Monday, December 19, 2011

Weight loss and your menstrual cycle.

Cycle Class at a Gym Category:Gyms_and_Health_...
Some points in your cycle favor diet, others respond better to exercise. Learn how to work with your cycle so it can't
sabotage you any more.
Image via Wikipedia
Your period can be your worst weight loss enemy or your best friend. The key is understanding your cycle and knowing how to work with it.

Early cycle & water retention:  The day your period begins is considered Day One of your cycle. At this moment, you are  still a little bloated up with fluid retention that's accumulated during the premenstrual days, but it's about to get better. Drink lots of water to dilute the chemicals in your body that are triggering the retention and you'll see plenty of water weight drop off over the next few days. Some women find that the water retention is worst in the days leading up to the onset of menses. Other women find it peaks on Day One and continues for a few days afterward. Either way, the key is to drink lots of water and avoid or ignore your scale during this period.

First half of your cycle: For about 14–15 days after your period begins, you are in the follicular phase of menstruation. Your body is preparing for the release of an egg. This is the period when you will find it easiest to lose weight. Estrogen and progesterone levels are at their lowest, and though estrogen levels will rise during this period, progesterone will stay low. What does that mean to you? Less appetite = easier to stay on plan. Fewer mood swings = greater ability to focus on goals. One study has even shown that the stomach empties more slowly during this phase, so you feel full longer. Maximize this phase by  focusing on your diet. Keep your calories well under your goal as many days as possible to "bank" calories for the more difficult phase that's coming. Try to postpone any "cheating" you feel tempted to do, because the temptation is going to become so much stronger later in the cycle!

English: Diagram of the menstrual cycle (based...
Understand your cycle. Estrogen triggers water retention and fat storage
but increases your stamina to work out effectively.
Progesterone causes hunger, cravings,
Second half of your cycle: After you've ovulated, about halfway through your cycle, things get a little tougher. Progesterone levels begin to rise. Over the next two weeks, you will be hungrier. At the very end, as progesterone diminishes relative to estrogen, your cravings will become more intense, and your mood swings will make those cravings even more difficult to resist. During the 2-3 days before your period, you'll be faced with intense cravings for carbs, sweets and/or fats, along with powerful emotional responses AND water retention (caused by dropping progesterone levels). The result? You'll inevitably step on the scale, see a gain when you were expecting a loss, cry a river, and eat a whole box of Ding-Dongs. Oops.

How to handle that progesterone? Let's try to do it differently. Let's say you're hungry, and having powerful cravings. You ask yourself if this could be PMS-related and check your calendar. Yup, period is coming. You've made sure to stock your kitchen with easy, filling, high-protein choices to satisfy the hunger (rotisserie chicken, lean deli sandwich choices, protein shakes or bars, eggs, turkey breast.) You've been banking up some calories for this day, and you've already looked up the calories in your  favorite snacks & chosen something that's not too destructive to indulge in when the going gets truly rough. You avoid the scale for a few days, or ignore the chaos you see there. And you make yourself work out! This is your secret weapon:

The upside to this high-progesterone period is that progesterone triggers the body to burn fat more readily during exercise. During the second two weeks of your cycle, you will become less tired & less sore from exercise, so you'll be able to work out at a higher intensity (especially right around ovulation). And your body will give up the fat more readily to fuel your workout. In a lovely reciprocal relationship, exercise also helps keep PMS symptoms at bay, so working out may reduce your cravings.

And one more piece of good news: Fat cells are not the inert materials we once thought they were. Fat, and particularly belly fat that lives behind the abdominal wall rather than outside it, is an estrogen factory. This may be one reason why, in perimenopause, the body starts storing belly fat. The drop in estrogen makes the body want to create more. Estrogen is a Catch-22 though. Estrogen encourages the body to store fat, and that fat creates more estrogen. Losing body fat can help break the estrogen cycle.

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Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Making vegetables pop

I feel it's important to eat a wide variety of plant foods every day. Each one contains nutrients that aren't found in the others, including various phytochemicals that are still being discovered!

I also realized a long time ago that the reason vegetables are often unappealing is that we don't put as muchtime and effort into their preparations. I would labor over a sauce or flavorful marinade for the main dish, and a hearty delicious side of starch & fat (potatoes au gratin, risotto, etc) or a main dish that combined a fatty meat with some starches and fat (lasagna, casserole). The veggies were an afterthought, tossed into a pan with a little butter and salt.

 Now I eat my meats simply grilled, roasted or pangrilled and spend more time putting together delicious mixtures of vegetables -- especially raw ones! Raw vegetables are more filling, have more fiber & more nutrition than cooked, so they are definitely a dieter's best friend.

