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Author Archives: jenlar27

Menopause and Weight Gain

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Menopause. That notorious phase of life where one is prone to mood changes, fluctuating stress levels, anxiety, hot flashes, insomnia, food cravings and weight gain.

I counsel women about this topic all of the time. What I typically see is someone who is restricting calories, engaging in high intensity cardio multiple times per week, and not losing one pound. One of the most important things I want women to know is that there is A LOT going on behind the scenes during this time that is causing that stubborn weight gain, and much of that may not be your fault. And while a healthy diet and exercise are important, it may take more then that to handle the major fluctuation in hormone levels that can occur.

As your ovaries begin to decline in estrogen production, your body will try to compensate by producing estrogen in other ways. One way is through your fat cells. This is why it is so common for women to gain weight (especially in their abdomen) during menopause. Those fat cells are trying to produce and hold on to estrogen. Your body will make it much harder to lose fat then it will to gain it.

In addition, your adrenal glands (which regulate the stress hormone cortisol) will also try to support your declining sex hormones, essentially working overtime to help your body regulate itself. This is a problem because cortisol can then become out of balance, and run high or low at the wrong times. Normally, cortisol should be highest in the morning upon waking, giving us energy to start our day. Throughout the course of the day, cortisol should gradually decline and be at its lowest as we prepare for sleep. When cortisol becomes imbalanced, it can end up running high at night (causing insomnia) or low in the morning (causing fatigue). Or sometimes, cortisol will run high all day long. When this happens, it can cause your blood sugar to chronically run high, which can lead to increased appetite, food cravings, weight gain, and insulin resistance. Cortisol also plays a role in causing symptoms like hot flashes and night sweats.

So what’s a woman to do?

The following strategies can help…

Balance your plate

The first thing I typically recommend is to balance your blood sugar with plenty of high fiber non-starchy vegetables, complex carbs, lean protein, and healthy fats. Complex carbs include fruit, starchy vegetables, beans, legumes, and protein rich grains such as quinoa. For protein, I like to recommend wild caught fish, chicken, turkey, or grass fed beef. Healthy fats would include olive oil, grass fed butter, coconut oil, nuts and nut butters, seeds, and avocado.

Do not deprive yourself of calories

It’s important to note that while we are normally inclined to limit calories in order to lose weight, in times of stress we actually want to be cautious about going too low. When this happens, it can actually cause additional stress on your body. That’s why it’s important to fuel your body with the right amount of calories to support its needs. Calorie needs differ for each individual. Know your minimal calorie range and stick to it. Do not over restrict yourself.

Stick to a meal schedule

Eat small meals throughout the day, and avoid going long stretches of time without eating. I usually recommend fueling your body every 3-4 hours. This will help to stabilize blood sugar and optimize your energy levels.

Limit or avoid caffeine and alcohol

Caffeine and alcohol can raise cortisol, increase hot flashes and night sweats, and impair sleep. Many women report a reduction in symptoms when they cut these out of their diet.

Exercise

Exercise, on the regular, and include strength training. Strength training will help burn fat and build muscle, which is known to decline as we age. It will also help to slow down the onset of osteoporosis, which women are at risk of during menopause because of the direct relationship between estrogen and bone health. Avoid frequent amounts of intense exercise. This can actually raise cortisol levels which will make it harder to lose weight. Have variety in your workouts, such as strength training 2-3x per week, cardio 2-3x per week, and low impact exercise such as walking or yoga 1-2x per week to really balance things out.

Focus on Stress Reduction

Manage your stress! Deep breathing, yoga, laughing, being outdoors, and simply taking time for yourself are all things that can help support your adrenals and lower cortisol levels. You can also incorporate supplements such as Vitamin C or B vitamins to help reduce stress. Adaptogenic herbs such as Ashwaganda, Holy Basil, or Rhodiola can be especially helpful, but I recommend starting with these in the form of a tea versus a supplement, unless you’ve taken a cortisol hormone test and know what your specific levels are throughout the day.

Prioritize your sleep

Reduce the use of electronic devices after 10pm, keep your bedroom cool and dark, and practice healthy sleep habits such as meditating to help clear your mind and prepare you for restful sleep.

Acupuncture

Consider complementary therapies such as acupuncture to help with stress and hormone balance.

Hormone Replacement

Talk to your doctor about hormone replacement therapies such as compounded bio-identical hormones. Your doctor will be able to discuss options and help you determine if this is something right for you.

Finally, recognize that this is a journey and that it may take time to see your body respond to some of these changes. Set goals, stay consistent, and be patient.

