Lifestyle Changes vs. Diets

Introduction

In conversations about weight loss, the distinction between “lifestyle changes” and “diets” are frequently made. You will often hear statements like, “long-term weight loss only happens when you change your lifestyle, and diets just provide short-term results”. What exactly is meant by “lifestyle changes” and “diets” when making these kinds of distinctions? This brief article will help answer that question.

Since we’re discussing the meanings of terms, semantics are inherently involved. However, I will be describing what is most often meant by the terms “lifestyle changes” and “diets” within the context of effective weight loss. The easiest way to demonstrate the differences between these terms is to list their distinctive qualities and offer coinciding examples.

Qualities Associated with Lifestyle Changes

Qualities Associated with Diets

  • Short-term behavioral changes
    • For example, a 12-week weight loss program
  • Sudden large changes
    • For example, cutting out carbohydrates almost entirely on day 1 of a diet
  • Unsustainable changes
    • For example, cutting out carbohydrates almost entirely
  • Non-specific health-related changes
    • For example, focusing only on weight loss, while other aspects of health are ignored
  • Impractical changes
    • For example, eating 5 small meals a day that are evenly spaced out, regardless of what your schedule looks like
  • Rigid structure
    • For example, a strict list of foods to choose from
  • Short-term maintenance of weight loss  
    • For example, losing 25 lbs in 12 weeks, and then gaining all the weight back by the end of the year
  • Does not require education and personal empowerment
    • For example, many diets require that you simply follow directions without understanding the reasons behind the directions, leaving you uninformed about how to make healthy decisions about your nutrition

The Proper Application of Diets

I do not intend to demonize the traditional idea of the diet (i.e. significant dietary changes dictated by a rigid nutritional protocol that lasts for a definite amount of time). Diets can be healthy and effective, and their results can be long-term but only if the dieting individual falls back on a foundation of a healthy lifestyle after the diet is completed. If an individual eats poorly before and after a diet, their weight loss efforts will be wasted because the unhealthy lifestyle that caused them to gain weight in the first place will also cause them to put the weight back on after the diet is over. While many diets are effective, many are not, and some are even harmful. Understanding the importance of lifestyle changes and the fundamentals of weight loss will allow you to identify diet shams that are a waste of time and money.

Lifestyle changes vs diet graph.png
Lifestyle changes vs diet graph (1) - Edited.png

Summary

Lifestyle changes are necessary for the long-term maintenance of weight loss, while dieting alone will only yield short-term results. The psychological challenges of changing how you eat are crucial considerations and must not be ignored. Eating is an essential human behavior that is deeply intertwined with emotion, social life, and culture. Developing long-term healthy eating habits requires a psychologically prudent approach that is gradual, practical, and individualized.

Diets can be effective in weight loss, but their results will not be maintained unless healthy eating habits are practiced after the diet is over. Therefore, it is best to develop a solid foundation of lifestyle changes before attempting any diets. Healthy eating habits must be prioritized if you are to lose weight and keep it off. Click here for a list of articles that will help you to develop the lifestyle changes necessary for long-term weight loss.

Weight Loss Supplements are Minimally Effective

Introduction

Weight loss is primarily caused by a caloric deficit created through dietary restriction (i.e. eating fewer calories than you burn). The next most powerful factor in weight loss, coming in at a distant 2nd, is energy expenditure caused by exercise (i.e. burning calories through physical activity). Dragging far behind both dietary restriction and exercise is energy expenditure caused by the consumption of weight loss supplements. Despite impressive marketing claims, supplements do very little to promote weight loss [1,2,3].

Factors that Affect Weight Loss RTP.png

Understanding the Role of Supplements

The limitation of a weight loss supplement can be found right in its name. “To supplement” means “to add, enhance, or offer a finishing touch”. A cherry enhances an ice cream sundae, just like a supplement can enhance weight loss, but you certainly would not consider a cherry to be a significant portion of the sundae. Similarly, supplementation is not a significant consideration in weight loss, and it should be your last priority, if you choose to use supplements at all.

Weight loss supplementation is meant to optimize an already effective weight loss effort.  If you don’t currently have a consistent and well-managed nutrition and exercise program, supplements will do nothing for you. It’s like modifying your car to make it more aerodynamic while the engine is broken. You can make all the superficial changes you want, but the enhancements to the car won’t help anything until the car’s fundamental components are working. At best, supplements can provide a minimal enhancement to your weight loss effort. Bear in mind that losing weight can happen effectively and efficiently without any supplementation.

Weight Loss Supplements, or just Caffeine? 

To keep this article simple, I will focus on one of the most common active ingredients in weight loss supplements – caffeine [4]. Many weight loss supplements boast a wide range of ingredients that allegedly promote weight loss. When reading through the ingredient lists of such supplements, you will commonly find several exotic-sounding herbal extracts, but you can safely assume that caffeine is present, even if it is not explicitly stated. In weight loss supplements, caffeine often masquerades behind caffeine-containing substances such as: coffee bean extract, tea leaf extracts (black, green, and white), kola nut extract, guarana, and yerba mate [4,5,6]. The reason why caffeine is so prevalent in weight loss supplements is because it is effective, albeit in a very mild way [3].

Caffeine Containing Substances RTP.png

† Photo of Guarana by Geoff Gallice taken September 15, 2010.
The original image can be found here.

The Physiological Effects of Caffeine

Many of the substances found in weight loss supplements have little to no evidence to support their effectiveness [1,2,3], but caffeine does cause tangible effects [3]. Caffeine is a stimulant, and its consumption stimulates the sympathetic nervous system (SNS), leading to an increase in blood pressure, heart rate, heart contractility, respiratory rate, resting muscle tone, and thermogenesis. Increasing each of these physiological functions requires energy, leading to an increase in energy expenditure (i.e. more calories burned). However, the actual amount of extra calories burned is minimal.

Physiological Effects of Caffeine BETTER RTP.png

Caffeine also causes a “trick” physiological effect. Caffeine consumption inhibits the release of anti-diuretic hormone (ADH), which is an endocrine hormone that limits the amount of water that is filtered out of the bloodstream by the kidneys. If you decrease the body’s ability to retain water, you will urinate more, leading to a decrease in body weight. However, simply peeing more does not mean you are losing fat, and water weight can be put on as quickly as it is lost. Due to the diuretic effect of caffeine, weight loss supplements may “trick” you into thinking you are losing fat when you actually are just losing water-weight. In instances like this, the weight scale “lies”.

The Associative Effects of Caffeine

At this point we know that caffeine causes two physiological effects on the body that relate to weight loss: a very mild increase in energy expenditure [3] and an increased rate of urination [7]. Neither of these effects will promote fat loss to any significant degree. However, caffeine consumption can potentially cause some associative effects that may promote weight loss more than its direct physiological effects.

As stated previously, caffeine causes an increase in blood pressure, heart rate, heart rate contractility, respiratory rate, resting muscle tone, and thermogenesis. These changes occur because caffeine stimulates the release of the stress hormones cortisol and epinephrine [8,9]. Both of these hormones contribute to the “fight or flight” response, making you feel more alert and energetic, and this is why caffeine is associated with feelings of jitteriness, anxiety, and motivation. Some individuals may seek to express these “fight or flight” feelings by exercising, or exercising more intensely than they usually do, which both lead to an increase in energy expenditure (the 2nd most powerful factor in weight loss). There is also evidence suggesting that caffeine consumption can suppress appetite [10,11], encouraging a reduction in caloric intake (the most powerful factor in weight loss).

Note that caffeine consumption does not literally cause you to exercise more or eat less, but rather it is associated these behaviors, hence the term “associative effects”.

Associative Effects of Caffeine RTP.png

Marketing Tactics & Supplement Industry Regulation

Questions: If weight loss supplements don’t make much of a difference in weight loss:

  • Why are they on the market?
  • Why do they cost so much?

