Weight Loss

The Holiday Season is in Full Swing…How to Avoid the Overeating and Weight Gain

For many of us the holiday season is both stressful and enjoyable.  Stressful from ensuring the gifts get bought and wrapped in time, to getting those big meals cooked and on the table.  Enjoyable because it’s a festive time with pretty lights, gift giving, office celebrations, and gatherings with friends and family.

Underneath the festive nature of the holiday season lurks the overindulgence of food and disruptions to our time to exercise.  So, how can you manage your way around the food at the parties, at the holiday dinner table, and the home baked goodies in the office, so you don’t find yourself a few pounds heavier in the New Year?  Here are some tips to help you still enjoy the holidays without the guilt of weight gain.

Rather than trying to adhere to all the suggestions below, pick the 1 or 2 you can be most successful with and stick to those 80-90% of the time. 

  1. Plan ahead for the holiday parties.  There are several things that can help you navigate the food temptations at parties. 
    • Don’t arrive hungry.  This will most likely cause you to eat more and choose foods you normally wouldn’t.  Instead, eat a light protein-based snack before the party.
    • If it’s a potluck party, bring a healthy dish.  This way if the other dishes are high in fat and calories, you and the other guests have an alternative.
    • First, fill your plate with vegetables and lean meat.  Leave off the desert.  After you’ve finished your plate, wait 10-15 minutes before heading for the desert.  This will give you time to feel satiated, so when you reach for that desert you’ll be more likely to choose the one you most want.
    • If you are the host, send guests home with to-go containers of the leftovers.  If you are a guest, either take one serving of what you really want, or politely use the excuse you have too much at home and it would go to waste if you took it.

2.  Enjoy your holiday food favorites without the guilt.  At the holiday dinner table, what can you skip all together in order to enjoy one of those foods that are cooked special for the holiday?  For example, can you skip the bread, mashed potatoes, etc., that you can get any day of the year in favor of indulging in the candied sweet potatoes?

3.     Keep holiday treats and snacks out of sight.  Out of sight out of mind as they say.  To avoid mindlessly eating high calorie treats, put them in opaque containers on a higher shelf, or if they can be, freeze them in individual servings. 

4.     Stay active.  This is a busy time of the year which can easily derail any exercise routine.  Try working out first thing in the morning to avoid schedule conflicts later in the day.  If all you can spare is 10-15 minutes, you can get a quick body weight workout at home (i.e., squats, plank, push-ups, triceps dips), or take a brisk walk (or jog) in the cooler winter air.

Lastly, be realistic.  Holidays are centered around food, family and fun.  One day of splurging won’t break your fitness and nutrition efforts.  Just be careful one day doesn’t turn into many days or weeks.  Also, avoid dieting during the holidays.  It is one of the most difficult times of the year to lose any weight or weight gain with all the temptations facing you.  Focus on maintaining your weight rather than losing it with the tips provided above.

Want to Lose Weight and Perform Your Best? Avoid Telling Yourself This…

When it comes to weight loss and exercise, there is a missing ingredient in those diets and fitness routines that rarely, if ever, gets included and talked about.  And, it has a greater impact on how successful you can be reaching your weight loss and fitness goals, and being able to perform your best both professionally and personally.  That is, what you tell yourself matters.

Successfully Lose Weight and Keep it Off – Start by Eliminating These 2 Words from Your Vocabulary

Your thoughts and feelings have a great influence on how you act, or not, on something.  If you have a negative emotion towards it, say about exercising, then it’s likely you will not be rushing to do that cardio workout or pick up those weights.  This limits how often you exercise, and increases the chances you won’t lose weight or have the energy to perform your best.  Alternatively, if you have a positive emotion towards something, say eating a healthy diet, then it’s likely you will find ways to eat better more often.

But, telling yourself to be more positive likely isn’t going to solve the problem of exercising more often or eating a healthy diet.  Instead, consider the words you use.  Avoid saying these 2 words to yourself – “Should” and “Can’t,” and replace them with something different.

Why is “Should” so Bad?

Think about how it sounds, feels, or looks like when you say, “I should have exercised this week,” “I should exercise tomorrow,” “I should eat better.”  I should, I should, I should.  That word strongly implies an obligation or a sense of duty of having to do something, not out of choice.  Here’s what happens:

  • It decreases the feeling of having a personal choice, desire, and empowerment to act.
  • It’s a form of self-criticism and we feel bad about ourselves for not doing something that we know is good.
  • It decreases self-esteem, confidence, and motivation.

