Tag Archives: motivation

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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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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How Important is a Good Workout Playlist?

Need to go to the gym, but not feeling motivated? Feeling run down by the world? Craving that pre-workout supplement, or maybe having a moment where you considering purchasing some? Science says that you can get similar benefits from your ear buds as from your local GNC.

Music as a Supplement

Music, undeniably, affects our bodies production and regulation of hormones, cytokines, peptides, and signalling molecules for neurotransmitters. Our emotions, stress levels, and immune function are thus altered while we listen to those sweet beats (Gangrade). It stands to reason that the right tunes can give us a physiological boost, as well as a psychological one.

Techno music, specifically, has been found to cause a significant increase in heart rate, systolic blood pressure, and a raise in emotional state. A 1998 study suggests that 30 minutes of fast techno music would out perform many pre-workout supplements, by boosting not only your heart rate and blood pressure, but also by increasing your endorphines, GH, and noripenephrine by about 50%.

Effect of 30 minutes of techno and classical music on heart rate, systolic and diastolic blood pressure (data adapted from Gerra. 1998 by Suppversity)

Relative (to baseline) neurotransmitter, catecholamine and hormone response to 30 minutes of techno vs. 30 minutes of classical music (data adapted from Gerra. 1998 by Suppversity )

What if you don’t like techno? Don’t listen to it! Being subjected to music you don’t like can make you feel tired faster, and raise your perceived exertion without any actual increase in heart rate(Nakamura).

You’ll get similar benefits by listening to any music that syncs with your heartbeat. As you exert yourself further, you’ll get more bang for your [heart] pump by listening to music that matches the tempo of your body (Karageorghis).

Resources for the Perfect Playlist

I’m a huge fan of Steady130, a site that creates monthly original mixes and organizes them by beats per minute. They have a few different genres of songs, and I either stream them from my phone or download them (depending on how reliable the WiFi will be where I’m working out). 

If you want to look up the beats per minute of any song, check out songbpm or runningplaylist.

Closing Thoughts

Do you run to music?

What kind of music do you perform cardio to, vs. anaerobic (lifting)?

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What is Runner’s High?

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I would class myself as a runner. A slow runner, but a runner. I only recently broke a 30 minute 5k, so I’m by no means a speed demon, but as we learned from the video yesterday, women aren’t meant to be that fast…right?

Regardless, running is my therapy. It’s what I feel like I need to do when I’m overwhelmed with the world and all I want to do is hide. It seems that if I run long enough, any problem can be solved, any load can be lightened.

I also want to run when I’m feeling particularly happy and engaged. I am guilty of being a “drunk sprinter,” and I think it’s because my body knows that I’ll feel awesome if I run, even if it’s down a bar crawl street in boots.

Regular runners call this the runner’s high, others who engage in cardio that isn’t running may call it exercise high. But what is it, really?

Endocannibids and Euphoria

According to research done by Raichlen and Affiliates at Arizona University, at a certain level of intensity (usually around 20-30 minute of moderate to intense effort for humans) cardio exercise has an affect on endocannibids, which play a significant part in our moods by signalling the production of endorphins and canniboids. 

Say What?

The “high” is partially the pituitary gland sending out endorphins to help your body push through the pain when you have maxed out your muscle glycogen stores and switched to anaerobic activity (fat burning instead of glycogen burning). However, endorphins cannot get through the blood-brain barrier, and therefore can only be responsible for the lack of physical discomfort, and natural pacing rhythm achieved. The canniboid anandamide, however, can and does get through the blood brain barrier, and is released when the CB1 receptor is triggered by those handy endocanniboids I mentioned earlier, which are released during prolonged physical stress.

How Long Do I Have To Run Until I Like It?!

A common question asked to runners is “how can you like doing that to yourself!?” We usually roughly translate that to “How long do I have to run until I’m not thinking about how much I don’t want to run anymore?”

This is different for each person. The mechanism of runner’s high can be simplified to bustin’ A hard enough for long enough that your body releases morphine to help your muscles keep moving. Timing it seems to be a matter of how hard you’re willing to work–the slower you go, the longer you have to wait.

However, the “golden” advice I have heard time and time again is “30-60 continuous minutes of working.” If you’re not there yet, I highly suggest either C25k training, or just starting with what you can do and working your way up (worked for me!).

If you’re an experienced runner, but perhaps not getting the same “high” as before, try varying the speed of your runs, doing a fartlek run (you have no idea how many puns I have to put up with), or perhaps trying hill sprints to get that same glow going.

Parting Thoughts

Have you ever had an exercise induced feeling of euphoria?

Do you do cardio regularly? Why?

If you’re a LCHF runner, do you get a runner’s high really quickly? Because I certainly do… and now I know why!

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Controlling Emotional Eating

I’ve only met a few people who are unfamiliar with emotionally eating, and I’m not sure I believe them. For this particular discussion I’m going to focus on emotional eating triggered by stress, instead of boredom.

