For many recreational or competitive female athletes, food seems to be the “fattening enemy.” Women often express their frustration that they “do all this exercise and are not losing weight” and wonder “what is the best diet?” The problem is that diets don’t work (or everyone who diets would be thin). They are certainly appealing, giving an illusion of control. But sadly, the dieting cycle actually contributes to more distress. The good news is that making peace with food, exercise and weight is possible! Rediscover the joy and nourishment of eating by focusing on strategies that will help you optimize body composition and improve athletic performance.
Create a Small Calorie Deficit. Weight loss happens when there is a caloric deficit. Unfortunately, the body responds to a caloric deficit with a number of metabolic adaptations. In the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, Trexler, et al. summarize results from a number of studies indicating that the body’s response to hypocaloric diets is to increase hunger, conserve energy, and promote loss of lean body mass (LBM). Consequently, repeated cycles of weight loss and regain ultimately result in long-term weight gain. To minimize these effects, it is recommended to utilize the smallest possible deficit, such as 10-15% of calories, to yield an average weight loss of 0.5 pound per week. For example, if you need 2000 calories to maintain your weight, create a 200-300 calorie deficit per day. This may decrease the rate of weight loss, but will also reduce unfavorable adaptations.
Manage Your Hunger. There are many factors that affect hunger and appetite. Hunger is simply your body’s physical request for fuel, while appetite is a psychological urge for “what sounds good.” The biggest mistake made by weight conscious athletes is getting overly hungry and relying entirely on willpower to avoid eating too much. Unfortunately, many dieters skip breakfast, skimp on lunch, and blow it by “giving in” and overeating later in the day. Giving yourself permission to eat enough at breakfast and lunch will help you control the amount of food your body needs. Plan ahead by dividing your energy needs into about 3-5 meals/snacks and mindfully fuel up during the most active part of your day.
Increase Protein Intake. Loss of LBM while trying to reduce body weight is obviously undesired. Research has indicated that resistance training along with sufficient protein intake will help preserve LBM during energy restriction. Increasing your intake of protein-containing foods (such as meat, poultry, fish, beans, legumes, and dairy products) will also promote satiety which delays the onset of hunger for the next meal. Protein needs vary individually, but in general, aim for about 20 grams of protein per meal or snack (20 grams of protein is the equivalent of a palm-sized serving of meat, pork or poultry; one cup of tofu; or 6 oz Greek yogurt with a couple tablespoons of almonds).
Improve Diet Quality. While I don’t recommend defining foods as “good” vs “bad”, changing your personal food environment will increase the likelihood that you will eat more nutrient dense foods regularly. Stocking up on fruits, vegetables, lean meats, wholesome carbohydrates, dairy, nuts, and seeds at home or at work will help fuel your workouts, decrease cravings and manage emotional eating. Each meal, try to balance your plate with a serving of lean protein, wholesome carbohydrates, and colorful veggies that will help you feel full and satisfied while providing important nutrients to help you exercise, train and perform at your best.
The typical "answer" seems to be: it's "80% nutrition and 20% exercise". What do you think? Of course, we all have our own personal experiences that affect our response. If having the right “balance” of nutrition and exercise is what we are looking for, it’s helpful to define what balance is.
Webster’s definition of balance: bal·ance noun \ˈba-lən(t)s\
: the state of having your weight spread equally so that you do not fall; : a state in which different things occur in equal or proper amounts or have an equal or proper amount of importance
Based on the definition of balance, the ideal “prescription” for achieving the proper amount of nutrition and exercise would be that everyone would move and exercise enough while eating the right amount to fuel that activity.
Unfortunately, that’s not always possible (physical, financial, access, etc. reasons). The other challenge in answering this question is what’s your objective? Are you trying to lose weight? Fight disease? Improve energy? Or, improve sport performance?
There really isn’t a standard answer. See why…
The objective: Weight loss
What’s best? Initially, nutrition makes the biggest impact on achieving your goal. Specifically, research indicates that individuals who need to lose weight and body fat are most successful by attempting to alter the energy balance equation by decreasing energy (food) intake. However, exercise is essential for keeping the weight off. For this reason, an individual who is inactive when they begin a weight loss program needs to also include some form of activity. Starting off slowly enables them to work up to an intensity that will keep the weight off, prevent burnout and injury; and, help prevent muscle loss to keep their metabolism up.
The objective: Prevent type 2 diabetes
What’s best? Exercise can make the biggest impact in your defense against this disease. Yes, diet is also important in the prevention of diabetes, but active muscle tissue is like a “sponge” in being able to absorb sugar (glucose) from the blood stream using a mechanism totally separate from insulin. Also, when you are active, your cells also become more sensitive to insulin so it can work more efficiently.
