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‘Diet’ Is A Four Letter Word

by | Mar 20, 2009

fresh vegetablesHave you ever wondered why we use the same word for both normal and extreme eating behaviors?

Diet vs. Dieting

We all know what it means to “go on a diet.” When you are dieting (the verb) you temporarily change how you eat–sometimes in ways that are very extreme–for the purpose of losing weight or achieving another immediate goal, like “detox.”

But we also use the word diet to describe normal, everyday eating patterns such as a “healthy diet” or “vegetarian diet.”

Failing to distinguish short-term and long-term eating behaviors is a serious problem though, because in reality most of us confuse these methods and try using short-term strategies to achieve goals that can only be met with a long-term approach. And describing and correcting this fallacy is almost impossible when the terminology we use is the same for both.

Dieting Is Temporary

To be clear, there are a few cases where dieting (short-term) can be beneficial. Sometimes an athletic event or other performance requires temporary weight loss or a special training program. But if your goal is long-term health or permanent weight loss, you won’t find much success with this approach.

Sure you can lose weight if you go on a diet. In fact, you can lose weight on almost any diet (I’m still skeptical of the cookie diet, but I would not be surprised if someone has lost weight on it). What you must remember is if your changes are temporary, so will be your success.

Worse, most temporary weight loss plans encourage rapid weight loss that ultimately destroys muscle and lowers your metabolism. This makes future attempts at weight loss even more difficult and may result in a net weight gain, once you have fallen off the bandwagon. In other words, you achieve the opposite of your goal.

The Maintenance Illusion

Deep down you probably know all this. Yet still we love to rationalize this behavior by telling ourselves that once we lose the weight, then we will switch to a healthier diet. We tend to associate “healthy diets” with weight maintenance, and we keep this idea in the back of our brains for the mythical time when we finally achieve our perfect, ideal bodies.

But this strategy is backwards.

Habit

To lose weight and keep it off, to prevent chronic diseases and stay fit and active into old age, we need to permanently change our daily eating habits. We must learn to make healthier choices and gradually shift our behaviors to those of a healthy, thin person.

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”

-Aristotle

Aristotle’s wisdom holds true for weight loss as well. To change our bodies we must change our habits. And habits are created in our minds. We need to stop thinking of dieting as a way to achieve permanent weight loss. Instead we need a term that emphasizes our set of personal habits we adopt for long-term good health.

Healthstyle

Healthstyle is the word I am choosing to describe the healthy habits that fit our own individual styles.

One of the wonderful things about health and weight loss is that there are countless ways to get there. And what works for someone may not work for you. Healthstyle is your customized path to health that suits your personal tastes and lifestyle.

Most importantly, Healthstyle emphasizes habits and long-term health, not painful diets and temporary weight loss.

Please join me in removing the word diet from the discussion of healthy eating. If you use Twitter, share your healthy habits with the tag #healthstyle.

What is your Healthstyle?

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10 Common Groceries I Never Buy

by | Mar 7, 2009

In general I would say I eat pretty normal food. Admittedly the fruits and vegetables I buy are extraordinary (thank you San Francisco), but they are still just plants that grow out of the dirt in California. I realized recently that what is truly unusual about my diet are the groceries I do not buy.

10 Groceries I Never Buy

(and why I think there are better things to spend my money on)

