Myth: Move more, eat less for weight loss

I have been studying for an advanced health and fitness certification. This requires me to review fitness, fitness nutrition, and anatomy – I am sure to be over-prepared for the exam. I am immersed in the text. I am thinking.

There is nothing new in weight loss.

There will never be anything new in weight loss.

Every year, millions of individuals fail at weight loss. MILLIONS. Of those who successfully lose weight, only 2-4% will keep that weight off for a year – even fewer keep it off for more than a year. Every year, more individuals purchase gym memberships, infomercial products, supplements, and more – and still fail at weight loss. Individuals invest a great deal of money, time, energy, and heart. What is everyone missing?

Unfortunately, we are often misled. The gimmicks lie – using key words to trigger emotions. The claims of quick fixes are alluring, but unnatural and unsustainable. Weight loss is not as simple as calories in < calories out. More often than not, the most significant changes need to be made to meal plans and diets.

Eat less, move more?

We have all heard this.

A, if only it were so simple.
B, most individuals need to eat more (but perhaps fewer calories).

I request that all my clients maintain a food log – whether with an app such as myfitnesspal or handwritten. More often than not, after reviewing the details of his/her log, I am recommending that the client eat MORE. More fruits and vegetables. More protein.

Who wants to eat less?

We live in a culture where we love to eat. We enjoy eating – some enjoy it more than others. I discuss weight loss with individuals daily. Many express the frustration of, “but I eat so little.” Sometimes this is an accurate statement and the individual has been eating too few calories (usually the result of ineffective and misinformed dieting). Other times, the individual is lying to herself. And in some situations, she is eating a high number of calories in a small portion of food.

I seldom flat out tell individuals to eat less. Who wants to eat less? One reason I avoid this advice is that it has a negative connotation – goals and objectives and the steps required to obtain them require a positive mindset. Instead, what can you add, improve, or experience?

For example, the goal “I will not eat candy bars.” Great, this may stop you from eating candy bars – but it may also make you think more about candy bars. The focus is on the candy bars. An alternative goal, “I will eat a fruit or vegetable with every meal.” The focus is on adding a healthful behavior – the focus is on eating fruits and vegetables. Your increased satiety will, more often than not, reduce your desire for candy bars. Further, you are focused on actively doing something good for yourself.

Further, you have not established a restriction (often negatively perceived).

If I workout, I can eat more

False. Does a professional athlete or physical laborer who is active 4-12 hours a day require more food on most days? Yes. They are expending 4500-7000 calories during practice, training, and work (McArdle, Katch, & Katch, 2005; McArdle, Katch, & Katch, 2010). Does your 200-600 calorie workout require that you eat more food? No. And certainly not if you are aspiring to lose weight. (NOTE: I will not address the specifics of the science, but will gladly provide it for anyone who requests it.)

Some may argue that I eat more than the average individual. Yes I do. I first give considerable thanks to my genetics. Second, I am far more active than most. Third, I eat more fruits, vegetables, and other foods that are low in calories but carry a high nutrient density. So I may eat more – but I do not eat more pizza, cheeseburgers, candy, chips, etc.

Do we need to move more?

There is a misconception that all overweight/obese individuals are physically lazy. Is this true? I see moms and dads hustling after children. I see overweight men in softball leagues. I see all shapes and sizes of individuals at the gym – most all of them going hard. NOT all overweight/obese individuals are lazy. In fact, many are the opposite of lazy.

The most frequent feedback I hear from prospective clients – I workout and I eat well and no matter what I do, I do not get results so I give up.

Have you been there?

Are you there now?

The bottomline

Move more, eat less is less than helpful advice. Many individuals are moving – inefficiently and ineffectively – and eating less – too much less.

My advice? I provide it through my posts. Review how many calories you should eat, meal and snack creation maade easy, and how many days a week you should workout, and anything else that catches your attention along the way. And everyone has individuals needs – what works for your girlfriends and neighbors may not work for you. What worked for you 20 years ago may not work for you now. The human body is an amazingly complex system – but treat it well and you will be on your way to the results you desire.


Think Positively. Eat Mindfully. Move Intentionally.


Cooper, K. H. (1982). The Aerobics Program for Total Well-Being. New York: Bantam Books.

Loucks, A. B. (2004). Energy balance and body composition in sports and exercise. Journal of Sports Sciences, 22(1), 1-14.

McArdle, W. D., Katch, F. I., & Katch, V. L. (2005). Sports & Exercise Nutrition (2nd Ed.). Lippencott Williams & Wilkins: Philadelphia.

