Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Break's Over

This is my first day back from Spring Break and let me tell you that this past few days have been a complete disaster. At least, food-wise. For the past week and a half, I've been trying to watch what I eat but it is almost impossible when I'm not the one cooking. There was also a lot of eating out. Because of all the eating out and the lack of control over the kitchen, I wasn't expecting NOT to gain any weight at all. I thought I was going to come back home 1 or 2 pounds heavier. However, I came back almost 5 pounds heavier! More than twice of what I was expecting!

I was a little shocked and very dissapointed but now I truly know the consequences of eating out on a regular basis. What shocks me the most is that I was trying to order the healthy stuff. I was going for the salads instead of the burger or fried rice. Yet, I managed to gain 5 pounds back.

I was all depressed and really unmotivated when I saw the scale this morning because I just couldn't understand where I had gone so horribly wrong. After all, all I had was salad. Then, I found this video. Take a look.

Who knew that restaurant salads had so many calories? Usually, I homemade salad is very low in calories that's probably why we think all salads are low-calorie. I guess we never really know how many calories we are eating when we eat out. For the time being, though, I think I'll keep eating out to a minimum.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Bored at Home

Pleasures of Tea: Recipes & RitualsYou know those days that you stay at home most of them day for some reason? Well, I personally hate those days. I try as much as I can not to stay at home because when I’m at home with not much to do, I go and open the fridge every 5 minutes. I sometimes don’t even take anything out of the fridge, but I still open it and see what’s in it. Most of the times, though, I unconsciously grab myself a snack. Then, all of the sudden I realized that I’ve been snacking all day without really being hungry – just bored. This is definitely not good when you’re trying to lose weight. I know some people read, other people knit as a way to keep your mind of food. For me, none of those options work. I love being in the kitchen. So instead of reading or knitting, I make tea. After all, tea is calorie-free and all that hot water keeps me from feeling hungry too. Plus, tea takes a while to drink since it is a hot drink. You sort of have to wait a bit for it cool down or drink it really slowly. So, tea keeps me away from snacking. Well, I guess you could call tea a snack but at least it has no calories.

To make it more interesting, I make the tea from scratch instead of using store-bought tea bags. I particularly like chai tea. Since chai tea has so many spices, making it also keeps me entertained for a while. Here’s the recipe I use:

10 whole coriander seeds
10 cardamom pods
3 whole cloves
1 cinnamon stick
1 teaspoon of black tea (or 2 bags)
2 cups of skim or 1% milk
  1. Take the cardamom seeds out of the pod.
  2. Using a mortar, lightly crush the coriander and cardamom seeds. If you don’t have a mortar, you can crush them using the bottom of a glass.
  3. Wrap the crushed seeds, cloves and the black tea in a piece of cheesecloth. If you don’t have cheesecloth at home, you can use a coffee filter. Also, if you’re using black tea bags, you don’t need to put the inside the cheesecloth or coffee filter – just wrap the crushed seeds and the cloves. Set this homemade tea bag aside.
  4. Bring milk close to a boil.
  5. To the milk, add the cinnamon stick and the homemade tea bag (plus the black tea bags, if applicable).
  6. Remove from heat and let it stand for 5 minutes.
  7. You can add some Splenda if you like.
You can also make this chai tea with water instead of milk. I like to use milk because that way I get some calcium in for the day. I use skim milk, though, to keep it low-calorie. But, this recipe turns out just as good if you were to use water instead of milk. The important thing here is the spices. You’ll be surprised at how good they smell when you’re crushing them. Plus, they have some antioxidants

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

5. Nutrition Facts - Scary Carbs

Carbs are by far my favourite subject. Just up until recently, fat used to be the bad guy then carbs took over. There really is no doubt that carbs have become a subject of conversation all over the world. Some people say there are bad while others say are good. However, what I find so interesting is how passionate people get about the subject. People who believe that carbs are bad really take their stand very seriously. Just to prove my point, I know people who don’t mind having a pound of bacon for dinner because bacon has no carbs. They don’t really care if there are thousands of calories or enourmous amounts of fat in that pound of bacon. All they care about is the carb content. To make matters more interesting, whenever there is a discussion revolving around carbs, they get very opinionated. Who knew carbs could evoke such strong emotions in us?
Anyway, let’s get to the facts. In general, we have carbs in the form of starch, sugars and fibre and either of these types can be found practically anywhere except for a few animal products like meats and cheese. Other than that, everything else has at least some carbs. Because carbs are so abundant in nature and our supermarkets, we have evolved in such a way that our bodies can easily digest carbs. In fact, carbohydrates are the easiest macronutrient to digest. We even start digesting carbs right at the mouth. We digest carbs so easily and efficiently also because our nervous system, mainly the brain, can only use glucose or glucose derivatives for energy. By the way, glucose is the building block of carbs. Thus, we need carbs to keep our brains awake. You might then be wondering why is it that our nervous system keeps working when we are on a no-carb diet? The reason is that when we have no carbs, we start using our body’s lean muscle or the protein we eat to make those glucose derivatives (ketones) that our nervous system is equipped to use. This switch from real glucose to ketones is what is very well known as starvation mode.

The main problem that people have with carbs is that they supposedly make you fat instead of helping you lose weight. Unfortunately, there is some truth to that. In our bodies, only a limited amount of carbs can be stored as carbs and the rest cannot be converted into anything else but fat. So if you have a few extra carbs and your carbohydrate storage is full, these extra carbs will turn into fat. However, this only applies to the excess of carbs. Thus, only excess carbs are the problem. To avoid this unwanted excess, you should be having between 45 and 65% of your calories as carbs. There is also a minimum requirement set at 130 grams of carbs per day. It is estimated that our nervous system needs this amount per day. In case you’re wondering, there are 4 calories in every gram of carbohydrate. Finally, don't forget that complex carbs (whole grain) will help you lose weight as opposed to sugars. The reccomendation is that you should be having no more than 25% of your calories from sugar. Although these are the established recommendations, nutritional labels use a daily value of 300g of carbs per 2000 calories. No wonder why we are always so confused about how much we actually need?

