Monthly Archives: August 2014

Should You Go Crazy for Coconut Oil?

coconutThese days, you can’t pick up a magazine or surf the internet without hearing about coconut. Coconut oil, coconut milk, coconut butter – it’s all the rage. If you asked any health expert a few years ago if you should eat coconut regularly, the answer would be a resounding “no”. The tropical fruit – or more accurately, the tropical drupe – is high in saturated fat, which has been implicated in the development of a wide range of health problems including obesity and heart disease. However, new research has emerged that shows saturated fat – especially the kind in coconut – may not be as bad as everyone thought.

MCTs Vs. LCTs

Coconut is rich in a specific type of saturated fat called medium-chain triglycerides, or MCTs. Unlike other types of saturated fat, MCTs are easy to digest and your body prefers to use them right up as energy instead of storing them as fat. Who doesn’t want that? On the other hand, vegetable oils are made of mostly long-chain triglycerides, which can’t be used as a quick energy source. Instead of burning off LCTs as you eat them, your body decides to store them as fat. A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition actually reported that eating MCTs may increase your metabolism three times as much as eating the long-chain triglycerides found in vegetable oils. MCTs may also help the body burn off stored fat.

Because coconut oil is a rich fat source, it slows down digestion. Slowed digestion translates to more stable blood sugar and helping you feel fuller longer. When you feel full, you’re less likely to overeat or snack on whatever you can grab.

That’s Not All

The benefits of coconut don’t end there, though. Coconut oil has a higher smoke point than other vegetable oils. So what is smoke point and why should you care? The smoke point is the point at which oil starts to smoke when it’s exposed to a heat source. When an oil smokes, it creates free radicals – these are the unstable molecules that are implicated in many chronic diseases, like cancer. When an oil is heated to the point of smoking, it also reduces some of its nutritional content. The smoke point of coconut oil is around 400 to 450 degrees Fahrenheit, while the smoke point of extra virgin olive oil falls around 320 degrees Fahrenheit.

What Else Do I Need to Know?

Because of its higher smoke point, coconut oil is a great choice for sautéing and baking. You can use coconut oil just like you would other vegetable oils, but the flavor is not as mild. When you use coconut oil, you’re going to taste it. It imparts a slightly sweet, nutty flavor to whatever you’re cooking. If you don’t like coconut, this can be a problem; but if you love the flavor, you’re going to wonder why you didn’t do this years ago. Because of its high saturated fat content, coconut oil is solid at room temperature so don’t be alarmed when you have to scoop the oil out with your spoon instead of pouring it straight from the jar – it’s worth the extra effort.

Busted: Metabolism Myths (and What’s Really Going On)

 

Contrary to popular belief, eating at night won't slow your metabolism.
Contrary to popular belief, eating at night won’t slow your metabolism.

Your metabolism is the cornerstone to your weight loss success. Because of this, people are often quick to point the finger at their metabolism for stalls in weight loss or try metabolism-boosting tips and tricks that their mother’s friend’s cousin told them about. With so many myths and half-truths about metabolism circulating around, it’s often difficult to figure out which advice you should take and which you should take with a grain of salt.

What IS Metabolism?

The key to understanding metabolism at all is understanding what your metabolism is and what it does. The official definition of metabolism is all of the chemical processes that occur in an organism to maintain life. Your metabolism breaks things down and puts others together using a variety of enzymes, hormones, and complicated pathways in your body. So what does this mean for weight loss? Well, your metabolism is responsible for converting the food you eat and the drinks you drink into energy you can use – which translates to burnt calories. Even when you’re not moving a muscle, your metabolism uses calories to maintain all of the physiological processes that are going on underneath the surface – the ones you probably pay no mind to. This is called basal metabolic rate, or BMR. Your BMR accounts for 60 to 75 percent of the calories you burn each day and when it comes to metabolism myths, most of them surround BMR.

Myth: Thinner people just have a faster metabolism.