  1. Sliced bread. Sure my grandparents think it is the greatest invention of all time (literally), but I would argue that the fluffy loaves that come in plastic bags at the market can barely be considered food. Don’t believe me? Check the ingredients list. If you don’t fall asleep by the time you get to the bottom, try pronouncing some of those words in the middle. Exthoxylated…wuh?
  2. Fruit yogurts. It is generally accepted without question that yogurt is good for you. That may be the case for old-fashioned plain yogurt (though I am still not convinced), but I guarantee you those sugary yogurts that take up the bulk of the dairy case do not qualify as health food. 15 grams of sugar is my cut off before a food transitions to dessert. Look before you eat.
  3. Iceberg or romaine lettuce. Besides being colorless and flavorless, these boring greens add little (zero?) nutrition to your life. Instead I buy the colorful, loose spring mixes that come in bags, boxes or bulk bins at the grocery store and farmers market. If you prefer to stick with one kind of salad green at a time, try green or red leafed lettuce. Mix it up occasionally with cabbage or radicchio.
  4. Corn-fed beef. As I have explained before, I love beef (even though I don’t eat much of it). When I decide it is worth the indulgence, I go straight for the gourmet grass-fed kind. Why? Cows were never meant to eat corn (industrial cows have been bred to do it), and those that do are sicker and less nutritious than cows that are pastured. Moreover, the factories that process this sub-par beef are likely to be huge, unsanitary and foster E. Coli outbreaks. Thanks, but I’ll pass.
  5. Soda. There was a time in my life when I drank quarts of Diet Coke a day. But since I started focusing on my health I gave it up and never looked back. Even natural sodas add very little to your quality of life. And if they contain full sugar, your life may even be shortened. When I’m thirsty I drink water.
  6. Pancake or brownie mixes. I am not immune from the occasional pancake or brownie craving (and sometimes my friends demand these of me!). So if it is a special occasion, why bother with the boxed stuff? Both these goodies are easy to make from scratch and worth a little extra time in the kitchen to make them spectacular! Isn’t that what indulgence is all about?
  7. Winter tomatoes. Need I say more? There is no room in my life (usually) for an inadequate tomato. Canned tomatoes are a better option during the spring and winter.
  8. Juice. Even 100% fresh squeezed juice is dangerous for your blood sugar and insulin levels (not to mention your BMI). If I decide to try some, I consume less than 8 oz. You can probably guess what I think about the phony 10% juice products from concentrate (see point #5).
  9. Deli meats. On the surface these purportedly lean meats seem to be healthy. But under the surface they are packed with salts, sugars and nitrates. For a quick protein fix, try canned salmon (boneless, skinless), sardines or lox.
  10. Cheese that comes in plastic. Similar to beef, I indulge in cheese so infrequently that I prefer to go straight to Cowgirl Creamery for the good stuff! My recent favorite is called Midnight Moon.
  • What popular items don’t you buy?
  • Have any questions about other common items in your shopping cart?
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How To Eat Healthy Without Whole Foods

by | Mar 4, 2009

junk foodBy this point you can probably guess that I do the bulk of my grocery shopping at the San Francisco Ferry Plaza Farmers Market and at Whole Foods (with the occasional trip to Trader Joe’s). But not everyone is blessed with year-round farm stands and high-end grocery chains in their cities. So how are you supposed to take my advice when you don’t have access to the same resources?

What Would Darya Eat?

I will admit I am not a seasoned grocery shopper when faced with either a real winter or non-city suburbia, but I can guarantee you that I would find a way to eat healthy despite these obstacles. Here is how I would approach these difficult situations:

Use Google to find a health food store.
Most towns have at least one small health food store, and these can be a lifesaver (literally) if you are trying to maintain a healthy diet. Finding one can be tricky, but you can do it if you know what to search.

Unfortunately, the idea that fresh, whole foods are the best way to promote health and fight disease is still something of a radical concept associated with hippies, liberals and elitists (run!!). For the most part, people still do not take the idea of healthy food seriously. Thus, a Google search for “health” will usually bring you links to medical sites or shady pills and powder supplements. And “health food” will get you a mixture of vitamin shops and useful grocery stores.

To get what you need, I recommend searching “organic groceries” followed by your city, then state.

In the following example I searched for “organic groceries Newport Beach, CA”. Several entries come up, but the most useful are Google’s local business results or the local.yahoo.com link.

organic groceries search
Stores that come up in these searches usually have an excellent selection of healthy shelf items such as grains, beans, cereals and canned goods. The best deals are usually in the bulk bins (check near the back or side of the store).

These places will often have a small selection of organic produce.

Find a local produce market. Like the health food stores, produce markets that primarily sell fresh fruits and vegetables are not big fancy operations that are easy to find. Instead they are usually small, family-run shops that cater to a loyal clientele. Frequently these shoppers are hunting for specific products used in, for example, Asian or Latin American cuisines.

The fruits and vegetables you find in stores like this are often imported and inexpensive, which is a mixed blessing. Clearly imported produce is not ideal if you are interested in buying local, organic foods. However, in many cities fresh fruits and vegetables are almost nonexistent during the winter, and these specialty stores can be a fantastic alternative. They are certainly better than nothing (or Costco).