There is some good news, though. The diet programs that have reported the highest rates of success were using diets that included carbs as the main component. This is because carbs often provide you with that sense of fullness or satiety. Thus, you don’t have as many calories in the day and you don’t feel hungry for longer periods of time. Remember that your weight loss depends on the amount of calories in and the amount of calories out – that’s all.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Happy Valentine's Day!

My Hearts Desire Chocolate and Candy Gourmet Food Gift TowerThere is just so much chocolate around right now that it’s getting hard to resist. But, you know what? Chocolate is not at all that bad if you know which one to pick. Dark chocolate actually has these antioxidants known as tannins that are good for your health. As a matter of fact, tannins are the same antioxidant that you would find in green tea. However, notice that for dark chocolate to be beneficial, it has to be at least 60% cacao. Usually, when the cacao percentage is that high, it is quite bitter but it is still chocolate, right?

On the other hand, white chocolate is probably the worst type of chocolate you can have. Not only does it have close to no antioxidants but it is very high in calories and fat. In chocolate you have 3 main chocolaty ingredients: cocoa powder, cocoa butter and chocolate liquor. In white chocolate there is no cocoa powder but a lot of cocoa butter. Unfortunately, most antioxidants are found in cocoa powder due to its dark rich brown colour. So, the darker the chocolate is, the better it is for you. Thus, you can imagine why white chocolate is the worst of them all. 

The second worst is milk chocolate. In most cases, there is close to none real cocoa ingredients in milk chocolate and it has lots of sugar and milk solids. In fact, I’ve always found milk chocolate a bit suspicious. When you read the label on the package, it sometimes says something like chocolate product instead of milk chocolate. I don’t know what all that is about. Anyway, go for dark chocolate this Valentine’s day and enjoy! Don't forget to watch those calories, though. 

Friday, February 12, 2010


Who knew laughing could help you lose weight? There was this very interesting article published in the International Journal of Obesity about laughing and weight loss that I though would be fun to share. The article said that:

“…Just 15 minutes of laughter a day will burn 10 to 40 calories, depending on a person’s weight and the intensity of the laughter. That’s enough to shift between 1 and 4 lbs a year.”

The way they came up with this conclusion was by having 45 pairs of people. One person from each pair would watch a serious clip and the other would watch a funny clip. The rooms they were watching the clips in were set up with equipment ready to measure heart rate and heat. The people watching the funny clips often generated more heat when they were laughing. This means they were burning more calories since calories are units of heat.

Also, the article mentions that laughing is not only good for losing weight because you burn calories but also because it keeps you optimistic about your weight loss. Thus, you feel more motivated to keep going. So, there you go. Another great reason to laugh :)

Thursday, February 11, 2010

4. Nutrition Facts - Salty Sodium

When you’re trying to lose weight, you really want to watch how much salt you eat since too much salt usually causes some bloating, right? When I have a very salty dinner, I usually weigh more the next morning. Even if you don’t weigh yourself in every morning, you still feel a bit bloated. This is one of the disadvantages of sodium. Another disadvantage is that sodium is strongly related to hypertension. So, salt sure makes food tasty but it is not so good for your health. Yet, we still have to consume some sodium everyday because it is very important in our bodies. The minimum recommended daily amount is 500mg and the maximum is 2,400mg. Just to give you an idea of how much salt we should be having a day, ONE teaspoon has 2,000mg of sodium!

In my case, salt is one of those ingredients I don’t measure anymore. This is such a big problem for me, though, because I just love salt. I’m one of those people who always thinks that everything could use a bit more salt. Fortunately, I recently discovered the world of spices. I hadn’t never really cooked with spices because I, honestly, was a little scared. I just wasn’t sure how to use them or which ones to use. But I think they can be a great substitute of salt since they bring so much flavour to whatever it is that you’re cooking – especially since low-fat, low-calorie dishes tend to be somewhat bland. So, lately I’ve been cooking with spices. So far, so good although I still need recipes to guide me. I don’t think I’m ready to cook with spices on my own just yet.

However, I know not everyone is a fan of spices. Fortunately, there are other ways to reduce sodium intake:
  1. Buy fresh or frozen vegetables instead of canned. All canned products are typically very high in sodium.
  2. Avoid processed foods
  3. Avoid frozen or commercially-prepared (junk food) meals
  4. Stay away from foods packed in brine
  5. Eliminate the salt shaker
 As a rule of thumb, the more processed a food is, the more sodium it contains.

Monday, February 8, 2010

3. Nutrition Facts - Making Peace with Cholesterol

Cholesterol has a terrible reputation. We’ve all heard just how bad cholesterol is for you. However, cholesterol itself is not the real problem. The problem is how our body handles it. Our bodies have evolved to survive starvation and be prepared to face times of famine. This is why our bodies are so efficient at absorbing most nutrients. Now, going back to cholesterol. Cholesterol is a type of fat that can be found in the membranes of animal cells. This means that all foods of animal origin have cholesterol and all the foods coming from plants do not.

Back when we were cave man, we couldn’t just go to the grocery store and get ground turkey, right? We had to go out and chase a turkey around. And, maybe we wouldn’t see a turkey for months so we wouldn’t get any meat for months. Thus, our body developed this recycling system that would help keep necessary nutrients inside our bodies since these nutrients might not always be readily available. Cholesterol is one of those nutrients that takes advantage of this recycling system because food of animal origin was not always available. Here’s how this recycling works:
  1. You eat a cheeseburger that has lots of cholesterol
  2. The cheeseburger makes it all the way to the intestine
  3. In the intestine, the cholesterol gets absorbed
  4. The absorbed cholesterol is transported to the liver
  5. The liver takes the cholesterol to make several things your body needs like bile juices which are juices that help your body digest all the food we eat
  6. Bile juices containing cholesterol are released into the intestine to digest food
  7. Bile juices (still containing cholesterol) as well as fresh, new cholesterol is absorbed and the cycle starts all over again.
As you can see, cholesterol can rapidly accumulate in our bodies since we don’t excrete any (or almost any) of it. Back in the day, this recycling of cholesterol was not a problem since cholesterol was not as abundant in our diets, but now we consume cholesterol on a daily basis. To make things even more interesting, our body cannot break down cholesterol. Thus, all the extra cholesterol stays in the form of cholesterol usually floating around in our blood. This is when the extra cholesterol becomes dangerous since it can start the plaque-building process in our arteries.

