Saturday, December 17, 2011

How many Calories do you need?

This post is all about calories. Calories are the amount of energy needed to raise the temperature of 1kg of water 1 degree. So when your box of Popcorn says it has 120 calories, they mean that the amount of energy you'd be depositing into your body would be enough fuel to burn 120 kg of water 1 degree. Yes, food is fuel, so you also need to remember to burn it off not just store it!
So how many calories do you need? well, that's a slightly complicated question, and there are lots of calorie calculators available online. Basically the number is adjusted by weight (bigger people burn more calories), and height, and age (which sets metabolism and developmental needs), gender (which influences muscle mass and body fat - women need more body fat to maintain their periods/pregnancy), and activity level. In general, people need a lot more calories then most of us are eating. YES! You read that right. People typically need to be eating more calories - but good, happy, healthy calories. For my body and exercise level, I need to eat about 2600 calories - yikes. But since I am losing weight, I subtract 500 calories (that puts me on a course of losing a pound a week). Losing too much weight too fast is very dangerous for the body and should only be done with supervision by a healthcare provider. It's also not as sustainable to lose a lot quickly. Losing weight and getting healthy needs to be a mental and emotional change, so weight that is lost gradually has been shown to stay off! Which is why crash diets DON'T work.

How to calculate it:
If you'd rather be a calorie geek, like me, here are the formulas for men and women. Step 1:
Women: BMR = 655 + (4.35 x weight in pounds) + (4.7 x height in inches) - (4.7 x age in years)
Men: BMR = 66 + (6.23 x weight in pounds) + (12.7 x height in inches) - (6.8 x age in years)
Step 2:
multiply that number by another one based on your activity level:
sedentary: 1.2, Light: 1.375, Moderate: 1.55 ,very active: 1.75
Step 3:
If you want to gain weight add 500, maintain - do nothing, lose weight then subtract 500.

That's your number of calories every day. There are also calorie counters for kids (my daughter is 1 year old, and is very active so she needs about 1400 calories a day). The calorie needs of a pregnant woman should be the same in the first trimester, and only increase by about 300 calories a day for the remainder - so basically a half of a PB and J, ....or a bagel. Nursing moms need an extra 300-500 calories.

So you know your calories, now what?
Divide this number over 5 meals. More calories AND you get to eat every few hours? Awesome. So, I'm 2100 calories so maybe 400, 400, 500, 400, 400 - A nice big lunch, and the rest are about even. You can divide them up in different ways depending on your personality. Maybe you don't like to eat a lot at breakfast, or you'd rather eat light at lunch since you work out then. Mix it up, but remember that a meal is 300-500 calories, and a snack is 100-200 calories. Therefore, don't eat an apple and call it lunch, and don't starve all day so that you can eat 1000 calories of nachos and beer with your friends that night. Your body responds to what it ate last. So if you ate great, your body responds with a jump in metabolism, reduced cravings, and steady blood sugar (so no jolt, no jitters, no crash). If you ate crap and food-like substances, your body slows down, your bowels stop working properly and you start craving more salt, fat, and sugar. Did you skip a meal? Your body knows it - it slows down the metabolism and you start getting too hungry to make good choices.

A note on EXERCISE
Adjust your caloric needs if you aren't going to exercise more then 2 days in a row. Your calorie calculations are assuming you will be consistent with exercise - and the intensity level. Also, having worked out doesn't mean you can eat whatever you want...the old, "I can eat that, I did workout today," doesn't actually work.
When to workout/eat depends on you. Some people can't workout on an empty stomach, and others can't workout on a full one. In general, try to not eat 2 hours before you exercise. If you need something in your tummy, have a banana, a sports drink/recovery drink, or a healthy snack bar (definitely only around 100 calories).