Another bonus of these markets is that they can be great sources for hard to find ingredients like fresh galangal (Thai ginger) or kefir lime leaves.

To find these stores in your neighborhood type “produce” into Google followed by your city and state. Again look for Google’s local business listings.

It is worth noting that these stores can vary quite a bit in quality and cleanliness, so it is a good idea to stop by several different shops until you find the one that best meets your needs.

Read local blogs. I am admittedly a little biased on this topic, but blogs can be a fantastic source for local news on food, eating and gardening, all of which will give you clues about what local food is available during the current season. You can use Google’s Blogsearch tool and type in what you are looking for (e.g. “winter vegetables”) along with your city and state to find what is buzzing near you.

Buy frozen vegetables. I do not particularly like recommending frozen vegetables because in my opinion they do not taste as good as fresh ones, and I believe enjoying your food is a critical part of establishing healthy eating patterns. But despite their texture, frozen vegetables actually retain most of their nutrients and can be an excellent healthy option during the cold months. When I do buy frozen goods, I stick to the hearty fare like beans, peas, corn and bell peppers, but if you do not mind the texture of some of the leafy greens, they are perfectly healthy. Frozen berries also hold up pretty well.

Be creative. Winter is one of the best times of the year to go pantry diving and finally do something with that bulgur or those red lentils. Be creative!

Cans of diced tomatoes, anchovies, capers and olives can easily be turned into a puttanesca sauce. Winter squash is great for bean stews. Have fun with what you have and winter will be over before you know it.

Conclusions

This list is meant to be a jumping off point for people to explore healthy eating in challenging circumstances and is an example of the kind of thinking I would use if faced with a similar situation.

Effectively using Google’s search tools to find vendors in your local area can make it much easier to stick to your healthy diet, even without warm weather or a big city. Getting involved in your local food scene is another way to discover healthy opportunities anywhere.

I am certain there are many more effective ways to stay healthy without a Whole Foods.

For those of you who actually live in places where fresh vegetables can be hard to find, I would love to hear your strategies for healthy eating all year long! Let’s brainstorm!

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Low-Carb, Low-Fat and High-Protein Diets Equally Useless

by | Feb 27, 2009

A widely publicized study out this week in the New England Journal of Medicine shows that there is virtually no difference between low-carb, low-fat, high-carb or high-protein diets when it comes to weight loss. I don’t often like to toot my own horn, but if you read my post on Monday about the Top 10 Food Facts Everyone Should Know (see point #10), then this was not news to you.

For several years now data has been accumulating that the relative composition of different macronutrients (fat, carbs, protein) in your diet has little to no effect on long-term weight loss. What makes this study stand out from the pack is how well it was designed.

The Study

This was the largest, longest run study of this kind ever conducted, including nearly 650 over weight individuals of diverse racial, socioeconomic, geographic and education backgrounds. The participants were highly motivated to lose weight and were given detailed instructions on why their assigned diet was considered an effective weight loss strategy (this was to remove bias caused by the media about popular diets).

For you carbophobes out there, the importance of dietary carbohydrates was addressed directly. The amount of carbohydrates in the different diets varied from 35% (very low) to 65% (very high). All participants, including those on the high-carb diet, were instructed to choose foods that had lower glycemic index. Carbohydrate composition had no significant effect on long-term weight loss.

All subjects received substantial behavioral therapy to help them meet their goals, and detailed measurements of health and weight loss were collected from each individual throughout the study. The participants were told to keep food journals and use online support provided, as well as weekly dietary counseling.

Importantly, all the diets resulted in similar calorie deficiencies to promote weight loss. Not surprisingly, after 6 months all the participants had lost a substantial amount of weight, but after 1 year had gained about half of it back. During the final year the subjects had more difficulty sticking to their assigned diets, particularly those assigned the most extreme regimens (very low-fat or high-protein).

Conclusions

Regardless of diet, all participants experienced similar, modest (5% body weight reduction), but clinically relevant weight loss that is mainly attributed to a reduction in calories.

Interestingly, the measure that best correlated with weight loss success was attendance at the dietary counseling sessions.

Since the study is over can we now assume that many of these participants have gone back to their old eating habits? I would bet yes.

