You asked: Cardio versus strength training for fat loss

I am not sure if you have heard, but you do not need to run to be thin. But cardio, more accurately aerobic exercise, is often promoted as THE BEST STRATEGY for weight loss. Aerobic exercises are touted as:

  • Burning more calories in a shorter period of time.
  • Cheap, all you need is a pair of shoes and ground to walk all.
  • Supposedly higher fat burning.
  • And more.

The truth is that long duration, aerobic activities are not the most effective, efficient strategies for fat loss.

I could tell you all the benefits of strength training. But you can Google that and come up with some pretty respectable answers. What I want to tell you are a few reasons  WHY strength training is better than aerobic exercise for fat loss and weight maintenance.

EPOC

After exercise , the body continues to need oxygen at a higher rate than before the exercise began. This sustained oxygen consumption is known as excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC). Because of this, the body continues to expend energy after exercise and therefore burn calories. Research shows that EPOC is greater after resistance training than it is after aerobic exercises – likely as a result of greater intensity and disruption to the body’s homeostasis.

While you may burn more calories during 30 minutes of aerobic training than you will with 30 minutes of strength training (not always the case!), you will burn more calories in the hours following strength training than you will in the hours following aerobic training because of EPOC.

MORAL: Strength training ultimately burns more calories than aerobic training.

Muscle burns calories – fat does not

I know you have heard it, “Muscle burns more calories than fat.” I hate this phrase – because it implies that fat would burn some amount of calories. It does not!

CLICK HERE to read the rest of this post.

Want to see results from only working out 3-5 hours a week? It’s possible! I have done it and so have many of my clients.

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Want a flat belly? Do more squats

Requests seem to come to me in cycles. One person mentioned wanting to do more abs and earn a flatter, thinner midsection and now everyone is mentioning this to me. My latest automatic response is that we should do more squats.

Many have said, “I think I should do more abs, don’t you?”

No. I don’t.

Reason 1: Ab exercises burn very few calories.

In order to burn fat and lose weight – whether it be in your belly, thighs, or butt – you need to burn calories. Traditional ab exercises burn very few calories in essence because they focus on small muscles. If anything, if you only focus on abs, your midsection may grow – because you DO build muscle.

Reason 2: Core conditioning is built into every workout.

At least it is built into every one of my workouts (I cannot say the same of all workouts and trainers out there). If you have every worked with me, you have heard me talk about this. I build core training and conditioning into the workout – more efficient and functional.

Why squats?

Squats are one of the biggest calorie burners – at least for the general exerciser. Squats require your large leg and butt muscles to work – making them a huge calorie burner. And you need to burn calories to burn fat! And because you cannot spot reduce for weight loss, you want to burn more calories to reduce the girth of your midsection.

Truth be told: Abs are made in the kitchen

You may have heard this, and it is true. Abs are made in the kitchen – even moreso for women. A large portion of midsection weight can be attributed to what you put in your mouth. While another portion of this is related to hormones (a woman in a particular time of fertility will have more fat, protecting the womb as a safe home for a fetus), eating what I refer to as CRAP will find itself attached to your midsection (as well as other areas).

Carbonated drinks
Refined grains and sugars
Artificial flavors
Processed foods

The bottomline

Doing more ab exercises will not lead to a flatter belly. I know, this is not necessarily intuitive, but trust me! Have I ever led you wrong?

Eat well and burn more calories – through strength training and effective aerobic exercise.

Doing all the right things and not getting the results you desire? Let’s chat and fine-tune your plan.

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CrossFit: The good, the bad, and the ugly

I have been avoiding this post. The thought and energy that I have put into this is exhausting. But time and time again:

Is CrossFit a good choice for me?

99% of the time my answer is NO! My intent is to educate and inform – including the good, the bad, and the ugly.

My need for answers and information

I am a person who needs answers. I need to approach a topic from all perspectives and angles before I make a decision. (I come across as highly opinionated, but I am also highly informed and I therefore have great confidence in my opinion.)

Given my need for information, I decided that I needed to seek out scholarly and scientific support for CrossFit – as if I wanted to promote it. I spent endless hours searching for anything peer-reviewed. I was searching for legitimate research for the CrossFit model. I sought the input of colleagues and exercise physiologists – do they know of any research?