1) Slaws. Don't skip over this category just because you've never been big on traditional slaw! I've learned to create slaws that are sooo satisfying and tasty I often snack on them between meals. I buy bags of slaw mixtures, both the cabbage-based ones and the shredded broccoli type. Often I mix the two together so I can have the fiber & nutrition of the broccoli with the sweetness & lightness of the cabbage. I'll give you some specific recipes later, but generally I use about 4 cups of slaw mix, 1/4 cup of dried fruit (raisins, cranberries, etc), 1/4 cup of nuts or seeds (slivered almonds, sesame seeds, etc), 2 Tablespoons of freshly ground flaxseed (for the fiber, protein, healthy fats & nutty flavor), and 2 Tablespoons of low-fat dressing (my faves are sesame ginger and poppyseed). This gives you about 140 calories per generous 1 cup serving, 42% from healthy fats, 42% from the best kind of carbs, and 16% from protein. Makes a wonderful salad substitute, side dish with a sandwich or grilled meat. (there are also slaws made with other types of shredded veggies, like peppers, carrots, etc. I'll add some of those later as well)

2) Salads. The trick is to use plant foods to create flavors & textures rather than cheeses, bacon bits, and croutons. Experiment with different lettuces and additions. Chopped broccoli and cauliflower are interesting in a salad, as are shredded carrots, grape tomatos,  raw peas, soybeans (edamame), cucumber, sugar snap peas, radishes. My favorite salad is a fruit-enhanced one, using dark green leaves, canned mandarin oranges, pineapple chunks, strawberries, blueberries, nuts (almonds, walnuts or pecans) with a little fresh cilantro tossed in and a light rasperry dressing. Or how about a salad with Thai flavors, with chopped peanuts and lime and a ginger dressing? Of course, you can make your salad into a main dish with the addition of some lean protein. Top that fruity salad with a grilled tuna steak seared with lime and cilantro, or add some chunks of chicken breast to that Thai salad.

3) Ratatouille. One of my favorite cooked veggie mixtures. Saute cubed eggplant (tip: the smaller ones are much tastier than the big ones!) and sliced zucchini and/or summer squash in a large frying pan with a couple of tablespoons of olive oil. Use medium-high heat so the veggies sear before soaking up the oil! Add any of the following that you have on hand: bell pepper strips (red is my fave), sweet red onion, artichoke hearts, chopped asparagus, halved brussels sprouts, chopped broccoli or cauliflower, Whatever you like, really! Then, when the veggies are getting just crisp-tender and the eggplant is soft, toss in two big handfuls of baby spinach leaves and some cherry tomatos (halved) or grape tomatos, quite a bit of garlic and basil. Delicious! I make this in giant batches & will nibble on it for days.

For those who prefer to follow recipes, I'll add some in later posts, but hopefully this gives you some idea how to combine lots of veggies in fresh and interesting ways with just a little healthy fat and NO simple carbs!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Do you have to eat breakfast to lose weight?

For years I've been reading about studies that definitively 'prove' that people who eat breakfast eat less through the rest of the day.

But the other day, I  read a study that says people who do 'mini-fasts' every day and don't eat for 12-14 hours overnight lose more weight than those who don't.

A healthy breakfast can be an important part of a weigh-loss plan.
But does it have to be?
So which is it?

I don't know the methodologies of those studies. But here's my theory — just a guess. Maybe they studied people who naturally eat breakfast in the first study, and people who naturally don't in the second study. Maybe both groups can lose weight effectively if they listen to their bodies and follow their natural rhythms.

1) I suspect that people who wake up hungry and craving breakfast will lose more weight if they eat. If they force themselves to skip breakfast, they will overeat later in the day — and if they go hungry against their bodies' wishes regularly, they will mess up their metabolism.

2) I suspect that people who DON'T wake up hungry will lose more weight if they wait until their bodies tell them to eat. Force-feeding a body that doesn't want food makes no sense, and my personal experience is that it stimulates my appetite and makes me hungrier throughout the day.

My own body varies. When I'm leading a 'morning-person' life, going to bed earlier and getting up early, I can be hungry for breakfast by midmorning (though usually not upon waking). Then I eat a low-calorie,  high-protein breakfast.

Usually, because I work evenings, I lead an 'evening-person' life. I eat a very late evening meal (sometimes 10 or 11pm) and wake up mid-morning — not the least bit hungry. I often don't feel hungry until 2  in the afternoon! In those cases I don't eat until my body wants food, so I'm getting that 12-14 hour fast. I do not find that I eat more overall calories on this schedule, I just eat them later in the day.

The good news is, I've found that I continue to lose weight either way as long as I watch my protein and overall calories.
'Mega full breakfast'Image by waldopepper via Flickr
This isn't good for anyone!

Breakfast is fraught with peril, but I think the biggest danger is eating a breakfast with less than 25% of calories from protein.

Many breakfast choices are  pure carbs; cereal, toast,  donuts — fried cake for breakfast, really? And when before the bagel was four slices of white bread considered a meal? Remember, carbs beget carb cravings.

Then there are the incredibly fatty meats, like bacon, sausage and ham. The American breakfast was created by farmers who were about to go outside into the cold and do 8-10 hours of hard physical labor.

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