For more ideas on how you can manage menopause and weight gain, contact me here

Photo by Jennifer Burk on Unsplash

Healthy Snacks for Traveling

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For many people, summer is a time for fun in the sun, relaxation, and vacation. As great as it is to travel, it can also be a challenge in terms of sticking to your nutrition goals. Long trips in the car can lead frequent stops at rest areas where the choice of food and snacks can be limiting and often times, really unhealthy. The key is to plan ahead. Before hitting the road, visit your local supermarket and stock up on healthy snacks. Pack them in a portable cooler to help you save time and money when traveling, and to keep you on track with healthy eating. You’ll be glad you did!

Here is a list of items I recommend. They pack well, taste great, and will keep you fuller longer. Strive for lots of fruits and veggies, lean proteins, healthy fats, and high fiber complex carbs. Eat your proteins and carbs at the same time to maintain proper blood sugar balance. This will help you stay energized and focused and avoid needing large amounts of caffeine.

Make sure to pack your cooler with plenty of ice or ice packs to keep your items cold and to avoid spoilage. Also be sure to include plenty of bottled water to help you stay hydrated and avoid high calorie juices, sports drinks, and sodas that are loaded with sugar, colors, and other artificial ingredients.

Fruits and Veggies:

  • Baby carrots
  • Bell pepper slices
  • Broccoli florets
  • Cucumber slices
  • Apples
  • Oranges
  • Grapes
  • Pears
  • Peaches

Protein:

  • Hard boiled eggs
  • Vermont Beef/Turkey/Pork sticks
  • Protein Bars (RX, Lara, Zing, Kind)
  • Siggi’s yogurt
  • Lifeway Kefir
  • Babybel Cheese

Healthy Fats:

  • Hummus cups
  • Guacamole cups
  • Justin’s peanut butter packets
  • Almonds
  • Walnuts
  • Cashews
  • Sunflower seeds

Complex Carbs:

  • Brown rice cakes
  • Pecan Thins
  • Almond Thins

Hydration:

  • Bottled Water
  • LaCroix sparkling water
  • Hint Flavored Water

The Power of Phytonutrients

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Phytonutrients are natural compounds in plants that are a powerful tool for building better health. Phytonutrients provide numerous functions, such as providing the body with a rich source of antioxidants, which protect us from oxidative stress. Phytonutrients also stimulate enzymes that help the body get rid of toxins, boost the immune system, improve cardiovascular health, promote healthy estrogen metabolism, and stimulate the death of cancer cells.

The best source of phytonutrients in the diet are fruits and vegetables, along with whole grains, legumes, herbs, spices, nuts, seeds, and teas. Phytonutrients in food come in a variety of colors including red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, tan, and white. For optimal health, it is important to eat a variety of colorful foods often.

Remember to strive for at least two servings of vegetables (about half of your plate) at meals, and one serving at snacks. Challenge yourself by aiming for one to two colors per day and choose a variety of fruits and vegetables within those color groups each week. In addition, vary your preparation methods. Enjoy veggies raw or cooked. Try adding colorful fruits to salads, smoothies, or hot cereal. Experiment with different varieties of beans and grains. Add colorful spices to your foods.

Below is a sample list of phytonutrient rich foods by color. Which ones do you enjoy often? Which new ones will you try?

Green – Apple, artichoke, asparagus, avocado, bell peppers, bean sprouts, Bok choy, broccoli, cucumbers, green beans, peas, zucchini

Yellow – Apple, pears, banana, bell pepper, corn, summer squash, pineapple

Orange – Apricots, bell pepper, cantaloupe, carrots, mango, nectarine, oranges, papaya, persimmons, butternut squash, sweet potato, tangerines, turmeric, yams

Red – Apple, kidney beans, beets, bell pepper, cranberries, cherries, pink grapefruit, goji berries, grapes, plums, pomegranate, radishes, raspberries, strawberries, rhubarb, tomato, watermelon

Blue/Purple/Black – Blueberries, blackberries, boysenberries, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, eggplant, figs, grapes, kale, plums, potatoes, prunes, raisons

White/Tan – Apples, cauliflower, coconut, dates, garlic, ginger, jicama, white beans, lentils, mushrooms, onions, pears, shallots, seeds, grains, black or white tea

Source: Institute Functional Medicine

Healthy Eating For the Holidays: 8 Tips on How To Avoid Those Extra Pounds

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It’s that time of year again… the holidays!

This is by far one of the most challenging periods for many people in terms of staying on track with their nutrition and exercise goals.

While the coming weeks are meant for celebration and spending time with family and friends, the holidays tend to bring with them unwanted weight gain. Most often this is a result of parties and events that include an abundance of high calorie appetizers, dense meals, sugary baked goods, and extra alcohol.

