Tag Archives: weight loss

Eat Your Veggies and Don’t Fear the Fat

17 May

Eat Your Veggies and Don’t Fear the Fat

By Tim Skwiat, MEd, CSCS, Pn1

Mom Was Right: Eat Your Veggies

It’s no secret that a diet plentiful in vegetables— packed with vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, and fiber—confers many health benefits. According the United States Department of Agriculture,1 eating a diet rich in vegetables may:

  • Reduce the risk of heart disease, including heart attack and stroke;
  • Protect against certain types of cancers;
  • Reduce the risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes;
  • Lower blood pressure; and
  • Help decrease bone loss.

While consuming a diet high in vegetables is associated with lower risks for numerous chronic diseases, the impact of eating vegetables on weight management has not been as widely researched. However, recent studies indicate that higher consumptions of vegetables during weight loss efforts are correlated to more weight and fat lost.2

What’s more, scientists have found that reduced-calorie diets including five servings of vegetables per day can lead to sustained weight loss, with associated reductions in cardiovascular disease risk factors. Further, consuming a higher proportion of calories as vegetables may support greater weight loss.3

According to the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion Division of Nutrition and Physical Activity,4 there are multiple reasons why a diet higher in vegetables may help folks control energy balance and support healthy body weight management:

  • To lose weight, a person must eat fewer calories than what s/he burns (i.e., negative energy balance).
  • People may not limit what they consume based on calories alone. Satiety (i.e., feeling full) is a major reason that people stop eating. Rather than the calorie content of food, short-term studies indicate that the volume of food people eat at a meal is what makes them feel full and stop eating.
  • At the same calorie level, foods with low energy density provide a greater volume of food, which may help people feel full at a meal while consuming fewer calories.
  • Water and fiber increase the volume of foods and reduce energy density. In their natural state, vegetables have high water and fiber content and thus are low in calories and energy density.
  • Vegetables are good substitutes for foods of high energy density.

Unfortunately, the vast majority of Americans don’t consume enough vegetables. In fact, only 1 in 4 adults eats the recommended amount of vegetables each day. Thus, the first take-home point is to listen to what your mother always told you: “Eat your veggies.”

Don’t Fear The Fat

More and more research has demonstrated that in addition to the micronutrients (e.g., vitamins and minerals) packed into vegetables, there are also important phytochemicals (i.e., plant chemicals) that are essential for optimal physiological functioning. For instance, carotenoids, phytochemicals that are responsible for providing the dark colors of various plant foods, are potent antioxidants that combat oxidative stress,5 one of the most important factors mediating the deleterious effects of aging.6,7

Here’s where things get really interesting. Like some of the important micronutrients (e.g., vitamins A, D, E, and K) in vegetables, carotenoids (e.g., alpha- and beta-carotene, lycopeine, lutein, zeaxanthin) are fat-soluble nutrients. In other words, dietary fat is necessary to ensure absorption of these health-promoting nutrients.

In a 2004 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers compared the absorption of carotenoids when participants consumed a salad dressed with a fat-free (i.e., 0 grams of fat), reduced-fat, or full-fat salad dressing rich in monounsaturated fats (e.g., olive oil). After consuming the salad with the fat-free dressing, the appearance of carotenoids in the bloodstream was negligible. That’s right, the participants literally absorbed NONE of the free radical-fighting nutrients.8 While there was a relative increase in absorption of carotenoids when participants ate the salad with a reduced-fat dressing, “a substantially greater absorption of carotenoids was observed when salads were consumed with full-fat dressing.”