Answers: Because they are sold by people who:

  • Want to make a profit
  • Know how to effectively market their products by making bold, unsubstantiated claims that appeal to the insecurities and desires of individuals who wish to lose fat

Caveat: The above statement is a generalization. As mentioned in the introduction of this article, supplements can provide a mild benefit only when used in conjunction with dietary restriction and increased physical activity. However, supplement marketing tactics are typically not aimed at individuals who already have an effective weight loss plan, but rather at uninformed and disempowered individuals looking for a quick, effort-free fix.

We live in a consumer society where the promise of instant gratification is one of the most effective marketing tactics. Consequently, many Americans are conditioned to desire and expect things that happen quickly and with little effort. However, the internal biological process of fat-loss has stubbornly stayed put while the external world has changed rapidly due to the progression of technology, for better or for worse. Not only does modern American society undermine healthy eating, which has resulted in an obesity epidemic, but it also provides false promises of easy weight loss with the help of a pill.

With clever and dishonest advertising, supplement companies can make large profits by selling products whose effects don’t match up to their cost.  The supplement industry is loosely regulated, which allows for supplement companies to make unsubstantiated claims about their products.

Current supplement regulations, which are dictated by the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994, allow for:

  • Significantly reduced pre-market safety assessments of supplements [12]
    • The FDA is not required to test new supplements before they are put on the market, meaning that the burden of determining the safety and effectiveness of supplements is put on the consumer and not the supplement companies.
  • Loose restrictions on how supplement companies can make claims about their products, resulting in a large gray area of acceptable product claims [12]
    • Companies can make claims based on their review of the scientific evidence about the substances in their products, encouraging dishonesty, misinterpretation, unreasonable extrapolation, cherry picking, and confirmation bias.
    • Companies can make unsubstantiated claims as long as they abide by the following two conditions:
      • 1. They don’t claim their products can prevent, treat, cure or mitigate disease.
      • 2. They print the following disclaimer on their product labels: “This statement has not been evaluated by the FDA. This product is not intended to prevent, treat, cure or mitigate disease.”

Hierarchy of Factors that Affect Weight Loss

As stated in the introduction of this article, a caloric deficit caused by dietary restriction is the most important factor in weight loss, followed by energy expenditure caused by exercise, and lastly energy expenditure caused by supplementation. However, there is not an equal difference of effectiveness between these factors. For example, physical activity is not 50% as effective as dietary restriction, and supplementation is not 50% as effective as physical activity. The following metaphor will help explain the relative differences between the effectiveness of the three weight loss factors (i.e. dietary restriction, exercise, and supplementation).

If money can “buy” weight loss (meaning the more money you spend, the more weight you lose), dietary restriction is a 100 dollar bill, exercise is a 20 dollar bill, and supplementation is a 1 dollar bill.

  1. Dietary restriction + exercise + supplementation [$100 + $20 + $1 = $121]
  2. Dietary restriction + exercise [$100 + $20 = $120]
  3. Dietary restriction + supplementation [$100 + $1 = $101]
  4. Dietary restriction [$100]
  5. Exercise + supplementation [$20 + $1 = $21]
  6. Exercise [$20]
  7. Supplementation [$1]

In the above hierarchy, notice that the difference between level 1 and level 4 is not that large, but that the difference between level 4 and level 5 is profound, and that level 7 is practically negligible. As you can see, the presence or absence of dietary restriction is what makes the biggest impact on weight loss, and supplements provide no benefit when used on their own. Dietary restriction is such a powerful factor that significant weight loss can occur without the inclusion of exercise or supplementation.

The Currency of Weight Loss RTP.png

Summary

  • A caloric deficit caused by dietary restriction is the most powerful factor that affects weight loss, followed by energy expenditure caused by exercise, and lastly energy expenditure caused by supplementation.
     
  • Significant weight loss can be achieved through just dietary restriction, but the same cannot be said for the isolated use of exercise or supplementation.
     
  • Weight loss supplements are only effective when used in conjunction with an already effective nutrition and exercise program.
     
  • Even when used appropriately, weight loss supplements only provide a very mild benefit.
     
  • One of the most common active ingredients in weight loss supplements is caffeine [4].
     
  • Caffeine is a stimulant that causes an increase in metabolic rate, albeit in a slight way [3].
     
  • Caffeine causes a diuretic effect on the body [7], which may falsely lead someone to belief they are losing fat when they are actually just urinating more.
     
  • Caffeine can suppress appetite [10,11].

  • Caffeine consumption is associated with increased physical activity and decreased caloric intake.
     
  • Weight loss supplements are frequently marketed with unsubstantiated claims that appeal to the insecurities and desires of individuals who wish to lose fat.
     
  • Current federal regulations severely limit the pre-market safety assessment of supplements and place the burden of determining the safety and effectiveness of supplements on the consumer and not the supplement companies [12].
     
  • Despite their minimal effectiveness, weight loss supplements are commonly used [13,14].

References

1. Egger, G., Cameron-Smith, D., & Stanton, R. (1999). The effectiveness of popular, non-prescription weight loss supplements. The Medical Journal of Australia, 171(11-12), 604-608.

2. Pittler, M. H., & Ernst, E. (2004). Dietary supplements for body-weight reduction: a systematic review. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 79(4), 529-536.

3. Saper, R. B., Eisenberg, D. M., & Phillips, R. S. (2004). Common dietary supplements for weight loss. American Family Physician, 70, 1731-1740.

4. Gurley, B. J., Steelman, S. C., & Thomas, S. L. (2015). Multi-ingredient, caffeine-containing dietary supplements: history, safety, and efficacy. Clinical Therapeutics, 37(2), 275-301.

5. Andrews, K. W., Schweitzer, A., Zhao, C., Holden, J. M., Roseland, J. M., Brandt, M., ... & Yetley, E. (2007). The caffeine contents of dietary supplements commonly purchased in the US: analysis of 53 products with caffeine-containing ingredients. Analytical and Bioanalytical Chemistry, 389(1), 231-239.

6. Bailey, R. L., Saldanha, L. G., Gahche, J. J., & Dwyer, J. T. (2014). Estimating caffeine intake from energy drinks and dietary supplements in the United States. Nutrition Reviews, 72(1), 9-13.

7. Fenton, R. A., Poulsen, S. B., de la Mora Chavez, S., Soleimani, M., Busslinger, M., Dominguez Rieg, J. A., & Rieg, T. (2015). Caffeine-induced diuresis and natriuresis is independent of renal tubular NHE3. American Journal of Physiology-Renal Physiology, 308(12), F1409-F1420.

8. Lovallo, W. R., Whitsett, T. L., al'Absi, M., Sung, B. H., Vincent, A. S., & Wilson, M. F. (2005). Caffeine stimulation of cortisol secretion across the waking hours in relation to caffeine intake levels. Psychosomatic Medicine, 67(5), 734.

9. Smatresk, N.J. (no date) How does caffeine affect the body? Retrieved from: https://www.scientificamerican.com/

10. Carter, B. E., & Drewnowski, A. (2012). Beverages containing soluble fiber, caffeine, and green tea catechins suppress hunger and lead to less energy consumption at the next meal. Appetite, 59(3), 755-761.

11. Jessen, A., Buemann, B., Toubro, S., Skovgaard, I. M., & Astrup, A. (2005). The appetite‐suppressant effect of nicotine is enhanced by caffeine. Diabetes, Obesity and Metabolism, 7(4), 327-333.

12. US Food and Drug Administration. (1995). Dietary supplement health and education act of 1994. December, 1.

13. Pillitteri, J. L., Shiffman, S., Rohay, J. M., Harkins, A. M., Burton, S. L., & Wadden, T. A. (2008). Use of dietary supplements for weight loss in the United States: results of a national survey. Obesity, 16(4), 790-796.

14. Blanck, H. M., Serdula, M. K., Gillespie, C., Galuska, D. A., Sharpe, P. A., Conway, J. M., ... & Ainsworth, B. E. (2007). Use of nonprescription dietary supplements for weight loss is common among Americans. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 107(3), 441-447.

