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    Archive for the ‘weight control’ Category

    In The News: How Many Misguided Nutrition Tips Fit In One Article?

    time_magazines_logoBack in August, Time magazine ran a bunch of ridiculous nonsense cover story which made the laughingly feeble case that exercise was not at all helpful for weight loss.

    In what seemed to be an essay right out of a middle schooler’s notebook, the author attempted to convince us of this theory by stating that on days when he exercises, he ends up eating more (and, apparently, he decided his personal anecdote somehow applies to the rest of the world).

    In any case, the folks at Time continue their bastardization of nutrition and health issues with their latest article (thankfully, not a cover one) titled “The Thoughest Diet”.

    In it, author Joel Stein talks to popular chefs who have managed to slim down despite working in kitchens  — and being surrounded by decadent food — all day.

    The article quickly goes South, though, when it turns into nothing more than misguided and inaccurate weight-loss tips from men who clearly have very little knowledge of nutrition.

    As can be expected when dealing with celebrity chefs, there is plenty of egotism, too.  In the second paragraph of the article, Food Network star Alton Brown credits himself and other television chefs for being “partly responsible for the fattening of America.”

    Uh, no.

    You want to talk about factors behind rising obesity rates?  Think crop subsidies, expanding portion sizes, food lobbyists, and issues with the National School Lunch Program.  Mario Battali’s alfredo sauce doesn’t even make the Top 100.

    Brown then goes on to make the following statement:

    “The old wisdom of everything in moderation was pretty much hogwash.”

    This from the man who has chosen to “boycott French fries” and  “now snacks incessantly on avocados, sardines, and almonds.”

    First of all, it is still very possible to gain weight while “snacking incessantly”.  Although avocados, sardines, and almonds are very healthy foods, they are by no means calorie-free.

    In fact, I recently spoke to somebody who didn’t understand why she wasn’t losing weight even though she stopped eating junk food.  A look at her dietary habits demonstrated that while she was eating healthier foods, she was getting just as many calories from those foods as she was in the days when potato chips, Skittles, and sugary cereals were staples of her diet.

    Furthermore, Brown’s example that moderation is ‘hogwash’ is based on the fact that he used to eat massive quantities of French fries, which sounds like anything but moderation to me.

    Then there’s chef Alex Stratta, who “decided to get off sugar, fatty meats, and carbs after his suit wouldn’t fit for an awards reception”.

    Sigh.  When I hear people say they “got off carbs”, I always have to count to ten and take deep breaths.

    Carbohydrates are not just in donuts, cookies, cakes, and 600-calorie muffins.  Fruits, vegetables, legumes, and healthy whole grains like brown rice, quinoa, and barley are also “carbs”.

    Therefore, when people proudly beam that they “no longer eat carbs” , my response is often: “Wow, you stopped eating fruits, vegetables, and beans?”

    As for sugar — it is absolutely a source of empty calories, and undoubtedly overconsumed in the United States.

    However, what is with this notion of “swearing it off”?  Why not just set a goal of eating significantly less?  Besides, most people who I speak with who claim to be “off sugar” only mean white sugar, since they still consume honey, agave nectar, and maple syrup as if it somehow were calorie-free or chock-full of nutrients.

    Stratta’s “tips” get worse:

    “His new rules include starting the morning with a protein shake, having only three meals a day and never eating after 6 p.m.”

    It is “thanks” to ridiculous articles like these that I come across so many confused individuals at workshops and classes that I teach.

    In essence, what Stratta is doing is — are you ready for it? — eating fewer calories than he used to!  Wow, imagine that.

    It would be much more helpful if he simply credited that for his weight loss, because it is very possible to do the three things he does and still not lose a pound.

    Depending on what goes into it, a protein shake can have anywhere from 200 to 800 calories.  As for “three meals a day”, there are plenty of people who only eat three meals a day and gain weight because their total caloric intake for the day surpasses what they need!

    Rules like “never eating after 6 p.m.” are not only unnecessary, but also overly rigid.  Munching on a piece of fruit or a handful of nuts at 8 p.m. is not going to make the magical weight-loss fairies disappear into thin air.

    Another example of misguided advice?  The article states that renowned chocolatier Jacques Torres (who intelligently lost a total of 32 pounds by joining Weight Watchers) “stocks up on 70% cocoa chocolate bars, with the goal of always having a low-sugar options on hand.”

    Let me be perfectly clear — chocolates with a high cocoa content are great.

    The intense flavor often helps one satisfy cravings with small amounts, and they offer some added health benefits as a result of having more cocoa than milk chocolates.  Low sugar values, however, are irrelevant.

    The reason why high-cocoa chocolates are a better snack than those with lower figures?  They are higher in fat, which means they take a longer time to digest, therefore allowing you to feel full with a lower amount of calories.

    And then the magazine industry wonders why it’s going down the drain…


    In The News: Misleading Nutrition Story Number… Oh, Please, I’ve Lost Count!

