As a personal trainer, I sometimes ask my clients if they are aware of how much they are eating without even getting into caloric intake necessarily. In most cases, they usually underestimate
the amount of food they eat. This is where some psychology may come into play. We' d like to think
we're eating less food than we really are--just like we'd like to think
we're taller than we really are or weigh less than we really weigh. The reason for this way of thinking is essentially due to wishful thinking.
In other words, we subconsciously wish
we were taller or lighter than we really are. And so this may be the case with being aware of how much food we actually eat. If you were to track your caloric intake by reading food nutrition labels and sum up your overall daily caloric intake, you'd probably be surprised about how many calories you're actually eating--most likely more than you'd care to admit.
The reality is that most people eat more food than they think
they're eating and then they wonder why they find it difficult to lose body weight when exercising. Could the crux of the problem be that they're eating more food than they realize? The insidious part about eating food is that we may eat because we're bored and are not listening
to our bodies for hunger signals.
How can we avoid overeating? Here are ways to avoid the overconsumption of food:
- Eat your food from smaller bowls and plates. Studies have indicated that we tend to eat more food when the food comes in deep bowls or large plates. This supports the theory that we tend to rely on visual cues (eating until our plate is empty) rather than internal cues (hunger) when eating.
- Drink your fluids from tall, narrow glasses. Studies have indicated that we tend to pour more volumes of liquid in short, wide glasses rather than tall, narrow glasses. It's as if the mind plays tricks in perceiving there is less liquid in short, wide glasses when in reality this is not the case.
- Limit the consumption of processed foods which contain high sugar and salt. These foods tend to increase appetite due to the increase in blood insulin levels.
- Keep unhealthy foods out of sight or out of your house. As they say, "Out of sight, out of mind."
- Avoid eating when watching TV. Mindlessly eating while watching TV is a recipe for overeating because we're not aware of how much we're eating due to the distraction of TV.
- Be aware of social influences in public gatherings. The pressure to eat more food in order to please hosts, for instance, should be countered with a polite, "No thank you, I'm fine"
- Be aware of tantalizing images of foods. The mere act of seeing tempting images of foods in advertisements may stimulate blood levels of ghrelin, the hormone released that stimulates appetite.
- Avoid eating when you're stressed, depressed, upset, angry, lonely, or even happy and excited.
- Eat s-l-o-w-l-y and chew your food well. By eating this way, you're more likely to allow the feeling of satiety to reach your brain (it takes about 20 minutes) before you overeat.
- Eat with your non-dominant hand or use chopsticks. This allows you to avoid eating mindlessly and encourages you to eat more slowly.
- Go for a brisk walk when you feel a snack craving. The mere act of walking may boost your mood and lessen your desire for certain cravings for decadent foods like chocolate or chips.
- Keep a food diary. By recording the foods you eat, you become more aware of how you're really eating--consider it a wakeup call. Just be sure to be honest with yourself and be consistent in tracking the foods you eat. You'll become more accountable for what and how much food you eat.
There is more and more evidence to indicate that eating excessive amounts of sugar can cause weight gain. The reason for this is because sugar, as a refined carbohydrate that the body readily uses for energy, can be converted into fat when the body has received more than it needs. The insidious part of eating too much sugar is that one's appetite is not suppressed to indicate when you are full. In other words, you can eat loads of sugar to the point of easily overeating and not be aware that you have taken in an excessive amount of calories that your body does not need.
Americans have learned to become addicted to sugar. This is no surprise because sugar, in one form or another, is added to many foods to make them more sweet and tasty. The key word in the previous sentence is "added". This means that "free" sugars are added to much of our foods today which already contain sugar. The extra added sugars means more calories which can cause weight gain in consumers. In order to cut down on your sugar intake you should gradually incorporate more whole fruit into your diet and avoid fruit juices and soda.
New research has found a correlation between increased belly fat and bone loss which affects bone strength. A correlation does not necessarily mean causation (i.e., increased belly fat causes decreased bone strength). But the research has indicated that obese men with beer bellies may be at greater risk of fractures due to weak bones than non-obese men. It appears that visceral fat stored around the internal organs is more of a determinant of increased fractures than subcutaneous fat stored just under the skin.