Nothing.

I did come across a study that measured the energy expenditure of CrossFit workouts versus other high intensity workouts. I do not question that you expend energy, so this study was less than helpful (not to mention had only 40 participants). Beyond this, there was nothing scholarly. The health and fitness journals will not publish anything that lacks validity and reliability.

My thirst for reliable data and research was unfulfilled.

Been there, done that

I also participate before I draw a conclusion. I have been to a half a dozen CrossFit gyms – some in large metros and others in small town nowhere. Only one had reasonably qualified staff (St. Louis Park, MN). At each location, I was able to experience their ‘introductory’ class. Each class was taught a little different. At one location, we performed rowing, air squats, pushups, situps, and pullups. At another, the same workout but without the pullups. Each facility had large groups of prospects – there was no health history, no experience questionnaire, no technique instruction. You just went at it and completed the workout for time.

THE GOOD

I want to start with the good – because there are some good aspects. CrossFit thrives on building a community. Many joke about CrossFitters who have “drank the Kool-Aid” and the reality is that they have bonded with others. These social bonds – developed during times of vulnerability (most everyone has a certain level of vulnerability when trying to completely, physically exhaust themselves) – are meaningful and difficult to match. The support, accountability, and empowerment cultivated by the group dynamics is the #1 reason many individuals are attracted to CrossFit.

I must commend CrossFit, as many do require fundamental classes prior to graduating to full WODs. The only draw back to something like that is someone like me – new to CrossFit but not new to working out or the exercises – would be forced into those courses without the opportunity to bypass or test out if I can prove I have the ability and know-how.

Another good aspect is the use of workouts to measure improvements. This provides something tangible and quantitative to work towards. It is important to direct individuals away from weight-specific goals, so a goal to improve the time it takes to complete a workout is ideal. I do something similar – but different – for myself and my clients.

THE BAD

Not based on science

CrossFit is not based on the basic scientific principles established and continually tested by exercise physiologists. I did a scholar article search, looking for research that supports CrossFit – and I came up empty. The majority of articles that support CrossFit are written by Greg Glassman – who by the way quotes himself (big no-no).

I have asked CrossFit trainers and enthusiasts time and time again to show me the science from which the CrossFit model was designed – or the science that it follows. No one has been able to do this. Is it new science that has yet to be proven? The human body has not changed in over a hundred years – there is nothing new and the same principles apply today as they did then, and 50 years ago, and 10 years ago.

Wait a minute!

An interesting side note: Glassman – CrossFit founder – does not do CrossFit WODs. (Most say he suffered an injury that prevents him from participating. He does have a limp.)

I could not find a biography for Glassman. As far as the general public knows, he has no education nor credentials. If I had to guess, I would say that he has a marketing degree because he has done well in that respect.

Not ACSM’s Top 20

Here is food for thought, brought to my attention by a fellow exercise physiologists: CrossFit has never made it onto American College of Sports Medicine’s Top 20 Fitness Trends – a list they publish annually.

Why?

Because ACSM would never promote a program that so blatantly contradicts science and research.

THE UGLY

So there is good and there is bad. The same can be said for anything, right? But what is the ugly?

Injuries

SERIOUS and non-serious injuries persists. Yes, there is an inherent risk of injury to all physical activity. Yes, weight lifting has some of the lowest risk of any sport or activity – WHEN DONE PROPERLY. CrossFit is not known for proper form and technique – and watching it makes most professionals cringe.

Watch the CrossFit Games on ESPN – all of the top competitors are wearing kinesiology tape (a tool developed for physical therapist to use with clients through the therapeutic process). Kinesiology tape IS NOT something that makes you look cool. I used kinesiology tape after my knee surgery and through physical therapy to aid with the reduction of inflammation. It worked, I did my therapy, and I stopped wearing it. The use of kinesiology tape is indicative of impaired movement, muscular imbalances and weaknesses, poor quality of movement or mobility, etc.

You could argue that this is not a serious injury. Let’s think critically. How many of these athletes will compete for the rest of their lives? How many will have to give up some exercises completely because they lose mobility in their shoulder after working through this ‘non-serious’ injury?

Pain is NOT good and it is NOT something to work through. Pain is your body’s way of telling you something is wrong, “STOP.”

