Mar 192014

Research shows that people who write down their goals are more likely to achieve them. And research also shows that dieters who track what they eat are more successful in losing weight.

Ok, so maybe you’re a dieter and maybe you’re just someone concerned with nutrition. Either way, one of the most helpful things you can do to ensure your success is to write down what you eat. Everything. Every last little bit. Often, it’s the calories we don’t count that sabotage our plans.

Once you have a clear understanding of what and how much you are eating, you have the knowledge you need to start tweaking your diet. You’ll also gain an understanding of your maintenance calories, that is, the number of calories you need to stay at the very weight you are right now. Fro there, make changes as needed. Want to lose weight? Easily calculate how many calories less you need to eat (or how many more you need to burn through exercise). Want to hit a certain macro-nutrient balance (40% protein, 40% carbohydrates and 20% fats, for instance)? Tracking will help you know you’re on target.

Get Started

The tools below can help you in your quest for nutrition knowledge. Note that it’s up to you to faithfully track everything you eat — yes, the cream in your coffee, too — as well as to measure or weigh portions. You don’t have to do this last part forever, but at least until you really and truly understand what 4 ounces of chicken breast looks like, or how much rice a 1/2 cup is.

Paper and pencil. Old-fashioned types might prefer this method. I don’t recommend it approach as it will involve a lot looking up of each item’s calories and macro-nutrients.

Online tool. The advantages here are that you can access your information anywhere you have access to a computer. There are several sites available. My favorite is Fitday. Create a free account and you are on your way. You can select from hundreds of pre-entered foods or you can add your own custom foods. This latter option is a huge time-saver, especially when you eat the same custom foods often. For instance, I make a protein shake each morning that I created a custom entry for. This saves me a lot of time since I don’t have to separately add protein powder, banana, cocoa powder, etc.

PC tool. I’ve also got Fitday PC, which offers greater customization and options than the free account. You can track exercise, mood, custom nutrients (helpful if you are trying to make sure you get enough of X or not too much of Y), and more. There’s a robust reporting interface, too.

iPhone/Android App. Is it important to you to track things on the go? If so, there are lot of apps available in this category. Fitday has one for the iPhone (free). Other low- or no-cost options include Absolute Fitness, which has one of the more robust set of features I’ve seen.

As you have probably surmised by now, I don’t use a phone app to track my own nutrition. I use my phone for phone calls and the occasional text. Just call me a Luddite…


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Mar 182014

Seems like every week there is a new “super fruit” being touted as the thing to eat.  Acai berry, pomegranate, goji berry, blueberry…  My recent copy of Health Magazine is discussing the benefits of drinking cherry juice.

I like fruit.  Truly, I do.  And I eat fruit just about every day.

But I also like chocolate.  Who doesn’t?  There are times when nothing will do but a creamy piece of dark chocolate.   For me, those times are daily (more on that later).  So I was very happy to read a peer reviewed article in Chemistry Central Journal which showed that chocolate is more super than any of the super fruits.  The researchers compared levels of anti-oxidants, polyphenols and flavanols in cocoa products (cocoa powder and dark chocolate) and “super fruits” (acai, blueberry, cranberry, pomegranate).  Chocolate was the easy winner in all categories.

Why Does This Matter?

Chocolate confers numerous health benefits on those who consume it:  lower risks of cardiovascular desease and stroke, just to start.  Chocolate consumption reduces blood pressure and increases flow-mediated dilatation.  Researchers now believe that chocolate may help prevent insulin resistance, which is a precursor to type 2 diabetes. Chocolate also contains serotonin, which is a natural anti-depressant.

Plus, it tastes good.

The Caveat

The type of chocolate you eat matters.  Researchers found higher levels of polyphenols in unprocessed cocoa powder than in its alkalized cousin, for instance.  And the chocolate needs to be dark – chocolate candy doesn’t count! Some tips:

  • Choose chocolate with a 72% or higher rating (Lindt and Green & Black are good and readily available)
  • Eat about 1 ounce a day
  • Use unprocessed cocoa powder over alkalized, whenever possible (Hershey’s cocoa in the supermarket fits the bill)
  • Savor each bite!