A note on fasting
There are some times when fasting can be good for you - for spiritual purposes, to give your body a chance to cleanse, and to focus the mind. But that's where this list ends. Eating less than 300 calories at a meal isn't enough to feed the body so that it feels full, so you get enough nutrients, and to keep that metabolism up. Eating less then 1000 calories a day, is a strict no-no. Want to balance the deficit on the calories in/calories out thing? Exercise. Trust me. Ultra low calorie diets may force some bodies (not all) to lose weight, but since your body is lacking nutrients it will steal them from you. That's why people with eating disorders have brittle bones and frequent fractures, their body stole the calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus from their bodies since it wasn't in the diet. Your body will steel calories from the muscles in your body - which you not only need to exercise, stand, make out, and smile - but you also need to beat your heart. Get the idea?
Yes, some diets call for periods of fasting, or a skipped meal. If that works for you, fine. If you aren't losing weight, get cranky (a sign of low blood sugar NOT lack of will power), or that it leads you to making bad food choices - don't bother. Eat! But eat well:)

Good Eats!
Ok, this is the last bit of advice: eat well! Eating healthy foods means that you get to eat more, not less! For example, a small order of french fries has 300 calories. For the same calories you can have a large baked sweet potato, 1 cup of broccoli, 1/2 cup of cottage cheese, and 1 oz of chicken. That a full plate compared to a little sad paper bag of fries. Want to eat a dunkin donuts' blueberry muffin? That's 500 calories. Instead, you could have had an omelet with 1 whole egg, 2 egg white, 1 oz of shredded cheddar, mushrooms, onions, peppers, a tortilla wrap, a cup of non-fat plain yogurt, AND a cup guessed it, fresh blueberries! That's a boat load of food! Still think the starvation diet is where it's at? I'd rather eat all that versus 1 muffin that will probably not even make you feel full.

Good luck, and happy eating:)

Friday, December 9, 2011

How to Choose the Exercises that are Best for You!

The key to choosing the right kind of exercises is to know your body and to know your goals. When I coach new clients or help my patients, I always ask them to tell me about the types of exercises they have done before, what went wrong, and of any injuries/health issues they have. The only people who truly cannot do a workout are those in a coma - and even with them we do stretches and range of motion (moving the joints around) several times a day! I will discuss a few of the body barriers to working out, and explore a few different options here.

Ok, so the biggest whine (you know who you are) is that "I'm too old." Well, that excuse may be, but you are NOT. Have you ever heard of the octogenarian olympics? It is an international competition for the 80 and older! And no, they aren't doing walker dual fighting - They are doing the 100 yard dash in 19 seconds! Women in their 80's are clearing 8 feet on the pole vault! Most have learned how to adapt to their health issues, despite that almost all have osteoporosis or arthritis. Even my patients who are recovering from open heart surgery go to the hospital based heart-gym to get their heart back into shape on treadmills, stationary bikes, and by lifting weights. Is your excuse that you aren't able to work out because you have kids? Kids love to work out, and doing it with their parents only reinforces those good health behaviors. Babies love to go in the jogging stroller, and toddlers/preschoolers love to try and jump, run, climb stairs, and ride on the back of the bike. My one year old is really good at copying me when I am doing my P90X workout. She marches while I jog in place, she tries to do push ups with me, and in general loves to watch me hop around - so we make a game of it. Early school aged kids can do a work out with you (modifying of course), including the Kids Fit Club - a workout just for them. Middle schoolers and up can do everything you can do - and would LOVE to beat you at it too. That adds to their self-esteem, keeps them healthy, and gives you and your kids some time together.

Body type
Are you super weak, with little bitty girl arms? Can't lift your own body weight or do a push-up? Are you a stocky person with a barrel chest, and a thick frame? Do you have funny joints that don't like certain movements like swimming or pedaling? Do you have bad feet or a bad back and have written off all kinds of activities - or worse, push through it? Knowing your body is a key aspect of finding your soul mate work out. There are activities for everyone and every body type - walking is a great activity. So is weightlifting, which helps build muscles, increase metabolism, stabilizes joints, and strengthens bones. Just start with low weights, and do more reps. This will allow you to keep your joints and body under control, and not injure yourself. Are you a bigger person, with more weight to move? The water is a great place. Easy on joints too. Learning to swim comfortably (so you don't feel like you are drowning, you aren't hitting yourself, and you are making forward progress) takes practice. Luckily, you will be swimming lots of laps, so you can practice. You should be breathing at a comfortable rate, so match your swimming to that. Most people swim really hard and need to breath heavily, resulting in sputtering, near drowning and frustration. Pace yourself, and work on speed after you get the hang of it.

