What’s Your Why?

What's Your Why?

Photo courtesy of: Castillo Dominici and FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The New Year is rapidly approaching. Reflections on the year passed, looking forward to new beginnings and a big shiny ball falling from the sky. While discussions about New Years’ Resolutions are overplayed, the underlying drive that creates them, year after year, remains of great interest to me. Everyone knows that a resolution made on New Years’ technically has no greater chance of sticking than one made on May 27th, but for some reason our minds like neat definitions when starting change – 1st of the year, beginning of the month, on Monday.

I dare say starting major habit changes on these “convenient days” lower your chances of sticking with them. If you attempt to make positive changes at the same times over-and-over, without success, your mind could subconsciously be pre-disposed to the routine of: set intention to change on Monday, progress a month or two, fail. Set intention for the following Monday, progress a month or two, fail. Your brain gets good at executing routines…including bad ones.

Even more insidious in this routine is the lost reason of WHY you’re making the change to begin with. Why do you want to lose weight, get more toned, healthier or stronger? Why are you trying to eat better or be more active? Is it because the calendar says Monday, or January 1st? That doesn’t seem like a very compelling reason to maintain your habits beyond Monday, or January 1st!

Why Change?

I devote an entire chapter in Death of the Diet (get the first two chapters free here) to answering this question. Distilled from that chapter and other areas of the book, I pose to you the following three questions and activity to reflect upon and answer this holiday season. If these questions lead you to start making changes, do me one favor. Start them the day you feel ready to change, regardless of the day of the week or the date on the calendar.

Question 1: Are you satisfied with your current health, fitness or weight?

If yes, then keep doing what you’re doing and no need to continue reading. If no, answer question #2.

Question 2: Why Change?

Your current results (health, fitness, weight, etc.) are the result of your current habits. To change your results, you need to change your habits. However, habits are there for a reason – they are the path of least resistance based on the circumstances in your life right now. You may have had other priorities in the past, but right now this is what you’re starting with. Use the activity below to determine why you would be willing to put in the effort to change those habits:

Close your eyes and imagine yourself in six to twelve months. On a piece of paper write down one to three weight, fitness or health results that you want to accomplish based on making positive changes to your eating and/or physical activity habits. Some common results include losing weight, being more toned or having more energy – but of course, what matters here is what’s important to you. Then, rank how motivating each of them is to you on a scale of zero (no motivation to change) to ten (the largest motivating factor in my life, above all other commitments).

Now look at each result again and ask yourself: “Why do I want to achieve these changes? How will achieving this allow me to live a better life or do things I’m currently not able to do?” Dig deep…usually your initial desires have deeper reasons. Weight loss, strength, energy, toning are means to an end – what’s your end? What are you going to use this new-found slimmer weight, stronger body, greater energy for? That’s your Why.

Physical health is only one aspect of wellness. Consider how making improvements can improve other aspects of your life and wellness (based on Anspaugh’s Seven Dimensions of Wellness): social (relationships), emotional (feeling about self/others), occupational (work/career), intellectual (improving knowledge/skills), spiritual (morals/values) and environmental (sustainability/impact on nature).

If you find a deeper Why than the result you initially listed, draw an arrow at the end of the original reason and write down the new one. Rate the motivation gained from this new reason. It will likely be higher than the original reason. Repeat this process for all of your desired health, fitness or weight results so each one has tangible life improvements associated with it. These are your true Whys. You can use the space provided below or if you used a piece of paper, write them next to the original Whys.

If I initially decided I wanted to lose 30 pounds, here are two examples of potential deeper Whys:

  • I want to lose 30 pounds (Motivation: 4) –> I no longer want to get winded doing everyday activities like going up stairs and walking a few blocks. (Motivation: 7)
  • I want to lose 30 pounds (Motivation: 4) –> I want to look great in all of my old clothes that no longer fit (a particular dress or pants size?) (Motivation: 6) –> I want to feel confident in myself and my body. (Motivation: 8)

Write down your Whys on a few index cards and put them in places where you can see them often (at work, in your wallet/purse, at home, etc.).

Question #3: What is one action I can take today or this week to get me one step closer to my Whys?

Once you know where you want to go and why, the next step is determining how you’re going to get there. There are many paths to living healthier, much like there are many ways to get from New York to San Francisco (different roads, airplane, train, etc.). The key is determining which path works best for your needs, preferences, priorities and schedule and then taking consistent action to travel along that path.

