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Tag Archives: weight

Gut Health and Obesity – Is Your Microbiome Making You Fat?

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If you are like many of my clients, you may be seeking guidance and recommendations for weight loss. I often teach people about the benefits of eating healthy unprocessed foods, getting the proper amount of exercise, reducing stress, and prioritizing sleep as a means of achieving a healthy weight. But what if you are doing all of those things and still not seeing results? What else should be considered? The answer is: your gut.

“All Disease Begins In the Gut”

These were famous words spoken by Hippocrates thousands of years ago, and they still hold true today.

Our gut contains 100 trillion microorganisms known as our microbiome. This vast and awesome environment consisting mostly of bacteria, houses 70-80% of our immune system. It is also where serotonin is produced. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that is responsible for regulating mood, behavior, appetite, digestion, sleep, memory, and sexual desire. While we want to strive to have as healthy and diverse of a microbiome as we can, we can easily find ourselves in situations where our microbes will become altered or imbalanced.

An imbalance in our microbiome is known as dysbiosis. Dysbiosis occurs when we have low microbial diversity, an overabundance of bad bacteria vs. good bacteria, or pathogens. Dysbiosis typically results from things like poor diet, stress, certain medications like NSAIDS, chronic infections, and toxins in the environment. Dysbiosis has been linked to many chronic diseases such IBS, depression, anxiety, thyroid disease, and autoimmune conditions and obesity.

But how exactly, does bacteria in our gut contribute to our ability to gain and lose weight? Several obesity studies have shown that specific microbes in the gut alter how we store calories and fats. Studies that compared the microbiome of lean individuals to obese individuals have found that the leaner study participants had a wider variety of microbes that break down plant starches and fiber into shorter molecules that the body can use as energy. Studies have also shown that a diet high in processed foods can lower diversity within the gut. Gut bacteria can also alter how we regulate glucose levels and how we respond to hormones that make us feel hungry or full, both of which can contribute to changes in body weight and metabolism.

Simply put, an imbalance in our microbiome may increase our risk of weight gain and obesity.

How do you know if you are at risk?

Digestive issues such as gas, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, reflux, or IBS are all signs that your microbiome is impaired and out of balance. If you are struggling to lose weight, these issues may be a contributing factor. Other signs of gut impair include fatigue, brain fog, depression and anxiety, frequent colds and infections, and autoimmune disease.

What to do about it

Repair your gut – for many this can start with a quality probiotic. Probiotics help to diversify your flora  and keep your gut functioning at its best. I recommend professional grade probiotic supplements along with glutamine or collagen to help maintain a healthy gut mucosal lining . But if you are experiencing any of the issues mentioned earlier, it could require a more extensive gut protocol that includes additional supplements such as digestive enzymes, HCL, Magnesium, herbal microbials, or reflux supportive supplements such as DGL. This may seem extensive, but keep in mind that many of these might be temporary supplements that are needed to reduce inflammation and put you on the road to better health.

If you are struggling with digestive issues and weight gain, it is worth exploring the topic of gut health and working with a qualified health practitioner such as myself, to develop a gut protocol to get you well. Once your gut is repaired you may find it easier to lose weight and maintain a healthy weight longer.

For more information on gut health and nutrition counseling, contact me here

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 high fiber grains such as quinoa. For protein, I like to recommend wild caught fish, free range chicken or turkey, and grass fed beef. Healthy fats would include olive oil, grass fed butter, ghee, 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 (I can help you with that) 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 reduce or eliminate these from 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, Rhodiola, Lemon Balm, or Valerian 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. Work with a qualified health practitioner to learn more.

Prioritize your sleep

Adapt a healthy sleep routine and stick to it. Turn off electronic devices after 10pm, keep your bedroom cool and dark, and practice healthy sleep habits such as reading or meditating to help clear your mind and prepare you for restful sleep. The ultimate goal is 7-9 hours of uninterrupted sleep per night.

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 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 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.

 

 

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