Category Archives: weight loss

What constitutes “good” food

I mentor on some health, exercise, and weight loss sites.  There are a lot of questions that fly around about types of food, healthy choices, and processed foods.  Here I’ll give you my take on what constitutes a well balanced diet.  I won’t really go very deep into specialized or “fad” diet types like paleo or South Beach but I may mention them as examples.

Let’s dive right in.  A healthy diet is one that you can live with forever, your diet should have a high percentage of un-processed foods such as nuts, fruits, vegetables, lean meats, and whole grains, and it should contain a good balance of the three macro nutrient types (fats, carbohydrates, and protein).  The percentage is really up to you, but generally if you make carbohydrates about 40 to 60 percent of your diet, you’ll be ok, to go along with that, making the majority (80 to 90 percent) of your carbohydrates “good” carbohydrates, is a key way to be healthy.  You may question the concept of “good” carbs.  That’s a good place to start.  Good carbs are basically carbohydrates in a form that is as close to natural as can be expected.  I.E. nothing (or very little) taken out, nothing added as supplemental, nothing ground down smaller than required for consumption.  This is because our bodies and our stomachs were designed to process food in a certain way, deliver the food in a more processed way, and you essentially are eating partially pre-digested food, food that the body can break down faster than it should.  Since the body doesn’t have any way to meter out energy delivery, this means flooding the body with energy faster than it can use it, which means extra energy, which leads to fat storage.  This is key to the argument against enriched, processed, bleached flour vs whole grain stone ground flour.  Yes they are both crushed and pulverized, but one type (the white) removes much of the ingredients, and grinds the powder down very fine, essentially delivering the carbohydrates in a very ready way, and usually then adds back in nutrients (not good), where the whole grain flour still needs to be processed in the body, which takes time, allowing for a more even energy usage and less fat storage.  

Fats are another example of “good” vs “bad”.  I usually try to keep my dietary fat intake around 20 to 25 percent of my daily macro-nutrient intake.  And about 90 percent of that fat I try to make healthy (natural) fats.  Fats aren’t bad for you, it’s the altered fats that are really horrible.  Things like hydrogenated oils, and saturated fats are generally considered worse in most cases, because they contribute to arterial plaque and LDL cholesterol.  So keeping the majority of your fats of the unsaturated type are much better.  Plenty of foods have a high volume of unsaturated fats that are good for you, things like nuts, avocado, fish, and even certain meats are fine in the correct quantities.  

Protein is, of course, vital to health, on most days I try to keep my protein levels at or near 30 percent of my diet.  There’s all kinds of wild rumors about protein, most coming from the body building community, of which I’m very “plugged in”, but I’ll tell you right now, eating high percentages of protein doesn’t build muscle any stronger or faster than eating a moderate volume, there’s been absolutely no research to back this theory up, most studies say that anything above 30 to 35 percent protein in a diet is just converted to energy usage, even in the most intense muscle anabolism (gain) scenario.  The caveat’s to this are people using some kind of steroidal or hormonal supplement (Anabolic steroids, HGH…etc.).  With protein, you should watch for low quality proteins such as those from protein powders (yes, even the highest quality powder, whether it be whey protein, egg, or casein, is still less effective in the body than real food with protein, why?  Because the body doesn’t know how to correctly break down this protein, and relatively high percentages of it are lost to either waste or simple energy conversion).  

What does all this mean?  It means read your nutrition labels closely.  ESPECIALLY the bottom where it lists the ingredients.  Things added to foods are never as good as the natural features in a food.  Do a little planning of your diet ahead of time.  You don’t need to sit down and write out every meal you ever eat, but know your percentages, and have a few food types that are standby’s that you can go to if you know you are deficient.  I usually have a few chicken breasts and some broccoli (broccoli is a fantastic food, contains almost everything a person needs in some amount), and some almonds all hanging out at my house for the day I can’t decide.  

It’s really not that hard, and if you fill your days with good choices, those times (hopefully few and far between) when you make a bad choice, aren’t all that bad after all, and can be easily overcome by the good choices.  

As the saying goes, a body is made in the kitchen, not the gym.  The food you eat will make you healthy,  the exercise you do will make you strong, both are vital, but if I had to choose between healthy eating and exercise (gasp!), I choose healthy eating first, exercise second.

Feel free to ask any questions you want.  I’m happy to help.



Goals – vital to a healthy lifestyle

When I speak to someone regarding long term health and weight loss. I try to emphasize the importance of creating viable and multiple goals. Why? Goals are thoroughly human and help us to achieve success by giving us not only a “finish line” but a path.

First things first, lets identify what a goal is and differentiate it from a hope and a dream. Hopes and dreams are nice, but goals are a plan of action with measurable results and a clear line of demarcation. To want to be “20 pounds lighter” is a dream or a hope. To create a 300 calorie deficit, using a nutritionally balanced diet and exercising 30 minutes 4 days a weeks over the next 6 months in order to lose 20 lbs of fat is a goal.