If that’s not hard enough, studies show that individuals tend to be more stressed and/or depressed during this time of year, which can lead to binge eating, less motivation to exercise, and poor sleep – all of which can lead to extra pounds.

So how can you stay on track with your goals yet still take part in the festivities?

Here are 8 tips that I recommend:


1. Don’t skip meals – If you have a party or event to attend, I always recommend sticking to a regular eating schedule versus “saving” all of your calories for that one big meal. Chances are, you’ll arrive at the party starving and you’ll eat way more then you intended. Skipping meals leads to an uneven distribution of calories and macronutrients, blood sugar imbalance, and cravings. Instead, have balanced meals and snacks throughout the day that include protein, healthy fats, complex carbs, and fiber. You’ll arrive steady and clear focused, with the ability to stick to proper portion sizes.

2. Bring a “safe” dish – Think of this as an insurance policy that at there will be at least one healthy dish available, and that is because you will be the one bringing it. Offer to bring a green salad, a veggie tray, or maybe a low carb appetizer like deviled eggs with avocado. Whatever it is that you bring, fill up on it if there are no other healthy choices available.

3. Step away from the table – A common mistake that we are all guilty of is standing next to or near the buffet table as we talk and socialize. This can lead to mindless eating as we continue to reach down and load our plate over and over and over. Instead, fill your plate and walk to another area of the room to socialize. That way, if you want to go back for seconds you will have to excuse yourself from the conversation and consciously walk back to the table for more. This will make you much more aware of your overall intake. 

4. Exercise before you go – Getting some physical activity prior to a big meal can be a great way to stay motivated and acquire some discretionary calories. Hit the gym, go for a run, take a brisk walk, whatever you can do to get a workout in. You’ll feel so much better that you did.

5. Portion your indulgences – Allow yourself to indulge in moderation, but don’t lose site of portions. Being mindful of portion sizes can go a long way in terms of keeping off those unwanted pounds. At main meals, balance your plate with two servings of vegetables, 4-5 oz of lean protein, about ½ cup of complex carbs, plus 1-2 servings of healthy fats for an optimal combination. For simple carbs like bread, alcohol or dessert, decide which ones you will include versus which ones you will forgo, and portion them appropriately. For example, 1 serving of wine is only 5oz.

6. Be mindful when you eat – This means slowing down, avoiding distractions, limiting stressful circumstances, sitting at the table, chewing thoroughly, and savoring your food using all of your senses. You will get the most out of your meals, and will likely feel more satiated causing you to eat less. 

7. Breathe – When stress gets the best of you, don’t forget to stop and breathe. Deep belly breathing can be a great way to reduce oxidative stress, calm anxiety, and help you focus. The best thing of all is that this can be done anywhere. Allow yourself at least 5 minutes each day to breathe deeply. This can be especially helpful if you find that stress is dictating your food choices.

8. Don’t skimp on sleep – Studies show that individuals who get less then 7 hours of sleep tend to have a harder time losing weight and are at a higher risk of insulin resistance. Prioritize your sleep by setting a bedtime each night and sticking to it. Proper sleep will help to ward off cravings, and will provide you with the energy needed to stick to your workouts.

Try these tips to help you successfully navigate through the holiday season and stay in balance.

For more information on nutrition counseling services, contact me here.

 

Exercise: How Much Should I Be Getting to Lose Weight?

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It’s no secret that exercise, along with a healthy diet will help us to lose weight. So why is it so hard for individuals to get motivated to exercise?

One thing I have seen in practice is that many people envision exercise as hours at the gym, running on the treadmill or sweating it out in spin class. This can seem intimidating to most folks, especially if they are pressed for time each week. My clients often tell me that their schedule is their greatest deterrent to meeting their exercise goals. I can totally relate to this. As a working mom, I have definitely found it challenging to meet my goal of exercising 4x per week. What has helped me is to understand that I don’t need to be spending hours at the gym to get the job done. Daily exercise is achievable in all sorts of ways. Read below to find out how you can incorporate more into your routine.

Let’s start with the basics and understanding how much time should we be striving to exercise each week.

The current guidelines for exercise are:

At least 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise = 30 minutes per day, 5x per week. This includes activities such as walking, casual bike riding, or gardening

OR

At least 75 minutes per week of vigorous exercise = 25 minutes per day 3x per week. This includes things such as running, biking, swimming, or aerobics.

OR

A combination of the two

AND

At least 2 days per week of strength training

These guidelines are recommended for overall heart health and for healthy weight maintenance.