McArdle, W. D., Katch, F. I., & Katch, V. L. (2010). Exercise Physiology: Nutrition, Energy, and Human Performance (7th Ed.). Lippencott Williams & Wilkins: Philadelphia.


A missing link to weight loss

I talk to dozens of individuals each week who are tired, frustrated, overwhelmed, disappointed – all the consequence of less than desireable weight loss. Unmet goals. Unrewarded efforts. Does any of this sound familiar – past or present?

I frequently address the importance of goals and setting meaningful and realistic goals (just two components of SMART goals). We often miss the aspect of setting positive goals, unknowingly making goals that present themselves with negative connotations. We do not always consider the power of words and the law of attraction.

Another missing link is one-on-one support.

Working with a trainer

I recently had a second session with a new client. We warmed up with basic bodyweight exercises and she commented on how sore she was from our pushups earlier in the week – and how she had been working out and doing classes for years and doing pushups wrong – never feeling it in her chest. This is all too common. She she stated that this soreness alone made her excited and motivated to see me again – despite the pain she endured in the hour while with me. I laughed at her remark about the pain and said I was glad to hear that she saw and felt the benefit of my technique and form corrections.

She had social support – but never that one-on-one feedback specific to her needs and desires. I managed to fill that gap in less than two hours! Further, I am not declaring that you need a personal trainer to attain weight loss. But would you like to increase your success (J Sports Med Phys Fitness, 2009)?

Are your form and technique correct? How do you know?

Unfortunately, not all personal trainers and fitness professionals are created equal. Many of us have aspired to increase our knowledge and experience. Others – not so much. Make sure that your fitness professional is qualified before you waste your precious time and money.

The power of support

We hear it. We read it. And we hear it some more. Social support is critical to weight loss. The importance of support has been recently reinstilled in me. I previously worked for a facility at which we staff cultivated an amazing culture of support and growth. This is too uncommon. Gyms have their cliques. Trainers have their aversive methods. It is hard to find a gym or facility that is safe and positive. Is the impersonal group support of classes enough to get results? If you do this, is it working?

I go to great lengths to make my clients feel safe and supported. Most individuals who have hired me to not have a strong support system – and it is part of my job to help them develop one. I am initially the primary component of this system.

One-on-one support

photo (30)Many of us may call the form of support I am referring to a friendship. A one-on-one relationship that provides us with support and encouragement. I am this for many – and they pay me for it. I have noticed recently more than ever that those individuals which I have maintained the greatest amount of contact with over time have seen the greatest, lasting and continued results.

What does this tell me? That we need more deep, meaningful, and positive relationships. Yes, this is anecdotal. I am not citing any research here, but believe me when I say the research exists.

We all need someone at one time or another – even if just for a season. I consider my relationship with my clients seasonal, until they are able to build support within their own life and relationships.

Filling the gap

There is definitely an awareness of the need for one-on-one support – hence the Wellcoaches and similar health coaching certification programs. Unfortunately, these programs fall short. Having completed the Wellcoaches program – I was awestruck by classmates and how unaware they were of health and wellness best practices – and they were about to be ‘certified’ to coach others towards health! While I understand that a coach is not an ‘expert role’ – you need to be able to guide someone and to do this you need to know what you are talking about! Further, why would I spend my money on a coach who does not have the ability to answer my questions about health and wellness and only answers all of my questions with more questions?

The bottomline

This post is my form of thinking out loud. I believe we are missing intimacy. Relationships. Support. Interdependence. The research surrounding the scopes of social support is abundant – I am more concerned with what is happening right in front of me.

Being overweight/obese is a symptom. Is it a symptom of loneliness? A medical condition? The lack of love? Poor time management skills? Exhaustion?


Supervised exercise versus non-supervised exercise for reducing weight in obese adults. J Sports Med Phys Fitness. 2009 Mar; 49(1):85-90.

Progress pictures – A good idea?

My answer: it depends. Progress pictures will be good for some individuals and bad for others. It is a question that I have been asking for myself recently – is it good for me – therefore I have been giving the concept a great deal of thought.

I know some individuals who take daily progress pictures. I know that if I took pictures everyday, I would become depressed by the lack of change from one day to the next (or perceived change in the negative direction). I would become overly concerned with my appearance (which is already borderline considering my concern with appearing as if I am someone  who works out). I think that an individual’s mental health, stability, maturity, and so forth have a significant influence on whether or not he/she can healthfully take progress pictures and use them for motivation and/or self improvement.