This research contradicts the prevailing myth that being overweight causes stronger bones. Now it appears that there is an inverse relationship between body fat and bone density (i.e., increased body fat may cause decreased bone density). This finding may indicate that men with greater abdominal fat tend to be at greater risk of osteoporosis. The research has also found an association between greater muscle mass and increased bone strength.
BOTTOM LINE: Increased belly fat may put you at greater risk of osteoporosis as you age. Your bones will likely become stronger as you gain muscle and lose body fat. To reduce the risk of fractures, perform weight-bearing and strength training exercises (e.g., walking, climbing stairs, lifting free weights) regularly.
Exercise can indeed enhance your testosterone levels but in order for the effects to have significance, you must workout regularly. This is because the release of testosterone is directly related to the effects of exercise stimulation on the body. In other words, the release of testosterone occurs immediately after a bout of exercise and levels elevate but only for a relatively brief period (i.e., about 15 minutes to an hour post-exercise). So for those who have low testosterone levels, exercise can help to raise your levels.
Factors other than exercise can affect your testosterone levels including age, bodyweight, your fitness level, and when you workout. Because advanced age causes a lessening of testosterone release , older adults need to exercise regularly to ameliorate the leveling off of this hormone. Remember, testosterone is intimately associated with the amount of muscle mass and bone strength in your body. Bodyweight affects testosterone levels because increased body fat causes a decrease in testosterone. Again, exercise can improve your testosterone levels by helping to decrease your body fat. The more fit you are, the more testosterone you have, although those who are less fit and exercise will experience a more significant release of testosterone. Your testosterone levels (like any other hormone) fluctuates throughout the day. Levels are typically highest early in the day and are lowest in the afternoons. Thus, for those who have low testosterone levels, it may be wise to workout in the afternoons to boost the release of this hormone. Any type
of exercise will boost your testosterone level but weight training seems to have the most impact. To get the most boost of testosterone release, here are some tips for your next workout session:
- Perform full-body exercises (e.g., squat, deadlift)
- Lift heavy weights
- Take short rest periods
Just be sure not
to push the intensity too far to avoid the risk of overtraining. Some symptoms of overtraining include excessive soreness, decreased energy level, trouble sleeping, and decreased performance and strength.
Research has shown there is evidence that refined or processed carbohydrates (characterized by large sugar content) seem to create a drug-like effect within the brain, thus causing addictive qualities mimicking alcohol addiction. In essence, food behaves like a drug in terms of how it affects the brain, psychologically as well as physiologically. This is not really news for most of us. We know certain foods have addictive qualities (think potato chips and ice cream). The human body loves fat, sugar and salt. Why? Because fat is a macronutrient which is a slow-burning, long-term source of energy for the body needed for survival when food is scarce. Because sugar is a macronutrient (carbs) which is a fast-burning, short-term source of energy needed by the body. Because salt consists of electrolytes (i.e., sodium and chloride) needed by the body for cellular pH balance.
Excessive sugar intake may be addicting physiologically as well as psychologically. To wit, sugar affects the dopamine receptors within the brain, making us feel good. Sodas are an excellent example of sugar addiction since they are a concentrated source of energy within many people's diets. Many become addicted to soda and need their daily fix or else experience withdrawal symptoms such as irritability, anxiety and depression.
The caffeine within coffee, like sugar, has a drug-like effect within the brain which makes us feel good. We know that caffeine is a drug because it stimulates the dopamine receptors which mediate pleasure. (Now we know why people flock to Starbucks every day--it's to get their drug fix). If their is a down-regulation of dopamine within the brain, one will feel a need to get more
sugar and more
caffeine in order to satisfy the urge to obtain the same pleasure. Indeed, research has indicated that overweight and obese people seem to have this down-regulation of dopamine which lends itself to an increasing need for more sugar. Since sugar contains calories, it makes sense that a chronic sugar addiction may cause one to become overweight or obese.
