Tag Archives: fitness

With Great Freedom Comes Great Responsibility: The Safety of Sugar Free

I like to think that I eat fairly healthily, especially compared to the norm. I try to keep my carbohydrates low, eat plenty of vegetables, and always have a bottle of water handy.

There is one questionable substance I allow myself without restriction, however: sucralose. I’ve realized this lately, and am attempting to cut down, but it’s made me curious about just how dangerous fake sweeteners are.

Most Americans and Europeans regularly consume “fake” sweeteners on a regular basis, either on purpose (in baking, coffee and tea) or unintentionally (in reduced fat foods, and even some medications). They’re a welcomed loophole for those looking to lose or maintain their weight, and keep their blood sugar stable. But are they safe?

It Causes Cancer! … It Might Cause Cancer! … Male Lab Rats Are Prone to Cancer!

It seems that the best argument those who oppose sweeteners have is that aspartame, saccharin, and sucralose are all carcinogenic–they cause cancer. But do they really?

The newest study to come to light was in June of 2013, when Italian scientist Dr. Morando Soffritti fed male lab rats “varying” levels of sucralose throughout their lives. This study is still under peer review, and has caused quite a bit of controversy in the scientific community.(1) It contradicts the 2000 study which concluded that the substance posed no threat. Both studies were carried out on lab rats over a significant portion of their life span.

The scientific community, so far, is disregarding this study as “bad science,” however. Read the full story here. It seems that this Dr. Soffritti has been under review by his peers for less than perfect performance in the past, so for now, the consensus is that sucralose is safe for consumption.

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This is only the most recent of many almost identical situations for artificial sweeteners. In the 1970s, the oldest sweetener, saccharin, came under fire when scientists found that lab rats fed the substance developed bladder tumors. Upon further investigation, it was discovered that the specific way rodents metabolized saccharin was causing the problem, and that humans would not suffer the same consequences. Warning labels were removed from Sweet’n’Low and Sugar Twin by 2000.

Conversely to the accusatory studies, University of Adelaide researchers released findings that shows that the gut’s reaction to sweetener is neutral. “In our most recent study involving healthy men, we found that the gut’s response to artificially sweetened drinks was neutral – it was no different to drinking a glass of water,” the researcher added. (2)

What About Natural No-Calorie or Low-Calorie Sweeteners?

When you think of “natural low calorie sweetener,” how many of you think of Stevia? Oh, looks like most of you.

Unfortunately, it looks like Stevia is actually worse for you than any chemical sweetener–though nobody is going to drop from this chemical. The compounds in this shrub, which has been consumed for centuries, break down in humans’ guts to steviol, which is slightly toxic. Dr. Berger explains this much better than I could:

Erythritol, however, seems to be the one golden angel of the bunch. This chemical has never been accused of being harmful–in fact, it’s only fault is being a sugar alcohol. No, it doesn’t get you drunk; being a sugar alcohol means that a fair amount of the population (about 40%) will get a blood sugar spike from consuming it, though smaller than if they were consuming regular sugar. Also, all sugar alcohols (xylitol, maltitol, and sorbitol are some of the more common ones) cause many consumers intestinal discomfort, so make sure you keep track of how much you eat in one serving, and per day, or you may be in for a bad time.

stevia

 

So What Am I To Nom?

Because artificial sweeteners are still under review, it’s hard to say what the future brings. However, at this time, it looks like all commercially available low or no calorie sweeteners are safe for consumption–in moderation. Keep track of how much you eat a day, and take note of any weird symptoms or discomfort. Your body will tell you what’s best!

 

What sweetener do you use?

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The Ultimate Guide to Cooking Oils

Cooking oil is a ubiquitous pantry item, no matter what your diet–high-fat, low-fat, vegan, and paleo eaters all need it. This isn’t a bad thing, as fat is vital to the proper functioning of the body. However, unlike in the days of your grandmother, when there was butter, olive oil, canola oil, and maybe one other fancy shmancy oil for special dressings, the modern grocery shopper has their choice of a dizzying array of liquid lipids.

First, a Handy Dandy Chart

I’m giving full credit to theconsciouslife.com for this chart. It’s fantastic and I immediately recognized that I could not do better at this time.

Screen Shot 2013-12-16 at 7.42.11 PM Screen Shot 2013-12-16 at 7.41.59 PM chart of cooking oilsLegend:
SFA: Saturated fatty acids
MUFA: Monounsaturated fatty acids
PUFA: Polyunsaturated fatty acids
Ω-3: Omega-3 fatty acids
Ω-6: Omega-6 fatty acids
Ω-9: Omega-9 fatty acids
Ω-6:3 Ratio: Omega-6 to omega-3 ratio
Smoke Point: The temperature at which a cooking oil starts to burn and produce chemicals that are potentially harmful.

 

What Does It All Mean?

The Omegas

Science tells us that no matter what your budget, or how delicious butter is, it’s really important to balance your omega-3 and omega-6s. What are these silly things? They’re essential polyunsaturated fatty acids, and are crucial for proper brain and body function.