From a coach and trainer perspective, I encourage clients to take progress pictures every 4 weeks. This is often enough to be a reasonable amount of time to wait. It is long enough to see visual change – in some cases. And this schedule does not create a risk for obsession or unhealthy habit of picture taking. Why do I warn against progress pictures becoming an obsession? Do we need another way and reason to judge our own bodies and appearances?

So yes, I do take progress pictures

I take personal progress pictures. I do this on no specific schedule, just when I think about it. Lately, I have been overall pleased with what I see. Can you say the same? For a short time, I was experiencing anxiety over the imperfections I saw in these pictures. During this time, I was also taking daily progress pictures. I reduced the frequency of my pictures. AND I changed my thinking – seeking the positive aspects of each picture. I am becoming much more lean. When I put pictures from October and today side-by-side the difference is amazing to me. I am down 12-15 pounds, I do not weigh myself often enough to really know, and the difference in my definition is wonderful!

Method for measuring progress

I measure my progress with my physical fitness assessment – performed every 3 months – and progress pictures. I use pictures as part of measuring my progress for numerous reasons. One reason being that I avoid scales and weight goals. I have a history of never being satisfied with my weight. Once I reach the goal, I am continually decreasing my desired weight. This is unnecessary and even detrimental to my efforts.

An important note is that I can wear the same clothes – though they wear differently today than they did then it is not noticeable enough to me. I do not weigh myself. Clothes are not a good measure for me. I need a measure! I need these images to motivate me to keep my diet on track and stay lean. The primary change in recent months has been in eating habits – and slipping into old ways and still fitting into my clothes – that is risky business!

The phantom fat

What I see in the mirror is not real. I see more fat in the mirror than the pictures show. What a relief! I have discussed the realities of phantom fat – despite my awareness of this psychological enigma, it still sneaks up on me! What we see of ourselves is distorted – and this has been highly publicized recently with the Dove Real Beauty Sketches.

There is complex science and psychology behind the differences in how we view ourselves in the mirror versus in pictures – and each one of us has varying discrepancies. These discrepancies are the result of our personal thoughts and feelings. What we see in the mirror is a reflection of what we feel (the Beauty Sketches sort of support this phenomenon, as it is a result of the image we see of ourselves and we most often see ourselves in mirrors).

The bottomline

I am me. You are you. What works for me will not always work for you. And what works for you will not always work for me!

There is no right or wrong, good or bad. Each of us is an individual – making each of our experiences individual. I know others who take daily pictures and thrive. I have learned that daily pictures are detrimental for me. Most times, we need to experiment and learn through trial and error what will work.

Training for sport: Running

Running is a sport. What many individuals fail to realize is that you need to train to run – you do not just go out and do it. Similar to other sports, in order to become proficient and remain injury free, you need to train for competition. This training is not exclusive to sport-specific training – for example, running if you want to run – but incorporates a full spectrum of cross training.

I meet more and more individuals who only run – and others who throw in a few crunches here and there. I also know many individuals who believe that running is the only way to lose weight or stay in shape. Please know, you do not need to run to be thin. Running is hard on the body. The human body is no longer regularly conditioned for this level of impact – as we have become an incredibly sedentary society. This is not to say that the human body is not capable of sustaining the wear and tear of running – it is – but we need to train for it.

runnerWalking & jogging

If you are not running now but want to start to run – you must first walk. Unless you spend many hours a day on your feet walking around as it is, I caution against the popular “Couch to 5K” programs before appropriately conditioning your body and feet to walking. Many of these programs have you running/jogging on Day 1 – allowing for generous walking breaks. While you might think, I walk every day, how much do you walk? And do you walk with intent and speed? Walking in preparation for a jog or run has a different impact on the body than walking into the supermarket.

Something running misses

Let’s say that you are beginning to run and you decide – I will train for a 5K. Awesome! I love these goals. So, you begin a running program, and by race day your lungs are ready and you feel like your legs are too! Later that day your knees hurt. Why? You train running in a relatively straight line. Race day, you are dodging manhole covers, puddles, and other runners. The lateral movements take their toll and later manifest as pain. This can be avoided with cross training – in include strength training and movement specific functional training. For example, adding speed or power skaters to a strength circuit.

Repetitive motion injuries

Common running injuries? Blisters, lost toenails, plantar fasciitis, shin splits, knee and hip pain, and iliotibial band syndrome – just to name a few. Blisters (and calluses) are out body’s way of protecting itself. This could be the result to ill fitting shoes, improper socks, or simply doing too much too soon and the body not being accustomed to being on its feet.

