6 Tips To Stay Healthy Through The Holidays

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With the holidays right around the corner, I thought I’d put together a list of things you can do to stay healthy while still enjoying the holiday season. So, without further ado, here are the top 6 recommendations I would make:

  1. Stick to your normal eating habits. Don’t try skipping meals or eating less as this may lead to over-consuming snack foods and holiday treats.
  2. Build meals around protein and veggies while minimizing starchy or sugary carbs such as fruits, grains, legumes, and potatoes. Always opt for more vegetables and protein to feel full.
  3. Avoid liquid calories such as juices, milk, and mixed drinks. Get your calories from whole foods!
  4. Once you are full from your meal, then indulge in whatever holiday treat you like most. My favorite is chocolate peanut butter balls! It’s a lot easier to enjoy one or two treats, rather than a dozen, after filling up on healthy food during mealtime.
  5. Exercise whenever possible! This will mitigate stress that occurs during the holidays and protect your body from the damage of the indulgences. Exercise can be as simple as sprinting up a flight of stairs, going for a walk after meals, or performing a few sets of body weight pushups and squats.
  6. For those that plan to consume alcoholic beverages: drink on an empty stomach. When alcohol is ingested, all other calories are sent to fat storage so the body can break down the alcohol as fast as possible. Pick drinks lower in sugar such as dry wines, champagnes, and hard liquors. Forgo the prepackaged sugary mixers and try flavoring with a lime or lemon. My approach is to have a NorCal Margarita (2 shots tequila, juice from an entire lime, ice, and club soda) a few hours before dinner. Finally, make the following meal high in protein and healthy fat. This will help blood sugar levels, protein synthesis, and hormones return to normal.

I personally choose to consume a whey protein shake and digestive enzymes before any meal that is high in processed carbs and low in nutrients, such as pasta or pizza.

Finally, don’t stress about indulging! The holidays should be about family, relaxation, and a change in routine. Sure, under-consuming protein and vitamins while over-consuming sugar and anti-nutrients isn’t going to improve health – but allowing stress levels to increase will only exacerbate fat storage and skew hormone levels.

Make the best choices you can as often as possible, but plan to enjoy yourself and have some indulgences. Then jump right back into clean eating and living on in January.

Hope these tips help everyone enjoy their holidays while staying healthy.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Herb roasted lamb with lentils

Happy Tuesday all! With Thanksgiving coming up, I thought I’d share one of my new favorite recipes with you. It’s not a traditional holiday recipe, but it’s delicious and nutritious nonetheless.

Lamb is one of my favorite meats when I can get my hands on some grass-fed or locally grown cuts – it’s flavorful and very versatile. I’ve recently discovered lentils and I must say, I’m very impressed with their nutritional profile – one cup of cooked lentils packs 18 grams of protein and 16 grams of fiber! I’ve combined the two to create a simple, delicious dish – the perfect comfort food for chilly fall and winter evenings.

If you give this recipe a try, please let me know how it turned out and what you thought of it!

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Herb Roasted Lamb with Lentils

2 lb boneless lamb shoulder (New Zealand recommended as it is more likely to be grass-fed)

1 cup lentils

1-2 yellow onions, cut into rings

3-5 cloves of garlic, crushed

A few fresh sprigs of thyme

A few fresh sprigs of rosemary

Salt and black pepper to taste

  1. Place lamb shoulder in center of crockpot and add 1 cup stock (homemade preferred but a combination of water and red wine or red wine vinegar will work too).
  2. Surround lamb with lentils. Season with pepper and salt to taste.
  3. Pluck thyme and rosemary to cover meat and lentils. Add crushed evenly. Top with onion rings.
  4. Set crockpot to low for 6-8 hours.
  5. Divide into 3-4 servings (8 ounces lamb per serving)

Enjoy!

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Personalized nutrition services to help you achieve your goals!

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As some of you know, I not only provide personal training services, but I also specialize in nutritional services as well! If you feel like your progress has stalled, or you just don’t know where to begin, consider one of the following options:

Shopping List – A one-time list of the optimal foods to pick up every week at your specific market, farm, etc. This will include many options and alternatives so you can pick and choose foods that fit your preferences and budget.

Recipes – Pick an option of 1, 2, or 3 meal recipes per day. You can request 3 dinner recipes in 1 week; 5 breakfast ideas; or 3 meals and 1 snack for every day of the week – the meals, days, and numbers are up to you!