Everyone should have health and fitness goals. There should be multiple goals, and they shouldn’t all involve weight loss. Even those of us who are at maintenance weight should sit down and write out some goals. It’s a good idea to have multiple goals with varying timelines, using various measurements to reach them.

An example of some goals are a goal for fitness (I.E. running a 7 minute mile), or a goal for waist size, or a goal for body fat %, or a goal for reducing cholesterol levels.

The important part of having goals is to have an end point, a discrete way to measure it, a plan to reach the goal, and in most cases, checkpoints or “way points” along the way in order to gauge your progress.
If you don’t have these, it’s not a goal, it’s a dream, and while sometimes dreams come true, well thought out and executed (and reasonable) goals almost always come true.

Let’s not forget about the compounding confidence factor either. Setting and achieving goals is a self-fulfilling prophecy. When you reach a goal, you feel good about yourself, your confidence goes up, and you want to set and achieve more goals.

Overall, goals are a great tool and motivator. You can even post your goals for others to see and use, this will help motivate you to success (although it shouldn’t be your only motivation). So sit down and think about some goals. it helps, it really does.

My take on “diet pills”

Diet pills are a popular and somewhat controversial topic to most health care experts.  While they can often provide a purely physical answer to the problem of weight loss, the psychological aspects of diet aids can be quite harmful to people taking them.  Not only are very few diet pills recognized by regulatory and expert organizations, they also vary widely in their physical makeup.  Side effects and drug interaction issues are widespread in the diet pill community and it is why I normally advocate a policy of avoidance at all costs.  Here’s a short summary of the different types of diet pills out there, and what these types target for weight loss. I finish with a short treatise and summary at the end.  As always, please feel free to comment and reply to my posts.

types of diet pills

Appetite Suppressants

Examples: Hoodia, Appesat

What they are:  when in pill form can be made from many different chemicals and cause many different chemical reactions. In the case of Hoodia, the chemical is called P57 (but it is unknown yet whether this chemical has real suppressant properties). What we do know is that no person with heart disease, thyroid issues, diabetes, high blood pressure, or glaucoma should ever take these or any OTC diet aids without first consulting their physician.

Fat Binders

Examples: Alli, Lipobind

What they are: These drugs promote weight loss by preventing the digestion and absorption of fat in food.  Specifically they usually block the action of lipase (an enzyme created in the pancreas) on fat, which prevents fat break down, allowing fat to pass through the digestive system in stool.

Fat Burners

Examples: Phen375, Capsiplex

What they are: these pills use the drug phentermine or sometimes caffeine derivatives.   Working on the hypothalamus, phentermine stimulates the adrenal gland to produce norepinephrine.  This neurotransmitter signals the “fight or flight” response in the brain, which speeds up the metabolism while suppressing hunger, similar to when you are in a state of pre-exercise or warm-up.  Also it signals for adrenaline and dopamine release in the body which causes fat cells to release stored fat as energy.

Carbohydrate Absorption Inhibitors

Examples: NutraMetrix, Dietrine

What they are: The theory is similar to Fat Binders except they supposedly act upon carbohydrates, but this type of drug has NO clinical proof of success and is generally thought of as a gimmick or “snake oil” product.

Why I HATE diet pills.

Look, I know many of you have probably had short-term success with diet pills, and are defensive about their use as a tool. I applaud you for trying, I really do, but as the old saying goes “the road to hell…”.  That’s right, as effective as some of these pills can be (and make no mistake, some of them work exactly as they suggest), that doesn’t mean they are a viable solution for long-term good health.

There are two main reasons why I abhor the use of diet pills; the first reason being that they are generally unsustainable in the long-term.  This means that eventually, you’ll have to learn how to eat correctly on your own.  90% of people that use these pills while changing their eating habits or lifestyle to be healthier will need to change again “post pill” to see lasting results.  The problem is, once you stop the pills, you’re going to have to RE-LEARN how to eat healthy all over again with a different set of rules, and if you don’t you’ll just put the weight back on despite thinking that you’re doing it right.  If you’re going to change your habits at the beginning, just start out the right way in the first place, skip the pills, and instead take an extra week or so and do some REAL research, talk to a Registered Dietitian (not a GP doctor,  they are hit or miss with Nutrition advice), read a few clinical studies, talk to people who haven’t just lost weight, but have kept off the weight and become health for two or three or more years, compare a few different people and a few different techniques, and be skeptical.  If it sounds farfetched, it probably is.

The second reason is the mental aspect.  Losing weight and becoming healthy is as much a mental game as it is a physical one.  When we use mental crutches like diet pills, we relieve ourselves of the responsibility, that’s bad.  Not only does this make us dependent on an outside factor that eventually will have to stop, but it minimizes the successes in our own mind when we do win.  For most people, being overweight and unhealthy is to some degree, a mental problem.  Adding a crutch is no different from being an enabler for your own weight issues.  There will always be that little voice in the back of your head, even if you succeed, that says “sure you did it, but you did it with PILLS, so it wasn’t a complete victory”.