If sugar, caffeine, fat, and salt have addictive-like effects on the brain, then does that mean all foods having these substances are inherently bad for the body? The answer is no. The natural sugar found within fruits is not nearly as concentrated as the sugar found within refined foods made in the lab (think high-fructose corn syrup). Fats and salts are added to chips to make them more tasty and addictive but potatoes are inherently not unhealthy.
Sugars, fats and salt are added to foods to make them more sweet, have more mouth feel (thicker texture), and more salty because the body and the brain loves these ingredients. It's simple: our brains are hard-wired to eat carb-rich, fat-laden foods because the body needs sugar and fat to survive. Regularly eating foods which have unnatural
concentrations of sugars, fats, and salts (as well as man-made chemicals) may indeed turn us into junkies. Yes, fast-food is addictive because it contains plenty of sugars, fats and salt to satisfy the palate. The regular consumption of fast food may indeed produce long-term neuroadaptations within the brain reward and stress pathways. Restricting fast-food and/or excessive sugar consumption may cause a withdrawal effect within the brain causing depression and anxiety.
If refined carbs behave like a drug within the brain, can psychological therapy resolve one's addiction to chips or ice cream, thus staving off bodyweight gain as a result of fat retention? Theoretically, this may be the case. But there are easier ways to lessen the addiction to chips and/or ice cream:
- Create new habits. Go for a walk when an urge for a candybar occurs. The exercise will lessen the immediate wanting for a quick sugar fix.
- Keep a food journal. Just the act of writing down the foods that you eat will provide a wake-up call to eat healthier foods.
- Reward yourself. Choose a small goal and then reward yourself when you accomplish the goal. Healthy rewards (e.g., a movie, bath, bike ride) make for healthy habits.
Here's where a clear distinction must be made regarding the definitions of the words "overweight" and "fat". The Body Mass Index, or BMI, is the ratio of one's bodyweight and height (i.e., kg/m^2). BMI has been widely recognized as the parameter for defining whether one is underweight (BMI<18.5), normal weight (BMI between 18.5 and 24.9), overweight (BMI between 25 and 29.9), obese (BMI between 30 and 39.9), or morbidly obese (BMI greater than 40). Thus, having a BMI greater than 25 but less than 30 is technically considered to be overweight. But here's the rub: people with more than average amounts of lean body mass (i.e., muscle) will most likely have BMI's greater than 25. This is because muscle, with its relatively high density, weighs much more than fat within the frame of a muscular person. So can muscular people be overweight? Yes, when speaking within the confines of the BMI definition. If muscular people are typically considered overweight, does this mean they are fat? Of course not! Fat, like muscle, is simply a tissue within the human body aside from lean body mass that makes up one's body composition. One can be overweight but lean due to a high proportion of muscle with relatively low bodyfat. If we can agree a muscular person is a fit person, then we can also agree an overweight person can be fit. So yes, one can be fit and overweight. Can one be fit and fat? This boils down to proportion and the definition of fat which is highly ambiguous. In general, a male and female is considered to be fat when bodyfat is above 20% and 30%, respectively. Being fat, or at least fatter than average, does not necessarily mean being overweight. Once again, this is because fat is not a dense tissue and one can be over-fat but still have a relatively low body weight. But being over-fat is generally not healthy because fatness does not predispose one to being fit (note: there are exceptions such as endurance swimmers who need more fat for insulation, buoyancy, and long-term energy). So yes, one can be fit and fat but this is more the exception (i.e., endurance swimmers) rather than the norm. The health risks of being fat are numerous (i.e., heart disease, stroke, diabetes, hypertension, etc.). Nevertheless, studies have shown that those people who were fat but maintained their aerobic fitness capacity were less likely to die from heart disease or stroke than those who were less fit. In other words, overweight or even obese people who became fitter fared as well or better in terms of life expectancy than leaner people who became less fit. The key message here is that increasing physical activity is likely to be at least as important as weight loss for reducing premature mortality. Here are the most common misunderstandings within our society and the key to this blog post when it comes to body weight and fitness:
The first point is a healthy means of existence and may increase life expectancy whereas the latter point is not and may lead to premature mortality. If you exercise regularly by incorporating resistance training and cardio, you will most likely fall within the first group. If you are mostly sedentary, you may fall within the second group. Exercise, which can build muscle mass and decrease fat mass, is the key to being fit and living a healthy life. Bottom line: Body weight is less relevant than fatness when it comes to fitness and longevity. Studies have shown that But no matter whether you are overweight or overfat, the important thing is to be fit if you want to live a longer life.
