Category Archives: Weight loss

Your Wedding Diet Game Plan

wedding-bouquet-1057157-1279x853The stress of wedding planning can derail even the greatest efforts to eat healthier, but every bride deserves to look and feel her best. If you’re headed down the aisle this year, stay on track with my pre-wedding diet tips, as featured in Brides!

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Filed under Meal Tips, Media, Weight loss

Sleep More, Weigh Less?

I’m a notoriously bad sleeper. I go to bed too late, wake up throughout the night and always bank on catching extra zzz’s on the weekend. Apparently I’m not alone.
 
Twenty eight percent of American adults sleep six or fewer hours per night. What’s more alarming is that partial sleep deprivation has been linked to many chronic conditions, including obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Could years of poor sleeping patterns be affecting my eating habits and health?
 
comfy bedThere is plenty of scientific evidence that associates short sleep duration with weight gain. The more time we spend awake, the more opportunities we have to eat. Add to that a lack of motivation to hit the gym when we’re tired. Partial sleep deprivation may also influence two hormones that affect appetite. The jury’s still out, but many studies have shown that sleep shortage increases ghrelin, which induces hunger, and reduces leptin, thereby lessening satiety.
 
In a study to be published later this year, researchers looked at how eight nights of sleep restriction affected hormone levels and caloric intake in 17 healthy, normal weight adults. Despite no significant changes in leptin and ghrelin, participants limited to sleeping two-thirds their usual duration consumed an average of 566 more calories per day compared with their energy intake under ad lib sleeping conditions.
 
In a separate study of obese adults, participants ate an extra 83 calories per day for every 30-minute reduction in sleep. Therefore, sleeping just one hour less than the recommended 7.5 hours per night could translate into a 17-pound weight gain per year if no compensation occurs!
 
Cutting short a snooze may also negatively affect glucose metabolism and insulin sensitivity, although these results are not universally observed. In a 2011 study published in Sleep, 15 healthy, normal weight men had significantly greater peak insulin and glucose responses to breakfast after two nights of sleep restriction (four versus eight hours in bed).
 
More research is needed to clarify how sleep deprivation affects endocrine function, but chronically catching too few winks may create the perfect storm for overconsumption. Of all sedentary activities, sleeping is clearly one with positive health benefits and we should all aim to rest 7 to 8 hours a night!

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Filed under Heart Healthy Choices, Medical Conditions, Weight loss

Smart Snacking: Best Protein Bars

The number of energy and protein bars on the market is astounding. Only a handful, however, should be promoted as satisfying, healthy snacks. The rest? Glorified candy bars. For example, most Clif Bars contain as much sugar as a TWIX Caramel Cookie Bar! Shocked? Me too.

Don’t fall prey to marketing mumbo jumbo. Study nutrition labels and navigate the options with these simple tips:

  1. If you’re looking for an on-the-go snack, choose bars with less than 200 calories. Any more than that and the bar becomes a meal replacement.
  2. To keep hunger at bay the longest, opt for a bar with at least 5 grams of fiber and 10 grams of protein.
  3. Select bars with less than 4-5 grams of sugar to avoid a post-snack drop in blood sugar that could zap your energy.

KIND and LÄRABAR rank among the most natural snack bars, made with the fewest and most recognizable ingredients. But what these brands lost in processing, they unfortunately gained in sugar. On the flip side, many low-sugar products use sugar alcohols (e.g. maltitol, mannitol) to boost flavor without adding calories. Many CarbRite Diet bars contain a whopping 20 grams! Sugar alcohols are not completely absorbed, however, so they may cause bloating, gas and even diarrhea when consumed in large amounts.  You should experiment to know what your body can handle.

My top picks?

  • Quest Bar
  • HealthSmart Foods: Chocolite Protein Bar
  • Atkins Advantage (choose flavors with less saturated fat)
  • NuGo Slim
  • ThinkThin Crunch Bars

Next time you’re on the hunt for a pocket-friendly snack, remember the rules! More fiber. More protein. Less sugar.

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Filed under Meal Tips, Supplements, Weight loss

Detox Diets: Beneficial or Bogus?

de·tox  The metabolic process by which the body rids itself of poisonous substances. A “detox diet” (or “cleanse”) usually promises to aid this natural process by suggesting you (1) steer clear of foods that contain toxins, and (2) consume more of certain nutrients like antioxidants, fiber and herbal extracts.

A typical detox promotes the exclusive consumption of raw fruits and vegetables and liquid meals. Most cleanses suggest drinking large amounts of water, juice or a special concoction, such as one made with lemon, maple syrup and cayenne pepper.

Detox diets will often avoid caffeine, sugar and alcohol. All of us could benefit from cutting back in these areas, but most cleanses are so limiting that your diet becomes deficient in protein and many essential vitamins and minerals. Some cleanses require strict adherence to the plan for a few days, while others want you to stick with it for an entire month! Consuming an extremely restricted diet long-term is not necessary and may even be harmful to your health. Many detox plans also encourage drinking only liquids to “give the body a rest.” However, this claim is scientifically unfounded, since the digestive system is meant to be put to work!

Can a detox diet help you lose weight? Many plans claim to kick start a sluggish metabolism by helping to purify the body. Our bodies, however, are designed to eliminate harmful substances without any help. The kidneys help excrete waste products, while the liver filters blood coming from the digestive tract and metabolizes drugs, alcohol and environmental toxins. There is no evidence that proves a detox diet helps your organs do this more efficiently. Restricting your diet to raw produce or low-calorie beverage blends will help you shed pounds quickly, but this does not mean it’s advisable. Depriving yourself on a month-long cleanse is not a sustainable strategy for weight loss and you’ll likely regain the pounds as soon as you resume your usual eating habits.