The Truth: It’s actually the opposite. Thinner people generally have a slower metabolism than larger people. That’s because when you weigh less, it takes fewer calories to maintain your weight, so your BMR tends to be slower. It’s not size that determines your metabolism, but your muscle mass. The more lean muscle tissue you have, the faster your metabolism will be. The way to build lean muscle? Strength training. Don’t be afraid of those weights; they’re your key to becoming a lean, mean, calorie-burning machine.

Myth: Skipping a meal puts you in “starvation mode”.

The Truth: This is a popular metabolism myth that has roots in truth, but over the years has become a little skewed. Back in the day, your ancestors ate what they could find. Sometimes this meant not eating for several days at a time. When this happened the body responded by saying “Uh oh. I’m not getting any new calories. Better slow down my metabolism to conserve the ones I have.” However, the body doesn’t react the same way when you skip a single meal or when you eat three large meals over the course of the day instead of five to six small ones. That doesn’t mean that skipping meals is a good idea though. Skipping a meal can make you extra hungry (not to mention cranky) and can lead to strong cravings. When you skip a meal, you’re more likely to overindulge later or binge on foods that you’re trying to avoid.

Myth: Eating after 8 p.m. slows down your metabolism.

The Truth: You’ve probably been told once or twice (or 100 times) that when you eat late at night, your body doesn’t burn off the calories and stores everything as fat. Well, you can take comfort in knowing that this just isn’t how it works. Your body is smart – really smart – but it doesn’t have the ability to magically start storing any calorie you take in after 8 p.m. as fat. The problem with late night eating is that it typically occurs in addition to your meals. Eating a healthy, balanced dinner at 8 p.m. is different than eating a pint of ice cream while you’re watching a movie. Instead of having a hard fast rule that says you can’t eat after a certain time, but attention to WHAT and HOW MUCH you’re eating and your metabolism will do what it does best – burn calories.

Snoozing Can Help You Lose

 

Skimping on sleep can make it harder to shed the pounds.
Skimping on sleep can make it harder to shed the pounds.

As a kid, you probably fought your parents tooth and nail over naptime, bedtime or any time that involved you having to go to sleep. As an adult, you may count down the minutes until you can crawl back into your bed. If you’re lucky enough to get 8 hours of sleep, your body thanks you more than you know. If you’re not, your body is likely to respond with grumpiness, fatigue and forgetfulness. Your body may also be punishing you for lack of sleep by making it more difficult for you to lose weight. So how exactly does getting a good night of sleep contribute to weight loss? It all comes down to hormones.

Sleep and Weight Loss

There are two hormones involved in telling you when to eat and when you should stop eating. Ghrelin is the hormone that says “Hey, you’re hungry, let’s eat.” Leptin is the hormone that says “Okay, stop now. I think you’ve had enough.” When you’re sleep-deprived, your body produces more ghrelin and less leptin. As a result, your body is constantly telling you to eat without signaling you to stop. To add insult to injury, your metabolism is also slower when you haven’t had a good night of sleep so you’re not using the calories you are eating as efficiently. This not only hinders your progress, it can actually lead to weight gain.

What Can You Do?

The most obvious answer to correcting the problems caused by lack of sleep is to get more sleep. If your issue is simply that you aren’t going to bed early enough, get to bed at a decent hour. Aim for at least seven hours of sleep per night (although eight is ideal). For some of you, though, it may not be that easy. It’s estimated that 40 million Americans have trouble sleeping.

If you’re one of those with sleeping trouble, you may benefit from a sleep aid, like melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone that’s naturally produced by the pineal gland in your brain. The hormone controls your circadian rhythm – your biological clock that tells you when it’s time to go to bed and when it’s time to wake up. If your melatonin levels are out of whack, it can disrupt your sleep patterns, leading to insomnia and sleep deprivation. Melatonin supplements provide the body with synthetic melatonin – which mimics the effects of the natural melatonin produced by your brain — to help you get to sleep faster and keep you snoozing throughout the night.