This means are you a boy or a girl - and what kind of cock-a-mamy things have you been told about what kind of exercises people with certain "parts" should do. Girls can do any kind of workout that boys can do. Girls tend to weigh less, so they don't have to be as strong to pull up or push up their bodies, just modify at first with a chair to assist with pull ups or starting on your knees with pushups. Girls can lift weights - in fact they should. It increases bone density to do any weight baring exercises, and given the rates of osteoporosis, arthritis, and hip fractures among women - why wouldn't you do it? If you are a mamma like me, lifting weights helps tone your body, and makes it easier to do the crazy things you do like carry the baby, all the groceries, and the mail! Be careful though if you have any kind of pelvic floor weakness (do you pee when you sneeze?). Be sure to lift carefully, of a modest weight, and do exercises to strengthen the core and kegels to strengthen those muscles. Men...guys do yoga too, and should. Increasing your flexibility improves balance, endurance, and your ability to manage pain. Improving flexibility will prevent injuries. Also, Just as women are less likely to be able to lift higher weights, men are less likely to have good endurance and pain control. Remember that women are designed to give birth so our pain thresholds are higher, and our body's ability to use oxygen efficiently need to be good.

Health problems
This is a big one, and yet is easy to over come if you have the right support. Diabetics should work out since it improves sugar metabolism and controls weight, but they do need to monitor their sugar/insulin needs during and after a workout. A trained profession (such as myself) can help you learn to manage that. Heart problems? Watching your level of exertion, and knowing how to strengthen the cardiovascular system safely is key AND possible. Cancer patient? Moderate exercise improves symptoms of nausea, insomnia, and fatique. Be sure to know how to avoid infection at the gym, and to modify for any surgeries/procedures that may limit your movements. Kidney, lymphatic, or liver issues? Movement helps the body to cleanse itself of impurities better - just be sure to stay hydrated!! Digestive or urinary problems, movement helps both diarrhea and constipation. If you have "urgency" issues, just be sure to workout somewhere where a bathroom is accessible and close. Bed ridden? 20 asanas for your pajamas is a video for doing yoga from your bed! I recommend it to my patients all the time:) Have Alzheimer's, dementia, amnesia, or brain injury? Work out with a buddy, always tell someone where you are going, and have a routine so you always know what to do next. Paraplegic, hemiplegic, or an amputee...if we can have para-olympians who swim, run, play sports, and are probably in better shape then most Americans, then you can find solutions too!

If you have a physical limitation that I haven't mentioned here, let me know and I can help you find a way to modify that will keep you strong and as healthy as possible. Just remember, you have a body that is just right for you and learning how to make it healthy and happy can be a joyful journey! Happy exercising:)

Monday, December 5, 2011

Water and Weightloss (and so much more), and Why Soda is Just not a Substitute

Water is a great healer of the human body, and also the easiest thing we can do to improve our health...but don't. The benefits of water are simple and keeping your body hydrated is just the beginning. I know that I personally hate drinking water, resist it at all cost, and usually begrudgingly down a glass simply because I know I'll die if I don't do that occasionally. Luckily getting sweaty during my workouts usually encourages me to drink, and when I teach a class to my college students all that talking makes me take sips all day. Here I will discuss the health benefits, some of which will surprise you. Then I will offer some tips on how to increase your ability to drink water.

Water and weightloss
Weightloss - definitely. For one, we often confuse thirst for hunger, so drinking may actually help get rid of your desire to snack. It also helps you feel more full, by taking up space in your stomach. People tend to consume fewer calories per meal when they increase their water intake, and over time that means loosing weight. It also helps with preventing constipation and stored waste (a nice way of saying poop) adds to feelings of sluggishness, decreased ability to absorb nutrients, and, well...the stuff is just heavy. Water also increases your metabolism, and best of all prevents you from drinking other beverages that have calories. Americans now drink 300 calories a day. That may not seem like much but given that 3500 calories makes a pound -over the course of a year (365 days) that's 31 extra pounds!

Water and overall health
Sheesh, what DOESN'T water help with? Well for starters it helps control blood sugars, reduces the impact of high salt consumption on blood pressure, improves the poop problems (see above), keeps your skin healthy which not only makes you look amazing but keeps away infections, regulates metabolism, lubricates joints, helps you maintain your body's ability to regulate temperature, and best of all it flushes out the system. Now, this one is very unappreciated. Hydration flushes out toxins from the lymphatic system through increased blood volume, encourages good kidney function - which means all kinds of flushing of toxins, keeps the immune system working well (and that system removes all kinds of unmentionable things from the body), and generally keeps things running smoothly. Water also helps flush out lactic acid - the thing that makes muscles ache more after a work out. So drink more, feel better!