Contrast this with saying, “I want to exercise so I can lose weight,” “I am eating healthier (even if all you’ve done is substitute one unhealthy item for a healthier one),” “I desire to be stronger and more fit.”  Words like these are much more empowering and create a greater desire to do something that is good.

Why “Can’t” is Bad

The reason for avoiding this word is obvious.  If you tell yourself you can’t do something, well then you’ve convinced yourself you can’t.  It will be a self-fulfilling prophecy.  For example, have you ever said to yourself, “no matter how hard I try I can’t lose weight,” or “I’ve tried a handful of diets and I still can’t lose weight,” or “I can’t exercise, I’m too busy today.” 

The key is to be aware of the word when you use it.  With awareness comes change.  When you catch yourself saying “can’t,” ask yourself what you can do.  It could be as simple as, “I can eat a piece of fruit today,” or “I will get up from my desk and take a short brisk walk to get a bit of exercise and clear my head.” 

What you tell yourself matters.  It matters if you want to lose weight, be more fit, eat a healthier diet, or perform your best personally and professionally.  So, tell yourself nice things and this will increase your chances of achieving your goals.

Eliminating Foods to Successfully Lose Weight: Does It Work?

It’s probably safe to assume that most people trying to lose weight have attempted some sort of food elimination type diet to achieve it.  Whether that was through the latest fad diet or a self-attempt at eliminating foods we think or know are bad for us, it’s been a popular form of dieters in the U.S.  But, with around 70% of the U.S. adult population overweight (including those obese), it doesn’t appear elimination strategies are working.  

Let’s lay it out there.  Rarely does eliminating foods completely from your diet work in the long run.  And, eliminating some foods and micro-nutrients (carbs, fat, protein) aren’t particularly healthy no matter how badly you want to lose weight.  Rather than trying to find that perfect diet, or blaming yourself for not having the discipline to stay away from certain foods, we need to look at what happens in those great big heads of ours.  Then, just maybe, a weight loss attempt will be more successful.

The Wonders of the Human Brain…You Can Blame Your Food Problems On That If You Need a Scapegoat

Our desire for certain foods is a very complex combination of biological, cognitive and cultural factors that unconsciously affect our relationship with food.  So, instead of being in a constant battle with food, let’s understand what naturally happens around food and work with it, instead of against it. 

Neuroscientists have studied the brain’s activity in relation to food.  Do you know what draws us to sugar, besides of course the taste of it?  Dopamine.  Sugar releases dopamine, and dopamine makes us feel good.  And who doesn’t want to feel good! 

But what draws us to certain foods?  Our food preferences are actually part of our genetic make-up (biological factors).  The dominant or recessive genes associated with certain tastes determine if we can even taste it, let alone like it.  Additionally, if the food smells good to us we are more likely to want it, and if the texture is pleasing to us, (i.e., smooth, crunchy, etc.) we are more likely to consume it.  So, it’s not really all that surprising that eating something you really like gives you a sense of pleasure, and is pleasing to your palate.  That makes it difficult to eliminate it from your diet.

Then there’s how we think and feel about food (cognitive factors).  Ultimately, this is related to the decisions we make about what, and even when, to eat.  Why do you eat eggs and cereal for breakfast, rather than dinner?  Why do you eat 3 meals a day at certain times?  Why are certain foods associated with good or bad memories, or memories of childhood?  What foods conjure up feelings of reducing stress and being happy?  Exploring these questions gives an insight into such things as our eating habits and why we eat and associate certain foods with reward, comfort, or stress reduction.  Eliminating such foods will likely not change how you feel about, or desire, them.  Often depriving yourself of them results in an overindulgence later that leads to weight gain and yo-yo dieting. 

The other factor that most influences what you eat is from your culture.  Did you grow up or are you surrounded in a culture where red meat, white meat, fish, rice, potatoes, beans, or any number of other foods were/are the main components of meals?  There are traditional foods in all societies and cultures, and thus the beauty of a wide range of food options available to us.  Will eliminating these foods really limit such cultural influences drawing you to eat them?