    White male on treadmillAs I sorted through my mail earlier today, I got excited at the sight of a magazine nestled between various bills and advertisements.

    The giddiness turned to disappointment when I turned the magazine (Time) over and saw the cover story:

    The Myth About Exercise: Of course it’s good for you, but it won’t make you lose weight.  Why it’s what you eat that really counts.

    I immediately flashed back to physicist Gary Taubes’ 2002 New York Times Magazine cover article where he “made the case” (a rather feeble case, actually) that carbohydrates (and not excess total calories) were guilty for the increasingly prevalent obesity epidemic.

    The article — and Taubes — eventually retired to the nutrition fad-dom Hall of Shame Fame, but the media salivated over that non-story for a solid year.

    Much like Taubes’, this particular article — titled “Why Exercise Won’t Make You Thin” and penned by John Cloud — makes odd leaps of logic, wrongly places blame, and is ripe for misunderstandings.

    The author begins by lamenting that after years of intense physical activity — including personal-training sessions where he is “work[ed on] like a farm animal,” he has maintained the same weight for most of his adult life.

    Has he ever considered that, perhaps, it is precisely this physical activity that is allowing to maintain his weight (rather than gain weight) as he traverses through adulthood?

    He then goes on to say:

    Like many other people, I get hungry after I exercise, so I often eat more on the days I work out than on the days I don’t.  Could exercise actually be keeping me from losing weight?”

    Leap of logic, anyone?

    First of all, a small amount of calories (roughly 150) directly after engaging in intense exercise are recommended to replenish glycogen stores and help with muscle repair.

    Secondly, if Mr. Cloud knows he gets hungry after exercising, why can’t he schedule his other meals accordingly?  If he, for instance, works out at 6 PM most days, he can simply have a lighter breakfast and lunch to accomodate for a more substantial snack after working out.

    His experience is also unlike that of millions of people who achieved faster weight loss once they added consistent exercise to their daily routines.

    Additionally, regular exercise makes many people more conscious of their dietary choices.  After all, if you just spent 45 minutes at the gym giving it your all, the last thing you want to do is sabotage your efforts with a 400-calorie muffin.

    It gets more interesting:

    While it’s true that exercise burns calories and that you must burn calories to lose weight, exercise has another effect: it can stimulate hunger.  That causes us to eat more, which in turn can negate the weight-loss benefits we accrued.  Exercise, in other words, isn’t necessarily helping us lose weight.  It may even be making it harder.”

    Well, at least he isn’t prone to Taubes-ish delusions that calories don’t count!

    The author’s conclusion is as silly as someone claiming staying up late is bad for their oral health because after a certain hour they are so tired that they go straight to bed and are too tired to brush their teeth and floss.

    Would THAT observation warrant a “staying up late gives you cavities!” article?  Absolutely not.

    A more sensible line of thought would be “when you know you’re having a late night, brush your teeth before you reach a certain level of tiredness.”

    In any case, I demand to see a study which shows that people who regularly exercise lose weight if they stop doing so for a period of several weeks (this obviously can’t be done with people actively seeking to gain muscle mass). Then, maybe, just maybe, I’ll buy into all this hype.

    The real problem here is that a lot of people often overestimate their physical activity levels.

    I often see, for instance, gym members head to Jamba Juice for a smoothie after their 45-minute yoga class.

    While yoga is wonderful in many ways (for flexibility and destressing), it is not a calorie burner.  A small Jamba Juice smoothie, meanwhile, can pack in anywhere from 320 to 400 calories!

    The article does make the good — and necessary — point that physical activity does not necessarily mean time at the gym.

    Anything from surfing to hip hop classes to taking the stairs at every chance you get (instead of the elevator) can also have a significant impact on health and calorie-burning.

    However, it’s hard to take an article seriously when the author attempts to bolster his argument by claiming that not working out is better for him from a weight-loss perspective because then he won’t be too tired to walk home or make a healthy meal.  Sounds to me like all he needs to do is slightly lessen the intensity of his workouts (or get his iron levels checked!).

    Also, I can’t help but nitpick at his ‘earth-shattering’ conclusion that it is “what you eat that counts.”  No, Mr. Cloud, it is also how much you eat that counts.

    Is this really worth a cover story?  Did anyone really think that as long as they jogged for 20 minutes a day they had free reign over what they ate every day?

    We come back to the concept I repeat almost every single day — focus on overall dietary patterns.  One isolated variable — whether it’s exercise or eating celery sticks or chugging down some repulsive snake oil supplement — is not going to make you thin or healthy!

    I weep for the poor trees that sacrificed their lives for this article.  Rest in peace.


    You Ask, I Answer: Best Weight Loss Tip?

    erdinger-jumbo1I’m not trying to put you on the spot, but I really love your blog and respect your opinion and was wondering what you consider to be the most effective thing someone can do who wants to lose quite a bit of weight but has no clue where to start.  Thank you.

