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10 Reasons You Aren’t Losing Weight When You Think You’re Doing Everything Right

by | Apr 28, 2014

Photo by EverJean

Weight loss can sometimes be very elusive, even for a foodist. You already know that dieting will never give you the long term results you want, so you focus on eating real food and going to the gym.

So why are you still overweight?

There could be any number of reasons you aren’t reaching your goals and the best way to troubleshoot is to tackle it like a scientist. Generate a hypothesis, collect data on yourself, and test different solutions until you find what works, because the answer will be slightly different for everyone.

The good news is that there are several common (but easily overlooked) mistakes that may be holding you back. Start here and your issues may resolve more easily than you think.

Whatever you do, resist the temptation to go back to restrictive dieting, which makes it harder––not easier––to achieve your goals.

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How To Eat Dessert And Still Stay Skinny

by | Jun 20, 2012

Photo by E.Baron

Cutting processed foods and refined sugars out of your diet is arguably the most important dietary change you can make to improve health and lose weight. But will one slice of birthday cake inevitably tighten your pants and cut your life short?

Not necessarily.

Quality of life is hard to measure, but it certainly involves some balance between good health and hedonistic enjoyment of things that might not be perfectly healthy. The question is how we find this balance for ourselves, and how do we make sure our behavior helps us keep that balance?

The answer, of course, will be different for everyone. Competitive athletes have higher physical demands for maintaining ideal health than, say, a scientist. And I’m not a fan of watering down my favorite foods—especially desserts—with “healthier” ingredients. But there are a few general guidelines that can help the majority of us live a little without constantly fighting the battle of the bulge.

9 Tips For Dealing With Dessert

1. Eat dessert once per week or less

As a general rule I try to keep my dessert consumption to once per week or less (it is often less). A larger person may be able to get away with a bit more, but setting a weekly maximum can help you keep tabs on your sugar consumption. If you are actively trying to lose weight, aiming for once every two weeks or less is ideal.

Sugar is problematic for several reasons. Most of you probably realize by now that excess sugar causes rapid blood sugar and insulin spikes that force extra calories to be stored as fat. Over time these spikes will alter your sensitivity to insulin, negatively impacting your metabolism and risk of type 2 diabetes. Extra insulin signaling is also associated with heart disease, high blood pressure and accelerated aging.

The less refined sugar you eat the better, but assuming most of us aren’t willing to give it up completely it is helpful to have a weekly maximum to keep consumption in a reasonable range.

2. Pick your occasions

Once you decide to budget your sugar consumption, it is time to start choosing your priorities.

Is your weekly group meeting at the office (the one where there’s always doughnuts) really a special occasion? In other words, is that stale chocolate doughnut you wolf down while half asleep really worth the extra workout or skipping dessert with your kids this weekend? Probably not.

If you think about it, there’s a good chance you don’t even enjoy that doughnut as much as you assume you do. And we both know you’ll feel horrible after eating it anyway. So why do you believe that you want it?

When you stop and really think about your food choices, you’ll often find that many of them come from conditioning rather than true preference. But just because 12-year old you liked low-quality sweets doesn’t mean the adult you has to continue eating them.

Save desserts for the times that are really worth it, and realize you aren’t missing much by skipping the Costco brownie bites.

3. Don’t eat dessert alone

Special occasions are moments of celebration you share with people you care about. One of the wonderful things about life is these moments happen all the time. Our weeks and months are perpetually marked by birthdays, weddings, promotions, vacations and a million other reasons to celebrate. Use these special times as cues for when to indulge.

On the other hand, there is nothing particularly special about sitting alone on your couch watching TV. Try to get out of the habit of eating dessert alone, especially if this is something you rely on for comfort. If you just want something sweet, try having a piece of fruit or some herbal tea instead.

I recommend not keeping any pre-made desserts in the house at all. Why torture yourself?

4. Know dessert when you see it

If you’re eating dessert several times a day but only think you are eating it once or twice per week, none of these rules are going to help you maintain your health and physique.

I’ve written before about the hidden sugars in common foods such as sandwiches, salads and fruit yogurts. There are clearly benefits to eating a salad, but syrupy dressings contribute to your sugar intake whether there is lettuce around or not. Overly sweet non-dessert foods make it more difficult for you to enjoy real indulgences without consequences.

Be aware of the sugar content in the foods you eat and actively try to minimize it in the bulk of your diet (i.e. choose sandwiches without teriyaki or BBQ sauce, salads with savory (not sweet) dressing, cocktails without juice or syrup, and plain yogurt).

If you’re eating healthy and minimizing sugar 90+% of the time, your waist will hardly notice the occasional birthday cupcake.

5. Little indulgences count

Just as you cannot ignore the 27 grams of sugar in Yoplait yogurt, you can’t grab 2 or 3 pieces of candy every afternoon from the bowl in the office without it adding up.

Be aware of the little cheats you make throughout the week and don’t kid yourself about their impact. If you decide that the work day is just too hard to get through without these, that’s fine. But you aren’t doing yourself any favors by pretending they don’t exist. Remember to count them in your mental dessert tally and keep it in mind when you’re looking lustfully at your grandma’s homemade apple pie and wishing you hadn’t had so much sugar this week.