Before we even begin, let me just make sure the record is straight: I pride myself on my control of my emotional eating, but there is still a gluttonous beast within me that every so often, slips its chain.

icecream

Objectively Speaking:

To qualify it as a subject worthy of study, the parameters set (via WebMD) are:

  1. Sudden onset
  2. Feeling like the hunger must be satisfied immediately; excessive urgency
  3. Continuing eating while full, possibly to the point of discomfort
  4. Feeling guilt during and/or after consuming the meal.

Generally, this kind of hunger is brought on by stress–be it sadness, anger, guilt, or fear. It’s one of the oldest evolutionary responses: “I need fuel, there’s going to be a fight or a flight.” 

The First Step: Recognition

Just like any problem, the first step is recognizing that there is a problem. For me, this is generally mid spoonful just after I’ve reached the point where yes, those calories definitely count, there is no way I can rationalize that away as “just a taste.”

I like to think that educating yourself on brain chemistry will help you combat your cravings and urges when next you catch yourself in the act–generally, this is my approach when I’m gorging because of frivolous reasons. Knowing why you’re doing what you’re doing really does help you control it. 

Why Do We Do This To Ourselves?!

What science can tell us:

  1. Ghrelin, the hormone that makes us feel hungry, is released just as reliably when we’re stressed as when we have gone for several hours without food. Ghrelin also has some interaction with the hormones that control depression and anxiety, and can act as a natural antidepressent (though this sounds like a jump off into a conversation about anorexia, I’d rather not go there, at least not today). Source
  2. Those who lack fish oil in their diet are more likely to have low moods, which may cause stress eating. This is because they run low on docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA. This can be mitigated by taking fish oil pills, if you either don’t like fish or don’t like its effect on your wallet.
  3. Often times we crave food that was given to us as a reward in the past, especially during childhood. This alone is a fantastic argument against giving food “prizes” to kids for good behavior. Source
  4. Foods that are high in fat and/or sugar often stimulate various hormones in our brains that cause us to feel happy and/or relaxed.

Why Am I Craving Sugar?

Craving sugar can happen for one of two reasons, and it’s usually a combination of both:

  • You were given sugar as a child to make you feel better, and associate it with comfort, love, and safety.
  • Your body wants a blood sugar spike.

Craving sugar because of your past is something that must be overcome psychologically, and unfortunately that’s as much as science can tell us at this point. However, it’s somewhat rare for that to be the only reason I really want that mocha instead of black coffee when I’m having a rough day.

The blanket reason seems to be adrenal fatigue. If you haven’t had enough sleep–be that because of too full a schedule, or laying awake worrying about things–or are spending too much time feeling “rushed” or pressured, often times your body will turn to an outside source of energy to keep you awake. Blood sugar spikes do this quite well, especially since our body conveniently forgets that we will, inevitably, have a blood sugar crash, which will only make it all worse.

Next time you’re craving something very sugary (not fatty, so think something along the lines of hard candy), stop and evaluate how tired you are, physically and emotionally. If “exhausted” is an adjective you’d assign to yourself, perhaps try finding a quiet corner and relaxing/take a nap (guide to timing your nap) before you dig in, and see if you don’t feel better.

Why Am I Craving Fat?

This answer is rooted more in evolution, but isn’t entirely unlike our desire for sugar or carbohydrates.

Think about how a human’s day went before the agricultural revolution: We use up a lot of calories for our size because of our brain, so, in order to supply those calories, humans evolved to eat mostly dead animals. In order to survive, they hunted. If the hunt was unsuccessful, they went hungry. If they went hungry for too long, they died.

For this reason, we developed a preference for fatty animals, and our bodies have adapted to process both animal fats and proteins exceptionally. Our bodies can be fueled entirely on these two food sources (given that the animals had a natural diet and thus have nutrient rich flesh, which unfortunately is usually not the case today).

When a hunt was successful, those who helped were most likely physically spent, and eating the best parts, especially on the outside of the animal, was their reward. This is the theory behind why we crave it during stressful times: eating fat signals to our brain that we will not starve.

This video explains it well, though I do not completely condone taking chunks out of a stick of butter (I can’t really argue why it’s bad, it’s just … icky. If that’s your thing though…). Warning: this is an advertisement, but it is factually correct: Eat More Butter from Tiny Falcon on Vimeo.

Ending Thoughts

I hope that this post explained a little bit about how brains work in the face of delicious treats, and maybe I helped someone out there.

As always, for any craving, I’m a big advocate of drinking a 16+ oz glass of cold water first. I also think distraction works amazingly well. If you have a computer in front of you, pick your poison; at a party, my favorite thing to do is try to remember every word to a song, or start a conversation with someone about a very engaging topic. Being alone is always the hardest, but is also usually the only time you can nap if you feel that’s why you’re feeling peckish.

How do you combat your cravings? 

What do you crave when you’re stressed? 

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Need a kick in the pants?

Pretty sweet motivational video 🙂

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