    — Lauren Stimper
    Toronto, CANADA

    Just go ahead and put me on the spot, why don’t you!

    I think one of the most effective — and easier — first steps someone can take towards weight loss is completely eliminating caloric beverages from their diet for at least four weeks.

    Whether it’s replacing soda with a seltzer water/ freshly squeezed lemon juice concoction or starting the day off with solid food rather than a smoothie, keeping all liquids calorie-free is a painless way to get rid of excess calories.

    Similarly, instead of accompanying breakfast with fruit juice, try eating a piece of fresh fruit, simultaneously cutting calories and increasing fiber.

    It has been my experience that, with individuals looking to shed a significant amount of pounds, this is often the best first step they can take.

    Consider this: someone who drinks a 20 ounce soda with lunch every day and another 20 ounce soda with dinner is taking in an additional 480 calories each day.

    Simply eliminating those calories from the diet (without adding them back in through food) can result in 25 to 35 pounds of weight loss in 12 months.

    The initial weight loss that can occur in the first few weeks is a also a great motivator!


    You Ask, I Answer: Meal Frequency

    825-mre-meals-ready-to-eat2I am in the military and often unable to keep to the five or six small meals a day diet I favor.

    This is usually because of obvious training or mission restrictions; sometimes, we’re only able to eat one meal a day, often very calorie-heavy and relatively unhealthy MRE (meal-ready-to-eat).

    Does the body burn or store calories differently depending on how often one is able to eat and when?  When I’m “stuffing my face” once-a-day versus eating 6 or even just 3 meals a day, does my body react differently in how it processes the food, even if it’s still the same number of calories overall per day?

    — (Name withheld)
    Fort Benning, Georgia

    Although your body digests food the same way whether it’s getting one or six meals a day (in the sense that, for instance, proteins, fats, and carbohydrates are broken down by the same enzymes), it responds differently to different eating patterns.

    Recent studies have found that people who commonly — and consistently — eat one large meal a day are at higher risk for developing diabetes and hypertension.  Additionally, it is hard to sustain blood glucose levels on one meal a day, which can cause fatigue and dizziness.

    From a nutrition standpoint, it is impossible to meet daily nutrient needs on one meal a day.  This is one situation where you definitely want to supplement the diet with a multivitamin.

    If you consistently eat one meal a day (we are talking for at least 4 weeks or so), you can expect your metabolism to be negatively affected.  Your body will not burn calories as efficiently as if you were eating the same amount of calories in that one meal throughout the day.

    PS: Since very large meals take much longer to digest than smaller meals, you definitely want to wait approximately 90 minutes before engaging in any strenuous physical activity for optimal performance.


    Numbers Game: Answer

    The surface area of an average dinner plate in the United States increased 36 percent from 1960 to 2005.

    Source: Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think by Brian Wansink.

    This is particularly problematic for “visual eaters” for whom the amount of food on a plate plays a role in their psychological satiety, as well as for those individuals cutting calories.

    A lower-calorie eating plan in and of itself is a big enough enough adjustment for most people; seeing large plates with small amounts of food on them certainly doesn’t help matters.

    I know from my own experience, for example, that a single scoop of ice cream looks paltry in a soup bowl, but just right when served in a coffee cup.

    The times when I have scooped ice cream into a soup bowl, I always end up piling on another scoop because that bowl seems empty!

    Take a look at the image accompanying this post. Doesn’t the plate on the left make you feel somewhat less satisfied than the one on the right?

    Imagine the following. You are on a buffet line, filling your plate with food.

    Isn’t it very probable that since a larger plate holds more food, you are more likely to pile more food on it than if you were provided with a smaller plate?

    And, going off of Brian Wansink’s research that it is very easy to lose track of calories when large amounts of food are sitting in front of us, isn’t it also very probable that the use of a larger plate is very likely to result in a higher caloric intake?

    I certainly think so.

    Just one more factor to consider when thinking about weight management.


    Speaking With…: Ian Smith

    Most of you know him simply as “Doctor Ian,” nutrition expert on Vh1’s Celebrity Fit Club, creator of the 50 Million Pound Challenge, host of the nationally syndicated radio show HealthWatch on American Urban Radio Networks, and author of #1 New York Times Bestsellers like The Fat Smash Diet.

    Yesterday, Dr. Smith — a graduate of the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine — launched his latest work, The 4 Day Diet, which is composed of a variety of 4-day modules.

    My e-mail interview with him, transcribed below, covers the new book (I received an advance copy last month in preparation for our correspondence) as well as other current issues of interest in the fields of nutrition and public health.

    The concept of motivation plays a significant role in this book. What motivated you to pen The 4 Day Diet?

    So many people who I’ve worked with over the years have always talked about a lack of motivation or the inability to stay motivated. They wanted to know how to figure out a solution to this deficit.

    I looked at all of the best diet books and none of them really gave the topic of motivation any real coverage. I know as a fact that the mental part of dieting is the most critical, because if your mind isn’t in the right place, then regardless of how good the plan might be, you’re not going to succeed.