Many running injuries are the result of repetitive motion. We can categorize “runner’s knee” – or chondromalacia patella – as a repetitive motion injury and liken it to carpal tunnel or trigger finger – injuries most often sustain on the job. How do we reduce the likelihood of these injuries and/or lessen the effects of them? We cross train and we train to run.

My testimony

I started running longer distances to prove to myself and my doctors that I could. I have been very inconsistent about it over the years. In Spring 2010, while training for a half marathon, I sustained what I now know what a stress fracture in my foot. I did not run for a month – weeks 7-10 of my 12-week training plan. This is a large portion of the training and I missed 4 significant long runs. BUT, I did not miss my training. I converted my training program to the rower (Concept 2) and I trained for those 4 weeks with rowing and my usual strength training. I allowed my foot to heal and I was able to ease right back into my run training. I finished that half marathon – doing a third or more of my training on a rower and running 3 or fewer days a week for the other two thirds of the training.

So let me ask, is running the only method for training to run?

And is it the best method?

I am training for another half marathon next month. I run 3 days a week in preparation. It will be two years since my last half marathon – and I have run very little in those two years. However, I have cut more than a minute off of my per mile time. Again, with little to no running until about 8 weeks ago.

How often do you run?

The bottomline

This is all meant to be food for thought. It is often said that running is the easiest and most inexpensive physical activity you can partake in. Do you also know is has one of the highest risks of potential injury – often ranking with sports like skiing and soccer? (While walking and swimming have MUCH lower risks). Finally, I am not discouraging running – I am discouraging ONLY running. Train smart and your body will thank you for it.

Do you run and only run?

Are you feeling aches and pains?

Are you getting results?

Finding more on a weight loss journey

A dear friend shares her journey and her heart.

To love yourself right now, just as you are, is to give yourself heaven. Don’t wait until you die. 
If you wait, you die now. If you love, you live now. – Alan Cohen

Often times, when we discuss love, it is in relation to our connections with others.  We give love anthropomorphic tendencies, describing its ability to create harmony, whether through our own personal connections or a universal exchange (that links all persons in a global community).  Discussions regarding self-love are relegated to conversations relating its pertinence in the face of limited self-worth.  The implicit necessity of loving one’s self is paramount in establishing worthwhile connections with others. 

Since this blog is about health & fitness, I will tailor this entry, relating self-love to my weight loss journey.   

Last summer I began a journey towards health & fitness, though my immediate goal revolved around losing a tremendous amount of excess weight, my exigent goal was to learn to love myself.  My excess weight was a reflection of my inner turmoil, my struggle to find acceptance (a struggle I presumed to be externally founded…. thereby, extrinsically resolved).  I assumed that loving myself would be a natural effect of changing the way I looked physically.  By changing my appearance, I would become more acceptable to others, allowing me to become more acceptable to myself.  This change would provide an avenue for me to establish connections with others (at that point I was socially isolated, spending tremendous amounts of time alone with limited social interactions) and increase my self-efficacy (believing I could accomplish the many goals I had set for myself).  To a degree these presumptions were accurate.  I have changed the way I look, I am more appealing to others and have a greater sense of comfort in my physique, but that has not translated itself into increased self-worth. 

There is still a sense of lacking and deficiency.  As I strive towards attaining what I believe to be the “perfect body” (for myself), I constantly have to face the impact of my limited self-worth. I am faced with the unhealthy habits I’ve developed, as I strive to love myself . . .. having formerly “loved” myself with food.  I developed a reliance on food to cope.  In the absence of self-acceptance and social relationships, food became an ally.  In losing weight, the foods I formerly relied on for comfort have become an enemy.  They no longer provide me with the same semblance of peace or “happiness”.  I have come to realize that my perception of myself is highly correlated to all of my struggles, I have to resolve my intrinsic feelings of worth, so that I may find the acceptance I long for.  The lack of connectedness I feel with others is greatly attributed to the lack of connection I feel with myself.  Changing my physiognomy has not changed the pertinence of answering these issues. 

photo (15)

I have to learn to love myself, to be comfortable in my own skin, to appreciate who I am.  I have to become whole.  I have to learn to live, because I’m tired of feeling dead to myself . . .. not knowing or appreciating the characteristics that make me a worthwhile individual.  It’s exciting, this concept of self-discovery.  But this undertaking is by no means easy.  This process has been laden with valleys and peaks.  It requires changing my mind, literally.  Reframing thoughts, addressing hurts, and examining fears.  Exchanging unhealthy behaviors that were once associated with loving myself for behaviors that truly reflect love for myself.  In doing so, I am hoping to experience the tranquility that comes with loving one’s self.  Partaking in the ubiquity of love, as it connects me to those I care for. 