Though omega-6 is necessary for a brain function, hair and skin growth, bone health, regulation of the metabolism, and maintenance of the reproductive system, too much can cause inflammation. Most Westernized eaters consume far too much, which leaving out it’s counterpart, omega-3 (which cuts down on inflammation). This lack of balance has been been blamed for a host of common 1st world diseases, from dementia to Complete Regional Pain Syndrome.

Omega 9, the fairly new kid on the health awareness block, is equally important for hearth health and blood sugar control. This omega is also likely to increase your metabolism with consumption, and improve your moods. It’s most likely found hanging out in canola oil, nuts, and avocados.

Screen Shot 2013-12-16 at 8.03.01 PMfrom goodfats101.com

The bottom line: you’re probably getting enough omega-6, so it’s a good idea to focus on getting more omega-3 and omega-9. 

Smoking Point

When an oil starts to smoke, it means that it’s breaking down. What that means for you, as a chef, is that if it gets any hotter, your food is not going to taste very good, and you’ll some of the health benefits from your dish. Lastly, the blueish smoke you see rising from your dish is made up of acrolein, which can really do a number on your eyes and throat. If your pan starts smoking, turn off the fire, turn on a fan or open a window, and give it some space to cool down.

In general, for high heat operations, such as sauteeing, deep frying, or grilling, you’ll want to use vegetable oils. The main exception to this rule is hydrogenated vegetable shortening. The only animal fat that is suitable for this kind of operation is ghee, or clarified butter.

Lower smoke point oils, such as coconut and oil, are great for everything from coatings to salad dressings. Their more pronounced flavors will lend that special flare to your dish, without you having to worry about losing them to the heat of cooking.

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What oil is your favorite to use? Do you have any unique oils in your pantry?

 

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The Big Four

Want to lose weight? Control your acne? Improve mental clarity?

These four diets are what I believe to be the “extremes,” with most other (safe and healthy) eating plans being a combination of qualities from them. They each have unique pros and cons, which I’ve listed in each description.

For any diet, it’s important that calories are kept within a reasonable limit, and that you do what feels right for your body.

Let’s start out with the majority of readers’ “ground zero”…

Western Pattern, Meat-Sweet, or the Standard American Diet (SAD)

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This way of eating has overtaken the majority of Westerners, and is spreading through the world as each new fast food chain is opened. Most calories are taken in through red meat, sugary desserts, and refined grains, along with high fat foods. A large amount of dairy is typically added, along with highly sugared beverages and processed animal products.

The macronutrient breakdown is generally about 50% carbohydrates, 15% protein, and 35% fat–which, if eaten through different foods, could make up a healthy intake, but the concerning aspect of this way of eating lies more with the overly processed nature of the foods. (1)

Pros: Easy to maintain as it fits with cultural habits, generally inexpensive, low prep time per meal.

Cons: Difficult to maintain control over calories as the high glycemic load of this diet induces cravings and blood sugar variances in most adults. 

Now on to the good stuff…

The Paleolithic Diet

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get the recipe

This diet is based off of the idea that if it can’t be found in nature, don’t eat it if a human wouldn’t eat it before the agricultural revolution, it’s not food (thanks Mike D for correcting me!). Because of that guideline, those who follow a Paleolithic–usually shortened to just “paleo”–diet plan eat plenty of meats, vegetables, fruits, and tubers, while scorning dairy, grains and processed foods (from wheat to bologna). This diet’s macros are highly variable, and depend on what the eater prefers.

If using this diet for weight loss, or to treat diabetes, it’s a good idea to go light on the fruits and tubers, and eat mostly meats and vegetables. If this diet is adopted as a possible remedy for various maladies such as acne, frequent headaches, and hormonal imbalances(2)–many of which are theorized to be caused by various allergies, excessive sodium intake, gluten, unnatural chemicals in food, or high blood sugar–the dieter should experiment with macronutrient amount and timing to achieve their desired result.

Pros: Is reported to help treat many diseases, allergies, and, depending on your choice of food, can assist with weight loss. 

Cons: Can be moderately difficult to maintain in social settings. Because grass fed meats and dairy, and organic produce are highly recommended, this diet can be expensive to maintain. 

For more information: The Beginner’s Guide, What To Eat On The Paleo Diet, The Paleo SubReddit

Ketogenic Diet

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get the recipe

This diet, often simply referred to as “keto,” has a similar menu to the Paleo diet, but for different reasons. Originally used to treat some forms of child epilepsy, this way of eating was popularized for weight loss by Dr. Atkins. The keto diet as we know it today maintains the recommended maximum of 30 grams of carbohydrates a day–shared by both the medical diet and the Atkins diet–as well as a defined macro recommendation that the daily calorie breakdown should be 30% protein, 65% fat, and 5% or less carbohydrates (remember that fats are 9 calories per gram, whereas protein and carbohydrates are 4 calories per gram).

This diet consists almost entirely of leafy green vegetables, fatty cuts of meat, eggs, hard cheeses, and small amounts of nuts and berries. Because of the diuretic effect of this plan, users should be careful to both drink plenty of water, and ensure that they are consuming enough electrolytes (sodium, potassium, magnesium).