So when it comes down to it, a simple 30 minutes per day will lower our risk of heart disease and help us to better maintain a healthy weight.

Don’t have a full 30 minutes per day to devote to exercise? One technique that has worked for my clients is to space apart or distribute exercise throughout the day, just like we do with meals. Try walking for 15 minutes at lunch, then 15 minutes in the evening. You’ve got yourself a full 30 minutes by day’s end. Strive to do this 5x per week to meet the minimum guidelines for moderate exercise. But you can also count activities such as walking the dog, playing ball with your kids, or parking further away. The point is to just be as active as you can whenever the opportunity arises in order to meet your goals.

Another recommendation is to try High Intensity Interval Training or HIIT. This is a type of exercise that involves quick and intense bursts of exercise with interval rest periods. HIIT would count as vigorous exercise. Studies show that HIIT is extremely effective at burning calories. The best part is, you can produce a large calorie burn in a small amount of time. So for all those folks out there who enjoy the gym but are pressed for time, HIIT training may a great form of exercise to add in.

My absolute favorite form of exercise, and the one that has worked best for me, is strength training. Strength training has SO many benefits. Strength training decreases body fat, increases lean muscle mass, burns calories, and raises metabolism. Who wouldn’t want that?? But did you know that strength training can also help to develop strong bones and lower the risk for osteoporosis. For women approaching the age of perimenopause or menopause, this is absolutely essential. As if that isn’t enough, strength training can also help to reduce chronic conditions such as arthritis, back pain, heart disease, and diabetes.

Strength training does not necessarily have to occur in the gym. There are many forms of strength training that utilize your own body weight such as planks, push ups, squats, and leg lunges to name a few. You can do these in your own home, office or when traveling. When my work schedule started to compromise my gym time, it helped to know I could still incorporate strength training into my routine a few times per week. I began with a small goal of training 2 days per week at the gym for 30-60 minutes and 1 day per week at home, and built up from there. I also sought the expertise of a certified personal trainer to make sure I was working out safely and using proper form. Once I had a routine that worked for me and my schedule, I was back on track with my fitness goals.

Adding in strength training to my routine has made a huge difference for me, and my clients who have incorporated at least 2 days of strength training have also seen great results.

If you can’t meet the minimum requirements for cardiovascular exercise or strength training, I still encourage you to set a small, achievable goal.

Two recent studies that compared the lifespan of individuals who exercised in accordance to the current guidelines and beyond showed that even the slightest amount of physical activity was better then none. Individuals who met the guidelines reduced their risk of premature death by 31%. Those who exceeded the guidelines reduced their risk by 39%. Even those who fell slightly short of the guidelines still had a longer life span then individuals who did not exercise at all.

If you want to learn more about how exercise along with a healthy diet can help you achieve your weight loss goals, contact me today to set up an appointment. I would love to work with you!

Strategies to Avoid Stress Eating

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Picture this… a plate of food, a laptop, and a deadline. You are mindlessly snacking as you try to answer emails, review work documents, write your latest blog post…you get the picture. After a few minutes you look down. The plate of food is empty, and you have no recollection of what you just consumed, nor did you get any satisfaction from eating it. What’s worse? You may still be hungry and continue to eat more.

Eating on the go, eating while we are rushed, eating mindlessly while working on our computers or devices, snacking in front of the TV. Sound familiar? It can happen to any one of us, even a dietitian.

Two strategies that can help you stay on track with your nutrition goals are Mindful Eating and Intuitive Eating.

Mindful Eating (which is adopted from the principle of Mindfulness) is all about being present and avoiding distractions at meals, such as eating while on your laptop or cell phone. It is about SLOWING DOWN, taking the time to eat, and using all of your senses to get the most out of your experience. An example might be taking the time to prepare your food by hand. Once on your plate, taking the time to notice the color, smell the aroma, or even hold the food on your tongue for a few minutes to detect the flavors; all before eating it. Mindful eating can allow us to savor our meals and to view food as nourishment and fuel. Being mindful at meals can make food much more satisfying, and studies show that mindful eating can be a powerful tool for maintaining a healthy weight. Check out this guide to learn more about Mindfulness and Mindful eating.

Intuitive Eating is a positive approach to eating. It involves 10 key principles, which you can learn by clicking here.

Two principles that can help avoid stress eating are the ability to recognize and respect your fullness, and to honor your feelings without using food. Respecting your fullness means eating until you are satisfied, not stuffed. As children, we were born with an innate sense of our hunger cues. We ate when we were hungry and we stopped when we were full. As adults, we can easily lose site of these cues and instead eat when we are stressed, anxious, bored, or lonely. Intuitive eating helps you to recognize these emotions and to realize that food won’t fix any of them. Eating intuitively can reacquaint you with your inner hunger cues, and teach you how to respect and honor your food choices because those choices are unique to you. Simply put, it embraces the notion that you are the expert of your own body, and you have the wisdom to build a positive and healthy relationship with food.

