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Friday, August 31, 2007

How many calories can you burn?

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photo by lint01

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Want to know how many calories you are burning in 30 minutes doing your favorite activity? I've listed some of the more popular exercise activities and the number of calories that they burn. All of the calorie calculations assume a 150 pound person doing the activity for 30 minutes. If you weigh more, you will burn more calories. If you weigh less, you will burn fewer calories.


  • >20 mph - 545.5 calories
  • 16-19mph, no drafting - 409 calories
  • 14-15.9 mph, no drafting - 340.9 calories
  • 12-13.9 mph, no drafting - 272.7 calories
  • Mountain biking - 289.7 calories
  • Stationary: moderate, 150 watts - 238.6 calories
  • Stationary: vigorous, 200 watts - 357.9 calories
  • 6 min/mile - 545.4 calories
  • 7 min/mile - 477.2 calories
  • 8.5 min/mile - 392 calories
  • 9 min/mile - 374.9 calories
  • 10 min/mile - 340.9 calories
  • 11.5 min/mile - 306.8 calories
  • 12 min/mile - 272.7 calories
  • up stairs - 511 calories
  • 12 min/mile - 272.7 calories
  • 13 min/mile - 214.7 calories
  • 15 min/mile - 170.4 calories
  • 17 min/mile - 129.5 calories
  • 20 min/mile - 112.5 calories
  • 30 min/mile - 85.2 calories
Gym Activities
  • Aerobics, low impact - 170.4 calories
  • Aerobics, high impact - 238.6 calories
  • Step Aerobics, 10" - 12" step - 340.9 calories
  • Step Aerobics, 6" - 8" step - 289.7 calories
  • Elliptical Machine - 245.4 calories
Click here for a great online calorie calculator to find out the number of calories burned during your favorite activity. It not only includes "exercise" activities, but lots of "around the house" activities, as well. Enjoy.

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Thursday, August 30, 2007

The Slow, Steady March of Progress

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photo by Brother O'Mara

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Our bodies are remarkable in that they adapt to almost anything that we throw at them. That's a good thing for survival, but it also means that we must continue to do more if we want to continue to improve. Plateaus are not inevitable, but to avoid them requires that you continue to strive to do better, to improve, to do more. Eventually genetics will determine how thin you can be, how strong you can be or how fast you can be but don't let that be an excuse to do anything less than your best.

The easiest technique to ensure that you continue making improvements is to keep a log. I would suggest that you keep track of your food intake, exercise activities, and strength training. You don't have to make it overly complicated. Just jot down your information each day and, if you find yourself not meeting your goals, hit those logs and do some research.

If weight loss is your goal and you've hit a plateau, log your food intake and how many calories you burn each day for exercise. Are you eating too many calories to sustain the weight loss? Are you eating so few calories that your metabolism has gone down? Determine the cause of the plateau and fix the problem.

Are you training for a half-marathon or marathon and you just can't seem to motivate yourself to get out the door for your long run, or any run, for that matter? With a log of your daily miles and food intake, you can determine if you are eating enough to provide the needed energy, or if you simply have ramped up your mileage too quickly. Maybe you haven't included enough rest days to allow yourself to recover properly from the additional workload. A log provides a wealth of information to help you get out of those ruts.

Use your log to record what you've done, but don't underestimate the importance of using the log to plan what you should do next. Without a road map detailing the specifics of how to get from point A to point B, you're less likely to get to point B. Improve your chances for success by planning for success.

"You are capable of more than you think you are and you can do more than you think you can."
-Ken Chlouber, creator of the Leadville Trail 100

Do you keep a log of your activities or food intake? If so, do you think it is helpful in achieving your goals?

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Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Best Diet Ever: Eat Smaller, More Frequent Meals

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photo by hawaii

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Every time I mention this as a tip, people think I'm some sort of food "nut job". Apparently eating meals more frequently qualifies me for some kind of 12-step program. The rumors are NOT true. I DO NOT set an alarm to remind me to eat every 3 hours. *But I have thought about it.*

Eating six small meals, spaced out every 3 hours is a better way to eat for maintaining or losing weight. Here are some benefits of eating this way:

  • By eating more often you don't get as hungry, so when you do have a meal, you are less likely to overeat.
  • It is also much easier to eat fewer calories for the same reason; when you sit down to eat you are not as hungry.
  • Your body uses energy to digest food and more meals per day means a few more calories required to process those meals.
  • "Dieters" traditionally eat very little during the day, and end up gorging at night. By consuming calories throughout the day, your metabolism remains stable and you minimize cravings.
This is one of the tougher tips to actually implement because it requires a bit of planning. You will need to bring enough healthy food to eat throughout the day. The strategy that I use is to cook enough food for dinner that I have enough to freeze for a few days. I package the leftovers in small 1-cup sized reusable containers and freeze them. Each day I bring 3 of the containers and some fruit, maybe some yogurt, or cottage cheese. A "meal" typically consists of frozen leftovers and a piece of fruit, a handful of nuts, or a yogurt.

Lean Cuisines are a good pre-packaged option, but they are very low in calories. I know people who bring a Lean Cuisine for lunch and don't eat anything else throughout the day. If that's you, you need to eat more. You can't expect to eat 250 calories during the day and not be starving by the time you get home. Bring 2 or 3 to work and eat them throughout the day.

Now, I always like to use the word "meals", as opposed to 3 meals and 3 snacks. If I say you should have 3 snacks between meals, most people visualize junk from a vending machine. Again those six meals should consist of "real food", not junk food.

Of the Best Diet Ever tips, I think that this tip is the most effective. Monitoring when and how often you eat is essential to controlling your eating. If you don't allow yourself to get hungry, you simply won't eat as much.

Have you ever tried eating smaller, more frequent meals throughout the day? How did that work for you?

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Tuesday, August 28, 2007

20 Ways to Find Time to Exercise

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photo by Willem Tjerkstra

"Those who do not find time to exercise, sooner or later, will have to find time for illness."
-Earl of Derby