6. Choose quality over quantity

If your goal is to limit your sweets but you don’t want to feel like you’re missing out, make sure your choices emphasize quality over quantity.

A few bites of good quality dark chocolate is infinitely more satisfying than a handful of Hershey’s kisses. Desserts can rack up 25-50 calories per bite. Get the most bang for your buck by picking foods with actual flavor and not just extra sugar and salt.

Hint: This tip should also help you stick to tips #2 and #5.

7. Go splitsies

Half a dessert is 100% better for you than a whole dessert.

If you really really want to try one of those cookies your co-worker has been bragging about for months but have already had your ice cream this week, try taking only half of one. Better yet, find someone to split it with you so you aren’t tempted to finish it. If it’s that good, a few bites should be plenty satisfying.

8. Resist peer pressure

Some people take a special pleasure in encouraging others to do things they know are bad for them. These people also tend to be good at recruiting others to join in their banter.

Be prepared to get nagged occasionally for not wanting to eat foods that aren’t worth it. But if you have decided in advance to stick to desserts you know taste better than what your friends are pushing, it really isn’t that hard to ignore them.

Who’s really missing out here?

9. Use the gym

Despite our best efforts, we all eat too much dessert every now and then. This isn’t good, but it isn’t the end of the world either.

When this happens to me I use it as an opportunity to amp up my workout routine. By far my best runs are on days when we have birthday cake in lab–I feel like I can run for days with all my extra energy.

Your muscles use sugar as fuel, so use it up while you can and give your metabolism a little boost (having a little extra blood sugar and insulin around when you’re exercising can actually improve your metabolism) and prevent those spare calories from being stored as fat.

You’ll probably feel better after working it off too.

How do you deal with dessert in your healthstyle?

Originally published March 31, 2010
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Antioxidant Supplements May Block Some Benefits of Exercise

by | May 13, 2009
Romanesco Broccoli In A Beaker

Romanesco Broccoli in a Beaker

One of the most consistent themes of nutrition science is that vitamin supplements (pills, powders, liquids, etc.) are almost never able to mimic the beneficial effects of foods that contain the same vitamins. Now new evidence suggests that high doses of these antioxidant supplements–but not whole foods containing them–may actually block the beneficial effects of exercise on insulin sensitivity and metabolism.

Exercise has countless benefits for people of all levels of fitness. One of the most important of these is its ability to improve insulin sensitivity and increase metabolism. For this reason, exercise is considered among the most effective ways to protect against type 2 diabetes.

One of the byproducts of exercise, however, is the production of free radicals that results from the breakdown of oxygen in the muscles. These reactive oxygen molecules can damage cells and DNA, and are implicated in many chronic diseases. Since antioxidants can easily neutralize these reactive oxygen molecules, it has been assumed that antioxidants such as vitamins C and E could only benefit the body.

A new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests that rather than help protect against oxidative damage from exercise, high doses of antioxidant supplements may actually hinder the body’s natural protection against oxidative damage and block exercise-induced metabolic benefits.

In the study, human subjects were given either placebo or 500 mg vitamin C twice per day and 400 IU vitamin E. They were then trained in both cardio and strength training workouts at the gym for 5 consecutive weekdays, 4 weeks in a row. This trial was performed on both previously trained and untrained individuals.

Metabolic rates were tested by blood sample both before the trial and after 1 and 4 weeks of training. Muscle biopsies were taken both before and after the trial for all participants. Several measures of metabolism and insulin sensitivity were measured including plasma glucose concentrations, plasma insulin concentrations, maximal oxygen uptake (VO2 max), as well as several molecular markers in muscle that are linked to insulin sensitivity and are known to promote the body’s natural defense against oxidative damage.

The researchers found that exercise improved measures of insulin sensitivity in all individuals except those given antioxidant supplements. Also, molecules that protect against oxidative damage are upregulated in response to training, but not when antioxidants are administered.

Previous studies suggest that the body’s natural defenses against oxidative damage require activation by a small amount of reactive oxygen chemicals in the body. These same chemicals have been shown to mediate insulin sensitivity in muscles, and in this study both were shown to be blocked by high antioxidant administration.

The researchers suggest that small doses of reactive oxygen molecules such as the amounts produced by exercise are necessary to induce the body’s natural defense against oxidative damage, and that this process is essential for mediating exercise-induced insulin sensitivity. If this is true it could mean that some (but not all) of the metabolic benefits of exercise could be limited by taking high doses of vitamin supplements. This may be particularly important to individuals at high risk for type 2 diabetes.

Interestingly, foods that contain high levels of these antioxidants have previously been shown to be protective against type 2 diabetes. Although the reason for this is still unknown, the authors suggest the benefit is unlikely due to the antioxidant content of the foods and may depend on other factors.

Even if we do not understand the reason vegetables and fruits are the best source of nutrition, we can still enjoy all their benefits. If you choose to continue taking vitamin supplements, it is advisable to stick to a basic multivitamin that does not contain megadoses of one particular nutrient.

Do you take vitamin supplements? Why? How much do you take?
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