The objective: Stabilize mood, relieve stress and boost energy
What’s best? Exercise is the magic bullet! The reason why is that exercise triggers the release of powerful brain chemicals, such as dopamine and norepinephrine, that are important in helping us feel good and have more energy. Exercise (any movement) can also lead to changes in the brain that help with resilience and managing stress. Nutrition is important in supplying the fuel needed to make these neurotransmitters, but just as you can improve your blood chemistry with a single meal, you can also boost energy, mental focus and mood with a single workout. As a result, exercise may be as effective as medication for treating depression in some people.
The objective: Improve sports performance
What’s best? Nutrition can have a significant impact for athletes who are looking to improve their performance and reduce injury rates. The best athlete is well-trained, genetically gifted AND well-fueled. Fueling with the appropriate nutrients at the right time in their training regimen can make a big difference in helping an athlete achieve their goals with speed and performance; muscle growth and repair; and, recovery time.
The objective: Reduce risk of chronic disease, i.e. heart disease, cancer, osteoporosis, obesity
What’s best? Both diet and exercise are important components of prevention and treatment strategies for many diseases. Prevention of weight gain is critical because overweight and obesity are difficult to treat and are conditions that directly affect many other chronic diseases. Additionally, diet (specifically the quality of food intake) and exercise also play non-weight-related roles in many chronic diseases. For example, omega-3 fatty acids from fish are shown to have a direct affect on lowering your risk of heart disease. A diet that includes a high intake of plant-based foods along with consistent exercise remains the recommendation for decreasing your risk of cancer.
Clearly, your nutrition intake (quantity and quality), along with regular activity, will have a significant impact on helping you achieve your health goals. The goal of a body builder is different than that of an endurance athlete, stressed out middle-aged man, or a woman trying to manage symptoms of menopause. Diet plays a significant role in each of these examples, but hopefully you can see why it’s misleading to simplify movement and activity to “20%” of the equation.
“Before” and “After” pictures seem to be everywhere, especially as it relates to encouraging weight loss. Honestly, this strategy makes me cringe. Is this really helpful or necessary? Before you glaze over and stop reading because you are thinking, “what’s the problem…these images really motivate individuals to achieve the desired result”, I challenge you to consider what an individual’s “after” the “after” picture looks like? For example, regarding weight loss, it has been proposed that only 2 out of 10 people who achieve modest weight loss are able to sustain that weight loss for greater than one year (Wing and Phelan, 2005). For the remaining dieters, most gain all or more of their weight back within one to three years. Was it because the successful 20% had before and after images?
In fact, individuals consistently come to me expressing their frustration over losing tens or even hundreds of pounds using the latest diet trend, supplement, weight loss program, and bariatric surgery, only to regain all of which they have lost. It breaks my heart when I see folks who have made significant healthy behavior changes with eating and exercise, but still are not happy with their “after” picture and turn to the next diet trend to “lose that last 10 pounds”. So, is this approach really motivating and helpful? Perhaps in the short term. But, at the very least, these images don’t seem to encourage long-lasting success, and at the worse, this approach continues to feed into our culture’s obsession with achieving a certain “look” and even more disappointment when that “look” can’t be achieved or sustained. My question is what do you want your “after” the “after” picture to really look like? My hope is that each individual will consider their success to be measured by some of the following qualities, not just a picture.
1) Overall health. Improving health markers, such as cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar can happen when an individual participates in regular activity along with a balanced approach to nutrition. Many of these benefits are related to a slight decrease in weight, but can also occur with consistent lifestyle changes. An added benefit is decreasing the worry about these conditions.
2) Emotional well-being. Eating well, healthy activity and regular sleep can make a significant impact on your emotional state of mind. Although advertisements aim to convince us that weight loss alone will make us “happy”, the truth is that physical activity and eating well stimulates various brain chemicals that help us manage stress and emotions so we can feel more relaxed and peaceful.
3) Healthy eating behaviors. Many individuals work very hard to lose weight. Incorporating behaviors such as mindful eating, planning meals, cooking more, physical activity, and exploring new healthy foods are important and admirable. These intentional behaviors can result in more energy, sustainable weight control and a positive relationship with food, exercise, and weight. Sadly, too many miss the benefit of their accomplishments because of focusing on one thing – body size.
4) Decreased health care costs. These days, staying out of the doctor’s office due to disease and illness offers huge dividends. There is so much we can do to decrease disease risk with a healthy lifestyle. Much of this is a common sense, balanced approach to nutrition. My mantra is “eat to live” rather than a fear based approach to food and weight. Fear doesn’t help anyone, while accomplishing positive health changes with positive support can be enjoyable and fun!
5) Improved body image. Focusing on positive behavior change rather than the pressure of needing to change your “before” picture may help you feel better about your appearance, boost confidence, and improve self-esteem.
