Diet and Exercise for Weight Loss

So many people these days struggle with their weight.  In fact, "More than two-thirds (68.8 percent) of adults are considered to be overweight or obese. More than one-third (35.7 percent) of adults are considered to be obese. More than 1 in 20 (6.3 percent) have extreme obesity."  (

Weight loss is a very complex subject with many variables and contributing factors ranging from thyroid problems, to stress, to elevated estrogen levels, to toxins building up in the system, etc, etc.  It's definitely not as simple as "calories in equals calories out"  and it's quite often not a matter of willpower either.

If I had to make a broad-sweeping dietary recommendation that would benefit everyone, I would say: "Reduce your carbohydrate (i.e. sugar) intake to 60 grams a day, not including veggies."  It's obviously more complicated than that, but considering the average American eats 150 pounds of sugar a year (and that's only the average), cutting down on the sugar would be hugely beneficial. Secondly I would say:

1. Eat tons organic green leafy vegetables--you literally cannot eat too many.

2. Eat lots of colorful organic veggies.

3. Eat twice as many veggies as fruit.

4. Eat a variety of fish, organic grass-fed meat, organic free-range chicken, and organ meats (watch the portion sizes on the protein, for most people 4oz is enough).

5. If you're not sensitive to them, eat eggs--they are incredibly nutritious.

6. Eat healthy fats such as coconut oil, olive oil, avocado oil, and don't be afraid of saturated fat (it's not saturated fat that causes heart disease, it's inflammation...mainly from elevated blood sugar).  Avoid canola and corn oil at all cost--they cause inflammation and therefore heart disease and are highly processed and usually genetically modified.

7. Limit the dairy (many people have dairy sensitivities, but if you don't then indulge in small amounts and choose the full fat versions).

8. Eat very, very little whole grains (if any at all), and definitely ditch the sugar and processed foods!

9. And don't forget to drink half your body weight in ounces of filtered water a day--minimum! (The best water is reverse osmosis water that you can add a pinch of Himalayan salt to in order to restore the minerals.)

And what's the skinny on exercise?

First of all, thinking you're going to lose weight by continuing to eat junk and just exercising is not going to get you anywhere.  It takes running a mile to burn 100 calories (about one slice of bread).  So you do the math.  Also, exercising makes most people hungrier (women more so than men).  So you may end up exercising but inadvertently eating more, negating the calorie-burning effects of the exercise.  So keep in mind that you must both clean up your diet AND exercise.

Also, if weight loss is your goal, then you want to do everything in your power to prevent your body from burning calories efficiently. Normally we think of efficiency as good, but in this case, efficiency is bad.  When you do the same exercise over and over again, your body becomes very efficient at doing it and it doesn't burn as many calories.  Going for a nice, relaxing walk every day will be fantastic for your mood and probably help your joints (movement is a good thing!) but it probably won't make you lose weight.

If you do low intensity aerobic workouts every day, you are staying in the "fat burning zone." You might think that's good and exactly what you want, right? Well...actually it's not! You do burn fat during that workout, but you are teaching your body (which doesn't like to lose fat because it starts to think it's starving) that it needs to store the food you eat as fat so that there will be plenty of fat-fuel for you to use the next time you do that same low intensity aerobic workout.

If, instead, you do high intensity interval training--where you go at maximum capacity (meaning you are breathing very heavily and are truly giving it every ounce of energy you have) for 30 seconds, and then rest for 2 minutes and repeat--then you never have a chance to get into aerobic metabolism to get your energy. You are going anaerobic, which means you will be using the glycogen stored in your muscles (not fat) as energy for your quick burst of activity. And here's the important bit--you are teaching your body that you will need more glycogen for the next workout (not fat), so it better replenish the glycogen stores in your muscles rather than convert your food into fat.  In other words, this will make you less likely to store the food you eat as fat (which is what you don't want). That's why high intensity interval training is better for weight loss than low intensity aerobics workouts. The other benefit is that you're done in 15 minutes max, vs spending hours on the treadmill.

However--high intensity interval training is not appropriate for everyone. If your adrenal glands are stressed, for instance, you have no business doing this because you will crash and burn. Also, high intensity interval training is stressful on the body (it temporarily causes a spike in inflammation), so you should not do it every day. I recommend once a week to start out with--two, if you are in decent shape.  The rest of the week you should do 2-3 days of weight training, and maybe take a couple of yoga classes or go dancing or do something fun that you enjoy.

It's super important to get a lot of variety in your exercise routine so that you don't get "efficient" at what you are doing (and stop burning as many calories) and so that you avoid overuse injuries. Plus, if you do the same thing every day you're likely to get bored and quit!

Please don't misunderstand me--taking a walk every day is a fantastic idea! Especially if it relaxes you and makes you feel good. As I said, movement is very good for you. The more you move the less pain you will feel (assuming you don't have rheumatoid arthritis or an injury) because of something called the gate theory.  Only so much information can get to your brain at once from your joints, and pain nerve fibers send information slower than the nerves sending information about movement.  So when you move, those signals flood the gate and your brain doesn't register the pain info. In other words, if you move more, you hurt less.  Also, exercise will cause you to release endorphins (morphine-like compounds produced by your own body) that make you feel good. And aerobic exercise is good for your cardiovascular health as well!