Both Mindful Eating and Intuitive Eating can help you avoid the pitfalls of stress eating. Taking time each day to slow down, respect your hunger, and respect your fullness can go a long way toward helping you reach your healthy eating goals.

 

 

“Why Am I Still Not Losing Weight?” Common Barriers to Weight Loss

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Have you ever thought “It all comes down to will power?” Not true! There are so many reasons why your body may be holding on to those stubborn pounds. I’ve listed some of the most common barriers to weight loss that I’ve seen in practice. Read on to see if any of these apply to you.

Let’s start with nutrition. For weight loss it all starts here. While there are many factors that contribute to weight gain and weight loss, nutrition is by far the most important part of the equation. 

 

Consuming Processed Foods

Start by removing processed foods and refined sugars from your diet, as they provide little to no nutritional value and can be a huge barrier to weight loss. Processed foods are generally packaged convenience foods designed to have longer shelf life. Many are high in sodium, sugar, or artificial preservatives.

Consuming Diet Foods

Diet foods have populated grocery store shelves for years, promoting healthy eating to consumers and promises of weight loss by simply restricting calories. The problem is, these foods still need to taste good in order to sell. In order to keep calories low, the fat is removed and sodium, artificial sweeteners, and preservatives are added in. Many of these foods not only are void of great nutrition such as healthy fats and protein but they are loaded with additives and chemicals that the body just does not need. Remember, calories are not just about quantity – its quality that matters. Think about it. 100 calories of pre-packaged “diet” cookies are NOT the same as 100 calories of blueberries.  Quality counts!

Too Much Sugar

Plain and simple, Americans are consuming too much sugar!  Current guidelines from the American Heart Association state that women should strive for 24g of sugar per day and men should strive for 36g of sugar per day. For perspective, 1 can of regular soda contains approximately 36g of sugar. Sugar gets converted to glucose in the body, which is managed by insulin, our fat storage hormone. Insulin’s job is to convert glucose to glycogen and distribute this to our cells for energy. If too much sugar is consumed, therefore causing too much glucose in the body, insulin will store the additional glucose in the liver as fat. Managing your sugar intake and striving to consume as little added sugar as possible can make a huge difference in terms of reaching your weight loss goals.

 Not Reading Labels

If nothing else, this might be the most valuable tool you can use in the grocery store to help you stay on track with your nutrition goals.  When reading labels, focus on the back of the package and look at the nutrition facts panel or more importantly the list of ingredients. This is where the truth is! Ingredients are listed by volume, so the first few ingredients are what the product mostly consists of. If you see ingredients such as added sugar, sodium, or items that you cannot even pronounce, put it back on the shelf and keep looking. A good rule of thumb is as few ingredients as possible, all of which you could find on the grocery store shelves if you wanted to make the product yourself. Remember, the front of the package is NOT regulated, so manufacturers can make any claim that they want such as “Natural” or “A Good Source of _____”. Read the back to get the facts.

Meal Balance

We’re talking macronutrients here. Carbs, Protein, Fats.  Eating meals and snacks that contain all three macronutrients along with lots of non-starchy vegetables will keep you fuller longer, extend your energy, provide you with satiety, and keep your blood sugar balanced. All of which can help with weight loss. Knowing how to properly balance your macronutrients in order to meet your needs will set you on the right path to achieving your goals.

Skipping Meals

If you are skipping meals (especially breakfast), you are not doing your metabolism any favors. Disbursing your calories throughout the day through small meals will not only help your metabolism, but will also stabilize your blood sugar which will give you more energy. Some research shows that individuals who consume breakfast within 1-2 hours after waking and then continue to eat small meals every 3-4 hours may actually have an easier time losing weight then individuals who skip meals. Skipping meals can cause blood sugar crashes, lead to a higher level of hunger (which can lead to overeating at the meals you do eat), and a lower rate of metabolism.

Liquid calories

One of the first things I look for in a food intake is whether or not a person is consuming added and unnecessary calories through sugary beverages. It is amazing how quickly calories can add up with a sugary coffee, a sweetened iced-tea, or a bottle of regular soda. Remember, 1 can of soda contains a day’s worth of sugar and up to 260 calories. Calories should ideally be consumed through foods, not through what’s in your glass. Strive for water, seltzer, or caffeine free tea with no sweetener.

