Get Healthy to Lose Weight


I’ll say it: I think the weight loss industry has it backwards. Being overweight doesn’t make us sick – being sick makes us overweight. Or, as I like to say, “we need to get healthy to lose weight.”

Obesity is a symptom of a bigger problem, or set of problems, not a disease to be cured. If you look at the labs of obese people, you will almost always find that there is a lot going on there – be it thyroid, blood sugar, hormone dysregulation, anemia, leaky gut, parasites, various vitamin and mineral deficiencies, high cholesterol, etc. And, if you look at their lifestyle habits, there is a good chance they aren’t moving enough, are making poor food choices foods for them (either intentionally or unintentionally), don’t sleep enough, and are under a lot of stress at work, home, or both. If you ask an obese person how they feel, they will usually tell you they feel sluggish, tired all of the time, or just generally unwell. Sure, some of it is because they are carrying around extra weight, but it’s also oftentimes because they genuinely are unwell.

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6 Reasons You Think You Are Hungry (But Aren’t)

Hunger is a mental game, pure and simple. As my friend, and fellow Z-Health Master Practitioner, Zachariah says, “Hunger does not equal harm.”

When your body is telling you it’s hungry, it’s usually not because there is a caloric deficit, it’s usually because we are looking to meet some other need. Luckily for us, all we really need to do is be aware, and we can win the mental game. “Shall we play a game?”

1) Time of Day

The brain and body like to predict what’s going on, even with our eating patterns. So, when we hit a time of day we usually eat our hunger hormone kicks in telling us it is time to eat, regardless of whether we’ve recently eaten – or even need the calories. The good news about this, is that it’s trainable. We can we teach our bodies when we eat, where we eat, and how much we eat.

Solution: If you get hungry, look at the clock. Take a mental inventory of what you’ve eaten so far and figure out if you are on track for the day. If you had three Krispy Cremes two hours ago you don’t need to eat, so tell yourself it’s just habit.

2) The Food is There

One of my favorite foods, before I found out I was gluten intolerant, was Oreos. One of my former coworkers stocks Oreos outside of her office cubicle, and I would make up virtually any excuse on the planet to go ask her a question. The interesting part was that while I consciously knew I wasn’t hungry, my body triggered hunger signals – just because it knew my favorite food was there.

Solution: Unless your favorite food happens to be something like carrots or celery (yeah, right!), the best plan is to simply avoid it altogether. For me, and most people I know, rationing is not really an option in these situations. Even it’s more a case of someone sharing in the break room, skipping it altogether is going be your best course of action. “That looks good, I should have some” is RARELY a route I recommend!

3) Too Much Processed or High-Sugar Foods

You wouldn’t think too much food would actually make you hungry, would you? It goes against conventional wisdom, but it’s true. Since junk food (or, what the daughter of a client calls, “edible food-like substance”) is largely devoid of any true nutritional value, our bodies ignore it in the quest for the vitamins and nutrients that it needs to survive. So, even though you may have met (and even exceeded) your caloric needs for the day, your body will keep sending out hunger signals until it gets the vitamins and nutrients it needs to properly digest your food and convert it to energy.

Solution: Eat whole foods. If your grandparents didn’t eat it growing up, you shouldn’t either!

4) Lack of Sleep

I’m sure I’m not the only one that gets the munchies when I’m tired. No? Well, you can blame your hormones! When you don’t get enough sleep, the hormones responsible for telling you when you’re hungry turn on faster than they should and the ones that say “enough” don’t turn on as quickly as they should. It’s almost like they get tired and start responding to stuff weirdly, too.  The result: overeating.

Solution: Since sleep-deprivation is a part of our 24×7 modern society, as much as I’d like to tout the benefits of 7-9 hours of sleep, I’ll give you something a bit more practical to work with. When you want to reach for the sugar-y treat, instead, tell yourself that it’s the lack of sleep talking. Instead, get up and go for a brief walk – you’ll come back more focused, in a better mood, and ahead of the game calorically. You’ll be practically better-looking on the spot!