But, what makes cholesterol so important? Why would we want to keep it in our bodies since it is, apparently, really bad for our health? Well, cholesterol is bad only if it starts to accumulate. Inside our bodies, cholesterol is responsible for many important functions like producing several hormones like testosterone. In fact, cholesterol is so important that if your body needs it, it can make it. Similarly, if you get the required cholesterol through your diet, your body will not make any.

Finally, the recommendation is that we should not be having more that 300mg of cholesterol a day - especially when your only having only 1200 calories a day like me. You don't want to be wasting calories on something your body can make.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

First 10 Pounds!

Artichoke's HeartIt’s been almost a month and I am very pleased to say that I have lost 10 pounds so far. Yay! As we all dieters know, losing weight is not easy and I’m no exception. However, I feel great. I don’t think I’ve ever had so much energy. There are really no words to describe how great it feels to lose weight. I actually feel proud of myself and all of you out there that are losing pound after pound every week should be very proud of yourselves too because it is hard to shed those pounds. I’m not really good at describing feelings and the whole emotional aspect of losing weight but I’m reading this book that does a great job at it. It’s called Artichoke’s Heart by Suzanne Supplee. It is quite an easy read and I love how it addresses some of the issues that come up when you’re overweight or trying to lose weight but you don’t really want to say out loud. I don’t want to ruin it for anyone out there who might want to read this book but I strongly recommend it if you’re losing weight or if you’ve ever been so desperate to lose weight that you’re willing to try even the most absurd of ideas. Anyway, if you have the chance to read it, it is an excellent book. I think we can all relate to the main character.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

2. Nutrition Facts - The Omegas

Omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids seem to be all over the media these days. Some days we hear that they are super good for us and the next they say they are not quite sure. Well, omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids are a type of polyunsaturated fat and are very important because our bodies need them but cannot make them. Thus, we need to get them from our diet.

Omega 3 fatty acids serve the important function of decreasing blood clotting and blood pressure. On the other hand, omega 6 fatty acids play the exact opposite role: increase blood clotting and blood pressure. This makes omega 6 fatty acids look bad, but they are still very important. Imagine you get a simple paper cut, if your blood is not capable of clotting, you would most likely bleed to death. We obvously don't want that to happen. Thus, blood clotting is very important and omega 6 fatty acids make it happen. However, you don’t want your blood to clot too easily either since we know that clots are what cause heart attacks. You want a nice balance of omega 3 fatty acids and omega 6 fatty acids. Thus, it is recommended that you have a 4 to 10g of omega 6 fatty acids for every gram of omega 3 fatty acids. There are also set recommendations that reflect this recommended ratio: the optimal intake of omega 3 is 1.1g for women and 1.6g for men (this translates to about 2 to 3 servings of fish per week). As for omega 6 fatty acids, the optimal intake is set at 4 to 10 grams a day. Remember that the ratio of omega 3 to omega 6 is still very important.

Omega 3 fatty acids have been widely advertised in the media lately – especially in the form of fish oil. DHA (a type of omega 3) has also made the news due to the critical role it plays in the development of the nervous system and maturation of visual acuity. As you can see, omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids are very important so why don’t we have a bit more than what is recommended to enjoy even more of their benefits? I used to think that as long as you followed the recommended ratio of omega 3 to omega 6 fatty acids, it was ok to have more than the recommended grams. In fact, I thought: "the more, the better since these omega fatty acids seem to be almost miraculous in preventing heart disease". However, this changed when I came across these warnings:
  1. Omega-3 fatty acids should be used cautiously by people who bruise easily, have a bleeding disorder, or take blood-thinning medications because excessive amounts of omega-3 fatty acids may lead to bleeding
  2. Three grams of omega-3 fatty acids per day (equivalent to 3 servings of fish per day) increase the risk for hemorrhagic stroke
So, don’t get carried away with those omega 3 fatty acids. As they say: everything’s good in moderation. After all, you don’t need a lot of omega 3 or 6 to get the benefits.

A last piece of info I found quite interesting is that they are testing the possibility of treating depression with omega 3 fatty acids. This idea emerged after it was reported that “seriously depressed patients had lower omega-3 blood levels compared with healthy controls and mildly depressed patients”. But the data is still controversial, though. I guess, we will just have to wait and see what happens.

Monday, January 25, 2010

1. Nutrition Facts - Calories and a Drizzle of Fat

When we’re on a diet, it is so important to use our calories wisely simply because we are not allowed that many. The word "wisely" what creates a bit of confusion among dieters, though. At the beginning of every diet, we are only worried about calories. Then, we hear that we have to watch our fat intake. And, to make things worse, we hear all this bag things about carbs and sugar. The truth is that we sometimes don’t know how to make all this information work to our advantage. I mean, even some information contradicts itself. How are we supposed to make sense of it all, then? I thought a good way to address all this crazy confusion would to look at those nutrition facts labels. You’d be amazed just at how much information these tiny labels contain. In fact, they contain so much information that I will break this mini-tutorial on nutrition facts labels into 10 parts. Yes, you read that right: 10 parts! That's how loaded these labels are with information that can be quite useful to us. Also, I figured that writing a 10-page post would be quite boring to read. Anyway, let’s get started.

As you can see at your left, there’s the nutrition facts label of the banana smoothie I usually have for breakfast. I figured this was a good example since it has a bit of everything. So, the first thing you want to look at is the serving size at the top of the label. Always make sure to look at the serving size – especially when reading the label on a diet food. Often times, they advertise the product as having only 100 calories but they don’t tell you that the serving size is super small. Thus, when comparing a diet food with its regular version, look at the serving size to see if it is really has fewer calories than the diet option.