What can we take away from this study?

You can lose weight on any diet, but for most people it is very difficult and not sustained. This is because cutting calories is very tough for most people.

This study also suggests that losing weight with standard diets is very difficult and, in most cases, only moderately helpful. It seems future research should focus on how to increase adherence to a lower calorie diet. Gaming the system by manipulating macronutrient composition doesn’t seem to be working.

Why you should focus on whole foods, not nutrients

Another thing we can take from this study is that if weight loss is your goal, calories are what count. (Some of my friends responded to this finding brilliantly: “DUH.”) The nice thing about a diet based primarily on vegetables is that lowering caloric intake is relatively easy. As long as some effort is made to achieve a balanced diet (enough plant protein and fats), satisfaction after a meal can be attained with far fewer calories.

Vegetables are very bulky, highly nutritious and have very few calories. It’s not easy to gain weight when you eat kale, beans and brown rice for dinner.

Like I explained a few weeks ago, since I have focused on health (rather than weight) and a vegetable-based (rather than macronutrient-based) diet, I have lost weight effortlessly. I am also less stressed about food in general, and have completely lost my old cravings for sugar and fat.

Best of all, I do not feel like I have given up anything whatsoever. In fact I would argue I have gained the freedom to eat what I want, whenever I want it. And the food I eat is much more satisfying and delicious. I guarantee you this tagine tasted better than any Atkins bar, rice cake or BigMac.

My life now is much more delicious.

Are you ready to give up diets and focus on health?

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Top 10 Food Facts Everyone Should Know

by | Feb 23, 2009

winter vegetablesIn honor of the food issue this week at Synapse, I compiled a list of ten essential diet and nutrition facts you might not know:

  1. “Vitamins” are not the same as whole foods. Instant ramen and a multivitamin is not a healthy meal. There is no substitute for a diet of whole foods rich in vegetables, beans, grains and fish.
  2. A healthy diet can prevent or even reverse four out of the six leading causes of death in the US. Evidence indicates that diet is more important than genetics in the vast majority of heart disease, stroke, cancer and type 2 diabetes cases.
  3. The thinnest, healthiest people in the world eat “high carb” diets. But they definitely do not eat the processed, refined carbohydrates that flood Western culture. If you want to lose weight and live longer without disease, eat more vegetables and whole grains.
  4. You get plenty of calcium. Americans consume more calcium than most countries on earth, yet still sport some of the highest rates of osteoporosis. This debilitating disease is more likely caused by insufficient vitamin D, not enough exercise and/or too much protein. Also, excess calcium is linked to prostate cancer and milk to ovarian cancer. Calcium does not support weight loss either.
  5. “Fiber” is not the same as vegetables and grains. Fiber supplements do not offer the same benefits as fiber-filled foods, and do not help with weight loss or protect against disease.
  6. The best sources of protein are plants and fish. It is relatively easy to get complete protein (i.e., all the essential amino acids) from a diverse diet. Protein from red meat offers more risk than reward. (Yes, pork is red meat.)
  7. Fruits and vegetables protect your vision. Both cataracts and macular degeneration are strongly tied to diet.
  8. Fats from factories are dangerous. Processed oils and trans fats (not total dietary fat) are associated with heart disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer and obesity. Replacing them with natural oils could save your life.
  9. Fats from plants and fish are essential. Mono- and polyunsaturated fats protect against heart disease, type 2 diabetes and memory loss. In moderation they can also aid in weight loss, since they increase the satiety you feel after a meal.
  10. You can lose weight on any short-term diet, but you will probably gain back more than you ultimately lose. This is often true even if you stay on the diet. Focusing on long-term health is the best strategy for sustained weight loss, but it requires patience.

What are other common myths about diet and nutrition?

UPDATE: For more information on the health value of oils from fish, please read my answer in the comments section.
http://forms.aweber.com/form/30/split_210533730.htm

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Having My Cake

by | Feb 18, 2009

This past week I mentioned a few times on Facebook that I was going out to eat. Once I mentioned something about meatballs, another time a burger and then fried chicken. The response from my friends was pretty uniform:

“YOU EAT MEAT?!?!”