Portion sizes

I hate counting calories as much as the next person, but it is important to know proper portion sizes. Over the last 20-30 years portion sizes have gotten so skewed that most people are completely unaware of what a proper portion size is anymore. Just to give perspective, an average sized bagel (about 6” in diameter) is approximately 60g of carbs, which is equal to 4 servings! This is a huge increase since the 70’s and 80’s when a bagel was approximately half this size. Understanding appropriate portions can make a huge difference in overall calorie consumption and weight loss.

Ok, so let’s assume your nutrition is in check and you are still not losing weight. Here are some other common barriers that I see all too often.

Not prioritizing physical activity

“I have no time to exercise!” I hear this all the time and have even said it on a few occasions. It’s the first thing we take off the list when life gets busy, but it is essentially one of the most important gifts we can give ourselves especially at times when life seems out of hand. Current guidelines state that we should be striving for 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week or 75 minutes of intense exercise per week. Ideally, this should include cardiovascular exercise, strength training, and stretching to prevent injury.  Know that you can do this in small amounts, such as 15 minutes in the morning and 15 minutes in the evening. The most important thing is to set aside time in your day to get active even if it’s in small amounts such as taking the stairs, parking further, walking the dog, etc. Start with prioritizing exercise 2x per week – schedule it on your calendar! Then slowly add more time in and vary your workouts. Your body will thank you.

Disrupted Sleep

Sleep can be a huge barrier to weight loss. Hormone regulation occurs during our sleep cycle. Insulin (our fat storage hormone) needs to work optimally to manage the blood sugar coming into our bodies. If sleep is compromised it can lead to hormone disruption and weight gain. Obtaining less then 7 hours of sleep per night has been linked to weight gain in individuals. Strive for 7-9 hours on average. Optimal sleep means you fall asleep easily and stay asleep. If you are having trouble falling asleep make sure you are practicing healthy sleep habits each night such as shutting down your screen, laptop, phone, or television at least 30 minutes prior to bedtime. If a mental “to-do” list keeps you up at night, add list making to your nighttime routine. Write down everything that needs to get done and tell yourself “I will deal with this tomorrow”. This simple act can help clear your mind and prepare you for restful sleep. Deep breathing, meditation, reading, listening to music can all help as well. The idea here is that you are decompressing and preparing your body for sleep mode. If you are waking during the night and having trouble falling back asleep magnesium rich foods can help. Magnesium is a natural stress reliever and can help promote restful sleep. Strive to include magnesium rich foods such as almonds, cashews, avocados, bananas, and spinach into your diet especially at evening meals.

Too much stress!

Elevated stress can definitely take its toll on your waistline. Whether it’s stress eating, or an elevated level of cortisol (your stress hormone) which raises blood sugar, stress will definitely impair your ability to lose weight. Practicing stress management techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, keeping a gratitude journal, or spending more time outdoors can really help lower stress levels and make it easier to focus on your nutrition and weight loss goals.

Your environment

Too much junk food at work? Late night snacking at home? Dining out too often? Stressful events? Is your environment affecting your ability to stick to your goals? All of these items can lead to consuming unhealthy foods when you are not hungry. If this is happening to you, stick to a plan. Take the unhealthy foods out of the home to make this your ‘safe place’ and minimize triggers. Pack healthy snacks to keep on hand at work to avoid consuming sweets ‘just because they are there’. When dining out, take 5 extra minutes to check the menu online and determine which dish will align with your goals. Stick with your choice when ordering. Identifying triggers within your environment and devising a plan to avoid them can definitely help you stay on track.

Your support system 

“Are you really going to eat that?” Negative comments from people in your life can easily derail a person and feel like a threat. Whether its a friend who thinks that having that slice of cake is “no big deal” or the co-worker who thinks that healthy eating is “no fun”, negativity can be a real downer in terms of goal setting and can sabotage your effort to get healthy. Strive to surround yourself with people who support your goals and understand how important they are to you.

 

If any of this sounds familiar, you are not alone. Barriers can exist all around us. The key is to identify them and devise a plan that will set you up for success. Start with one or two small changes at a time and build from there. Remember, small changes lead to big results! 

 

 

6 Ways To Reduce Sugar in Your Diet

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Sugar is all the buzz these days.  As a dietitian, I spend a lot of time educating clients on how sugar in the diet can be a huge contributor to weight gain. I’m often asked about artificial sweeteners, natural sweeteners, how much sugar we should be consuming per day (hint, it’s not much!) and what to do about it all.  Here are a few ways you can reduce sugar in your diet in order to set yourself up for weight loss success.