In a study published in the Journal of Nutrition, researchers from The Ohio State University found similar results when they added avocado or avocado oil to salsa and salads. When avocado or avocado oil, both rich in monounsaturated fats, was added to salsa, the absorption of fat-soluble carotenoids was up to four times higher than when the salsa was avocado-free. If that’s not enough, when avocado was added to salads, the researchers found that absorption of carotenoids was up to 15 times higher than when the salads were consumed avocado-free (i.e., fat-free).9

By now, you’re starting to see the picture, and recent research from Purdue sheds even more light on the types of fats that may be best for salads and veggies. In a 2012 study published in the journal Molecular Nutrition & Food Research, participants were fed salads topped off with saturated (e.g., butter), monounsaturated (e.g., olive oil), and polyunsaturated (e.g., soybean oil) fat-based dressings, and researchers tested their blood for absorption of fat-soluble carotenoids. The researchers found that monounsaturated (e.g., olive-oil) fat-rich dressings led to the greatest carotenoid absorption.10 In all cases, there was a dose-dependent relationship between the amount of fat consumed and the absorption of carotenoids (i.e., the amount of fat has the strongest effect on bioavailability of carotenoids), and soybean oil salad dressing was most dependent on dose.

To make matters worse, soybean oil is rich in omega-6 fatty acids, which promote inflammation, particularly when they are consumed in excess of omega-3 fats (e.g., fish oil).11 In fact, researchers attribute the ubiquity of soybean oil, which is the most common oil used in store-bought salad dressings, in the modern day food supply to the massive imbalance of the average individual’s consumption of omega-6 fatty acids relative to omega-3 fats.12 This omega imbalance is connected to an increase in nearly all inflammatory diseases, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, metabolic syndrome, irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, rheumatoid arthritis, asthma, mood disorders, mental illness, autoimmune disease, and more.13

“If you want to utilize more from your fruits and vegetables, you have to pair them correctly with fat-based dressings,” said Mario Ferruzzi, a Purdue associate professor of food science. “If you have a salad with a fat-free dressing, there may be a reduction in calories, but you lose some of the benefits of the vegetables.”

The take-home point: Don’t fear the fat. Pair your vegetables with healthy, whole food fats, particularly those rich in monounsaturated fats like extra virgin olive oil, olives, avocados, avocado oil, almonds, almond oil, macadamia nuts, and macadamia nut oil.



  1. United States Department of Agriculture. Why is it important to eat vegetables? http://choosemyplate.gov/food-groups/vegetables-why.html.
  2. Whigham LD, Valentine AR, Johnson LK, Zhang Z, Atkinson RL, Tanumihardjo SA. Increased vegetable and fruit consumption during weight loss effort correlates with increased weight and fat loss. Nutr Diabetes. 2012;2:e48. doi:10.1038/nutd.2012.22.
  3. Tapsell LC, Batterham MJ, Thorne RL, O’Shea JE, Grafenauer SJ, Probst YC. Weight loss effects from vegetable intake: a 12-month randomised controlled trial. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2014;68(7):778-785. doi:10.1038/ejcn.2014.39.
  4. National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. Can eating fruits and vegetables help people to manage their weight? Weight Manag Res Pract Ser. 1. http://www.cdc.gov/nccdphp/dnpa/nutrition/pdf/rtp_practitioner_10_07.pdf.
  5. Rao A, Rao L. Carotenoids and human health. Pharmacol Res. 2007;55(3):207-216. doi:10.1016/j.phrs.2007.01.012.
  6. Betteridge DJ. What is oxidative stress? Metabolism. 2000;49(2 Suppl 1):3-8.
  7. Floyd RA. Antioxidants, oxidative stress, and degenerative neurological disorders. Proc Soc Exp Biol Med Soc Exp Biol Med N Y N. 1999;222(3):236-245.
  8. Brown MJ, Ferruzzi MG, Nguyen ML, et al. Carotenoid bioavailability is higher from salads ingested with full-fat than with fat-reduced salad dressings as measured with electrochemical detection. Am J Clin Nutr. 2004;80(2):396-403.
  9. Unlu NZ, Bohn T, Clinton SK, Schwartz SJ. Carotenoid absorption from salad and salsa by humans is enhanced by the addition of avocado or avocado oil. J Nutr. 2005;135(3):431-436.
  10. Goltz SR, Campbell WW, Chitchumroonchokchai C, Failla ML, Ferruzzi MG. Meal triacylglycerol profile modulates postprandial absorption of carotenoids in humans. Mol Nutr Food Res. 2012;56(6):866-877. doi:10.1002/mnfr.201100687.
  11. Bosma-den Boer MM, van Wetten M-L, Pruimboom L. Chronic inflammatory diseases are stimulated by current lifestyle: how diet, stress levels and medication prevent our body from recovering. Nutr Metab. 2012;9(1):32. doi:10.1186/1743-7075-9-32.
  12. Blasbalg TL, Hibbeln JR, Ramsden CE, Majchrzak SF, Rawlings RR. Changes in consumption of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in the United States during the 20th century. Am J Clin Nutr. 2011;93(5):950-962. doi:10.3945/ajcn.110.006643.
  13. Hibbeln JR, Nieminen LRG, Blasbalg TL, Riggs JA, Lands WEM. Healthy intakes of n-3 and n-6 fatty acids: estimations considering worldwide diversity. Am J Clin Nutr. 2006;83(6 Suppl):1483S – 1493S.