I can understand the confusion. I spend pretty much all my free time trying to convince my readers that eating more vegetables, legumes and whole grains, while cutting back on red meat and refined carbohydrates will help you lose weight, keep your heart healthy and stave off cancer. My recipes almost never include meat or dairy and, it’s true, I don’t eat much of these things (at least not compared to most Americans).

But I do eat pork, beef, cheese and cake, and I love them!

What really distinguishes my eating habits from a typical Western diet is the quantity and quality of the unhealthy foods I eat, as well as the quantity and diversity of the healthy foods.

As I have explained before, taste is a huge factor in what I decide to consume. I do not eat gross foods just because they are supposed to be healthy, and I do not deprive myself of foods that I love. Instead I have learned to cook myself healthy food that tastes amazing–food I would be proud to serve to friends and chefs alike. My method is to get the best ingredients I can get my hands on, and that involves seasonal shopping every weekend at the farmers market.

I have a similar strategy for less healthy foods.

When I do choose to eat meat, cheese or dessert I do so with the understanding that these foods are treats I cannot take for granted. And because I know they are not indulgences I can (or want) to make very often, when the time comes I make sure that whatever I am eating is unquestionably worth it. In San Francisco this probably means I’ll be having the best ______ I’ve ever eaten in my life.

I never waste my health or time on cheap junk food.

Besides excellent food there are occasionally other circumstances that give me valid reasons to stray off course. For example, once in a while an experience justifies making an exception. In these cases it can be more important to spend quality time with friends or loved ones than it is to have a balanced meal. No one likes a food snob, so when faced with a situation like this I just eat whatever foods I like, relax and enjoy myself. If the food happens to be unhealthy, I make some effort to not eat too much of it.

The reason I do not stress about these situations is because the biggest impact on your health comes from how you choose to eat most of the time, not what you eat some of the time.

Look at any of my grocery lists or recipes and you know that my diet consists of abundant fresh vegetables, legumes, fish, grains and fruit. This is why my cholesterol, triglycerides, fasting glucose, iron, body fat and pretty much any other health measure you can think of are so impressive (my HDL is higher than my LDL!). But I do still eat eggs, poultry and cheese on occasion, and sometimes even bread, sugar and red meat.

Most importantly, everything I eat is absolutely delicious and there is no question in my mind I can sustain these habits indefinitely. I never feel deprived of anything. I always feel healthy and nourished. And with the changing seasons, my meals never get boring.

But trust me, if I am really feeling the burger at Absinthe I don’t hesitate to go get me one.

  • Do you think there is room in a healthy diet for indulgences?
  • Is there room for health in an indulgent diet?
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Cancer and Diet

by | Feb 16, 2009

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) just released their 2005 report on cancer statistics. The web-based report contains official federal government statistics for cancer incidence in 96% of the United States population and mortality statistics for 100%. This is the seventh time the CDC’s National Program of Cancer Registries and the National Cancer Institute’s Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results Program have combined registries to offer official federal statistics on cancer incidence and mortality for a single year.

Rates of cancer incidence are reported as the number of newly reported cases per 100,000 people. In 2005, the top four most common cancer diagnoses have not changed since 2000 and represent diseases strongly associated with lifestyle factors.

The number one diagnosed cancer in the US is prostate cancer (142.4), followed by breast (117.7), lung (67.7) and colorectal (48.3) cancers. The deadliest cancer is of the lung (52.8), while the mortality rates from prostate (24.7) and breast (24.0) cancer are nearly identical. Colorectal cancer is the fourth deadliest cancer (17.4).

Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the US, with heart disease being the first. Though most of us associate heart disease with lifestyle factors, cancer is usually regarded more fatalistically as being random or due primarily to genetics. While genetics does play a factor in some cancer cases, vast amounts of epidemiological data indicate that lifestyle factors, particularly diet and smoking, can largely account for high cancer rates in affluent countries such as the US.

There is abundant evidence that diets high in animal products and refined carbohydrates, and low in vegetables contribute to cancers of the prostate, breast and colon. A similar dietary pattern is responsible for cardiovascular disease, diabetes and neurodegenerative diseases. What is striking about cancer, however, is that there are no known drugs that stymie its development. Statins do not protect against cancer, nor do multivitamins.

The best diet to prevent all these diseases of affluence is a plant-based, whole foods diet.