Food Log Analysis – I will provide a log for you to record your food intake for a minimum of 3 days. I will analyze it in terms of calories, carbs, fats, proteins, vitamins and minerals, share this information with you, and provide recommendations. The more details and specifics you include, the better my feedback will be! Include portion sizes, brands for packaged goods, etc.

Traditional Q & A / 1-on-1 Nutritional Counseling & Education – This can be in person or via email, text, or phone. We can either have a back and forth conversation, focused on your specific questions and concerns. Or it can be structured by me, basically conveying the most important information for your specific goals in terms of nutrition, hormones, sleep, etc.

I look forward to helping you achieve your goals!

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BACON: Delicious or Devilish?

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breakfastFor many years a healthy, balanced breakfast consisted of a few eggs, a couple strips of
bacon, a serving of fruit, and a single piece of toast.

But, for the last few decades, the public has been told to rely upon endless servings of processed, sugar-laden foods such as a bagels, muffins, cereals, and juices.  

As I’ve said before, health and fitness beliefs seem to operate as a pendulum. First things are amazing, then they become less popular, until they are outright feared, before they return in popularity.

Bacon is no different – a few years ago is was beguiled as a cause of cancer but nowadays you can’t go to a market without seeing an organic package of bacon for over $10 a pound, or a local restaurant that doesn’t have bacon as a side for at least 1 of their dishes.

What are the real facts surrounding this food? It is a whole food that anyone could make, found in nature. But it also goes through processing methods that may increase its downsides.

Well, today let’s break things down and explore the objective facts of bacon.bacon-chart

Just to clarify, bacon, regardless of producer or source, is made from the belly of a pig. It is often cured using salt and spices, before being cooked or smoked at a very low temperature for multiple hours. It is then cut into thin strips, packaged, and later fried in a pan.

Let’s start by looking at the actual nutritional quality of bacon – what does it provide us with, for better or worse?

For the sake of simplicity, let’s use 3 strips of bacon as a single serving. Although it is very easy to consume an entire package in one sitting (and I have before), bacon is typically a side or garnish. Below is the nutritional data for 3 strips, or about 1 ounce of bacon:

135 calories

0 grams of carbs, 9 grams of protein, and 11 grams of fat, including:

3.5 grams saturated, 5 grams monounsaturated, 1.5 grams polyunsaturated fat

The 3 strips fulfill the daily needs of the following vitamins / minerals:

12% Vitamin B3 (Niacin)

6% Vitamin B1 (Thiamin)

6% Vitamin B12

3% Vitamin B6, B2 (Riboflavin), and Panthothenic Acid

21% Selenium

21% Sodium

12% Phosphurus

6% Zinc, Iron, Magnesium, Potassium, and Copper

What we see here certainly doesn’t qualify bacon as an empty source of calories, but neither does it show bacon to be the most nutritional-dense food.

Similar to any meat or seafood, it has a significant and balanced amount of B Vitamins. It also contains useful minerals that are not found in a lot of modern foods (specifically selenium, zinc, magnesium, and copper).

It contains no carbs which may be good for a typical person working a desk-job, but it also means bacon lacks any fiber to improve gut health. However, it offers a substantial amount of naturally occurring fat and a moderate amount of protein, which could benefit most Americans.

What about the negatives?

During the curing process, a significant amount of sodium is added. While sodium is an essential nutrient, vital for maintaining proper hydration and electrolyte levels, it is very easy to over consume.

Also, most producers add sweeteners (to once again promote overconsumption) and preservatives that may have concerning health effects.

However, the nitrates/nitrites are not the biggest issue. These actually occur naturally in all plant foods, and you’ll even see that “no nitrite added” bacon will list “naturally occurring nitrites from celery salt” in the ingredients. The fact of the matter is, the average person will consume far more nitrites/nitrates from veggies than they ever will from bacon!

Really, the most concerning issue is the sourcing of the meat.

32fd64b0a87000487ecda0019781c3e1If you raise a pig with plenty of land, allow it to root around for fruit, plants, nuts, small rodents, and occasionally supplement its feed with food scraps from the family dinner table, then the resulting meat will be amazingly nutritious. Pigs raised this way can have as much omega 3 as some fish!

However, if the pig is raised in a commercial feedlot, unable to move or avoid its own waste, pumped full of corn, soy, and wheat, then its meat will have higher levels of inflammatory omega 6 fats and less nutrient-density. Not to mention the disastrous effects this style of “farming” has on the environment!  