Extreme Makeover: Kitchen Edition

5 Feb

Extreme Makeover: Kitchen Edition

By Tim Skwiat, MEd, CSCS, Pn1

In Switch, an influential book on behavior change, brothers Chip and Dan Heath conjured an image of a person riding an elephant to describe the challenge of the change-making progress. In short, the Heath brothers’ metaphor translates like this:

  • The rider is the voice of reason. He is the “logical” brain that “knows” what to do and tries to control the powerful elephant, something he’s successful at doing…for a very short period of time.
  • The elephant represents raw, powerful emotions. It is physically strong and overpowering, and it is both figuratively and literally significantly larger than the rider. At some point or another, the elephant—our impulses and deep emotional needs—overcomes the rider.

With that in mind, both the rider—or, the “thinky” brain—and the elephant—the primal, emotional brain—both need to be “addressed” appropriately along the path to behavior change.

Speaking of path, the Heath brothers also discuss its significance in the change-making process. Specifically, whether the elephant realizes it or not, it is constrained to a certain path, or environment. In fact, the elephant’s path has an even greater effect on its actions than the “smart” rider.

In tangible terms, this means that in order to build better nutrition habits, you need to consider your environment and shape your path. While your environment can be influenced by social (e.g., people), cultural (e.g., expectations), and intellectual (e.g., beliefs) factors, we’re going to focus our attention on your physical environment—notably, your kitchen.

According to nutrition coach extraordinaire Dr. John Berardi, the “first law” of good nutrition is as follows:

 If a food is in your house or possession, either you, someone you love, or someone you marginally tolerate, will eventually eat it.

This is particularly discerning for a number of reasons, and it gives powerful insight into how strongly your environment can affect your eating habits and health goals. This law can be taken at surface level (e.g., if a trigger food is around, it could lead to trouble), or it can take it a step further (e.g., if your living mates aren’t “on board” with your goals, then you could be set up for failure).

What’s also neat about this law is that it has a corollary:

If a healthy food is in your house or possession, either you, someone you love, or someone you marginally tolerate will eventually eat it. 

With all of that being said, you can see that you have the power to shape your path toward healthy eating habits and good nutrition behaviors by taking a look at your environment (i.e., kitchen) to identify (and trash) non-nutritious “junk” and “trigger” foods that promote overeating and poor eating habits and derail you from the path to optimal health, body composition, and performance. Likewise, this same process involves making sure that you have the nutrient-dense, health-promoting foods you need to support your goals, as well as the right tools to prepare them in a nutritious manner.

With that in mind, you are now the star of your own reality show: Extreme Makeover: Kitchen Edition!

This process can vary from person to person based on a number of factors (e.g., nutrition knowledge, socioeconomic background, roommates and family members), and a good place to start is with the following assessment:

PN Kitchen Makeover Questionnaire

This questionnaire helps to give you an idea of where your kitchen sits on the spectrum of makeover-ness, and it gives you an idea of the types of foods that you’ll find in a healthy kitchen—along with those that you won’t—as well as the tools that you should have on hand to make sure that you have the capability to prepare healthy meals. In addition, it can give you some feedback about your food-related behaviors (e.g., grocery shopping, prepare foods in advance) and thought processes.