The amount of calories in the stated serving size is the first piece of information that you’ll find on the label. Knowing the amount of calories, will help you budget your calories for the day. By now, you hopefully know how many calories you need a day. If not, click here.

Now, getting to the good stuff: fat! There has been so much bad press about fat that most of us are terrified of fat, right? Well, although a high fat intake can negatively impact your health, our body still needs it in moderate amounts. The general recommendation is: have 30% of your calories from fat and no more than 10% of your calories from saturated fat. So, if you look at the nutrition facts label, you can see that 1% right next to it. But, what does that one percent mean? The nutritional label is adapted for a person consuming 2000 calories a day. So, here’s how they calculated that 1% of the daily value:

1. 30% of 2000 is 600. This means that you could have 600 calories coming from fat if you were on a 2000-calorie diet.

2. We know that 1 gram of fat is equal to 9 calories. So, let’s convert those 600 calories into grams of fat: 600/9 = 66 grams of fat

3. Then, 66 grams of fat is 100% of the daily value or daily intake. Thus, 1 gram of fat would be around 1% (= 1*100/66) of the daily value. The label says 1 grams of fat but it might be rounded up or down so you calculation might not always give you exactly the same percentage as on the label but it should be fairly close.

However, keep in mind that if you’re consuming less than 2000 calories a day, this % daily value will be different for you. Unfortunately, you’ll have to do the calculation yourself since nutrition facts labels only consider the standard 2000-calorie diet. For example, I should have no more than 360 (= 1200*0.3) calories from fat which is the same as 40 (360/9) grams of fat since I’m on a 1200-calorie diet. Thus, I would be getting 2% (= 1*100/40) of the daily value of fat with this smoothie. The calculation for saturated fat is pretty much the same except that you use 10%  instead of 30% for step 1.

Some other things you might see under fat (besides saturated fat) could be: monounsaturated fat, polyunsaturated fats and trans fat. Also, some labels might even tell you their omega fatty acid content. However, omega fatty acids are a very interesting and broad subject that I will address in my next post since the recommendations are very detailed. For now, just keep these 4 categories (sat, mono, poly and trans) in mind. If you ever find a label that lists the amount of monounsaturated fat and/or polyunsaturated fat, you’ll notice that there will not be a daily value percentage for these categories. This is because there is not recommendation set for these yet. Ideally, you should be getting all you 30% of calories from fat in the form of monounsaturated and/or polyunsaturated fat. This is because mono- and polyunsaturated fats are the “good” fats so there is no limit for the "good" stuff. On the other hand, they put a limit (10%) on saturated fats because they are the “bad” fats. So, when having to choose between saturated and unsaturated fats, try to go with unsaturated fats.

There are many sites that get these daily values for you, but there’s a lot of information behind the calculation that I think is very useful. As they say: knowledge is power.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Is it Really True?

Lately, I’ve been hearing a lot about acai berry supplements. I, personally, have not tried them. In fact, before last week, I didn’t even know acai berries existed. However, since I started this blog, I’ve been noticing a lot of advertisement on the web for this type of supplement. So far, I’ve read that apparently it stops cancer, improves digestion and, most importantly, helps people lose weight. It all sounds very interesting and somewhat too good to be true. Thus, I did a bit of research on these super berries.

Acai berries are just like any other type of berry (blueberries, strawberries, etc.). They even look like large shiny blueberries if you ever get the chance to see fresh acai berries. Then, what makes them so good for you? Well, just like any other berry, they are loaded with polyphenols which are a category of antioxidants. These polyphenols have been said to provide our bodies with various health benefits. For example, a diet high in antioxidants such as polyphenols is usually associated with low rates of several types of cancer. Thus, acai berries have been marketed as “superfoods” because of their polyphenol/antioxidant content. In fact, the type of polyphenol found in berries is what gives them their colour. I’ve posted some information on antioxidants, fruits and vegetables in the past. Click here to see that post.

Ok, so we know that acai berries contain antioxidants, but so do blueberries. Why then are acai berries so popular right now? I mean, I haven’t seen any ads for blueberry or blackberry supplements lately. To get the truth about acai berries, I had to do some serious digging. Fortunately, I came across an article published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry back in 2008. This article determined the antioxidant capacity of several products: pomegranate juice, red wine, grape juice, blueberry juice, black cherry juice, acai juice, cranberry juice, orange juice, apple juice, iced green tea, iced black tea and iced white tea. For this study, they used commercial brands in an attempt to make the study as realistic and helpful to consumers as possible. The antioxidant capacity of each of these products was then determined by using a series of tests. To make the results understandable, they gave each product a “grade” based on their individual antioxidant capacity. They called this “grade” the antioxidant potency composite index. This index is out of a hundred and is the average of 3 different brands of each product tested. Here’s the report card:

The index for pomegranate juice is quite shocking, don’t you think? Going back to acai berries, though. They are, indeed, rich in antioxidants. Nonetheless, keep in mind that it was acai juice that was used for this study. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a similar article on acai berry supplements rather than juice. When I looked for articles or studies done on acai berry supplements, I only came across multiple scam warnings including one published in the “Question of the Month” section of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association (Sept, 2009). This brief article is the answer to the question: What is the Acai Berry and are there health benefits? Basically, they do not say that the claims made about the acai berry are true neither does it say that they aren’t. It just says that there is still not enough conclusive information to determine whether or not acai berries are as beneficial as they say. They do, however, put a lot of emphasis on scams concerning acai berry supplements, so do be careful if you want to give these supplements a try. Just remember, if it sounds too good to be true, well, it probably is.