You can also increase your chances of getting a good night’s sleep by limiting your caffeine intake and watching what you eat before bed. If you like to drink coffee in the afternoon, switch to decaf after 2 p.m. Avoid caffeinated sodas and energy drinks. Try not to eat a big meal close to bedtime. If it’s late and you’re hungry, have a light snack like a bowl of cereal to tide you over until the morning. Getting enough sleep should always be one of your top priorities.

Beating a Weight Loss Plateau

Don't let a weight loss plateau kill your motivation.
Don’t let a weight loss plateau kill your motivation.

So you’re eating well and staying active and your extra weight seems to be coming right off until – it isn’t. You’re still doing everything right, but the scale hasn’t moved in weeks and now you’re getting frustrated. What’s happening? What are you doing wrong? You’re actually not doing anything wrong. This stall in weight loss is called a weight loss plateau and it’s a natural phenomenon that affects lots of people on a weight loss journey.

What’s Happening?

When you first start a diet, you tend to lose weight fairly quickly. That’s because when you restrict your body of calories, it turns to glycogen – a carbohydrate stored in your muscles and your liver – for energy. So how does this translate to weight loss? Glycogen holds onto water so when your body burns glycogen for energy, it also releases water. This results in a considerable loss of water weight. As you lose weight, however, your metabolism slows down in response. This means you burn fewer calories doing the same activities than you did at the heavier weight. When this happens, you’ll eventually hit a plateau because the calories you expend – or burn off – become equivalent to the calories you take in. If you’ve hit a weight loss plateau and you still have weight to lose, there are a few things you can do to get those numbers dropping again.

Reassess your Diet

When it comes to your diet, it’s easy to say “I’m doing everything right and still not losing weight!”, but are you really? Are you sneaking “just a bite” here or a scoop of ice cream there? If so, this could be the culprit behind your plateau. A few bites here and there can add up to several hundred calories over the course of a week. Keep a food journal for a few weeks and record every bite of food and drop of liquid that goes into your mouth. Use this journal to identify areas that could use some work and be honest with yourself. If you really are doing everything right food wise and the scale still isn’t moving, try something else.

Get Creative with Exercise

When you do the same exercise day after day, your body adapts and doesn’t burn calories as efficiently as it could. Instead of hitting the treadmill for 30 minutes every morning, work in all different types of exercise. Jog on the treadmill on Monday, hit the stair climber on Tuesday, and do some laps in the pool on Wednesday. Include strength training workouts, like lifting hand weights, 2 to 3 times per week. Strength training increases your lean muscle mass, which boosts your metabolism and makes you a more efficient calorie-burner. The key is to keep your body guessing at what’s coming next.

Drink Up!

Staying well hydrated is essential to your weight loss success. Water curbs your appetite and helps increase your metabolism so your body burns more calories. If you’re even a little dehydrated, it can affect your performance in the gym. You may get tired faster and quit sooner. This means fewer calories burned. The old adage was to drink eight 8-ounce glasses of water per day, but the new recommendation is to drink at least half your body weight in ounces. So if you’re 200 pounds, drink 100 ounces of water daily.

Wait It Out

In many cases, you’ll start to lose weight again in a few weeks without making any changes as long as you stick to your healthy eating plan and workout routine. Have patience and keep on the right track. The key to overcoming a weight loss plateau is to stay motivated. Instead of focusing on the number on the scale, focus on how you feel. Are your energy levels through the roof? Do you feel stronger than you did before? Are you enjoying the experience of trying out new foods? Good. These are all benefits of a healthy lifestyle that are just as important as reaching your weight loss goals. Focus on the positives and your body will reward you for it.

Smoothies for Weight Loss: The Great Debate

 

Make your smoothie a balanced meal by including fruits, veggies, protein, and a healthy fat.
Make your smoothie a balanced meal by including fruits, veggies, protein, and a healthy fat.