 

1. Read labels.  The back of the label that is. Currently, the guidelines for sugar intake per day are 24g (6 teaspoons) for women and 36g (9 teaspoons) for men. That might seem a like a lot, especially if you consider that 1 teaspoon is equal to 1 packet of sugar, but in reality sugar is hidden in a lot of processed foods and beverages, so you may be getting way more then you think. To put it in perspective, the average can of regular soda has 36 grams of sugar – the daily allowance for men. If you were to consume a 20oz bottle of regular soda per day, you would consume a 4lb bag of sugar in less than 1 month! And it’s not just beverages that we need to worry about. Even some “healthy” foods contain a huge amount of sugar. Take yogurt for example. Some fat free yogurts contain close to 30g of sugar per serving. Talk about sabotaging your efforts to maintain a healthy weight. When reading a food label, look at the grams of added sugar and read the ingredients list! If you see sugar listed (especially within the first 3-5 ingredients) put it back.  Sugar has many guises, so even if it says ‘evaporated cane juice’, ‘agave’, ‘rice syrup’, ‘dextrose’, its all sugar. Remember, to get the facts read the back!

 

2. Avoid fat free or “diet” products. The fat free craze has done more harm then good over the years when you think about it. Obesity is at an all time high. Why? Because when fat is removed from a product it needs to be replaced with something to make still taste good. This is typically sugar, artificial sweeteners, or sodium. Eating fuller fat products will provide satiety and fullness, and will help reduce cravings.

 

3. Avoid artificial sweeteners. Artificial sweeteners are 200-600x sweeter then sugar. When you consume them, your palate is stimulated along with the sensory receptors in the brain. While they are marketed as a safe alternative to sugar, there is evidence to suggest that they do not help to promote weight loss. In some cases they may even make it harder to lose weight. Whether this is because they stimulate cravings for sweet foods or because they are chemically derived and therefore not metabolized the same as sugar is not totally clear. In any case, these are not natural alternatives and therefore are not something that I recommend.

 

4. Balance your carbs. We need carbohydrates in the diet to provide us with fuel and energy. The problem is most people tend to eat too many carbohydrates and, they tend to eat the wrong kinds (think simple vs. complex). Choose carbohydrates such as starchy vegetables, fruits, and certain grains such as quinoa or rice as your main source and reduce processed simple carbohydrates such as breads, pastas, cereals, and sugary granola bars. Simple carbs create a high glycemic load (too much sugar coming into the body at once) and ultimately a sugar crash (your body’s response when your blood sugar rises rapidly, then falls dramatically). Blood sugar crashes cause the body to crave more carbohydrates and sugary foods which ultimately leads to an endless cycle of carb craving and consumption. Eating complex carbs, paired with a quality protein source and a healthy fat will balance energy levels, lessen the glycemic load, and will ultimately be your best defense against sugar cravings.

 

5. Eat every 3-4 hours. This is what is known as preventative eating. Each time you eat a meal you should feel hungry enough to eat a meal, but not starving. When we are starving, we tend to overeat, which can impact blood sugar levels by causing a rapid rise then fall. The most common time of day reported by clients is late afternoon. Think of yourself nodding off in that afternoon meeting. When blood sugar falls, the body will signal us to eat more (you guessed it) sugar! This is usually about the time you are arriving home from work and raiding your cabinets for carb dense snacks. Sound familiar? Eating a balanced meal or snack every 3-4 hours will keep your blood sugar stable and will help to prevent crashes and cravings. Try it, it works!

 

6. Track your intake. Keep a food log or journal for one week. Track your sugar intake and determine how much you are getting per day. The average consumer gets approximately 97g of sugar daily! Once you determine how much you are getting try to gradually reduce wherever possible. A good goal to set is to reduce by 4g (roughly 1 packet of sugar) per day for the first week and continue to reduce until your intake meets the daily guidelines. Reducing gradually will allow your taste buds, your brain, and your metabolism to gradually adapt to this change.

 

Practicing these key principles will make a big difference in your overall sugar intake. Once you are aware of how much you are getting (and make strides to get sugar our of your diet) you’ll notice some big changes. You’ll feel better, have more energy, have less cravings, and more then likely see a big difference in your waistline!

Probiotics: What’s In It For Me?