By the way, speaking of "innovative" products, I put up a poll so see what other new items you'd also like to try. You'll find this poll at the top left hand corner of the page.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Staying on Track

It’s been 13 long days of healthy eating and exercising. Although it is very satisfying to have made it this far, it is becoming increasingly harder to stay on track. Don’t get me wrong, I am getting used to all the fruits and vegetables, lean meats, fat-free dairy, etc. However, I find myself craving those oh-so-good fast food meals. It is hard not to give in to temptation. This is why I want to share some interesting information with all of you who are also struggling to stay on track:

Obesity is the #1 preventable cause of death

This one short phrase is a very good motivator, at least for me. Every time I find myself on my way to the nearest McDonald’s, this phrase pops into my mind and the craving is gone. Obesity is a condition that has a severe impact on our health. Fortunately, we CAN control it. I know it is hard and takes a lot of effort but at least it’s our choice: to control it or to ignore it. We have no control over most diseases or conditions but, at least, we have control over this one.

Unfortunately, I do not always listen to the little voice at the back of my head trying to talk some sense into me before I take the first bite of that double cheeseburger. I should always listen to that little voice telling me over and over again everything I’m telling you now, but it just doesn’t happen. I yo-yo dieted for a long time and, thus, I fell off the wagon many times. About a year ago a friend told me this: "see going off track as part of your weight loss program". When she first told me this, I thought she was a little, well, crazy. It took me a few months to see just how powerful her advice is. When you see going off track as part of the weight loss process, you are less likely to feel horribly guilty after you had that Big Mac. Instead, you say to yourself: "ok, I had that Big Mac which is going to cost me a few extra hours at the gym this week, but it is just part of the program so let’s just get back on track right now". On the other hand, when you see going off track as a failure, you just feel sad, guilty and completely unmotivated – feelings that will not help you with your weight loss. I mean, it is hard enough to stay on track without a whole bunch of negative feelings floating around in your head, imagine just how hard it becomes when you feel guilty or like a failure. By the way, I later learned that this is the theory behind the so-called “cheat” days. So, let’s use those “cheat” days to our advantage.

Hope this bit of information helps you stay on track as much as it has helped me. Losing weight is hard but incredibly worth it. And remember; let’s lose the weight just because we CAN.

As a side note, I just wanted to let you all know that I revisited/edited a previous post on eggs in an attempt to make it a bit clearer. Check it out here.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Low Fat Cooking

I was looking through the comments you have been leaving in some of my previous post and came across this very interesting one concerning fat-free broths. So, I thought that it might be a good idea to address the subject in a bit more detail. As a matter of fact, I want to share with you all a few other tricks to help you lower the fat content of your meals. Fat is a very important macronutrient in our diets, but it does contain a lot of calories. Just so you know, one gram of fat has 9 calories! Compared to carbohydrates and proteins that only have around 4 calories per gram, fat has relatively a lot of calories. This is why, when losing weight, we want to limit our fat intake quite a bit since we are only allowed so many calories a day. A way of reducing fat intake is to cook with less fat, of course. Here are some tricks you can use in the kitchen:
  1. Use low-fat sour cream or yogurt instead of regular sour cream
  2. Chose cheeses that are lower in fat or fat-free. Use low-fat cream cheese instead of mascarpone (You’d be surprised at just how many calories mascarpone has)
  3. Use evaporated milk instead of cream and choose milk that is lower in fat (skim or 1%)
  4. Choose lower fat or leaner cuts of meat
  5. Food may be steamed in a steam basket or inside a foil or parchment package avoiding the need for added fat to prevent sticking
  6. Sauteeing can be done in a non-stick saucepan with a bit of oil or using broth instead
  7. Baking, broiling and grilling do not require additional fat
  8. Allow for fat to drip away from food
  9. Fat can be removed from broths by refrigerating them and then removing the gelatinized fat on top. You can also use a gravy strainer (see picture) to get the broth at the bottom without getting the fat at the top and, consequently, getting a low-fat broth. If you want a fat-free broth, make sure to remove all the fat on top as well as the tiny chunks that may accumulate at the bottom. 
  10. When baking, butter can be replaced by 65% of its volume as fruit puree. For example, if the recipe is calling for 100 grams of butter, you could use 65 grams of applesauce to replace those 100 grams of butter. However, try to keep some of the butter as part of the recipe so that your baked good does not end up too soggy. 
  11. Non-stick utensils will remove the need to add fat to prevent sticking
  12. Use spray-on oils when possible
  13. When having eggs, have one whole egg and one egg white instead of two whole eggs
  14. If you use oil in cooking, measure it. When you measure it, you are more aware of how much oil you’re actually using and this makes you unconsciously use less.
You can reduce the fat content of you meals by a great deal just by following these recommendations. Hope you find them helpful. And, keep those comments coming. I truly enjoy reading them.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

And the Results are in

It’s been a week since I started my weight loss journey. Thus, it’s time to step on that terrifying bathroom scale. I decided to weigh myself in this morning and, shockingly, I weighed 189 lbs! My starting weight was 192 lbs which means that I lost 3 lbs this week. This translates into a loss of 1.6% of my body weight. Notice that this is a tiny bit above the expected loss of 1 to 1.5% of my body weight per week. This is because when we start controlling calories and eating healthy and balanced, we lose “water” weight as well as fat weight. Consequently, this week’s 3-pound weight loss does not entirely equate to a fat loss of 3 lbs. Most of it was fat loss but keep in mind that there will always be some “water” loss at the beginning of any weight loss program. So please don’t be disappointed if a few weeks into your weight loss you start to lose less weight. If you still lose between 1 and 1.5% of your body weight, you’re on the right track. Next week, I’ll try to follow my own advice and try to not be disappointed if I lose less than 3 lbs.
Speaking of results, I found this interesting survey about the success rate of several diet programs. To give you a bit of background, this survey was published a few years back but a similar survey today would produce similar results. Also, here’s the brief explanation accompanying the survey to put things into context:

Time (3-month)“The [survey] is based on 2,000 responses to our 2001 Annual Questionnaire about experiences with weight-loss programs between January 1998 and April 2001. We included all respondents regardless of BMI. The success rate is the proportion of people who weighted at least 10% less than their starting weight six months after finishing the entire program. The currently accepted definition of weight-loss success is losing at least 10% of one’s top weight and keeping it off for a year. Some readers reported on more than one method.” – Time, Sept 2, 2002 (Time (3-month))

Without further ado, here’s the survey. The success rates are the respective percentages in brackets.