I am grateful for those who are willing to love me along the way, as I learn to love myself.

What has your journey shown you that you did not expect?

AWESOME wellness App – Recovery Record

I put a lot of time and energy into reading weight loss and fitness self-help books, using health and fitness Apps, and – of course – reading scholarly research. This is rarely specifically to expand my personal knowledge but for the benefit of my clients. I want tools in my box to offer my clients as a means of teaching them independence. I want to empower! Finding quality tools has proven difficult! The multi-million dollar industry is filled with a lot of, for lack of a better term, JUNK.

Therefore I have resorted to a lot of “use this, BUT” referrals. For example, I suggest that a client use MyFitnessPal as a food diary but I advise against tracking physical activity and exercise in the App. This follows with a disclosure of the risks of working for the calories that the App claims to you earn. Most calorie expenditure methods are frustratingly inaccurate.

BUT, I have found an App for my iPhone that I absolutely LOVE for self monitoring. (Keep in mind, that I am not a huge fan of Apps and I tend to gravitate towards a pen and paper when it comes to things like journaling, maintaining workouts records, and food recording.)


In the process of my own self-improvement, no one App seemed to meet my needs. I found I would need to use 4, 5, or even more Apps in order to track everything that I wanted to track. This was not efficacious nor efficient. Further, it did not allow me to compare them all and I was looking for correlations. One of the most critical things for me to track has been my pain – how do my activity level, activity choices, and nutrition correlate with my pain. Is there a weather association? Mood? How do these all interact? I compiled my own worksheet for self-monitoring to meet my needs.

self monitoring


I am excited to share that I recently discovered the Recovery Record App. It looks to me like someone beat me at my own game – this is my worksheet in an App! Initially designed for use as eating disorder therapy homework – do NOT let this deter you! With Recovery Record you can track:

  • Meals and snacks (e.g., what, where, when)
  • Emotions
  • Motivation
  • Self-Efficacy
  • Accountability
  • Goals & Achievements
  • Hope
  • Pain
  • Thoughts & Feelings
  • Eating behaviors (e.g., bingeing, desire to binge, dietary restriction)
  • Hunger
  • Physiological/Somatic symptoms

Fully customizable, you can establish reminders and rewards, find accountability partners, and share your information with others (e.g., dietitian, physician, counselor, family). While you can track disordered eating behaviors, you can also disable that tracking – along with any other logs you may not want to keep.

You also have the option of logging in via your computer, which I prefer if I want to add a lengthy note or track a significant amount of food.

Stop calorie counting

One of my favorite things about this App is that there is no built-in calorie counting. I discourage calorie counting and encourage mindful eating – and tracking everything that you put into your mouth is just as effective – if not more effective – than counting calories (Cooper, Fairburn, Hawker, 2003; Fairburn 2008).


How often do we use the excuse, “I forgot!”? The reminders in this App are useful without being annoying. The App will nudge you to record your meals, but you are free to go back and record information later as well. the best part, you can disable the reminders you do not want.

The bottomline

This App will help you improve and monitor whole-body awareness. This is an App that will EMPOWER you. We know that how and what we eat and exercise are correlated with thoughts and feelings. How about where and when you eat? If you suffer from chronic pain or illness – do you eat more or are you restrictive during times of suffering? Do you avoid exercise? Once you are aware – you can work to change where you may see a need to change. And you can share this information with nearly anyone you choose!

And no, the developer is not paying me to endorse the product – she (they) do not even know that I exist. But they will soon! Kudos to developer Jenna Tregarthen – she may have made it to the list of individuals I want to meet in my lifetime.


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.

Hays, K. F. (1995). Putting sport psychology into (your) practice. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 26(1), 33-40.

Weight loss, muscle loss, and mind games

Weight loss is a desire for many. When on a journey to lose, we have the misconception that all weight loss is positive weight loss. Weight loss is a secondary component of one of my 2013 goals – bench press my bodyweight. However, I am concerned with the rapid weight loss I am experiencing. I hate to overanalyze, bu I am beginning to overanalyze. The thoughts in my mind, “Is this real?” “Am I losing muscle?” “How come I still cannot see my abs?” “How little must I weigh to see my abs?” “Am I doing too much cardio?” “Am I not eating enough?” “How many weeks will I continue to lose at this rate if I continue what I am doing?” “Am I sick?”scale

Unfortunately, I am not tracking my body fat percentage. (I do not have access to an accurate measuring method at this time.) Further, I failed to take my circumferences at the beginning of the year. Therefore, I am only measuring body weight and tracking my weights lifted.  At this point, my underperformance in measurement tracking is being perceived as an epic failure. Notice my automatic negative thoughts (ANTs)? I am disappointed that I have allowed myself to gauge my improvements on weight at all and even more disappointed that I haven’t tracked numbers that I should have otherwise maintained.

