Thursday, December 9, 2010

Prevent Holiday Cookie Sabotage

Holidays equal merriment and lots of good food. There is no need to feel guilty about occasionally indulging in some of your favorite holiday treats (peanut butter Hershey Kiss cookies are my favorite). However, with constant holiday parties and cookie exchanges, it can be very difficult to not overindulge. Here are a few tricks to preventing holiday sweets from sabotaging your weight loss efforts.

At the Office

- Don't let food be the focus of work parties. Rather than organizing a cookie exchange or holiday lunch at work, try doing a Secret Santa Swap or ornament exchange. We are around enough food and sweets over the holidays; support your fellow employees by not sabotaging each other's weight loss efforts. Make a commitment with each other to "maintain not gain" over the holidays by promising to not bring in leftover cookies, pumpkin rolls and other sweets. A recent client of mine decided to ban her office's "Friday Potluck". Instead, she organized a "coffee social", offering several gourmet flavored coffees every Friday rather than unhealthy food. Everyone in the office appreciated the change (and I imagine the caffeine buzz upped productivity).

- If you can't convince people to stop bringing in their baked goods for months during the holidays, AVOID the break room altogether. Pack your lunch, and include lots of healthy snacks such as 100-calorie snack packs, high fiber cereal bars, and fruit. Keep your snacks nearby so you can eat regularly. If you let yourself get too hungry, it will be nearly impossible to keep yourself from stopping by the break-room for a quick cookie pick-me-up.

- Chew gum or have a few mints after your meal. This may help prevent the urge to grab another cookie or two from the holiday tray.

- Find alternative ways to pass the time. If your day is dragging, you may be tempted to grab a handful of M&M's while you catch up on emails. Instead, drink a cup of decaf coffee, tea, or flavored water. We often mistake boredom for hunger and turn to food for something to do. Often, a simple zero calorie drink will distract us enough to realize we weren't really hungry in the first place.

At the Party

- Chose your holiday drinks wisely. When attending holiday parties, avoid the fancy cocktails and stick to a basic martini, glass of wine or light beer. Each has about 90-120 calories. Meanwhile, eggnog has anywhere from 200-350 a glass while a a margarita has about 250 calories. The worst choice, a Mudslide tops the charts at 800 calories (equivalent to two large slices of greasy pizza)! A surprising holiday treat (and one of my personal winter favorites), a Guinness Draught with only 126 calories a bottle.

- NEVER go to a holiday party hungry. The chances of finding something healthy are slim. It is better to grab a healthy snack or meal beforehand and have a drink and a few of your favorite treats at the party. Overall you will consume far fewer calories and have less post-party guilt.

Finally, stick to your regular workout routine. By maintaining your muscle mass and scorching through calories during high intensity cardio, you can prevent holiday sabotage all together.

Friday, November 12, 2010

What's the Big Deal with Tabatas?

Tabatas are changing the way we think of working out and redefining the fitness world. When it comes to weight loss and improving performance, nothing works as efficiently, effectively and fast as tabata training. What's the drawback? For those of you who have experienced this type of training firsthand, you know the problem is tabatas are downright HARD. Not everyone can safely perform tabata training but for those that can push themselves to their limits, this type of workout can provide quick results.

Tabata training is named after Dr. Izumi Tabata, who led a team of researchers at the National Institute of Fitness and Sport in Tokyo. Tabata compared the effects of moderate intensity endurance training and high intensity intermittent training (tabatas) on VO2 max (the body's maximum ability to uptake and transport oxygen to working muscles) and anaerobic capacity (the ability to produce maximum power in a short amount of time). They found the moderate intensity training group improved their VO2 max score by 10% but had no changes in anaerobic capacity. Meanwhile, the tabata interval training group improved their VO2 max by 14% and anaerobic capacity by 28%!. In addition, the tabata trained participants burned approximately 9x more fat per calorie expended during exercise than the moderate intensity group due to EPOC (excess post oxygen consumption). The bottom line, tabata training is one of the most effective tools for weight loss and improved performance.