Unlike many other diets, this plan must be adhered to diligently to get results–dieters will not get nearly the same benefits by partially adhering, either by only following the “rules” some days of the week, or by not cutting carbohydrates out enough. Do not be mistaken, there is benefit to lowering carbohydrates, but the dramatic results that are associated with keto–improved mental clarity, acne cessation, hunger suppression, and rapid weight loss for those with 30+ pounds of extra fat–will not take effect until the body enters ketosis, as this diet’s success relies on hormone and energy regulation, and has a chemical impact on the functioning of your body:

Ketosis is a state in which your body has run out of glycogen (sugar), and is using fat for energy, including your brain. This can take anywhere from 3-10 days to achieve, during which many experience the “keto flu,” a state in which the body is adjusting to the new energy source. The dieter will feel sluggish and dim, and possibly experience headaches and mild nausea. Once the body is adjusted, however, dieters report feeling “smarter,” more alert, free of cravings and severe hunger pangs, and even (in some, not all) needing to sleep less hours every night.

Pros: Can remedy many maladies caused by high blood sugar and gluten. Is very helpful for those suffering from diabetes, or are pre-diabetic. Regulates hunger and greatly diminishes cravings. Some evidence that the diet “starves” cancerous growths. (3)

Cons: Can be very difficult to maintain in social settings. Many, including some doctors, combat the diet openly, as there is a belief that fat and red meat will lead to cancer, high cholesterol, and heart disease–though keto dieters tend to have improved blood panels after a few months. 

For more information: The Keto Calculator, Diet 911 by Muscle & Fitness, The Keto SubReddit

Vegetarian

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get the recipe

The majority of vegetarian dieters are lacto-ovovegetarian, in that they do not eat animal products, save for eggs, dairy, and honey. (4) Fruits, vegetables, grains, and legumes are all encouraged.

Those who are looking to lose weight should be mindful of their grain intake, as calories can accumulate, though it can be tempting to turn to breads and pastas out of convenience. Dieters should also be mindful of their protein intake, and ensure that they are eating plenty of beans, dairy, eggs, and nuts. The healthfulness of eating excessive amounts of soy is still under debate, though some–especially men–have reported ill effects.

This diet can be extremely nutritious if the dieter primarily eats vegetables and fruits. It’s easy to have a wide variety of tastes, as many are culturally vegetarian.

Pro: Easy to maintain in a social setting. Wide variety of foods available.

Cons: Some foods that qualify as vegetarian are low in nutritional value, so a high level of self control is necessary for maintaining or losing weight. 

For more information: Becoming Vegetarian, Vegetarian Times

Vegan

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get the recipe

Like vegetarians, vegans do not eat animal products–and also do not eat eggs, dairy, or honey, which can make it a little bit harder for them to get adequate protein. With the right planning, this diet can be just as complete as any other, though the same precautions against excessive refined carbohydrates (namely bread and pasta) should be taken as with vegetarians.

Because of the extensive restrictions on food that can be eaten, it’s highly recommended that those considering adopting this lifestyle plan out how they will eat to ensure that they get enough fat, protein, and minerals.

Veganism has been reported to have many health benefits, often in ways unique to the particular dieter, and can include allergy and asthma relief. If done right, the food a vegan consumes is much lower in calories than the same volume of non-vegan food, and can be a very effective diet for weight loss. (5)

Pros: Is reported to help alleviate hypertension, obesity, and may play a part in preventing cancer. (6If the dieter avoids processed grains, the food is generally very low in calories, and thus conducive to weight loss. 

Cons: Can be very difficult to maintain in a social setting, as many dishes include non-vegan ingredients, such as butter while cooking. 

For more information: 10 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Went Vegan, How to Be a Vegan and Stay Healthy

How do you like to eat? What makes you feel best? Have you tried any of these?

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Iliotibial Band Syndrome

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What’s an IT Band?

You have an iliotibial, or IT band that runs down the outside of each of your legs. This unique ligament serves to move your legs (extending, abducting, and rotating your hip), and runs from your hip to just below your knee. It connects to many of the muscles in your upper legs, including the quadriceps (front thigh), glutei (booty), and hamstrings (back of thigh). It’s also connected to the fascia of your upper leg, which is the tough “gristle” that holds all of your muscles in place.

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Because of it’s location, the IT band is easy to injury with repetitive movement. Running, biking, and even long walks can irritate it if the exerciser’s form is incorrect, putting undue pressure on the bursa sack, which enflames the small pouch. This causes the ITB to meet resistance while moving over the femur, instead of gliding.

Do I Have IT Band Friction Syndrome?

If you’re having lateral knee pain, you may have ITBFS/ITBS.

Signs and symptoms:

  1. Pain on the lateral (outside) side of the upper leg and knee joint.
  2. Snapping or popping sensations around the knee.
  3. Swelling around the lower thigh and knee.
  4. In advanced cases, a radiating pain from the knee up to the hip.

If you think you have ITBS, it’s best to see your physician. Because of how the brain discriminates various areas of the knee, pain can seem to come from an area that is close by, but isn’t exactly where the injury is. A doctor will be able to better judge the cause of the irritation.