Does fear of cancer impact your eating habits?

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Body Fat Test: One Year Later (part 2)

by | Feb 4, 2009

Last week I had my body fat measured by the gold standard of body composition testing: the hydrostatic body fat test.

I did this test exactly one year ago so I thought it would be informative to see the results a year later (I just checked my email and realized I received my results on January 29, two years in a row). I expected the test to be particularly illuminating this year because of the notable weight loss I have experienced in the past 12 months.

(note: This is part 2 of a 2 part post. Part 1 focuses on the testing experience and what to expect if you go in for a hydrostatic body fat measurement. Part 2 examines my personal body composition changes over the past year. For reference, the picture above shows the volume of 1 lb of fat next to a shallow, superficial coffee mug from Southern California).

I want to begin by saying that last year my body fat percentage was very low for a female, even lower than some athletic males. I am small, eat healthy and am very active so everyone expected I would test at the low end, but my body fat was even lower than any of us imagined.

At the time I did not have a body fat goal, but was very curious about my body composition given my lifestyle.

This year (again) my health goal was not directly related to body fat percentage (I will admit that I would have been disappointed had it gone up), but I have many habits–both new and ongoing–that have the potential to significantly impact my weight, appearance and body composition.

So what did I change and how did it affect me?

Let’s start with my favorite subject: food.

It has been over three years now since I have abandoned dieting and focused on healthy eating. This transition was difficult for me, because I had been on a diet for virtually my entire life (since age 11).

The most notable dietary changes I made were:

  1. Greatly increasing the diversity and quantity of vegetables I eat daily.
  2. Eliminating all nutrition bars, shakes and processed foods.
  3. Greatly increasing plant oils and reducing animal fat.
  4. Increasing plant protein and reducing animal protein.
  5. Increasing whole grains.

Eating more (any) whole grains was by the far the most difficult hurdle for me to overcome. Back in 2003, I would have rather starved than eat any “carbs.”

I have lost weight every year since I changed my diet. This year I dropped (significantly) below my goal weight. And remember, this is after I stopped dieting.

But just because I no longer live on a diet does not mean that I stopped thinking and learning about food. I am constantly reading primary scientific literature and improving my knowledge of nutrition science, and it is impossible for this not to impact the way I choose to eat.

As part of my continuing education, I have further modified my diet over the past 12 months. I have completely stopped buying processed “whole grain” products like Oroweat breads and phony whole grain cereals.

From what I have learned, something is not really “whole grain” unless it actually looks like a grain, no matter what the FDA says. That is to say, the benefits scientists have discovered from whole grain foods are much more substantial if the grains are still intact rather than processed and reconstituted.

Consequently, this year I have a more diverse diet of whole grains, but still occasionally consume processed starches if I find the situation warrants an exception.

Also this year I have made a concerted effort to eat more beans and other legumes for protein. Subsequently I eat fewer animal products and do not consume dairy as part of my daily routine. Don’t get me wrong, I love cheese and creamy sauces. I eat them, but try to limit them to special occasions (like Valentine’s Day).

I have also increased my farmers market shopping from about 50% of my vegetable and fruit purchases to over 90% (I used to regularly supplement my purchases with veggies from Whole Foods and my local market) . This shift was motivated primarily by taste, health and science (local organic foods are more flavorful, more nutritious and have fewer harmful chemicals), but was also influenced by economics and politics.

Another change for me this year was my workout routine.

I used to run marathons and always believed with absolute certainty that cardiovascular workouts were the only way to lose weight. Strength training (weight lifting) was for building up muscle, I thought. I am naturally a muscular, athletic girl and always believed I had plenty of muscle and could live without any extra.

Prior to 2008 I did minimal upper body weight training at the gym, mainly assisted pull ups and dips. But I spent hours on treadmills and elliptical machines.

This year I have been too busy to spend 7+ hours a week doing cardio. I have consequently reduced my cardio workouts to 30 min per day, 5 days a week (or less). I partially make up the difference by walking to my shuttle stop for work (about a mile each way), rather than taking public transportation.

In addition to less intense cardio activity, last summer I began a serious upper body weight lifting regimen. I spend significant time in the weight room using free weight for shoulders, arms, back and abs. I am much stronger in almost every way (except cardio endurance) than I was a year ago.