A tabata consists of a 2o second sprint followed by 10 seconds of rest repeated for 8 cycles for a total of 4 minutes. Normally, the same exercise is repeated the entire cycle. In order for tabatas to be effective, the sprint interval must be performed at a person's maximum intensity. The small amount of rest between each hard interval makes tabatas very intense. Therefore, they are not for people just starting an exercise program or for people with cardiovascular disease risk factors. Longer intervals with longer rest periods are more appropriate for these individuals.

In order for a tabata exercise to be effective, it needs to be a powerful, simple exercise that incorporate many muscle groups. Examples include running or cycling sprints, burpees, jump roping, kettlebell swings, stair running and plyometrics. Exercises such as bicep curls or leg presses won't cut it. Tabata training should only be performed 2-3x per week on non-consecutive days. Your muscles need a few days to recover and replenish after this type of high intensity training.

You can do your own quick and efficient tabata workout at home by choosing 3-5 of the exercises above. You can either do the entire 4-minute tabata using the same exercise or you can mix up 2-4 different exercises. Just remember, your rest interval is only 10 seconds so your exercise transitions need to be fast. Allow yourself at least 1.5-2.5 minutes rest between tabatas. Enjoy and good luck (as my bootcampers know, you'll need it)!

Friday, November 5, 2010

Lessons from the Biggest Loser

NBC's The Biggest Loser is a formula of extremes. Extremely overweight contestants + extremely strict diets + extremely tough workouts = extreme weight loss. Although the means are somewhat controversial, the formula doesn't fail....until last week. If you missed the episode, the contestants spent the week at Camp Pendelton. They completed bootcamp with marine drill sergeants and probably experienced the most grueling week of their lives. The results were a little astounding to the audience but I wasn't surprised. The contestants experienced the worst weigh-ins in Biggest Loser history. Most either lost a mere pound or two and many gained...up to 4 pounds. What happened?

Nutrition went out the window. The contestants ate rec hall food for the entire week. Many of them assumed the grueling all day activity level made up for their poor nutrition as they cleaned their entire plates of buffet style food. Obviously it did not. I liked this particular episode of the show because it emphasized the importance of nutrition tracking. A few days of not paying attention to the nutrients going into their bodies; regardless of their full day of grueling exercise, destroyed their weight loss goals.

Although we emphasis it over and over again, people continue to underestimate the importance of nutrition. Even the educated Biggest Loser contestants competing for $250,000, couldn't resist the temptation of filling up their plates up with unhealthy food as they went through the buffet line. The lesson: First, DO NOT even contemplate going to a buffet if your trying to lose weight. Second, proper nutrition and serving size is vital to weight loss. With all the resources available, there are really no excuses. Here are some of my favorite:

Weight Watchers - it requires accountability and uses a point system that is fairly easy to follow. Many research studies support the success of these small group weight loss programs. - This government sponsored site is no frills. It does not support any "diet" and doesn't get paid to advertise supplements and powders. It is simply no-nonsense nutrition tracking and advice that is reliable, healthy, and free. - Another free on line site that also offers the support of the on line community. On line tracking and charts can help you reach your nutrition and fitness goals.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Dressing For Workouts in Cooler Weather

Numerous studies support the health benefits of spending time in nature. In my opinion, it makes much more sense to exercise in the expansive outdoors rather than being confined to small stationary spaces in gyms. Our bodies can adapt to a wide range of temperatures. Our ancestors spent almost all their waking hours working outside, irregardless of the season. Being active outside is an effective way to battle the "winter blues" that are often associated with cooler temps and shorter days. Fall is the perfect time to "play" in the fresh air.

Fall mornings can be chilly. To stay comfortable throughout your workout, dress in layers. It is important to be able to remove clothing as you heat up. Exercise generates an enormous amount of heat, making you feel up to 30 degrees warmer than the outdoor temperature. Your base layer should be made of sweat wicking material such as polypropylene, not cotton which remains wet on your skin. Many females prefer yoga pants or running tights in the colder months. Men often wear running tights underneath their athletic shorts. Fleece is a great second layer that provides light-weight insulation. On especially cold days, you may want to finish off with a breathable waterproof jacket.