  • Watch less television - Americans watch 14 hours of television per week. Cut that down to 10 and get 30 minutes of exercise a day.
  • Get up 30 minutes earlier - I know, I know, you already get up at the butt crack of dawn, you're not a morning person, yada, yada, yada. Going out for a morning walk or jog will do more to energize you for the day than any cup of coffee.
  • During lunchtime - Go for a 30 minute walk and use the remaining time for a quick lunch.
  • After work - This works for some people, but it's very easy to get sidetracked and not take the time. If it works for you, exercise after work. If it doesn't, there are lots of other options.
  • Ride your bike to work - Obviously, this isn't an option for some people depending on the length of your commute, but there are some of you who could ride your bike to work or even walk to work.
  • Have a walking meeting - if you need to have a meeting with someone why not do it while walking around the building or around the block.
  • Walk your kids to school instead of driving - this is probably an option for lots of people, but getting in the car is just a habit.
  • If you live and die by your planner, plan your exercise time - make your 30 minutes a day a priority and schedule it in your day planner.
  • Always carry work out clothes and shoes - only have a few minutes to go for a walk? Be a good Boy Scout and always be prepared. Bring a gym bag without workout clothes and shoes with you everywhere you go.
  • Walk to lunch - try walking to lunch instead of jumping in your car and driving a mile.
  • Find a friend to walk with - people are more likely to make an "appointment" with a friend a priority since someone else will be waiting for you to arrive.
  • Let the dog take you for a walk - Rover loves to go for a walk. All I have to do is say the word, "Walk", and my dog gets her leash and brings it to me. Don't have a dog? Go for a walk anyway.
  • After dinner, make an evening walk with the family a tradition - instead of crashing on the couch in front of the television after dinner, gather up the kids and go for a walk around the neighborhood. Everyone will feel better for it.
  • Don't sit while your kids are playing sports, walk around the field - can't exercise because you need to take your kids to soccer? Not so fast. Instead of sitting around waiting, go for a walk around the neighborhood, or around the field during practice or the game.
  • Get a stationary bike for your desk - if you own one of these, and use it, you don't need to be reading this. You are THE MAN!
  • Go out for 10 minutes at a time - if you can't find 30 minutes, what about getting up and walking around the block or your building for 10 minutes a few times a day.
  • Do situp, crunches, or pushups during commercials - Squeeze in a little exercise when you would normally be sitting around.
  • Write down how you spend your time each day - You probably have more extra time in the day than you realize. Keep a log for a few days and find out if there is a good time each day to get in your 30 minutes.
  • Park as far away as possible - on a good day you can probably get in 2 miles of extra walking by parking as far as possible from stores or the mall.
  • Instead of emailing or calling a colleague, walk to their office to give them the message - maybe this isn't the fastest, most hi-tech way to deliver a message, but it's a way to get you up and walking more.
  • Stop making excuses - Someone much busier than you is exercising right now!
Think you've got a busy schedule...Condi Rice, I call her Condi since we're close friends, gets up at 4:30am every morning and either does 40 minutes of cardio or strength training. So what's your excuse again?

What's your favorite excuse for not exercising? Post a comment and let me know.

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Monday, August 27, 2007

Best Diet Ever: 1/3 of Calories Should Come from Fat

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photo by A.Ddiction

Fat is unfairly demonized because people think that the fat they eat ends up as body fat. That simply isn't true. Excess calories end up stored as body fat, but fat is no more likely to end up as stored fat than any other type of food. Fat is a necessary nutrient, and while our diets are typically high in bad fats, they tend to be low in the healthiest types of fat. Aim to consume more foods high in monounsaturated fats like avocados, olive oil, and canola oil. Other good choices for healthy fats, especially the Omega-3 polyunsaturated fats, are salmon, flax seeds and oil, and nuts.

Low fat diets have been popular for a long time but no research has ever shown that low fat diets are superior to any other diets in reducing body fat. In fact, new research is suggesting that a low fat, high carbohydrate diet may increase the likelihood that you will become obese, but regular exercise can mute this effect. If you do not engage in regular exercise, you should definitely minimize the processed carbohydrates in your diet, but that post is for another day.

Another benefit of consuming fat is that is has a hunger-curbing effect. It is true that fat has more than twice the calories per gram as protein or carbs, but foods high in fat are satisfying for a longer period of time than foods high in carbohydrates or protein. I don't recommend you do things like add half and half to everything to increase the fat in each meal (you listening, Atkins dieters), but do eat more healthy fats by switching to olive oil, or canola oil, and eat more nuts throughout the day.

As an experiment, for about two weeks, I tried to keep the fat content in my diet to below 10%. I was able to hang on for the two weeks, but I can tell you, I've never felt more hungry in my life. I was logging my food so I was eating the same number of calories, mostly carbohydrates, but I could hardly concentrate on anything else because all I could think about was food. If your goal is to lose weight, a very low fat diet is definitely not recommended.

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Friday, August 24, 2007

Want to Lose Weight? Get Off of the Scale, Part II

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photo by jamski

In Part 1 of this series I discussed using body fat percentage as a better indicator of progress than scale weight. Hopefully you've gotten a device to measure your body fat, now what? What is the best way to maximize fat loss and minimize muscle loss? Here is a four-pronged approach to maximizing fat loss.

Track your body fat percentage

The first step is to take your body fat percentage. This is the number that you want to see decrease. You should continue to use a scale to measure your weight, but remember, as your weight begins to go down, your body fat percentage should also go down. You are definitely doing something wrong if your weight is decreasing but your body fat is staying the same. That is an indicator that you are losing muscle mass...something that you do not want to do. Usually this is caused by one of two things. One, you are not eating enough food. If you drastically cut your calories to a level far below your maintenance level, you will lose weight, but your body will consume muscle mass to feed itself and your metabolism will drop through the floor. You do not want this to happen. Don't eat less food than a 500 to 750 calorie deficit per day. The second possible cause of losing muscle mass is that you are not strength training. It is as important to strength train as it is to do cardio while losing weight. It will slow down the rate of weight loss, but you will lose mostly fat, and you will be much more likely to keep it off. Stop making excuses and strength train!

Nutrition and Diet

In order to lose fat, you must eat fewer calories than you burn. There is no way around this fact. No magic pills will melt the fat away, nor are there any mythical foods that help your body burn more fat. All of that crap is the domain of TV infomercial fantasy. You must eat fewer calories than your body burns each day. You can do this either by dieting alone, increasing the amount of exercise that you do, or with a combination of both diet and exercise. The combination is the best choice, since you will get health benefits that come along with regular exercise, as well as the weight loss benefits and you will keep your metabolism from decreasing.

How do you know how many calories your body burns each day? Here is an online calorie calculator that uses the Harris-Benedict equation to estimate your daily calorie requirements. Plug in your information and the result is the number of calories that you must consume each day to maintain your current weight. To lose 1 pound per week, you must consume 500 calories per day fewer than that number. Understand that the daily calorie number is an approximation based on research and fancy-pants statistics. Your actual number of calories required each day may be lower or higher. If you think you are eating at a 500 calorie deficit and you are not losing weight, log your food intake for a week or so, ensuring that you are staying under your allotted calories. If you still haven't lost any weight you may need to lower your food intake by 100 or so calories per day and reevaluate after another week. Continue lowering calories until you begin losing weight or, if you are a female reach the 1200 calorie level, or if you are a male reach the 1500 calorie level. You should not consume fewer calories than this. If you are at these levels and still not losing weight, you need to include more cardio and strength training to increase your metabolism.

Keep looking for positive feedback that you are moving in the right direction. If you are...congratulations on figuring this thing out. Keep it up. If you are not making progress, then re-evaluate and make changes. Don't continue doing something that is not working. If you continue doing the things that don't work...they are not going to suddenly start working.