Interestingly, despite the weight loss and increased strength training, my body fat percentage is exactly the same compared to a year ago (actually 0.1% less, statistically insignificant). That means while I lost some fat, I lost a similar proportion of muscle.**

It is impossible to say why the number is exactly the same, but it is an interesting thing to think about. As I mentioned earlier my upper body is noticeably stronger than it was last year, so it can only be assumed that I increased lean body mass on my upper body. However, my arms are still really small, so this probably represents a tiny percentage of my total weight.

Conversely, my legs (and, um, rear) are substantially smaller (about a size and a half at my favorite denim retailer), so based on my results I would assume that I have lost muscle in my legs because of the drop in strength-building (resistance) cardio work. The added walking does contribute to my cardiovascular fitness, but probably does not add new muscle.

Therefore my hypothesis is that my muscle mass was somewhat redistributed and my total body fat was reduced. Because I only shrunk in mass (not height) the result is a much leaner appearance overall, even though my fat percentage did not change. Although I was happy with my physique last year, deep down I would have admitted that this muscular redistribution was a goal of mine, so I am very happy with the results.

The moral of the story

If you think you need to diet, stop dieting. If you want to lose weight without gaining too much muscle, do less intense cardio workouts and increase strength training.

Five years ago I would have called you crazy if you told me these things, but seeing is believing.

My goal now is to maintain my weight and body fat, and keep focusing on my healthy diet to fight the diseases of affluence (aka diet): heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, cancer and dementia. I hope you join me.

What do you think about my fat and weight loss story?

Click here to read Body Fat Test: One Year Later (part 1)

———-

**I debated for hours whether or not to post my weight and body fat percentage on the internet. I decided not to for the same reason I didn’t post it last year. However, I realize that some of you are info junkies (like me) that would really love a solid number to wrap your brains around. As a compromise, I will send an email with both my weight and body fat as recorded by Fitness Wave (2008 and 2009) to anyone who makes a Paypal donation of $5 or greater to Summer Tomato. The information will be sent to the email address used for the donation unless an alternate address is given. If you have any additional questions or concerns, please email questions@summertomato.com.

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The Latest on Carbs, Fat and Weight Loss

by | Jan 29, 2009

A study published last week in the journal Obesity may make you question whether you really want to rely on the Atkins or South Beach diets to reach your New Year’s Resolution goals.

It is widely believed that low-carbohydrate, high-fat diets support weight loss in most individuals and indeed, there is a good amount of research to back this claim. Despite this, few studies have examined the after effects of a low-carb diet, particularly once normal eating is resumed.

In a new study, scientists had rats consume either a regular high-carb diet or a low-carb, high-fat diet for sixteen days. After this period the diets were switched and rats were maintained on the opposite diet for another sixteen days. Both diets included the same number of calories, so the only difference between the groups was the relative percentage of macronutrients.

As you might expect, while the rats were fed a low-carb, high-fat diet they lost weight compared to rats on a regular diet. Interestingly, however, despite this loss of body weight there was little to no loss of fat, and therefore the rats that lost weight had a relatively higher body fat percentage than the rats fed a normal diet.

The low-carb rats also had lower energy expenditure (exercise and calorie burning) than rats on a normal diet, and the decrease persisted even when the animals were returned to a normal diet. This is consistent with reports of exhaustion in humans undergoing very low-carb diet regimens.

Furthermore, animals that were temporarily put on a low-carb diet regained more weight than animals that were never fed a low-carb diet. This suggests that short term exposure to a low-carb diet increases risk of weight gain compared to no dieting.

Uh oh.

According to this research it is possible that a low-carb diet may actually cause you to gain weight in the long run. How very unfortunate.

But while these results are compelling, do not go stocking up on pasta just yet. First remember that these are rats, not humans. The way scientists change the composition of a rat’s diet is by giving them different pellets of bizarre lab food with various proportions of “nutrients.” This is not the way humans eat (assuming you don’t spend too much time in GNC), nor can it ever reflect a healthy human diet. It would be great if they could put the rats on a diet of seasonal fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes and fatty fish, but that is not the way animal research works. This is something to keep in mind whenever you hear about nutrition studies.