During both exercise and cold temperatures, heat is drawn away from your extremities and directed towards your core and working muscles. Thirty to forty percent of heat is lost through your head so wear a warm headband or hat that covers your ears. Be sure to wear light-weight gloves that let your hands move. Finally, opt for thick socks. This might mean you need to wear a half shoe-size larger than usual to prevent your shoes from fitting too tight and interfering with foot circulation. People suffering from asthma can still withstand cooler temperatures by breathing into a scarf. The result is a naturally humid environment that can be easier on the airways than dry indoor air.

Be sure to hydrate! People tend to not feel "thirsty" in cooler weather. Remember, once you are "thirsty", you are already suffering from dehydration. You are still sweating in the cold; therefore, it is important to stay hydrated. Take a sip of water every 10-15 minutes during your workouts, whether you feel thirsty or not.

Finally, shorter days means you may need to work-out in the dark. Wear clothing with built in reflectors or wear a reflective running vest.

Don't let the chilly weather give you cabin fever. Remaining outdoors throughout the fall and winter is a great way to fight depression, the holiday bulge, and keep you mentally and physically healthy. The National Safety Council states it is perfectly safe to workout outside as long as the windchill is above -20 degree F. Get outdoors and enjoy!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Key to "bringing it" is Showing Up

I admire my bootcampers. Their ability to "bring it" day after day is highly commendable. For many people, dragging themselves out of bed at the ghastly hour of 5:30 AM borders on torture. For others, squeezing in a workout at the end of a long workday is impossible. Yet, my bootcampers manage it 2-3 days a week, with smiles on their faces (most days). How do they do it? By not giving themselves the option to not.

Study after study shows that unless your workout plan becomes a routine, you will not follow through. Any regular exerciser will admit they have many days where they simply don't want to workout. Perhaps they had a restless night, they aren't feeling 100%, or maybe they had a glitch in their schedule. As impossible as the "thought" of exercise seems, these people still manage to get their sweat on and end up feeling all the better for it. Let's face it, very few people regret a workout once it's complete.

There is a learning curve to committing to exercise. Here are a few tips to get you started:

- Schedule in your workouts! Block out time for your workouts just like you do meetings and doctor appointments. Remember your health should be your number one priority so prioritize this time!

- Follow a pattern! Once you figure out the "when" of exercise, you need to decide on the "what" and "how". Decide which days you will walk, bike, play a sport, go on a family active outing, or participate in a fitness class. Do the same thing each week.

- Stop thinking! Many people value exercise classes and personal training for that reason alone. With all the thoughts running through our brains each day, deciding on a workout can be cumbersome enough to prevent you from exercising. By signing up for a class or personal training session, showing up is the hardest part of the workout.

- Prepare yourself. Make sure you have everything ready for your workout the night before. This decreases the likelihood you'll suddenly change your mind.

- Protect your time. If you get up at 5:30 AM to workout, don't schedule something for 10PM the night before. Schedule around your workout time! Trust me, between toddler triplets and a busy job, my day-to-day life is hectic. However, I value my health and the "all about me" attribute of my workouts; therefore, I don't let anyone or anything interfere!

- Always follow through. If you have an important meeting, chances are your not going to let it slip through the cracks. The same should go for exercise, it is important!

I always say the hardest part of working out is putting on your shoes. Unless you commit to showing up, your never going to conquer your goals. Once you decide on your exercise routine, stop thinking and take action. You won't regret it!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Catch Your Zzz's, Manage Your Weight

Wouldn't it be fabulous to wake up on your own, feeling refreshed every morning? I wish. Unfortunately the demands of work, children, or daily stress prevent many people from getting the required 7-8 hours of sleep a night. Lack of sleep disrupts your mood, lowers your immunity and is closely linked to obesity and other health problems.