Bottom Line on Eliminating Foods from your diet

Oftentimes the foods that we naturally love, make us feel good, and grew up around, are the ones that we try to unsuccessfully eliminate in order to lose weight.  This smacks right up against our natural and emotional desires, making it difficult to adhere to such a method of dieting.  And while short term success is possible, long term success is not because it didn’t address working with your natural inclinations or changing long term habits and/or beliefs. 

Instead, success lies in making slower changes so that you achieve eating healthy 80% of the time.  Rather than eliminate, limit unhealthy foods bit by bit and find ways to slowly replace them with healthier choices most of the time.  Over time, you may find those pounds drop off and stay off!

As with any dieting, be sure to speak with your doctor and a registered dietician to see what’s right for you.

The One Thing Holding You Back From… (Excuses)

You want to lose weight.  You want to look and feel great all the time.  You want a profitable business/career.  You want to ditch the dieting forever.  Once you lose that weight you want to keep it off.  You want less stress and more energy.  

These are great things we all want.  Why is it so difficult then to lose that weight, or get off that dieting roller coaster, and achieve everything we want.  The answer most often lies in the excuses we tell ourselves.  

There are good reasons for not doing something we want or intend to do.  It might be an emergency or something of more importance that comes up and we have to postpone that thing we wanted/meant to do.  Any reason we give ourselves is real and valid at the time. 

What happens when we keep using these “reasons” day after day, month after month?  Sadly, these once valid reasons become the “good” excuses we have for putting off what we wanted, intended, or knew we should do.  The excuses we made were good, but they didn’t get us anywhere.

It’s safe to say all of us have used these 3 excuses at one time or another.

Excuse #1: “I Have No Time/I’m Too Busy.”

Time to get real on this excuse.  We all have 24 hours in a day…not more, not less.  People that perform at high levels of achievement don’t have any more time than the rest of us, and in fact it’s likely they are even busier.  Consider Richard Branson, Brendon Burchard, Tony Robbins, Oprah Winfrey…the list goes on.  What they do is make time for what is important to them, and yes their fitness and health are critical factors to their high performance.

Here are a few options for busting through the exercise time excuse:

  • Been off the exercise wagon a while?  Take 5-10 minutes each day (no more until this becomes so easy and a habit) and do something physical.  Walk, jog, do a few push-ups, crunches, stretches, etc. 
  • Exercise in the morning before your day truly becomes busy.
  • Literally schedule exercise into your day, just like you would a meeting.  If 15-minutes is all you have tomorrow, then 15-minutes it is.   

Excuse #2: “I’ve Tried [such and such] Before and It Didn’t Work.”

There are two things about this excuse.  One, maybe the diet or weight loss program you tried really didn’t work for you.  Fine, but did you try something else or just give up?  Second, maybe you had a failed attempt at losing weight or reaching whatever goal you had.  Did you get discouraged and just give up?

The biggest problem with this excuse is letting failure have its way.  Everyone fails at times.  High performers do.  The difference is they get back into the “game” quickly.

How about trying this:  Have a plan for when you do fail.  For example, 2 days in a row of skipping exercise is all I will allow myself; or if I eat poorly 1 day, the next day I’ll eat a healthy breakfast and dinner.

Excuse #3: “I Don’t Have Money To [join a gym, pay a personal trainer, buy a program].”

This excuse requires a certain amount of honesty.  Do you truly lack money to make even a small investment in your health and fitness?  Is losing weight and being fit really on the top of your list of importance?  How badly and how fast do you want to lose that weight, be stronger, more mobile…?

The key to ditching this excuse is being able to answer these questions.  Because what is important to us, we usually put our resources into and accomplish.  And while money is a legitimate concern, running or fast walking outside and doing bodyweight exercises at home are free.  Small purchases of a few key pieces of equipment to have at home can help you level up. 

Bottom Line…

Examine your reasons for skipping exercise and continuing to eat unhealthy.  Have these become excuses over time?  If so, take one excuse and make just one small change to be better.  Stick with that until it is so easy that you know you can make a second small change.  The road ahead to losing weight, feeling great and having the life you want then becomes that much easier.

Understanding the Paleo Diet

The Paleo Diet, also known as the Caveman diet, has been around awhile and is still popular among some dieters and athletes.  But, is it a healthy diet and is it one that is good for you?  As with any diet, it’s important to understand what the diet is, the foods it includes, the foods it avoids, the benefits, and risks or concerns of the diet.  It’s even more important to determine if this diet is right for you by speaking with your doctor and a registered dietitian. 