Once you’ve completed the Kitchen Makeover Questionnaire, it’s a good idea to start to get an idea of what foods will stay (and why) and what foods must go (and why). One very effective way to do this is to create a “trigger” list of red, yellow, and green light foods. You’ll start by identifying the red and yellow light foods because these are the items you’ll want to get out of the house. Then, we’ll move on to the green light foods, which will be the locus of your kitchen restocking efforts.

Red light foods are the obvious “junk foods” as well as foods that tend to prompt overeating. While the latter may be a bit more unique to you—for me, it’s nut butters—the former may include:

  • Baked goods
  • Cakes
  • Candy
  • Cheese spreads
  • Chips
  • Chocolate
  • Condiments
  • Cookies
  • Crackers
  • Diet soda
  • Dips
  • Ice cream
  • Instant foods
  • Frozen dinners
  • Fruit snacks
  • Margarine
  • Processed meats
  • Salad dressings
  • Sauces
  • Soda
  • Sweetened drinks
  • Take-out leftovers
  • Vegetable oils
  • Alcohol is negotiable

Yellow light foods are a bit less obvious junk foods, and we like to call these “trick foods.” These foods are generally masqueraded as healthy, but they are far cry from whole, minimally processed foods. Some examples include:

  • Bagels
  • Breads
  • Breakfast cereals
  • Dried Fruit
  • Energy bars
  • Frozen yogurt
  • Fruit-flavored yogurt
  • Fruit juice
  • Granola bars
  • Light/fat-free yogurt
  • Organic “junk” food
  • Pretzels
  • Regular peanut butter
  • Trail mix

As we’ll talk about below, you don’t have to throw out everything. The makeover—just like your body transformation—is a journey. If you’re not ready to toss something, that’s okay. This is a dynamic process, and you’ll just want to continue to be aware (i.e., notice and name) of your relationship with any red or yellow light foods that you keep.

Some people find that getting rid of a couple of things each week—and displacing them with green light foods—works really well. They hold onto their lists of red and yellow light foods, and they cross them off as they go (and they don’t buy more of them).

Green light foods are those that are nutritious and health-promoting, and these are the foods with which you’ll want to stock your kitchen. Along these lines, the corollary to the “first law” of good nutrition says that having healthy foods available to prepare and eat is just as important as getting rid of the “junk” food.

The Kitchen Makeover Questionnaire is a great stepping stone to help you stock your kitchen with nutritious foods, and along with that, the following list may help you with this portion of your kitchen makeover:

Superfood Reference Guide

That guide is a great start, and it emphasizes that you can’t go wrong with whole, minimally processed foods. In addition, the following checklist provides some additional options, along with some coaching tips for navigating the aisles of the grocery store:

Super Market Survival Guide

If at any point during this process you’re feeling a little ambivalent or doubtful, that’s okay. It’s completely normal to want to hang onto that bag of potato chips like a life-saving flotation device or be a bit indecisive about throwing out and “wasting” food.

In the case of the former, this doesn’t have to be an “all or nothing” situation, and you can revert back to your red, yellow, and green light lists to establish a makeover continuum. Remember, this is your journey, and you have control over shaping the path.

If you choose not to remove something now, simply notice how you respond by keeping it around. You might find that the bag of chips is more like an anchor and less like a flotation device. Shaping the path is a dynamic process, and you may find that you add and subtract foods and tools over time, as well as maneuver your kitchen for optimal food prep.

In terms of “wasting” food, you might ask yourself a couple of questions:

  • Is this really “food” in the first place? It’s likely that most of the things that you’ll be tossing out are mere resemblances of food-related items with little to no health-redeeming qualities. With that in mind, you’re not technically wasting any “food.”
  • Also, you might ask yourself, what would be more of a waste: getting rid of the cheap “food” or ingesting it and allowing it to work against your health and body composition goals by increasing body fat and inflammation?

Remember, this is a process, but it’s an important one. Going back to the metaphor at the beginning, the elephant is stubborn and powerful, and yet it is constrained to its path, which has a much greater effect on the direction it travels (i.e., behavior) than the rider.

