Tag Archives: weight loss

Your metabolism explained. And the only real way to “boost” it!

 

Many people are interested in speeding up their metabolism in an effort to lose weight. There are drugs, supplements, and even certain foods that are thought to increase metabolism. The effectiveness of many of these things is unproven and some may actually be dangerous. The goal of this article, and my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week, is to explain what the term “metabolism” really means and how it can be changed.

Diet pills


Metabolism refers all of your body’s processes that expend energy, or burn calories. Practically, this is how much carbohydrate, fat, and protein is burned throughout the day to provide energy for your cells. This matters because if expending more energy than you consume in your diet can lead to weight loss over time.

The amount of energy you expend in a day is composed of three main components: your resting metabolic rate (RMR), something called the thermic effect of food (TEF), and the energy you expend in activity.

Resting metabolic rate (RMR) is sometimes called the basal metabolic rate (BMR), but many people refer to it as their “metabolism.” No matter which name is used, it refers to the calories you burn at rest. It represents the energy needed to maintain your essential body functions: heart rate, breathing, body temperature, and normal cellular processes.

The RMR is important because it represents about 60–70% of the total calories a typical person burns in a typical day. Even though RMR is important, you shouldn’t worry about it too much.

First, it is difficult to change. RMR is based mostly on your lean body mass, so the only way to increase it is to gain muscle mass. While this is a good goal, it is challenging to do, especially while you trying to losing weight.

Second, although it does vary among people, it isn’t as different as people like to think. It is easy to think that someone who gains weight has a “slow metabolism” or that someone who is thin must have a “fast metabolism.” In reality, the RMR probably isn’t much different, certainly when you take lean body mass (muscle) into account. The explanation for the differences in weight among people probably has more to do with what they eat and how active they are.

The thermic effect of food (TEF) represents the energy needed to digest, absorb, and store the nutrients you eat. It accounts for only about 10% of your total energy expenditure and it is practically impossible to change, so you can ignore it.

Activity is the most variable component of energy expenditure and the one you can most readily change. Obviously, it will vary based on how active you are, but for most people it accounts for 20–30% of total energy expenditure.

Activity includes both purposeful movement such as exercise and doing work or tasks that require you to move. Activity also includes non-exercise activity thermogenesis or NEAT, the calories you burn when you move around, but not in a purposeful way. Maintaining your posture when sitting or standing, fidgeting in your chair, or other light movements count as NEAT.

The surest way for you to increase your metabolism is to limit the time you spend sitting, be active as possible at all times, and dedicate time to exercise every day. Doing prolonged aerobic exercise such as walking, jogging, or exercise classes directly burns calories and including strength training will help increase your muscle mass, which can increase up your RMR.

The bottom line is that speeding up your metabolism requires you to move. So, get up off the couch and go for a walk!


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Too fat to fly! Weight loss tips from the North Pole.

There is a problem at the North Pole! Santa’s reindeer are unable fly, putting his Christmas plans in jeopardy. It turns out that the reindeer are suffering from a common problem, one that you might be dealing with, too. Fortunately, Santa has a solution that can help his reindeer and save Christmas. This is the topic of my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week.

toofattofly


According to the children’s book Too Fat to Fly by Doreen Belleville, Santa’s reindeer have gained weight in the “off season.” Too much sitting around and too many snacks and treats have resulted in weight gain to the point where the reindeer simply can’t do their job. Sound familiar? Whether it comes during the holidays or gradually throughout the year, weight gain is common for many people. And, like the reindeer, it often goes unnoticed until it is too late—trying to fit into your old suit or favorite dress, for example.

It’s not just the weight that is the problem. The long, lazy vacation has allowed the reindeer to become unfit. They simply aren’t strong enough and don’t have the endurance to pull Santa’s sleigh. Again, a decline in fitness over time is something many of us experience and we may not notice it until we do something strenuous that makes it clear we are out of shape.

In the book we learn that the solution is both simple and well-known. Santa charges his elves with getting the reindeer back in shape, in terms of both fitness and fatness. The snacks are replaced with healthy meals containing lots of fruits and vegetables. And days spent lying around are now spent in the gym and going for walks outdoors.

Like many of us, the reindeer have a tough time adjusting to their new exercise routine. The treadmills are tricky for them, until they get the hang of it. For many of us, exercise equipment and new types of exercise can be intimidating. But with some guidance from the elves (or a personal trainer) you may find that trying new forms of exercise can really help you, just like it did for the reindeer.

