26 April 2009

My Healthy Approach to Weight Loss - Part 2

The second part of this post on weight loss has to do with other strategies that can make eating less, taking in fewer calories, and dropping the pounds a little easier.


Exercise is certainly important to good health and a sense of well being, but it is not everything, and one shouldn't depend on exercise alone if you are trying to lose weight or lose body fat. One thing I learned from Mark Sisson is that 80% of your results come from what you eat, therefore a healthy, low-carb diet is imperative. If you were to continue your normal diet and decided to ramp up your exercise, you would have to be a marathon runner or one of those chronic cardio people that spends an hour or more a day on a machine to make a big enough difference where you would actually be shedding pounds and fat. I don't really recommend this (being a former marathon runner) since long stretches of cardio demand a high carbohydrate diet for stamina, which sort of defeats the whole purpose. These long stretches of cardio also release free radicals in your body, lowering your immune system and creating an environment that is ripe for disease. 

When I was a long distance runner, I was constantly dealing with back, knee, hip, and ankle injuries.  I lived on rice, pasta, bagels, and hot chocolate for my training and recovery foods. Yes I was thin, but my glucose levels were through the roof and I can only imagine how much oxidative stress and inflammation I had in my body.  Well, it must have been a lot because then I had a heart attack.  I've witnessed 3 sudden deaths from heart attacks during my racing days and I've read about many more, so I consider myself extremely lucky. I'm not saying that long distance running = heart disease. But I am saying that great care in diet, supplementation, and proper recovery have to be taken when making that commitment.

There are easier ways to stay fit. Running, biking, walking, hiking, dancing, etc... are all great, but don't have to be taken to extremes to get positive results.  Studies show that short sprints or bursts of anaerobic exercise burn more fat than monotonous hours on the treadmill. Exercise should be fun! A round of tennis or a game of softball is a great way of getting the body moving and exhibiting short bursts of anaerobic activity.  Grab your ipod and go for a long walk. Add 4 or 5 sprints to your walk and you'll be getting a great workout.

In addition to some light cardio, strength training should be part of any weight loss or fitness plan.  Strength training through weightlifting, yoga, pilates, or just simple calisthenics you do at home keep the body supple, burn fat, prevent bone loss, and keep the body strong, thus preventing injuries. 3 days a week is plenty. This combined with a healthy, low-carb diet and you are on your way to a healthy, strong, and happy body. 

There's a lot on the internet about fasting and it can also be confusing. Again, I can only tell you what has worked for me.  

Fasting is practiced by different cultures all around the world - some for spiritual purposes and some for health purposes. Let's face it, there are times where we all feel like we need a re-charge, a cleansing of a sort. I think it's a good thing, as long as it's not abused.  I used to fast obsessively (yes, that can also be called anorexia), but I was convinced that since it was an established practice, albeit alternative, it was healthy. I was wrong. I was juice fasting on what is called the "lemonade diet" or the "master cleanse."  This is nothing more than fresh squeezed lemon juice, maple syrup, and cayenne pepper.  SUGAR WATER! And I would do it for weeks at a time (as recommended by the author of the book, The Master Cleanse).* Again, my glucose levels had skyrocketed.  My electrolytes were completely out of whack. My cardiologist advised against it but I did it anyway thinking that it would cleanse my liver of all the horrible medications I was on (which is what it claims to do). I had my second heart attack shortly after a 14-day master cleanse. 

Fasting, if done properly, actually has the opposite effect. It lowers insulin levels, thus releasing fat cells into the bloodstream and allowing your muscles to burn them off as energy.  One 24-hour fast can reduce insulin levels by 70%! You can undo a lot of damage during the week with one fast on the weekend.  I can't think of a better way to help those who have trouble dieting than to encourage one 24 hour fast a week to lower insulin, reduce the appetite, and put one back in touch with the way the body feels without food - giving a better and more conscious sense of what it feels like to nurture the body with food.  