5) Eating Too Fast

I’m sure your mom told you to slow down in your eating, because it takes at least 20 minutes for your body to tell your brain that you are actually full. Well, it’s true – it does take time for the brain to register you are full. Interestingly (well, at least to me), there are two different things going on. First, we have to wait for the “I’m full” hormone to turn on (again, what is it with those hormones!), which takes a bit of time. Second, when we eat our stomach distends (anyone who has ever let their belt out after Thanksgiving dinner knows this one), and there is a nerve just waiting for that to happen so it can tell the brain we are full.

My fun fact around stomach size is that an empty stomach is actually quite small, but when distended can hold up to 4 liters – which is approximately 50 times it’s empty size. Can you imagine?

Solution: Slow down! Eating with someone is a great way to make that happen (unless you grew up in my family – I come from a family of fast eaters). If that isn’t an option, at a minimum eat away from your desk, computer, TV, or book – so you can focus on eating, putting the fork (or shovel) down between bites, and actually enjoying your meal.

6) Bored/Upset/Procrastinating

I actually feel bad putting this last tip in, because anyone who talks about weight loss and eating habits talks about it. But, I’m including it here because it’s super–important. This shouldn’t be a surprise to you, but we all tend to eat when we are bored, upset, or procrastinating. What you may not realize is that there’s a physiologic reason why we do it. It’s because when we eat, the hormone dopamine is released into our systems (yes, hormones – again). Dopamine is what is commonly called the happy hormone, improves your mood, and makes you feel better. So, we get a feel-good rush just from eating.

Solution: Stay happy all the time?!?  Barring that alternate reality, I have my clients ask themselves if carrots or celery would do, or does it HAVE to be that cake? If the answer is it HAS to be the cake – then their emotions are in control. They aren’t hungry! Or, I have them rate their mood on a 1-10 scale. If they are on the low end (or even negative – I’ve had clients that insist they can drop OFF the scale), I suggest they “walk away from the fridge and no one will get hurt.”

These are the six triggers that I remain vigilant about, and work on with my clients. Once you can see them, you CAN win the game.  What are you our favorite hunger signal false alarms? Share them in the comments below.

P. S. Bonus points to anyone that can name the movie I referenced at the beginning of the post.

The No-Fail Weight Loss Plan

You’ve had it! You’ve tried every diet in the book – South Beach, Atkins, Ornish, the Zone, Cabbage Diet, Grapefruit Diet, the Master Cleanse. I’m sure there are hundreds more that I’m missing, but you get the idea.

Anyway, you’ve run the gamut, but you still aren’t the trim, svelte individual you have in your mind’s eye. Believe me, been there, done that!

There is a simple (but not easy) weight loss plan that:

  • Lets you eat what you want when you want.
  • Has just one rule.
  • And is GUARANTEED to work.

At this point I bet you are thinking, awesome someone else that is just going to tell me, “consume less than I eat and it will all work out in the end. Fantastic, I need that advice like I need a hole on my head.”

Yep, sadly that actually is the rule, but, I have a new twist on it that will give you a FOOLPROOF way of figuring out what your caloric target should be. And, wait for it, some structure so that you really can have your cake and eat it too.

Here are the magical steps:

1) Compute your BMR (Basal Metabolic Rate). BMR is the number of calories your body absolutely NEEDS to get through the day. It does not account for exercise, activity level, or bodyfat.

(I am using the Harris-Benedict Formula, as that is currently believed to be the most accurate)

Women: BMR = 655 + ( 4.35 x weight in pounds ) + ( 4.7 x height in inches ) – ( 4.7 x age in years )

Men: BMR = 66 + ( 6.23 x weight in pounds ) + ( 12.7 x height in inches ) – ( 6.8 x age in year )

2) Decide how many pounds per week you want to lose. It takes a 3500 calorie deficit to lose a pound, so choose carefully!

Weekly Deficit = pounds per week * 3500

3)     Compute your Weekly Caloric Total. It is a simple formula. (BMR * 7) – Weekly Deficit

Let’s look at a 40-year-old female that weighs 170 pounds, is 5’7” tall and wants to lose one pound a week.