If for some reason cannot see a physician, a self test you can perform is:

  1. Sit with legs bent.
  2. With your fingers, press on the outside of the knee in question, just over where you can feel the bone of your kneecap. When you move your knee, you should be able to feel the tendon gliding along.
  3. While putting pressure over the tendon, straighten your leg. Once your leg is at twenty to thirty degrees, your ITB will pass over the bone–if you have ITBFS you will have a sharp pain as it does so.

However, this test is not fool proof. The iliotibial band runs the entire length of your leg, which means that irritation may be at the hip as well as the knee. Further, your thigh is one of the most complicated parts of your body, and the pain may be caused by another malady. The proper procedure with any pain is to rest it. Stretching can be performed as long as it does not worsen the pain. If you feel that you may have a stress fracture or more severe injury, please consult a physician.

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Causes of IT Band Syndrome

ITBS is caused when, essentially, an exercise that mimics the squatting position is performed in a way that lengthens the IT band. This can be caused by improper form, anatomical variances, muscle and flexibility imbalances, or a combination of all.

Anatomical variances, especially leg length discrepancies, can cause one leg to develop a tight IT band as it must slope inward slightly to allow the shorter leg to land.

Runners typically develop the syndrome when they run on the same side of the same road repeatedly during training. Most roads have a slight angle to them, either banked or canted, to channel water–this can cause the legs to overcompensate and has the same effect as leg length discrepancies, since the pelvis is continuously tilted.

Excessive hill running can also be a cause of ITBS, especially if an intense regimen is started without build up.

Bicyclists often develop ITBS as a result of either pedaling with bowed legs, or with a “toe in” form. Both of these variances can cause the IT band to become irritated–it’s best to bike with knees parallel to the center bar and each other.

How to Treat ITBFS/ITBS

Prevention:

Strengthening the muscles of the leg and hips will allow better stabilization of the limb, which will fend off ITBS, as well as other injuries. Even if you prefer a certain kind of sport, especially running and bicycling, make sure that you cross train at least 20% of your workouts.

A thorough stretching regimen, including both active and static stretches, will prevent many injuries. However, if you currently do not stretch, make sure to add various movements slowly, and never stretch to the point of pain.

Treatment:

If you have ITBS, or suspect you do, the first course of action is that of inaction–rest!

Your ligament is enflamed, which puts your knee at risk. Generally speaking, this is a matter of form, as mentioned earlier. Do not repeat the offending exercise for 1-6 weeks, or until you can climb stairs without experiencing pain. During this time, make sure to stretch the injured limb gently, progressing as it heals. If you can manage to get a sports massage, do.

Some common stretches and exercises for ITBS (from RunnersWorld.com):

Stretch #1: Pull foot up to back of buttocks. Cross the uninjured leg over the injured leg and push down, hold for 30 seconds.
Stretch #2: Cross injured leg behind and lean towards the uninjured side. This stretch is best performed with arms over the head, creating a “bow” from ankle to hand on the injured side (unlike how it is depicted).
Stretch # 3: Cross injured leg over the uninjured side and pull the leg as close to your chest as possible.

Foam Roller
Roll your injured leg over the foam roller, add more time gradually each day to help mobilize your tissues and break up scar tissue.

 

Single Leg Balance and Strengthening
May start just balancing on one foot when brushing your teeth. Gradually you can add challenges such as using a soccer ball and moving the ball in different directions. Another good method is to balance on one foot and play catch with yourself with a tennis ball against a wall or dribble a basketball. Start out with one minute at a time, and build up to 3-5 minutes.

 

Side Leg Lifts
Keep the back of the leg and buttocks against the wall. Slide the leg up the wall and hold at the top for 5 seconds then slide back down. Point toes down.

Start with one set of 20 each leg, after 1 week add a second set of 5. Every 2 days add 5 more as long as it is being well tolerated until you build up to 3 sets of 20 lifts.

 

Strengthening with Theraband
Loop one end and close in the door. Loop other end around the uninjured leg. Bend your knee on the injured leg and balance on the injured leg. Put your uninjured leg through a range of running motion, going up and back. Build up to 3-5 minutes, make sure to exercise both legs.

 

If these stretches are not helpful and pain persists or worsens over time, consult your doctor, as the injury may require professional treatment, or could be caused by another injury, such as a stress fracture.

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What To Do After A Binge

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It’s Halloween! Some view it as the night the “candy season” is finally over, but really, it’s the first holiday of the winter season–the binging is just beginning.

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All of us, except for a few gastronomical saints, will indulge at some point or another this season, and that’s ok! There’s more to these shared meals than nutrition and caloric value–it’s a time to bond with family, get a little giddy with some drinks, and make some memories.

If you want to keep you weight in check this holiday season, here’s the ideal “day after” plan [I don’t always do this, but when I do, I feel much better…and the scale moves a lot less]. This plan is assuming that the binge was mainly carbohydrates since… well… it’s a lot harder to really overeat pure fat and protein:

Binge Recovery

Step one: Getting Home

Oh lordy. I’m so full, it hurts… 

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You get home. You know what you did and dammit, you don’t care. You’re an adult, you can eat an entire pie if you want to.

Or you feel immensely guilty.

Or you’re very drunk.