A few guidelines:
 - Drink water! Don't let yourself get dehydrated.
 - Don't drink juice.  It's liquid food, and has calories that prevent your insulin levels from dropping adequately. 
 - You can drink coffee, tea, mineral water or any non-caloric drink.  I don't advise drinking diet beverages since part of the reason you are fasting is to cleanse the body of toxins. It's also probably a good opportunity to cut back on caffeinated beverages so try different herbal teas for a more cleansing effect. But if you're a coffee or diet soda junkie and really need it to avoid the misery of a caffeine withdrawal headache, I would say it's okay since it won't undo the other benefits of the fast.  Try to wean yourself off slowly so perhaps after a few fasts, you can get through it caffeine free.
You can start your fast after dinner (around 6pm) and then go until dinner then next evening. It's easy if you start at night because your first 8-12 hours are spent sleeping. If I start my fast on a Saturday night after dinner, sleep in on Sunday, by the time I wake up, enjoy a cup of tea, do my Sunday yoga, and shop at the farmers market, I'm ready to come home, do a few chores, and prepare dinner (for 6pm). It's not as difficult as it sounds.

Fasting once in a while will help you achieve quick but safe weight loss (don't do more than 24 hours consecutively!). I have come to understand this through my many years of having to fast before having diagnostic procedures, such as angiographies, colonoscopies, and endoscopies.  There are so many times that I have been put on "NPO" or "nothing by mouth" in the hospital for 8-12, sometimes even 24 hours. Once I am allowed to eat normally again, I find that I have lost weight and that it stays off for quite some time (unless I go off and binge on sugary foods again).  

You can learn more about Intermittent Fasting or "IM" here:

Let's just recap here and remember some safe and healthy ways to lose weight:

 - Give up sugar. It's good for nothing at all.
 - Give up processed and refined carbs - they're just like sugar.
 - Eat real food - forget processed and packaged foods and opt for organic, seasonal vegetables and fruits; pastured chickens and eggs; grass fed beef; wild fish; organic nuts and seeds; and organic dairy products from grass-fed animals (preferably raw).
 - Exercise moderately and have fun! - walk, run, bike, swim, play tennis, softball
 - Do some strength training 3 times a week. - weightlifting, yoga, pilates, calisthenics.
 - Fast once in a while. - lower your insulin and decrease your appetite.

Good luck and be kind to yourself.

* There is no scientific evidence behind any of the claims made by Stanley Burroughs - author of the Master Cleanse.

25 April 2009

My Healthy Approach to Weight Loss - Part 1

I was listening to this NPR podcast the other day called "Are all Calories Created Equal" and the gist of the study was that the only true way of losing weight is to reduce the amount of calories you take in, regardless of what kind of diet you go on.  Although the study that was conducted had its limitations; in the end, the conclusion is really non-debatable. Yes, it is true. The only real way to lose weight is to take in fewer calories, or burn more calories than you are taking in. 

I don't think this is anything new or illuminating. The real question is, "How?" How do we get to the place where we can eat less, exercise more, take in the proper nutrition for good health, stop craving food, and feel satisfied and energized?

There is a myriad of diets, strategies, plans, tips, and methods to choose from, and of course it all gets very confusing. I can only share what has worked for me and what has brought me to a place of conscious and joyful eating, balance, and self-forgiveness and love.  I went through a lifetime of unhealthy behaviors like yo-yo dieting, obsessive exercising, bingeing and purging, and other anorexic tendencies. The day I was diagnosed with heart disease is the day all of that came to an end. My life depended on it.

I'll save the aspects of my psychological journey for another post, but I do want to share some very practical tips that have helped me get to where I need to be.  

The word "moderation" is a loaded term for many. It means something different to everyone, and for myself and many others, this concept just doesn't exist. So I will refrain from using the old cliche, "everything in moderation." I prefer to think about balance and a sense of well-being. We know that deprivation doesn't work either and just makes us feel sad, depressed, unloved, perhaps angry, and most of all, ravenous!  And at the same time we can't "have our cake and eat it too." All that said, let me get to my first and most important tip of all on our journey to losing some pounds.

1) Stop eating sugar. NOW! That means everything with sugar in it: breakfast cereal, muffins, breads, protein bars, soy milk, fruit juice, soft drinks, ketchup, salad dressings, mayonnaise, peanut butter, jam, and most processed foods. Sugar is addictive. It makes you want more sugar. It makes you want to eat more in general. It spikes your insulin levels and can cause insulin resistance (this makes you fat) and metabolic syndrome (this causes diabetes, heart disease, and other chronic diseases). 

To get rid of sugar cravings, just stop eating all sweet food for 1-2 weeks - this means maple syrup, honey, and artificial sweeteners as well.  You can feel the difference even after 3 days. The craving for sweet food disappears. I promise you. 