Shop early for Lindt’s Easter Chocolate Gifts

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Mar 012013

What and When to Eat

You will often see references to a “clean” diet. But what exactly does this mean? Simply put, it means your food should be as unprocessed as possible. That is, your food should be as close to its natural state as it can be. Grilled chicken breast is “clean.” Deep fried chicken nuggets are not. Baked potato is “clean.” French fries are not.

In addition, you may have also heard a lot of talk about “macros.” If you don’t already know, these are the individual components of your diet. At the top level, everything you eat can be broken down into one of three categories: Protein, Carbohydrate, and Fat. Alcohol is a fourth category but we won’t even talk about that here since no one who is serious about losing weight drinks.

Within the aforementioned categories, there are further divisions: Carbohydrates are classified as either complex or simple. Fibrous carbohydrates are vegetables, which are a type of complex carbohydrate. Fats are divided into saturated and unsaturated categories, with unsaturated being further divided into mono-unsaturated and poly-unsaturated. The point of mentioning these distinctions here is not to make you into a food scientist but to empower you with the knowledge to make good food choices.

So what are the components of a clean diet? Lean protein (i.e., not loaded with fat), complex carbohydrates and unsaturated fats. The list below will guide you.

The Fit Shopping List


  • Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breast
  •  Boneless, Skinless Turkey Breast
  •  Tuna (water packed)
  •  Fish
  •  Shrimp
  •  Top Round Beef (aka London Broil)
  •  Extra Lean Ground Beef
  •  Venison
  •  Buffalo
  •  Ostrich
  •  Protein Powder (whey, casein, soy, egg)
  •  Egg Whites or Whole Eggs
  •  Tofu
  •  Soy products
  •  Low-fat cottage cheese

Complex Carbohydrates

  • Oatmeal (steel cut, old fashioned, or quick)
  • Potatoes (sweet or white – with skin)
  • Beans
  • Barley
  • Quinoa
  • Oat Bran Cereal
  • Rye Cereal
  • Grape Nuts
  • Brown Rice
  • Whole Wheat Pasta
  • Whole Wheat Bread

Fibrous Carbohydrates

  •  Lettuce (Green Leaf, Red Leaf, Romaine, Bibb/Butter)
  •  Broccoli
  •  Asparagus
  •  String Beans
  •  Okra
  •  Spinach
  •  Peppers (green, red, yellow)
  •  Brussel Sprouts
  •  Cauliflower
  •  Cabbage
  •  Celery
  •  Cucumber
  •  Eggplant
  •  Onions
  •  Pumpkin
  •  Tomatoes
  •  Zucchini


  •  Blueberries
  •  Cantaloupe
  •  Pears
  •  Strawberries
  •  Apples
  •  Grapefruit
  •  Peaches
  •  Raspberries
  •  Lemons or Limes

Healthy Fats

  •  Natural Peanut Butter
  •  Olive Oil
  •  Nuts (walnuts, almonds, pistachios)
  •  Flax Seed
  •  Flax Oil
  •  Olive Oil
  •  Fish Oil Capsules


  • Water
  •  Water
  •  Water
  •  Green Tea (no sugar)
  •  Other Tea (no sugar)
  •  Coffee (no sugar)
  •  Diet Soda (1 per week)

Seasoning, Condiments, Sweeteners

  • Reduced Fat Mayonnaise
  •  Garlic
  •  Garlic Powder
  •  Onion Powder
  •  Soy Sauce
  •  Balsamic Vinegar
  •  Salsa
  •  Hot Peppers and Hot Sauce (make sure these are sugar-free)
  •  Chili Powder
  •  Curry Powder
  •  Mrs. Dash
  •  Steak Sauce
  •  Sugar Free Syrup
  •  Chili Paste
  •  Mustard
  •  Extracts (vanilla, almond, etc.)
  •  Beef, fish, chicken or vegetable broth
  •  Tomato sauce, puree, paste
  •  Stevia (natural sweetener)

How Much of Each Macro?