Whole Foods and Processed Foods: What are the differences?

“Whole foods” and “processed foods” are important concepts to understand when eating to lose weight. For this article, I will refer to whole foods and processed foods as “WF’s” and “PF’s”, respectively.

Simple Definitions

WF’s are foods in their natural form, untouched by man; they maintain their natural structure, chemical composition, and have no added substances. PF’s are foods that have been changed, by varying degrees, from their natural form; they have a different structure, chemical composition, and have one or more added substances (synthetic or otherwise).

Examples of WF’s:

  • Apples
  • Chicken breast
  • Asparagus
  • Almonds
  • Potatoes

Examples of PF’s:

  • Apple juice
  • Chicken Nuggets
  • Veggie chips
  • Candied almonds
  • Potato chips

Looking a bit deeper: the WF – PF spectrum

It must be noted that WF’s and PF’s aren’t two discrete concepts, as they exist on either end of a spectrum. There are absolute WF’s, which are foods in their exact natural form, such as an apple that’s just been picked off a branch. There are also extremely processed PF’s*, which can be complex amalgamations of several natural and artificial constituents, such as cheese puffs. Between absolute WF’s and extremely processed PF’s, there exists a spectrum of foods that are either “more whole” or “more processed”.

The WF – PF Spectrum

On the spectrum below, the further a food is to the left, the more whole it is. The further a food is to the right, the more processed it is.

 All images used in this diagram were retrieved from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Main_Page and are public domain and freely-licensed educational media content. This diagram, as a whole, is property of this website, and requires acquisition of permission before its re-use.

All images used in this diagram were retrieved from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Main_Page and are public domain and freely-licensed educational media content. This diagram, as a whole, is property of this website, and requires acquisition of permission before its re-use.

Here are some examples of different WF’s and how they transform along the spectrum towards a more processed state:

• Steel cut oats** → rolled oats → instant oats → instant oats with added sugar

• Apple → cooked apple slices → apple sauce with no added sugar → apple sauce with added sugar → apple juice

• Sprouted bread** → multi-grain bread → whole wheat bread → white bread

* There is no such thing as an absolute PF, as food-processing can go on indefinitely with progressing technology. However, you can’t make an absolute WF any more whole.

**These 2 foods aren’t absolute WF’s, as they have gone through some degree of processing. However, they are the most whole in this example, compared to their more processed forms.

Compositional and digestion differences between WF’s and PF’s

As you can see, there is a large gray area between absolute WF’s and extremely processed PF’s. Processed foods aren’t necessarily unhealthy to eat on a regular basis, it just depends how processed they are. Generally speaking, the closer a food is to its whole form on the WF – PF spectrum, the healthier it is. This is because, when compared to PF’s, WF’s contain greater amounts of water, fiber, molecular complexity, and micronutrients. Furthermore, PF’s tend to contain greater amounts of sugar and salt, which are not healthy to consume in large amounts on a daily basis. To further explain the compositional and digestion differences between WF’s and PF’s, here is an excerpt from an article I wrote entitled “How Modern American Society Undermines Healthy Eating”:

Whole foods typically have a greater content of water and fiber when compared to processed foods. Water and fiber reduce calorie-density and contribute to a sensation of fullness. Meat protein digests slowly due to its complex molecular structure. Nuts and seeds are primarily fat, and fat digests slowly because it has to go through a time-consuming digestive process called emulsification, which is essentially the splitting of fat globules into separate droplets. Nuts and seeds also contain fiber, which as we already know, contributes to a sensation of fullness. Leafy & green vegetables typically contain high levels of fiber, water, and micronutrients, but do not contain many absorbable calories due to their indigestible cellular structure.  However, tuber & root vegetables tend to have more absorbable calories than their leafy & green siblings because tubers & roots contain a substantial amount of non-fibrous complex carbohydrate, which digests slowly due to its…well, complex molecular structure.”

In contrast to WF’s, PF’s generally have:

  • Lower amounts of water
  • Lower amounts of fiber
  • Lower amounts of micronutrients
  • Increased calorie-density
  • Increased amounts of sugar and salt
  • Lesser cost and greater availability

Comparing the general health differences between WF’s and PF’s:

► WF’s have greater amounts of water and fiber compared to PF’s. Water and fiber contribute to a sensation of fullness, which helps prevent over-eating.

► In addition to contributing to fullness, greater amounts of water and fiber also make WF’s less calorie-dense. Lower calorie-density helps prevent unhealthy weight gain.

► WF’s contain more micronutrients than PF’s. Adequate intake of micronutrients is essential for optimal function of the body’s metabolic processes.

► PF’s contain greater amounts of calories and sugar, which can contribute to the onset of chronic diseases such as type II diabetes and cardiovascular disease [1].

► PF’s contain greater amounts of salt, which can contribute to the onset of hypertension [2,3].

► Unfortunately, PF’s are more available and less expensive than WF’s. This is one reason why demographics with a lower socioeconomic status tend to be less healthy [4].

Investigating the “process of processing”

Let’s use an example of a medium sized whole apple, which is about 6.5 oz.

6.5 oz whole apple (an absolute WF) [5]:

  • Total calories: 85 cals
  • Carbohydrates: 23 g
  • Sugar: 17 g
  • Fiber: 4 g
  • Calorie-density: about 13 calories per 1 ounce
  • Ingredients: apple

Processing method #1: If apples are peeled, cooked, blended, and mixed with other ingredients, you have apple sauce:

4 oz of Mott’s apple sauce [6]:

  • Total calories: 90 cals
  • Carbohydrates: 24 g
  • Sugar: 22 g
  • Fiber: 1 g
  • Calorie-density: about 22 calories per 1 ounce
  • Ingredients: apples, high fructose corn syrup, water, ascorbic acid (vitamin C)

Notice that there is less fiber, more sugar, and a greater calorie-density in the apple sauce. The processing removed much of the fiber, and then added sugar, resulting in a greater calorie-density. Still, you get some water and micronutrients from the original apple.

Processing method #2: If apples are sliced and mostly dehydrated, you have dried apple slices:

1 oz of Tierra Farm dried apple slices [7]:

  • Total calories: 70 cals
  • Carbohydrates: 19 g
  • Sugar: 16 g
  • Fiber: 2.5 g
  • Calorie-density: 70 calories per 1 ounce
  • Ingredients: apples

With dried apple slices, the calorie-density skyrockets by over 500% due to a high concentration of sugar. However, dried apple slices do contain significant amounts of fiber, but because there is a lack of water, the high fiber content isn’t enough to keep the calorie-density down. Low calorie-dense foods usually have a significant amount of both water and fiber. In addition, the combination of water and fiber contributes to fullness better than either substance alone.  Notice that the ingredient list doesn’t tell the whole story of a food’s nutrition. The ingredient in an apple is of course just an apple, but the same goes for dried apple slices. Yet, the nutrition of each differs greatly.

Processing method #3: If you completely remove all solid material from the apple, you have apple juice:

  • 8 fl. oz of Mott’s apple juice [8]:
  • Total calories: 120 cals
  • Carbohydrates: 29 g
  • Sugar: 28 g
  • Fiber: 0 g
  • Calorie-density: 15 calories per 1 fluid ounce (in this case, 1 fluid oz of juice approximately equals 1 oz of weight)
  • Ingredients: water, apple juice concentrate, ascorbic acid (vitamin C)

While the calorie-density of apple juice doesn’t appear that high at 15 calories per ounce, notice that all the carbohydrates are in the form of sugar, except for 1 gram. Also notice that we are dealing with a liquid, which is consumed and digested much more easily than 120 calories in the form of a whole apple.

The water and fiber content must also be considered. In dried apple slices, we had lots of fiber but no liquid. With apple juice, we have the opposite problem, lots of liquid but absolutely no fiber. Remember, the combination of water and fiber results in a low calorie-density and contributes to a better sensation of fullness. In terms of sugar and calorie-content, drinking a glass of apple juice is not that much different than drinking a soda. However, when looking at the ingredients, apple juice appears healthy: water, apple derivatives, and vitamin C. Again, the ingredient list doesn’t tell the whole story of a food’s nutrition.