2) Stop eating processed carbs for two weeks.  Processed carbs turn to sugar and do the same thing. They are addictive and leave you feeling hungry for more.  This means bread, pasta, breakfast cereals, grains (yes, brown rice too!!). We have been taught that they are filling and since they are low in fat - good for us. Not really true. Brown rice, spelt pasta, and whole grain bread turn to sugar and convert to fat the same way white bread does. Give it up for a few weeks and see how you feel. 

(I would also add potatoes and corn to this list - they are plants, yes, but problematic ones for several reasons. For the purpose of this post, let's just say that they also behave like sugar in the system).

So what to eat...

Once you have discovered that most processed and packaged foods have loads of sugar and unsavory ingredients that are designed to keep you wanting more, it's time to discover nature's gifts.

Try to get organic, free range, or preferably pastured eggs (meaning that the chickens not only run free but eat a natural diet of insects, plants, and grasses).  Vegetarian feed usually means corn and soy. Corn and soy are used to fatten the chicken up, and guess what? They'll fatten you up too.  Don't be afraid of the yolk either.  Egg yolks from pasture eggs are one of the richest sources of heart healthy omega 3's.  I like my eggs boiled because their transportable, but I also love making beautiful omelettes with wild mushrooms and fresh herbs, eggs benedict with smoked salmon (minus the english muffin), goat cheese and tomato frittatas, crustless quiches, and other eggy, yummy foods.

Eat what's in season and what looks beautiful. Make yourself beautiful salads, stirfries, and soups. There are fabulous greens in season right now - spinach, kale, collards, mustard, and an array of wild greens like dandelion, chickweed, shallot greens, and onion and garlic sprouts. Asparagus are on their way. Steam, grill, or roast them. Drizzle olive oil or butter on them. Steam or roast spring root vegetables and mash them or bake them au gratin.  

Try to find meats from animals that have been raised naturally. Most of us are deficient in vitamin D and one of the healthiest sources is animal fat from animals that have been raised outside in sunlight. This is certainly different from feed-lot animals that have been artificially fattened with hormones, corn, soy, and other grains that cows and pasture animals are not meant to digest.  These are the meats that are making us sick.  Same goes with commercially raised chickens and with farmed fish.  

Spring is a wonderful time for slow-cooked lamb stews with sweet root vegetables like carrots and parsnips. A good roast chick is good for any occasion. And meatballs slow cooked in home-made tomato sauce (canned from last summer's tomatoes) is so satisfying with fresh oregano and some shaved parmegiano cheese. 

For a snack, my friend Emily taught me how to make salmon jerky. If you have a dehydrator, it's as simple as marinating strips of salmon in your favorite marinade (no sugar), and dehydrating overnight.

I'm a big fruit eater, but try to stick to the lower glycemic fruits like berries, apples, pears, and stone fruits. If you're trying to lose your sweet tooth, I would hold off on fruits for a week or two.  I indulge in tropical fruits like bananas, mangoes, and papayas once in a while, but mostly when I'm in places where they grow. I also have to be careful with the high sugar content because of my heart disease. Dried fruits are out of the question for me and should also not be eaten the first few weeks of coming off sugar.

If you feel the urge to satisfy a snack craving, eat nuts. Raw nuts are preferable but I would encourage eating any nuts over something sweet. Be careful with packaged nuts, however. They can be filled with all kinds of sweeteners, MSG, and other weird chemicals. Try to find raw, organic almonds, brazil nuts, macadamia nuts, walnuts, and pecans. These are all high in healthy fats and protein. Cashews and pistachios are a little higher in carbs so easy does it with them. Pumpkin seeds are also a great snack. I roast them with italian herbs and sea salt. Yum.

There seems to be a lot of debate as to whether dairy products should be consumed by humans or not.  The fact is that there are many traditional cultures around the world that have always consumed dairy products and have very high life expectancies.  So while it may not be the most natural thing in the world for humans to consume the milk of a different species, it's not the most particularly harmful food either - that is, if you're consuming dairy products that come from naturally raised animals.  

Cheese is one of the most satisfying foods for me to eat when I'm trying to get off sugar. It helps me satisfy my snacking urge, and again, once I'm past the sugar cravings, it's home free.  I like raw-milk, hard - cow, goat, and sheep cheeses the best like swiss, cheddar, reggiano, manchego, raclette, feta, and gouda.  The soft or fresh cheeses are a little higher in carbs and should probably be avoided in the beginning of your sugar busting journey. Sometimes if I'm at a work function or party and the only thing that's being served is pizza, I will just eat the topping off and toss the crust. The cheese and sauce are the best parts anyway. 