By modifying the path (e.g., the kitchen makeover), the job of the rider is considerably easier. Although you may experience some feelings of ambivalence and contradiction initially, changes in your surrounding environment relieve the rider and help to motivate the elephant. Ultimately, shaping your path makes it easier to adopt healthy nutrition behaviors and eating habits, and therefore, optimize your health, body composition, and performance.

Exercise ALONE Doesn’t Work

19 Jun

Exercise ALONE Doesn’t Work
By Tim Skwiat, MEd., CSCS, Pn1

As a personal trainer, you are emblazoned with the opportunity to help people improve their health and fitness, overcome aches and pains, improve their performance, and much, much more. With this opportunity comes great responsibility. You see, you are not just a trainer, you are a coach, and you are charged with the opportunity and responsibility to get your clients from where they are to where they want to be.

The vast majority of your clients are coming to you to help them improve their body composition — to lose body fat, to add calorie-burning lean muscle mass, or some combination of the two. As a great trainer, you understand the importance of a progressive, personalized training program to help these folks achieve their goals.

However, I’m here to share some sobering research with you to highlight the fact that exercise, in the absence of nutritional intervention, is shamefully lacking when it comes to producing the desired fat loss that your clients seek.

When asked what the best exercise is for developing six-pack abs, renowned strength coach Mike Boyle will tell you, with a straight face and without hesitation, “Table push-aways.” The fact of the matter is that you can’t out-train a crappy diet.

As a matter of fact, a recent study demonstrated shockingly embarrassing results after 16 weeks of a solid training program. In the study, researchers assigned overweight folks to either a control group — where they didn’t exercise at all — or an exercise group.

The participants assigned to the exercise group trained for five total hours per week: three hours performing strength-training exercises with an Olympic weightlifting coach and two hours performing circuit training with a group exercise instructor. Throughout the course of the study, the scientists gathered data on body composition, as well as various other measures.

While the exercisers did get better results than the non-exercisers, the results were nothing short of embarrassing…

The control group gained 1 pound of lean mass, lost a ½ pound of body fat, and lost 0.5% body fat.

The exercise group gained 3 pounds of lean mass, lost 2 pounds of body fat, and lost 1.5% body fat.

While the control group sat on their rear ends, the exercise group trained intensely for 80 hours and lost only a few measly pounds to show for their effort! Ouch.


We could look at a couple other studies that show the same exact, pathetic results of exercise without nutritional intervention:

• In a study conducted at the University of Oklahoma, researchers again had the exercising group perform five hours of training each week and compared the results with a non-exercising control group. In this study, the exercisers performed three hours of aerobic exercise and two hours of resistance training. At the end of 10 weeks, the exercising group had dropped a measly 1 ½ pounds of fat.

• Researchers in Australia looked at the effects of an aerobic exercise program on the body composition of 58 obese men and women. The subjects exercised at 70% maximum heart rate five times per week (each session totaling 500 calories burned) for 12 weeks. At the end of the study, the subjects measured disappointing, “less-than-expected” average weight loss of less than 2 pounds.

• This seems so strong, in fact, that the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) Position Stand, “Appropriate intervention strategies for weight loss and prevention of weight regain for adults”, states there is little evidence to suggest that exercise-alone is as effective as energy restriction for promoting weight loss.

While there are handfuls more to show, let’s offer some research that demonstrates the promising perspective of what happens when we add nutritional intervention to an exercise program:

• In a meta-analysis analyzing data from 25 years of research, scientists found that 15 weeks of combined dietary and exercise intervention produced a staggering 22-pound average weight loss that was also maintained by the subjects after one year.

• In a 9-month study at the University of Pennsylvania, researchers separated subjects into one of three groups: 1. diet (D) intervention; 2. exercise (E) intervention; or 3. diet + exercise (DE) intervention. You guessed it: the DE group demonstrated a significantly greater weight loss than either the D or E groups. Notably, the D group also lost significantly more weight than the E group.

