As is the norm at this time of year there appears to be a lot of scare stories surrounding carbohydrates (CHO) and weight gain. I think part of the problem is that CHO have been caught up in the growing controversy surrounding the sugar versus fat debate. Although sugar is one type of CHO there are plenty of other types of CHO that have many health benefits. So if you are going to enter this weight loss debate you need to be properly informed as to what CHO actually is, so here goes.
CHO’s role in weight loss
All carbohydrates consist of monosaccharides, these are single molecules and they form the basis for all the CHO in our diet. The main three monosaccharides (single sugars) in the human diet are glucose, fructose and galactose. The monosaccharides link together, via a condensation reaction (removal of water), to form the disaccharides. In the human diet these are predominately sucrose (table sugar), maltose and lactose (milk sugar). The property that is consistent about mono- and di- saccharides is that they require little digestion and are very quickly absorbed into the blood stream. Foods high in these would be classified high glycaemic index (GI) as they elevate blood sugar very quickly. Polysaccharides on the other hand consist of hundreds of molecules of glucose linked together and these form very complex molecules. Examples of polysaccharides are the starches in our diet and non-starch polysaccharides (NSP). These generally release a lot more energy but at a lot slower rate and so our blood sugar elevates slower and sustains and a steady plateau. Some will remain undigested and travel through your gastrointestinal system into the bowel. In the bowel they breakdown and help fuel your gut bacteria as well as help produce some very beneficial fatty acids. Now this is a real whistle stop tour of the basics of CHO but none the less they are very important for good health.
Your brain is an obligate user of glucose and so relies on a good supply to function optimally. It can be fuelled by ketones and these are produced in the absence of CHO by breaking down fat and protein but this is not ideal and the brain prefers glucose. Your muscles have their own energy supply and this is a molecule called glycogen. If exercise is forming a part of your weight loss programme then you will need good sources of CHO in your diet. If you starve your body of CHO your body will use both fat, but more importantly protein as an energy source. The protein will be obtained by breaking down lean tissue (predominately muscle). From a weight loss perspective this is catastrophic as your lean tissue dictates your resting metabolic rate (RMR) to some degree. If you are losing muscle your RMR will slow down making your weight loss efforts that much harder. Also because your muscles will be depleted of glycogen you will not be able to exercise as effectively so this is a double wammy. You might see weight loss on the scales but this will be because you are carrying less glycogen, as this binds water you will not be as heavy. We say we want weight loss but what we actually want is fat loss. You achieve optimal fat loss through a combination of good diet and getting active. Cutting down on any one macronutrient (protein, fat or CHO) is not the long-term answer and science is slowly coming to realise this. So stop giving CHO a hard time and learn which types of CHO you should be incorporating into your diet.
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There is a tendency amongst some people to accuse the obese or over-weight individual of being lazy or lacking will-power. This view has been shown to also be the case amongst certain managers when employing staff. This lack of understanding of the condition does not help anyone, least of all someone trying to lose weight as part of a structured weight loss programme.
Surgery and weight loss
A report from a group of bariatric surgeons in the USA has highlighted this very point. They note that gastric band patients far from taking the easy way out through surgery see this as their last chance. The drive to overeat is very powerful and difficult to resist. Gastric banding and similar surgeries has demonstrated that apart from shrinking the size of the stomach it may also alter some of the hormonal signals involved in the appetite pathway. Patients cannot eat as much due to the physical size of their stomach but also over time they find that the urge to eat also reduces. It is the combination of these two factors that aids the ultimate weigh loss.
Over-eating is different to a lot of common addictions
People often compare over-eating to alcohol abuse or smoking, hence the lack of will-power accusation. Someone who has managed to stop smoking or perhaps give up alcohol may well think that it just took will-power to give up their addiction. This may be true for these two addictions but the simple fact is you can completely avoid smoking or drinking and thus avoid the temptation to indulge. Eating on the other hand is a necessity for life so you can’t just give it up and avoid food at all costs. Imagine as an alcoholic trying to give up alcohol you were told that you have to give it up but you also must have two pints every day to live. This puts it into context suddenly reducing your drinking to a safe level would be very difficult indeed. This is why reducing your energy intake as part of a weight loss programme is so difficult.
The body is very good at balancing energy in and energy out but this sometimes can get out of balance. It is a survival mechanism that makes hunger cues far stronger than satiety cues. Because of this imbalance it is very easy to overeat; this is sometimes called ‘appetite overshoot’. Just a few hundred kcal too many each day will lead to a large weight gain over a year. If you now lengthen that to ten years it is very easy to find yourself in a position where what you typically eat is making you fatter and yet if you try to reduce your intake your body floods the brains with signals saying “we need more food”.