I believe you must do some type of cardio to stick with a diet for the long term. The simple reason is that doing consistent, regular cardio of some type lets you eat more and still lose the weight. If I didn't exercise regularly, I would have a much harder time maintaining my weight, because, honestly, I love to eat. I'm not willing to deprive myself of eating the foods that I enjoy, so I compensate for that by exercising. So what exactly is "exercise"? Well, the CDC defines exercise as a repetitive activity that works up a sweat. Really, that's the official definition. Actually, I'm taking paraphrasing liberties, but you get the idea.

For a healthy heart, it is recommended that you do 30 minutes of moderate exercise most days of the week. For weight loss, I'm sorry to say, it will probably take more. If you are doing moderate intensity exercise, 60 minutes for at least 5 days per week is an average for the participants in the National Weight Control Registry.

If you are pinched for time, then you should try intervals. Research has shown that by introducing bouts of higher intensity exercise into your exercise routine, you can get more fat-burning bang for your time spent buck. If you are interested in getting into the nitty-gritty details, search for HIIT or the Tabata protocol. If you could care less about the research, just warm up for 5 minutes, followed by alternating between an easy pace and a hard pace every 60-90 seconds. Do that for about 10 minutes, then cool down for another 5 minutes. There you have it. The short and sweet way to do interval training in only 20 minutes.

Strength Training

Strength training is the real secret to losing fat. You may lose weight without strength training, but focusing on fat loss is much more difficult without hitting the weights. I will admit that I don't really enjoy strength training, I'm just a wuss that way, but I do recognize that it plays an important part in injury prevention from all of the running I do and I like what it does for my body composition. So I force myself to do it. When I go to the gym I'm definitely looking for the greatest benefit in the shortest amount of time, so here are my rules for getting a good strength workout quickly:

  • Stick to compound exercises - If you are pressed for time, this is the most important rule. A compound exercise is a movement that involves more than one joint. For example, a chin-up is a compound movement. Think about it. You bend at the elbow to pull yourself up, as well as at the shoulder. A chin-up is a great compound exercise that works your lats, upper back, and biceps. In contrast, an isolation exercise is a movement that involves only a single joint. The classic example is a bicep curl. You only bend at the elbow and the bicep is the only muscle used. Minimize the number of isolation exercises that you do in order to optimize your time spent in the gym. Here I've listed some of the best compound exercises that you can perform. If you have never heard of these movements and would like to see an example, go to ExRx.net, the best site I've ever seen for demonstrations of every conceivable strength training movement.
    • Squats - the king of the compound exercises, well, maybe squats would have to fight it out with deadlifts, but it's really a great exercise.
    • Deadlifts - Standard Deadlifts, Romanian Deadlifts
    • Rowing movements - Bent Over Row, Cable Row, One-Armed Dumbbell Row
    • Pull up variations - Chin ups, Pull-ups, Wide Grip Pull-up, use the Gravitron machine if you need to.
    • Dips - Great chest and tricep exercise, use the Gravitron machine if you need to
    • Shoulder presses - Military Press, Dumbbell Shoulder Press
    • Chest Presses - Bench Press, Incline Bench Press, Decline Bench Press
  • Use the proper amount of weight - Most people don't use enough weight when strength training. If you are using a weight that you can comfortably lift, using proper form, for 20 repetitions or more, you are using too little weight. Depending on your goal, you may want to use a variety of rep and weight ranges with the exercises. When I talk about a rep range, here is what I mean. If I say that you should lift in the 8 to 12 rep range, find a weight that you can lift between 8 and 12 times, but no more. When you reach the point that you can lift that weight 12 times, increase the weight. Here is a short list of rep ranges that are appropriate for different goals.
    • Hypertrophy (Muscle growth) - 8 to 12 repetitions per set is the bread and butter of the bodybuilding world. If your goal is to get bigger muscles, start with weights in this range. And don't think that you're going to get "hyooge" just by lifting in this range. To gain muscle you must eat appropriately, as well.
    • Hybrid Hypertrophy/Strength - 6 to 8 repetitions per set is a middle ground between focusing on hypertrophy and strength.
    • Strength - 3 to 5 repetitions per set is the recommended repetition range for increasing strength. Beginners who want to focus on increasing strength should stick with the higher end of this rep range. I wouldn't recommend that a beginner lift any weights that are so heavy that they can only lift 3 times. If you are a beginner, try a 5 sets of 5 reps protocol for one or two of the big compound exercises and you'll get good strength benefits while lowering the risk of injury.
    • Power - 1 to 3 repetitions per set is recommended for increasing power. This rep range is definitely not recommended for beginners. This range uses very heavy weights and without perfect form, close supervision, and a spotter, the risk of injury is very high.
  • Be a stickler for proper form - this goes out to that guy in my gym who curls, in the squat rack, no less, with 135 pounds but never moves his elbows from the 90 degree position. He just moves the weight by rocking it up with his back. He's moving the weight, but his arms are not getting any bigger or stronger as a result of doing that movement. If you are going to take the time to do the work, make sure you get the proper benefit of each exercise. Lifting too much weight using bad form is not going to make you any stronger, more toned, or give you bigger muscles. Use good form!
  • Change up your routine every 4 to 6 weeks - "Everything works, but nothing works forever." Don't change up your routine too much, or you won't be able to judge your progress, but every 4 to 6 weeks you should make minor changes to the exercises that you are doing. Try switching from barbells to dumbbells. Stand instead of sitting while doing shoulder presses. Change your grip from an overhand grip to an underhand grip. Switch to a narrow grip. Switch to a wider grip. Change to a variation of the same exercise. Change exercises altogether. The key to continued improvement is to look for small changes that will keep you interested and keep your body guessing. If you continue lifting the same weights, doing the same exercises, do you think that you will continue getting stronger as a result? You won't...your body will adapt and you will plateau. You've got to keep mixing it up.
  • Mean business when you are in the gym - if you aren't spending hours and hours in the gym each week, then you must focus on getting to work when you are there. Minimize socializing, and if you are reading a magazine between sets, you're not working hard enough. You must compensate for less time in the gym with more intensity. Try to improve on your last workout every time you set foot in the gym. Aim for one more repetition, less rest time between sets, add a small amount weight to a movement, or perform a movement slower. These are all progression methods that will keep you on the road to improvement.
Losing fat and keeping it off is a difficult process. Make the changes necessary to your lifestyle and let time do the rest. This is not a get thin quick scheme to help you lose 10 pounds (of water weight) in 10 days, but if you follow these recommendations for 6 months you will see changes to your body that you never thought possible. Sticking with the program becomes much easier as you begin to see results and feel better. So what are you waiting for? No one can decide to do this for you.

If you exercise regularly, what motivates you to continue? If you don't, what keeps you from starting, or being as consistent as you would like?