Step 2: Work out when you wake up

Ideally you worked out before you indulged. No matter how much you lifted, ran, climbed, or biked before you ate, though, it’s likely that your glycogen stores (in your muscles and liver) are full. They may already be overflowing, which means that the extra energy is being converted into the dreaded jiggle…

When you wake up you’ll probably feel bloated–that horrible feeling like your skin isn’t quite big enough anymore, and you’re uncomfortable in kind of a nonspecific way. Working out in a way that maximizes glycogen depletion will do some damage control and make you feel like yourself again.

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The simple principle is, the more energy you use, the less you’ll store–first and foremost, pick an exercise you aren’t going to quit after 10 minutes because you hate it. Going for a long walk will help if you can’t muster the will to do more. A long bike ride is a great choice. Running is fantastic fort his, and if you can do a HIIT work out, and/or get yourself to the gym to lift (high reps is best for this), even better. Explosive movements are the best, but moving in general is the best thing you can do right now.

Step 3: Drink a ton of water throughout the day

Back to that bloating feeling–know why you get it? For every molecule of glucose (pie, cake, pasta, ice cream, sweet drink mixers) your body stores, it stores two molecules of water. It has to do this, which means that the rest of your body has become dehydrated. Gulping water throughout the day, especially before, during, and after your workout, will help kill the lethargy.

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Step 4: Make the next meal low in carbohydrates

You’re already full up–make a point to have a low carb meal the next time you eat. Something classically “healthy” like a salad is great, because it also contains a lot of water, but an omelette, a bunless burger, or a lettuce wrap will work equally well.

Fiber will help you get rid of any garbage left in your digest tract a little faster.

It’s also a good idea to make your next few meals small to help your stretch stomach shrink back to its original size.

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Follow these steps and you should feel like your old self by the end of the day or the next day!

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Do Detox “Cleanse” Diets Work?

If you rounded up a group of people who had 10-20 pounds they were trying to lose, “do you wish you could lose it in a week? How about less than a month?” I guarantee you every one of them would answer yes.

This is the offering made by every detox cleanse diet. These “fad” “crash” diets have been made popular by celebrities, who face considerably pressure to make their body fit the director’s description of various characters. Beyonce made the “Lemonade Cleanse” famous when she lost 20 lbs in preparation for Dreamgirls. After shooting was over, however, she regained the weight rather quickly (Yahoo)–in general, we only see the dramatic losses, not the eventual regains in weight.

Are cleanse diets really worth it? Do they really “detoxify” your body? 

This is a rather broad question, so I’ll break it down into several points:

What is a detox diet?

It seems that almost every “detox” diet has a different definitely of what it truly means to “cleanse.” As a general rule, diets that claim you cannot properly cleanse your cells without their specially formulated product are probably not worth your while. Common sense dictates that if it’s something we need to do, then what we need to do it must occur naturally, not require a laboratory for manufacture.

Further, diets that claim you need a specific (naturally occurring) substance, such as apples, kale, or their great grandmother Hagatha’s tears of true joy, are also eliminated as bunk. Humans live throughout the world, and so far there have been few  deaths that resulted from a person dissolving into a “bag of puss.” (thanks for that visual, Raw Reform)

Essentially, if you’re looking for a diet that will “cleanse” your system, pick one that is either a water fast, or requires only a variety of produce to do.

As far as not for profit detox diets, their definition of the word seems to be:

  1. Resting of internal organs, especially the kidneys and liver
  2. Eliminating harmful foods from the diet
  3. Hydration
  4. Encouragement of toxin expulsion through the intestines, kidneys, lungs, and skin
  5. Improved blood circulation

The Benefits

The benefits of a diet such as a water fast, a juice fast, or eating only raw produce for a period of time are very similar (or identical, in the case of water fasting) to that of any kind of fasting.

As I mentioned in a previous article, fasting induces some physical reactions similar to those that exercise creates, as well as many others. The scholarly literature goes back into the 19th century, but in the two most sought after are usually:

  1. Rapid weight loss (though maintaining this loss requires a considerable change in lifestyle once the fast is broken)
  2. Increased insulin sensitivity (again, lifestyle must be maintained after fast to keep this benefit)

These benefits will also be seen in a “detox” diet, as they almost unanimously lower calories into the realm of a “partial fast” (under 600 kcal a day).

Detox diets also remove junk food, psychologically reactive chemicals (such as alcohol and caffeine), and most–if not all–of the more difficult to digest foods, such as fibrous produce, meat, and fat. Perhaps the most logical reason that dieters feel “clean” during and after “detoxing” is that by removing most or all of their food sources, they also eliminate possible allergens, or foods that they are sensitive to, such as wheat, soy, lactose, eggs, and peanuts (as well as many more uncommon sources of irritation).

If you’re experimenting with detoxing and feel less enflamed (not to be confused with bloated, which is caused by excessive sugar or salt, but not an usually by an allergy) than you did previously, they would be wise to experiment with removing single ingredients from their diet to expedite the process of finding what food is causing discomfort. 
 

The Risks

As with fasting, low calorie diets or diets intended to put you in a state of ketosis (cleanse diets can be both or either) have the potential to upset your electrolyte balance, which can cause cramping, irritability, and lethargy. Seniors, children, adolescents, and women who are pregnant or nursing should definitely not attempt these, and others should keep in mind that if they experience these symptoms they should address them (a sports drink and a more varied diet usually does the trick!)