Let’s investigate the apple juice a bit further by comparing it to a can of soda:

8 fl. oz of Canada Dry ginger ale [9]:

  • Total calories: 95 calories
  • Carbohydrates: 24 g
  • Sugar: 23 g (compared to 28 g in apple juice)
  • Fiber: 0 g
  • Calorie-density: ~12 calories per fluid ounce (compared to 15 calories per 1 fluid ounce for apple juice)
  • Ingredients: carbonated water, high fructose corn syrup, citric acid, sodium benzoate (preservative), natural flavors, caramel color

Notice that apple juice can have a greater concentration of sugar and a greater calorie-density than soda! Fruit juice is often believed to be a healthy food, but in terms of weight loss, its consumption should be limited. When attempting to lose weight, it’s important to limit the consumption of calorie-dense beverages like fruit juice and soda.  Instead of drinking a glass of apple juice, a better option would be eating an apple and drinking a glass of water.

“Processed” doesn’t necessarily mean “unhealthy”

“Processed” and “unhealthy” are not synonymous. In active populations, highly processed calorie-dense beverages like Gatorade can be beneficial, as they can help individuals sustain exercise [10,11,12], and recover from exercise [13]. When rehydrating from exercise-related fluid loss, consuming electrolyte and glucose replacement drinks (e.g. Gatorade and PowerAde) can actually be more effective than pure water [10,12,13]. Whey protein powder, a milk derivative, is a PF that can ensure adequate protein intake and help build muscle mass [14]. In survival situations, calorie-dense foods are extremely valuable, as they supply a high concentration of energy in a small package.

Bottom line: WF’s are generally healthier than PF’s when it comes to regular daily consumption, but don’t discount the value of PF’s in certain situations. At the end of the day, weight loss boils down to total caloric intake and an energy deficit. It is much easier to lose weight on a diet of primarily WF’s.


References

1.) Malik, V. S., Popkin, B. M., Bray, G. A., Després, J. P., & Hu, F. B. (2010). Sugar-sweetened beverages, obesity, type 2 diabetes mellitus, and cardiovascular disease risk. Circulation, 121(11), 1356-1364.

2.) Dahl, L. K., & Love, R. A. (1957). Etiological role of sodium chloride intake in essential hypertension in humans. Journal of the American Medical Association, 164(4), 397-400.

3.) He, J., Ogden, L. G., Vupputuri, S., Bazzano, L. A., Loria, C., & Whelton, P. K. (1999). Dietary sodium intake and subsequent risk of cardiovascular disease in overweight adults. Journal of the American Medical Association, 282(21), 2027-2034.

4.) Drewnowski, A., & Specter, S. E. (2004). Poverty and obesity: the role of energy density and energy costs. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 79(1), 6-16.

5.) Nutrition of a whole apple with refuse:
http://www.calorieking.com/foods/calories-in-fresh-fruits-apples-with-skin-raw_f-ZmlkPTYzODc4.html

6.) Nutrition of Mott’s apple sauce:
https://www.motts.com/products/regular-applesauce/apple-applesauce

7.) Nutrition of Tierra Farm apple slices:      
http://www.tierrafarm.com/OrganicDriedapplerings.aspx

8.) Nutrition of Mott’s apple juice:
https://www.motts.com/products/100-juice/motts-100-original-apple-juice

9.) Nutrition of Canada Dry ginger ale:        
http://www.canadadry.com/products/ginger-ale

10.) Danielson, A., Morris, L., Neiderhauser, L., Stanek, K., & Wolter, J. (2006). The physiological effects of water vs. Gatorade during prolonged exercise. Journal of Undergraduate Kinesiology Research, 1(2), 15-22.

11.) Fritzsche, R. G., Switzer, T. W., Hodgkinson, B. J., Lee, S. H., Martin, J. C., & Coyle, E. F. (2000). Water and carbohydrate ingestion during prolonged exercise increase maximal neuromuscular power. Journal of Applied Physiology, 88(2), 730-737.

12.) Sawka, M. N., Burke, L. M., Eichner, E. R., Maughan, R. J., Montain, S. J., & Stachenfeld, N. S. (2007). American College of Sports Medicine position stand. Exercise and fluid replacement. medicine and science in sports and exercise, 39(2), 377-390.

13.) Shirreffs, S. M., & Maughan, R. J. (2000). Rehydration and recovery of fluid balance after exercise. Exercise and Sport Sciences Reviews, 28(1), 27-32.

14.) Hulmi, J. J., Lockwood, C. M., & Stout, J. R. (2010). Effect of protein/essential amino acids and resistance training on skeletal muscle hypertrophy: A case for whey protein. Nutrition & Metabolism, 7(1), 51.


How Modern American Society Undermines Healthy Eating

Eating to lose weight is simple in concept, but challenging in practice. In my article about including the occasional indulgence in your weight loss program, I wrote, “Eating is more than just an act of fueling the body for survival; it’s a multifaceted experience that relates to one’s culture, social sphere, and emotional wellbeing.” This (longer, multipart) article specifically explores the cultural component of eating, and partially explains how modern American society undermines healthy eating habits.

5 factors of modern American society that contribute to unhealthy eating:

1.) There is a hyper-availability of food

2.) Calorically dense foods are a modern invention

3.) Food corporation marketing

4.) Over-eating is a cultural norm

5.) Chronic stress can lead people to use food as a coping mechanism

Hyper-availability of Food

Food is available almost anywhere: your home, supermarkets, restaurants, fast-food joints, convenience stores, office vending machines, street vendors, and home delivery. On top of the hyper-availability of food, one is also subjected to the constant circulation of food-image advertisement in television, the internet, magazines, mail, and billboards. It’s difficult to avoid food, along with the images & ideas of it.

I’m not asserting that the abundance of food is a bad thing, because it is definitely not. Rather, I am asserting that it’s psychologically difficult to deal with the hyper-availability of food when the human mind has a powerful motivation to eat when food is available. Looking through the lens of evolutionary psychology, humans are motivated to eat when food is available, because attaining the next food source likely requires time and energy.

Throughout most of human history, food wasn’t nearly as available as it is now. Sure, food could be abundant in the natural environment during pre-agricultural times, but it had to be hunted and gathered.  Hunting and gathering are time-consuming and labor-intensive processes, in which the body must burn many calories in the attainment of food. Also, the kinds of foods that were hunted and gathered in prehistory were not like they are today (i.e. they were typically not very calorie-dense). You would not pick a 540 calorie Big Mac off a tree while wandering through the jungle, but rather something like a 50 calorie piece of fruit (I will describe calorie-dense foods in more detail in the next section). So in pre-modern times, you had to exercise to attain food, and the attained food had fewer calories per serving compared to its modern counterpart. In fact, “servings” didn’t even exist back then. You didn’t need servings. You ate food according to its availability. It was simple.  By its very nature, the hunter-gatherer style of eating didn’t allow for unhealthy weight gain.

But now, in modern times, food is dramatically more available and calorie-dense, making it challenging to moderate your daily caloric intake. It all boils down to the basic psychological concept of “if food is near you, you are more likely to eat it.” I am reminded of a simple and effective piece of weight loss advice, “if you don’t want to eat junk food when you’re home, don’t buy it.” However, outside the house is a whole other challenge.

The abundance of food is a double-edged sword. In one sense, it’s a wonderful thing that ensures nutrition and survival for many. In another sense, it’s making people sick. However, the abundance of food is not necessarily the problem. The problem derives from how American culture manages the abundance. It’s a complicated issue, and I will attempt to explain some more of it in the rest of this article. On a final note for this particular section, please consider the difference between “abundance” and “hyper-availability” of food.