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Thursday, August 23, 2007

Best Diet Ever: Don't multi-task while eating

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photo by sculpture_grrrl

Of all the tips and tricks mentioned in the Best Diet Ever series, this is as easy and pain-free as it gets: When you are eating, don't do anything else that may distract you. What I mean by this is don't eat while you are busy doing work, or while sitting in front of the TV, or driving, etc. Anything that distracts you from eating tends to distract you from feeling when you've had enough to eat. How many times have you sat down in front of the boob tube with a bag of potato chips, planning to "eat a few", only to reach down 30 minutes later into an empty bag?

Now I'm not saying to ignore your family and lock yourself in a closet when you eat, either. Having a conversation while eating may distract you a bit but it also causes you to eat slower, giving your body time to signal that you've had enough food. Eating slowly and mindfully allows your body time to process what you've eaten and enjoy the taste of your food.

If you must eat while on the run, or while doing something else, try to eat a measured amount. Don't grab the family size bag of chips, look for something that is packaged in an individual serving like a granola bar. Even a small bag of chips is better than grazing for an hour in a large bag.

Do you often eat while watching TV, browsing the internet, sitting in front of the computer, etc?

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Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Behavior Self! Setting the Right Goals for Weight Loss

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photo by sailing nomad

Successful weight loss usually begins with a goal...to lose a certain number of pounds. Most people will decide to cut out some junk food, maybe eat "healthier" foods and just see what happens. At first, it's easy, the motivation to lose the weight is strong, but after a week or so, the motivation starts to wane and the diet is out the door. Unrealistic expectations coupled with a lack of smaller, achievable steps leading up to the weight loss leads to another "diet failure".

It's what you do that will get you there

The key is to set behavior-based goals, not just milestone goals. What good is it setting a goal of losing 10 pounds if you don't plan how to get there? Whether you are trying to lose 5 pounds or 100 pounds, you must determine what behaviors will lead to those goals and make a smaller, daily goal of incorporating those behaviors into your activities. For instance, trying lose 100 pounds can seem to be an impossible, overwhelming task, but going for a 30 minute walk seems much more achievable. Here are some smaller, daily goals that you can use that will lead to losing weight:

  • Eat 1500 calories of healthy foods in 6 small meals spread throughout the day (you may have to adjust the calorie level up or down)
  • Go for a 30 minute walk
  • Strength train for 30 minutes
  • Skip the usual doughnut and eat a healthy breakfast of oatmeal, instead
  • Snack on fruit and yogurt in the afternoon instead of raiding the vending machine
  • Bring a healthy lunch to work
  • Drink water instead of soft drinks

Each day, focus on hitting one or more of these small goals and the weight will take care of itself. If it is going to be 100 degrees outside, then maybe that would be a good day to focus on your eating. Take your plan for the day into consideration when choosing which daily goal on which to focus.

Notice that none of these goals mention weight loss. I would suggest not making goals such as, "Lose 5 pounds this week". Those types of goals are unrealistic and don't take individual differences into consideration. Climbing mountains is a tough, arduous task, but taking a single, small step is not. If you take enough of those small steps, they accumulate and you might just find yourself at the top of a very big mountain.

Do you set small daily goals? Or do you just throw caution to the wind and try to stick to a loose plan? What has worked, or not worked for you, in terms of goal -setting?

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Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The Cooking Spray Conundrum

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photo by xgot_rice64x

Cooking spray, also know as Pam, is pure, marketing genius! It's promoted as a fat-free alternative to those darn oils that keep food from sticking to the pan and, well, are just plain tasty. Let's have a little closer look at what's in the can.

A quick look at the Nutrition Facts label shows that it has 0g of fat and 0 calories. It's perfect! What is this magical product made of? Let's see the ingredient label says the first ingredient is...that can't be right...CANOLA OIL?! I'm holding a full can of Pam in my hot little hands and it is mostly canola oil. Yet it is somehow fat-free and calorie-free. Unless Con Agra has magical elves removing calories and fat from canola oil, something is rotten in Denmark, or in this case, Omaha, Nebraska. By the way, if you believe the magical elf theory, STOP READING "THE SECRET"! I just love beating up on that book.

Obviously, magical elves are not involved in the process, but something is amiss. The "secret" to cooking spray's fat-free, calorie-free status is in its serving size. Why don't you grab a can and see what the serving size really is? Take your time. I'll wait.

It's all there if you just read the labels

The serving size is a 1/3 second spray. Is that even possible to only spray for 1/3 of a second? Why 1/3 of a second? Because the amount dispensed in that time comes in just under the guidelines for being fat-free and calorie-free. The FDA allows a product to contain less that 0.5g of something and still claim that it contains 0g of that something. In this case, that something is the fat from canola oil. So do you still think that soaking those pans with cooking spray is really giving you something for free?

Actually, cooking spray isn't so bad because it allows you to control how much oil you use, but don't be fooled into thinking that you are getting a low calorie product if you spray 10 seconds worth of it into a pan. If you do that, why not save some money and just use regular oil? A better, less expensive alternative is to fill a pump aerosol sprayer with olive oil and use that to dispense a smaller amount of oil than you would normally use...same thing, but no chemical propellants and less expensive.

Do you use only the recommended amount of cooking spray? Or are you guilty of the infamous "10 second" spray?

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Monday, August 20, 2007

Best Diet Ever: Plan "cheat" meals

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photo to jainnie_c

As I mentioned in a previous Best Diet Ever post, cheat meals are a great tool to help keep people eating healthier. But there's more to it than just eating a cheat meal whenever you feel like it. That's called, "Johnny used to be on a diet, now he eats enough to feed a small country."

Don't just fall victim to temptation, polish off an entire cheesecake and call it a cheat meal. Plan them for times you know that you won't be able to make better choices. If you and you significant other go to a nice restaurant on most Friday evenings, then plan for that meal by eating a little less during the day on Friday. If your family always has Sunday dinner at Grandma's house, enjoy yourself...just don't use up your "cheat" meals before Sunday evening. Save your cheat meals for the times that you know you will need them...birthday parties, social gatherings, etc.

The concept behind the cheat meal is that you don't have to "give up" any food, so you're less likely to binge on your favorite treats that may not be so healthy. Cheat meals are a fancy term for what is otherwise known as living. You don't have to live on bean sprouts, spinach, and grilled chicken breasts to eat healthy, but you should make healthier choices most of the time.

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Health and Fitness Sites

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photo by johnny_w

Looking for a great place to find interesting, helpful information on the topics of health, wellness, exercise, and weight loss? The following sites have lots of great, well-written, easy to understand information. Check them out.

Health Sundae


Thursday, August 16, 2007

Want to lose weight? Get off of the scale! Part I

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Photo by fatty tuna

It is estimated that 1 in 6 Americans are "on a diet" at any given time. Losing weight is a national obsession...to the tune of about 35 billion dollars annually (that's billion...with a "b"!) Whether it's losing five pounds or a hundred pounds or more, everyone has some magic number that they hope to one day see when they step on the scale.