Consistently sleeping less than 7 hours per night increases sympathetic activity and evening cortisol production. Individuals with higher levels of cortisol, otherwise known as the "stress" hormone, intake more food and accumulate more abdominal fat than individuals with healthy cortisol levels. In addition, sleep deprivation decreases leptin levels. Leptin is released from fat cells and sends messages to our brain that our energy levels are in balance. Therefore, decreases in leptin trigger us to eat more to replenish energy stores. Finally, sleep restriction increases ghrelin levels, the "hunger" hormone.

The rise in sympathetic activity and hormone imbalances that result from sleep deprivation ultimately interfere with glucose utilization. By lowering levels of insulin secretion and promoting the hunger response in the brain, weight gain is inevitable. In turn, increased waking time has been linked to damaging behaviors such as a sedentary lifestyle and constant snacking.

It is easy to see why chronic sleep restriction can lead to obesity but what can we do to ensure we get 7-8 hours of sleep every night? Here are recommendations from the experts:

- Go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day. Our bodies easily fall into a routine and by maintaining a consistent bed time, we will be more likely to fall asleep quickly.

- Avoid alcoholic drinks that interfere with REM sleep and cut back on caffeine, nicotine and chocolate after noon.

- Be sure your medications are not keeping you awake. Especially prescription asthma or blood pressure medications or herbal cold medicines.

- Get enough sunlight. Daylight plays a huge part in regulating our sleep cycle. Be sure you are getting at least 30 minutes/day.

- Establish a relaxing nighttime routine. Whether it be taking a hot bath before bed or reading yourself to sleep, a relaxing routine cues your body to sleep.

- If you can't sleep, tossing and turning won't help. If you lay awake for longer than 20 minutes, get up and do something relaxing (not work) rather than lay awake, focusing on your insomnia.

We all know the demands of life can sometimes sap our needed sleep. A night or two of sleep restriction is nothing to worry about. However, if you have been consistently suffering from insomnia and nothing seems to help, it is time to see your doctor. Sleep tight!

This article was adapted from Chronic Sleep Restriction, IDEA Health and Fitness Journal; September 2010 and, Sleep.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Lifestyle Lessons We Can Learn From a Toddler

My triplet toddlers constantly remind me about the importance of a healthy lifestyle. One of them, Mia, happens to be a skinny little pipsqueak who can probably teach us a lot about weight-management. Here are a few lessons from my 2-year-old:

- There is no point in leisurely walking. Mia's motto is full-speed ahead. She often covers twice the distance of her brother and sister because of her constant back tracking as we all attempt to catch-up.

Take home message: Running burns approximately twice as many calories as walking. Not a runner, no problem. Alternating between 1-2 minute bursts of jogging and walking is a great way to challenge our cardiovascular systems and torch through calories.

- Variety is the spice of life. Mia eats a ton of different foods but always in moderation. Rather than demanding more and more mac and cheese, Mia is perfectly content eating her veggies or apples when her favorite food is gone.

Take home message: Rather than over-indulging in your main entree, be sure to eat your fruits and veggies first. Chances are, your overall caloric consumption will be lower if you have a soup/salad prior to dinner to help tame your hunger in a sensible way.

- There is no fun in sitting. Mia is constantly fidgeting. She rarely sits still, even while watching her favorite TV show.

Take home message: We already know that fidgeters burn more calories than non-fidgeters so why not make-up for eating that desert by "fidgeting" through prime-time tv. Pull out a jump rope, knock out some crunches and work on your flexibility (you know you need to).

- Sleep is crucial. Not enough sleep = intensified anger, inability to concentrate, low energy levels and a bad day for everyone in Mia's vicinity.

Take home message: Most "grown-ups" need 7-8 hours of sleep/day. We often suffer the same consequences from lack of sleep as our toddlers. Just think what a happier, calmer, and more productive place our world would be if we all prioritized sleep.

- Exercise is always better with friends! Mia turns every social interaction into an active game. Whether it be "ring around the rosy" or "hide-and-seek", spending time with her brother and sister is always more fun when an active game is involved.

Take home message: Exercise is more fun with friends! Making exercise a social experience can include playing a sport in a recreational league, battling through bootcamp relays, or chatting about the latest reality-tv show while struggling through resistance sets. Either way, having peers around often takes your mind off the fact your exercising.