Abundance = simply having a large supply of food

Hyper-availability = a way of managing a large supply of food

Calorie-dense Foods are a Modern Invention

In hunter-gatherer times, humans had no choice but to eat whole foods because that was all there was available. By its very nature, the hunter-gatherer diet prevented unhealthy weight gain. It’s hard to over-consume calories when you are on a whole food diet of meat, nuts, and vegetables.

Here’s why…

Whole foods typically have a greater content of water and fiber when compared to processed foods. Water and fiber make foods less calorie-dense, and they also contribute well to a sensation of fullness. Meat protein digests slowly due to its complex molecular structure. Nuts and seeds are primarily fat, and fat digests slowly because it has to go through a time-consuming digestion process called emulsification, which is essentially the splitting of fat globules into separate droplets. Nuts and seeds also contain fiber, which as we already know, contributes to a sensation of fullness. Leafy & green vegetables typically contain high levels of fiber, water, and micronutrients, but do not contain many absorbable calories due to their indigestible cellular structure. However, tuber & root vegetables tend to have more absorbable calories than their leafy & green siblings because tubers & roots contain a substantial amount of non-fibrous complex carbohydrate, which digests slowly due to its…well, complex molecular structure. The whole food diet of the hunter-gatherer is simple and, by its very nature, prevents unhealthy weight gain.

A quick summary of why whole foods help prevent unhealthy weight gain:

1.) They contain greater amounts of water and fiber, making them less calorie-dense but more filling

2.) Their more complex molecular structures take longer to digest, so they stay in the gut longer. This encourages a longer-lasting sensation of fullness.

Modern food choices have drifted far away from what was available in hunter-gatherer times because of the advanced technologies of agriculture, factory production, containerization, and transportation infrastructure. With all this technology, whole foods can be transformed into “food products” that are:

1.) Highly-processed, resulting in:
      a.) Lower levels of micro-nutrients
      b.) Lower levels of water and fiber
      c.) Simpler molecular structures that digest quickly

2.) Calorie-dense, due to:
      a.) Added sugars
      b.) Lower levels of water and fiber

3.) Hyper-available, due to:
      a.) Advanced technologies and a culture of instant gratification

4.) Inexpensive, due to:
      a.) Large supply

Here is a relevant example of a modern food choice that reflects all the above factors.

A middle-of-the-road meal option on the McDonalds menu, a medium ¼ Pounder with Cheese Extra Value Meal [1]:

¼ Pounder with Cheese: 530 calories
Medium French Fries: 340 calories
Medium Coca Cola: 220 calories
Ratio of fiber to calories: 1 g fiber per 155 calories
Caloric total: 1090 calories
Total cost: $5.79

For contrast, here is another middle-of-the-road meal option, but in the form of whole foods:

4 oz roasted chicken thigh: 235 calories
½ cup of brown rice: 110 calories
1 cup of steamed broccoli: 55 calories
½ oz of butter on broccoli: 100 calories
½ oz of shredded cheese on broccoli: 50 calories
Cup of water: 0 calories
Ratio of fiber to calories: 1 g fiber per 85 calories
Caloric total: 590 calories
Total cost: likely more expensive than $5.79

Unfortunately, whole foods are harder to come by and are more expensive. Junk food is more available and much cheaper. Naturally, people tend to favor consuming foods that are easier to get, taste good, and cost less. Do you see the problem? This is one reason why obesity rates are so high in demographics with a low socioeconomic status [2], but that is a whole other topic. It must be noted that calorie-dense foods have some valuable practical applications (e.g. for survival situations and athletes who require large amounts of energy). However, for the general population, calorie-dense foods are simply not appropriate for regular daily consumption.

Food Corporation Marketing

Food, and the images and ideas of it, can be a powerful stimulus to the mind. You may be perfectly content until you see an advertisement for pizza. Then suddenly, due to the psychological stimulus, you wish to eat despite lack of genuine hunger. Perhaps the commercial doesn’t make you hungry in the moment, but the seed is planted in your subconscious mind that may “sprout” once you actually feel hungry, leading you to buy a pizza instead of making something healthier at home. Of course, food corporations are aware of these psychological tendencies, as their marketing strategies are based on them.

Food advertisements are everywhere. As stated earlier in this article, “one is subjected to the constant circulation of food-image advertisement in television, the internet, magazines, mail, and billboards.” It’s difficult to avoid temptation in this society. Many food corporations advertise with the primary goal of convincing consumers to buy their product, despite lack of hunger and lack of nutrition in their food. Corporations employ consumer psychologists whose job is to sway consumers into buying their products in ways the consumer is not even aware of. This is not conspiracy; this is basic business enterprise in American society.

Overeating is a Cultural Norm

Here is a simple piece of weight loss advice, “Eat until you are hungry, and then stop.” While this isn’t an absolute guarantee for weight loss, it can usually yield positive results. Being mindful and differentiating genuine satiation from eating for other reasons (e.g. boredom, stress, fun, or pleasure) is a fundamental skill in regulating your food intake. I go deeper into this topic in my article about mindful eating. Unfortunately, eating past satiation is the norm in American society.

On restaurant menus, oversized entrees are flanked by calorie-dense appetizers and desserts. Social celebrations, like birthday parties, may have you eating out of a sense of obligation. The stress of our fast-paced society often leads people to over-eat for comfort. “Eat until you clear your plate” still lingers from the Great Depression. Healthy food options are so abnormal that they require special labels like “lighter options”, “low-calorie choices”, and “healthy fare”. Why is healthy food not the baseline for meal options? Shouldn’t indulgent food be the exception that requires special labels?

Chronic Stress can Lead People to use Food as a Coping Mechanism

We live in a fast paced and complicated society. As technology progresses through time, the pace quickens and the complication grows. Modern technology offers an abundance of options in all facets of life. Increased options require increased contemplation and decision-making, overstimulating the mind.  On top of excessive decision making, many Americans deal with commuting in traffic, demanding jobs, sleep deprivation, and polarizing politics. Stress! Chronic stress, to be exact.

There are many ways to cope with stress, both healthy and unhealthy. In American culture, one of the most popular coping mechanisms for chronic stress is the consumption of junk food [3]. Why wouldn’t it? Junk food is instantly-gratifying, highly available, and inexpensive. Junk food can offer a comforting distraction from the complications of life. Eating-behavior researchers have found that chronic stress can result in over-eating [3,4,5]. To add insult to injury, Stamford biologist Robert Sapolsky’s stress-research suggests that chronic stress can contribute to obesity from a purely physiological aspect [6]. This means that over-eating doesn’t necessarily need to be present for chronic stress to contribute to weight gain.

Responding to an Unhealthy Culture with Personal Responsibility

This article is intended to be food for thought (no pun intended), as opposed to specific advice. When growing up in a culture, it’s impossible to not be influenced by it on an unconscious level (i.e. your native culture shapes your beliefs and behavior in ways you can’t easily recognize). Therefore, in order to overcome the unhealthy qualities of your culture, you must first work to recognize them.

Living healthfully can sometimes cause unwanted attention and criticism, especially in a culture where unhealthy eating and physical inactivity are normal. People and institutions may pressure you to give up healthy behaviors, whether they are aware of it or not. The hyper-availability, calorie-density, and aggressive marketing of food won’t go away anytime soon. Therefore, personal responsibility plays a huge role in living a healthy lifestyle in modern American culture. You must be willing to put your health first, and become comfortable using the phrase “no, thank you”.


References

1.) McDonald’s Nutrition Calculator
https://www.mcdonalds.com/us/en-us/about-our-food/nutrition-calculator.html

2.) Drewnowski, A., & Specter, S. E. (2004). Poverty and obesity: the role of energy density and energy costs. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 79(1), 6-16.

3.) Groesz, L. M., et al. (2012). What is eating you? Stress and the drive to eat. Appetite, 58(2), 717-721.

4.) Adam, T. C., & Epel, E. S. (2007). Stress, eating and the reward system. Physiology & Behavior, 91(4),    449-458.