Now that the objective facts are listed, the decision to include bacon is up to you.

Is the crunch, amazing flavor, and even more addicting smell of fried bacon worth the couple hundred calories (and sodium) it may contain?

For me and my goals, 3 strips of bacon every day for a week is a perfectly healthy incorporation. Then, for the sake of variety, maybe I’ll have breakfast sausages or smoked salmon the following week.

Maybe one Sunday I’ll fry up half a pound of bacon with a massive amount of broccoli and eat it as one meal…but again, I probably won’t have it again for another month or two.  

But I also consume no other processed meats or foods with added sodium. If you are eating cold-cuts, you are already consuming the exact same molecules and inputs as bacon, with maybe half the flavor!

So, try to find a local farm with properly raised pigs, buy a few packages of bacon when they are available, and enjoy a few strips now and again – I promise your taste buds will thank you!

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Keep on track on Vacation…without missing out!

HOW to keep on track on

I just got back in Vermont a few days ago after spending a long weekend in Portsmouth, NH. I don’t go on vacation often so when I do, I like to know I’m taking every opportunity to enjoy myself.

But how does someone as conscientious as myself “live it up” without sacrificing my health, performance, and body composition goals?

Well, that’s the topic of today’s post! I’ll use my experiences over the last few days to show how you can enjoy yourself and indulge without suffering ill-effects, in the short or long term.

1 – Skip breakfast

images (1)This may not work for everyone, particularly if your body is still dependent upon sugar (whether from candy, juice, or whole grains). But, for me, having 1 to 2 cups of coffee with a little heavy cream, can sustain me until early afternoon.

By skipping breakfast, I’ve eliminated a third of the calories I would have eaten that day, meaning my indulgences later may not push me into a calorie excess.

 

2 – Bring healthy snacks

If I’m at a hotel or a friend’s home, with access to a fridge and healthy foods, I’ll have a couple hard boiled eggs or full-fat Greek yogurt with berries. I also pack EPIC Bars in case of emergencies – offering a perfect balance of flavor and nutrition.

3 – Walk more

I rented a hotel room that was almost exactly 1 mile from the downtown which means, weather permitting, two trips back and forth resulted in over 20,000 steps a day!

4 – Don’t completely give-up on working out…but don’t overcommit

I made it a goal to find a gym and do two full workouts over the 4 days I was there. Normally I go to the gym everyday (simply because I love it so much), but this was vacation so 2 workouts was more realistic.

5 – Keep meals balanced & Opt for healthy choices

Sure, I would have hot wings as an appetizer and ice cream as a desert, but I would also have a salad instead of the bread and fries.seafood_louie(1)

Also, if I wanted a burger for dinner, I’d pick a restaurant that offered grass-fed beef from a local supplier. And if I wanted seafood, I’d go to a restaurant that had raw oyster shooters or sushi, instead of breaded and fried scallops.

6 – If you choose to drink, mitigate the negatives

gin-and-tonic-1This would include: using calorie free mixers (such as club soda); squeeze fresh lime juice as needed for flavoring; consume alcohol away from other foods; have your last meal of the day based around proteins and fats; consume plenty of water all day and night.

Not all these tactics will work for all people. If you have food allergies and health conditions, you may have to be more diligent. If you tend to over-indulge when you haven’t eaten recently, rely more upon healthy snacks. If you love aerobics, start every day with a run outside to burn extra calories.

But, the plan above worked so well for me that after 4 days of burgers, wings, ice cream, and gin & tonics, I actually weighed 1 pound less!

Next time you go on vacation give some of these a try – let me know what works and what doesn’t. And let all of us know if you have some “damage mitigation strategies” of your own!

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What I’ve Been Up To: Lifestyle & Supplements

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After my last two posts, you should be all caught up on what I’ve done nutritionally and in terms of exercise over the past year – but what about everything else? As the last part in this 3-post series, I’ll discuss any development in lifestyle that contribute to health, starting with sleep!

With my new work schedule, I can either workout before work, from about 5:30-7AM, or after work, closer to 6PM. I personally love to start my day with a workout and doubt I’d feel up to anything truly productive after 9 hours of computer-based work. 

images (2)So, I’ve transitioned from sleeping 10+ hours to hardly 8. Now yes, I am still getting more than the average American, but I no longer wake-up before my alarm, eager to hop up. Some of this could be due to having to be up before the sun as well, which has been a good excuse to get back to using my “light therapy” lamp!