- You can be overweight and not fat--and be fit (a fit, nonfat overweight person)
- You can be underweight and fat--and not be fit(!) (a non-fit, fat underweight person)
Some of these tips you most likely have heard before. Nevertheless, these words of wisdom bear repeating because in the great scheme of things you will lose body weight from unwanted fat if you abide by the following:
If you do this you're asking for trouble. That is, you're much more likely to make impulse purchases for junk food and stray from your shopping list. Your willpower to resist the temptation to buy that carton of ice cream or pizza will be significantly reduced when you enter the supermarket hungry. Instead, eat something healthy or have a snack (e.g., yogurt with wheat germ, cottage cheese, or an apple) at least a half hour before you go food shopping.
- Never go shopping on an empty stomach
If you don't buy junk food (e.g., soda, chips, ice cream, etc.) by resisting the temporary impulse for sugar or salt, then logically the food will not be available to splurge when at home. If the junk food is not readily available, you're much less likely to eat it. Chances are you will not go out of your way to make a run to the convenience store just to buy a bag of potato chips to satisfy a short-lived craving. If you just can't resist and do buy that bag of chips, you might as well satisfy that urge and finish the bag as soon as possible or eat some and discard the rest.
- Never store junk food in your house
Like the aforementioned tips, this one is also psychological. In this case, the visual cue of food on a smaller plate will make the food appear relatively more plentiful than on a larger plate. As a result, you'll more likely eat less food overall when served on a smaller plate than on a larger plate. Drinking about 2 cups of cold water can temporarily boost metabolic rate due to an increase in the release of norepinephrine. Water, which by the way has no calories, is nature's quick fix to satisfy temporary cravings for sugar or salt. In addition, water will satiate your appetite and therefore lessen your desire for junk food. Drinking soda inhibits your brain's ability to respond adequately to caloric intake, causing you to feel hungrier than normal and therefore eat more overall calories. The sweet taste may increase insulin release which blunts fat-burning and enhances fat storage.
- Eat off of smaller plates
This tip is especially significant for women but some men also resort to "comfort foods" (e.g., chocolate, ice cream, etc.) to manage stress, frustration, anxiety, irritability, etc. The way to avoid this trap is to confront your emotion head-on and deal with it in another manner without relying on foods to "self-medicate" to make you feel better. A high-protein diet increases satiety. This means that you'll feel less hungry throughout the day. Since protein tends to decrease appetite, it stands to reason you will eat less food overall throughout the day. Less food means less calories which means you will lose weight and possibly bodyfat, particularly abdominal fat, in the process. Good protein sources are eggs (contain all essential amino acids and healthy fats), meats (esp. fish such as salmon which are an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids and red meat which supports testosterone levels), low-fat cheeses (a good source for casein protein), and nuts. Also consider drinking whey and/or soy protein shakes in between meals. Make your protein shake with a thicker consistency by using less water or milk to further reduce appetite later. Complex carbs consist of whole grains such as brown rice, oatmeal and whole-wheat bread. These foods help to keep insulin levels low and steady and therefore prevent the spikes in your blood sugar levels. A steady sugar level tends to favor more fat burning rather than fat storage. Avoid refined carbs such as white bread, white rice and pasta which can increase abdominal fat storage.