Reducing your calories should be approached cautiously, especially when under 800 calories. Your blood sugar will most likely drop drastically, which, depending on your current health, could lead to extreme fatigue, dizziness, and possible faintness. If you begin this diet, start on a Friday night, for a weekend that is free of plans, especially those that require cognitive skills and driving.

Also, expect to spend a considerable amount of time in the restroom, as many “cleanse” diets are made up primarily of laxatives and diuretics.

The Myth

Overall, detox and cleanse diets can have a similar effect on your system as a prolonged fast, either traditional or modified (under 600 calories daily).

However, if you’re feeling “toxic,” there is absolutely no scientific proof that these regimens will have any effect. Your body already has a fantastic waste management system, in the form of your kidneys, liver, intestines, and cardiovascular system. 

 

Have you ever done a cleanse diet?

Do you know anyone who has completed one of these regimens?

Have you ever been tempted to try one?

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Top 5 Fitness Myths: Nutrition Edition

I’m back! As many of you know, I spontaneously moved to Boston last week with my husband. I’ve got to admit, I didn’t do much in the way of going to the gym, but I certainly got my exercise moving everything!

In this edition of Top 5 Fitness Myths, I’m going to address some nutrition errors many people make without knowing they’re making them. Because the fitness industry isn’t regulated, any product can claim that they’re “healthy,” without proving anything. I encourage all of you to read your labels, weigh your food, and most of all, use common sense; if it tastes like candy, it is candy, and if you feel like you’re dying, you’re probably not on a “healthy” diet.

1. Protein Bars Are Good Meal Replacements

When you’re strapped for time and cash, sometimes grabbing a $2 protein bar is tempting. It definitely has enough protein to keep you fueled, right? It’s about the right amount of calories for a meal anyways, right?

Something to keep in mind is that all of the ingredients (unless you make them yourself, in which case, go you!) in these bars are highly processed. Because of this, they don’t take a lot of energy to digest, so you actually retain more of it than you would eating, say, a piece of chicken and some mashed potatoes (which would have a similar calorie and protein profile). The ingredients in protein bars do not provide any naturally occurring vitamins, and rely on supplements to bolster their numbers. This is a great example of why you should always read the label!

It’s fine to eat protein bars, but consider them only one step up from a candy bar–not a food you want to be replacing too many meals with.

2. Calcium is From Dairy Only

This is simply not true! Lots of non-dairy foods naturally contain calcium. Look to white beans (191 mg per 1 cup, also a great source of iron), canned salmon with bones (232 mg per 1/2 can, the bones hold all the calcium on this one), sardines (321 mg per 7 filets), turnip greens(197 mg per 1 cup cooked), and many other options.

3. All Vegetables Are Created Equal

Most naturally occurring food contain useful vitamins and/or minerals, but in different amounts, and with different calorie loads. Keep in mind that it’s rare to find produce that hasn’t been bred to be bigger, sweeter, and more colorful than it’s ancestors. Both broccoli and turnips are nutritious, and bananas and raspberries are both valuable to your body, but you can’t swap one for the other without having to recalculate your calories. Though a lot of programs such as Weight Watchers allow unlimited amounts of fruits and veggies (which on the whole is a good thing for the average person battling their weight), once it comes down to the last few pounds it’s necessary to be a bit more choosy.

4. Detox Diets Cleanse Your Body

There are an incredible number of “diets” (or lack thereof) that claim to “detox your body.” These diets generally consist of drinking juice, which aims to gather the nutrients from produce without all that silly fiber.

I’ll be brief on this (but keep your eyes open for a real post on this topic). What these diets do:

  • Prevent you from eating junk food, or food that you may think is healthy but doesn’t actually get along well with your body (Wheat, lactose, various animal proteins, excessive fiber consumption, processed foods of any kind, legumes, etc.). In place of these you are only consuming the very easiest things to digest. This can make a lot of people feel really good, since they are no longer eating whatever doesn’t agree with them.
  • Get you to partially fast. Your calories will drop dramatically, usually under 700 a day. This will have you dropping pounds quickly, but will make it hard to keep them off once you start eating normally. Fasting has some great benefits, and has been proven to basically have the same effect on your neurons as exercise has on your muscles, so this aspect of “cleanses” is a real benefit.

What these diets do not do:

  • “Detox” anything. There really is no science (peer reviewed and unbiased) supporting that this can be done through diet apart from the first point above.

Essentially, these diets are a friendly way to introduce yourself to fasting without going headfirst into a water fast. The juice keeps your blood sugar from plummeting too quickly, which means, essentially, it doesn’t suck as much. But you won’t get quite as many benefits from it.

5. All Alcohol Is Bad For You

This one is the most fun! Alcohol is an anticoagulant, which means that it essentially works similarly to blood pressure medication. Never try to self medicate, but a moderate (8-12 ounces of beer or wine, or one shot of liquor) amount of alcohol won’t do any harm. Unless you’re binge drinking, alcohol is fine to indulge in–just remember to account for the calories that come with it, and try to avoid the super sugary drinks (mudslides, anyone?).