At the moment I am not trying to build muscle or set PR’s in the gym so I’ve been able to make due with less sleep. But we’ll have to see what happens as my focus shifts…

I still foam roll every night and take an Epsom salt bath before bed (in the summer its turned into more of a shower with an Epsom salt scrub). Rolling certainly decreases
soreness but I find there is a point of diminishing returns. 

One thing I have made a better effort to incorporate is 15 minutes a day in nature. It makeswpid-rest_optionsan enormous difference for me, psychologically, to walk through the trees to a river behind my house after work. And the added Vitamin D from the sun is an added benefit!

Before I get into supplements, let’s cover the ever-popular topic of what I consider to be an “indulgent supplement” – alcohol. For about a year or two, I didn’t touch alcohol. I’ve since become a little more moderate, having an occasional drink if I’m out in a social situation, or splitting a bottle of red wine with friends on a Saturday.

No, my opinion (and the facts) about alcohol have not changed. Yes, it is still a toxin with more detriments than benefits. But, I haven’t noticed any detriment to my health or performance when consuming a moderate amount once a week, and it does bring certain social and relaxation benefits with it.

What about other supplements though?

I’ve start consuming a “pre-workout” drink before training. I’ve always said a cup of coffee is sufficient, and I still believe that. But, the extra bit of energy and focus that certain pre-workout powders contain make an amazing difference for me, getting to the gym before the sun rises.

quote_food always have recommended Vitamin D for those that don’t spend hours in the sun everyday…but we are seeing a reduction in benefits when too much is consumed. There are still no reports of overdoses (like Vitamin A for example) but we see that those with extremely low blood levels, and high levels, both suffer worse health outcomes. Instead of just recommending 10,000 IUs a day, I favor getting a blood test and supplementing to keep your levels in the 35 to 50 ng/mL range.

I have also started using vitamin C, B vitamins, and Valerian Root on occasion. But I still don’t recommend them for everyone across the board – they tend to have limited application in times of stress (such as starting a new job, sleeping less, or eating a calorie deficit). I still think there is good reason to supplement with magnesium (either transdermal or oral), but I’ve stopped consuming fish oil altogether.

The argument for fish oil makes sense, but, from a chemistry standpoint, consuming the most unstable fat in nature, extracted from fish, packaged into bottles, shipped across the world, and stored for weeks or months, doesn’t seem ideal.

I avoid vegetable/seed oils and grains, only eat beef and dairy from grass-fed cows, and consume seafood often. This seems like a much more sensible way to improve my omega-3 to omega-6 ratio.

Feel free to comment, or contact me directly, if you have questions about what lifestyle changes, or supplements, may be most suitable for your wants and needs!

Next week we‘ll get back to the nutrition and fitness topics that most of you have come to expect of me – thanks for sticking through all the posts about me from this past week!

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What I’ve Been Up To: Nutrition

 

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Before I return to my typical health tip lists, discussions of a healthy lifestyle, and analyzing articles / studies, I thought I’d fill you in on what I’ve been up to in the last year. This will be a 3-part series, detailing my changes in diet, exercise, and daily life.

Today, let’s dive into my last year in terms of my nutrition!

I left you at the end of summer, one year ago. I was leaning out by reducing my carb intake. Meals were built around vegetables and protein, cooked in healthy fat, with 1-2 pieces of fruit a day and 1 large sweet potato (usually post-workout).

As I went into fall / winter, I transitioned to building new muscle. I did this by increasing calories, over many weeks, from my maintenance level of 2,500 a day to over 4,000 a day. Every time my bodyweight plateaued for more than 2 weeks, I would bump my calories up another 250-500 a day.

It is very difficult to consume 4,000 calories a day without relying upon calorie-dense but nutrient-lacking foods like liquid sugars (Gatorade / fruit juice), refined grains (bread / cereal), or junk food (ice cream / fast food). Sure, I could consume these foods on a daily basis and probably gain 5 pounds a week – but it would be all fat!

paleo pyramidSo instead, 3 meals a day  would contain about 1 pound of starch (white or sweet potato), half a pound of protein (eggs, meat, or fish), 1 serving of healthy fat (an avocado or large handful of nuts), 1 cup of vegetables, and, if I could fit it, 1 serving of fruit.  Then I would also have 2 shakes a day, containing either coconut milk or raw cow/goat milk, full-fat Greek yogurt, avocado, honey, cocoa powder, a banana or plantain, and 1 scoop of whey protein powder.