How much water should you drink?
So we've all heard that 8 glasses a day is the answer, but is that really true? Probably not. The number also includes water that is gained from foods. There is a lot moisture in fruits, veggies, and even some in breads and dairy. Not to mention that every body is different, so we all have a different need. So figure out your set point. Start with an empty milk jug - that's about 16 8oz cups. Pour in 1 cup at a time and mark the height on the outside of the jug. Then start drinking as you normally would in a given day. So you only drank 4 glasses fine. Using the same jug, increase you water intake the next day to 6 and see how you feel. Try 8 or 10. At some point you will look at the jug and think "I just can't drink anymore." See where that point is, and now you can use that jug (or a smaller container) to fill up every day to your set point. Then all you have to do is drink the container and not have to worry about counting or measuring.

Why we don't notice dehydration well
We are actually very bad at this simple task, and depending on where you live it may be even more challenging. If you live in a place where hot summers mean high humidity and lots of sweating, you'll think "gee, I should go drink something." If you live in a place with that pesky "dry heat" (or if you live in a cold climate the drying weather comes from more inside time, more heating appliances and fireplaces also means drier air) then you can easily become the victim of "imperceptible water loss." What does this cool phrase mean? It means that your body loses water through evaporation. That's why I get so thirsty when I'm teaching too! All that talking dries out the moisture in the mouth...imperceptible water loss! So, be sure to check in with that water jug if you notice signs of dehyration or just make a habit of it at the change of seasons!

Signs of mild dehydration
-Dry mouth
-Constipation or irregular bowels
-Sore muscles and joints
-Unclear thinking (just a 2% water loss can impair memory and basic math skills)
-Dry skin
-If you stop sweating or get chills during a work out or on a hot day
-Darker (yellower) urine
-Heart palpitations (racing heart)

Why soda sucks
Now the occasional treat is fine, but I know many of you are soda addicts - drinking one or more a day. If the 31 calories a year wasn't enough to make you want to stop, consider this: soda contains 3 tablespoons of sugar - and totally useless calories. It also gets its sugar solely from high fructose corn syrup, which is NOT the same as sugar. For one it is completely processed, and 33% of products have been found to contain mercury (which is used in this processing). The body metabolizes it differently from sugar as well. For example it produces advanced glycation end products (AGEs) which are linked to aging and complications of diabetes. Fructose is more rapidly broken down in the liver then sucrose or glucose so it increases fat storage, fatty-liver, higher triglyceride production, and increased calorie consumption since you will feel hungry sooner. Another problem with soda is the caffeine. Caffeine is a diuretic, which means it makes you pee. Increased urination, means it is not a hydrating fluid. Now for those of you who say, but I drink sugar free or caffeine free, studies show that your brain still interacts with it like it has sugar and caffeine. It also still has artificial sweeteners, sodium, and additives. All of which are not nearly as good for your body as water.

So what else can you drink?
Water, water, and water are all good choices. Juice (which usually also contains high fructose corn syrup) is not a good option. You don't get the same nutritional benefits of drinking an apple or orange as you do eating it. Also, sugary beverages
actually encourage your body to urinate more (like soda) -so not a hydrating fluid. Any of the powders you add to water also add all those odd things, and sometimes calories or dyes. But if you hate water as much as I do there are a few things you can do: add a piece of cucumber or citrus fruit to the water. I personally really like to make cold herbal teas (so no caffeine). I love the fruit teas like blueberry, raspberry, and lemon. Another option is to figure out when you naturally drink fluids the most and increase it at those times. As I said, for me I try to drink the most during workout and when I am at work, but I have also learned that if there is water at the table I am more likely to drink it. I also know that temperature matters to me. I don't like very cold water, so I like the water jug out to be room temperature. If you like it ice cold - try getting a water bottle with a freezable center or keeping filled containers in the fridge so you can grab-and-go, and it saves money and waste from buying bottled water. Happy Hydrating!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Exercising -when the excuses run out, you need to make it work!


Yup, people will go to great lengths to avoid moving their bodies. People hate dieting, but they'd rather starve then move their bodies - What with all the sweating, soreness, and...moving.