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Top 5 Fitness Myths: Weight Loss Edition

There are a lot of misconceptions out there about wellness, mainly because the industry lacks regulation. I’d like to address some of the more common health and fitness myths and misconceptions here, in several parts. If you have a question you want answered, leave it in the comments!

For this session, I’ll focus on weight loss. It’s fall, the season of “turning over a new leaf.” Maybe theres a Halloween costume you’re really wanting to rock, or perhaps you’re simply becoming increasingly more aware that you’ll be seeing your extended family in a few months and wanting to give them a shock–or maybe create some envy. Whatever your reasons, hopefully you don’t fall for these doses of “advice”:

  1. Commercial Meal Replacements
    This one is by far my biggest pet peeve. Products like Special K cereal, Body by Vi, SlimFast, and many others rope in unsuspecting customers by claiming that their product has a unique property that will make “the pounds fall off!” Guess what that special property is? The thing you’re replacing a meal with is only 100-200 calories. You would get the same effects replacing a meal with a cup of coffee with cream in it, a small piece of cheese, or a piece of fruit, without your wallet also shedding some weight.
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  2. 6 Meals A Day
    I’ll save you the “discussion” and just link you to my argument for intermittent fasting. Basically, there is no proof that eating 6 tiny meals a day (for someone maintaining an 1800 calorie diet, 6 meals would be a measly 300 calories at a time) is any better than eating one massive meal. In fact, there’s a strong case for the latter.
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  3. Slower Exercise Burns More Fat
    It’s true that you’ll burn more fat proportionally while you exercise, but when you get your heart rate up (over 170) you increase your metabolism for hours afterwards.
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  4. Eating Fatty Foods Makes You Fat
    Eating fat is an essential part to any healthy diet. Not only is it necessary for absorption of many vitamins, but it also helps regulate your mood, keeps you satisfied for longer after a meal, and actually lowers cholesterol.
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  5. If I Do What They Did, I’ll Look Like That
    Dr. Bouchard taught us in 1990 that everyone gains and loses weight at different rates. It’s fine to take pointers from others’ success, but don’t expect the exact same results–you’re a unique human being, and your body processes energy in its own way.
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Are there any weight loss myths that bug you? What weight loss tip seems like pseudo science?

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Sleep Your Way To The Top

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Sleep: every single creature does it, it takes up about a third of life, if we skip it just for one day we lose the same amount of mental function as being legally drunk, and scientists don’t know what it really does.

Earlier today, I decided that a visit to ted.com was in order. This video caught my attention:

In it, Russell Foster explains that sleep is not “an illness that needs some sort of cure,” but rather one of, if not the most important behavioral mechanism that controls us.  Though no one knows definitively why we do it, science does know that it is tied to memory consolidation and problem solving, and without it, we become stupid.

Lately, however, sleep deprivation has become somewhat of a thing to be proud of. I’m sure we’ve all witnessed (or been guilty of) bragging about only getting a few hours of sleep and then going to work or school the next day. The braggart may have gone, but were they anywhere near as productive?

The Effects of Sleep Deprivation

Depriving yourself of sleep wreaks havoc on both the mind and the body, yet it’s become a norm in Western society. But what are the effects?

Mental

Does sleeping 6 hours a night sound fairly normal to you? Perhaps the effects don’t seem that bad, you’ll catch up on the weekend…right?

Chronic Sleep Deprivation

A study by Van Dongen showed that though the effects seemed benign, restricting sleep to 6 hours or less a night over 14 days reduced cognitive ability to a level similar to skipping two days of sleep in a row. However, participants did not rate themselves as feeling impaired, which is why it can seem fairly harmless to consistently restrict snooze time.

Sleep Deprivation and Mental Illness

Sleep is also a prime time for the formation and cementing of memories. In a Q&A session following the above presentation, Foster also explains that regular trouble sleeping can be connecting to a variety of mental illnesses, including depression, schizophrenia, and PTSD. He and his colleagues have found that those who are sleep deprived have much more difficulty remembering traumatic memories than those who are fully rested, and hypothesize that excessive wakefulness may be a natural coping mechanism.

Physical

As every athlete (at any level) knows, a huge part of exercise performance is based on mental stamina and willpower. The body also needs time to repair itself after heavy exercise sessions, and to be ready for the next physical trials we throw at it.

Length of Physical Effort

It should come as no surprise that sleep loss has detrimental effects on exercise. In a study that deprived participants of sleep for 36 hours, then stuck those poor souls on treadmills, an 11% decrease in time able to exercise was witnessed, despite a doubling of prize money for completing the assigned goal. Two groups seemed to form: “resistant,” and “susceptible,” with the resistant group losing as little as 5% of their productive time, but the susceptible group losing up to 40% of theirs.

Metabolic Changes

When you are sleep deprived, your body starts releasing higher levels of ghrelin, and decreasing leptin. This surge causes you to feel hungry more often, especially for carbohydrates, as they are a quick way to “boost” energy.