What is the Paleo Diet?

The paleo diet is based on what cavemen and cavewomen are presumed to have eaten thousands of years ago.  Why eat like a caveman you ask?  The premise is that our bodies are genetically programmed to eat as our stone age ancestors did.  True or not, let’s take a look at what foods they had access to back then.

Since our stone age ancestors existed before modern agriculture became a thing, the foods they ate would have been ones they hunted and gathered for.  Wild animals, fish, and uncultivated plants, such as fruits, berries, eggs, and roots, rounded out the diet.  As such, the diet was high in protein and fiber, and low in fat.

If a food did not exist back then, it would not be an authentic paleo food item.  In modern times, we have many more cultivated healthy food choices available.  Additionally, most meats and plants are domesticated, thus making a true paleo diet difficult to follow.  What this means is, at best, a modified version of the paleo diet that is organic and gluten free would be one that a dieter could follow.  But that doesn’t alone make it good either.

Foods of the Paleo Diet

While there are many versions of the Paleo diet, with some stricter than others, below is a list that most paleo diets are made up of.

·  Grass-feed meats and poultry (versus corn fed) as the nutritional quality would be closer to what our stone age ancestors would have had available.

·  Wild-caught fish and seafood (salmon, haddock, trout, shellfish, shrimp, etc.)

·  Low carb vegetables (such as leafy greens, peppers, celery, asparagus, broccoli, cucumbers)

·  Pasture-raised eggs

·  Fruits (sometimes)

·  Tree nuts (only in moderation)

·  Raw cacao (high in polyphenol antioxidants)

·  Coconut milk

·  Organic green tea

·  Cold pressed avocado, coconut and olive oil

Foods not included in the Paleo Diet

·  Legumes

·  Grains

·  Starches (potatoes, corn, refined cereal, etc.)

·  Dairy

·  Alcohol

·  Sugar

·  Processed foods

·  Processed oils

Potential Benefits of a Paleo Diet

·  Fast weight loss

·  Improved blood markers (cholesterol, triglycerides, insulin)

·  Lower blood pressure

·  Reduced risk of chronic diseases

·  May benefit patients with type 2 diabetes

Potential Risks/Concerns of a Paleo Diet

·  Lack of energy (from carbohydrate restriction)

·  Vitamin and Mineral deficiencies (from legume and grain restriction)

·  Calcium deficiencies (from legume restriction)

·  Increased risk of chronic diseases (from legume and grain restriction)

·  Mental fatigue (from carbohydrate restriction)

·  Muscle loss (from carbohydrate restriction)

What’s The bottom line?

A well-formulated paleo diet may be beneficial for weight loss and improving overall nutritional health.  A major drawback may be the restriction of healthy legumes and grains in the diet, as well as other nutrient rich items like many fruits and vegetables.  Always seek the advice of a doctor and registered dietitian to determine if a paleo diet is good for you. 

In the long term, having a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, fish, lean meats, whole grains, seeds, nuts, and unprocessed foods, is easier to maintain and provides needed nutrients for optimal health.

Maybe Grab That Dark Chocolate the Next Time

It’s been widely publicized that dark chocolate may have the health benefit of reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, and inflammation.  With so many chocolate lovers out there, this was some great news.  Justifying eating this wonderful treat because it’s actually healthy for you!

But, are there buts to it like anything else?  Thus, deflating you yet again and steering you away from something delicious?  Maybe, maybe not.

What’s Behind the Chocolate Hype

Chocolate is derived from the cocoa bean, which is rich in antioxidant flavonoids.  Foods with antioxidant properties are wonderful to hear about.  Talk about guilt free foods! 

Antioxidant is a very broad term that refers to hundreds of substances.  The ones of most notoriety are Vitamins A, C, and E, beta-carotene, selenium, lutein, lycopene and polyphenols.  These are found in familiar foods such as berries, nuts, and beans.  Antioxidants neutralize free radicals.  Free radicals are both a natural byproduct of normal processes in our body’s cells, and from those environmental toxins we come into contact with such as tobacco smoke, air pollution, and ultraviolet rays.  Our body’s cells naturally produce strong antioxidants, while the foods we eat supply others, such as those mentioned above.