5.) Torres, S. J., & Nowson, C. A. (2007). Relationship between stress, eating behavior, and obesity. Nutrition, 23(11), 887-894.

6.) Sapolsky, R. M. (2004). Why zebras don't get ulcers: The acclaimed guide to stress, stress-related diseases, and coping-now revised and updated. Macmillan.


Mindful Eating, what is it?

“Mindfulness” is a term that became popular in American culture due to the spread of Buddhist psychology and mindfulness meditation in the West during the 60’s. “Mindfulness”, at its core, is a self-reflective process that seeks to identify and remove unhealthy patterns from one’s life. In recent years, the term “mindfulness” has been frequently used in popular media, especially in the context of eating for health and weight loss. Case in point: “mindful eating”, which has practical applications in healthy weight loss.

Essentially, “mindful eating” is a psychological practice that involves raising awareness in the following areas:

1.) Your motivation for eating

1a.) For example, are you eating because you are truly hungry, or because you are bored and desire the pleasurable distraction of food? Or, was the impetus for eating due to a restaurant commercial that triggered thoughts of food?

1i.) Becoming more aware of your motivation for eating helps you make wiser decisions on when to eat, and what to eat.

2.) Your intention to become healthier

2b.) For example, if your goal is weight loss, you have an intention to lose weight. In order to successfully lose weight, your intention will need to drive your behavior. In order for your intention to drive your behavior, you must bring your intention to a conscious level every day (i.e. remind yourself of the meaning behind your goal to lose weight).

2i.) A change in consciousness is a fundamental component of losing weight. In other words, beliefs and thoughts shape your actions.

3.) The direct experience of eating

3a.) For example, the taste of the food, the sensation of the food’s texture, and the sensation of fullness. When your mind is swept away with compelling thoughts of the past and future, you can daydream through an entire meal, hardly experiencing the food.

3i.) Focusing on the meal being eaten encourages slower eating, more enjoyment of the food, and a better sense of when you are full.  All these factors can help prevent over-eating.

4.) Negative relationships with food

4a.) For example, many people eat as a coping mechanism for stress, despite lack of genuine hunger [1]. The comfort of food can provide a powerful distraction from stressful thoughts and situations. Other examples of negative relationships with food include dangerous eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa [2] and bulimia nervosa [3].

4i.) Negative relationships with food, when gone unchecked, can become destructive. If you believe you may have an eating disorder*, please consider seeing a therapist who specializes in the treatment and management of eating disorders.

*For more information on eating disorders, click this link [4].

Bottom line: By practicing mindful eating, you can strengthen your ability to realize unhealthy eating habits so that you can then make wiser decisions on what to eat, when to eat, and how to eat.

I am not an expert in this area, so if this is something that interests you, you can further investigate mindful eating by checking out the following resources:

Savor: Mindful Eating, Mindful Life by Thich Nhat Hanh

The Center for Mindful Eating


References

1.) Adam, T. C., & Epel, E. S. (2007). Stress, eating and the reward system. Physiology & Behavior, 91(4), 449-458.
http://www.foodaddictionsummit.org/documents/StressEatingandtheRewardSystem.pdf

2.) Morris J, Twaddle S. (2007) Anorexia nervosa. British Medical Journal. 334:894–898. doi: 10.1136/bmj.39171.616840.BE.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1857759/

3.) Rushing, J. M., Jones, L. E., & Carney, C. P. (2003). Bulimia nervosa: a primary care review. Primary Care Companion to the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 5(5), 217.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC419300/

4.) National Collaborating Centre for Mental Health (UK. (2004). Eating disorders: Core interventions in the treatment and management of anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and related eating disorders. British Psychological Society (UK).
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0051859/        


Space out your Calories Wisely

As stated in “The Basic Premise of Weight Loss”, losing weight is a number game. In order to lose weight, your daily caloric intake must be less than your daily energy expenditure. So at the end of the day, it doesn’t necessarily matter how you break up your daily caloric intake, as long as you stay within the caloric limit.

For example, if your daily energy expenditure is 2800 calories, you must consume less than 2800 calories per day in order to lose weight. In the following example, I’ll use 2500 calories per day as the daily caloric intake (creating an energy deficit of 300 calories).

Here are different ways you could break up your daily caloric intake:

  • You could eat five 500 calorie meals, evenly spaced throughout the day.
  • You could eat one 500 calorie meal in the morning, and two 1000 calorie meals for lunch and dinner.
  • You could skip breakfast, and eat one 1250 calorie meal midday, and one 1250 meal at night.

The configuration of the number of meals and the amount of calories per meal is endless. The main point is: do what works for you. Everyone is different. When I lose weight, I personally prefer to eat smaller meals throughout the day, and then have one large meal at night when I tend to be the hungriest.

Consider these three factors when configuring when you have your meals, and how many calories to include in each meal.

1.)    When you feel the hungriest

1a.) For example, if you tend to have a small appetite in the morning, but feel hungrier at night, eat a small breakfast and save those calories for nighttime when you have a larger appetite. Using this strategy, you will decrease how often you feel hungry, which is hugely important in the success of a weight loss program*.

2.)    When you require more energy

2a.) For example, it’s generally a good idea to eat before and after training, when your body is in need of nutrients. Your body needs fuel to perform optimally in the gym, and it also needs fuel for recovery. You don’t necessarily need to consume a lot of calories in these instances, but some sort of energy intake is a good idea.

3.)    When it is convenient to eat

3a.) For example, if you are very busy between the hours of 10am-4pm, it’ll be a good idea to consume a filling meal right before 10am, in order to fuel you for the following 6 hours when you’ll not be able to eat much. Weight loss inherently involves a reduction in energy that your body isn’t used to, so it’s best not to go too long without eating something, in order to ensure better mental and physical wellbeing.

3i.) If you live a busy lifestyle, make sure to eat when you have the opportunity. Going too long without eating leads to a precarious combination of hunger, physical fatigue, and mental fatigue. This combination can lead to making poor food choices, and/or binge eating.

Bottom line: Weight loss occurs when you restrict calories to create a caloric deficit . To ensure satiation, space out your daily caloric limit in a way that specifically works for you.

*Here are other articles that focus on ensuring satiation:

1.) It’s Possible to Eat MORE Food While Eating FEWER Calories

2.) The Relationship between Fiber, Water, and Fullness

3.) Avoid Drinking Calories

Include the Occasional Indulgence in your Weight Loss Plan

No doubt most people are familiar with the concept of the “cheat meal” in dieting. However, I’m not a fan of the term “cheat meal”, or “dieting” for that matter. “Cheat meal” implies there is something inherently wrong with the occasional indulgence, and “dieting” is a word loaded with all sorts of preconceived notions and negative connotations. When I hear the word “dieting”, I am conditioned to recall Slim Fast shakes, Magic Bullets, salads with watery dressing, and bland fat-free food. However, it is possible to lose weight while eating food rich with flavor, and yes, even significant amounts of fat! Having said all that, I prefer to use the term “free meal” in lieu of “cheat meal”, and “healthy eating” instead of “dieting”.

Back to the point – the occasional indulgence. It is not only acceptable to enjoy a not-so-healthy dish now and then, it’s actually something to be encouraged. Eating is more than just an act of fueling the body for survival; it’s a multifaceted experience that relates to one’s culture, social sphere, and emotional wellbeing. Changing your eating habits can be stressful and isolating, especially if those in your social circle aren’t concerned with healthy eating. Enjoying pizza or a burger with friends can be socially and emotionally revitalizing, and can serve as a reward for your disciplined eating throughout the week.

There is one catch: the free meal should be planned. Otherwise, indulgences may become too frequent, sabotaging your weight loss efforts. As a general guideline, it’s okay to enjoy one free meal per week, and one free snack per week (spread apart as far as possible). However, the free meal is not a green light to binge-eat, so you must moderate your intake. The idea is that if you periodically and mindfully indulge in your cravings, you are less likely to lose control and binge-eat.