The reindeer followed a diet that emphasized fruits and vegetables. Despite the controversy over which diet is the best, almost everyone agrees that more fruits and vegetables and fewer calories from added sugars will help you lose weight. These foods are lower in calories than many other options, contain fiber to help you feel full, and replace less healthy foods you might otherwise pick. Carrots and apples, what the elves picked for the reindeer, are excellent choices, but pretty much any fruits and vegetables will work. Of course, you should eat other foods in moderation, too, including whole grains, meat, and dairy.

The good news is that the diet and exercise program helped the reindeer lose weight and get back in shape in time for Christmas can work for you, too. While you may not see such rapid results, if you are careful with what you eat and dedicate time every day for exercise, you can lose weight relatively quickly. It’s not easy for people or for reindeer, but weight loss and improved fitness are achievable.

Looking forward, continuing to eat a healthy diet and exercising regularly can save you the trouble of trying to lose weight next year at this time. It is always easier to maintain weight and stay fit than it is to lose weight and get back in shape. I’m sure that’s a lesson Santa will teach his reindeer!


Nutrition, exercise, and health information can be confusing. 
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The one thing

One of the courses I teach at USC Aiken is Health & Behavior Change. In it, we identify the major factors that contribute to chronic diseases and discuss how to modify these risk factors to improve health. Throughout the course, the emphasis is on health behaviors and how to change them for the better.

thing-one


For example, smoking is among the most difficult health-related behaviors to change. Obviously, there is the addictive nature of nicotine that makes smoking cessation challenging. Beyond the drug effect, smoking also has a behavioral component. This includes what a smoker does first thing in the morning, after a meal, or on a work break as well as the act of holding a cigarette in his or her hand. Add to that the social aspects of smoking, including the influence of friends and family members, and it is easy to understand why it is a difficult habit to break.

This same principle applies to other health behaviors, including eating and activity. Like smoking, what we eat and our activity level are complex behaviors that are difficult to change. Because of this, losing weight can be as difficult as quitting smoking for similar biological and behavioral reasons. We think of weight loss as being about a diet or exercise program, but it’s really about changing behaviors and habits.

This is a difficult concept to teach, so I have my students learn through experience. Since almost all of my students are non-smokers and most are active and at a healthy body weight, I have them complete a project in which they change some other behavior. They are responsible for identifying a behavior that has a negative effect on their life, coming up with a plan to change it, and embarking on a four-week behavior change experience. Common topics for my students include getting more sleep, packing a lunch to avoid eating out, and dedicating more time to studying.

One student wanted to change her social media habits. As a compulsive social media user, she spent more hours than she realized checking, posting, and commenting on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and others. Her goal was to limit her social media time so that it didn’t interfere with classes or studying. One of the steps she took was to turn off the notifications that alerted her to new activity. This was helpful, but she still found the habit of checking her phone hard to break.

In a conversation, she noted that the one thing that would help more than anything else would be to switch her phone off during the day. This way she would have her phone if she needed it, but it wouldn’t be so easy, or tempting, to use it. Despite knowing the most effective strategy—the one thing—that would help her, she never did it.

I thought this was an excellent example of something that is common in making health behavior changes. In many cases, people probably know the one thing they need to do to be successful but for a host of reasons, they don’t do it. This may lead people to make other changes that aren’t nearly as helpful. While even the smallest behavior modifications can help, successfully losing weight or quitting smoking really does require making big changes.

This goes a long way in explaining why quitting smoking, losing weight, and changing eating and activity behaviors can be so difficult, even when people know what they need to do. There is no easy solution for this problem, but finding someone to hold you accountable for making the necessary changes and sticking to them is a good start.


Nutrition, exercise, and health information can be confusing. 
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What’s trending in fitness?

There seems to always be something new in the fitness world. Whether it is a new piece of equipment in the gym, a new group exercise class, or a new way to perform traditional exercises, the fitness industry is constantly evolving. Some of these become popular enough that they are considered “trends,” attracting attention from fitness experts and exercise novices alike. Even if you aren’t a fitness enthusiast, you may be wearing one of these trends on your wrist.

Each year the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) surveys health and fitness professionals to identify exercise trends for the upcoming year. The report for 2017 was just published, so it is a good time to catch up on the leading fitness trends to look for in the upcoming year. Some of these are new, but many of the top trends are still popular from previous years. This is the topic of my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week.

fitness-tracker


No surprise, the biggest fitness trend for 2017 is wearable fitness technology. Even if you don’t exercise regularly, you may have a fitness tracker. From activity trackers like the Fitbit to heart rate monitors, the newest “wearables” are sophisticated tools for recording your steps per day, distance you run, and calories you burn. Some, like the new Apple Watch, have multiple functions while others, like GPS watches, provide specific information. Make sure to pick the device that meets your needs… and your budget, as they can get expensive!