If you ask 10 different people if smoothies are good for you, you’ll probably get 10 different answers. The answers range from “No way! They’re full of calories” to “Well, you should really eat your food instead of drink it” to “Of course! Smoothies are great for weight loss”. So who’s right? Are smoothies a weight loss maker or breaker? Well, it depends.

Most of the smoothies available at chain stores are chock full of unhealthy ingredients like cream, ice cream and sugary syrups. These smoothies are also mostly fruit. While fruit is rich in a lot of the micronutrients you need to stay healthy, it’s also loaded with sugar and can seriously derail your weight loss efforts when eaten – or drunk – in excess.

If you’re going to make smoothies a regular part of your diet, it’s best to ditch the drive-thru and make them at home. When you control what goes into your blender and you choose healthy ingredients that provide you with the nutrients you need to help keep you full until lunch, then smoothies can be the perfect addition to your weight loss plan.

Flavor with Fruit

Fruit is delicious and there’s no doubt it makes a smoothie taste wonderful; but when you add too much fruit, it ups the sugar content and can hinder your weight loss. Choose fruits that are naturally lower in sugar like blueberries, blackberries, or raspberries over high-sugar fruits like mangoes, bananas, and pineapples. Measure out fruit and try to keep it to around one-half of a cup.

Go Green

Every smoothie should contain its fair share of greens. Not only are greens low in calories, but they provide essential vitamins and minerals and fiber, which helps fill you up and keeps you regular. Baby spinach is a popular choice because it has a mild flavor and can be broken down easily by the average blender. You can also choose kale, Swiss chard, beet greens, or parsley. If you’re looking for some stronger “green” flavor, opt for cilantro or dandelion greens. To maximize nutrient intake, switch up your green of choice every couple of days.

Pick a Protein

Your smoothie doesn’t have to be a protein shake – most people already get way more protein than they need – but it should contain some protein to keep you full until your next snack or lunch. If you feel ravenous after drinking your smoothie, it pretty much defeats the entire purpose. Your smoothie should leave you feeling light and satisfied. This is where protein comes in. Stay away from protein powders, which are often loaded with sugar and artificial ingredients, and choose natural sources like almonds, almond butter, cashews, cashew butter, or flaxseeds instead. Keep in mind, however, that nuts are high in calories, so limit to one to two tablespoons.

Find a Fat

This is where most smoothies fall short. Healthy fat is important. Like protein, it helps keep you full. It also allows you to absorb vitamins A, D, E, and K and helps curb cravings so you’re less likely to overeat. Avocados are an excellent source of unsaturated fat and as an added bonus, they make smoothies extra rich and creamy. You can also melt some coconut oil and drizzle it in as your smoothie blends. As with nuts, fat sources contain a lot of calories, so make sure to watch your portions. A slice of avocado or a teaspoon of coconut oil will do.

Lighten the Liquid

The liquid you choose for your smoothie makes a big difference in the caloric outcome. Pouring a bunch of fruit juice or cream in the blender will make your smoothie smooth, sweet, and thick, but it will also slow down your progress. Ditch the fruit juice – a concentrated source of sugar and calories – and opt for water, coconut water, almond milk, or coconut milk instead.

When done right, smoothies can be a valuable tool to your weight loss plan. You can replace a heavy breakfast with a green smoothie or opt for a refreshing smoothie in place of dinner on a hot day when you don’t feel like cooking; but don’t consider a smoothie a beverage to go alongside a meal. When you include all of the healthy components, a smoothie becomes your meal.

 

Need Help Staying on Track? You Can Get an App for That.

Tracking your food intake can be as easy as sending a text message.
Tracking your food intake can be as easy as sending a text message.

Has anyone ever told you that you should write down everything you eat? Did you listen? If not, you should. Food journaling is not just a futile recommendation; studies have shown that people who keep a regular food journal are more successful at meeting their weight loss goals than people who don’t. One study published in the “American Journal of Preventative Medicine” reported that those who wrote down what they ate 6 days a week actually lost twice as much weight in a six-month period as those who only kept a food record for one day or less.