BMR = 1,524

Weekly Deficit = 3,500

Weekly Caloric Total = (1524 * 7) – 3500 = 7,186 calories

4)     Divide those calories out through the week. If I divided the 7,186 by 7, I’d get 1,024 calories per day. But, daily totals, while very popular with weight loss programs DO NOT really work in real life.  I know you know that, I don’t know why diet “gurus” don’t.

Precise daily numbers look good on paper, but looking good on paper and working in the real world are two very different things. Being hungry all the time SUCKS, never feeling like you have a choice SUCKS, and having to perpetually turn down dessert, eating out, or even a BITE of your favorite chocolate SUCKS. So, this is why I’m a big fan of weekly averaging.

So, if you like your Friday lunch with your co-workers, go for it. In figuring out your week, start by deducting Friday lunch, and then spread your remaining calories out throughout the week.

The way I have made this program work for myself is that I prefer to have one large meal mid-afternoon, and then I eat very little in the morning and very little in the evening. My BMR is around 1550, so at 1 pound a week, I get to average about 1050 calories a day. That is what I shoot for, and then if I end up going out, I cut back a few hundred calories a day for the next few days.

Now, I’ve been a semi-professional dieter for probably close to 30 years, so I have a freaky knowledge of calorie counts all stored up in my head. You might not be able to get away with this. If you want a tracking tool, I highly recommend Lose It! if you have an iPhone. The Daily Plate at LiveStrong is a great online resource.

I’ve had to learn that hunger does not equal harm, and keep fresh veggies all cut up in the fridge at virtually all times. Some chicken or steak on a bed of spinach with some goat cheese is a fantastic, low-calorie meal that I’ve come to embrace.

Why Didn’t I Include Bodyfat?

Unless you are doing hydrostatic weighing, bodyfat is nothing more than an educated guess anyhow. Bodyfat scales have an error rate of +/- 8%. They are great for identifying trends in bodyfat if you are really consistent about the time of day and hydration levels in using it (most research indicates that your most accurate result is going to be mid-afternoon).

So, I’m simply eliminating that variable. The BMR is very accurate for all but the really lean (but then you probably aren’t reading this anyhow) and the very obese (BMR is still probably close enough to get you started).

What About Exercise?

Much like bodyfat, it’s all just an educated guess, and most modern research indicates that most solid 60-minute training sessions don’t burn more than 400 calories.

The way we ended up with such a discrepancy between what you find in calorie calculators and what we find in the real world is complicated:

  • We get efficient the more we do any activity. Being more efficient means we burn less calories doing the same exercise at the same intensity for the same amount of time. So, what happened when researchers went and computed calories burned during exercise, they measured someone who is brand new to that exercise, but you aren’t.
  • Body weight and body fat. We burn calories differently based upon our weight and bodyfat levels.
  • Metabolism. Everyone burns calories at a slightly different rate.
  • Marketing. The people who have those machines that tell you how much you burned on the treadmill have a stake in fudging the numbers a bit in their favor.
  • Intensity. The more intense the activity, the harder it is to maintain it for any length of time. So, while kettlebells, for example, may burn 1200 calories per hour, I don’t think I know anyone who can swing a kettlebell for a full hour without setting it down.

Not counting exercise also gives you a bit of wiggle room because calorie counts aren’t as accurate as we’d like to believe, and you probably don’t weigh and measure everything you put in your mouth. A little bit of undercounting here and a bit of overcounting there, and everything works out in the end!

Isn’t My Daily Caloric Limit Too Low or Unsafe?

As long as you play by the rules outlined above, no. BMR goes down as we age and with loss of lean body mass (which is why this program isn’t great for super-lean people). 70% of our calorie expenditure typically comes from BMR, so doesn’t it make sense to use it as our baseline?

That gives us another 30% for fudge factor in both calorie counting (we tend to underestimate) and exercise (we tend to overestimate).

As I said, simple, but not easy. This is hard work, and isn’t for everyone. Or, email me, and we’ll figure out a way to work together to achieve your weight loss goal. Everyone does better with a coach!

Geek Fit Friday – iPhone App Lose It (Part 2)

A couple of months ago I reviewed my favorite iPhone diet and exercise logging application — Lose It!