1. Program at local hospital or university (37%)
2. Weight Watchers (29%)
3. Jenny Craig (26%)
4. Program at church/community centre (25%)
5. Other chain-diet programs (22%)
6. Program at health/fitness club (17%)
      Average success rate = 26%

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Eggs...Good or Bad?

I’ve read articles that say that eggs are very healthy and good for you but I have also read articles that say the exact opposite. What's the truth here about eggs? The truth is that both answers are partially correct. This is because they are excellent sources of many nutrients including those that may not be so healthy. Remember that all food have their pros and cons. Eggs are no exception.

Eggs are said to be very healthy because they are great sources of high quality protein. But, what do I mean by high quality? Isn’t all protein good? Protein is definitely good but there are sources of protein that are better than others. Protein is made up of this tiny building blocks called amino acids. To make things simple, imagine these amino acids as being the pieces of a puzzle. Now, amino acids are divided into essential and non-essential. Essential means that your body cannot make them or can make them but not at a significant rate. Therefore, you must get these essential amino acids through the diet. On the other hand, you have the non-essential amino acids which are the ones our body can produce at a significant rate. In total, there are 20 amino acids and our body needs all 20 of them at all times. From these 20, 9 are essential and 11 are non-essential. Now, going back to the subject of eggs. Eggs are a source of high quality protein because they contain all the essential amino acids in the ideal proportions. When we are trying to determine the quality of the protein in a particular food, the protein in eggs is the golden standard. Let’s go back to the puzzle analogy for a second. Assume that the puzzle consists of 20 pieces, 11 pieces are already provided for you (non-essential) and you only need the 9 missing pieces (essential) to complete the puzzle. Your body needs the puzzle to be complete at all times. In order to get the 9 missing pieces and complete the puzzle, you can either get them from just one source like eggs or you can get one by one from multiple sources. Which one would you prefer?

Unfortunately, being a good source of protein comes with a price. Eggs are great sources of cholesterol too. Cholesterol is one of those fats you do not want to eat too much of because it is very hard for your body to eliminate it. Thus, eggs are sometimes said to be unhealthy or bad for you due to their high cholesterol content. Here’s the nutritional analysis of an average whole egg. Take a look at the protein and cholesterol content:

As you can see, for only 75 calories you get 6.25 grams of very high quality protein (all your 9 essential amino acids) but also 213 mg of cholesterol. Just to give you an idea, the recommendation for cholesterol is to have no more than 300 mg a day. So, 213 mg would translate into about 71% of you the recommended intake.

The calories in eggs lead me to the next benefit. One whole egg has only 75 calories! Considering that you can get all your essential amino acids from just one egg instead of from multiple food sources which would increase you caloric intake, 75 calories is not a bad deal.

People who are trying to eat healthy, often have just the egg white. If you’re considering this option let me provide you with this information: one egg white has 17 calories, 3.52 grams of protein and no cholesterol. Eating only egg whites is a good alternative but keep in mind that you are cutting the protein content almost by half when you only have the egg white. Also, there is no vitamin A in egg whites. I am not saying that eating only the egg white is bad but as everything; it has its advantages and disadvantages.

A final thought: don’t let the cholesterol content in eggs scare you. Eating the whole egg will provide you with more vitamins and nutrients as well as much more flavourful meal. Just have foods that are low in cholesterol for the rest of the day whenever you eat eggs. This way, you won't go over the recommended cholesterol intake.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Let's Talk Calories

Even though I am not following any particular diet, I do watch my caloric intake – at least most of the time. Since most of you are also trying to lose weight, I thought it might be a good idea to share with all of you how you can figure out how many calories you need to have daily in order to lose weight. So let’s start with the very basic idea that the amount of calories that you spend has to be greater than the amount of calories that go into your body when losing weight. If you have extra weight, it is because we had too many calories that did not get spent so our body stored this excess of calories as fat. In order to lose the weight, we need to empty this storage of calories (a.k.a. fat). A way to do is by eating fewer calories so that our body will be forced to take some calories from our own storage so that we have enough energy for all body functions. Another way is by working out to burn some calories. The key idea here is to spend those stored calories.

Now, the question here is: how many calories should I be eating so that I lose weight? To answer this question you first need to know how much weight you want to be losing per week. As I mentioned before, I’m trying to lose about 1-1.5% of my body weight every week. Let’s say 1% to keep it simple. This means that I want to lose about 1.92 lbs per week since I weigh 192lbs. Now, a key piece of information here is that you need to spend 3500 calories to burn one pound of body fat. Thus, I would need to be spending 6720 calories (1.92 × 3500) from my body storage per week to lose that much weight.

We now know how many calories we should be spending, but how many are we allow to eat then? To answer this question, let’s first calculate how many calories need to come from our fat storage every day to achieve our weekly weight loss goal. If I need to spend 6720 calories weekly, then that would equate to a 960-calorie daily deficit. Now, let’s look at the estimated energy requirements (EER) tables:

Using the tables, find your age and match it to your level of activity to find out how many calories you should be having per day. Once you have this number, subtract the calories that you need to spend on a daily basis. In my case, I would need 1900 calories per day according to the table so that means that I should be having 940 (1900 - 960 = 940) calories per day in order to achieve my weekly weight loss goal. However, adults and teens should never have less than 1200 calories per day. Thus, I need to make a bit of an adjustment to my daily caloric intake. I will have my 1200 calories per day but I need to burn the rest by working out. In other words, I need to burn 260 (1200 - 940 = 260) calories at the gym every day. This way, I would use up from my storage all the 960 calories needed to lose 1.92 lbs per week, in my case. The point here is that you need to get rid of all the daily calories you calculated above either through diet or by working out. A combination of both is usually the best idea.

If you subtracted the number of calories that you need to spend daily from your estimated energy requirement and it was greater than 1200 or 1200 on the dot, stick to that. However, make sure that you re-visit your calculations for your caloric daily intake on a regular basis because all these numbers will keep changing as your weight changes.

