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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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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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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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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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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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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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