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    Archive for the ‘weight management’ Category

    Three Things I Want Recalled

    RawPotatoC-listers all over Tinseltown must be insanely jealous of eggs’ press agents.  If you were one of the millions of recalled Salmonella-tainted eggs over the past week and a half, you were everywhere — form the morning talk shows to CNN to thousands of blogs and tweets.

    Alas, all this recall business got me thinking about other things I would like taken back as of yesterday.

    1) Potato hate:

    Apparently, some nutritionists and Registered Dietitians are stuck in the “net carb” days of 2003 and consider potatoes to be a “no no”.  Some go as far as claiming “it doesn’t count as a vegetable.”  Magical realism and denial rolled into one big ball of “huh?”.  Pretending something “doesn’t count” if you don’t like it is the new black!

    Since, these nutritionists reason, most Americans eat potatoes in unhealthy ways, then it only makes sense to make a gross overgeneralization and claim the potato itself is not healthy.  Because, hey, why try to educate people when you can just keep a myth going?

    Truth is, when eaten in a healthy way (think baked, with its skin on, topped with some olive oil, salsa, or guacamole), potatoes provide fiber, vitamin C, and potassium.  This notion that a baked potato and an order of large fries are essentially the same thing is reductionist, simplistic, and absolutely inaccurate.  And, please, spare me the “but potatoes are a white food” speech.  So are bananas.  And cauliflower. And garlic.  And most onions.  And coconut meat.

    2) Food/Supermarket Scoring:

    In theory, it sounds helpful.  “Let’s score supermarket foods so people know what’s healthy and what’s not.”  Well, befriending your old high school friends on Facebook also sounded good in theory.

    Truth is, a lot of these systems either state the obvious (“broccoli is healthy!”) or are mired by huge flaws (“if a product is high in fat, it gets lots of points taken off, even if it’s something as simple and healthful as almond butter.”)

    This is something I have personal experience with.  For several months, I was a consultant on a food-grading system (one that, I must say, successfully escapes the pitfalls others plummet into).  Though I exerted a significant amount of effort helping developers come up with algorithms that would lead to an accurate system, it was impossible to not face limiting restrictions (“yes, take off a lot of points for long ingredient lists… oh, well, but, wait, here is a 100% whole grain sprouted bread with no added sugars made from 16 grains.”).  Still, that said, the developers did as comprehensive a job as possible.

    My main concern is that ttoo many variables that come into play.  For example — what’s “healthier”: a full-fat chocolate ice cream made from local, organic grass-fed milk or a reduced-fat ice cream that is lower in calories (with no artificial sweeteners or fake fats) but made from conventional dairy, possibly from cows injected with Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone?

    Food comparison programs and apps are at least more customizable and can capture more nuances than supermarket scoring systems like NuVal, which despite much hyperbole, have yet to be mplemented in more than a handful of stores.  For example, someone concerned with GMOs or a company’s labor practices can find a particular app for their interests, while a supermarket scoring system may only look at variables that may seem irrelevant to a consumer (for example, I don’t give grams of protein a second of thought when food shopping, whereas some supermarket scoring systems do).

    3) Overcomplicating the Issues:

    Find me one person whose weight did not drop (and health did not improve) by eating fewer calories, eating fewer processed foods, and amping up their physical activity.  Yes, there are a myriad of factors that can affect how well those behaviors play out (i.e.: hormonal changes, genetic makeup, etc.), but I don’t understand the need to reinvent a wheel that works (“eat negative calorie foods”, “drink 9 glasses of green tea every day”, “never EVER mix a carbohydrate with a protein”, “no carbohydrates for dinner”, “dairy products make you fat”, etc.).

    As I always ask the “calories don’t mean squat” groupies, please show me examples of people who gained weight as a result of eating fewer calories or individuals who lost weight by doubling their daily caloric intake (without any change in physical activity).

    Of course, the quality of what is consumed is of the utmost importance.  Whether one wants to gain or lose weight, the idea is to fill up with nutrients and other healthful components from whole foods (not chalky astronaut beverages in a can or an “energy bar” more fitting for a chemistry class experiment than your digestive system).

    Oh, PS: if anyone could offer me a time machine, I want to go back to the early 90s and immediately recall the fat-free era.


    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.


    Measure It Out

    One of the greater challenges of weight management is keeping accurate track of calories.

    At the salad bar, you grab a container of salad dressing and sprinkle some over your dish. Doesn’t look like a lot, especially in that huge bowl filled with healthy vegetables!

    When you sauteé vegetables, you pour some oil into the pot for what appears to be no more than a single second.

    Spreading peanut butter on your morning toast is a matter of dipping the knife in the jar and getting just enough to cover the entire slice of bread.

    Raisins are good for you, so you figure two handfuls in your morning oatmeal are no big deal.

    I do not expect anyone to walk around with measuring spoons and cups on them or take all enjoyment out of eating by fretting over 15 calories.

    In fact, that is the LAST thing I want you to do!

    However, I strongly suggest that, just for a one-week period, you familiarize yourself with measurements.

    Next time you pour yourself cereal, pour it into a half cup measure first, and then into your bowl.

    Become aware of what a half cup of cereal actually LOOKS like.

    Serve yourself the amount you normally eat for breakfast, but keep in mind the half cup reference point — as well as how many of those half cups make it to your bowl.

    Do the same thing with your milk. You may think you’re getting a good amount of calcium every morning, but if you are merely adding a quarter cup to your cereal, you’re getting less than 10 percent of a day’s worth.

    I also recommend you have measuring spoons handy when you cook.

    Before pouring oil into a pot to sauteé garlic and onions, pour the oil into a tablespoon measurement and then into the pot. Is that what you usually pour? If so, that’s 120 calories.

    If what you usually pour is equivalent to five tablespoons, that’s 600 calories.

    This is a great exercise because, in the event that you are looking to lose some weight, it pinpoints what particular foods or meals you can feasibly make some adjustments to.

    Once you devote a week to this, you will have a clearer mental picture of what a tablespoon or a quarter cup of different foods look like. I’m sure you’ll find this helpful down the road when it comes to accurately gauging calories as you go through your day.

    Consider it a lifetime investment!


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