So next time you meet someone who is participating in a weight loss programme, be supportive and not judgemental. Weight loss is not easy to achieve, they are not lazy, and being negative towards them doesn’t really help anyone.
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New research has found that one thing that may help your weight loss efforts is exposure to the cold. We shiver as a natural defence to the cold as this will increases our body heat. Shivering is effectively an increase in energy expenditure and thermogenesis. This can result in as much as a fivefold increase in our resting metabolic rate (RMR). As weight management ultimately boils down to energy in versus energy expended this would increase our energy expenditure.
Weight Loss and Shivering – how it works.
The diagram on the right (courtesy of Trends in Endocrinology and Metabolism) demonstrates what happens as we get colder. The Thermo-Neutral-Zone (TNZ) is the area that represents the typical ambient temperature range we are exposed to daily. At these temperatures our basal metabolic rate is unaffected (calories we burn at rest). As we move into colder conditions we enter the area below the Lower Critical Temperature (LCT on diagram). In this region non-shivering thermogenesis (NST) starts to kick in. In other words we start to try to burn energy to increase out body temperature. As we get colder Shivering thermogenesis (ST) starts. If we move in the opposite direction we eventually get too warm at the Upper Critical Temperature (UCT). In these temperatures we also increase energy expenditure, partly due to an increase in our resting heart rate. So extremes of temperature increase our metabolic rate either hot or cold. What is most apparent from this diagram is that cold temperatures have a more marked increase on our metabolic rate.
How much weight loss will occur?
The NST can vary by quite large amounts between individuals but this report suggests that in most young and middle aged people NST increases by between a few percent and 30%. This could therefore contribute to a large increase in energy expenditure. The physiological basis for NST is unclear with conflicting findings. Some research shows a link between brown adipose tissue (BAT) and other studies suggest a contribution from skeletal muscle. Whatever the link one thing is clear and that is that NST can significantly contribute to energy expenditure.
Studies have shown that in both the young and elderly we can slowly adapt to temperature variations 2oC/h over a range of 17-25 oC and this doesn’t cause us great discomfort. So not only could you assist your weight loss but you could also save on your heating bills. By turning the central heating thermostat down a couple of degrees and letting your body acclimatise to a slightly lower ambient temperature you may start to burn a few more calories on a daily basis. If you now add a brisk walk in the cold every day you will be ramping up your energy expenditure and helping your weight loss efforts.
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Weight loss, nutrition and health is an interesting title because I think it is completely the wrong way round when it comes to modern lifestyles. We have millions of diet and weight loss books and only slightly less nutrition/cook books. Compared to these numbers the amount of books directly written about good health are minimal.
Weight loss and health
Most people start weight loss diets/regimes due to a desire to look better, feel better about themselves and perhaps the minority because of their health. I got to thinking about this because of training new personal trainers over the weekend. It became apparent that quite a few people in the gym were trying to get bigger or stronger and certainly a good number were using the gym time as part of a weight loss programme. This is borne out by the fact that a good majority of gym memberships are sold in January/February primarily driven by New Year’s resolutions to lose weight and get fit. My point is that health was a long way down the agenda. So although weight loss is generally a good idea when you are overweight it would be far more productive if we measured the change in our body composition (fat loss) in terms of health benefits. By all means set some targets in terms of goal weight and more preferably a reduction in waist measurement but don’t lose site of the long-term benefits for health. A five percent reduction in your waist measurement and/or weight carries significant health benefits in terms of your risk for certain diseases.
When considering how you are going to lose weight you should also consider health benefits. There will be any number of suggested FAD diets and exercise regimes to choose from. From the dietary perspective chose lifestyle changes based around sound and scientifically proven healthy eating advice. So things like plenty of fruit and vegetables, reducing how often you use highly processed foods, steering clear of refined carbohydrates. These will all help with weight loss if you are getting overall energy intake correct; more importantly though they all will help improve a number of aspects of health including reducing risk of diabetes, coronary heart disease and other diseases. On the exercise front you might choose to do the latest trendy class or gimmicky weight training regime. Now if these raise your heart rate and/or make you stronger that is fine. It is equally valid however to choose simple everyday activities like walking at a good pace regularly, not using your car as much and always using the stairs instead of the lift. You might decide to do a bit of jogging, these are all simple and don’t require fancy equipment. The key thing here though is that they all increase your cardiovascular fitness and although you may not see headline grabbing weight loss you have improved that almost invisible variable ‘health’. So by all means take up the latest FAD diet and/or exercise regime but also ask yourself “is this benefiting my health”? Because it is all very well being a bit lighter but if you are not correspondingly the same amount healthier then really any gains are quite superficial. It’s great being big and strong but if you are not aerobically fit then from a health perspective it is really not very impressive.