Threatens lifelong health and fitness

As mentioned above – how many athletes can sustain this level of training for a year? Two? Twenty? If an exercise causes injuries – whether it be traumatic or overuse – then it does not promote lifelong health and fitness – nor longevity.

Ask yourself, can you sustain this for the long term?

If an activity results in a chronic ailment that prevents you from living pain free – then it has negatively influenced your quality of life. Is that the goal of working out?

The bottomline

CrossFit is a workout for athletes. It claims to build athletes – but it does not train individuals to athletic fitness or using the basic scientific principles known to work – and known to reduce risk of injury along the way.

Is CrossFit all bad? No. Does the good outweigh the bad and the ugly? In my educated opinion – no. Plus, you can get a similar workout – with health and fitness benefits and greater concern for safety – from a functional fitness training facility with qualified trainers and staff.

p.s. Not one of my colleagues – most with master’s degrees, PhDs, and endless certifications – would workout at a CrossFit facility themselves. We are some of the fittest and most athletic individuals I know. We see the scientific flaws and prefer to train in safe, effective, and efficient manners. One has been a CrossFit Competition Champion 3 years running – never training ‘CrossFit.’ Something to think about.

p.p.s. Ask a medical professional – such as a chiropractor or orthopaedic surgeon – if he recommends CrossFit. Most will avoid a direct answer, he knows the inherent risks but it puts more money in his pocket.

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Debunking fitness myths

Each day we all talk to people that share stories and it can be difficult to separate facts from fiction. I cannot tell you how much time I spend educating friends and clients on the myths we are confronted with. Many myths about fitness have been proven to be wrong.

I am sure you have heard these statements before:

  • Doing crunches or working on an ab machine will get rid of belly fat
  • Machines provide a safer way to exercise
  • Women that participate in resistance training with weights will bulk up and look like a man
  • No pain, no gain

These are all fitness myths. Each of the above statements has been disproven by scientific evidence.

Crunches

First, simply doing crunches or ab exercises over and over will not alone get rid of belly fat. Doing these exercises will help strengthen these muscles, but they will not show as they get stronger unless you decrease your body fat above the abdominals. You cannot pick and choose where to burn fat. You need to decrease your overall body fat percentage to bring your abs to the surface.

Machines

Next, machines must provide a safer way to exercise. This is not always true. Unless the machine is set up for you to use properly, you may be putting yourself in a bad position creating muscular deficiencies. Working strictly on machines also removes the functional aspect of fitness.

Women & weights

Third, if you’re a woman and you exercise like the man next to you, then you will look like them. This is not the case. Women have 20-30% less testosterone then men. The only way you could bulk up as much as him is lifting far more weights than the average woman and having some sort of chemical imbalance. Don’t be afraid of weights. Resistance training will help you lose weight quicker, and keep it off for a long period of time.

No pain, no gain

Last, we hear this saying more than just in relation to fitness: If you’re not feeling pain, then you will not see any gains. This is far from the truth. There should be some soreness a day or two after exercise due to the muscles repairing themselves. This is a soreness or tightness, it is not a pain. Having pain during exercise could promote lifelong harm to your body. If you feel pain during an exercise, one or two things may be happening. You may have a pre-existing injury, or you are exercising out of proper position. If you feel pain, re-adjust to a proper position and see if it comes back. If the pain stays, go and see a medical professional to fix the problem before it is too late.

The bottomline

Often times it is difficult to decipher facts versus myths. Before believing what you hear, research it to find a good scientific answer. It may be true, but often times in fitness, these myths provide people answers as to why you should not exercise or do certain things – many offer invalid justifications.

And, never hesitate to ask me about what you hear on the street – I will gladly find you the truth.

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The scale is evil

I advise most of my clients to avoid the scale. The scale RARELY elicits happy feelings. Excitement? Joy? When is the last time you have associated either of these feelings with what you see on the scale?

More often than not the scales leads to thoughts and feelings of disappointment, anger, frustration, depression, etc. So why do we continue to use the scale as a measurement?

Most of us have an unhealthy relationship with the scale – we are drawn to is, as one of the few measurements we know. And it sure is the easiest and most accessible – isn’t it?