In his 2010 book, “Clean,” Dr. Alejandro Junger outlines a three week detox program that allows you to nosh on more than just vegetables. His “pesto baked salmon” recipe sounds appetizing, but you’re still only allowed one solid-food meal per day! In addition to eliminating red meat, alcohol and sugar, Junger also suggests you exclude from your diet many nutrient-rich foods, including dairy, wheat and soy. Lastly, Junger’s website advertises for Clean Program supplements, which are taken throughout the day to “cover daily health basics.” Any detox that requires a cocktail of supplements is likely unbalanced and should not be sustained for more than a few days. Despite allowing you to eat certain fresh, solid foods, even this detox appears too restrictive. Any weight lost will be temporary unless Junger’s more nutritionally sound tenets, like daily exercise and mindful snacking, can be adopted and sustained.

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Filed under Fruits and Vegetables, Supplements, Weight loss

Are Carbs The Enemy?

Of all the major nutrients, carbohydrates have gotten a pretty bad rap. Personally, I don’t think it’s justified.

Carbohydrates are the core energy source for our body and brain and can be converted into amino acids to serve as the building blocks for protein. Certain sources of carbs are also chock-full of nutritious vitamins, minerals and fiber.

Grains, milk, beans, fruit and starchy vegetables, like potatoes and corn, all contribute to our daily carbohydrate intake. In fact, the U.S. government suggests we consume 45-65% of our daily calories from this nutrient group. So why the notoriety?

Not all carbs are created equal. There’s a big difference (nutritionally-speaking) between “refined” and “complex” carbohydrates. Refined carbs include chips, cake, candy, cereal, sweetened beverages (e.g., juice, lemonade, soda) and bread and pasta made with white flour. These foods are literally stripped of nutrients during processing. Due to their lack of fiber, they don’t fill us up and are digested quickly, causing our blood sugar to spike. Refined carbs contain few vitamins and minerals and likely end up replacing healthier foods in our diet. Eating too many of these foods can also lead to high triglyceride levels.

On the other hand, many complex carbohydrates are packed with nutrients. Examples include brown and wild rice, whole wheat pasta and bread, oatmeal, quinoa, bulgur and barley. Such whole grains are naturally low in fat and added sugars and supply iron, folate, zinc, magnesium, B-vitamins and fiber – a nutritional powerhouse. Fiber cannot be digested by the human body and therefore, this complex carb passes through our system without adding calories! Fiber can help lower cholesterol, regulate bowel function, reduce spikes in blood sugar, protect against colon cancer and help us lose weight by warding off hunger! The fiber in whole fruit is what makes it a much better choice than juice, which is high in sugar and calories and not a dieter’s friend.

When it comes to weight loss, the low-carb Atkins diet certainly gets a lot of press. However, weight loss occurs when you consume fewer total calories than your body needs, whether you’re cutting back on fat, protein or carbs. A sustainable strategy for weight loss should reduce calories from all nutrient groups, so that you do not feel deprived. Reduce your intake of sugary beverages, desserts and foods made with refined flour, like white bread and pasta and be sure to include nutrient-dense and fiber-packed sources of complex carbs in your meal plan!

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Filed under Dairy, Food Groups, Fruits and Vegetables, Grains, Heart Healthy Choices, Weight loss

Redbook Cites Megan Madden, MS, RD in Feature Article

Got the munchies? Take a look at Redbook Magazine’s “25 Snacks for 150 Calories – or Less!”  Three of the 25 tips are mine (#3, 24 and 25), but all are diet-friendly!

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Filed under Meal Tips, Media, Weight loss

Get into Gear for the New Year

I’m no fortune teller, but I’m 99% certain that next month, there will be a huge spike in the number of Internet searches associated with weight loss and dieting. Actually, Google Trends tells me this happens every January. The phenomenon is probably related to those of us hoping to shed the pounds we gained this holiday season by creating a New Year’s resolution to eat healthier and exercise more.

Yet shortly after we ring in 2012, most of us currently yearning for a fresh start will fall off the resolution bandwagon and resort back to our more indulgent, less active ways. I find that success is usually hindered by vague or extreme resolutions that are too difficult to carry out.

If you’re looking to create a resolution that’s built to last, try the tips I’ve outlined below:

1. Be specific. If you claim you’ll “exercise more often,” you’re not likely to stick to that plan. Instead, identify the type of exercise you’ll do and how often. How about this one? “I will walk for 20 minutes during my lunch break four days per week.”

2. Make it measurable. For example, “I will snack on one piece of fresh fruit daily.” This technique will help you judge if you’re following through on your commitment.

3. Set a realistic goal. Instead of saying “I want to lose 50 pounds,” aim for one pound per week and take it one step at a time. Losing just 5-10% of body weight can greatly improve your health. And, this amount can usually be achieved and maintained.

4. Put it on paper. By writing down your resolution, you’re turning a desire into a concrete goal. You may also want to note why you have this goal, which will help keep you motivated. If you want to lose weight, is it to improve the sleep apnea you’re suffering from? Or to be able to keep up with your energetic grandchildren?

5. Lastly, stay positive. Focus on things you can do, rather than things you shouldn’t. For example, instead of saying “I will not buy breakfast sandwiches on my way to work,” pledge to prepare your own breakfast four mornings per week. And if you slip up, go easy on yourself. Refocus by reviewing why you’re committed to your resolution.

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Filed under Food Groups, Fruits and Vegetables, Meal Tips, Weight loss