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Despite all the hype about low carb diets and diets like the Paleo or Atkins anyone who knows anything about basic physiology and nutrition knows that you need carbohydrate (CHO) for fuel. Your brain is an obligate user of glucose and this alone burns a huge amount of calories. So to go on a low CHO regime flies in the face of basic nutritional science.
Why are CHO’s key for weight loss?
Although we all metabolise nutrients slightly and subtly differently in terms of the energy we are able to derive from them the bottom line is this; if your calories in are less than your calories out you will eventually reduce your fat stores and so lose weight. At the end of the day these are your body’s energy reserves. Now I am sure some of you are reading this and thinking that’s not quite right and I would agree that in pure weight loss understanding the whole picture is way more complex than simple energy in and energy out. Numerous papers and books have been written looking at the fundamentals of how we lose weight. However boiled down to its most basic principle it is all about energy balance. How the body achieves this balance is a book in itself. The main pathways for energy production are glycolysis and beta-oxidation; these both feed in to the tricarboxylic acid cycle (TCA) if you are working aerobically (using oxygen). You predominately work aerobically through the day so these energy pathways tend to dominate. They breakdown and metabolise glucose and fatty acids respectively. They don’t work in isolation and are linked through a series of positive and negative feedback mechanisms. Without CHO ketosis sets in and eventually you would grind to a halt as the acidity levels rise in your body. That is without mentioning any possible health consequences that might be associated with this condition.
What is possibly more relevant about lack of CHO in your diet is your ability to sustain higher levels of exercise performance. If you are using regular exercise to increase your activity levels, which in turn, increases your energy out (calories burnt), you will need CHO for fuel. If you are trying to follow a low CHO regime and exercise regularly you will come unstuck fairly quickly. Your energy levels will be low and your technique will start to fail. The odds are that subsequently you will either pick up an injury and have to stop or you will be so exhausted you’ll be forced to stop. As glycogen stores deplete you will feel tired for longer and your brain will not be functioning optimally, you will most likely get irritable as well. Clearly none of these are conducive to a long-term lifestyle change. Elite athletes generally understand the importance of good CHO intake. Whilst you may not be training at this level if you want to maintain a high level of activity as part of your weight loss regime then you are going to have to consume a good intake of CHO to fuel this activity. The timing and type of CHO is important but too complex to explain here. It is these aspects of diet that I concentrate on when working with athletes. For now just accept that CHO is equally as important as any of the other macronutrients (protein or fat) and getting the correct balance of all nutrients is the key to long-term successful and sustainable weight loss and most importantly optimal health.
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Unfortunately when it comes to weight loss it is unlikely that having a sweet tooth is going to boost your chances of success. In fact research would tend to suggest that the exact opposite is far more likely to happen.
Sugar sweetened drinks and weight loss
It is well established that high sugar drinks are associated with weight gain and that they are undoubtedly one of the causes of the growing levels of child and adult obesity. Physiologically sugar (sucrose) which is a combination of sucrose and glucose has a profound effect on our blood sugar levels. When consumed it causes a sharp rise in our blood glucose levels and this in turn causes the pancreas to release insulin. The insulin causes cellular uptake of the glucose rapidly reducing our blood sugar levels and this sudden dip in blood sugar triggers appetite cues in the brain making us crave more sugar. You can see that this is a viscous circle that is difficult to break and can be one of the underlying causes of type II diabetes if left unchecked for a long period.
To make matters worse a study undertaken at Yale university has found that glucose will help suppress parts of the appetite centre in the brain that make us want to eat (drive our appetite cues); but fructose doesn’t have the same effect. Therefore as some food and drink is sweetened with pure fructose you wouldn’t get the same satiating effect (feeling of fullness) as you would from foods that have a similar calorific value.
As sucrose is used in many highly processed foods and meals you end up with foods that are high in calories but not that satiating if compared to similar calorific versions of natural foods. What is worse it often surprises consumers how much hidden sugar there is in many foods. Very often this occurs in foods where you wouldn’t generally expect to find high sugar levels. So you need to look a lot closer at labels, especially scrutinising the sugar content. Apart from looking for the obvious like sucrose, glucose, fructose, start to look for anything that ends in ‘ose’. You’ll note those first three ended in ‘ose’ and basically from an ingredients standpoint anything ending in ‘ose’ is a type of sugar.