The problems with weight

There are numerous problems with weight. It fluctuates. Your body is 70%+ water – so dehydration is a significant factor. What did you eat or not eat yesterday. How did you sleep. What time of day is it. Females, where are you in your cycle. What are the weather conditions. There are countless factors that influence weight – and cause us unnecessary frustration.

The the scientific and physical reasons aside, weighing yourself and having weight goals is psychologically defeating. This is why I emphasize the importance of having weight independent goals on your journey (also known as life).

Real-life story

I try not to weigh myself, because I know that it elicits negative thoughts that lead to negative self-talk.

I weighed myself today. I have been feeling pretty good, but I knew that my pants were getting tight. Since eliminating long runs from my training plan (I do not have any more races coming up), I have not integrated heavy leg days back into my routine. This is the primary cause for my shift. Dietary habits – of course – are a huge factor, although overall my eating has been pretty good.

But where is my mind?

Why didn’t I add leg days?

Why did I eat that ice cream when I wasn’t hungry?

Why don’t I run more? Which becomes, I should have kept my running up.

Getting on the scale is a mental, emotional, and psychological disaster. We are anxious prior to doing it. We are, more often than not, upset or frustrated afterwards. My general rule is to avoid those activities that trigger or elicit negative thoughts and feelings. This means, the scale must go!

Take an afternoon

– and work on yourself. You can follow my guidelines for goal setting. But use the following to give serious thought and consideration to your weight goals:

Please answer the following questions with your desired weight in mind.

  1. Origins of your desired weight: 
    1. Why do you want to be this specific weight?
    2. Is there anything particularly special about this weight?
  2. Other weight goals in the past:
    1. Have you had other weight goals in the past?
    2. Why were they different from your present goal?
  3. Achievability of your desired weight:
    1. When were you last at your desired weight?
    2. How hard do you think it would be to stay at this weight?
  4. Importance of reaching your desired weight:
    1. How important to you is reaching your desired weight?
    2. If it is important, why is it important?
  5. Consequences of reaching your desired weight:
    1. How would your life differ if you reached your desired weight?
    2. What could you do that you cannot do now?

Or, if you have previously been this weight, how was your life different when you were at this weight?

When answering the two parts of question 5 consider the following eight aspects of daily life:

Attractiveness (to yourself and others) Clothes size and choice
Leisure activites (e.g., sports) Health and fitness
Work Social life
Self-esteem and self-confidence Personal relationships

6. Consequences of not reaching your desired weight:

  1. How would you feel if you did not reach your desired weight?
  2. What effect would it have on your daily life?

Adapted from Cooper, Fairburn, and Hawker (2003) 

The bottomline

After completing this exercise, you may find that your weight goals are unfounded, inappropriate, or unrealistic. You may find that they are adequate. If your goal is to be the same weight as your 20-year-old self, that may or may not be a good weight at this point in your life. These questions should help you to think critically and make the best goals for YOU.

Lastly, support your journey by settings goals that focus on health, energy, and happiness.

When is the last time the scale left you thinking and feeling positively —? Or even neutral?

Are group fitness classes effective?

I taught two group fitness classes yesterday morning. Back to back. I do this most Saturdays. Out of curiosity, I wore my heart rate monitor this time. First, I wanted to see how high my heart rate got during some of the exercises I selected for the TABATA class. I did not intend for the heart rate to get too high, and it didn’t. Second, I was curious as to how many calories I would burn during two hours of teaching – two classes that I heavily participate in.

When I stopped my heart rate monitor at 2 hours and 2 minutes, I was disappointed: 890 calories. To give you some perspective, my average 45-60 minute workout burns 500-700 calories. Granted, this was not the same intensity, nor designed to be my workout, but it led me to think critically about whether my classes were adequate and appropriate – and about the overall effectiveness of group fitness.

Intended outcome?

Why do most individuals attend group fitness classes? Most have the goal to lose weight. Are group fitness classes targeting that goal? I believe that the answer to this question is complicated – it is both yes and no.

For example, depending on the exercise selection, TABATA can be a effective and efficient workout. I perform this form of high intensity interval training on a regular basis. I design my classes in an equally effective manner (with a lesser degree of intensity). BUT, if a member comes to my Saturday morning class and this is the 8th class she has been to this week, will it be effective? Will the intended outcome be reached? Probably not.