I'm also a big fan of full-fat milk, cream, sour cream, and yogurt.  Non-fat dairy has been chemically processed and tastes terrible. It's also higher in carbs and lactose (milk sugar) than the full fat versions.  I've been eating full fat dairy for years now and it doesn't put weight on me, nor has it raised my cholesterol levels.  Try to find organic or milk from grass-fed cows. A lot of commercial cream and sour cream also have weird chemicals in them so read your labels. The best choice is if you have access to a dairy farm, see if you can buy raw milk that hasn't been pasteurized or homogenized. Raw milk contains all of the enzymes (lactase) that are necessary to digest lactose, so is especially good for those who may be intolerant. Goat milk is also a good choice for those who have trouble digesting dairy. 

I've written plenty about fats in the past so I won't go into great detail here. Basically, I believe that fats from animals (and fish) that have been raised naturally are healthy. Our bodies were built to digest and synthesize animal fats. I cook with chicken fat, lard, coconut oil, palm oil, and butter (and my cholesterol is low).  Most vegetable oils have been highly processed and are not meant for human consumption - these are the trans fats and polyunsaturated fats like corn, safflower, soybean, and all margarines - even Smart Balance!! They increase inflammation in the body and I am convinced that they are one of the biggest culprits of the increasing rates of heart disease in this country.  The exceptions are olive oil, canola, and most nut and seed oils. Those oils should only be used for dressings, however, and should not be used for frying or sauteeing. They are not stable enough to stand up to high temperatures. For that, stick to coconut oil, palm oil, and animal fats.

So there you have it -a jump start into losing weight. Remember, the eventual goal here is to eat less.  Once you have eliminated a lot of the sweet and carby foods, you will notice that your appetite will naturally decrease. It's a beautiful thing, really.  

The truth is that we don't need that much food to live. A few balanced meals during the day should suffice. We are a culture that is encouraged to be obsessed with consumption. And I myself know that it is not easy to get out of this overeating cycle.  But after a few weeks of nourishing the body with healthy and tasty foods, you become more in tuned to how your body feels and what it really wants. You learn how to eat only when your hungry and not out of boredom or emotional triggers and cravings.  Once you find that equilibrium, you can start to reincorporate a lot of the foods you initially gave up - like occasional grains, bread, pasta, maybe even sweets. Chances are, you probably won't really want to go back to that kind of eating since you will be feeling so much better.

In my next post, I'll talk about the significance of exercise and fasting when it comes to weight loss. For now, just know that most of your weight loss will come from diet. 

I'll leave you with this wonderful article from Dr. Mercola's blog:

Questions? suggestions? criticisms?
Tell me.

22 April 2009

Happy Earth Day!

Earth Day is almost over but it's not to late to join the No GMO Challenge.


Let's not give Monsanto any more of our hard-earned cash!

(The True Food Network has also published a guide to non-GMO shopping).

06 April 2009

The Sunshine State

On a recent business trip to Florida, I noticed that the service stations on the interstates offer some of Florida's best treasures: oranges, grapefruits, tomatoes, strawberries, and pecans. I'm sure they are all grown by large commercial farms that do not employ the best standards, but I was happy to see people lining up to buy fresh squeezed juice and big bags of grapefruits while choosing to forgo the usual fast food options that were being offered inside.

My trip took me from Palm Beach, to Orlando, to Gainesville, and then ending in Sarasota.

I can always find a Farmers Market.

What surprised me about the Sarasota Farmers Market was the amount of vendors that were not farmers at all. In fact, a large amount of the produce there was shipped in from elsewhere. I guess the requirements don’t include having to have locally grown food. That is really a shame since that’s what farmers markets are for. It was also conveniently located across the street from the Whole Foods. I didn’t see much difference in shopping at one over the other.

I did, however, manage to find some local food.

Although commercially grown, Florida strawberries were a popular choice.

There was a nice selection of fresh seafood from the Gulf and some interesting sandwich choices.

Every farmers market has to have some local entertainment,

along with some local activism

(this woman was trying to get a petition against gerrymandering signed).

Some native flora

And finally some locally and organically grown produce.

It's out there if you look hard enough.