So how does writing down what you eat actually help you lose weight? For one thing, it keeps you accountable. Keeping track of every piece of food and drop of liquid that goes into your mouth allows you to see where extra, unnecessary calories are coming from. You’re also less likely to make poor food choices when you’re forced to write them down. Sneaking a bite or two of cake is one thing. Having to write down that you snuck a bite or two of cake is a completely different story.

The old school way of food journaling involved taking a notebook and a pen with you everywhere you went. You would write down everything you ate and drank, look up the calorie and nutrient content of each item, and then add it all up and see where you end up for the day. No wonder so few people actually stuck with it! Fortunately, today’s technology makes food journaling a cinch. There are several apps that you can download that help you keep track of your calorie and nutrient intake easily. Some of these apps even allow you to scan a barcode and will give you information on whether the item in your hand is a healthy choice or not. So what are you waiting for?

MyFitnessPal

MyFitnessPal is arguably one of the most popular weight loss apps on the market right now. When you open the app for the first time, you log your height, current weight, and goal weight. The app automatically sets up monthly goals for you and then gives you access to a database of over 750,000 foods. You can use this database to track your foods or add in your own foods. MyFitnessPal also allows you to obtain nutrition information of specific foods by quickly scanning the barcode of a packaged item. As you log your food intake, the app keeps track of the calories and nutrients you’re taking in.

Lose It!

Lose It! works the same way MyFitnessPal does – by providing a database of commonly eaten foods and allowing you to scan barcodes to keep track of intake. The app has the added benefit of tracking sleep patterns and larger wellness goals – like macronutrient intake and body measurements.

Fooducate

In order to make healthy choices, you have to actually know which choices are healthy. That’s where the Fooducate app comes in. While you’re in the grocery store, you can pull up your Fooducate app to scan the barcode of almost any food or drink. The app will give you an immediate health rating from A to F for that food based on things like calories per serving, amount of excess sugar, and nutrient content. Fooducate will also alert you to other potential problems, like packages that tend to lead to overconsumption. The app also tracks your weight and helps you create healthy grocery shopping lists.

ShopWell

The ShopWell app is another handy grocery shopping tool that works in a way similar to Fooducate. When you scan a barcode in ShopWell, the app will tell you whether that particular food meets your health goals or not. If it doesn’t, the app will recommend another similar food product that’s a better choice for you.

TwoGrand

If you’re more of a visual person, TwoGrand is the app for you. TwoGrand works like Instagram, allowing you to keep a food journal by snapping a photo of your meal. Unlike Instagram, however, you’re surrounded only by people with similar goals. You can follow other people and create a community of like-minded individuals by answering a few questions about your body type, lifestyle, and food preferences.

With so many food-tracking choices available to you right at your fingertips, there’s no excuse not to start keeping a food journal. Logging each meal takes about as much time as sending a text message or updating your Facebook status, and it’s far more productive. The best part about all of this? All of these apps are available for free on both iOS and Android. You’re only a download away from having success right at your fingertips.

Motivation: The Most Important Factor in Your Weight Loss Plan

Write down your goals to make them more concrete.
Write down your goals to make them more concrete.

Motivation is one of the most crucial factors involved in any successful weight loss program. You may have all the tools you need to succeed – the right diet plan, the help of a successful weight loss clinic, the knowledge of why maintaining a healthy weight is vital to your health – in your arsenal, but if you don’t have motivation, none of the other factors really matter. In many cases, motivation is not a concrete term. Your motivation may fluctuate from day to day. Some days you may feel especially motivated, while other days, particularly the dog days of summer, are especially tough. So what is motivation? Where does it come from and how do you get (and keep) it? All very good questions.

What is Motivation?