Whether or not you choose to employ “before” and “after” pictures as a motivational tool to accomplish your goals, my hope is that you will consider all the benefits of your hard work. Also, keep in mind that many people don’t like to see themselves in pictures. There are a number of psychological reasons for this, but in general, it may be more helpful to focus on something other than a picture.
“All my limitations are self-imposed, and my liberation can only come from true self-love.” ~ Max Robinson
The beginning of a new year often marks a time when people want to make personal changes. It is estimated that 44% of us make New Year’s resolutions with the top 3 reported to include: 1. To lose weight; 2. Get organized; and 3. Spend less and save more. Self improvement is always a good idea! Unfortunately, studies also report that 25% of folks are unable to keep their new resolution for even one week! What is it about change that makes it so difficult? How can you make lifestyle changes that last?
The problem seems to be in our human nature. Whether someone has struggled for years with their weight – losing and gaining over and over; or, a family that relies on fast food and eating out, it
often takes more than sheer willpower to make change. It’s not about trying harder (i.e. spend more money on the latest diet), it’s about doing things different. Instead it takes a change in attitude that leads to a change in our actions that create new behaviors and habits. Following a list of “do’s”and “don’ts” for weight loss may be helpful at first, but healthy living is more than a list of resolutions. It takes a revolution, or “a fundamental change in the way of thinking about or visualizing something:
a change of paradigm”, according to the definition in Webster's dictionary.
So, you want to be healthier in 2014, or perhaps you have an important weight loss goal? What change do you need to make in your attitude? Perhaps it’s believing in yourself; being willing to change your current way of living; or, beginning to focus on the positives. I often ask clients who desire to lose weight how they would do things different right now if they were at the weight they desired. Consistently, individuals tell me that they would likely plan their meals, go to the grocery store, have different foods in their house, prepare meals, and exercise more. My response is that you CAN do all this now. So often, I hear that someone believes they need to lose the weight before they can really make these changes. What if you could challenge the negative thoughts that you “can’t do it”, and imagined that you can be that “healthy person” now?
Practicing to identify the positive things you can do really can make a difference. Also, consider
getting support from a nutritionist or in a group to help you get started with making nutrition and lifestyle changes that fit your individual needs. Being confident in yourself, rather than a weight loss product or scheme, is ultimately the health change that is revolutionary.
Dairy foods such as low-fat or fat-free milk, cheese, yogurt and whey are convenient and cost-effective ways to power up with protein throughout the day. Dairy is one of the most economical sources of nutrition. Regardless of the type or variety of dairy product you choose – protein will be present.
Protein is essential in the diet on a daily basis because it is needed for growth and maintenance of muscle. Dairy’s whey protein has a natural taste and complements the flavor of the food it is added to. Whey protein is one of the best sources of naturally-occurring branched-chain amino acids, including leucine, which is unique in its ability to initiate muscle protein synthesis.
Top 5 benefits of adding whey protein to your diet:
1) Helps you maintain a healthy weight. Dairy foods that naturally contain whey protein help maintain lean tissue that burns more calories.
2) Calorie for calorie, whey protein helps you feel full longer than carbohydrates or fat.
As a result, you may reduce the extra snacking that is causing excess intake and weight gain.
3) Whey protein helps you get lean. Consuming dairy foods (such as milk, cheese, yogurt and whey protein) in combination with resistance exercise helps to restore a positive protein balance (more protein synthesis than protein breakdown) which is needed for muscle gain to occur.
4) Whey protein helps with exercise recovery. Whey protein provides the specific amino acids necessary for muscle repair and recovery after resistance training or vigorous exercise. Milk,
especially chocolate milk (because of its unique protein to carbohydrate ratio) has been shown to be an effective recovery drink for endurance activities.
5) Whey protein helps reduce loss of muscle mass. As early as age 40, we can lose muscle
mass if we don’t consume high quality protein along with adequate activity. Moderately increasing high qaulity protein consumption at each meal may help older adults retain muscle mass and thus help decrease weight gain as we age.
“…I know I should drink more milk, but I can’t. I am lactose intolerant…; It causes weight gain…; Humans weren’t meant to consume dairy…”
These and other objections are common reasons I have heard from my clients explaining why they do not consume dairy foods. Some of the information about dairy foods is frankly not been proven and is often misleading and/or inaccurate. Perhaps you have stopped consuming dairy products because of these type of fears, and would like more infomation on how you can begin to include a variety of dairy foods in your meals, Research has shown that even for someone who complains of severe lactose intolerance symptoms, they can almost always be brought up to the point of consuming three full glasses of milk per day without symptoms. The Creighton University Osteoporosis Research Center provides extensive replicable research on the health benefits of adding dairy-containing foods in your diet.