Also, nutrition research using rodents rarely distinguishes between the qualities of different macronutrients. For example, did the “high-fat” diet contain mostly saturated fat, trans fat, monounsaturated fats, polyunsaturated fats or all of the above? A similar question can be asked about the quality of carbohydrates, but it is difficult to imagine high-quality carbohydrates coming in pellet form. A huge body of scientific literature suggests that the quality of different macronutrients is far more important to health and weight than relative proportions of refined macronutrients.

Protein is another question mark in this study, which the authors acknowledge. The low-carb diet they used was not high in protein like a typical Atkins style diet. However, their findings were similar to studies that did use higher protein content and their animals were fed sufficient protein to maintain normal body growth, so the effect of protein on their findings is likely to be small. Their goal was to examine the effect of extreme carbohydrate restriction, and this was accomplished.

Regardless of this study’s imperfections, the results shine an interesting light on our current understanding of how relative proportions of dietary macronutrients effect body composition, long-term body weight and metabolism.

Have you experienced weight gain after going off a low-carb diet?

UPDATE: This article is also available at Synapse.

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New Year’s Solution?

by | Jan 2, 2009

To be honest, I don’t really believe in the New Year’s Resolution. By nature I am a person of action and do not need an excuse to make my own life better.

If there is something important in my daily routine that I feel needs improvement I don’t wait for January to make the change. Instead I live by the Nike slogan and Just Do It.

Thus the first question I pose to readers today is:

Does a new digit at the end of the calendar really make it easier to go to the gym or eat a salad?

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Next there is the issue of sticking to your Resolution. From what I understand, most people abandon their New Year’s ambitions after a couple months (or even weeks) of half-hearted effort.

To me this proves that resolving to do something is relatively meaningless. In my opinion, if there is any point to this year-end exercise at all, things must actually get done.

Maybe we should change the name to New Year’s Solution?

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But perhaps I am too harsh.

Rather than hoping for change, for many people the New Year may simply be a time for reflection and evaluation:

What has and hasn’t worked in 2008? Should I approach anything differently in 2009?

This kind of personal reflection I applaud, but what still troubles me is that so many people make the same Resolutions year after year without ever achieving their goals.

This year I will lose weight! This year I will get in shape! This year I will use my gym membership!

If you don’t believe me take a stroll through your local Borders or Barnes & Noble bookstore and check out the number of diet books on display at the front. Notice their bright pinks and yellows designed to get your attention.

Never is the promotion of weight loss books as shameless as it is in January.

We are all supposed to try our failed resolutions again this year, keeping the hope alive that one of those neon programs will become our salvation and finally we will achieve our lifelong dream of being thin and happy.

*yawn*

I am not interested in this phony brand of Resolution.

Over and over diets have been shown not to work and even promote weight gain, so they are not your answer.

Health problems and body fat do not appear in a single splurge, but rather accumulate bit at a time as a result of poor lifestyle decisions. So it is not logical to believe that a quick, short-term weight loss will correct them.

This year (as in every year) I recommend moderation as the best solution for health. And I propose that the most effective way to build good habits and reduce bad ones is to make small, gradual changes to your daily routine.

Moderate changes that you can easily manage are the ones that can be maintained and built upon.

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If you do intend to make changes to your habits this year, I wish you the best of luck. I designed this blog to provide tips, advice and information to help cultivate a practical, healthy lifestyle.

My approach begins with establishing the mentality that diets don’t work and health is achieved through habits, not single actions. With a handful of tools and simple tricks, even the busiest among us can streamline health to be an automatic part of our lives.

To get the most out of Thought for Food, subscribe via email or RSS feed.

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On a final note, the road to health begins with inspiration.

This year I would love to learn your personal New Year’s Resolution success stories. Were you ever able to quit smoking? Maintain your workout routine? Lose weight? Adopt a new hobby?

I invite you to share with us your New Year’s Solution and tell us what obstacles you overcame and why you think you were able to achieve your goal.

Your success could inspire the rest of us to find New Year’s Solutions of our own!

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Discuss Thought for Food:

  1. Does the New Year help you make improvements in your life?
  2. Do you think there is a difference between a Resolution and a Solution?
  3. Is moderation a reasonable alternative to dieting?
  4. Do you have a New Year’s Solution to share?
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