• Researchers in Seattle performed a similar study to the one above but added a control (C) group and carried out the research for 12 months. In this study, the E group did lose slightly more weight than the C group, but the DE group blew those results out of the water: DE resulted in 3 ½ times greater weight loss than E alone.

The point of this is most certainly not to deter, frustrate, or upset you. You already know that a properly structured exercise program is part of the equation, and a significant one at that. The point, on the other hand, is to make it very clear that to optimize your clients’ efforts, their nutrition is going to play a huge role in their success — and yours. As your resource for honest nutrition and health information, it is a privilege to help you learn the tools of the trade that you can implement effectively and efficiently to best assist your clients. That will be the aim of this column moving forward, and I look forward to it!


Caudwell P et al. Exercise alone is not enough: weight loss also needs a healthy (Mediterranean) diet? Public Health Nutr. 2009 Sep;12(9A):1663-6.

Foster-Schubert KE et al. Effect of diet and exercise, alone or combined, on weight and body composition in overweight-to-obese postmenopausal women. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2012 Aug;20(8):1628-38.

Jakicic JM et al. American College of Sports Medicine position stand. Appropriate intervention strategies for weight loss and prevention of weight regain for adults. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2001 Dec;33(12):2145-56.

King NA et al. Beneficial effects of exercise: shifting the focus from body weight to other markers of health. Br J Sports Med. 2009 Dec;43(12):924-7.

Lockwood CM et al. Minimal nutrition intervention with high-protein/low-carbohydrate and low-fat, nutrient-dense food supplement improves body composition and exercise benefits in overweight adults: A randomized controlled trial. Nutr Metab (Lond). 2008; 5: 11.

Miller WC et al. A meta-analysis of the past 25 years of weight loss research using diet, exercise or diet plus exercise intervention. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord. 1997 Oct;21(10):941-7.

Volpe SL et al. Effect of diet and exercise on body composition, energy intake and leptin levels in overweight women and men. J Am Coll Nutr. 2008 Apr;27(2):195-208.

Thermodynamics: a Calorie is NOT a Calorie

4 Apr

Thermodynamics: a Calorie is NOT a Calorie

by Tim Skwiat, MEd, CSCS, Pn1

While I would certainly agree that energy balance plays a predominant role in weight loss and weight gain,  I do not agree that the quality of one’s food choices does not make a difference. A calorie-based approach to weight loss — strictly referring to the quantity of calories and not the quality — is not the most effective or efficient way to reach your weight loss goals.

While I could offer an off-the-wall example of consuming 2,000 calories a day from pure sugar versus the same number of calories from carrots, that is not applicable real world. However, there is strong data to suggest that simply replacing calories from carbohydrates with an equivalent amount of protein is enough of a stimulus to promote improved body composition.

As a matter of fact, researchers at the University of Illinois assigned women to either a high-carbohydrate diet or a high-protein diet, both with the same overall calorie intake. After 10 weeks, both groups lost weight while dieting, but the high-protein group — which simply replaced some calories from carbohydrate with protein — lost more weight overall and nearly double the amount of body fat.

Not only does a higher protein intake yield greater weight loss, more importantly, it results in more fat loss and retention of more calorie-burning lean muscle mass. What’s more, the high protein group had improved levels of blood triglycerides and reported greater satiety throughout the course of the 10 weeks of dieting. The scientists concluded with the following:

“This study demonstrates that increasing the proportion of protein to carbohydrate in the diet of adult women has positive effects on body composition, blood lipids, glucose homeostasis and satiety during weight loss.”

While empirical evidence suggests that rising obesity rates parallel the increase in consumption of processed foods, another group of researchers from the Ponoma College Department of Biology set out to see if there was a difference in the thermogenic response to eating whole foods versus processed foods.

These researchers found that both the Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR) — the primary contributor to your metabolism — and the TEF of eating whole foods is significantly higher than eating the same number of calories from processed foods. The TEF of the whole food meal was nearly double that of the processed food meal, which was comparable to the processed food meal in overall energy, proteins, carbohydrates, and fats.