Yes, this seems counterintuitive but the reality is you can promote more fat burning from your body by eating more of the healthy, omega-3 fats found in fatty fish (e.g., salmon, sardines, trout), fish oil, olive oil, peanut butter, avocados, and nuts (e.g., almonds, walnuts). You probably heard of the grapefruit diet which is quite effective in enabling one to lose bodyweight. I'm not advocating a diet of just grapefruit because the nutrient deficiencies inherent can be substantial. Rather, eat a half grapefruit regularly (e.g., breakfast) and your insulin levels may be reduced. Apples are a complex carb which contain antioxidants such as polyphenols which may enhance fat loss. Hot peppers contain capsaicin, a chemical known to promote calorie-burning at rest as well as reduce hunger and therefore food intake. Research has shown that this chemical boosts fat-burning during exercise. Add crushed red pepper, hot peppers or hot pepper sauce to your meals to burn extra calories and fat. It's the calcium found in dairy products that can spur fat loss. Calcium regulates the hormone calcitriol which causes the body to produce fat and inhibits fat-burning. When calcium levels are adequate, calcitriol and fat production are suppressed and fat-burning is enhanced. Eat foods such as cottage cheese, low-fat cheese, yogurt (Greek is recommended) and drink milk. The main ingredient in green tea is epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) which inhibits an enzyme which breaks down norepinephrine. Norepinephrine is a neurohormone which stimulates the metabolic rate and therefore enhances caloric expenditure.
- Eat more unsaturated fats
A recent study published in the Journal of American Dietetic Association has indicated that the quicker you eat, the faster you'll gain body weight and more likely become overweight or obese! Not good news for many Americans who tend to eat quickly when they're on the road in their cars. The researchers in the study utilized Body Mass Index (BMI), the ratio of weight to height, as the measurement. This may be another reason why within the next 15 years one out of two Americans will be classified as being obese, having a BMI over 30 kg/m2.
The health consequences of obesity are astronomical! In fact, clinicians and scientists are discovering more dire risks to mortality regularly due to this disease. This is the one disease that is expected to plague mankind for generations. Interesting how humans have existed for tens of thousands of years and yet only within the last forty years has obesity been a real problem in our society! Could it be the advent of fast food that is prevalent in our culture? Or could it be video games? Or could it be sedentary, cubical occupations which involves sitting in front of a keyboard all day? Or could it be automobiles where we sit in traffic for hours each day? Or could it be a combination of all of the above? Whatever the cause, the problem is deadly serious and the fallout is higher health costs for everyone. The consequences of being obese include:
Here are some strategies to help lose bodyweight:
- Hypertension (i.e., blood pressure greater than 140/90 mm Hg)
- High cholesterol (i.e., total cholesterol and LDL greater than 200 mg/dl and 150 mg/dl, respectively
- Diabetes (i.e., increased insulin resistance)
- Heart disease (i.e., arterial plaque buildup)
- Sleep apnea (i.e., interruptive sleep)
- Cancer (esp. colon, breast)
Here are the exercise recommendations for overweight or obese persons:
- Eat slightly less each week (i.e., caloric reduction should not exceed 500 kcals per day)
- Increase fruit and vegetable intake (i.e., more fiber means less satiety)
- Increase water consumption (i.e., more water means less satiety)
- Eat low-fat food (i.e., lean cuts of meat such as round, loin)
- Increase complex carb intake (e.g., oatmeal, brown rice)
- Avoid "empty" calorie foods (e.g., alcohol, candy, sugary foods)
- Eat small portions (i.e., eat your food on a smaller plate)
- Eat slowly
- Increase physical activity (i.e., at least 60 mins per day)
- Eat more often (i.e., eat 4 to 6 meals per day)
- Increase protein intake (i.e., decreases satiety)
- Reduce salt intake
- EAT BREAKFAST!
- F: resistance training: 2 to 3 days/wk; cardio training: 5 to 7 days/wk
- I: resistance training: less than 75% 1-RM; cardio training: 40 to 70% HRR
- T: resistance training: 15 to 30 mins; cardio training: 40 to 60 mins (intermittent or continuous)
- T: resistance training: free weights, machines, cables; cardio training: walking, swimming, cycling