Back to the Cocoa Bean

Remember, the cocoa bean was rich in flavonoids.  Flavonoids are a wonder of nature in that they are found only in plants, and help protect plants from those environmental toxins, fungi and microbes.  They also help the plant repair damage. 

Flavonoids have hit notoriety because of their possible medicinal use in fighting against certain types of cancers, atherosclerosis (build-up of plaque in the artery walls), and high cholesterol.  The main type of flavonoid in the cocoa bean are flavonols.  These flavonols contain antioxidant properties that may serve a role to improve blood flow and lower bad cholesterol (LDL).

Why Dark Chocolate over Milk Chocolate

Not all chocolate is created equally.  Cocoa is very pungent and bitter.  So, in order to make it taste good, most of the chocolates available on the U.S. grocery shelves are heavily processed.  The more heavily processed, the more flavonols are lost, and so it becomes just another unhealthy food to eat.

The silver lining is in the dark chocolate, and the darker the better.  It’s believed that more of the flavonols are retained during processing of dark chocolate than say, milk chocolate.  However, it all comes down to the manufacturing process, which we aren’t always privy to.  However, for now, dark chocolate appears to be the better health conscious choice.

So, when you feel you just have to treat yourself, a moderate amount of dark chocolate (one ounce) a few times a week may be a good choice.  This, along with those other flavonoid rich foods, such as berries, citrus fruits, and legumes, can round out your diet without the guilt.

You Can Have Your Cake and Eat it Too!

Yes, you heard me right.  I’m (Therese) giving you permission to eat that piece of cake, or chocolate, or cookie, or pizza, or, well, fried anything.  This probably sounds hypocritical since I’ve written about substituting such foods for healthier options.  And yeah, okay, it kind of does.  But, let me explain…Words Matter. 

What Happens When You’re Told Not to Do Something?  

Don’t, not, and no are some of the strongest words in any language.  Growing up, I’m sure most of us heard things like, “Don’t touch that,” “Don’t do that,” “This [whatever] is not for you,” “No, you can’t have that.”  When we hear the words don’t, not, and no, the brain focuses on that “thing” we aren’t supposed to touch, do, have, etc.  And it ends up being all we can think about.  

There’s a reason I’m telling this story. 

How many times have you been told to stay away from that metaphorical piece of cake?  The same thing happens that is described above.  When we are told NOT to eat “something,” that “something” is ALL we think about.  And that “something” is usually a food we crave for whatever reason, maybe associated with comfort, happy moments, or triggered by sight or smell. 

Now, I’m certainly not advocating going on a binge of eating junk food.  Neither am I saying to totally eliminate them from your diet so they never touch your lips again.  What I am saying is that you can allow for small or occasional indulgences, rather than completely denying yourself.  But, it requires some strategy so that 80 to 90 percent of the time you are eating a good, clean, healthy diet.

Strategies for Cheating (Cheat Meal and item…)

Here are a few cheating strategies so you keep your diet on track and avoid psychological guilt or feelings of failure while losing or maintaining weight.

  • Schedule a cheat meal.  Plan a favorite dinner of pizza, burger and fries, etc.  Refrain from doing this too frequently—1x/week max.  The more cheat meals that are eaten, the longer it can take to reach a weight loss goal.
  • Schedule a cheat day.  Plan only 1 day/month to eat whatever you like that day.  Avoid this strategy if it tends to cause a lingering return to unhealthy eating beyond the one day.  Also, after the cheat day be sure to eliminate those items from your kitchen.
  • Have one small “treat” during the day.  This could be one small scoop of ice cream after dinner, or a piece of chocolate midday, etc.  The key word here is small.  Additionally, only keep 1-2 of these items in your kitchen at a time and allow them to run out before another purchase.

The overall idea is to allow yourself to modestly indulge, which may help stick to an otherwise healthy diet.  The win here is that the cravings won’t control you anymore.  Rather, you control the cravings.  There is power in that!

TV & Junk Food: Are They Related?

I don’t know, maybe I was just burned out a bit from working too hard and needed a break, but yesterday was one of those lazy days for me.  I decided enough was enough and I was just going to relax for the day.  Now we all need those relaxation days to recharge.  But, on this particular day, I was glued to the TV.  And, for some reason, I took more notice of the many food commercials that we are bombarded with. 

It Made Me Wonder if TV Led to More Eating, and Junk Food in Particular.