I'll let you in on a secret...that's the wrong approach entirely. You see, your weight doesn't tell you anything about what you are made of. Bones, muscle, organs, and fat all look the same through the eyes of the scale. People diet strictly for a short period of time to get their weight down, but what exactly goes away for the weight to go down? Was most of the weight loss a result of fat loss, or was it mostly a loss of muscle? The scale can't give you that answer, but it is a key piece of information that can predict the likelihood of long term weight loss success. Losing muscle will reduce your metabolism and make it much more difficult to maintain any weight loss. Obviously, you need some sort of feedback to know if you are progressing. What is a better indicator of long-term, successful, weight loss?

Body fat percentage...its what matters!

Body fat percentage is a much better indicator of weight loss progress. While most people say that they want to lose weight, what they really want to lose is body fat. Losing weight at the expense of muscle mass is a recipe for disaster. If you use body fat percentage as your yardstick for improvement and you will be much more likely to keep the weight off for good.

How do you measure your body fat? There are several ways, some more practical than others. Whichever method you choose, stick with the same method. There is a degree of error involved with each method, and to be most useful you are interested, not is absolute accuracy of the measurement, but precision in order to show trends.


Yikes! The most accurate way to measure body fat with one obvious downside...you won't survive the procedure. Umm, definitely not recommended.

Underwater Hydrostatic Weighing

This is considered the "gold standard" in calculating body fat percentage. It consists of being dunked in a tank of water while exhaling all of the air in your lungs. The level of the water in the tank is measured before and after you get in the tank. The volume displacement of the water is run through an algorithm and your body fat percentage is calculated. It is considered the most accurate method of determining body fat but it is expensive and inconvenient.


This technique uses X-Rays to scan your body and determine what is fat and what is not. Supposed to be very accurate, but very few labs have access to the equipment, so it's definitely inconvenient, and my guess is, quite expensive.

Bod Pod

A new technique that uses the volume displacement of air, as opposed to water in underwater hydrostatic weighing, to determine your body fat levels. Again, this requires specialized equipment, and honestly, I've never seen one of these devices but they are supposed to be quite accurate.

BIA (Bioelectric Impedance Analysis)

Sounds sci-fi, but this is the technique used by electronic body fat scales, or I've even seen hand-held devices that you grab hold of with both hands. I own a Tanita Body Fat Scale and have used an Omron Body Fat Testing Device. Both gave me approximately the same reading...but it was about 7.5% too high. I can hear the snickering, "Yeah, right, that's my excuse, too." Seriously, these devices are useful tools provided that you aren't picky about accuracy. An important point to remember is that your level of hydration is extremely important in getting a consistent reading. While these device may not be super accurate, they are precise, so if it says you've lost 2% body fat, chances are good that you have actually lost it, even though the actual reading may be incorrect. One of the disadvantages is that they tend to be expensive. If you are in the market for a new scale, then consider getting one with this feature. If you've got a scale and don't need another one, then I would get an inexpensive pair of calipers just for body fat testing.


A reasonably accurate technique to measure your body fat is with the use of calipers. They range in price from about $10.00/pair to hundreds of dollars for a laboratory-accurate pair. Regardless of the cost of the calipers, the accuracy of this technique is very dependent upon, well, technique. To get consistent readings requires a bit of skill in determining the proper locations to pinch the skin/fat layer. If you have the test done by someone else, try to get the same person to take the measurement each time for the most consistency. Most gyms and health clubs have a good set of calipers and someone who is reasonably skilled in doing body fat readings.

You can use either the 3-site protocol or the 7-site protocol. The 7-site protocol is slightly more accurate, but I wouldn't bother...remember, none of the tests are really accurate. The 3-site protocol is a good option if you are having someone else do the readings, but the pinch locations are not conducive to a person taking their own readings.

So what is a person to do if they want to track body fat percentage, but they don't have access to another person to take the readings? The answer: Accu Measure Body Fat Calipers. These calipers have a "slider" mechanism that records and saves the pinch thickness without requiring you to be a gymnast to see the readings. You can use the 3 site protocol, if you want, or the Accu Measure calipers come with a chart that lets you take a single reading and look up your body fat from that one reading. I've found it to be +/- 1% from my 3 site reading, so I use the 1-site test exclusively for taking my own body fat measurements. It may not be accurate, but it tracks changes just fine.

Now what?

You've decided to get on the body fat percentage bandwagon, where you belong, and you've acquired a testing device of some sort. Is that all you need to know? From the standpoint of feedback, you've now got a great tool to evaluate true progress. Part II in this series will discuss how to maximize fat loss and minimize loss of muscle while achieving your goal of long-term weight loss.

Do you regularly test body fat percentage? How do you know if you are moving in the right direction? Scale weight? How you look in the mirror? How your clothes are fitting?

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Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Post Workout Recovery: Don't Miss the "Window of Opportunity"

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Photo by Nils Geylen

Congratulations, you've just finished a tough workout and now you're ready to kick back and have a nice, cool beverage. But wait, you're on a diet. Should you drink water to save the calories? What about Gatorade? Don't the commercials say that you need to replace electrolytes after a hard workout?

You should definitely drink enough water to stay hydrated throughout your workout and if you have been outdoors in the summer heat you may need to replace electrolytes with Gatorade. These are primarily hydration issues, though. It's important to realize that after a hard workout, there is a recovery "window of opportunity" that closes rapidly. If that window closes and you miss it, it may take days for you to fully recover instead of hours. The purpose of a good post workout recovery drink is to help prepare you for your next workout.

How soon should I have a recovery drink?

Intense, long-lasting exercise depletes your body's stores of glycogen, a stored form of carbohydrates. When you finish a hard workout, your body's enzymes are primed for replenishing those stores. After the first 30 minutes following exercise, this enzyme activity begins to drop off dramatically. Take advantage of these enzymes by consuming easily digestible liquids containing a 4:1 ration ofcarbohydrates to protein within 30 minutes of finishing your workout. Studies have shown that this ratio is close to optimal, but any ratio from 2:1 to 7:1 of carbohydrates to protein will result in a higher glycogen uptake than consuming carbohydrates alone. Don't wait! Drink a recovery drink before you take a shower or drive home from the gym. It's that important.

For the mathematically challenged out there, how do you figure out if your post recovery drink is a good choice? Look at the Nutrition Facts panel. Multiply the grams of protein by 4. Is the result close to the grams of carbohydrates in the drink? If it is, it's a good choice.

But I thought sugar was "bad"?

Now, I've said before to minimize processed carbohydrates from your diet because they are absorbed so quickly and cause an enormous release of insulin. Insulin's job in the body is to "open the gate" of your cells so that glycogen can be stored and this is exactly what your body needs after a workout. If you feel you can't live without processed carbohydrates, the best time to consume them is immediately following a workout.