At the same time, because growth hormone (GH) is released in it’s highest amount during the first portion of each sleep cycle, those who miss out have slower metabolic functioning. In addition, sleep deprivation increases the rate at which the gastrointestinal tract absorbs glucose, which can lead to increased insulin resistance if chronic. (Mullington)

How to Get a Good Night’s Sleep

Thinking of hitting the sack a little earlier tonight? Good! Here’s how:

  • Make your bedroom as dark as you possibly can. This helps tell your brain that it’s time to shut down.
  • If you can cool down your room, do! It will help you sleep.
  • Spend 30 minutes or so not looking at a screen.
  • Think, talk, and do happy things in the hours leading up to bedtime. It will help you sleep deeper, and will lower the chance of you waking up in the middle of the night.
  • Don’t drink caffeine after lunch time, no matter how tolerant you think you are!
  • Above all, give yourself enough time before waking. There’s no definitive time that adults need to sleep, but we do know that 7-9 fits most of the population. If you need an alarm clock to wake up, you need to go to bed earlier!

Parting Thoughts

There are many more effects that chronic sleep deprivation can have, including some very scary statistic on cardiovascular health. My goal for this article was to point out the effects that are more immediate, and therefore, more inconvenient for us in the short term.

Hopefully I’ve helped motivate some people to put their phone down and get that extra hour or two of sleep!

Comments?

How many hours do you sleep when you don’t have an alarm set?

Do you often deprive yourself of sleep? Why? How do you feel it affects you?

 

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Exercise During Pregnancy: a Discussion

Lea-Ann Ellison, 35, has been an avid follower of CrossFit training for several years.

Today I was at a loss for what to write about… until this story showed up on Google News: Health.

The article discusses the debate started when Crossfit posted pictures of Lea-Ann Ellison, 8 and a half months pregnant, doing Olympic lifts to their Facebook. There are around 2000 comments debating the merits of Lea-Ann’s routine, but I wondered, what does science have to say?

As usually it seems there are no definitive answers. 

Before I continue, I’d like to take this opportunity to remind you all that…

I am not a doctor. Take any conclusions I draw or allude to as you would from a friend, not a medical professional.

Phew, anyways. Continuing with the subject at hand…

Main Facts

  • She is 35 years old and a former body builder
  • This is her third pregnancy
  • The images were taken 2 weeks before her due date
  • She has been actively training since she was 16, and a Crossfitter for the past two and a half years.
  • Her OBGYN approved her continuing exercising, as long as she met certain guidelines, such as staying at low weights (usually using no more than 35lbs–the barbell in the picture only weighs 45), never doing lifts she did not feel totally in control of, and not “pushing to the limit” such as the style of Crossfit usually dictates.

Ellison’s claims that by staying active, she has avoided getting many of the common ailments that are common with pregnancy…

No back aches. No sciatic nerve issues. No sickness or cravings. I attribute this all to being healthy and strong. And studies show that strong fit mums have strong healthy babies. Exercise keeps weight issues down and that of course keeps diabetes rates low. Exercise also produces endorphins from the mother that get passed along to the baby. Happy mom equals happy baby.

Last note on the case for Ellison: a caller in this interview did bring up that if the pictures were of her holding a young child “who may even weigh up to 100 pounds” over her head, “no one would say a thing, it would be totally normal.”

Science Approves of Brawny Mommies…to a Point

Scholars tend to agree with Ellison, with the caveat that she doesn’t push herself too hard. It is not recommended to start Crossfit, at least in it’s usual form, during pregnancy, but many doctors believe that women who exercise on a regular basis have no reason to stop because they are expecting. (Hartmann)

The current advice accepted by the general medical community is for mothers to continue the exercises that they were doing previous to conception, but to be very aware of their level of exertion. (WebMD)

  • You should be able to speak full sentences at any time during an exercise
  • Beware of warning signs
  • Don’t try to set a PR! Keep in mind that as your pregnancy progresses, you won’t be able to do as much. Don’t try to keep up with previous times or lifts–you’re exercising for the health of you and your child, not competitively.
  • Abdominal exercises are fine to perform during pregnancy, but as with any exercise, pay attention! If it feels “weird” or uncomfortable, stop. Past the first trimester, it’s not a good idea to lie on your back, so substitute conventional abdominal exercises with modified or standing versions.

Danger Signs to Watch For

If you experience any of these while working out during your pregnancy, stop and call your doctor immediately:

  • Nausea that persists after you’ve cooled down
  • Sudden change in body temperature
  • Heart palpitations
  • Swollen calves
  • Vaginal bleeding or fluid leaking –contact a health provider immediately, or go to the ER
  • Fainting
  • Sharp pains in your chest or abdomen

As always, workout smart, not hard, especially when you’re making a new person! (Babycenter)

Parting Thoughts

I’ve yet to boot up the ol’ in-unit 3D printer, but this information makes me a little less scared of it. I feel for Ellison, though I’m not sure what my opinion of her actions are. Sure, she wasn’t actually lifting that much in the picture, and the images were originally taken for a personal photo shoot. But how will a non-informed mom take this? Will she do her research and see that Ellison was careful? What about a mom with body-image issues?

What do you think of Ellison’s action?

If you’ve been pregnant, what exercise, if any, did you do?

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