    The 4 Day Diet is my rendition of a COMPLETE program. There’s the mental plan, diet plan, and exercise plan. The people who I worked with while creating this program not only lost a lot of weight, they lost it consistently and they constantly told me how “doable” the program was compared to others they had followed.

    I also wrote the 4 Day Diet so that if parents want to put the entire family on a program, this could be that program. Most diet plans are not kid-friendly, but the 4 Day Diet is one that everyone can enjoy and see results.

    The psychological and emotional factors behind weight loss are thoroughly explored in The 4 Day Diet. Do you recommend that, if financially possible, people simultaneously seek psychological counseling before/while trying to achieve significant weight loss?

    In the best of worlds, people who need to lose a serious amount of weight or who have some psychological component to their cause(s) for being overweight would seek some type of psychological consultation. It’s not because they’re crazy or not smart. It’s because sometimes we have anxiety or stress-related problems and don’t even know it, and a professional might help tease these problems out.

    I know that everyone can’t afford to go to a psychiatrist/psychologist or doesn’t want to go, so that’s why I’ve included this material in the 4 Day Diet.

    A lot of people will learn more about the cause of their problems and the strategies they can employ to solve them as they go on and lose the weight while regaining their health.

    On a similar note, do you think periods of high stress are not a good time to begin implementing dietary changes?

    One of the worst times to start a diet program is during a period of high stress. I tell people all the time, if you have some type of major life disruption such as relationship problems, job problems, financial crisis, loss of a loved one, medical crisis–these are not the times to undertake a diet program.

    Unfortunately, too many people start a program simply because they believe it’s the right time on the calendar to do so and they don’t make sure it’s the right time in their life. Success is more attainable if one begins this journey at the most appropriate time.

    That being said, one must also guard against coming up with every excuse in the book as to why they shouldn’t lose weight. Major stress-inducing situations are the only things that should stand in the way, not the small stuff.

    Are you at all concerned the “Be Thinner by Friday!” label on the cover of the book can set up unrealistic expectations in readers or make this look like a gimmick?

    There is that risk and to be honest I wrestled with the idea of putting it on the cover. I had those exact concerns, but the publishing team felt as though given my history of creating medically sound programs and being honest with people, that they would not interpret it as a gimmick.

    The truth of the matter is that with the 4 day detox that’s at the beginning of the program, people will lose weight right away. Will they lose all of their weight? NO WAY! That’s not what I’m saying. They will lose weight and they will think differently.

    One of the chapters talks about “thinking thin.” That is as important as the physical part of looking thin. So, people will be thinner by Friday not just physically but mentally, and they will be on the road to significant changes if they stick to the plan.

    Is there a particular reason why the modules [in the diet plan] only allow one teaspoon of milk (even skim or low fat) in coffee?

    Great question. The honest answer is that people tend to go overboard. If the limit is 1 teaspoon, then most people are going to have 2. If I said 2 teaspoons were allowed, then they would rationalize having 3. Sometimes you can’t win.

    The major point with this is that you must try to cut calories wherever possible, even a small amount. If you get into the behavior of cutting calories with drinking coffee, then you’re also likely to do the same when there are bigger calories at stake such as eating an entree or dessert.

    It’s all about learning how to make lifestyle changes that will lead to permanent good health.

    What is your approach to people who “excuse themselves” from ever attempting to lose weight by saying “it’s just how they are built” because they come from “large families”?

    This is one of the most frustrating excuses I hear when people talk about reasons they don’t try or can’t lose weight. The truth of the matter is that unless one has a genetic medical condition that has been inherited from their family, there really is no such thing as “coming from a large family, therefore it’s inevitable that they are large.”

    Can you come from a tall family? Yes. But that’s genetic. Weight is rarely genetic. Families tend to be large because the choices they make from a dietary and exercise perspective make them large. There are no genetic plans that say everyone in a family is going to be 50 pounds overweight.

    But if there’s a medical condition that’s inherited, then that’s a different story. The truth is that you have a better chance of winning the lottery than truly being large “because your family is large.”

    Only 40 percent of medical schools in the United States offer a nutrition course. Of that 40 percent, very few actually require it as part of their curriculum. What are your thoughts on the apparent dismissal of nutrition that appears to be prevalent in the medical field (i.e.: “to lower blood pressure, take this pill, rather than be mindful of sodium and potassium intake.”)

    I think the lack of nutritional education is medical schools is a tremendous oversight and we are now seeing the manifestation of it with the obesity crisis we’re now facing. More doctors and nurses need to know a lot more about nutrition and supplements and non-medicinal ways to control weight.

    Obesity is a medical epidemic just like the plague was an epidemic. The front line fighters against this epidemic should be the doctors and nurses and other healthcare professionals. But there’s not enough nutritional and related training, thus they are not effective at fighting on the front lines.