Losing weight is a number game. As long as you are in a caloric deficit, you will lose weight. Most people’s idea of a free meal is something like pizza, which is calorically dense. It would be difficult to maintain a caloric deficit eating pizza every day, but eating pizza once a week can fit reasonably within a caloric deficit. Junk food, in and of itself, is not necessarily unhealthy. Rather, the unchecked indulgence of junk food is unhealthy. The overall structure of your dietary intake determines health, not specific foods.

The occasional indulgence can also help prevent you from falling in the “all or nothing” trap, which is a fallacy more commonly committed by perfectionist-types. When eating to lose weight, it’s almost inevitable that most will give into temptation at some point, and when that happens, some will catastrophize the situation. After a minor slip up, some believe their weight loss efforts to be ruined, so they give into gluttony, binge-eat, and give up (thereby actually ruining their efforts by falling into the “all or nothing” trap). By enjoying free meals & snacks, you can intelligently moderate your indulgences in a guilt-free manner while avoiding the “all or nothing” trap.

So remember, occasional indulgences can be a healthy component of your weight loss program, and that’s nothing to be ashamed about.

Avoid Drinking Calories

I’ve written a couple articles on ensuring the sensation of fullness while limiting caloric intake [1,2] and this article continues with the same theme. When attempting to lose weight, it is important to limit calorie-dense foods that don’t contribute well to a feeling of fullness. In particular, sugary beverages are calorically dense and do little to elicit a feeling of fullness. Eliminating or limiting sugary drinks is a great first step in reducing your caloric intake. This is one of the easiest dietary changes to make, as there are alternative beverages that are simple, inexpensive, and enjoyable.

The first and most obvious alternative is to simply replace sugary beverages with water, but this isn’t always appealing to everyone. There are other alternatives, such as:

► Add stevia (a natural, zero-calorie plant-based sweetener) and lemon/lime juice in water.

► Drink naturally flavored/plain seltzer water (if desired, add stevia for more sweetness).

► Instead of drinking straight fruit juice, dilute the juice (50% or less of juice, and 50% or more of water).

► Diet soda is a zero-calorie alternative to regular soda.

► Reduce the number of sugary beverages you consume per day. If you drink 3 sugary beverages per day, just drink 2 or 1.

Here are some examples of sugary beverages:

► Fruit juice

► 12 ounces of orange juice* contains 165 calories, and 31 grams of sugar [3]

► Soda

► A 12 ounce can of Coca Cola contains 140 calories and 39 grams of sugar [4]

► Specialty coffee drinks

► A 12 ounce Mocha Frappuccino with almond milk from Starbucks contains 180 calories and 39 grams of sugar [5]

► This is the smallest and lowest calorie version of the drink

► A midsized version, being 16 ounces with whole-milk and whipped cream comes to a total of 410 calories and 61 grams of sugar

► Sweetened iced tea

► 12 ounces of sweetened iced tea* contains 105 calories and 27 grams of sugar [6]

► Beer

► 12 ounces of beer* contains ~150 calories [7]

► While beer typically doesn’t contain much sugar, the combination of carbohydrates and alcohol make it a calorically dense beverage

*Calorie and sugar content vary from brand to brand

It is interesting to note that 12 ounces of orange juice contains more calories than 12 ounces of Coca Cola. It is important to realize that just because a drink is derived from natural (or even organic) fruit sources, it does not mean that they are any better than processed high-fructose-corn-syrup-containing drinks. Generally speaking in terms of weight loss, sugar is sugar – it tastes good, digests quickly, and can easily exist in high concentrations within liquid.

Here is an example of the dietary impact that can occur from reducing sugary/calorie-dense beverages:

► In this example, an individual has a daily caloric intake of 2800 calories.

► The individual drinks 3 calorically dense beverages per day.

1.) 12 ounces of orange juice in the morning (165 calories)

2.) 12 ounces of Coca Cola at lunch (140 calories)

3.) 12 ounces of beer at night (150 calories)

► The individual consumes 455 calories per day from the 3 beverages.

► The calorically dense beverages account for 16% of the total caloric intake

► If the individual uses zero-calorie alternatives in place of the calorically dense beverages, they will create a significant reduction in daily consumed calories, while not feeling any less full.

Continuing with the idea of the above example, it is best to progressively cut out the consumption of sugary/calorically dense beverages.

1.) First week: cut out the beverage that is easiest to give up

2.) Second week: cut out the beverage that is the next easiest to give up

3.) Third week: cut out the beverage that is hardest to give up

If one-week-progressions seem too much too quickly, try 2 weeks, 3 weeks, or even a month. The take-away message here is to create a change that will last many years, if not a lifetime.  When it comes to making consistent lifestyle changes, slow, gradual, and easily attainable steps are the best way to go. If you make many small lifestyle changes in an aware and intelligent manner, you may be surprised at the progress you’ve made by the end of a year.

Bottom line: Liquids don’t help you feel full nearly as much as solid foods do. If you are attempting to lose weight, you should be contributing to a sense of fullness whenever you consume calories. Therefore, drinking calories is counter-productive to weight loss goals, especially if you struggle with feelings of hunger when attempting to lose weight.


References

1.) Brandon, C. 2017. It’s Possible to Eat MORE Food While Eating FEWER Calories:
https://www.colinbrandon.com/simple-advice-on-healthy-weight-loss/2017/4/14/its-possible-to-eat-more-food-while-eating-fewer-calories

2.) Brandon, C. 2017. The Relationship between Water, Fiber, and Fullness:
https://www.colinbrandon.com/simple-advice-on-healthy-weight-loss/2017/4/14/the-relationship-between-fiber-water-and-fullness

3.) Calories in orange juice:
www.calorieking.com/foods/calories-in-fruit-vegetable-juices-juice-drinks-orange-juice-fresh_f-ZmlkPTY3NTIy.html

4.) Calories in Coca Cola:
www.coca-colaproductfacts.com/en/coca-cola-products/coca-cola/

5.) Calories in Star Bucks Mocha Frappuccino:
www.starbucks.com/menu/drinks/frappuccino-blended-beverages/mocha-frappuccino-blended-beverage

6.) Calories in sweetened iced tea:
www.calorieking.com/foods/calories-in-iced-teas-sweetened_f-ZmlkPTY5NTIy.html

7.) Calories in beer:
www.calorieking.com/foods/calories-in-ales-beers-regular-beer-5-alc_f-ZmlkPTYxMzA1.html


Approach Weight Loss Gradually and Progressively

Changing the way you eat is challenging, and there are certain strategies that are more effective than others when it comes to reaching your weight loss goals. When changing any behavior, it is always a safe bet to:

1.) Establish what your long-term goal is (e.g. I want to lose 20 lbs)

1a.) This is your final destination.

2.) Become aware of your current status (e.g. I weigh 200 lbs and I snack too much, consistently eat past fullness, and don’t move my body enough)

2a.) This is your starting point.

3.) Create a timeline (e.g. I want to achieve this goal in 6 months)

3a.) This is your ETA (estimated time of arrival).

4.) Make small meaningful changes in a progressive way (e.g. I will eat a small salad daily for the first week. For the second week, I will stop having a soda at lunch, and have water instead.)

4a.) This is the pathway to your final destination, and also your speed limit. If you go too fast, you might lose control and crash, coming to a dead stop.

5.) Become aware of barriers you might encounter, and create practical strategies to overcome them (e.g. When it rains, I don’t like going on my daily walk. Therefore, I’ll create a simple home exercise-plan to have ready when it rains.)

5a.) This is your map; it shows you alternative routes to your final destination.

6.) Build social support (e.g. explain to your friends and family the changes you are making in your life, and why they are important to you)

6a.) This is AAA. When your vehicle breaks down and you can’t go any further on your own, you have someone there to help get you rolling again.

7.) Set your intention, and constantly remind yourself of it. (e.g. I want to lose 20 lbs because I’ll be healthier, look better, and feel better).

7a.) This is the fuel for your vehicle. Ultimately, reaching your goal all comes down to your base-motivation. Don’t forget to remind yourself of it often.