Monday, January 11, 2010

How Much Weight Should I Lose?

As I mentioned before, I need to lose 72lbs. However, it just came to my attention that I never told everyone out there how I came to that conclusion. Well, there are many ways to calculate your ideal weight. I personally like the BMI method as it is the most widely used method. Here’s how it works:

You calculate your BMI by plugging your weight a height into a simple equation:

BMI = weight in kg/ (height in metres)(height in metres)

Remember that there are 2.2 lbs in one kg, 0.025m in one inch and 0.305m in one foot. Once you calculate your BMI, you categorize yourself as follows:

A BMI less than 18.5 means you're underweight
A BMI between 18.5 and 24.9 means you're normal
A BMI between 25.0 and 29.9 means you're overweight
A BMI between 30.0 and 34.9 means you're obese
A BMI between 35.0 and 39.9 means you're morbidly obese
A BMI of over 40 means you're extremely obese

Knowing what category you fall into is usually a good wake up call. But what we really want to know is what our ideal weight should be. A BMI of 21 is usually considered ideal because it is the midpoint of the normal BMI range. Now we can use this ideal BMI to calculate our ideal weight:

Ideal Weight = 21(height in metres)(height in metres)

Even though the BMI method is simple and practical, it does have some limitations. One big limitation is that it does not take into account your body composition. For example, athletes will often be categorized as obese, even though they are in top shape, because most of their body consists of muscle mass which weights considerably more than fat. So, if you have a very muscular and lean body, this might not be the best tool to use.

There are other tools to determine your ideal weight. Weight-height charts, frame size-height charts and age charts are just some examples. They all have their pros and cons. None of them are perfect. Nonetheless, your ideal weight should be around the same regardless of the method or tool used to calculate it but be ready to adjust. For example, if your ideal weight turned out to be 120lbs according to a weight-height chart but you feel and look great at 130 lbs, it’s ok to stop your weight loss at 130 lbs. We are all different and none these methods cannot possibly take into account so many differences. They are great as starting points but don’t forget to listen to your body as you go along.

Now that you know what your ideal weight should be, it's time to set some weight loss goals.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Best Fruits and Vegetables

I don’t know about you, but I like to do my grocery shopping on Saturdays – today. As we all know, fruits and vegetables are essential if you’re trying to lose weight or simply trying to eat healthy. Since I’m going grocery shopping today, I figured that maybe I should get a better idea as of to what kinds of fruits and vegetables I should be buying. I mean, all fruits and vegetables are extremely healthy by definition but there must be some that are better than others, right?

As I was gathering information on the subject, I came across the word antioxidants. These are the compounds that give fruits and vegetables their colour. Also, these compounds are the ones that provide us with most of the health benefits associated with a high intake of fruits and vegetables. Thus, experts in the field suggest that we should eat fruits and vegetables that are rich in colour. But, wait a minute. Are certain colours better than others? To answer this question, take a look at the list below. This is a list of some of the most common antioxidants found in fruits and vegetables:

Glucosinolates and chlorophyll: They can be found in brussels sprouts, collards, kale, watercress, turnip, cabbage, broccoli, rapini, mustard greens and cauliflower. All these foods are considered super foods because of their high content in either or both of these antioxidants.

Anthocyanins: This antioxidant is responsible for the red and blue colour in berries, eggplant and red cabbage. They too are considered extreme good for your health. I guess we all have heard how good berries are for you. Their high content in anthocyanins is the reason why they are so good for you.

Carotenoids: These give their yellow, orange or red colour to fruits and vegetables. A good example of a food containing large amounts of carotenoids is carrots, of course. Tomatoes are also a good example.
Carotenoids are very beneficial to our health. If you don’t like carrots or tomatoes,however, there’s still hope. There is this sub-category of carotenoids called lutein. Lutein is a very potent antioxidant that can be found in dark green fruits and vegetables such as raw kale, cooked spinach, collards, turnip greens, green peas, broccoli and romaine lettuce.

Allicin: I believe this antioxidant exists in nature to be the exception to the rule as it is found in foods that lack colour such as garlic and onions.

As you can see, dark green vegetables such as broccoli usually have more than one kind of antioxidant. This is why they are often called super foods – they are super good for you.

Another recommendation concerning fruits and vegetables is to eat the skin. I know not everyone is thrilled to eat the skin, especially when it comes to apples and peaches, but most of the fibre is found in the skin. This is the reason why the skin is usually a bit rougher that the “meat” inside. Also, most of the vitamins and minerals are found just under the skin. Thus, if you take the skin off, you will lose a somewhat significant amount of vitamins and minerals.

Finally, I wanted to post this list of the fruits and vegetables that have the highest amounts of antioxidants. Just a little something to make your fruit and vegetable shopping a bit easier.

Fruits                                                                                Vegetables
1. Berries (Blueberries, cranberries, etc.)                   1. Red beans
2. Apples (red delicious)                                            2. Artichoke hearts
3. Cherries                                                                3. Russet potatoe
4. Plums                                                                    4. Red cabbage
5. Avocados                                                               5. Asparagus

Source: J. Agric. Food Chem. (2004), 52, 4026-4037

P.S. I got some of this information from the book "Foods that Fight Cancer" since antioxidants are widely believe to, well, fight cancer. If you have access to the book, check it out for more detailed information.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Time to Set Some Goals

As I mentioned before, I need to lose 72lbs. I was thinking that setting the personal goal of losing all this weight by the end the year was probably a good idea. After all, I don't want to make the same New Year's resolution next year. However, I wanted to know if this was a reasonable goal. So, I went through some of my class notes looking for anything related to weight loss and came accross a few recommendations:

1. Set REALISTIC goals. In other words, don't try to lose 72lbs in a month. It just won't happen and you'll just feel dissapointed and frustrated.