Summary:  In general you could take the word diet pill out of my above writing and replace it with any generic “diet” term like “weight loss surgery” or “diet” (as in the 17 day diet or the HCG diet as examples).  Do they work?  Many of them do what they say they do (or partially in most cases).  Are they healthy?  That’s a harder question to answer.  You first have to define what you mean by healthy.  Does the diet actually CAUSE damage directly?  Most don’t if you follow them strictly, but that’s not the only definition of health.  By “yo-yo” dieting, you can cause severe damage to your body over the long-term.  Add the psychological damage you can do by failing at a diet and the downsides are far greater than people realize.  Specifically to diet pills, people expect magical results from them, and very few will achieve the kind of successes that the hype provides which results in an extremely high failure rate with pills.  Even most successful graduates of the “pill phenomena” usually look back and recognize that they probably didn’t need them.  In my opinion, diet pills are a result of the prevalent attitude toward weight loss, at least in the United States, that attitude being “I want it NOW, and I don’t want to work that hard for it!”  I’m sure you all can recognize the folly of this attitude.  Following another old adage I usually tell people; the more effort they put into something, the more they will value the results.  Diet pills psychologically diminish your sense of pride and/or success, which means you won’t work as hard to keep that success, and it also means you could return to that less healthy lifestyle much easier than you would if you worked really hard to become healthy.

>Psychological aspects of obesity

>As most know, obesity is more than just being overweight. Besides the physical health risks assigned to obesity, the mental aspects of the condition are a major concern and in my opinion is the underlying reason not only for the weight gain, but also other symptoms that the person can identify with.

As an animal, humans don’t have a genetic propensity to excessive weight gain. Unlike some other species of mammal that use fat as a a layer of insulation such as whales, or as a storage mechanism for lean winters such as sea lions or bears, humans don’t have a semi-seasonal clock which can help to regulate the metabolism in times of low energy availability, nor do they have the skeletal structural mechanisms to deal with excessive weight gain (I.E. 4 legs to balance additional weight, or water to mitigate stress on joints). So being obese for a human is far more of a problem than it is for other animals.

These are the well-recognized, physical problems that can come from obesity. What about the mental aspects of obesity? In both the mental ramifications of being obese, and the causality for the obesity; I am a firm believer that almost all obesity, and weight related maladies that have not been identified by a specific physical medical cause (such as hypothyroidism or metabolic syndrome), can be tied back, at least partially, to psychological foundations.

When tackling the psychological aspects of obesity, we first must identify the trigger that causes someone to eat. Many times food is associated with comfort, security, safety, and happiness for the obese individual. Other times control issues manifest in the obese individual to gain weight. Psychological trauma from earlier in life can be a precursor to weight gain later. Often times, people with obesity issues use food as a control mechanism. when faced with triggers such as a stressful family environment, they turn to eating because they feel like their body is the one thing they have absolute control over, and eating is a natural way to react because food in most people’s mind is associated with comfort and happiness. Some people cut themselves, others turn to drugs, and some turn to alcohol; food is fast becoming the method of choice for people who have unresolved psychological trauma.

Not all obesity is so obscured though. Sometimes the psychological issues induce stress, and stress releases a certain set of hormones in the body, chief among them is cortisol, a hormone released by the adrenal gland during high stress periods in order to increase vasodilation (meaning it widens blood vessel for higher blood flow) and increase oxygen delivery. Unfortunately, cortisol also inhibits insulin sensitivity, which means more blood sugar in the body, and a higher rate of body fat storage. During times of exercise related stress, cortisol is a good thing; it allows the body to focus on burning fuel, and burn it faster allowing increases in strength and speed accordingly. This quickly dissipates the cortisol without much in the way of follow-on problems; but when stress comes from non-physical means, or there is no accompanying high intensity physical activity with the cortisol uptick, that’s when this condition becomes a net detriment to the body. When stress levels are consistently high for long periods, people develop areas of fat, even if they don’t significantly over eat.

So we have two distinct causalities for obesity, one is a means to mitigate psychological trauma; another is a biochemical response to high stress periods over long timelines. Both are obviously psychological causalities, and both require different treatments.

I feel that in both cases, cognition of the underlying causes is vital to resolution. I.E. a person can do all the extreme diets in the world, or receive weight loss surgery, or take pills; these are resolving symptoms of the root cause, but they aren’t addressing the main problems, and thus, these treatments will only work in the short term. These types of extreme resolutions only feed the overall issues that people associate with the obesity. When they inevitably fail to keep the weight off, it adds to their feelings of failure and inadequacy, thus allowing for more potential of weight gain. Gradually becoming a vicious cycle of weight loss, weight gain, more weight gain, depression, and resolve and starting over again. Unfortunately, eventually this takes its toll on the body and weight loss becomes more difficult, and as the person’s physical ability to lose weight lessens, so does their mental strength to fight the obesity.

I make no case to solve obesity in any one specific way, as each person requires slightly different techniques to solve their issues (thus no one diet or pill will ever cure obesity), I will say that stress reduction techniques, and mental health counseling are a big part of any plan.