Changing your habits can be generalized into three main “buckets”:

Physical Activity: Working out, playing sports, taking the stairs more often, gardening, going for more walks, dancing, hiking, etc.

Eating Habits: Eating more fruits and veggies, drinking more water, eating smaller portions, less alcohol, etc.

Lifestyle Habits: Getting more sleep, reducing stress levels, quit smoking, making more time for physical activity and eating habits (your schedule), get regular medical/dental checkups, etc.

The key to making successful, lasting change is choosing new actions that are as easy as possible for you to do on a regular basis and work on just that action for a few weeks until it kicks out the old habit. Research shows it usually takes at least three weeks of consistent action to form a new habit.

Getting from where you are to where you want to be is rarely a straight shot to the top; it’s more like two steps forward and one step back. Which is still one step forward. There will be mistakes made, lessons learned, obstacles, frustrations and most of all, progress. Give yourself credit for your successes while taking responsibilities for the mishaps. Which can be summarized by a quote I strive to live my life by: There’s no such thing as failure, only feedback™.

TELL US: What’s your Why?  and get support from 75+ daily readers at Death of the Diet!

Is Saturated Fat Healthy? A Conversation Between Me and My Mom

Are Saturated Fats Like Coconut Oil Friend or Foe?

Are Saturated Fats Like Coconut Oil Friend or Foe?
Courtesy of Microsoft Images

Quick Note Before the Blog Post:

In my desire to keep you and those you care about feeling fit and strong throughout the holiday season, I want to share Death of the Diet at a deeply discounted price (feel free to forward the link). The Kindle version of Death of the Diet will be half price ($4.99) for a limited time on the days leading up to Thanksgiving – now through Wednesday Nov. 27th.  On Turkey Day, it goes back to full price.

Happy and healthy holidays to all!  – Jason

And now to the topic at hand…

About a month ago my mom emailed me asking about whether fat in the diet, particularly saturated fat, is healthy.  Her interest was piqued due to her recent visits to an Ayurvedic physician and an article by Adam Bornstein for Shape.com.  Below is my conversation with her about the question “Is saturated fat healthy?” – I’m interested to hear everyone’s thoughts:

From My Mom – Quoting Bornstein’s article:

7. Eat saturated fat.

Books like The China Study and movies like Forks Over Knives have pointed the finger at saturated fats-and all animal fats-as the reason for countless health problems. Yet all the research used to support this hypothesis took a very slanted bias and completely ignored populations that were incredibly healthy despite diets based on saturated fats. For example, people who live in Tokelau (a territory off of New Zealand) eat a diet that is 50 percent saturated fats, and they have cardiovascular health that is superior to any other group of people. Even Walter Willett, chairman of the Department of Nutrition at Harvard, has publicly stated (after a 20-year review of research) that fats-and more specifically saturated fats-are not the cause of the obesity crisis and are not the cause of heart disease.

The fad-free truth: Cholesterol actually acts as an antioxidant against dangerous free radicals within the blood. When there are high levels of undesirable substances in the blood (caused by inflammation in your arteries from eating highly processed foods and large quantities of sugars), cholesterol levels rise in order to combat these substances. Cholesterol is also necessary for the production of a number of hormones, some of which help fight against heart disease. Plus, research shows diets higher in saturated fats are often lower in total calories consumed.

*Note from Jason: The link to the full Willett article is here.  Also, Dr. Mozaffarian adds a good summary in the May 2011 Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics – Volume 111, Number 5.  And a recent article came out in the LA Times about the topic.

My Initial Response:

I think it’s clever and slightly deceptive. It’s easy to prove a point when you only cite the research that supports it.  Many of those cultures that eat a lot of saturated fat probably consume them as a part of whole foods, not as pastries. They are also probably physically active, and not obese. Correlation does not imply causation on either side of the coin.

Most research shows that saturated fat (coconut oil, ghee, eggs, whole dairy, etc) increases both types of cholesterol, HDL & LDL.  However, recent research has started to question whether all LDL cholesterol is “bad” – certain types of LDL particles may be less harmful than others (fluffy is better), but the diagnostic tools are still not widely used.  A 2008 article by Johns Hopkins describes the situation and lists a few of the LDL particle blood tests available on the market such as NMR LipoProfile, VAP (Vertical Auto Profile), Berkeley LipoPrint.