For people lifting weights, the general rule is to eat a minimum of 1 gram of protein for each pound of bodyweight. You should then plan on another .3 grams of fat per pound of bodyweight. The balance should come from carbohydrates. So for someone weighing 150 pounds who should be eating 1500 calories per day, this works out to:

150 g protein (4 calories per gram of protein, so 600 calories)
45 g fat (9 calories per gram of fat, so 405 calories)
124 g carbohydrates (4 calories per gram of carbohydrate, so 496 calories)
Total calories: 1501
Protein: 40%
Carb: 33%
Fat: 27%

Eat Often!

In part 1 of this article you learned how to calculate how many calories you should be taking in. Once you’ve arrived at that number, you want to split it up across 5-6 meals, no more than 3 hours apart. Eating often not only helps to stave off hunger pangs (we all have a tendency to make poor food choices when we are over-hungry), but it keeps your metabolism humming along at maximum efficiency. Many people who diet do so by eliminating breakfast, eating a tiny salad for lunch and then a large dinner. Even though their total number of calories are low, the insulin hills and valleys they inadvertently create through this pattern of eating sends the body into starvation mode. In a nutshell, your body thinks a famine is eminent – why else isn’t it getting the nutrients it needs? – and begins to slow its metabolism and conserve fat. The very same mechanism that lets us read miracle stories about folks being saved after being stranded for weeks with nothing to eat but snow will prevent you from losing weight if you don’t keep your metabolism busy.

So the rule is: eat every 2-3 hours. And make sure your meals are meals.

What is a Meal?

Often, when I am asked to critique someone’s diet, I see things like “1/2 cup oatmeal and a handful of raisins” or “yogurt and a piece of cheese” listed as a meal. These are not meals. A meal has three components: protein, carbohydrates (complex and/or fibrous) and fat. The exceptions to this rule are as follows: 1) Immediately post-workout (that is, the first meal after your lifting session) you don’t need any fat, as you want something fast digesting (this is an excellent time for a whey protein shake); 2) Your dinner can be protein + fibrous carb + fat (no need for complex carbs here); and 3) Your last meal of the day should be protein + fat only (cottage cheese and nuts, for instance).

Keeping a Balance

Your meals should reflect a balance of your daily intake. If you are planning to eat 1500 calories a day and 5 meals a day, each meal should be roughly 300 calories. Don’t make yourself crazy with this – some meals will be a little less and some a little more. As long as you are not toggling between meals of 500 calories and meals of 100 calories, it is ok. The thing to remember is to surround your workout with high quality protein and carbohydrates.

In the same vein, you should allocate your protein, carbs and fats fairly evenly across your meals (with the exceptions as noted previously). Again, you might want to have a slight increase in protein and carbs (complex ones, please) in the meals just before and just after your workout, but your other meals should have a balance of all three macros.

Putting it Together – A Sample Day

Here’s what a day could look like for someone who is targeting roughly 1575 calories per day:

Meal 1 (pre-workout): 1 cup cooked oatmeal with 1T flax seed, 1 whole egg, 3 egg whites,
298 calories; 24g protein; 28g carb, 10g fat

Meal 2 (post-workout): Whey protein w/ 1 cup skim milk and 1 cup strawberries.
249 calories; 31g protein; 27g carb; 2g fat

Meal 3 4oz broiled salmon, .5 cup cooked brown rice, 2 cups broccoli w/lemon
321 calories; 32g protein; 31g carb; 8g fat

Meal 4: 3.5oz tuna, sweet potato, 2 cups mixed greens with balsamic vinegar and 1tsp olive oil
329 calories; 28g protein; 43g carb; 5g fat

Meal 5: 6oz Baked or broiled chicken breast (bone and skin removed), 1.5 cup green beans
199 calories; 31g protein; 12g carb; 3g fat

Meal 6: .5 cup lf cottage cheese, 7 walnut halves
182 calories, 18g protein, 5g carb, 10g fat

1578 calories
164g protein = 656 calories/42%
146g carb = 584 calories/37%
38g fat = 342 calories/22%

Summing Up
Eating too few calories is as detrimental to weight loss (and especially to fat loss) as eating too many.