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Probiotics have gained a ton of press over the years, and rightly so. Every week new studies surface promoting the benefits of maintaining a healthy gut microbiome, and probiotics are a key part.

probiotics

Probiotics are ‘good’ bacteria and yeasts within the body, and they are everywhere. There are more bacteria in the body then there are cells. Probiotics live within the sinus, mouth, ears, eyes, nose, gums, esophagus, tonsils, stomach, appendix, vagina, joints, and urinary tract, but most live within the large intestine or colon. Probiotics have been researched for decades, and many studies support the theory that they are essential for optimizing your health. Probiotics help to keep pathogens at bay, support proper digestion and nutrient absorption, improve mood, and boost the immune system. So should everyone consider taking a probiotic, or only individuals with health issues? Is supplementation necessary or can probiotics be obtained through food? If taking a probiotic supplement, which one do you choose? Read below to get the answers to these questions and more.

 How can probiotics keep me healthy? Lets start with the immune system. Numerous studies indicate that probiotics can benefit us in this area. Immunity can help with anything from the common cold to chronic infections. Approximately 75-80% of our immune system exists within the gut. One of the many functions of the gut is to act as a protective barrier to antigens. Antigens are the ‘bad’ bacteria. These come from things like the environment or from food. They enter the body and wreak havoc. But we can also loose probiotics from things like stress, chemicals, artificial sweeteners, medications, and poor diet. When your microbiome is out of balance, your health will undoubtedly be compromised. In contrast, when your gut maintains the appropriate balance of healthy bacteria or flora you are more equipped to fight off colds and illnesses, and stay healthy. So, it is of benefit to maintain your good bacteria at all times, not just when taking an antibiotic.

In addition, probiotics can be hugely beneficial to those with digestive disorders such as constipation, diarrhea, IBS, lactose intolerance, Crohn’s and Colitis. Probiotics can help protect the integrity of the gut lining as well as replenish and rebalance the levels of good bacteria in the colon. They can also help to absorb depleted nutrients.

Probiotics can also help treat certain illnesses including, UTI’s, chronic yeast infections, and certain allergies.

Who needs a probiotic? Those who are generally healthy can benefit from having probiotics in their diet in order to stay healthy. Individuals who are taking an antibiotic should consider taking a probiotic as well. Antibiotics are great at getting rid of the ‘bad’ bacteria in our bodies, but in doing so also get rid of the good bacteria. Many people will take a probiotic throughout the duration of their antibiotic. But we don’t just get antibiotics from pharmacy. They also exist within our food supply. They can be found in conventional eggs, poultry, beef, pork, and fish. So even if you have not taken a prescribed antibiotic for quite some time, you could still be ingesting them through your diet.

How can I get Probiotics into my diet?

Probiotics can be found in two sources: fermented foods and supplements.

Fermented foods containing probiotics include yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, miso, tempeh, kimchi, and kombucha. Having a variety of these foods in your diet can be a simple, healthy, and delicious way to balance your flora.

Probiotic supplements are a bit trickier, as not all probiotics are created equal. One of the most important things to consider is the strain of probiotic. Broadly speaking, probiotics are identified through their scientific nomenclature. This includes three names: Genus, species, and strain. Each name helps to identify the probiotic based on properties that make it distinct from others, beginning at the broadest level, and ending with the most specific classification. It is the strain that can be most important, as this is where you can correlate research studies and data specific to the probiotic. A common analogy is that of dogs. All dogs belong to the genus Canis and the species familiaris, but within the species there is a huge variety among breed. Think shape, size, coat, etc. This same logic applies to a probiotic strain. When choosing a supplement for specific conditions, a healthcare provider or dietitian can help you to identify which strains have been shown to be the most effective. Strains that work well for one condition, might not necessarily work well for another. The strain should be listed on the supplement label. An example would be Lactobacillus (Genus) rhamnosus (Species) GG (Strain).

Other things to consider in a probiotic supplement include whether or not the supplement contains guaranteed live colonies, has an expiration date (don’t buy one without it), whether the manufacturer offers unbiased third party testing, and the total bacterial level. Probiotics are dosed in billions of colonies per pill. This might sound like a lot, but keep in mind that there are between 100-300 trillion probiotics that occur in our body naturally. I generally recommend starting with a low dose of 1-5 billion in order to determine if you tolerate it well, then gradually increasing your dosage to 10-20 billion over time. You can start with .5-1 pill per day depending on the brand and colony level, and go from there. Side effects from probiotic supplements are rare, but ones that I have generally seen in practice include bloating or flatulence when initially started.

Hopefully this gives you a better understanding of probiotics and their benefits. If you are considering adding a probiotic to your health regimen, talk to your health care provider or dietitian to determine which probiotic is best for you.

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Sources:

http://www.health.harvard.edu/vitamins-and-supplements/health-benefits-of-taking-probiotics

https://nccih.nih.gov/health/probiotics/introduction.htm

http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/consumer-health/expert-answers/probiotics/faq-20058065

http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/73/2/444s.full

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