To be completely transparent, some of what I have to say on this subject is based on my own experience, and some on research.  First, my own experience…

What I Know to Be True for Myself

I fight my food demons like I know a lot of others do.  Growing up, there were always sugary desserts and candies on hand.  While that’s another story in itself, suffice it to say, while we had to eat dinner at the table, dessert was served later in front of the TV.  I took this same practice into adulthood for many years.  Unconsciously, I associated relaxing in front of the TV with treat time.  During my own weight loss journey, it was one of the habits I became aware of that were contributing to my overweight.  (If you want to know what I did…I slowly began substituting for a healthier snack.

Back to Those TV Commercials.

To be fair, not all those food commercials I noticed yesterday promoted bad foods.  Some were certainly healthy.  But, on seeing them, even though I wasn’t hungry, it made me want to eat.  In sight, in mind, so to speak.  So, my natural tendency was to hit the kitchen and forage for food.  That meant extra calories I was consuming, healthy food or not.

What Some Research Says

In 2018, Cancer Research UK1 [United Kingdom], conducted a survey of teens between 11 and 19 years of age to assess if there was an association between TV streaming and ads on diets.  More specifically, on junk food and sugary drink consumption.  They discovered that teens who regularly streamed shows containing ads “were more than twice as likely (139%) to drink fizzy drinks compared to someone with low advert exposure from streaming TV, and 65% more likely to eat more ready meals than those who streamed less TV.”

In another study, researchers looked into whether eating while watching TV increased the number of calories consumed relative to eating with no TV2.  The participants were women.  Interestingly, everyone ate more with TV.  If the show was a favorite, or one they were familiar with, the food intake was even greater.

I always like to leave with a bottom line.  After working with clients and my own experience, one of the ways to combat TV and food intake is to be mindful of it.  The more mindful we are of what we are doing, the more we can move to modify it in a healthier way.

1Cancer Research UK. “Teens likely to crave junk food after watching TV ads.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 15 January 2018. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/01/180115184342.htm.

2Braude, L., & Stevenson, R. J., 2014. Department of Psychology, Macquarie University, Sydney, NSW 2109, Australia. “Watching television while eating increases energy intake. Examining the mechanisms in female participants.” Appetite. Vol. 76, pp 9-16. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.appet.2014.01.005.

Are Carbs the Reason Behind Weight Gain?

The poor carbohydrate, it gets such a bad rap!  Now, before you roll your eyes, or remind me of all the stories about people losing weight by cutting out carbs, hear me out on the subject…

Can drastically cutting carbohydrates help to lose weight?  Sure, just like other diets, cutting out a bigger source of calories than you take in can mean successfully losing weight.  But are carbs the reason behind weight gain as so many have implied?  Not really, and here is why.

Wait…first I want to digress and take a look at the carbohydrate and why it is so important to our diet.  (For more on this, read our ebook on the 7 Myths About Weight Loss and the Top Proven Strategies to Overcome Them.)

The Mighty Carb

Put simply, when we consume carbohydrates our bodies break them down into glucose.   Glucose really has one major role and that is to supply energy for our body.  It is the body’s primary fuel for most of its cells.  It is highly important to the brain, red blood cells, nervous system, and for those pregnant – the fetus and placenta.  In fact, virtually the only fuel used by your brain is glucose! 

To be quite succinct, without enough carbs to make enough glucose, our energy levels wane, brain function slows, and our nervous system and ability to fight disease gets impaired.

But you’d rather burn more fat than carbs you say! 

Well, the fact is that when fat is burned for a source of energy, it needs a small amount of glucose to break it down.  So, you need carbs to make glucose to burn fat. 

There is a ton of misinformation out there that fat and protein can easily be used as a source of energy – directly, they cannot.  The ultimate fuel source is glucose (more specifically glycogen).  The process of converting fat and protein to glycogen is a costly process for your body, and degrades muscle in the process.  Finally, muscles are made of protein, but built by carbs (and resistance!)

Okay back to carbs being the cause of weight gain

Let’s be honest, carbs are not the bad ones here.  Good sources of carbs provide excellent sources of vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals and dietary fiber that our body needs to stay healthy and lower the risk of disease.  High nutrient foods with carbs include:

  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Whole Grains
  • Legumes

Even the bad carbs in small amounts aren’t necessarily the culprits of weight gain, though certainly they need to be limited.  You know what they are…candy, sugary desserts, sodas, etc.