For weight loss lose your sweet tooth
A sweet tooth is predominately a learnt response, although in the young it is innate. With time you can adjust your palate so gradually reduce your sugar intake over a number of weeks. You will slowly adjust and get used to having food and drink with less sweetness. It is not easy and takes perseverance but it is achievable if you really want to boost your weight loss regime. This is only one small step but it is a positive way to start your journey to a healthy eating lifestyle.
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So here we are at New Year’s Eve again and resolutions for weight loss and getting fit will be raising their ugly heads once again. This Year I am strongly suggesting that you approach this from a different perspective. As part of this new approach the first thing you need to do is sit down with a sheet of A4 and write down on how many occasions in the past few years you have resolved to lose weight. This doesn’t necessarily just have to be New Year’s resolutions but all past attempts.
Split the page into three columns with the third column being the largest (you’ll see why in a minute). Title the page “Weight Loss Review 2014”. The first column should be the rough date (month and year) of the weight loss attempt. The second column is the technique you used to lose the weight; was it a specific dietary plan (paleo, detox, no carb, low carb, low fat etc.)? The final column is the most important as this is where you record how much you lost, how long you kept it off for and why you think you put the weight back on. This is the column that you have to be brutally honest with yourself. No excuses here just put the real reason you think it failed, and it must have or you wouldn’t be doing this exercise.
Weight Loss through Lifestyle change
You may find your list is quite comprehensive and if you have been brutally honest this should also give you a whole bunch of clues as to where you are going wrong. My guess would be there are things in there like “got bored of following the plan” or “reached target weight so stopped following the plan” maybe it’s “went on holiday and put all the weight back on”. The fact is that these are all lifestyle factors in one way or another and for most people it is these lifestyle factors that inevitably undermine any weight loss attempt, even a successful one. The only way you will overcome this handicap is to make some small changes that fit your lifestyle. I am not promising that these will achieve massive weight loss as per whichever this year’s FAD diet turns out to be will undoubtedly do. What I can promise is that if this is a real lifestyle change that you are comfortable with then there is a better than average chance you will stick with it. The reason I achieve an 85% success rate with the LEAN Man System is because my client’s make lifestyle changes over a long period of time. They are educated about sound nutrition and their results come slowly but they tend to be more permanent. In other words they are able to sustain the weight loss long-term. Whoever is advising you about weight loss, whether they are a personal trainer or if the advice is from a book or magazine, make sure that the advice is scientifically sound and evidence based. Most diet plans that appear in the media over the next few weeks will be neither. If you decide to follow one of these then I will guarantee that you will be adding this to your weight loss review sheet next year, the choice is yours.
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Everybody thinks of protein as being really important for muscle growth and strength. Although protein undoubtedly is important for both, it is equally useful for weight loss. Protein is used for many processes throughout the body and its name actually derives from the Greek “proteios” meaning primary or of the first order, so we’ve known of its importance for many years.
Proteins role in weight loss
There are two primary reasons why protein is invaluable in terms of weight loss. The first is its thermogenic effect and this tells you how many calories are required to digest and metabolise protein. The answer is 25% so for every 100kcal of protein you eat you will automatically burn off 25kcal so you can see what a great advantage this is when you’re counting the calories as part of your weight loss regime. If you compare that with about six or eight percent for carbohydrate and a tiny two percent for fat you can see why protein is king in this department. The second reason protein is so useful for weight loss is that it is very satiating, in other words it makes you feel fuller quicker. Again providing protein with every meal helps you eat less as you feel full. Providing you are listening to what your body is telling you (your hunger cues) then this will help you control your overall calorie intake.
Given these two properties then you should plan to include a protein source with every meal. This can be meat based or utilise seeds and pulses, a great example being baked beans on wholegrain toast. In an ideal weight loss regime you should really aim to eat every three to four hours, so about five or six meals a day. This does not mean you have carte-blanche to eat as many calories as you like. You still have to remain within your total amount of required calories a day and this should leave you with approximately a 500kcal deficit per day. The good thing about eating like this is that you really should never feel hungry. By including plenty of fruit and vegetables in your diet and ensuring you regularly consume protein with meals hunger should not be an issue.
In terms of how many grams of protein a day you require the government guidelines are approximately 1g/kg body-weight per day. However, providing you have no renal (kidney) problems then you can go as high as 2g/kg body-weight per day. So if you weigh 60kg you want to be having around 120g per day. This should be more than sufficient to ensure you have enough with every meal and really kick start your weight loss efforts. If you want to know what your current dietary intake looks like and how many calories you burn each day through activity why not sign-up for a LEAN Report. This will give you a picture of your current nutritional intake and I can then point you in the right direction as to what adjustments your current diet requires. This would be a great way for you to kick start your 2014 lifestyle change. If you would like some FREE nutrition and weight loss tips the simply sign-up using the simple form provided below.