- Breakfast is the best meal of the day. Mia is a terror until her belly is full. Eating breakfast first thing is a necessity in our house.

Take home message: NEVER SKIP BREAKFAST. By delaying or skipping breakfast, you are compromising your metabolism and increasing the likelihood of overeating. Think about the consequences of a toddler missing breakfast (bad temper tantrums, spacey and ravishingly hungry). We would never make our two-year-olds suffer these consequences so why would we?

There is a reason toddlers have so much energy. It has a lot to do with their eating patterns, activity levels and sleep. It is time we all take a good look at our lifestyles and maybe mimic some of our toddlers behaviors. Well, maybe minus the public temper tantrums.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Just Tie Those Shoes and Go!

When it comes to chores like grocery shopping, showering, dropping the kids off at school, and brushing our teeth there are no free passes; we just do them..every day. If we really sat down and thought about how annoying and exhausting some of these "chores" were, they may never get done! The same goes for exercise. Sometimes the hardest part about working out is drumming up the energy to put on our shoes.

No one loves those first few minutes after dragging themselves out of bed at 5:30 AM to workout. Likewise, gathering the energy to change from our work clothes to workout attire can sometimes seem impossible. Our focus shouldn't be on how we feel immediately before our workout; rather, how we feel after. That post-workout rush fills us with a sense of accomplishment and makes us mentally and physically stronger. That euphoria is what we need to focus on rather than wether or not we feel like exercising today.

Certainly making exercise fun by participating in group fitness classes like bootcamp or finding other creative ways to stay active helps us stay motivated. A recent article in USA Today suggests family camping trips, pedometer challenges among friends, or active "dates" such as rock-wall climbing as ways to encourage a more active lifestyle.

But just like every shopping trip can't be new and exciting, we shouldn't expect to always be "ancy" to start our workout. Sometimes exercise does feel like a "chore" but one that we must get done every day. So on your off days of personal training or bootcamp, don't let "I just don't have the energy" be your excuse. Plan ahead, schedule in ways to be active, and focus on that post-workout euphoria. Putting on your running shoes is often the hardest part. I promise, 10 minutes into your workout you will be glad you took the time out of your busy day to focus on improving your body and mind.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Why are we getting fatter and what can we do?

The newest obesity statistics are out. 1 in 4 people are obese, defined as weighing ~30 pounds over their healthy weight. These are the highest obesity rates yet. We've all seen the ominous trend depicted in a US maps like the one below. As Americans, we just keep getting fatter.

Colorado and DC seem to be the only places in America where a significant amount of people have their weight under control. What are they doing right and what are we doing wrong?

Unfortunately, there is no easy answer. Most likely, public transportation, healthier eating patterns, and a more active lifestyle are to thank. But as Americans, we need to take responsibility for our health. It is time to stop blaming the donut shops and our demanding jobs. The fact is, we have to challenge our old patterns, commit to our new priorities, and conquer unhealthy lifestyles for good.

Knowing the enormous negative impact an unhealthy body composition has on our health is not enough. We need a game plan. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

Write out your goals - schedule in your workouts: 1 hour EVERY DAY. Make a regular exercise routine the norm, not the exception.

Stop frequenting damaging restaurants - Do you drop in at your favorite buffet every Sunday? Stop. Unless your getting their healthiest option and a reasonable serving size, reserve these visits for special occasions. And by all means, make sure you know the nutritional value of everything you eat.

Get support - Studies show when people have the support of friends and family, they fare much better. Join a group fitness class like bootcamp or hire a personal trainer or nutritionist. Support makes you more accountable and successful!

Evaluate your priorities - If there is one area you should be spending your money on, it is your health. Taking care of yourself should come before new accent pillows for your house or a new dress.

Reward yourself - Nothing about losing weight or changing unhealthy patterns is easy. Focus on little achievements and be sure to reward yourself with a massage, a new piece of clothing or anything non-food related that makes you happy. You deserve it.

Life is much brighter when we are in control of our future. It's time we Americans Challenge, Commit and Conquer our unhealthy patterns for good.