For example, the following link provides more information on lactose intolerance, and the evolution of humans consuming diary foods:
If you would like a program to help you include high quality protein foods, including dairy products, at each meal, working with a registered dietitian nutritionist can help you ensure you are meeting your needs and achieving your health goals.
Layman DK. The role of leucine in weight loss diets and glucose homeostasis [Review]. Journal of
Nutrition 2003; 133:261S-267S.
Leidy HJ, Carnell NS, Mattes RD, Campbell WW. Higher Protein intake preserves lean mass and satiety with weight loss in pre-obese and obese women. Obesity 2007; 15:421-9.
Campbell WW. Dietary protein and resistance training effects on muscle and body composition in older persons [Review]. Journal of the American College of Nutrition 2007; 26:696S-703S.
Hayes A, Cribb PJ. Effect of whey protein isolate on strength, body composition and muscle hypertrophy during resistance training. Current Opinions in Nutrition and Metabolic Care 2008; 11:40-4.
Esmarck B, et al. Timing of post exercise protein intake is important for muscle hypertrophy with resistance training in elderly humans. Journal of Physiology 2001; 535:301-11.
Houston DK et al. Dietary protein intake is associated with lean mass change in older, community-dwelling adults: the Health, Aging, and Body Composition (ABC) study.American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2008; 87:150-5.
Weigle DS, Breen PA, Matthys CC, et al. A high-protein diet induces sustained reductions in appetite, ad libitum caloric intake, and body weight despite compensatory changes in diurnal plasma leptin and ghrelin concentrations. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition2005; 82:41-48.
The year-end holidays are upon us! You know that stretch from Thanksgiving to January 2 where frequent nibbling and persistent overeating often ends with undesired weight gain. Following are strategies to help you make it through this blissful time of year, and still feel great in 2014.
Holiday weight gain tends to happen because more food is available – cookies and desserts at work; frequent gatherings involving food (and more beverages, too); and, endless buffets wherever you go. The problem lies largely in having a strategy for managing the amount of food available. So, how can you make sure you are able to successfully enjoy your holiday parties and manage your weight at the same time?
Set yourself up for success.
Eating less all day to “save up” for the party is not helpful. Skipping meals/snacks usually affects productivity, causes poor concentration, more difficulty with problem solving, and increased fatigue. It can also lead to overeating at the next meal or snack, such as at the holiday party or gathering. Take time to enjoy a bowl of soup, yogurt, vegetables and hummus, as an example of meal that will help meet your energy needs consistently throughout the day.
Take a plate.
Many individuals comment that they struggle with grazing or “picking” at foods left out at the party. By the end of the event, it’s hard to remember what or how much you ate. Learn to indulge intelligently at the buffet or appetizer spread by first scanning the buffet table to figure out which foods will be most satisfying for you. Make a plate balanced with some protein options, along with vegetables or fruit, whole grains or, and a dessert. This will help you be aware of portions and more conscious of how much you’re eating. Wait 20 minutes; and, if you decide you are still hungry, use your plate again to intentionally choose foods that will help you feel satisfied. Try to recognize when the food is "beckoning" you rather than thinking you are physically hungry. Getting involved in conversation or a game may be a helpful distraction. You may also want to try drinking water to ensure you aren't just thirsty (see below). As always, try to eat mindfully and savor these tasty holiday foods!
Location, Location, Location.
When you realize you are not hungry, step away from the food. Try to sit or stand away from the food table and near supportive people to decrease the urge to mindlessly eat. Take time to enjoy the folks you are celebrating the season with - participate in conversation, listen to stories, learn something new about a friend or relative. Most important, try to relax and have fun.
This is often the most common mistake people make (including me). On average, women and men need 2.7 and 3.4 liters of water per day, respectively. This does not include additional fluid needs for activity. Also, the hustle and bustle during this time of year may lead to decreased fluid intake. Thirst is often mistaken for hunger and can lead to overeating. Therefore, try to keep a water bottle with you at all times and drink frequently throughout the day – includingt the holiday party – with added limes, lemons, or cucumbers for extra flavor. An added benefit for some can be decreased headaches by avoiding dehydration. I know I feel so much better when I make this a priority!
Move your body!
Take time to include moderate, enjoyable movement in your day. Ideally 30 to 60 minutes of some cardio and strength training activity is recommended daily. If you already have an exercise routine, try and stay with it. You may also want to include less frenzied activity such as a yoga class or a peaceful leisure walk under the stars. To include the family (and unplug), consider walking together after a holiday meal; ice skating at a local park; going to a local museum or the zoo instead of sitting around.
Val Schonberg is a Registered, Licensed Dietitian who specializes in weight management, sports nutrition, disease