Desired results far too uncommon

I have been in and out of my fair share of gyms. When you are a group fitness instructor, by default you end up filling in at what seems to be every workout facility within a 30-mile radius. And unfortunately, I have seen very few members achieve their desired results. Weight loss. Improved fitness. Very few group fitness programs will get you this results. Even more disheartening, is that I would see the same faces over and over – watching some individuals attend 8-10 hours of classes a week – with no results. Sadly, most of these individuals are overtraining. Some are undernourished due to extending periods of dieting and/or yo-yo dieting. Most are frustrated and at a loss for what else to do.

Solution

It is pretty simple. While I am not a proponent of many group fitness classes, I will not suggest that you forgo the classes. I will recommend the following:

  1. Attend NO MORE than 4 group fitness classes a week. Most group fitness classes target the same muscles, energy systems, etc. and miss the same muscle groups, form, technique, and energy systems.
  2. Research your instructor – ONLY take classes led by degreed and certified professionals. This one may be tough. There are some good instructors out there who do not have degrees, they have been fanatics for years and they bring good energy and great intentions. But generally speaking, you want to work with someone who has been trained to manage situations as they arise – providing variety that is safe, efficient, and effective.
  3. Work with a qualified trainer first. While working with a qualified personal trainer long term is not always financially feasible, it is in your best interest to invest the time and money into a few (3-12) foundational sessions with a trainer. A qualified trainer will teach you form and technique that the group fitness instructor simply is unable to provide in the setting (some know your form is off but are not able to correct form on every person every hour). With this investment, you will gain valuable knowledge that you can bring with you and ensure that you get the most out of your workout.
  4. Wear a heart rate monitor. Sweat is not indicative of a good workout – however most group fitness class attendees use sweat as the measure of whether the workout was good. It is not the only indicator. Neither is soreness the only nor the best indicator of a good workout. What else can you measure? Your heart rate. Target heart rates are highly individual – for more specifics please contact me personally.
  5. Change? If you have been going to the same class for years – it is time for something new!
  6. Give it your all. Some times a group class can become social hour. While this is not all bad, remember why you are there and give it 100%!

The bottomline

Not all group fitness classes are bad. These classes can be a great way to build community support and accountability. But if you are a regular attendee, be honest as to whether you are getting the results for the time and energy you put into the work. If you go to classes every day, and are not getting the results you desire, you may be overtraining – or simply inefficiently training.

I love group fitness classes – that is how I got my start. (It is also the reason I suffered overuse injuries and eventually elected to have surgery.) Follow the 6 recommendations above and you can get the most out of those classes!

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STOP rewarding yourself with food!

Rewarding oneself with food leads to an undesirable attitude towards self-treating. The extrinsic reward of food should be replaced with the intrinsic reward of treating yourself well (Lovell, 1994).

I had another conversation with a woman who views ‘treat’ foods as a reward for working out. “I workout so that I can eat that stuff,” she said. I do not know her well, but I know bodies and it is clear that she has never struggled with weight. The problem with this mentality is that the body doesn’t physiologically work that way. If your “reward” is a high fat food, your body does not turn around and use that as fuel for your workout. Further, after the workout, few “treat” foods provide the replenishing macronutrients we need for recovery. You cannot earn your calories.

And unfortunately, a calorie is not just a calorie.

Your relationship with food

Your relationship with food is cultivated from childhood. Unfortunately, parenting strategies that use candy or junk foods as rewards can teach someone at a young age that we can use these foods as rewards. For example, a parent might say, “If you are well behaved in the store, I will buy you a candy bar at the checkout.” (I guess my mom was smarter than I knew because we received Topps baseball cards.)

This has two negative implications: one, it instills a habit of rewarding with food and two, it sets a foundation to desensitization in the brain’s reward pathways (Amen, 2008; Amen, 2010).

Using food to reward exercise

Many of the benefits of exercise go unrecognized, because we too frequently consume food products that overstimulate the reward pathways of our photo (39)brain. By using a food pleasure, we are not allowing our bodies to recognize and experience the natural pleasures associated with exercise – for example, boosted dopamine and serotonin. This is particularly harmful if you reward yourself with rich foods immediately following exercise. Not only do you eliminate the opportunity to experience the immediate benefits of exercise; but also, your mind begins to build an association between exercise and food.