Thankfully, I do not dwell on these thoughts and I am relatively successful with thought stopping. With that said – How do you know when weight loss is attributed to muscle loss?

My truths

In my current situation, I believe it is possible that I have lost some muscle. But to say that I have would be purely anecdotal. I honestly have no idea and all I can say is that it is possible. Honestly, I am not too worried about it. I know that my strength is increasing (evident with my lifting increases). I know that my clothes fit differently.

Because I have obsessive tendencies, I do not want to be too rigid with my  fitness improvement methods. I monitor my diet, but I do not want to begin tracking calories and macronutrients on a daily basis – because I know I will become obsessive with it and it will take over my life. (I primarily only track when I feel like I have not been eating enough.) I eat a real food diet and am meticulous with my nutritional timing.

Losing muscle

My predicament is reinforcing how important it is to find a method for measuring my body fat percentage and definitely time to take my body circumference measurements. Regardless of your starting point, it is important to use body fat percentage (NOT BMI) and circumference measurements. This will be your best indicators of whether you are losing muscle mass along your journey.

The chances are that I have not lost muscle. I have read that it takes 6 weeks to lose 1 pound of muscle. I’m not even sure what that means. Six weeks of inactivity? Six weeks of poor nutrition? What are the conditions? I doubt there is such a simple equation. I do know that if you do not eat adequate amounts of protein you will lose muscle – because protein fuels and builds muscle. The research is undeniable, nothing other than protein will do! I could cite endless sources – if you want sources leave a comment and I’ll send you a few.

I eat plenty of protein. I eat adequate carbohydrates for my level of activity. I life heavy things and I safely put them back down. After thinking it through – maybe too deeply – I am confident that I am maintaining lean muscle mass!

Mind games

My own mind is playing games with me. You see, if I did not lose weight, I would freak out. But I am losing weight – faster than anticipated – and I am freaking out. I have found myself in a lose-lose thought pattern. I worry, “It is coming off too quickly, I must be doing something wrong!” It could be exhausting, but I redirect my thinking to safer topics.

The bottomline

Sometimes we think too much. My shock with my weight loss lead to unproductive thinking – focusing too much on the outcome and not on the process. I carefully planned my workouts and I am meticulous with my nutrition, without being obsessive. I do not really have anything to worry about.

HOWEVER, I want individuals to know that sometimes weight loss is muscle loss – is that desirable?

Is muscle loss something you control for and monitor? – increasing muscle is what will burn more calories in the long term, so do you really want to lose it?


Layman, D. K., Evans, E., Baum, J. I., Seyler, J., Erickson, D. J., & Boileau, R. A. (2005). Dietary protein and exercise have additive effects on body composition during weight loss in adult women. J. Nutr. 135(8), 1903-1910

Paying for gyms; Fatter than ever

It is sad really. Millions of people are wasting money on gym memberships they don’t use. Even worse, millions more are using their gym and not achieving the desired results. I have said before that more than 80% of people who walk into the gym don’t meet their goals. In a national that continues to grow, literally, who can afford to pay for nothing?

Let us think about why people join gyms in the first place. Because every physician, health educator, journalist, health insurer, and medical institution, as well as the American Medical Association, the American Heart Association, and the American Cancer Society, are all advising their readers, patients, and clients that regular exercise is vital to a healthy, successful life. Because gossip magazines exploit celebrity weight loss or gain, report celebrity successes and failures with fad diets and workouts, etc. Further, look at any issue of any major women’s magazine and you will find numerous articles with advice for attaining health and happiness through a balanced diet and regular exercise.

Every major media outlet has a health journalist part of who reports on new research and highlights the benefits of regular exercise. But who is reaping the benefits of those unused gym memberships?

A nation gets fatter

The national obesity report, F as in Fat: How Obesity Threatens America’s Future 2010, indicates that in 2009, just 10 states and D.C. had obesity rates below 25 percent, compared with 19 states in 2008. In 2008, only four states (Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, and West Virginia) had obesity rates over 30%. That number doubled in 2009 to eight states, adding Louisiana, Oklahoma, Kentucky, and Arkansas to that list.