    Are doctors entirely to blame for the obesity crisis? Absolutely not. Do doctors share some of the blame? Absolutely. I hope in the coming years that medical schools will see the need to take nutrition as serious as they take pharmacology and physiology and help train a new generation of obesity fighters.

    Mandatory calorie labeling has proven to be a successful policy in New York City. What are some other public health nutrition policies you would like to see implemented in the coming years to help people achieve their health goals?

    I think NYC has gotten off to a good start and I hope it proves successful and others will follow this lead. There are lots of health nutrition policies that should be implemented over the coming years to help cut into our obesity problem.

    I think that schools across the country are getting an F grade when it comes to providing healthy food for our children. This is an embarrassment for the US, a country so rich and so full of resources and intellectual capital. Our children need to be served healthier food and mandated to participate in regular physical activity. At a time when we need children to be more active, we’re dramatically cutting funding to programs and classes that would help our children get moving and lose some of this weight that will only harm them in their adult years.

    I also believe that the government needs to be more instrumental in helping lower-income areas attract healthier grocery stores. Too many neighborhoods have nowhere to shop but stores that sell unhealthy, calorie-rich, sweet, processed foods and not enough natural, fresh food.

    Yes, the communities must first want and then work to get these stores in their communities, but the government at some level should step in and play some role in incentivizing businesses to set up shop in these very needy communities. Remember, the healthier our fellow citizens, the healthier we all are!

    Many thanks to Dr. Smith for taking time to participate in Small Bites’ “Speaking With” section!


    Numbers Game: Answer

    A prospective study on holiday weight gain published in the New England Journal of Medicine in the year 2000 found that, on average, people gain 1 pound(s) during the holidays (from mid-November to early January).

    I know, I know. Just one?

    It may not sound like a lot, but consider that these holiday pounds are usually not lost once the New Year begins — or ever, for that matter.

    You can see, then, how someone can gain ten pounds in the course of a decade simply by being careless over a five-week period — even if they are on top of their game the other 47 weeks!

    Some studies have also found that people who are already overweight tend to put on an additional pound during the holidays.

    I would be interested in seeing this same study done in countries where the holidays take place during the Summer months (i.e.: anywhere south of the Equator,) where rich, high-calorie foods aren’t as weather appropriate.


    In The News: Holiday Eating

    Last Friday I was interviewed for this Reuters piece on holiday eating.

    I spoke with reporter Terri Coles about common traps people fall into during this high-caloric time where food is plentiful.

    We also spoke about helpful behavioral modification tips readers can implement to enjoy holiday meals without morning-after regret.



    You Ask, I Answer: Calories & Winter

    I have heard mixed things about cold weather and its impact on calorie burning and was hoping you could clear up the matter.

    Do you burn more calories in winter, or do you just feel like you do?

    — Luise (last name unknown)
    Via the blog

    It’s funny, because some people ask me if it’s true we burn more calories in the winter, and others want to know if it’s true we burn LESS calories in the winter!

    I chalk this all up to psychological impression.

    Although it is true that an involuntary action like shivering — our body’s way of attempting to warm us up — takes energy, it does not mean we automatically burn extra calories when temperatures plunge.

    Besides, most people bundle up to prevent themselves from shivering.

    Some research has shown that exercising outdoors in the Winter can slightly increase the amount of calories burned since the body has to work harder to keep us warm.

    That said, it is important to not lose focus of the big issue here — stay as active as you can, indoors or out.

    It’s not so much that temperature affects our caloric balance, but, rather, that our activities change as a result of the weather.

    There is no simple answer to the seasonal calorie burning question because individual factors come into play.

    Many people are more physically active in the Summer, and tend to turn to comfort foods when temperatures drop.

    Then again, there are also those who become more active in the Winter (whether it be by skiing often or finding more time to work out at the gym since many Summer activities are no longer feasible.)

    And then there are those whose weight does not fluctuate by season because their eating and exercise habits are fairly consistent.

    Despite all this, it wouldn’t surprise me if at some point down the road we see some scam artist hawking The Winter Diet — Shiver Those Extra Pounds Away…. Until Spring!


    You Ask, I Answer: Stevia

    What’s your take on Stevia versus other no-calorie sweeteners (Splenda, etc)?

    I generally use Splenda, but started to use stevia since it is supposed to be more ‘natural’ and ‘unprocessed.”

    — Jean (last name withheld)
    New York, NY

    I would rank Stevia as the most controversial no-calorie sweetener.

    Although it is plant-derived (thereby less artificial than Splenda, aspartame, or saccharin) and has been used in some countries (like Japan) for almost two decades, the United States was never open to it, citing concerns over rather shoddy animal studies showing apparent mutagenic properties of some components of the sweetener.

    It was banned in 1991, and when that ban was lifted three years later, the Food & Drug Administration refused to grant it GRAS (Generally Recognized As Safe) status as a food additive, thereby only making it legal if sold as a supplement. Confused yet?