A clean diet is a diet that consists of lean proteins, complex carbohydrates and healthy fats.

You should eat 5-6 meals per day, with your protein, carbohydrates and fats roughly evenly allocated across those meals.

Each meal should contain a protein, carbohydrates and fat. Exceptions are post workout (no fat) and the last meal before bed (no carbs).

Read on! Click for part 3 of So You Want to Lose Weight and Shape Up.

Image: David Castillo Dominici /

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Mar 012013

Part 1 – Calculating Your Caloric Needs


Many women who first venture onto a bodybuilding site do so in search of a magic formula that will help them to lose weight and “tone” up.

Although I’ll state right off the bat that there is no such thing as “tone” – you either have muscle and low enough bodyfat for it to be apparent or you don’t – parts 1 and 2 of this article will deal with the weight loss side of things. Part 3 will discuss weight training and aerobic exercise (cardio). You can think of these as three legs of a stool: each is needed in order for the stool not to topple.

Losing Weight
The bad news: If you’re looking for a way to lose 10 pounds in 2 weeks or if you want to know what supplements you can take so that you’ll lose weight without significantly modifying your eating habits, stop reading now. There are no magic pills or formulas and I won’t insult your intelligence by pretending that there are. Losing weight is all about establishing a healthy relationship with food, one in which your food choices are fueled by knowledge, not the latest fad or gimmick.

And, speaking of fads and gimmicks, any diet that suggests that you eliminate an entire food group or that you subsist on starvation levels of calories is one you should run from as fast as you can. While you might lose weight in the short term, you’re practically guaranteed to gain it all back. Worse yet, taking it off the next time will be that much more difficult. So let’s get started doing it right the first time.

Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR)

The first thing you need to do is to calculate your maintenance calories, that is, the number of calories you need to eat to stay exactly as you are. I understand that you don’t want to stay exactly as you are, but this is where you need to start. To calculate your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR – the number of calories you would need if you were lying in bed all day.) visit this site. Complete the form, then write down the number you get. This is your BMR. Remeber, your BMR is the number of calories you need if you were to do absolutely nothing all day. It is not healthy to eat at your BMR level!

Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE)

Next, you need to apply an activity factor to the number you got above (your BMR). An activity factor is a way of estimating the calories you burn doing whatever it is you do during the day – driving your car, making meals, sitting at a desk, etc. The activity factors established by Harris Benedict look like this:

If you are sedentary (little or no exercise): BMR x 1.2
If you are lightly active (light exercise/sports 1-3 days/week): BMR x 1.375
If you are moderately active (moderate exercise/sports 3-5 days/week): BMR x 1.55
If you are very active (hard exercise/sports 6-7 days a week): BMR x 1.725
If you are extra active (very hard exercise/sports & physical job or 2x training): BMR x 1.9

Let’s say your BMR was 1350 and your activity factor is 1.55 because you weight train 3 days a week and you do HIIT cardio 2 days a week and steady state cardio once a week. You’d multiply 1350 by 1.55 for a total of 2092. This is the number of calories you’d need to stay at the weight you are, called your Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE)

Calories For Weight Loss

You want to lose weight, though, so you need to do one more calculation. You will often hear the suggestion to eliminate 500 calories per day as this results in a weight loss of one pound per week. In some cases, this might be appropriate, but in others it could be too much and in rare cases of extreme obesity, it could be too little. Better is to find a number that is 15%-20% less than your TDEE. Using the 2092 example, this comes to 1674-1778 calories. Eating inthis range will help to ensure that you lose fat, not muscle and that the weight you take off will stay off.

Summing Up
To determine the number of calories you should be eating you will
1. Establish your BMR
2. Estimate your TDEE
3. Establish a target calorie range that is 15%-20% less than your TDEE

Read on! Click for part 2 of So You Want to Lose Weight and Shape Up.

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Mar 012013

You’ve Got to Lift Weights!