Next on the list is body weight training. Popular for building strength and endurance with minimal equipment, body weight training goes far beyond the push-ups and pull-ups you may remember doing in PE class. This type of training can be done almost anywhere, which is good news for people who are on a budget or want to train at home.

Following that is high-intensity interval training (HIIT), which uses repeated cycles of short, maximal or near-maximal exercise alternated with short rest periods. These HIIT sessions last less than 30 minutes but lead to fitness improvements that exceed those of traditional longer-duration training. Beginning exercisers should note that HIIT training is intense, so starting slow is recommended.

Fourth on the list is educated and experienced fitness professionals. You should look for a facility that requires the staff to have fitness certifications that involve both education and experience. Finding a personal trainer or group exercise instructor who has experience working with people like you is important, so ask for recommendations and references to get the best match.

Strength training still ranks highly, at number five, and for good reason. In addition to building or toning muscles, strength training can make everyday activities easier, help maintain bone mass, and promote weight loss. Strength training is often incorporated into other types of exercise, so you don’t necessarily need to “pump iron” to build strength.

Rounding out the top ten are group training, Exercise is Medicine, yoga, personal training, and exercise for weight loss, all of which have been on the list for some time. While this list does not include every popular or “trendy” type of exercise, it does capture the components of most types of training. CrossFit, for example, is a combination of body weight, strength, and functional training involving high-intensity intervals in a group setting.

Whether you decide to follow a fitness trend or not, make sure you dedicate time every day to be active. Health and fitness will always be trendy!


Nutrition, exercise, and health information can be confusing. 
But it doesn't have to be that way.
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Improve your success by treating weight loss or exercise like a project

Almost everyone who starts a weight loss of exercise program does so with good intentions. Many get off to a good start and see beneficial results, at least initially. Unfortunately, long-term success is uncommon.

There are myriad reasons for this, but the way people manage their weight loss and exercise efforts is certainly among them. Think about it: when someone takes on a new diet or exercise program it is usually added to their typical routine. The problem with this approach  is that most people are busy, and there is little extra time in their day. As a consequence, the diet and exercise doesn’t get the time or attention is needs in order for people to be successful.

This is where the lessons of good project management can be helpful. In the workplace a major project is usually accomplished though defining the scope to the project, appropriate goal setting, allocation of resources (including time), and a mechanism to assess progress.

But many people who approach projects this way at work tend not to apply this process to health improvement projects at home. The result is poor planning, setting unrealistic goals, and failure to allocate appropriate resources, including time.

Especially time. Time to set goals, time to plan and prepare meals,  time to exercise, and, perhaps most important, time to assess and adjust the plan along the way.

Many of these problems could be avoided through the same good project management techniques that would be used at work. The idea of treating weight loss, exercise, and other health improvements as a project is the topic of my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week.

to-do-list


Think about the last time you tried to do something that was good for your health. Maybe you were trying to lose weight, eat a healthier diet, or start an exercise program. If you are like many people, your attempt wasn’t successful, at least in the long term. In fact, more than two-thirds of adults who lose weight gain it back and about 50% of those who start exercising quit within six months. The problem isn’t so much getting started, it is sticking to the program.

The number one reason why people abandon their diet and exercise is time. Dedicating time for exercise and to plan and prepare healthy meals is challenging. Most people are busy—maybe too busy—with work, family, and other responsibilities, so health improvement tends to take a lower priority.

Perhaps part of the solution is to treat health improvement like you would a project at work, rather than an “extra” activity. Using project management strategies that are common in the workplace could help you dedicate adequate time and resources to your next diet and exercise program. Here are some examples of how you can utilize the methods of one program management model to improve your chances for success:

Initiation

Identify what you need to change, set goals, and determine what resources you will need. For example, if you want to lose weight you should have a goal weight and timeline in mind. You can, and should, set both short-term and long-term goals. Then, think about what knowledge or tools you will need to get started. You should also tell others about your plan and identify people who can provide support.

Planning

This is where you determine when and how you will put your plan into action. If you need information about what to eat or decide to join a gym to exercise, this is the time to put those components in place. Take out your calendar and make time for preparing meals and daily exercise. Make a weekly menu of meals and a grocery list before you go to the store. Set a start and end date for your project, decide how you will monitor your progress, the think about “what if” scenarios.