Your brain is powerful, and once that association is made, your physical body will come to expect the reward (in this case rewarding food) following exercise.

Further, we humans are creatures of habit. If you habitually reward yourself with food, your mind, body, and soul will come to expect this consequence. You ask, what is wrong with that? Foods can be addicting – therefore not only are you then going to need to break a habit but you will then need to break an addiction.

NOTE: It is critical to eat as immediately following exercise as possible. But there is a difference between feeding your body’s physiological needs with a post-workout snack or meal and psychologically rewarding yourself with pizza or ice cream. As I said, the brain is powerful.

The bottomline

I could delve into the neurological reasons for not rewarding yourself with food, but those complexities overwhelm the mind. If you want to understand more about the neurological and reward pathways, read Dr. Amen’s books cited below (he does a great job of speaking in layman’s terms).

Similar to training for life with your workouts and physical activities, it is important to eat for life. And there is much truth to the saying – you are what you eat.

Ask yourself – what do you want to be? 

Certainly NOT cheap and fast!

References

Amen, D. G. (2008). Change your Brain, Change Your Life. Three Rivers Press: New York.

Amen, D. G. (2010). Change your Brain, Change Your Body. Three Rivers Press: New York.

Lovell, D. B. (1994). Treatment or Punishment?. European Eating Disorders Review2(4), 192-210.

Wilson, C. (2010). Eating, eating is always there: food, consumerism and cardiovascular disease. Some evidence from Kerala, south India. Anthropology & Medicine17(3), 261-275.

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Where do you go for fitness advice?

We are bombarded with health and fitness information. Infomercials, magazine ads, and the latest and greatest books and workout DVDs. On my way into the gym to teach a group class this morning, the TV caught my eye – Tony’s 10 minute workouts. Oh Tony! The 10-Minute Trainer series boasts the ‘breakthrough’ super-stacking technique and promises rapid results. I stopped to watch a bit (mostly waiting to see the name of the program to look it up later). Another marketing scam — ?!?!!!

Do you go to Tony Horton and Beachbody for advice?

Who do you trust?

This past weekend I was invited to participate in a group workout at the park. I provided some of my expertise, but I was truly there as a participant with a goal to meet other individuals interested in fitness. Towards the end of the afternoon – I sat back and watched and listened. A fitness enthusiast provided ‘training’ to inexperienced individuals.

(If you do not know much about fitness, an enthusiast who has been working out and is excited might seem to provide some good advice. Unfortunately, very few can offer sound advice. And remember, we are talking about YOUR BODY here. You only get one body in your lifetime. So I ask, who do you trust?)

It is not that he was giving bad advice or guidance. It was incomplete. Exercise form and technique were a disaster – I had to turn away and bite my tongue. I could not watch. While I do not want to see anyone get hurt, I was focused on placing myself in his shoes and I would not like it if someone stepped in to correct (whether the individual was right or not). And given the situation, I knew the risk of injury was low.

If you are a fitness professional – what would you do?

This situation has me thinking about who we trust for advice and how I can continue to educate and share – reaching one person at a time.

Who do you go to?

It is easy to trust friends and family when it comes to health and fitness advice. We trust them with many decisions in life – relationships, occupations, financial investments, etc. But do they have the answers?

Do you have a friend who has successfully lost weight and kept if off?

Do you have an uncle who coaches high school football and loves to workout?

Do you have a sister who has always been thin (but also never eats and possibly struggles with disordered eating)?

While any one of these individuals could have valid and helpful advice, I will strongly advise against allowing them to become your expert and your go-to for health and fitness advice. Health and fitness is a science – requiring education.

Qualified professionals

I have a post dedicated to qualified fitness professionals, please read it. Not all ‘professionals’ are created equal. Further, not all fitness facilities require trainers and staff to be educated and certified. While education and certification are not everything, they do provide validation that the individual has studied the science. (Note: not all certification are created equal, you can read about that in the above post as well.)

If/when you hire a trainer – ask about and verify his/her education and certification.