The official definition of motivation is “the general desire or willingness of someone to do something”, but this isn’t really clear enough. There needs to be more of an emphasis on the “willingness” part of the definition. Sure, you may have a desire to lose weight, but if you’re not willing to make the effort or put in the work to get there, then you’re going to have a really hard time reaching your goals. Motivation is what allows you to overcome any challenges or obstacles put in front of you in order to reach your goals.

Types of Motivation

There are two main types of motivation: extrinsic and intrinsic. Extrinsic motivation is the type of motivation that comes from outside sources. With weight loss, examples of extrinsic motivation may be compliments from others, fitting into that outfit you bought just a little too tight, or extra attention from the opposite sex. Intrinsic motivation is the type of motivation that comes from within. When you lose weight, you feel good. Your confidence levels may increase and you may just be a happier person in general. These are all examples of intrinsic motivation. As a general rule, most people are driven by extrinsic motivation, but the key to staying motivated in a weight loss program is to put more emphasis on yourself – and the motivation that comes from within you.

Set Goals (and Meet Them)

One of the most important things you need to do to stay motivated is set goals. Realistic, concrete goals. Saying “I want to lose weight” isn’t enough. You need to be specific and give yourself a realistic timeline to reaching your goals. For example, you may say I want to lose 8 pounds in 30 days. Or I want to exercise 5 days a week for the next 4 weeks. The point is to make the goals specific and attainable. If you give yourself vague goals with no real timeline, you’re more likely to lose motivation and veer off track. Saying “I want to lose weight”, but providing no real timeline gives you the option to keep saying “I’ll start eventually”. Set your goals in stone by writing them down. Another vital component of setting goals is to make them realistic. If your goals are unrealistic, you’re basically setting yourself up for failure, and when you fail at a goal, you lose motivation. Don’t tell yourself that you’re going to lose 30 pounds in 30 days or that you’re going to run a marathon in the next 3 months if you’ve barely walked a mile in the last 3 years. Setting goals and meeting them makes you feel good and boosts your self-confidence – boosting intrinsic motivation in the process.

Reward Yourself (You’re Worth It)

Rewarding yourself when you meet a goal is a double whammy when it comes to motivation. You meet a goal, which makes you feel good inside, so you get yourself a gift, which is an outside, or extrinsic, source of motivation. The gift makes you feel good, so you set another goal, which you meet; you feel good, and then you reward yourself with another gift. Are you still with me? Every time you meet one of your small goals, reward yourself with something that will make you feel good. When you lose 5 pounds, treat yourself to a pedicure. When you stick to your exercise regimen for two weeks, give yourself a Sunday off to sit outside or watch a movie. When you fit into the pants that were too tight for you, buy yourself that new blender you’ve been eyeing. Just make sure that your reward is not food. You don’t want to reward yourself for losing 5 pounds by binging on pizza and ice cream. Food is sustenance, not a reward.

Have Fun

Let’s be honest – if something isn’t fun, you’re probably not going to stick to it long term. Boredom is a big reason that people on a weight loss program lose motivation. If you don’t like running, get off that treadmill. If you think kale is the worst food on the face of the earth, don’t force yourself to eat it. When it comes to diet and exercise, there are PLENTY of options for you. Forcing yourself to do things that you don’t like or eat things that make you cringe is counterproductive. Find activities that you like and experiment with healthy, whole foods until you’ve developed a recipe collection that you really enjoy. The key is to WANT to get up in the morning to go to that yoga class you love and to look forward to your healthy dinner. Make weight loss a fun adventure, and convince a friend or family member to come along for the ride.

If you find yourself starting to lose motivation, take a minute to have a conversation with yourself. Sit down and remind yourself of all of the reasons you started on this journey in the first place. Take an honest look at your weight loss regimen and make some changes if you don’t feel fulfilled. You might need to change your exercise routine or try some new foods. Whatever it is, you can meet your goals if you’re able to combine desire with the willingness to put in the work.