Research has shown that exercise is a better controller of cholesterol levels then dieting is, and improves your immune functions, your sleep, your overall positive disposition (you know how work out people always seem annoyingly happy?), balances hormones, lessens symptoms of PMS/pregnancy/post-partum depression, improves glucose tolerance (so your body uses blood sugar better), helps cardiovascular function, prevents dementia, improves digestion, etc....but, people would rather take a pill or eat a "magic food" or complain and be sad then move their bodies. Confession: from time to time, I'm one of those people.

I recently started doing P90X again, a workout program that I do at home with weights (no not the bulk you up, but the tone you up). I dragged myself to starting it, with a very whiny "I Don't wanna go work out." I had been working out regularly - 6 days a week kind of regular, but then got very sick over a month ago, and just couldn't do it for a while. I gave myself time to recover, and now it's time to get back into it! Yes, I get sweaty, and yes, I get sore - but it does get better and here are some of my tips for getting yourself over the hump, and into a regular exercise routine:

Slow and Steady
Most people are so ready to work out, and so despise it, that they go at 100% in their first workout. Then they are too sore, or really injured to continue. They limp around with a general feeling of "See, I told you this sucked." So slow it down. Going at 80% will probably make you feel like you're being a slacker, but it is far more realistic. Do what you can ACTUALLY do, not what you want your body to be able to do...that takes work, and time. After a week or two, you'll find you are able to do more and can up your endurance, weights, or intensity.

Isolate the Right Muscles
Ok, so this is another example of how people can injure themselves. If you are intending to workout a particular area, say for example, your biceps (the "make a muscle" muscle), you will probably do curls. But you need to have good form, and the right weight. If you begin to curl your arm, by swinging your body to get the arm up - no good. That means that you aren't lifting the weight with your bicep, but with other parts of your body. At this point, you should slow down, lower the weight you are lifting, or perhaps you have hit your max on this exercise. Also, don't collapse. If you are doing leg lifts, don't lift with all your might and then drop your legs to the ground. Don't lift a weight up high, only to let it swing down to a rest position. Control the body, up and down. This will prevent injury, strengthen your core, and isolate the muscles you are really targeting.

Stop Making Excuses
We all give a million reasons why we can't do something, but at some point we need to accept that these reasons are just excuses. No money? Working out is FREE. Sure you could join a gym, or do awesome workouts like P90X. You could go to a yoga class, or buy weights to use at home. These are all wonderful, structured tools to enhance your workouts - but they are not the end. You can workout in your neighborhood, take walks/jogs, go hiking, hop on a bike path. You can get free videos from the library, or simply increase your movement by taking the stairs, walking to the store, or doing sit ups or jumping jacks instead of laying on the couch while watching TV. No time? The funny thing about committing to a workout routine is that there is always time. Walk on your lunch break, or after dinner with the kids, put your laptop on a stationary bike and multitask, get up a little earlier in the morning, or look at exercise programs like Slim in 6 (minutes) or 10 minute trainer. For more information about these programs go to Too tired or have an injury? There are always exercises that can be done despite any injury. I'm a nurse, so I know that if people with spinal cord injuries work out every day, or my cancer patients still find the energy, that this is really just an excuse. Work with a professional to find activities that work for you. Try swimming or yoga if you have joint issues, etc. About being too tired, the truth is that exercise increases your stamina and makes you feel energized. Is there an excuse you keep repeating to yourself? Submit it here and I'll help you find a solution!

Be My Buddy
Getting in to a regular routine takes habit, but sticking to that habit requires support and structure. Don't just say "I'm going to work out again," make a schedule that says I will do THIS today. I like p90X because it tells me exactly what I am doing every day for 90 days. Today I worked on my chest/back muscles, and tomorrow I'll be doing yoga! If you don't know how to make a schedule, work with a coach or a trainer. Get a buddy: have a friend who can hold you accountable, and be a support. Work out together, or just connect with people (online or in person) who will encourage you to work out today. Research shows that when people have a buddy, they stick to their schedules better, and are more likely to reach their goals.

So find a buddy and get started. Watch your form, and prevent injuries by listening to your body and not trying to get years of not exercising into one workout! Develop a plan, an work through your excuses. If you need help with that, there are plenty of people out there willing to help. Some for free like a church group, or at a community center, or at your work, and some are professional services, like coaches, trainers, and professionals like at who offer workshops or one on one support. Good luck!