For the first time in my life, my bodyweight reached 200 pounds and I was still able to see my abs!

No matter how nutritious the foods are, and how slow the gain, some of the weight will be stored fat. With spring starting, and summer – the season of beach trips and shirtless runs around town – around the corner, I slowly brought my calories back down in order to lean out once again.

To avoid losing any muscle I had worked so hard to build, I kept my meals based around the same half pound of protein. To create the calorie deficit I needed to lose fat, I eliminated the multiple servings of fuel (fats/carbs) at every meal. I would still use fat to taste when preparing my meals, but I no longer had sides of avocados and nuts. I also reduced my carb intake similar to the previous year.  

Once I reached maintenance, I slowly replaced every carb calorie (not counting veggies) with fat calories, transitioning into ketosis for one month. For a refresher on what this is and the benefits, click here!

sports-nutrition.jpgAnd that brings us to the present. I weigh about 185 right now. I have maintained my strength and my arms / legs are the same size, so I can safely say I didn’t lose much muscle.

I try not to obsess about numbers so I can only guess my body-fat is just below 15%. Once I reach my desired level of leanness (maybe 10%?), I’ll return to building more muscle.

I’ll discuss the reason for this back and forth between periods of gaining weight and losing weight but, for now, here are the objective numbers from my own process:

In December of 2014 I weighed 190 with maybe 25% body fat. At the end of 2015 I weighed 200 with a body fat of about 20%. I weighed 10 pounds more but had 5 pounds less of fat.

I had gained 15 pounds of muscle from one year to the next!  

I hope this gives you an idea of how a “health-nut” such as myself eats, as well as how to adjust your eating habits to ensure specific outcomes.

Next I’ll talk about the different exercise programs I’ve done over the last year, what weaknesses I discovered, what records I broke, and my opinion of how to best balance training modalities for general health.

See you very soon!   

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Carb Cycling

Carb CyclingAs we know by now, overconsumption of certain carbohydrates can lead to fat gain, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, autoimmune disorders, and neurodegenerative diseases. The biggest issues stem from a diet high in refined or processed carbs, such as breads, cereals, and juices. These foods provide a major influx of sugar and very few nutrients.

One tactic many people use to help moderate their intake of carbs is “carb cycling”. This allows a healthy intake of carbs while avoiding the detrimental effects of the Standard American Diet.

Even though carbs are not essential for life, zero carb diets may have the following side effects:

  • A decrease in performance during very intense activity
  • Heightened cortisol (stress) if the body is forced to produce sugar from protein
  • Individuals with hypothyroidism may experience worsening of symptoms
  • Decreased testosterone as an outcome of heightened cortisol and thyroid down regulation
  • Limited variety in the diet (since fruits, roots and tubers, legumes, and grains are restricted)

These side effects usually only occur long-term (over a year of eating less than 50 grams of carbs a day) and don’t occur in everyone that practices low-carb.

I personally spend 1-2 months every year in ketosis and have never noticed any negative effects.

However, carb cycling avoids all these risks by allowing a regular carb “refeeding”.

The frequency and size of this refeed will vary based upon many factors, such as:

  • Activity level. If you are a hard-charging athlete, you may need daily refeeds. If you exercise regularly, but not at your maximum, a weekly carb meal may be adequate. If you don’t follow an exercise regime, you probably don’t need carbs beyond root vegetables such as carrots and squash.
  • Goals. A recent study examined 2 groups, one high-carb and one low-carb, that ate the same amount of calories and performed the same exercise for one year. The low-carb group lost 8 more pounds of fat than the high-carb group. If you are trying to lose weight, cut back carb intake to the weekends only. Alternatively, if you are trying to gain muscle and perform at a competitive level, increase carbs to at least once a day.
  • Personal genetics. Just as some people can’t drink milk because they are “lactose-intolerant”, some people have a lower tolerance for carbohydrates. To use myself as an example, I don’t respond well to high-carb diets. If I eat carbs at every meal, no matter how healthy they are (sweet potatoes, fruits, etc), I start to gain fat.

Another important concept is that the body can become better or worse at tolerating carbs based on intake levels.