As a nation we’ve actively recognized the threat of obesity for decades. Yet obesity rates continue to increase year after year. According to the F as in Fat report, adult obesity rates increased in 28 states in one year.  15 of those states increased for the second and eleven states for the third year in a row. To counteract the now obvious obesity threat, government programs, initiatives, and policies have exploded on both state and federal levels, especially in the past few years.

Initiatives like Let’s Move and President Obama’s Task Force on Childhood Obesity have earned a great deal of publicity. Does history escape us? Haven’t we been trying government initiatives for years? For example, what happened with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Healthy People 2000 and Healthy People 2010? Lofty goals were set and not met.

Launched in January 2000, Healthy People 2010 set a national goal to reduce adult obesity rates to 15% in every state by the year 2010. Not one state met this goal. In fact, most states now report higher rates than they did in 2000 and 30 states are more than 10% away from meeting that goal! Colorado had the lowest rate and was closest to meeting the goal with an obesity rate of 19.1%. Do you know what HHS’s reaction to missing the goal was? They revised the national physical activity and fitness objectives, for a third time, for Healthy People 2020.

Why all the health clubs?

Despite the flood of initiatives, only two states, Arizona and Louisiana, and D.C. saw an increase in reported adult physical activity levels. So then why is it every time you turn around a new health club has opened its doors? It’s not because of the increase in demand and usage of these facilities. Let’s do the math. There are approximately 29,750 health clubs (including YMCAs and community centers) in the United States, compared to 16,883 in 2001 (IHRSA, 2010). But the F as in Fat report indicates that the number of adults participating in no physical activity at all rose in 12 states. Maybe I’m not smart enough to figure it out, but it just doesn’t add up!

According to the International Health, Racquet & Sportsman Association (IHRSA), 45.3 million U.S. residents currently have a gym membership (up from 33.8 million in 2002). However of that 45.3 million, only 36.8% attend their health club 100 or more days of the year. These gyms continue to recruit new members, knowing that few will make use of the membership. They want your money, and don’t care if you use the gym. In fact, I’m sure they are happy when you don’t use the gym because they have an increase in revenue without an increase in equipment maintenance spending.

The bottomline

The layman’s definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.  Are you ready to see the results you’ve been working for? As the general population continues to get fatter, it’s time for something different.

Eat Clean. Play hard. Love life.


I recently read in the USA Today that three states saw decreases in child obesity rates this past year – the states were applauded for their efforts and other states were encouraged to follow their lead. However, these improvements were limited to the white, upper-class. Is that worthy of applauding? I’m not sure, I will let you decide.


IHRSA Statistics retrieved from:

Trust for America’s Health (June 2010), F as in Fat: How Obesity Threatens America’s Future 2010.


Is shoveling snow a workout?

We have seen quite a bit of snow in the United States in the last few days. Big snow out East – burying cars and closing down full states. Here in Minnesota, we had maybe 6 inches already today and there is more to come. All this snow requires snow removal – arms and hands, shovels, brooms, and snow blowers. You bundle up to go to work – you come back inside huffing and puffing and a bit sweaty. You feel, “I got my workout in for today.” Snow removal – of any and all forms – is physical activity, but NOT a workout nor exercise. You see, all exercise is physical activity, but not all physical activity is exercise.

Part of the problem with today’s culture is that we falsely promote any physical activity as exercise or equivalent to working out. Similar to shoveling, walking is not a workout either. These are physical activities and best classified as ADLs (i.e., active daily living). NOTE: When individuals are sedentary, they must increase physical activity slowly and progressively. If someone is severely deconditioned, a walk may be a workout. However, these individuals progress quickly and a walk as a workout will not last long. And while you will burn more calories by increasing your ADLs than when doing nothing at all, without workouts, health and fitness improvements will be minimal to nonexistent.

What makes a workout?

Your workout should be more strenuous than shoveling snow – and no, I do not care how heavy the snow is or how long your driveway is. To obtain benefits, you need to push yourself out of your comfort zone. During a workout you should reach or exceed your maximum heart rate (although not stay there for too long).

A workout requires exercise. Unfortunately, exercise is not well defined. The common definition of exercise is, “activity requiring physical effort carried out, especially to sustain or improve physical fitness.” This is a vague definition that, in essence, has misclassified a myriad of human physical activities as exercise. In today’s mindset, almost anything can be termed exercise from walking, to playing a video game, to sex, to board games and beyond, including climbing Mount Everest.

One of the best scientific definitions  of exercise comes from Ken Hutchins:

Exercise is a process whereby the body performs work of a demanding nature, in accordance with muscle and joint function, in a clinically-controlled environment, within the constraints of safety, meaningfully loading the muscular structures to inroad their strength levels to stimulate a growth mechanism within minimum time.