I talked about the three components of a shapely, healthy body in part 1. They are nutrition, weight lifting and aerobic exercise. Unfortunately many people, especially women, put them in reverse order, making cardiovascular exercise the cornerstone of their program. This is wrong. I know, I know – you’ve read countless magazine articles in which cardio was emphasized. In addition, you’re worried that if you lift weights, you’ll end up getting bigger or bulky. Trust me, it won’t happen. It doesn’t even happen all that easily for men, who are blessed with way more of the muscle-growing hormone testosterone than you are.

Debunking Some Myths

The first idea I’d like you to get out of your head is the one that says that weight lifting will turn you into a she-man or some such nonsense. It won’t. But it will make you look smaller and tighter (yes, smaller), increase your metabolism, improve your health, give you curves in the right places, and help you to stave off osteoporosis (and even grow new bone), to name just a few.

Let’s look at these claims one by one.

Having Muscles Will Make You Look Smaller

Muscle is much denser than fat, so five pounds of muscle takes up much less space than five pounds of fat. So even if you didn’t lose a pound but instead replaced ten pounds of fat with 10 pounds of muscle, you’d likely lose a dress size or two and your friend would all swear you’d lost weight.


Muscle Increases Your Metabolism

Muscle has a metabolic rate about four times faster than fat. This means that the more muscle you have, the more food your body needs to maintain its weight (read: the more calories you can consume). This is why it is so important to fix your nutrition such that you are losing fat, not muscle. When you lose muscle, the scale will go down, which can be gratifying for a while. But in time, as your metabolism slows in response to the reduction in muscle, you’ll find that you need to keep cutting calories further and further in order to remain at a maintenance level. Few people have the willpower to do this, especially since your body doesn’t get less hungry just because you lose some muscle.

Weight Lifting Improves Your Health

You’ve no doubt heard that being overweight puts you at risk for many diseases, particularly heart disease. But did you know that the actual risk factor is not being overweight but being over-fat? Here’s what The American Heart Association has to say:

Obesity is defined simply as too much body fat. Your body is made up of water, fat, protein, carbohydrate and various vitamins and minerals. If you have too much fat — especially in your waist area — you’re at higher risk for health problems, including high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease and stroke. (…dentifier=4639)

More muscle means less fat and less fat means less of a chance of health problems.

In addition, researchers have linked exercise to a host of other health benefits ranging from improved mood to greater sexual enjoyment. You can’t go wrong!

Muscle Gives You Curves in the Right Places

While spot reduction is not possible (read that twice), you can use weight lifting to create the illusion of curves where you want them. If you’ve always had a flat butt, for instance, squats and lunges can pull it up and round it out. And widening your shoulders can create the illusion of a smaller waist for those who have always had more of a straight up-and-down shape.

Weight Lifting Staves Off Osteoporosis

I know, you’re not old enough to worry about osteoporosis. Actually, if you’re over the age of 29, that’s not true. Osteoporosis occurs when new bone is not made fast enough to replace old bone that is being broken down. Without enough new bone growth, the old bone becomes porous and weak, which can lead to fractures later in life. By the time you turn 30, bone breakdown outpaces new bone growth, setting the stage for the beginning of osteoporosis. You already know to incorporate calcium-rich foods in your diet. But you may not know that weight bearing exercise actually builds bone (Virginia Mason Medical Center,…/sec88903.htm).

Getting the Most Out of Weight Lifting

So now that you’re convinced you need to be lifting weights, you need a routine.  Two of my favorite authors are Alwyn Cosgrove, whose work is featured in The New Rules of Lifting for Women, and Chad Wwaterbury, who has his own website and also writes for T-Nation.

Summing Up

  • Muscle takes up less space than fat.
  • Weight lifting will speed fat loss and won’t make you bulky
  • Lift heavy (for you) in the range of 3 sets of 8-12 reps.
  • Pay attention to your form. Poor form leads to injury and slower gains.
  • More is not better. Growth occurs outside of the gym, when your body is at rest. Resist the temptation to be in the gym 7 days a week.
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