Since that time, the people at FitNow have added in a whole lot more accountability in to the application, and made it a whole lot harder to “forget” to track your food intake.

  • Facebook and Twitter updates. Clearly not for the faint of heart, but you can post your exercise logging, your weight gain/loss, or when you hit your goal.
  • Mealtime logging reminders. Now that the iPhone has push capability, Lose It! has taken advantage of it, and you can configured reminders to go off up to 4 times a day to ping you to enter your food and exercise. Personally, a HUGE win in terms of remembering to use it!
  • Friends. This isn’t my favorite feature, but I’ll mention it for the sake of completeness. You can invite people to be your friends on, and watch their stats as well (overall weight gain or loss, calories consumed, and last logging date). I love the idea, but I don’t have the energy to create another network.
  • Emailed reports. You can set up daily and/or weekly spreadsheets of goals, food intake, exercise to be emailed to any email address. As a coach, this is super-cool for me (and if you are one of my clients, beware) — I want this from my clients, and now I don’t have to ask them to double-log. And, it comes straight to my inbox, in Excel, where I can use my Excel ninja skills to get exactly what I want.

To set any and all of these settings, go to, and sign up for a free account. The settings are all under the aptly-named tab, “Motivators” (except Friends, which is under the “Friends” tab). You can’t enter any food or exercise in on the web site, but even if you don’t want to take advantage of the Motivators, it does have some really nice reporting on it that you can’t find in the app.

My only complaint is that it is limited to the Apple ecosystem (iPhone and iTouch), but if you are an iPhone user, I definitely suggest you check it out!

Geek Fit Friday – the price of supersizing

When Less is…Less

Everyone loves a bargain — and in this economy even more so.

But, getting a great deal on today’s food is not always in your best long-term interest. You already know this, so I’m not going to belabor the point. Instead, because this is Geek Fit Friday, and I’m all about data, I’m going to talk about the empty calories that supersizing at some fast food joints gets you.

  • 7-Eleven: Gulp to Double Gulp Coca-Cola Classic: 37 cents extra buys 450 more calories.
  • Cinnabon: Minibon to Classic Cinnabon: 48 more cents buys 370 more cals.
  • Movie theater: Small to medium unbuttered popcorn: 71 additional cents buys you 500 more calories.
  • Convenience store: Regular to “The Big One” Snickers: 33 more cents packs on 230 more cals.
  • McDonald’s: Quarter Pounder with Cheese to Medium Quarter Pounder with Cheese Extra Value Meal: An additional $1.41 gets you 660 more calories.
  • Subway: 6-inch to 12-inch Tuna Sub: $1.53 more buys 420 more cals.
  • Wendy’s: Classic Double with Cheese to Classic Double with Cheese Old Fashioned Combo Meal: $1.57 extra buys you 600 more calories.
  • Baskin Robbins: Chocolate Chip Ice Cream, Kids’ Scoop, to Double Scoop: For another $1.62, you’ve added 390 cals.

(Reprinted from Eat This, Not That)

So, just say no.

P.S. If you haven’t see the movie Super Size Me, I highly recommend it. And, it’s currently free on Hulu.

Avoid becoming a holiday weight gain statistic

scaleYesterday my new column went up on WriteOn! Online, where I talk about how to avoid becoming a holiday weight gain statistic, and a better way to track your food intake that actually allows for having a life.

Then today, this article shows up in my Twitter stream: This Is Why You’re Fat: Thanksgiving Meals Average 2,200 Calories Per Serving


That is far more than the 1400-1800 that those who have succeeded at long-term weight loss eat in a day. With diabetes rates set to double and costs set to triple in the next 25 years, I really hope that Thanksgiving is the exception rather than the rule for virtually everyone.

As I talk about in my article, one day isn’t make or break, but you also can’t just ignore it, either.

Photo credit: redcherryhill

Geek Fit Friday – Lose It!

geek-fit-fridayConceptually, weight loss is an easy idea. Take in less calories than we expend. From there, the wheels tend to come off.