8.) If necessary, re-assess. If you stop getting results, or if the changes you made are too challenging, figure out what isn’t working and make the appropriate changes.

8a.) You’re in the driver’s seat. You have creative control. Don’t be afraid to try something different or unheard of, if it works for you.

Wow, I really took that road trip metaphor embarrassingly far. I apologize, I could not help myself. Moving on…

The above method of behavior change/goal-reaching doesn’t just apply to changes you want to make with your body; it can apply to things like learning a new language, or learning how to play an instrument.

Bottom line: Work smart, not hard. Planning on how you will achieve a goal ahead of time allows you to figure out the easiest way to do it, ensuring better results. Changing your lifestyle is challenging, but if you face that challenge with a personalized plan that is gradual and progressive, your likelihood of success will be much greater.

The Relationship between Fiber, Water, and Fullness

Similar to the article about calorie-density, this article relates to fullness as well. Dietary fiber is found in many foods; some foods have lots of it, and others none at all. Dietary fiber (or just “fiber” for the sake of brevity), exists in two forms: soluble and non-soluble. Soluble fiber transforms into a gel-like substance while it passes through the gastrointestinal system (or simply put, the gut). Non-soluble fiber tends not to deform much past the chewing process. Think of corn, it leaves the body not too differently than how it enters. While corn does contain some absorbable energy, its fibrous structure does not.

Fiber, while completely edible, contains zero digestible calories. The human body cannot breakdown the chemical bonds that exist in fiber molecules. Since fiber cannot be broken down in the gut, no energy is released from fiber after it is eaten. Remember, energy is measured in calories.

Fiber adds volume to the food-matter being digested in the gut. Water adds volume to fiber in the gut. Therefore, fiber and water add significant volume to food-matter being digested in the gut. Why is volume important? Because the larger the amount of food-matter in your gut, the more your sensory cells tell you that you are full. Not feeling full enough after meals is a common complaint people have when attempting to lose weight. By increasing your consumption of water and fiber, you can ensure a better sensation of fullness throughout the day.

Foods high in fiber:

► Broccoli

►~11.5 grams of fiber per 150 calorie serving

► Sweet potatoes (with skin)  

► ~5.5 grams of fiber per 150 calorie serving

► Sprouted bread         

► ~5.5 grams of fiber per 150 calorie serving

► Lentils

► Vegetables, in general, are high in fiber

Whole (or “whole-er”) foods tend to contain more fiber than processed foods

► For example, 2 slices of sprouted bread contains ~6 grams of fiber, while 2 slices of white bread contains ~1.5 grams of fiber

► Processed foods are often stripped of their fibrous content during their processing

Bottom line: Increasing your intake of fiber and water promotes the sensation of fullness by expanding the volume of food-matter traveling through your gut. Since fiber and water have zero calories, you will feel fuller more quickly while eating fewer calories.

It’s Possible to Eat MORE Food While Eating FEWER Calories

The idea of eating more food while eating fewer calories may seem counterintuitive, but it’s very possible to apply this idea to daily life.

It all boils down to this fact:

► Calorie-density (the amount of calories per unit of food weight) varies from food-type to food-type.

► For example, an ounce of apple slices contains roughly 15 calories, while an ounce of cheddar cheese contains roughly 110 calories.

► You can see that each option weighs the same, but that the cheese has significantly more calories than the apple slices. 

► To take this a step further, if you allocate 225 calories of food for a snack, you can eat 15 ounces of apple slices, but only 2 ounces of cheese. It is clear in this case that you will feel much fuller after eating almost a pound of apple slices compared to 2 ounces of cheese (a common amount of cheese for snacking).

Choosing foods with a low calorie-density means you can eat a lot without consuming many calories. Not feeling full after meals is a common complaint that people have when attempting to lose weight. That is why it is great to have many low calorie-dense foods available to eat. By incorporating plenty of low calorie-dense foods, you can eat to satisfaction without eating too many calories.

Examples of low calorie-density foods:

►Vegetables

► Most fruit (especially berries)

► Whole grains (e.g. oats, quinoa, rice, and barley)

► High fiber wraps and breads

► Fat-free or low fat Greek yogurt

► Lean cuts of meat

Examples of high calorie-density foods:

► Butter

► Nut butters

► Oil

► Mayonnaise

► Deep-fried foods

► Fatty cuts of meat (e.g. lamb, duck, chicken thighs, and rib-eye steaks)

► A lower-calorie alternative would be lean cuts of meat (e.g. cod, tilapia, sirloin steak, and chicken breast).

► Creamy dressings

► A lower-calorie alternative would be dressings that use fat-free Greek yogurt in lieu of sour cream, mayonnaise, or oil.

► Soda and fruit juice

► A no-calorie alternative would be water or flavored seltzer water. If you drink soda or fruit juice on a regular basis, substituting with water can make a profound difference in your daily caloric intake.

► A lower-calorie alternative would be water (flat or seltzer) with a little added fruit juice for flavor.

Important Note: You may notice that fat is a common factor in many calorie-dense foods (e.g. butter, nut butters, oil, mayonnaise, and fatty cuts of meat). A gram of fat contains 9 calories, while a gram of protein or carbohydrates contains 4 calories. Despite the fact that it is naturally calorie-dense, fat has an important place in a healthy diet. Dietary fat is an essential nutrient for many fundamental metabolic functions. Calorie-dense foods are not inherently bad for you, but they do need to be moderated when it comes to weight loss.

Bottom line: Eating till fullness is an important factor in a successful weight loss program. Including large amounts of low calorie-dense foods in your diet, while moderating your intake of high calorie-dense foods, ensures a greater likelihood of weight loss success because you will feel full more often.

Diet is more Important than Physical Activity in Weight Loss

The two most important factors in weight loss are diet and physical activity. Diet refers to your eating habits, and physical activity refers to your movement habits. To optimize a weight loss program, both factors must be managed in a balanced way. That being said, successful weight loss can occur by just changing your dietary habits and not your physical activity level. Conversely, it can be very difficult to drive consistent weight loss results when just your physical activity is increased and no changes are made to your eating habits.

Consider the following comparison:

      ► A 300 calorie donut is eaten.
            ► This is an eating behavior that takes roughly 1 minute to accomplish.
                  ► 300 calories are consumed per minute.

     ► One way to burn 300 calories is to do moderate intensity (not easy, but not hard) aerobic exercise.
            ►To burn off the calories, this physical activity behavior takes roughly 30 minutes.
                 ►10 calories are burned per minute.

If you eat a donut every day, you can see how simply not eating the donut is much more efficient than spending 30 minutes on a piece of cardio equipment to negate the calories consumed. It’s an uphill battle to try to out-exercise a bad diet. But don’t worry, occasional indulgences have a place in an effective weight loss program.

Physical activity is not to be downplayed, as consistent exercise contributes to weight loss and improves many aspects of health and physical performance; however, its application in weight loss does have limitations. When it comes to losing weight, managing your eating habits must be the priority.

Bottom line: Creating a significant and consistent caloric deficit by only changing your physical activity requires a lot of time and energy exercising every day. In contrast, creating a significant and consistent caloric deficit by only changing your dietary habits requires much less time and effort, after the logistics of calorie-control are figured out.

Introduction to the Article Series: Simple Advice on Healthy Weight Loss

These articles help answer the question, “How can I implement simple changes into my life that will lead to healthy weight loss?”

Your intention to lose weight can arise from different base-motivations.

For example:

  • “I want to look better”
     
  • “I want to feel better”
     
  • “I want to reduce my risk of disease”
     
  • “I want to become more athletic”
     
  • “I want to challenge myself”

No matter the reason why you want to lose weight, the principles behind how to lose weight do not change. These articles are meant to be understandable and practical; they offer information that can be used in your daily life to make your weight loss efforts more efficient and effective.

Before reading these articles, it’s best to read the two articles about the fundamentals of weight loss