Food for thought

The Biggest Loser receives a lot of publicity. The trainers have been deemed experts – and they sell millions of books and DVDs, appear on numerous talk shows offering advice, etc. I personally would not trust any of the trainers with my life. These trainers qualify as fitness enthusiasts.

Jillian Michaels – no degree and no current certification (and not a respected certification)

Bob Harper – no degree, AFAA certified (has a degree but I have not been able to find what he studied)

Dolvett Quince – no degree and no certification

On the other hand, Extreme Makeover Weight Loss Edition’s Chris Powell is a former athlete with  a degree in Exercise Science, with concentrations in biomechanics and physiology and is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS).

You can read my reaction to the beginning of the most recent season of The Biggest Loser.

The bottomline

I feel like I am beating a dead horse at times. I will write about it and talk about it over and over. More than likely, your friends and family are not your best source of health and fitness advice – regardless of how much time they spend in the gym. It is important to trust your body – the only one you get – to a qualified professional.

Beware of fitness enthusiasts – many do not know the proper form and technique and regularly suffer personal injury.

Beware of celebrity experts – many are just that, celebrities.

You only get one body – it deserves the best.

Treat it kindly. Treat it wisely.

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Why eating everything in moderation does not work

The popular notion – eat everything in moderation – does not work. It is not effective. It is not helpful. And in some cases, it might even be detrimental.

While I currently practice a form of eating “everything” in moderation, this advice lacks specificity and consideration for an individual’s true needs. Having altered my eating behaviors in 2009, I spent the first 2 years mindfully monitoring everything I ate, avoiding social and food triggers, and planning my snacks and meals. I ate following my template – religiously. Prone to nighttime eating, if I became ‘hungry’ at  night after all my meals and snack were consumed, I went to sleep.

Used to eating anything you want

If you are used to eating whatever you want, the advice of eating everything in moderation can offer you a justification to continue doing so. “But, I am just eating everything in moderation.” And your results will reflect the inadequacy of this advice.

Many individuals cannot stop at a little of something when it comes to food. If this is you, you ARE NOT alone. We have trigger foods. There are physiological and psychological explanations for these food addictions. These are associated with binge eating disorder, as well as common to many – disordered eating behaviors.

A real-life example

I immediately think about a former client who ate 6+ full-size Hershey’s bars each day, sometimes a full pizza for breakfast, and 2 Whoppers for lunch. He wanted to listen to the advice – everything in moderation – and reduced his Hershey’s bar intake to 2 bars each day, half a pizza for breakfast, and 1 Whopper for lunch. Do you think he saw results? (He did not – despite intense workouts 3 times a week.)

He followed the advice – everything in moderation

Comparatively speaking, he was eating in moderation! Is it effective for weight loss? The answer, more often than not – NO!

Abstinence

Recovery from food addiction requires abstinence. You need to eliminate trigger foods completely. For how long? At least 28 days, but the length of abstinence required depends on various individual factors – other psychological factors, length of addiction, strength of motivation to overcome, and more. NOTE: For those who may be addicted to food in general, more aggressive strategies are needed and professional advice should be sought.

I have talked about trigger foods. One of my trigger foods is Starburst Jelly Beans – one leads to the full bag. To be successful in weight loss and health – you must identify and abstain from your trigger foods.

Assessing the advice

If you are on your weight loss journey, ask yourself – how many people have offered this advice to eat everything in moderation. Now tell me – how has this worked for you? 

Have you lost weight, only to put it back on?

Have you not lost at all?

Or, has it worked?

The bottomline

Eating everything in moderation sounds glorious. It will work for a select few. If it has not and does not work for you – please know that you are not alone. If only it was so easy!

Better, is to have more specific advice to meal and snack creation. Please click the link for more specific and helpful guidance. The best plan is to invest in a personalized, customized plan. Each of us has a different experience with foods – past and present. Each of us has different dietary needs, wants, and restrictions. Not sure where to start?

I can help and point you in the right direction.

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Break through a weight loss plateau with REST

Anyone who has tried to lose weight has experienced a weight loss plateau – large or small. You lose, you lose, you lose – and then it stops. Some times you regain weight that was lost. Sometimes the plateau is a week or two. Other times it lasts months.