    I — and many others — suspect this had more to do with political motives than actual health concerns.

    Consider the fact that patented (hint: profitable) artificial sweeteners faced fewer legal roadblocks.

    Adding to that, once two multi-national bigshot corporations like Coca Cola and Cargill jointly developed — and patented — a Stevia-based sweetener (Truvia), the FDA had no problem granting them a green light.

    Although I don’t use it myself, I don’t have a problem with someone sweetening their morning coffee with a teaspoon or two of Stevia.

    What I want to point out about all these zero-calorie sweeteners, though, is that people are misguided if they think using them in place of sugar in the occasional beverage is an efficient weight-loss and overall health strategy.

    No one becomes overweight or obese as a result of the tablespoon of sugar they add to their morning coffee every day (two packets of sugar only contribute 32 calories.)

    It is the sodas, cookies, candies, muffins, and chocolate bars that are loaded with empty calories (in the form of sugar) that are more problematic. Although sodas are available in zero-calorie varieties, such is not the case with baked goods and other sweets.

    And, so, we once again come back to the concept of general eating patterns — and total calories — being at the core of health and weight goals.

    Using a non-caloric sweetener in coffee does not offset consuming too many calories throughout the day.


    Survey Results: Seasons of Change

    The latest Small Bites survey asked visitors if they tend to put on weight in the winter (or during colder months.)

    60% of respondents clicked “yes,” while the remaining 40% answered “no.”

    If you find that weight management is more challenging in the winter months, you are not imagining things!

    Many people who do not enjoy the gym environment take advantage of the outdoors for physical activity in the Summer months, whether it be jogging, swimming, walking, or rollerblading.

    Once winter comes along, though, these activities are often completely stopped.

    Meanwhile, caloric intake remains steady. The end result? Not surprisingly, a few extra pounds.

    One of the best strategies (other than moving down to Venezuela during cold months) is to attempt to develop long-term habits, rather than short-term solutions.

    Strictly cutting calories and denying yourself your favorite junky foods for two months in order to look good in a swimsuit may be effective, but once beach season is over, you’re back to old habits — and your old figure.

    Rather than compartmentalizing your eating plan by season, make it a point to keep similar eating habits throughout the year.

    After all, going through overly regimented dietary patterns makes it that much more likely that you will eventually “give in” and binge.

    If “weather appropriate” substitutions must take place, always keep your goals in mind.

    For example, starting off dinner with a cool and crisp side salad may work in the sweltering August heat, but not when it’s 25 degrees out.

    Soup can be an excellent replacement, as long as you choose wisely.

    Avoid cream-based concoctions — as well as watery ones!

    While a cream-centered soup can pack a significant amount of calories, I find watery broths to be useless, as they are are rarely filling and do not offer much nutrition.

    Instead, opt for bean soups. Half a cup of black bean or lentil soup is low in calories and high in fiber, helping you feel fuller faster.


    On The Radio

    This past Friday night, I was a guest on New York City-based personal trainer Jason Alexander’s online radio show, All About Fitness.

    Jason asked me a few general nutrition questions, and then it was on to listener phonecalls.

    We discussed a plethora of topics, from fiber to protein to the Atkins Diet to fruit juice.

    You can listen to — and download — the hour-long show by clicking here.


    For the record, I absolutely love doing radio and television (producers, take note!)


    Celebrity Diet Secrets: Britney Spears

    I could care less how a celebrity dresses on the red carpet or how their hair looks when they’re buying Advil at their local drugstore at 1 AM.

    I do, however, like to keep tabs on what they are telling the media about nutrition and health.

    Not so much because I think I’ll stumble upon some revolutionary new concept, but because many times their eating habits and “tips” — which many people often apply to their own lives — are far off the mark.

    Take Britney Spears’ latest statement to OK! Magazine:

    I’m the healthiest I’ve been all my life.

    My diet has a lot to do with my getting into shape. I have no sugar. I don’t eat fruit or even fruit juice because of the sugar.

    I eat chicken and salmon and rice. I eat avocados. I’ll have egg whites for breakfast and sometimes turkey burgers for lunch. I try to do just 1,200 calories a day. It may sound like it’s not much, but it’s actually a lot of food if you eat the right things.”

    Some of those concepts are NOT OK with me.

    Let’s start with the positives. She has clearly realized that a daily intake of Cheetos and Frappuccinos won’t do much to help her get back in shape.

    Additionally, avocados and salmon are a great way to get healthy fats.

    Now, onto the “not so great” attributes.

    I’d like to think Britney is pointing out just a few of the foods she eats, rather than her daily staples. Otherwise, she is on the fast track to boredom with such a small selection.

    And, hello, where’s the fiber?

    My main frustration, however, stems from her claim that, in order to keep a sugar-free diet, Britney has cut out fruits and fruit juice.

    Fruit juice, I can understand. After all, most fruit juices are simply sugar (in this case, fructose) water with vitamins. Since they are in liquid form, they don’t do much in terms of satiety, either.