2. Try to lose no more than 20% of your body weight within a year. I don't know about all of you out there, but sounds quite achievable. That would mean I should be trying to lose about 38.4 lbs in a whole year. The main idea of setting such an achievable goal is that it is, well, achievable. This type of goal is reccomended for people who have been yo-yo dieting for a long time like myself. The reason being that yo-yo dieting is a cycle. You diet to the extreme (crash dieting) as an attempt to achieve unrealistic goals. Then, you obviuosly don't achieve such unrealist goals and, as a result, feel like a failure so you eat because dieting didn't work after all. This 10% weigh loss goal helps break the cycle. This means that you are very likely to lose 10% of your body weight in a year and probably even more. Thus, you feel like you successfully accomplished your goal and this feeling pushes you to keep going. Self-motivation is the key idea here.

3. Lose between 1-1.5% of your body weight per week. I think I like this one. That would mean that I should be losing between 1.9 and 2.9lbs per week. However, keep in mind that as you start weighing less, you should start losing less and less weight per week.

4. Keep the weight off for a year following weight loss. I don't think I'm going to make the goal of keeping the weight off before actually losing it but I wanted to post this recommendation for all you out there who have already lost the weight. In fact, keeping the weight off for a whole year decreases your chances of gaining it back by 50%. Yes, 50%!

Ok, so I think I will set recommendation 2 and 3 as goals for myself. How does that sound?

By the way, I am horribly sore from yesterday's and this morning's workout, but I guess it is a good kind of pain, right?

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Day One

I woke up at 7 this morning to go to the gym. I decided that a spinning class was a good way to start the day. I put on some sweat pants and made myself some breakfast. Never exercise on an empty stomach. I didn't want to feel too full though. So, I made myself a tasty light banana smoothie for breakfast. Let me tell you that I feel great now after a great workout.

However, I didn't feel great at the time I was working out. I only did a 45-min spinning class because that is all I could handle after months of not exercising. Half-way throught the class I felt like one of my lungs was about to come out of my chest. A word of advise for all of you out there who are also trying to lose weight: take it easy on your first day at the gym. I tried my best to keep up with the class, but it was hard. I beleive, though, that making it through those 45 minutes was a great accomplishment, don't you think?

Another thing that made my morning workout quite interesting was the crowd at the gym. It was around 7:30 AM and the gym was packed. I was in line waiting for my spinning pass (yes, you need to get a little plastic card to reserve your bike at the gym I go to) and the lady right behind me was telling how she much rather wake up when it is still dark so that she can go to the gym and still make it to work on time than dealing with the unbelievable crowds in the evening. I have to agree with her. Evening crowds are even worse than morning crowds - let alone that evening crowds are usually larger. Anyway, is anyone else dealing with large crowds at the gym? Any good stories?

By the way, here's the recipe for my breakfast banana smoothie:

Banana Smoothie
1 large banana
1 cup of skim milk
A pinch of cinnamon
1 splenda

Put it all in the blender until it gets a bit foamy and enjoy.

This smoothie has 211 calories, 1g fat, 5mg cholesterol, 104mg sodium, 875mg potassium, 45g carbohydrates, 4g fibre, 10g protein, 12% of the daily (DV) of vitamin A, 33% DV calcium, 20% DV vitamin C

If you have any breakfast ideas, let me know.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Getting Organized

I figured that if I am to succeed, I probably need a plan. So, I've come up with THE LIST. Yes, I am making a short list of what I need for this weight loss journey. Here it is:

1. Gym membership
2. Plastic containers
3. Gym clothes
4. Healthy food
5. Measuring tape

For the gym memebership, I had a bit of a discussion with a very good friend of mine. She loves to be outdoors so she mentioned that I didn't necessarily need to go to the gym to get a good workout. I could also go for a jog in my neighbourhood or bike to school. Let me tell you, she made some valid points and it is true that you don't need a gym to exercise. However, I looked outside my window this morning and everything was white. When I stepped outside my appartment, there was snow up to my knee on the sidewalk. So, I decided that going to the gym is probably a better option for me. Maybe in the summer I'll go out for a jog.

You may be wondering about those plastic containers up there. Well, I am sick of dieting. Thus, I am not going on a diet at this moment. I will try to eat healthy and all but I won't go on a "formal" diet per se. However, my main goal is to completely eliminate junk food as far as changing my eating habits is concerned. At least for now. I'm staying away from the food courts and packing my own lunch. It will take some effort in the morning to wake up a bit earlier but I hope it will be well worth it in a few months when I step on that bathroom scale. And as we all know, healthy lunches need healthy ingredients so I will clean up my fridge and go grocery shopping. Hopefully, my fridge will be full of fruits and vegetables and other healthy items by the end of the day. Goodbye food courts and hello cooking pans and chopping boards.

Finally, gym clothes. I went through my closet and found lots of gym clothes. Sadly enough though, nothing fit! I think this was a good wake-up call. Anyway, I have to get myself some new gym clothes and a measuring tape. Believe it or not, I do not own a measuring tape. I thought it was probably a good idea to also use measurements as indicators of my weight loss instead of only relying on my bathroom scale. What do you think?

Well, tomorrow is day one then. Wish me luck and if you think something else should be up on THE LIST, leave a comment. Love to hear what you think.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010



Ok, so here's the thing. As of this morning, I weigh 192lbs according to my bathroom scale. Yes, that right. 192lbs! I'm only 5'3", so that puts me in the obese category with a BMI of 34.0. Now that I am writing down all these numbers, I am actually having a bit of a panic attack. How did I end up in the obese category? But, let's look at the bright side of things here. The extra weight does make coming up with New Year's resolutions a bit easier. This year I am determined to lose the excess weight!

I am creating this blog as a way to share with you all the experiences that will shape this weight loss journey. I will try to post all the tips and info related to weight loss I can get my hands on. Throught this blog I really hope you can benefit from my experiences and please feel free to leave your comments. Maybe you can help me out too if you have been through a similar situation.

Now, let's talk business. According to the BMI chart, I should weigh around 120lbs. That means I have over 70lbs to lose. Wow! That's quite a bit as you can see. Hope you'll join me through this journey whether you're trying to lose some weight too or not. So, without any further ado, let the weight loss begin!

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