Anyone (or anything) that can tell you they know exactly how many calories you burn in any activity is flat-out lying to you. The best anyone can do is make an educated guessed based on the “average” person – however you define that. Current weight, muscle mass, metabolism, and how hard you are working all get factored in.

So, the only thing we can REALLY do is count our intake. The National Weight Control Registry shows that individuals that manage to lose 30+ pounds and keep it off 5+ years eat between 1400 and 1800 calories per day. That is a tried and true model for success, so I think it’s a good one to work from. (NOTE: They also exercise an hour a day – it’s not ALL about the food.)

My favorite iPhone app for tracking calories is an application called Lose It!

  • It’s Free
  • It allows you to save your meals so you can easily repeat from day to day
  • It allows you to create your own foods
  • It lets you choose what nutrients you want to track (I like to track my protein)
  • It has a fantastic food database. I’m super-impressed with the food database
  • It remembers the portion size you last used with that food
  • It lets you enter your weight and weight loss goals and helps you determine your daily caloric target (which you can also override)

It also lets you enter your exercise, but I have to admit, I have yet to use that feature.

P.S. If you really can’t live without a number to put to your training session, you can assume 400 cals for good, solid hour of work. Yep, that’s it.

‘Keep slim friends’ to stay trim

I really need to stop using the article headlines as my post subjects, because it ends up being a spoiler for what I’m going to talk about. But, I digress…

We model the behaviors of those around us.

This subject line comes from an article posted Friday on the BBC. I really like this article for a lot of different reasons, not the least of which being that I’m still mentally processing the latest Z-Health 9S Course: Sustenance & Spirit. The article is really common sense – we hang out with our friends because we like them and we are like them. Or, we want to be like them.

Growing up, my Mom always wanted me to have as friends the “good kids”, so was not happy when my first boyfriend was on probation for stealing a car at the time we met. She intuitively understood that my behavior was going to match that as of who I was spending time with in order to be accepted by them. Ironically, I later found out that the reason my then-boyfriend started dating me (a straight-A student) was that he wanted to be more like me.

Behavior extends well beyond hanging out at the mall and doing your homework (or not) and in to eating and exercise behaviors. If you spend you time with friends who get their lunch out of the vending machine, you are going to get your lunch out of the vending machine. As an adult, if you work some place where the culture is to eat lunch out every day, do you start forgoing that turkey sandwich that you brought to grab something with your co-workers? If happy hour is the ritual, do you eventually find yourself giving in instead of hitting the gym after work?

Are the people you surround yourself with emulating the behaviors you wish to have? If not, how are you going to change that to be the person you want to be?

Behavior: Money Not a Motivator in Weight Loss

There was an article in the New York Times about two weeks ago titled the same as the subject as my post. I’d sum up the article for you, but the title does fairly well.

Why, in a society where 75% of Americans are considered overweight (and the economy is terrible), can people not lose weight even when being paid???

Because unless you have changed your eating behaviors to make eating well automatic, it simply takes too much energy. Making change requires a higher energy level than giving in to your habits (good and bad). So, as soon as life changes course (vacation, overtime, other stressors), you revert back to what is “easy”.

The Z-Health newsletter that came out earlier this week talked about the 5 eating instincts that people have, and provided some easy-to-implement suggestions for changing your eating behaviors to make good behaviors automatic. Because only when these behaviors are automatic, can you succeed long-term.

Diet more important than activity levels

Healthy dinnerConventional wisdom states that diet and exercise are the key to weight loss – you either need to lower calories or increase exercise to lose weight. Long ago I did the math, and quickly concluded that I’d rather eat less than train longer – just seemed to be the more efficient route. As kettlebell instructor David Whitley likes to say, “you can’t out-snatch a donut”.

This study from Loyola University found there was no association between weight gain and calories burned during physical activity. It is just simply too hard to exercise enough to really make a difference.

That having been said, there are a million other reasons why regular exercise is a great idea, from better sleep to improved memory and brain function, to reducing the likelihood of chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and various cancers. You aren’t as likely to develop osteoporsis and significantly more likely to age gracefully and avoid assisted living situations. But, if you are planning on treadmilling yourself thin, you might want to think again.