Plateaus occur in part because the human body has set points. Your body will reach a new set point approximately every 12 weeks. What does that mean? You can expect a plateau every 12 weeks – if not every six. NOTE: This varies on an individual basis, but these are common benchmarks.

Research shows that we can use plateaus to benefit the long term journey (Fairburn, 2008). The best plan is to be prepared.

Six month rule

For a client who is looking to lose a significant amount of weight (>40% of her bodyweight), I implement a six month rule. We work together to set weekly and monthly short-term goals and six-month, long-term goals. At the six month milestone, all weight goals pertain to weight maintenance.

Yes, maintenance, not loss.

Physiologically, the body has been in a deprived state for a significant amount of time. While the ideal program will have guided you to avoid reaching the physiological starvation mode, at some point your body is going to adapt to the deprivation. NOTE: I do not even like using the word deprivation, as a weight loss that results from deprivation is a band-aid, not a long-term solution. Further, deprivation bares a negative connotation and negativity is detrimental to goal attainment.

Maintenance

After six months of dedication to strict meal planning and lifestyle changes, it is a good idea for you to allow yourself to simply BE. Maintain what you have worked so hard to achieve. Accept it. Appreciate it. Recognize it. At this point on your journey, it may be difficult to see what is real when you look in the mirror – and you may see a previous version of yourself. The phantom fat phenomenon may be preventing you from being able to see your results. This can add discouragement and frustration to a lengthy, taxing process.

I encourage clients to take at least a month to focus on maintenance at the six month mark. During this time goals do not increase physical activity, nor do they change eating habits. Goals focus on the established lifestyle. If a client had previous goals of working out 3 times a week, we retain that goal for the 4 weeks – but we do not reach for more. I do not encourage her to stretch herself. We work to maintain the changes made so far and adopt them as part of a lasting, healthy lifestyle.

If you choose to maintain – you retain the control instead of allowing the plateau to control you.

A time to rest
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Sometimes we just need a break. Sometimes you just need to be easy on yourself. You also need to know, that it is OKAY to rest. In fact, you need to rest. Why do most individuals quit weight loss programs?

Grow tired and weary?

The mental fatigue of constantly thinking about what you need to do next?

The lack of results?

We often view the plateau as a failure. Change your thinking and use that time as an opportunity for rest. Rest the mind – knowing that where you are today is better than where you were yesterday. Stop thinking about what you need to do differently or more of this week or next. Just allow yourself to BE.

A time to check in

A plateau is an opportunity to rest. It is also an opportunity to check in with yourself. Be honest.

How are things working?

Are you putting forth enough effort?

Do the workouts fit into your lifestyle as a long-term addition?

Can you maintain the ‘diet’ in the long term?

Are your goals still realistic or do they need to be modified?

Something has got to change

This is the common advice for anyone looking to break through a plateau – you have to change in order to see change. This is true. The human body is highly adaptive – it takes six exposures (give or take) to an exercise before the body adapts to it. What does this mean? You need to change – the load, mode, duration, etc. For once the body adapts, you will no longer obtain results by doing that same thing.

However, it is not that simple. Most individuals who experience significant weight loss followed by a lengthy plateau lost the weight by creating a huge dietary intake deficit. To some of you this may sound good. It can actually be detrimental to long-term success. The result is a slow and groggy metabolism. Sometimes the necessary change is to eat more – revving up that metabolism. Example: I spent a summer working for a weight loss resort, essentially eating what the guests ate. I gained almost 15 pounds – my dietary needs were not being met and it slowed my metabolism WAY down. I lost that weight quickly and easily by eating more.

The bottomline

Plateaus are going to happen. It is best to be prepared for them. There are ways to reduce the frequency of plateaus, using science-based workouts and programming. You will not find this in a DVD or in a standard group fitness class. You will not get this programming from your average personal trainer, either.

My best advice to you – plan for maintenance every 3 to 6 months. Use this time to be proud and regroup. Rejuvinate. Enjoy what you have earned.

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References

Cooper, Z., Fairburn, C. G., & Hawker, D. M. (2003). Cognitive-Behavioral Treatment of Obesity: A Clinician’s Guide. New York: The Guilford Press.

Fairburn, C. G. (2008). Cognitive Behavior Therapy and Eating Disorders. New York: The Guilford Press.