Research over the past 15 years has started to absolve cholesterol intake as a cause of high cholesterol (they are still cautious with it when you already have high cholesterol) and it appears similar is occurring for saturated fat.  In my own research to answer this question, I came across an interesting 1962 Swiss Alpine population study that showed high calorie and high saturated fat intake did not cause high cholesterol – likely due to their high physical activity rates.

In short, consuming saturated fat in natural, whole food based form as a part of a balanced, healthful diet rich in fruits, veggies, grains/proteins coupled with a normal body weight and active lifestyle is likely fine.  Too bad some people who read Bornstein’s article only see “butter and bacon is good for me along with my pancakes and danish.”

My Mom’s Follow Up

I was speaking of whole milk/dairy products, olive oil & ghee. Her belief, from an ayurvedic perspective, is that fats in whole foods are needed to get nutrients through the cell wall. The desire to have a donut is totally my idea!

My Second Follow Up

May be true, but if whole milk, olive oil and ghee leads to excessive calorie intake and makes someone obese, then that doesn’t help either.  Also, if it doesn’t sit well in someone’s stomach (food sensitivity) that may be a sign too.

Not sure if there are studies that prove that you need fat to “get nutrients through the cell wall”, but there are a number of fat-soluble nutrients that must be consumed with fat, such as vitamins A, D, E, K, etc.  That’s why extremely low-fat diets can be risky, just like extremely low-anything diets.

To You, the Reader:

What Are Your Thoughts on Saturated Fat, LDL/Cholesterol Levels and Heart Health?

‘Tis the Season: 3 Tips to Prevent Holiday Weight Gain

Holiday Calories

Photo Courtesy of WishUponACupcake

A big worry on peoples’ minds during the holiday season is about whether they will gain weight. Unfortunately, most people do…about one pound. While one pound does not sound like much, most people also keep that pound until the following holiday season…when they add another pound. So pound after pound, year after year…those pounds can add up fast. Here are three great ways to keep your cool and avoid being part of the “one pound majority” during this holiday season.

Eat Small, Frequent Meals…Even on Holidays!

While there is debate about whether small, frequent meals increase your metabolism, one thing is for certain: If you are eating healthy food every 3 hours or so, you won’t have the time or hunger to want to eat junk food! We tend to “cave” when we go long periods of time without eating (i.e. 8 AM to 1 PM to 7 PM…sound like a typical day?), and then we are confronted with tasty, free holiday treats when we are most vulnerable (mid-morning, mid-to-late afternoon and late night).

The key to eating small frequent meals is having planned “snacks” between meals during the day. Think of them as mini-meals, like fruit and a piece of string cheese, veggies and hummus/peanut butter, half a sandwich or a yogurt with high fiber cereal.

Focus on “How Much”: Consider Portions

A little bit of pumpkin pie or candied yams is not the end of the world. Making them most your plate is another story…especially if you have a big plate! Often we get huge plates to serve ourselves on for holiday meals…so we feel the need to fill it up because it’s a special occasion. And then we feel guilty leaving over our family’s food, so we eat all of it…even if we don’t want to.

Instead, ask for a smaller plate and focus on filling half (or more) of your plate with healthier options. Then make the rest of the plate up with the things you “can’t live without”. Studies show that people tend to eat less if they use smaller dishes and utensils. If you finish the smaller plate and you are still hungry, drink a glass of water and wait 15-20 minutes. This will give your body enough time to get the signal as to whether you are full or not (usually takes 15-20 minutes). If you are still hungry, then go up for seconds and follow the same process as before.

Stay Active

A 30 minute jog can burn about 300 calories. Doing 30 minutes of interval training can burn a ton more. While many consider nutrition to be about 60 to 70% of the equation when it comes to weight loss (or weight gain prevention), the 30 to 40% contributed by physical activity is not to be disregarded!

If you are currently active, stay that way! We are often knocked out of our routines during the holidays due to travel, additional evening commitments and the shorter days of winter (at least for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere). Take a look at what your current physical activity level is (number of days per week, how long, how intense), write it down, review it daily and commit to continuing that level of activity through the rest of the year. Or kick it up a notch if you feel confident that you could be doing more; it does not have to be a lot, just an additional ten minutes added on to your usual workouts. Consider it a pre-New Year’s Resolution.

TELL ME: Do you change any habits in particular to prevent gaining weight during the holiday season?  Or how do you safeguard yourself against the temptations that don’t usually occur the other months of the year?

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:


  • 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.


  • 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



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/

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