After decades of over-consuming carbs, many people find that their bodies become inefficient at storing carbs in the muscle and liver, and experience fat gain as the sugars are stored in adipose tissue. Once they dial back their carbs, their body relearns how to properly handle a reasonable amount of carbs.

Unfortunately, some people experience the exact opposite! They drop their carbs to such a low level, so consistently, that when they do “carb up”, in a punctuated fashion, their body is not prepared to use the carbs properly.

In this case, increase carbs in a very slow and steady manner…maybe adding 10 – 20 grams (a half of a piece of fruit or a tiny sweet potato) every 5 – 7 days. Increase until carb intake is around 50 – 100 grams a day. This may be a more effective way to train your body to properly metabolize carbohydrates.

As with most things pertaining to nutrition and fitness, you have to experiment to see what works best for you.

Remember to always stick with any change for at least 2 weeks so the body can adjust to the changes. Maintaining a change for 4 weeks would be ideal, but I know immediate results are sought by all.

I would also recommend getting your carbs from healthy sources – avoiding processed cereal grains, and anything else in a package, due to low nutrient content and high anti-nutrient concentration. Legumes may be a good option if they are prepared properly. Stick with what you can find easily in nature – berries, fruits, roots, and potatoes.

Best of luck finding your optimal fat and carb fuel mixture! Feel free to contact me directly if you want a more specific structuring!

What is Metabolism?

Wikipedia states that it “is the set of life-sustaining chemical transformations within the cells of a living organism”. A more common definition would include how our body uses calories to gain, maintain, or lose weight, along with digestion and absorption of nutrients.

It is important to note that metabolism is not a static thing that exists in some specific area of the body. Rather, it is a means for the body to regulate its own existence and ensure its survival.

A common misconception is that our metabolism will stay constant and we can merely decrease calories to lose weight or increase calories to gain weight. Although this may work for a time, ultimately, the body will alter its metabolism to adjust to the changes.

I see this most common with individuals trying to lose weight. They drop calories significantly, for such a long period of time, with no return to healthy intake levels that a “starvation response” ensues. The body panics and slows its metabolism, making the new calorie intake level its maintenance level, thereby preventing further weight loss.

This same process occurs if someone is over-training. Their body adjusts to the stimulus. Their central nervous system becomes overwhelmed from fueling workouts with adrenaline. The body holds onto weight to ensure self-preservation. And it even sacrifices functions of health regulatory systems, such as the immune system.

Hence most exercisers or dieters will lose a few pounds the first few weeks but pretty quickly plateau.

This also happens if an individual is consuming excess calories to gain weight. If they eat more calories, more frequently, metabolism will increase. Also, the body temperature will rise in an attempt to burn the extra calories.

The body is a highly adaptive system and life has one overarching goal – to maintain its existence and proliferation. Drastic changes, whether weight gain or weight loss, cannot always be caused by simply picking a new caloric intake level. They require a dynamic way of structuring activity and nutrition to convince the body to work towards the changes you want.

Another issue that many people overlook when discussing metabolism, is the thermic effect of different foods.

Every macronutrient (fats, carbs, and proteins) requires different levels of energy from the body to be processed internally.

About 30% of the calories from protein are used during digestion alone. About 10% of the calories from carbohydrates are used to process and store them as fuel. And about 5% of the calories from fat are burned during processing.

To simplify this, if you eat 100 calories of chicken, your body is only netting about 70 calories. If you eat 100 calories of rice, you are ingesting 90 calories. Eating 100 calories of olive oil will result in about 95 calories.

This is one reason so many people experience easy weight loss when they focus on consuming enough protein – their body is naturally burning more calories before it even has a chance to put the protein to use. Also, protein will be far more filling, thus eliminating cravings caused by high carbohydrate consumption.

The most effective way to lose fat or gain muscle would be to structure caloric intake in a step-like fashion.

Let’s assume an individual needs 2,000 a day calories to maintain their weight.

Maybe for two weeks they shoot for 1,700 – 1,800 calories a day. The next two weeks they drop to 1,500 – 1,700 calories a day. Then on the fifth work, return to your maintenance level around 2,000 calories a day. Repeat this cycle, recalculating maintenance calories every 5 – 10 lbs, until you reach your goal.

During this process, feel free to step on the scale, at the same time of day and same day of the week, and note changes on a weekly basis. Shoot for half a pound of fat loss a week…although one pound will be manageable for individuals that have more to lose.