Participants burned 50% more calories after eating the whole food meal. What’s more, the participants that consumed the processed foods experienced a drop in their metabolic rate below their RMR in the hours after the meal, while the whole food group never fell below their RMR. The whole food group also experienced an elevation in metabolism an hour longer after the meal than the processed food group.

If that’s not enough convincing information, a recent study at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has shown that regular consumption of processed junk foods — implicated in all manner of health problem — is the biggest dietary driver of tissue inflammation. The study, recently published in the PLOS ONE online journal, analyzed inflammatory responses in rats fed different diets: control diets, a lard-based high-fat diet and a “cafeteria junk-food” diet consisting of nutrient-poor snacks such as salami, chocolate, cookies and chips.

Lead researcher Liza Makowski stated, “The rodents that ate the junk-food diet gained the most weight and displayed tissue inflammation.” The scientists were particularly interested to find a specific metabolite in the junk-food eaters that could spur as much inflammation as toxins in certain bacteria. “This metabolite could be the signal that starts the snowball effect of inflammation leading to metabolic syndrome,” Makowski says. This can result in obesity and high blood pressure, and is a precursor to type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer.

While the research correlating food additives — from artificial sweeteners to dyes to preservatives — is in its infancy, researchers are investigating this connection every day to help point a finger to a causative relationship.

One very common food additive with which many of us are familiar, MSG, has already been linked to obesity in research. Researchers that collected data from the China Health and Nutrition Survey concluded, “MSG consumption was positively, longitudinally associated with overweight development among apparently healthy Chinese adults.”

Researchers have also made connections between artificial sweeteners and weight gain. In one study that recently appeared in the scientific journal Appetite, scientists compared the effects of feeding rats yogurt sweetened with either sucrose (i.e., table sugar) or the artificial sweeteners saccharin (Sweet ‘n Low®) and aspartame (Equal®) on body weight and total caloric intake. The researchers found that, compared to sucrose, the addition of the artificial sweeteners to yogurt resulted in increased weight gain, despite similar total caloric intake among groups.

Do you still believe that a calorie is a calorie, or that weight loss is simply a matter of pure thermodynamics? Put these take-home points to use right away to optimize your metabolism, overall health, and weight loss efforts:

  • Increase your protein intake and reduce your overall carbohydrate intake.
  • Focus predominantly on whole foods, or what we call one-ingredient foods.
  • Reduce or completely eliminate processed foods.
  • Reduce or completely eliminate foods with additives, like artificial sweeteners and preservatives.


Layman DK, et al. A reduced ratio of dietary carbohydrate to protein improves body composition and blood lipid profiles during weight loss in adult women. J Nutr. 2003 Feb;133(2):411-7.

Barr, S., Wright, J. Postprandial Energy Expenditure in Whole-Food and Processed-Food Meals: Implications for Daily Energy Expenditure. Food and Nutrition Research. July 2010. 2(54), 144-150.

Sampey BP, et al. Metabolomic profiling reveals mitochondrial-derived lipid biomarkers that drive obesity-associated inflammation. PLoS One. 2012;7(6):e38812.

He K, et al. Consumption of monosodium glutamate in relation to incidence of overweight in Chinese adults: China Health and Nutrition Survey (CHNS). Am J Clin Nutr. 2011 Jun;93(6):1328-36.

Feijó Fde M, et al. Saccharin and aspartame, compared with sucrose, induce greater weight gain in adult Wistar rats, at similar total caloric intake levels. Appetite. 2013 Jan;60(1):203-7.

Mindful Eating: HOW do You Eat?

31 Mar

Mindful Eating: HOW do You Eat?

by Tim Skwiat, MEd, CSCS, Pn1

“Hara Hachi Bu” – Confucius

When it comes to eating for fat loss and improving overall health, everyone wants to know “what” and “how much” to eat. These are important questions, no doubt, as certain foods will fuel your goals better than others. What’s more, portion control is a key player in regulating energy balance, and we all know that we have to eat less to lose more.