Barring a medical problem, weight gain is an accumulation, over time, of eating too much…period.  The “wrong foods” make this worse as they are usually higher calorie.  Couple that with a sedentary lifestyle — not getting enough exercise/movement — and of course any food can cause issues.  So, let’s stop blaming carbs and be sure we are eating a healthy balanced diet and getting an adequate amount of exercise. 

All this said, carbohydrates should make up 45 to 65 percent of the total amount of calories you eat each day. These are essential to your diet!

Understanding the Keto Diet

One of the more recent popular diets has been the Keto (Ketogenic) diet.  As with any diet, it could help people successfully lose weight.  But before jumping on the train headed to Weightlossville, it’s important to understand what the diet is, the foods it includes, the foods it avoids, the benefits and risks or concerns of the diet.

It’s even more important to determine if this diet is right for you by speaking with your doctor and a registered dietitian, as opposed to those without any formal nutrition science and medical training.

What is the Keto Diet?

It may surprise you, but the keto diet is actually over 80 years old.  It has been used in clinical settings for the treatment of epilepsy in children.  It has gained popularity in the general population of people trying to lose weight.  

The keto diet is a high-fat diet that severely reduces carbohydrate intake.  (Sound familiar to Atkins!?  It is different, but…)  This allows the liver to produce ketone bodies, which then are used as the main fuel source of burning energy in the body over glucose.  This puts the body into a state called ketosis.  It’s important to note that a ketogenic diet does not necessarily result in more fat loss over a non-ketogenic diet.1

Problem #1 – while your body will use ketone bodies as fuel regardless of how it happened, the process by burning anything other than glucose is extremely inefficient.  In most cases, the extra work is actually damaging as it first burns muscle, not fat.  This later will result in you burning less calories at rest – making weight loss harder.

About 75% fat, 20% protein, and 5% carbohydrate make up the keto diet.  The diet provides enough protein for growth.  However, the amount of carbohydrates is inadequate for the body’s metabolic needs.  And fat is relatively inefficient to burn (and very calorie dense!)

Foods of the Keto Diet

  • Meat (red meat, bacon, sausage, ham, turkey, chicken)
  • Fatty fish (salmon, tuna, trout, anchovies, sardines, mackerel)
  • Full-fat dairy foods (eggs, butter, cream, unprocessed cheese)
  • Low carb vegetables (such as leafy greens, peppers, celery, asparagus, cucumbers)
  • Avocados
  • Healthy oils (olive, coconut, avocado)
  • Nuts (walnuts, almonds, etc.)
  • Seeds (flax, chia, pumpkin, etc.)

Foods not included in the Keto Diet

  • Fruits
  • Beans
  • Legumes
  • Grains
  • Alcohol
  • Sugar (including sugary foods and drinks)
  • Milk

Let’s repeat one thing again – FRUITS are excluded.  These are very vitamin and mineral rich, and while yes they have natural sugars and need moderation, they are part of any well balanced diet.

Potential Benefits of a Keto Diet

  • Fast weight loss
  • Lower blood glucose levels
  • May decrease inflammation
  • May benefit patients with type 2 diabetes

Potential Risks/Concerns of staying on a Keto Diet for long periods

  • Vitamin and mineral deficiencies 
  • Constipation
  • Lack of healthy gut flora (the ‘good bacteria’)
  • Electrolyte abnormalities
  • Loss of lean body mass
  • Increase in LDL cholesterol
  • Increased risk of heart disease
  • Lack of energy

What’s The bottom line?

A well-formulated keto diet may be beneficial for weight loss in the short term, and may be safe assuming it includes whole foods and provides adequate amounts of fiber, vitamins and minerals.  However, the lack of several key foods and the loss of a major nutrient group (carbohydrates) can be dangerous and does not add enough benefit for many to offset the risk.  Always seek the advice of a doctor and registered dietitian to determine if a keto diet is good for you.

In the long term, having a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, fish, lean meats, whole grains, seeds, nuts, and unprocessed foods, is not only easier to maintain, but also provides more needed nutrients for optimal health.

1Johnston C., Tjonn S., Swan P., White A., Hutchins H., Sears B. (2006). Ketogenic low-carbohydrate diets have no metabolic advantage over nonketogenic low-carbohydrate diets, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 83, Issue 5, 1 May 2006, Pages 1055-1061.