To be honest, I’m not actually an enormous fan of the weighing and measuring approach. I find it develops certain neurosis and an obsession with arbitrary numbers. If you performance is improving, your blood work is good, and your clothes fit better, the specific numbers on a scale or calories on a plate are irrelevant.

This way of structuring caloric intake is similar to the theory of periodization in training. Over the course of a few weeks or months, slowly increase the intensity before taking a recovery week, allowing the mind and body to prepare for another period of improvement.

Track your progress, make changes if things stagnate, or stay the course if you are succeeding.

So, if you’ve been consuming 800 calories for months, and wonder why you’re not losing weight, it may be that your metabolic rate has decreased.

Take a few weeks of eating at maintenance to allow your metabolism to reset, and then give this calorie cycling a try!metabolism

Epidemiological Studies

I spend hours every day reading studies, articles, and researching health-related matters. When I find a new publication or exploration of a topic, I get excited to dive in. That being said, some studies and articles are more useful than others.

One type of study that is used frequently to make health claims and guide public policy is an “epidemiological study”. Epidemiology is the study of a set population, or group of people, to develop correlations or inferences.

The problem is that these do not prove anything. When we find a strong correlation between factors, we should use that as a starting point to conduct further research. An epidemiological study, by itself, should never be the basis for making health policies.

Let me give some examples.

Epidemiology suggests that soy is a healthy incorporation in a diet. This is due to the fact that Asian countries consume high amounts of soy on a regular basis and don’t experience the same health problems as Western nations.

However, no other factors are taken into account.

The soy that Asians consume has not been genetically modified to the same extent as ours, nor has it been grown in soils depleted of minerals. Also, most Asian dishes use fermented soy or the bean in its natural state.

Asian cultures consume more wild-caught fish (high in anti-inflammatory omega-3s), sea vegetables (loaded with vitamins and minerals), and opt for white rice, with less anti-nutrients and gut-damaging proteins than typical “heart-healthy” whole grains such as wheat and oatmeal.

Historically, Asians don’t consume as much processed food as Americans. They don’t cook in corn or canola oil, they don’t have packaged foods at every meal, and they don’t go out to eat as often.

And finally, they are far more active – walking, biking, and taking the stairs as part of daily life.

Because of these factors, we cannot confidently say that the consumption of soy in Asian countries is the cause of their better health.

When we look at soy mechanistically, we find phytoestrogens that have the potential to skew hormone levels, leading to fat-storage and growth of cancer cells. It is extremely high in inflammatory omega-6s. Take into consideration our growing practices, extensive refinement process, and consumption of soy byproducts, and soy consumption in the US no longer seems as safe.

Another example of epidemiology lacking substance:

In March of this year, there was a headline stating: “Animal protein-rich diets could be as harmful to health as smoking”. These news reports were based upon two studies: one epidemiological study of over 6000 adults and one study of mice in a laboratory.

The results of these studies suggested that a high protein diet (over 20% of calories) was “positively associated with diabetes-related mortality”. When you look at the numbers, one person in the “high-protein” group (consisting of over 1000 individuals) died from diabetes.

The lead researcher running this study owns a plant-derived protein supplement company…explaining the claim that only animal-protein is dangerous.

Some other issues:

There was no way to control for protein quality. There has never been a study showing negative outcomes from consumption of wild-caught fish, grass-fed beef, or eggs from pasture-raised chickens.

The mice that experienced growth of cancer tumors were implanted with melanoma cells before the study began. Plus, the study found that high protein consumption was “not associated with all-cause, CVD, or cancer mortality”. Therefore, the protein-cancer correlation was in fact disproved.

Finally, diet was self-reported. The average participant reported consuming 1,800 calories a day…30% lower than the national average. This suggests major under-reporting.

So, even though the study was riddled with flaws, and actually found no increased risk from animal-protein consumption, the results were phrased to dissuade individuals from consuming meat.

To get back to my original point – epidemiology is used too often to prove a pre-existing belief, promote a political agenda, or increase profits.

By itself, epidemiology is no different than trying to claim that the number of birds flying over a particular region somehow determines cancer rates in that area.

Certainly we should use any research tactic available to ask questions and form a hypothesis…but ultimately, we need to examine issues in every way possible.

Once we’ve investigated mechanisms, done cohort studies and some “food-diary” studies with pictures, it’s time to form a hypothesis and conduct a blinded, crossover, metabolic ward trial to draw some real conclusions!
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