Execution

Once you have yourself organized, it is time to begin! Hopefully, this is a bit easier since you planned ahead, but keep in mind that you will continuously need to revisit and modify your plan. This is important because one reason why people don’t succeed is that they don’t allow flexibility in their plan; once things go awry, they give up.

Monitoring

As you proceed through your weight loss or exercise program it is helpful to get feedback on your progress. Keeping track of your weight is a simple way to monitor. You can also keep a record of what you eat or what you do for exercise to see how you are progressing. Tying progress to rewards is important for keeping you motivated, just make sure the rewards are consistent with your goals.

Closing

In the office, this is the end of your project and the time when you file everything away and move on to something else. Health improvement projects tend to be ongoing, so this is your chance to review what worked, what didn’t work, and what you need to do to maintain your good health habits. This would also be a good time to get rid of your clothes that are now too big—otherwise you may end up in them again someday!


Nutrition, exercise, and health information can be confusing. 
But it doesn't have to be that way.
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 drbrianparr@gmail.com | http://twitter.com/drbrianparr

When it comes to weight loss, calories count (but don’t count calories)

When it comes to losing weight, calories count. Thanks to a host of wearable devices and mobile apps, counting calories has never been easier. This matters because losing weight almost always means cutting the calories that you eat and increasing the calories that you burn. This concept of “eat less, move more” is the foundation of nearly every effective weight loss program. This is the topic of my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week.

fitbit


Modern wearable devices and mobile apps allow you to track your weight, what you eat, and your activity fairly accurately. Many apps can measure the intensity of exercise by using the GPS and accelerometer features of your phone itself or by syncing with a wearable bracelet or belt clip. Some include heart rate to make the estimates even more precise. Using this technology, you can count steps, measure how many miles you walk or run, and estimate how many calories you burn.

Other apps can help you track what you eat. Whether you are counting calories or concerned about the amount of protein you are eating, diet analysis apps can show you what you are really eating. Most require you to enter the foods you eat and the app calculates calories, nutrients, sugar, salt, and water intake based on standard databases. In order to get accurate results, it is important to estimate portion sizes accurately, something that is challenging even for experts. That said, these apps can be useful for tracking what you eat to help you learn about your eating patterns to develop healthier habits or meet specific goals, such as eliminating added sugar from your diet.

Activity trackers and exercise apps are especially popular for improving fitness and promoting weight loss. Both the physical activity that you do throughout the day and dedicated exercise are important for good health, physical fitness, and weight control. This technology can help you know what to do, when to do it, and how much you did at the end of the day.

Even if you aren’t concerned about exactly how many calories your burned in an exercise class or how many steps you took during the day, these devices can help you develop healthier habits. Many people are simply unaware of how sedentary they are during the day or are unrealistic about how intense their workouts really are. For many people, an accurate report of how many steps they took or how many calories they burned is helpful for gauging their success and identifying things they can improve.

While these tools can be helpful, it is important to emphasize the importance of developing healthy habits in order to improve fitness, lose weight, or keep it off. A focus on “micromanaging” steps or calories may cause you to lose sight of the “big picture” changes you want to make. For example, you should strive to be as active as you can throughout the day, even if you have already met your step or calorie goal.

Keep in mind that there are very few people who failed to meet their fitness or weight loss goal because they didn’t have the latest activity tracker or fitness app. Real success comes from making lifestyle changes to incorporate healthy eating and activity habits that you can maintain without constant reminders. While technology can help you make those changes, it does not replace the dedication needed to develop lasting eating and activity habits to promote good health.


Nutrition, exercise, and health information can be confusing. 
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Telling the truth to yourself and hearing–no, expecting–it from others.

Earlier this week I wrote about the importance of being honest with yourself about your health. Unless you can honestly assess your own health and health behaviors, making meaningful changes simply won’t work. Living in denial about your weight or eating and exercise behaviors means that you can’t recognize what you need to change.

We should also expect others to be honest with us, too. While family and friends may be hesitant to voice their thoughts, especially about sensitive topics like weight, we should expect them to be supportive. And we should certainly expect medical professionals to tell us the truth about our health, even if we don’t want to hear it.

Unfortunately, many doctors, nurses, and fitness/wellness professionals are reluctant to bring up topics like weight for fear of offending a patient or client. This was expressed eloquently in a recent article in the New York Times.

While the goal should never be to offend or ridicule, I believe that health professionals should always bring up potential health issues and talk honestly about what people can do to improve their health.


Nutrition, exercise, and health information can be confusing. 
But it doesn't have to be that way.
What can I help you with?
 drbrianparr@gmail.com | http://twitter.com/drbrianparr