Before you line up outside of Krispy Kreme to "carb load", let me mention that fat dramatically slows this process down by slowing down the digestion process. A doughnut is not a good post recovery item because of its high fat content. Sorry.

Good post workout recovery drinks:

  • Chocolate Milk - better than regular milk because of its higher sugar content. Make it with skim milk and you've go the perfect post-workout drink.
  • Yogurt smoothie - good ratios with enough sugar to replenish glycogen stores.
  • Accelerade - a commercial recovery drink with the right protein to carb ratio, but come on, better than chocolate milk? I don't think so.
Do you routinely drink a recovery drink after your workout?

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Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Best Diet Ever: Listen to your mom. Eat your fruits and vegetables.

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Mom was right. Not only do you need vegetables and fruits for the nutrients they contain, but most are low calorie, high fiber, and have a high water content. That means they have a low calorie density and are filling. Besides, it's really tough to over eat fruits and vegetables. You don't have to search very long to find someone who claims that too much fruit is bad because of a high sugar content. The theory is that the sugar in fruits, causes blood levels of insulin to increase triggering fat storage. Well, most fruits also are high in fiber which slows the digestion process down and mutes the body's insulin response. Seriously, how many people out there have gotten fat by eating too many apples? I've yet to meet one.

According to the USDA, you need to eat 5 to 7 servings of fruits and vegetables each day. Most people don't eat half of that amount. Don't be one of those people...it will make you sick, weak, and the rest of us will point and laugh. Beware of high calorie vegetables like avocados, though, and honestly, I can't think of any others that you need to limit. If there are other obvious high calorie fruits and vegetables, I'm sure that someone out there will let me know.

For the greatest health benefits, try to eat a colorful variety of fruits and vegetables. The chemical compounds that make fruits and vegetables colorful are called phytochemicals and act as antioxidants in the body. A greater variety of colors equals a greater variety of antioxidant benefits. Frozen vegetables are as good as fresh vegetables, but be careful when buying canned vegetables. Canned vegetables tend to leach out water soluble vitamins while sitting on the shelf. If you pour out the water, you are losing a lot of nutritional value. Also, people with hypertension, or high blood pressure, should know that many canned vegetables contain high levels of sodium. Stick with frozen or fresh and you will be better off.

Do you get 5 to 7 servings of fruits and vegetables a day? If not, what are your reasons for not eating more?

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Monday, August 13, 2007

Exercise? No way, that stuff will kill you!

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I've recently read several articles indicating that in certain circumstances being overweight seems to have life-extending qualities. In cases where people have had heart attacks, some cancers, and various forms of cardiovascular disease, the overweight patients simply lived longer. Huh? Doesn't this fly in the face of everything we've ever seen, read, or heard?

These studies are real studies and I've added links at the end of this post if anyone is interested in reading more about them. Even the studies that suggest being overweight has some protective effects in this population of patients are quick to point out that being overweight is a proven risk factor in developing these diseases in the first place. The best thing to do is not end up in one of these studies by having cardiovascular disease. Whew! Looks like all of that running isn't going to kill me, after all.

Is exercise really necessary?

Why bother with this whole exercise thing? It is possible to lose weight by dieting alone. People do it all the time. The real question, though, is how many of those people keep that weight off? The answer is not many. As mentioned in a previous post, the National Weight Control Registry is a study following people who have kept off more than 30 pounds for more than 5 years. How many of these successful, long term, weight loss, veterans turned to exercise? 94% used increased physical activity as a technique to keep the weight off. I'm always second guessing numbers and statistics, but to me, that is a powerful statistic.

What motivates people who frequently exercise to continue?

Few people would argue that exercise has lots of benefits. Here are some of those benefits for the readers out there who have lived under a rock for the last 30 years, or so.

  • Decreased risk of cardiovascular disease - The American Heart Association, American College of Sports Medicine, Center for Disease Control and the Surgeon Generals Office all consider a sedentary lifestyle a major risk factor in developing cardiovascular disease.
  • Increased energy - It is counter-intuitive to think that you will feel more energetic by being more active, but increased activity increases your metabolism and this effect lasts for longer than the time you exercise. The result...you feel more energetic after you exercise.
  • Exercise lowers LDL cholesterol - Exercise reduces the "bad" cholesterol in the blood. 'Nuff said.
  • Reduces stress - Stress causes a release of hormones in our body activating the "fight or flight" response. Exercise is a positive way to put those hormones to use, rather than allow them build up. Over the long term stress hormones, like cortisol, can do damage to your body.
That's all fine and dandy, and there are many more benefits to exercise, but are those reasons really why people do it? I can tell you, nothing, and I mean nothing makes me want to go out, spend hours on a Saturday morning running 30 miles, or so, than knowing that my LDL cholesterol might be a point or two lower as a result. As a matter of fact, I'm getting all worked up right now just thinking about how much I've decreased my risk of cardiovascular disease.

Umm...I don't think so. Those things are all so...abstract. If I get those benefits, then great. They sound like they are good improvements in my life, but that doesn't get me out the door at 4:30am on Saturday morning. So what does? Simple...it makes me feel good.

Feel good? I've been on a treadmill before and the last comment that I would make about it was that it "felt good".

I'm not going to lie to you, after I've been out running for hours, I'm definitely not feeling good. I just want it all to be over with. But when it's all over, that's when the magic happens. Mentally, I feel better having accomplished something for the day. Physically, I feel tired, but very calm and at ease. I consider the time spent exercising an investment in feeling good for days. It's a "no-brainer".

I'm not suggesting that someone has to do as much exercise as I do to get those same benefits, but the more fit you become, the greater the benefit from a "feel good" perspective. If you are very unfit then your body is not working efficiently, but you don't know any better. For you, feeling sub-optimal is the norm. By increasing your fitness level, you start to feel better and you realize that what you thought was normal was really feeling crappy. If you increase your fitness level by 20%, that's 20% more enjoyment out of each day that you were missing. The reason that people continue exercising is that they never want to go back to the point in their lives where feeling bad everyday was normal.

Your body is an amazing machine that has the ability to adapt and improve. By becoming more fit and healthy, your body will work much more efficiently throughout the day. The number one reason to stick with exercise for the long term is not because of how it makes you feel during exercise, but how it makes you feel the other 23 hours a day.

What are your reasons for continuing to exercise? If you don't exercise regularly, why don't you?

Study/Article links:

Body Mass, Fitness and Survival in Veteran Patients: Another Obesity Paradox?
Obese Heart Attack Patients Are More Likely To Survive After Treatment Than Normal Weight Patients

Related Posts:

National Weight Control Registry
Fitness, Health, and Nutrition Myths
Starting a running program

Friday, August 10, 2007

Best Diet Ever: Follow the 90% rule

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If you follow the recommendations and eat 6 smaller meals throughout the day, that's 42 meals per week. If you can make good choices and eat healthy foods for 90% of those meals, you will succeed. That leaves 4 meals per week that you can break the rules and have whatever you want. Try to be reasonable and don't sit down and demolish an entire bag of potato chips, but have a few...and then have a few more. It's OK. There is no need to shovel them in with abandon as though no crunchy, fried, potato goodness will ever cross your lips again. No food is off limits for cheat meals, but you only get 4 cheat meals per week.