BUT, if you also want to lose weight, then mix it up! You will get more weight-loss benefit from the high intensity interval training one or twice a week, than taking those long, slow walks.

And one last tip--studies have shown that people lose the most weight when they have a support group or when they are taking part in a competition where there is a prize to win or a goal to achieve.  Figure out what motivates you the most.  Is it being able to play with your kids? Is it going on a hiking or biking vacation where you will need to be in shape to keep up?  Is it winning the pool of money at work when there is a company-wide weight-loss challenge?  Is it getting off your diabetes or blood pressure medication?  Dig deep.  Figure out what motivates you more than just the weight loss itself, and keep focusing on the larger goal and what you will be able to enjoy when you reach it.  And also be kind to yourself.  Nobody is perfect.  There are days when you will slip up and make poor food choices or feel too tired to go work out.  But the important thing is not to get discouraged and quit.  Keep going!  The rewards are worth it.

The Dirty Dozen

“The Dirty Dozen Plus 2” and “The Clean 15”—When is it crucial to buy organic?

I remember as a kid not being allowed to leave the dinner table if I didn’t eat all the vegetables on my plate.  At the time, I thought that was definitely abusive behavior on the part of my mom that borderline merited calling child protective services.  Now, of course, I know better. Thanks Mom, I know you tortured me with broccoli out of love.

Eating a diet filled with plenty of fruits and vegetables has numerous health benefits.  Fruits and veggies are bursting with vitamins and minerals.  They also provide antioxidants to fight cancer and inflammation, as well as fiber to help us maintain a healthy gut.

And not only that, but most vegetables and fruits are also low in calories so they pack a nutritious punch without adding to your waistline.  Just be careful to eat starchy vegetables such as potatoes in smaller portions, and to choose low glycemic fruits such as berries more often than bananas and other higher glycemic fruits.  (Note: High glycemic foods tend to raise blood sugar more and are associated with weight gain.)

Both fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables retain their precious cargo of vitamins and minerals.  Avoid canned fruits and vegetables, where the beneficial nutrients have been destroyed and often a lot of salt and sugar has been added.

And most of all, beware of  “The Dirty Dozen plus two!”

What’s “The Dirty Dozen plus two?” It’s a list of fruits and vegetables compiled by the Environmental Working Group (an organization of scientists, researchers and policymakers) using data from the United Sates Department of Agriculture on the amount of pesticide residue found on non-organic fruits and vegetables after they were washed. (That’s important because, unfortunately, washing the produce doesn’t remove the pesticides like many people think or hope.)

The group put together two lists: one called “The Dirty Dozen” and one “The Clean 15,” as a guide for consumers to help them know when they should definitely, without a question buy organic, and when it’s ok to buy conventional.

The fruits and veggies on “The Dirty Dozen” roster (when not grown organically), tested positive for at least 47 chemicals! Some tested positive for up to 67!  So when you’re thinking of indulging in produce from the “not so clean list,” you should definitely go organic…unless you’d like to shock your system with a nice little chemical cocktail.  Cheers!

In 2012, The Environmental Working Group added two extra foods to “The Dirty Dozen” list, now making it “The Dirty Dozen plus two.” The list as of today (July 2015) consists of: 

  • Apples
  • Celery
  • Cherry Tomatoes
  • Cucumbers
  • Grapes
  • Nectarines 
  • Peaches
  • Potatoes
  • Snap peas
  • Spinach
  • Strawberries
  • Sweet bell peppers
  • Hot peppers (plus)
  • Kale/collard greens (plus)

Green beans used to be on “The Dirty Dozen list” because they were often contaminated by two highly toxic organophosphates.  But those pesticides are now being withdrawn from agriculture, so green beans were removed from the list.  Domestically grown leafy greens were added to the list in 2013 because they were found to be contaminated with pesticides that are exceptionally toxic to the nervous system.  

So what about “The Clean 15?”  If you’ve got the spare change, I’d say organic is always your best bet.  But, if like most people, you’re working on a budget, then “The Clean 15” are safe to buy conventional (non-organic). “The Clean 15” includes:

  • Asparagus
  • Avocados
  • Cabbage
  • Cantaloupe
  • Cauliflower
  • Eggplant
  • Grapefruit
  • Kiwi
  • Mangos
  • Onions
  • Papayas
  • Pineapples
  • Sweet corn 
  • Sweet peas – frozen
  • Sweet potatoes

A brief explanation on terminology might be in order.  Foods are often labeled “Natural.”  It sounds good.  “Natural…” Natural is good, right?

The word “Natural” on a label actually has no nutritional or legal definition—it’s just an advertising ploy to trick people into thinking that what they’re buying isn’t so bad for them after all.  And “Natural” most definitely does not mean “Organic.” The two words are not interchangeable.  If it doesn’t say Organic, then it’s not.

So for the record, I highly encourage loving and caring parents to continue torturing their children with vegetables on their dinner plates, as long as “The Dirty Dozen” produce is organic.  And perhaps we should change the famous saying to: “An organic apple a day, keeps the Doctor away!”

Click here for the pdf version of EWGs dirty dozen and clean 15 list.