Why organising your food on the plate might help weight loss. Although perhaps the example in this cartoon is a bit extreme there is an element of truth to it. If you consider being overweight a curse then I guess the cartoon is accurate, but why is this the case?
Portion distortion and weight loss
One of the root causes of obesity is portion distortion. By this we mean that people have an unrealistic concept of what represents a portion. When it comes to weight loss excess kcal's are the enemy but it is so easy to over-consume. With fast food chains super-sizing everything and most ready meals presented in two portion packs we've lost sight of what a true portion actually looks like. As a rule of thumb meat (so a steak) should be about the size and thickness of your palm. One portion of vegetables is approximately the equivalent of a handful. Be careful when buying ready made meals, check the packaging to see how many servings this represents. The same applies with labelling check what you are being sold. Very often on the packaging it will state kcal per serving and this looks quite inviting. When you check the jar/packet however you find this contains five servings and generally you would use the whole contents.
How can organising your plate assist your weight loss? All you need do is follow some simple rules. When you plate up a meal or perhaps go to a carvery, what do you generally put on the plate first; my guess would be the meat. This will likely have the highest fat content and be the most calorific part of your meal so this should be put on last. You will find out why in a minute. The first thing you should put on your plate is your vegetables and the next rule is that these cannot touch each other. This will stop you piling up portions on top of each other and from here on in no two foods are allowed to touch. Next you can put on potatoes but only one portion (size of your fist). Finally in the little space remaining goes your meat or other protein source. This will mean that you should have less on your plate than you normally would.
Now if you think this will not be sufficient then here comes the final rule. Once you have cleared your plate you have to wait 20 minutes. If after twenty minutes (this should be timed accurately) you are still genuinely hungry then by all means get a second helping. This should be predominately vegetables. Most people find that after about fifteen minutes their brain has registered that they have eaten and they are not really hungry anymore. This is because it takes time for the appetite centre in the brain to register that you are doing something about your hunger. This over-eating past the point where you are hungry is called 'appetite over-shoot'. Allowing time for the brain to register that you have eaten enough resolves this problem, hence the twenty minute wait.
So these in a nutshell are your first tips to getting your eating back under control and advancing your weight loss efforts. If you would like more information like this then simply sign up for the seven FREE video series by completing the form below.
Lose a Little Gain a Lot
When people talk about weight loss they often muse about the weight they were when they were younger, but how realistic is it to expect to get back to that ideal weight? It is perhaps better to set an interim weight loss goal. To this end a study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association (JAHA) supports that approach.
Modest weight loss has health benefits
The JAHA study found that if women can sustain a weight loss of ten percent for two years it resulted in reduced total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol and inflammation markers for insulin and glucose. The women who started with the highest level of risk on commencement of the study benefitted most from this type of modest weight loss. The study spokesperson noted that it is challenging to lose ten percent of your body weight and most importantly sustain that loss. However if you can achieve this goal it appears to have a large impact on your overall risk factors for heart disease and diabetes.
This is not the first study to highlight the importance of even modest weight loss in terms of reducing your risk factors for disease. A number of studies have highlighted benefits from losing just five percent of total body weight. In my research we were able to achieve this type of result with a twelve week programme of lifestyle education which included increasing activity levels and moving towards a healthier eating regime.
The important thing to highlight here is that a five or even ten percent reduction in weight is achievable for most people. So setting this as the initial target means that you have a realistic goal. The second stage, as the JAHA study has highlighted, is then maintaining that weight loss. Again with a modest weight loss this is more achievable. When I work with clients who want to lose weight we will agree a weight loss target but I also strongly recommend we set some health and fitness goals. By having other targets it removes the focus on weight. If a client achieves two out of three goals this still motivates them and allows them to progress. If you focus everything around weight loss you are almost doomed to be disappointed. Weight can fluctuate so much due to fluid balance, changes in body composition and other factors that it is not that reliable a measure. Stressing other targets allows a shift in focus. I am always keen to use waist measurement as this is perhaps one of the first indicators that you get that you are gaining weight (clothes start to feel tight). Therefore by using this measurement the client feels the change and perhaps see’s the change witnessed by the fact that they can get back into certain items of clothing.
So the next time you think about losing weight, and with the New Year charging up at us that might not be too long; set some small and realistic weight loss goals. But more importantly include a number of other health and body measurement goals to accompany this.
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