Monday, December 21, 2015

Pay Attention: Your Stomach is Trying to Tell you Something!

As our last blog before the New Year, I want to leave you with one last (hopefully) helpful piece of advice that will wrap up November and December’s blogs focusing on taking pre-emptive steps in the right direction now, as 2015 comes to a close. These tips have included noticing what you are doing right on days when you feel like all cylinders are firing, adding a little more exercise to each day or week and cutting back on sugar, to give some of your vital organs and waistline a break. All of these tips were designed to create a slightly healthier end to 2015, and ensure that you have some footing come New Year’s Day. In other words, don’t give up in December because you have big plans to work out hard in January. Do better whenever you can this month, including cutting back (a little!) on Christmas treats, stuffing, alcohol, whatever, and hit the ground running next month.

So before we get to the main point of this blog, let’s remember: It’s prime time for sugar consumption right now. If there is one thing I can strongly suggest you do to keep your sugar intake to a minimum and give your body and mood a break, is to just step away before you feel full of sweets. I read once that sweets are fine if you can just adjust your idea of what constitutes a serving. Think of it as a bite or two, not a meal. In Europe, especially in the Mediterranean regions where fresh fruit is at most people’s fingertips (like here in California!) it’s common for fresh fruit to serve as the “dessert” and wrap up a great meal. A bowl of tangerines, apples or pears in the winter, or berries and stone fruit in the summer, provide that satisfying feeling of sweetness on the palate without the surges of blood sugar and insulin that tax your system and add inches to the waistline.

Which leads me to today’s rant moment of clarity: Avoid automatic eating. While you are enjoying those bites, don’t stare at your phone and get lost in a your Facebook feed or checking emails; have a conversation with the person sitting across or next to you; stare out the window, watch a bird, look at the clouds, and really taste whatever it is you are consuming. Whether it’s a cookie or small piece of fudge or better yet a crisp apple, don’t be a mindless eating machine (cue Jaws music).

Automatic eating has a few different meanings. One of them is more emotion-centered, where we eat out of habit, in order to feel better or associate a moment with comfort instead of anxiety or pain. The other type of automatic eating has more to do with the action of eating as being totally ignored by your brain. Think of it as thoughtless eating. Here’s why thoughtless eating can lead to eating more than we need to feel satisfied, which of course, leads to more pounds we then need to work off: Thoughtless eating separates our stomach from our brain. The stomach, when it’s full, sends a signal to the brain, via nerve receptors and hormones, which in turn signals the brain to think about stopping the action of eating.

Now, imagine your brain is a guy sitting next to a conveyor belt, feet kicked up, face in his phone, catching up with the Kardashians. Those signals coming in from the stomach? Totally missed. They glide right on by, piling up like a bad wreck on the other end of the factory (your waistline). That’s what happens when we eat while watching TV or looking at our phone. When you eat, eat. When you read, read. Can we also get lost in a conversation or watching some deer nibble on grass? Yes, but it is far more likely that we’ll become hypnotized by a screen than we might while observing Mother Nature or chatting with our companions. Screens kill. Remember that.

When you finish the appropriate sized serving on your plate, and you think you need to go back for another helping, wait a few minutes. Let your brain catch up with your stomach. I promise you, if you wait five minutes after eating a normal-sized meal, you will feel fuller than you did 30 seconds after finishing. Wait another five minutes and have a piece of fruit, or a maybe just a little sliver of pie. Pay attention to what you are doing, which is eating, and savor every moment. You’ll feel satisfied faster and ready to move on to the next thing on your “to do” list: couch surfing working out.

Happy Holidays and I’ll see you in 2016 at Motivate Personal Fitness Academy!

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Sugar: Eliminate, Cut Back or Load up? (OK, not that last one.)

The fact that in the U.S., individuals eat way too much sugar is well-documented, and we know that because sugar’s ill effects on the body have been well researched. Sugar is not only high in calories, the calories are really just plain useless, once the initial “ohmygodthatwassogood” moment passes. Once sugar is down the hatch, the body begins breaking it down—into glucose and fructose. And it’s not the good “breaking it down” like I do in the studio; it’s some heavy lifting for the pancreas, liver and other organs. Eat a handful of processed sugar multiple times a day and you are really stressing out your organs and systems.

In a nutshell, too much sugar wreaks havoc on some pretty major organs in the body, namely the liver and pancreas. It interferes with normal hormone production and regulation, such as insulin, which the body produces to counteract the huge surge of sugar after eating a high-sugar snack or meal (soda, candy, fruit juice, but also simple carbs – starchy foods like overly processed breads, muffins, crackers, etc.)

What you’re left with is a roller coaster of sugar surges, then crashes. And all that sugar that couldn’t be burned off? It’s eventually stored as fat.

This Holiday Season, consider cutting back from high-sugar snacks and give your organs (and your belly fat) a break. If you’re not sure how, here are a few tips. Each day, do the best you can. If you can hit most of them, most days of the week, you’ll be way ahead of the game come January 1. As I’ve mentioned recently, here and here, there’s no time like the present to start thinking about what you want to achieve in the New Year, setting some baby-step goals, and actually feeling like you have a head start on your healthy habits come Jan 1.

1. Monday through Friday in the month of December, make a decision to eat a high-protein, high-fiber, super-low sugar breakfast. This will help your body burn energy more efficiently and you’ll stay fuller, longer. Try to skip that mid-morning coffee and pastry. Instead, have a stash of high-protein, low-sugar snacks or a few cherry tomatoes and a slice of cheese instead. That’s right, cheese: a Babybel or slice of Swiss cheese and a half-dozen cherry tomatoes is far better than a muffin or other sugar-laden carb.

2. Same goes for lunch: Do NOT eat a super high carb, or carb-only lunch. No giant plates of pasta and bread. If you are a sandwich junkie, use only whole grain breads without added sugars. Read the labels. If you see sugar in the first five ingredients, it’s not bread. It’s sugar disguised as bread. Try an open face sandwich if bread isn’t that important to you. That’s half the carbs/calories! Just make sure you choose “whole grain.”

3. If you are going out to dinner or a holiday party after work, eat some nuts first. Keep a container of unsalted nuts in your car, or in your desk, and eat a handful before you go. Why unsalted? That saltiness with give rise to a thirst—and we all know what that means this time of year. The protein will fill you up and it will be easier to stay away from empty, sugary carbs while you’re out.

4. Skip dessert during the week. Just think: If you refrained from dessert of any kind Monday through Thursday in the month of December, you’ll be avoiding tens of thousands of calories.

Wondering where the sugar is lurking? Here’s a quick-and-dirty list of the worst sugar hiding spots:
  • Bottled sauces (BBQ, sweet n’ sour, teriyaki, ketchup, etc.)
  • Bread (see above)
  • Pasta sauces (store bought)
  • Soda and store bought tea. If you are buying pre-made teas in large containers or cans, you are loading up on sugar.
  • Dried fruit (some dried fruits have a whopping 24 grams of sugar in just a 1/3 of a cup.)

Remember, the point of these December posts is to help you edge toward some serious changes next month. Don’t give yourself a green light to over-indulge in December just because you have a big plan for January! Cut back in little ways now, make healthier choices, and you’ll be ahead of the game in January and more apt to really stick with your diet and exercise plans, long term.