An important psychological benefit of the cheat meal is that it makes it OK to "slip". Wanting foods because they taste good is a natural part of being human. The problems start when a "slip" mentally transmogrifies into "I'm a failure!" Once you've started down that slippery slope, it's easy to give up. By making cheat meals part of the "rules" of the diet, the natural tendency to satisfy cravings isn't a hallmark of failure, but part of your plan...an indicator of successful compliance.

I will say that you need to consider your personality here. Some people will do better being very strict and not using the cheat days. Others will be better able to fight cravings knowing that they don't have to completely give up their favorite foods. If you need the cheat days, don't sweat it. If you don't, you are a freak of nature! :)

What works better for you, cheat meals or being very strict? What are some of your favorite cheat foods?

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Thursday, August 9, 2007

Best Diet Ever: Only no calorie drinks allowed

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Photo by Asif Ali A

Bye, bye, venti, mocha, chocolate, triple, whip, soy, vanilla macchiato! As far as your body is concerned, liquid calories are "ghost" calories. You might drink them, but they don't fill you up like solid food. So not only do you get the extra calories, but you get no satiety for it. Double whammy! The best choice is water. Don't think you've got to drink bottled water unless you've got a few bucks burning a hole in you pocket and if that's the case, why not send it to me instead of wasting it on tap water from Cleveland.

Tap water is a fine choice, but if you like the taste of filtered water, buy a home water filter. I've never used those Brita pitchers, but I have owned the Pur brand that fits your kitchen sink and I give it two enthusiastic thumbs up.
Sugary soft drinks are pure candy. I know lots of people have switched to these Vitamin Water drinks. They have fewer calories, but are still not calorie-free. If you use them to kick your soft drink habit, that's great, but try to wean yourself off of them as well.

What about caffeinated drinks?

Four out of five people on the planet consume caffeine in some for every single day. 5.3 billion people can't be wrong. If you do drink caffeinated beverages, they are a reasonable choice hydration-wise. If you don't, we'll just point and laugh, but we don't mean anything by it. In the past, caffeine was considered a hydration no-no because it is a diuretic. Studies have shown that it is a rather mild diuretic and the amount of water that stays with you vastly exceed the amount that you lose via urination. Obviously, if you've popping No Doze like Pez...that's not the case. Coffee and tea are good choices, as long as you don't load them up with sugar and cream.

What about alcoholic drinks?

Alcohol is a very powerful diuretic and results in a net loss of hydration and alcoholic drinks are definitely not calorie free. Stay away from high-calorie mixed drinks and only drink occasionally. Not only will the calories get you, but alcohol has been shown to inhibit fat burning while it's in your system. If you are really serious about losing fat, seriously consider cutting your alcohol consumption.

What about "diet" drinks?

You don't have to search on the Internet very long to discover that even being in the same room as a diet drink is enough to kill you. People who are against diet drinks are nothing if not passionate in their hatred. I take a slightly less extreme stance...I don't think a diet drink now and again is going to hurt you. There will not doubt be comments left linking to studies showing that aspartame produces methanol, a toxic alcohol, when metabolized by the body. I've read the study...I can't dispute it. It is a very small amount though, and we can't forget that when talking about poisons, we must consider dosage. Even water in too high of a "dose" can kill you, but no one is walking around screaming that water is killing humanity. Personally, I drink, maybe one diet drink every 3 days or so. If I thought I was going to give myself cancer as a result of that, I wouldn't do it. Everyone knows someone who drinks 6+ of these drinks every single day. I don't think I would be comfortable drinking that many. Should you drink them? Only you can decide that for yourself.

Where do you stand on the diet drink debate? Do you drink them or not?

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Tuesday, August 7, 2007

The Curse of the All-You-Can-Eat Salad Bar

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You've decided to start that diet, in earnest, so for lunch, instead of heading to the local greaseburger palace with your comrades, you convince everyone that you should hit the local salad bar instead. After a lot of grumbling, your powers of persuasion work their magic and you hit the salad bar. You load up your plate with a few salad-y items, along with some of the potato salad, pasta salad, and man, does that Thai fried wonton noodle salad look good. This diet "thang" ain't so bad, after all.

You lovingly coat the contents of the entire plate with a little ambrosia of the gods...that's ranch dressing to the uninitiated. Then a little, or a lot, of fried goodness in the form of bacon bits never hurt anybody. Hey, at least they aren't those artificial Bac-O things. Those would be a tragedy! By the way, isn't "natural" better for you? Buttery croutons? Check...and freshly made this morning! What's that your hearing? The scintillating, siren song of the bread section calling your name? Corn bread, blueberry muffins, gingerbread muffins, and pizza! Check, check, check, and um, yeah...check! Whew, not bad...for Round 1.

What is it about salad bars that cause people to throw every ounce of common sense regarding healthy eating out of the door? Just because you are at a salad bar doesn't make the pizza there, a healthier choice. NEWSFLASH! IT'S NOT EVEN GOOD PIZZA! Every salad joint I've ever been to has enough healthy choices to satisfy even the pickiest eater. Take advantage of it and eat a variety of fruits and vegetables that you don't normally keep around the house.

Good choices:
  • The veggies (yes, even the avocado), pick a variety of colors
  • The fruit
  • Olive oil and vinegar dressing
  • Baked potato or sweet potato (watch those toppings!)
  • Cottage cheese
  • Clear broth soups

So-so choices:
  • Pizza - depends. I've seen some thin crust pizzas with a little cheese and lots of vegetables that were reasonable.

Not-so-good choices:
  • High fat dressings - that would be most of them
  • Cream-based soups - nothing like a little heavy cream to ruin something healthy
  • Bread - I'm not a low-carb nazi, but in a salad bar go for something more nutritious
  • Desserts - Ice cream, puddings, cake, cookies

I don't want to sound as if I believe that tasty, unhealthy fare should never cross your lips again. In fact, I say the opposite...you should plan several meals per week where you specifically have whatever food you want. What I am saying is that if you are going to a "healthy" restaurant, eat healthy. If you are going to a restaurant to have a "cheat" meal, then don't compromise, eat something really, really good. You start to get into trouble when you hang out between the two, eating meals that aren't particularly healthy and that aren't satisfying cravings.

Do you frequent all-you-can-eat salad bars? You aren't the guy/gal piling on the cheese and ranch dressing, are you? I didn't think so.

