. However running away from the piano after our first mistake will.

Successful businessman Marshall Thurber once said, “Anything worth doing well is worth doing poorly at first.” I agree, because living a healthy lifestyle is undoubtedly worth doing well.

Take Action & Respond: Live life and “think like a kid” for a week, or even a day – explore your surroundings, think like you can do anything and be persistent…then tell me what changed about your “usual” actions and habits.

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