    But giving up fruit? I can’t think of any reason to do that.

    Think about it for a minute. Doesn’t it sound slightly ridiculous to say, “I’m eating healthy, so no more fruit in MY fridge!”?

    A medium sized apple only contains 90 calories, but also provides fiber, phytonutrients, and a variety of vitamins.

    Please don’t mistake that recent study about fructose intake and weight gain to mean you should never have fruit.

    The fiber in whole fruit offsets the sharp rise in blood glucose you get when you drink pure fruit juice juice.

    Besides, a whole orange provides significantly lower levels of fructose than a glass of OJ.

    So, Britney, please don’t fear. A banana in the morning or some kiwi in the afternoon will not lead you astray.

    Thank you to reader Kristin MacBride for sending along Britney’s quote.


    You Ask, I Answer: Stress & Weight Gain

    Can stress alone cause weight gain?

    I’ve been dieting and exercising great but I actually gained weight and I think it could be because I’ve been under a lot of stress lately.

    — “Chai”
    Via the blog

    I can’t provide as detailed of an answer as I would like since I do not know what you classify as “dieting and exercising great.”

    Healthier eating does not necessarily lead to weight loss.

    Some people, for instance, think that substituting soda for fruit juice is a great switch, not realizing that the fruit juice delivers just as many calories — if not more — than the soda!

    Similarly, replacing French fries with stir fried garlic broccoli drenched in three tablespoons of olive oil provides healthier fats, but not less calories.

    Anyhow, the issue of stress and weight gain is a little tricky.

    For starters, stress affects people differently.

    In the same way that some individuals can develop insomnia while others would rather sleep all day, some completely lose their appetite, and others want to eat an entire sleeve of Oreos in one sitting.

    I am sure you have heard of the product CortiSlim, which promises to get rid of “stubborn belly fat” that is a result of a hormone known as cortisol.

    The belief is that cortisol — which the body releases in response to stress in order to get you moving (say, if you are riding your bike and about to get hit by a moving car) — is overproduced during long periods of stress, in turn stimulating appetite and promoting adipose tissue storage in the abdominal area.

    It’s worth pointing out that CortiSlim was initially in hot water with the Federal Trade Commission for making unsubstantiated claims.

    I personally don’t think stress as an individual factor universally leads to weight gain.

    Cortisol production varies between people; not everyone undergoing stress produces an abundance of cortisol.

    I am sure you know many people who, when undergoing long periods of stress (i.e.: a turbulent breakup or the death of a family member,) can lose significant amounts of weight.

    Additionally, a study conducted by New England Research Institutes and published in the April 2007 issue of the Journal of Endocrinology did not find a strong link between cortisol production and obesity.

    “Circulating cortisol concentrations are somewhat lower in obese than in nonobese community-dwelling men,” the study concludes.

    Another interesting observation? “Age-related weight loss – and not gain – was associated with simultaneous increases in serum cortisol concentrations.”

    Where I do think stress plays a role is in making some people more vulnerable to reaching for high-calorie comfort foods.

    I know that, in my experience, an ice cream cone is a lot more appealing than a cup of Greek yogurt on a sad day.

    Ultimately, though, we come back to the concept of choice. Of course, some people can have a harder time resisting high-calorie foods when they are stressed, but it is ultimately the consumption of these foods — as opposed to stress itself — that can lead to weight gain.


    Speaking With…: Milton Stokes

    Milton Stokes, MPH, RD, CDN is the owner of One Source Nutrition, offering a variety of private counseling and media consulting services.

    He is also an American Dietetic Association National Media Spokesperson who has been featured in a plethora of publications, including Self, Cooking Light, Men’s Health, Fitness, and the New York Daily News.

    I first met Mr. Stokes in January of 2007 when he served as an adjunct professor for New York University’s Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health.

    He is an intelligent, sharp, and charismatic entrepreneur who is a wonderful asset to the field of nutrition and dietetics and communicates his nutrition knowledge in a most effective manner.

    On with the interview:

    What shifts, if any, have you noticed with your clients over the past decade? Is nutrition education really more widespread?

    Most people come to my office well-educated on nutrition and health.

    They develop admirable knowledge from websites, like anything associated with NIH.gov, and certain consumer publications, like Eating Well and Cooking Light. Clients know all about MyPyramid and reading food labels. So it’s not a knowledge gap.

    Instead, the problem is that gray area of disconnect, that missing spark to motivate clients to implement their knowledge.

    A lot of what we do in the practice is boost a client’s self-efficacy. We simply point out “You say you want to achieve health, but you continue with this behavior.”

    From there we proceed by encouraging them to start with a specific change today or this week. Showing clients we believe they can do it helps enhance their sense of self belief, which is what self efficacy is all about.

    What do you perceive as two of the most important behavioral modification changes people who are looking to lose weight can do?