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Best Diet Ever: Minimize processed carbohydrates

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Oh no, I can see the forces of carb-loving and carb-hating evil gathering in the distance. Do carbs make you fat or are they the body's most important energy source? Well, which is it!? I've always been a proponent of the theory that a calorie is a calorie and that all weight loss is dependent on calories in vs. calories out. That opinion is based on my personal experience of losing 60 pounds and maintaining that loss by doing lots of exercise and maintaining a calorie deficit with no regard to changing the foods that I eat, only eating less of them.

Having said that, studies done by Harvard Medical School, and more recently The University of Pennsylvania, have found that a certain percentage of people respond better to a low carb approach to eating. The high responders to the low carb diets are people who have metabolic syndrome, Type II diabetes, and hyperinsulinemia. I'll have a post with more information on this topic in the near future. What I can say is that from a nutrition perspective, highly processed, refined carbohydrates like sugar, high fructose corn syrup, white flour, and white rice are all empty calories. Save your allotment of daily calories for more nutritious fare by getting your carbs from fruits, vegetables, and a small amount of whole grains.

If you are a potato eater, try sweet potatoes, as they are a more nutrient dense choice than a regular potato, and in my not so humble opinion, much tastier, plus they have the added benefit of being an antioxidant-rich food. My family eats rice several nights a week and we love short, sweet, brown rice. That's what it's called. It has a slightly nutty texture that really adds to a meal. If you cook with white flour, try mixing it 50:50 with whole wheat flour until you become accustomed to the whole wheat taste, with the goal of eventually going to all whole wheat.

Have you ever tried cutting down on carbs? If so, how difficult was it and how long have you stuck with it?

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Monday, August 6, 2007

Visualize yourself thin!

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Visualization is a tool that has been proven to be effective in motivating people to achieve their goals. Now I feel compelled to stop right here and say that visualization combined with action is great, but visualization alone will get you nowhere.

One day a carpenter decided that he was done building houses for a living. Now our carpenter was a very pious man, so he decided to start praying with all of his might that he would win the lottery so he could build the house of his dreams and live the good life. Every morning, he would pray and pray that God would let him win the lottery, checking the newspaper to see if he had won. Well, this continued for ten years, until one day, the carpenter checked the numbers to see if he had one, only to be disappointed once again. He looked skyward and said, "God. I've been praying that I would win the lottery every day for ten years. I've been a good, reverent, and righteous person. Why haven't you let me win?" To the man's surprise, God responded in a booming voice, "You have been a good, righteous man, but what do you want me to do? YOU'VE GOT TO BUY A TICKET!"

Imagining yourself having the things you want is great to keep you working toward your goals, but this is only 1% of the work required to achieve those things. The other 99%, the real meat and potatoes, is action. Whether you pray, hope, wish, or just rely on dumb luck as a means of achieving your goals, do the things that will lead to accomplishing those goals. Luck smiles upon those who work hard.

Follow the suggestions in these fitness, diet, and nutrition posts. You can and will be more fit, lose that extra weight, and live a healthier life.

Have you ever used some form of visualization to motivate yourself to achieve your goals?

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Best Diet Ever: Drink one gallon of water a day

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Yes, an entire gallon! Only oxygen is more urgently needed than water. Don't skimp on your water intake. Dehydration wreaks havoc on bodily processes and causes people to feel lethargic throughout the day. Dehydration can cause severe cramps during exercise, so ensure that you drink 16 oz. of water before any exercise and continue drinking during any strenuous exercise, especially if it's an outdoor activity and/or hot outside.

Staying properly hydrated will also help you not overeat when meal or snack times roll around. I've read that if you are dehydrated, your body misinterprets the thirst signal as hunger causing you to eat when you are really thirsty. I don't know that I buy that reasoning, but studies have shown that drinking water throughout the day, especially before meals, causes you to eat less because your stomach is full. Your brain gets the "I'm full. I can stop eating now" signal with less food.

Can you drink too much water?

It is possible to drink too much water, but it is very difficult. Within the past few months, a woman participating in a radio station's water drinking contest died after consuming large amounts of water in a short period of time. The actual cause of death in instances of water intoxication is an electrolyte imbalance, called hyponatremia, which draws water out of the cells in the body. Long distance endurance athletes, who do not supplement with electrolyte tablets, are especially susceptible to hyponatremia because excessive sweating for long periods of time deplete the body of both water and electrolytes, but drinking water alone is insufficient to replace lost electrolytes.

In summary, drinking a gallon of water a day is a good goal to achieve optimal hydration. If you are going to exercise for less than an hour, plain water is the best choice for hydration. If you are exercising in hot temperatures or for longer than an hour, a drink containing electrolytes, like Gatorade, is a better choice. If you are participating in an extremely long distance endurance event like running a marathon, ultra running, doing a century bike ride, or participating in an Ironman-distance triathlon, consider taking electrolyte tablets to maintain your electrolyte balance in addition to drinking frequently.

Do you think you drink enough during the day? Do you routinely take water with you when you exercise outdoors?

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Friday, August 3, 2007

Product Review: Ultimate Direction FastDraw

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The summer heat is increasing the need to bring along water or a sports drink when you are exercising outdoors. If you are going to be exercising for an hour or less, plain water is what your body needs. If you are outside for longer than 1 hour, consider the use of a sports drink to replenish electrolytes and carbohydrates. Either way, you are going to need something in which to carry your fluids. You can certainly carry a bottle of water, but for me, the FastDraw is a cheap option that lets me carry my water without tiring out my hands from gripping the bottle.

I've owned all types of hydration systems: hydration pack systems (camelbaks), fanny pack/bottle holder systems, and hand held bottle straps, like the FastDraw. Depending on how much water I need to carry, I go with the FastDraw as a first choice, and if I need to carry more water, I'll add a fanny pack that can hold an additional bottle. I like the convenience of having the bottle in my hand, and I tend to drink more because of it. When I finish the bottle in the hand strap, I switch it out with the bottle in my fanny pack. Works great for me.

Things I like about the FastDraw:

  • The water bottle that comes with the FastDraw has a cool "kicker" valve that is very easy to open and close.
  • Most standard size water bottles fit the strap.
  • If you trip and fall, not that I ever do or anything, a hand held water bottle can protect your hands and wrists. You might destroy the bottle (see below), but that's a much easier problem to solve than fixing a broken hand or wrist.

Think I don't like about the FastDraw:

  • The bottle that I got with the FastDraw started to leak so badly between the bottle and the cap that I had to toss it. Granted, I took a nasty spill out on the trail and mashed it on a big rock, but I expected it to still be usable. It wasn't. Maybe I'm asking too much.
  • The version that I own only has a very small pouch. I wish I had sprung for one of the versions with more space to put things. I would like to have enough room to put a gel and maybe a tiny first aid kit. As it stands, I can only put in a key, which is not quite big enough.

Despite the fact that I'm a bit irked about the bottle leaking, I'm very satisfied with my purchase. I looked at all other options and I still feel it was the best choice for "on the move" hydration.