The bottomline

I think of it this way, shoveling snow (or other means of removal) is a maintenance activity. If you are in a maintenance phase of your health, weight, and fitness, you can consider a long day of shoveling your workout and the world will not end. If you are on a journey to improve your health, weight, and fitness – shoveling CANNOT replace your workout. They are not equal nor synonymous. One day of shoveling and skipping your workout – the world will not end. But do NOT make a habit out of it. Do not use food as a compensatory reward, telling yourself that you worked for it – you will only be sadly disappointed when you are not pleased with your end result – after you thought you had worked so hard.

Finally, shoveling snow is not always easy. It burns calories. So does playing Twister or pattycake – are those workouts?

Should I eat before I workout?

This seems to be a hot topic. Apparently, there is some new research claiming that working out on an empty stomach with increase fat burning. One of the most important things I can every tell you is that anything “NEW” in health and fitness is a bunch of bulls%&t. The human body has not changed for thousands – yes THOUSANDS – of years. We already know what works – sometimes we just do not want to hear it.

NOTE: For my more educated and scientific-minded readers, please do not be offended by my oversimplifications.

Exercise nutrition

I am going to keep this as simple as I can – for it is incredibly complex. Our body uses each of the macronutrients we consume – fats, carbohydrates, and proteins – in slightly different ways. But it uses each of them and the body legitimately needs each of them. Carbohydrates are the primary source of energy – and what provides the most effective immediate energy. Your body needs that energy to partake in physical activity. When that immediate energy is not available, your body must look internally. The fastest source of energy is within muscle – the muscle itself and the intramuscular fat (yes, there is some fat in your ‘muscles’). Does that sound good?

Did you think that your body would immediately go to the fat? WRONG. In fact, the processes required for converting fat into useful energy are actually quite time consuming and require that you sustain activity for a significant amount of time (e.g., more often your aerobic activities).

When to eat

You should eat something within 1 1/2 hours and 45 minutes prior to your workout – a 45 minute window (McArdle, Katch, & Katch, 2005; McArdle, Katch, & Katch, 2010). If you have not eaten, you risk cannibalizing muscle. That sounds good, does it not?

It is equally as important to eat immediately following your workout to refuel your system. Assuming you have worked at an appropriate intensity, your heart rate will be elevated for some time and your metabolism will be roaring – you need to feed this sufficiently.

DO NOT workout for more than 1 hour without refueling (Louks, 2004; Louks 2007). You risk ‘hitting the wall’ and this is the best approximation of we reach glycogen depletion – you need glucose to effectively continue working and drawing from internal energy sources (e.g., fat). Further, I would note that unless you are training to be endurance athlete, there is not benefit to working out for more than approximately 1 hour, anyway!

What if – – – 

–you are not able to eat during the 45 minute window? For instance, what if you are a 5:00am gym rat – are you going to wake up extra early to eat? It is unlikely. I am stealing the term ‘shooter’ from my mentor – a concoction of 1 scoop of protein powder, half a bottle of water, and half a bottle of 100% juice. Drink this on your way to your workout and drink throughout until it is gone (and then continue with water).

What to eat

This is debatable – dependent upon specifics of your workout and your personal nutritional needs. I would highly encourage you to consult with a registered dietitian to build the best plan for you. Specifically, seek out an RD with sports nutrition education. I will simply say – eat REAL FOOD. This is the best fuel you can provide for your body – before, during, or after workout. Carbohydrates and proteins are typically a safe choice.

The bottomline

It is important to eat before your workouts – you will be stronger and have significantly more energy at your disposal. And working out without adequate full puts you at risk of doing more harm than good – cannibalizing muscle, diminishing returns, dizziness, fainting, nausea, and all that fun stuff!


Loucks, A. B. (2004). Energy balance and body composition in sports and exercise. Journal of Sports Sciences, 22(1), 1-14.

Loucks, A. B. (2007). Low Energy Availability in the Marathon and Other Endurance Sports. Sports Medicine, 37(4/5), 347-352.

McArdle, W. D., Katch, F. I., & Katch, V. L. (2005). Sports & Exercise Nutrition (2nd Ed.). Lippencott Williams & Wilkins: Philadelphia.

McArdle, W. D., Katch, F. I., & Katch, V. L. (2010). Exercise Physiology: Nutrition, Energy, and Human Performance (7th Ed.). Lippencott Williams & Wilkins: Philadelphia.