    Step one is getting proof of what a client’s eating and drinking. Proof in the form of a simple food journal. It’s amazing what a difference seeing food consumption on paper really makes. Subtle, but significant, patterns start to emerge.

    Usually those patterns are enough to guide future work with the client. We work with eating disorders mostly, and as I said earlier, our patients are extremely educated in nutrition. But they do things, like sabotage themselves with unhealthy environments at home.

    Premium ice cream and other binge foods don’t crawl into the kitchen without help. With exercise, owning a treadmill is a good start, but you can’t use it as a wardrobe station in the basement. Take those clothes off of it–or whatever items reside there–and have it ready.

    This leads me to the next tip: plan. If you don’t plan to exercise, you probably won’t. Your sneakers and workout clothes won’t magically appear if you don’t take them out. Furthermore, take them with you in the morning. After work it’s a little easier to get to the gym when you don’t have to come home to change.

    Once home, it’s like pulling teeth to go back out. Home has dishes to be done, laundry to fold, mail to open, and so forth. Those are common distractions that become excuses. So I say bypass those and do the exercise first.

    Planning is applicable to food as well.

    Do most of your clients share a common obstacle/hurdle in reaching their health/nutrition/weight goals?

    We see mostly females in our practice. And the adult women tend to prioritize everything but their health.

    For one of many examples: They shop for food, they cook the food, and they clean up after it’s all over. I say, “Hold up, why can’t you farm out some of this work?” Give the list to your spouse; assign your 10-year-old the task of tearing lettuce for the salads and setting the table; each person clears his own dishes and loads the washer.

    That the woman has to do all this is really old fashioned. And it’s a common barrier to putting health first. If you aren’t healthy, how can you take care of your family?

    Finding ways to earn back 5 minutes here, 5 minutes there will add up. Soon you’re at 20 minutes, which is enough for a brisk walk and some alone time to clear your head.

    Are there two or three popular nutrition myths that most of your clients have interpreted as “truth”?

    Eating breakfast makes me gain weight.

    Stop eating after 6 pm or all the food turns to fat. But digested food isn’t like Cinderella’s carriage: at the stroke of midnight (or whatever time) it doesn’t turn into a pumpkin….or into fat.

    Holy grail of nutrition and feeding is some secret or mystical concoction. What’s the minute, teeny tiniest thing I’m missing to make me whole?

    Exogenous digestive enzymes….we would’ve died out ages ago.

    As a nutrition educator, are there certain inaccurate messages in the mainstream media regarding nutrition that especially frustrate you?

    In general, a lot of marketing jumps the gun on real benefits of specific nutrients or foods. This promotes adult food jags of sorts.

    One day dried plums or blueberries or tomatoes are the rage. The next, it’s some hideously bitter juice designed to extend life by 7 years.

    Then just a pill crammed with all the nutrition of 10 fruits and vegetables. There is no secret or miracle to losing weight or preventing disease. Eating real food does the trick–but that message isn’t sexy or provocative or profitable.

    Having said that, let me also pause to recognize the work of researchers.

    Nutrition is an evolving science, so what we know today may change tomorrow as research is completed. And that’s okay. There’s nothing wrong with continuing to pursue new findings.

    I do wonder, though, what would become of human health if we diverted some of those research dollars to subsidize fruits, vegetables and whole grains? We know that eating this way works. Do we need more research, or can we go ahead and pay farmers with research dollars to deliver their products to all neighborhoods?

    People could go to market several times a week, or whenever, and stock up. Farmers could be paid to go door-to-door. Consumers wouldn’t pay a thing.

    What particular direction would you like the nutrition field to embark in over the next 10 – 15 years?

    Stop putting everything under a therapeutic microscope.

    Stop hanging on the latest research finding that says a certain micronutrient might do this or might do that. Nobody eats solo nutritients. Clients tire themselves by getting carried away over headlines without understanding the full scope of the study.

    Studies isolate single nutrients without considering synergy or total nutrient packages in whole food. This relates to what we talked about earlier: the message to eat more fruits and vegetables isn’t glamorous or trendy.

    I am concerned with incessant food scares over pathogens and improper food handling.

    I’d like to see nutrition researchers partnering with sleep experts. Who isn’t sleep deprived? Without enough sleep we know it’s quite difficult to lose weight, and you’re more likely to reward yourself with high-carbohydrate foods as way to feel better.

    Vitamin D [is another subject that we need to look into further].

    I might get in trouble for this, but we may have missed out on the opportunity to consider low-carb diets. First of all, I believe no single diet fits every person. I also believe low-fat isn’t necessarily top dog.

    Researchers, like Jeff Volek, have shown low-carb diets promote fat loss, preserve lean muscle mass, and improve lipid profiles. Am I saying we all need to eat low-carb? No. But we could let the scientific process show us what low-carb eating can do.

    * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
    A huge thank you to Milton for participating in this interview.

    If you enjoyed this interview, be sure to visit his new blog for more information and tips.

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