But, let’s be honest, calorie counting can be annoying and time consuming, and measuring and weighing foods can be even worse. In the short-term, these can be very useful tools to give you a better idea of exactly what you’re putting in your body, but these are unsustainable actions, which means they won’t last.

Very infrequently, however, do we talk about “how” we eat. Do you eat quickly like you have two brothers hawking over your plate? Do you eat while watching TV or checking your e-mail? Do you count the number of times you chew before you swallow? Do you think about where your food originated?

New research indicates that how we eat can actually aid, or impede, our fat loss efforts. Researchers suggest that “eating attentively” may be latest, most valuable tool in winning the battle of the bulge.

In a brand new research article that appeared in the April 2013 issue of the prestigious American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, scientists from the University of Birmingham (United Kingdom) reviewed 24 different studies that examined the effect that manipulating memory, distraction, awareness, or attention has on food intake.

The scientists found that eating when distracted not only causes you to eat more at that meal or snack, but, get this, causes you to eat an even greater amount later on in subsequent meals.  On the other hand, the researchers found that being more attentive to meals and using “food memories” (i.e., using visual reminders of meals, keeping food wrappers) led to decreased food intake both immediately and at later meals.

This research provides clear evidence that the practice of “mindful eating” is increasingly important when trying to lose stubborn fat. As a matter of fact, the authors of the study concluded:

“Evidence indicates that attentive eating is likely to influence food intake, and incorporation of attentive-eating principles into interventions provides a novel approach to aid weight loss and maintenance without the need for conscious calorie counting.”

Here are some helpful tips to increase your attentiveness while eating and put mindful eating practices to use right away:

  • Remove Distractions. As the researchers suggested, distractions cause you to eat more. Turn off the TV, shut down the computer, and set your phone in another room. As a matter of fact, sit at the table and take the time to enjoy your meal.
  • Use Smaller Plates. Appearance can be deceiving. A smaller plate that’s full is much more satisfying than a large plate that is half empty because it gives the impression that there is a more abundant amount of food.
  • Take Your Time. Cara Stewart, Registered Dietician and member of the Penn Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery team, says that it takes approximately 20 minutes for your brain and stomach to register fullness. I don’t know about you, but I can put a lot of food down in 20 minutes. Taking your time allows you to better gauge your level of fullness and satiety.
  • “Hara Hachi Bu.” This ancient Confucian adage literally means “Eat until you are 8 parts (out of 10) full” or “belly 80% full.” Practice this wise teaching when you eat by stopping your meal when you are almost full — not stuffed.
  • Chew Thoroughly. I’ve seen people literally swallow pieces of meat whole, like they’re afraid someone’s going to take the food right out of their mouth. Take your time with each bite and try to recognize different tastes and textures. A good guide is to chew each bite 20 times. The added benefit of this is that digestion starts in the mouth, so you can also avoid some GI distress by chewing more thoroughly.
  • Take Smaller Bites. Cut your food into smaller pieces, which will help increase the duration of the meal. You could even use baby utensils to help decrease the size of each bite. This will also help you feel like you’ve eaten more.
  • Put Your Fork Down. Remember, your fork is not a shovel. You can set it down between bites, which will help you focus on the taste, look, smell, and feel of your meal and help you to slow down your pace.
  • Have a Conversation. Gasp! Yep, I mean actually talk to someone while you’re eating. You’re already sitting at the table, you might as well ask your partner and children how their days were. If you have any manners, you won’t talk and chew at the same time, so this will slow down your eating, as well as enhance the memory of the meal.
  • Eat with Your Non-Dominant Hand. Michael Jordan once said that one of the reasons he is the greatest basketball player of all time is because everything that he did with his right hand he also did with his left — from dribbling a basketball to brushing his teeth. Not only will doing this enhance your dexterity, the awkwardness of this task will force you to slow down your eating and take smaller bites.

Put these mindful eating habits to use right away and watch your waistline — and your calorie counting frustrations — disappear!


Robinson E, et al. Eating attentively: a systematic review and meta-analysis of the effect of food intake memory and awareness on eating. Am J Clin Nutr. 2013 Apr;97(4):728-42.