3 Meals, 2 Snacks? Not So Fast…

For decades now, the conventional advice from trainers and weight loss specialists has been this: “Eat three meals a day plus two snacks.”

The big question is whether or not it’s true.

And the answer (drum roll and envelope please) is …

… sometimes. But not always. Many people do absolutely great on three meals a day with no snacks, and sometimes, on some days — (gasp) — even two.

mealsSee, the conventional advice was built upon the “truth” that “grazing” is always a better eating strategy for weight loss than eating three (or, god forbid, two) “solid” meals a day. Eating three meals and two snacks was supposed to keep your blood sugar even throughout the day, keeping cravings at bay.

Well, maybe. But the truth of the matter is that people are far more variable and individual than we often acknowledge. And there’s a downside to the “five meals a day” theory, a downside which may affect some people more than others.

For one thing, eating every two hours guarantees that your insulin is going to go up five times a day instead of, say, three. For many people, that means more hunger, not less. Insulin is not only the fat storage hormone, it’s also the hunger hormone. In fact, the whole “Carbohydrate Addicts Diet” got started when one of its creators, a (then) very-overweight Rachel Heller, found that she experienced a lot less hunger on one particularly busy day when she “forgot” to eat.

Three meals a day — each with a beginning and an end — is making a comeback as a weight-loss strategy, snacking be damned. Celebrity nutritionist JJ Virgin now advocates eating three meals a day, the first meal within an hour of waking up and the last meal at least three hours before bed. And recent research has demonstrated — at least in rats — that “intermittent fasting” actually has some major health benefits.

The point here is not that the old information was wrong and the new information is right. The point is that there are huge individual differences in how we respond to food, and no one strategy — including the “five meals a day” strategy — works for everyone. We need to stop blindly following conventional wisdom and start paying attention to our individual differences when it comes to weight loss. (In fact, that’s not a bad strategy to follow for everything, but that’s another column.)

mindfulnessEllen Langner, the Harvard psychologist, puts it brilliantly in her book “Mindfulness,” when she says that “certainty” is the enemy of mindfulness. When we blindly follow a strategy, for weight loss or for anything else, we often stop paying attention to the individual cues that tell us whether it’s the right thing to do in our particular situation. “Certainty is a cruel mindset,” she wrote. “It is uncertainty that we need to embrace, particularly about our health. If we do so, the payoff is that we create choices and the opportunity to exercise control over our lives.”

So if three meals and two snacks per day works for you, great. Keep it up and carry on! But if it’s not working, don’t assume it’s because there’s something wrong with you. It just might be that you need to try a different strategy.

And three meals a day — each with a beginning and an end point, and with no “snacking” in between — might be one technique worth trying.

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Larger Serving Sizes: What They Could Mean for Dieters

sizeFor anyone trying to stick with a weight-loss plan — especially a stringent one — nutritional information, as well as portion size, is essential. “The New York Times” recently reported that the FDA will start to encourage manufacturers to post nutritional info on the front of food packages, as well as explore upping the serving sizes for certain foods — like chips, cookies, breakfast cereals and ice cream — based on how Americans really eat.

What would these changes mean for all of us measuring out our snacks, counting calories, and, well, just trying to maintain our weight?

“This can have both a positive and negative effect on dieters’ routines, portion size, and weight maintenance,” said dietitian and That’s Fit columnist Tanya Zuckerbrot. “Hopefully, seeing nutrition labels on the front of packages will increase awareness of the caloric content of what people are eating. In turn, this information may cause people to consume less, exercise more, and overall make better food choices.”

But increasing the serving sizes could still hold some less than ideal challenges for those trying to lose weight or keep it off. “Increasing serving sizes can make weight maintenance more difficult,” Zuckerbrot said. “Larger serving sizes means a greater intake of calories. People might not realize that the serving size of their favorite snacks and breakfast cereals have gotten larger or what the original calorie content and serving size was to begin with. This increase in serving sizes will end up increasing the calories in your food, too.”

For some people, a larger portion may help them be more accurate about their calorie counts. But for dieters who adhere to the current serving sizes, an overhaul may throw a wrench in the mix. Registered dietitian and American Dietitic Association spokesperson Keri Gans told us, “Since once the portion is larger the calories will increase. Dieters may not want to eat a particular food at all. We don’t necessarily want them to avoid foods, just watch portion size.”

And while the FDA’s latest move is likely to impact the millions of Americans who never turn to the nutritional information on the back of packaging, it does not help the fact that calorie counts on labels are allowed to be inaccurate by up to 20 percent.

High Altitudes May Help Obese Slim Down

high-altitudesMost of us wish there was an easy way to increase our metabolism without having to exert any extra effort. And according to recent research, maybe there is — getting up into the mountains. And you don’t even have to take up hiking or skiing — A study published recently in the medical journal Obesity suggest that simply being at a high altitude can help obese people slim down.

Here’s how they tested it — Dr. Florian J. Lippl and his team at Ludwig Maximilians University in Munich, Germany selected 20 obese men and monitored their regular eating and exercise activities for week while in Munich, which is at an elevation that’s on par with sea level. Then they sent them to an air-conditioned facility in the mountains that was at an elevation of over 8,000 feet above sea level. Once there, the men could eat whatever and didn’t increase their exercise. Then they were brought back down and monitored for an additional four weeks.

As it happens, the participants lost an average of 3.3 pounds when they were at a high altitude, mostly from eating less. That doesn’t seem like much but statistically speaking, it’s a fairly significant amount when compared to their weight loss at sea level. The study was small, so it might not work for everyone. Dr. David Heber, director of the UCLA Center for Human Nutrition told MSNBC that even though these men saw some benefits, if they stayed in the mountains they would likely adjust to their surroundings, but their habits would stay the same.

diet-in-mountains

There’s more to weight loss then just a change of scenery. Read about how one couple finally stopped dieting and lost weight together. So what is it about the mountains that whittles away the weight? The researchers believe it had to do with the participants eating less at a high altitude — it’s thought that they ate about 700 calories less per day than they would at sea level. Another theory is that the elevation boosted metabolism, and the men were burning more calories without doing anything. But both of these factors still leave one big question unanswered: Why?

Perhaps the best theory on why altitudes affect weight has to do with the so-called hunger-hormone Leptin, which reduces appetite. It works similar to HCG diet which is mentioned on hcgdietdropsprotocol.com. Lippl and colleagues believe that the low-oxygen environment at 8,000 feet above sea level causes the body to produce more leptin, which leads to less hunger and subsequently less calorie consumption.

But don’t start house-hunting in Colorado just yet — this was just a small study, so it’s impossible to know for sure whether altitude definitely causes weight loss. According to Live Science, Lippl and colleagues are planning a more comprehensive study.

Super Bowl Innovative Recipe

Half the fun of Super Bowl is the Super Bowl party. Whether you’re entertaining for the big game or headed to a friend’s house, chances are there’s going to be some game time decisions about food.

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Instead of just grabbing processed, high-fat foods from a store, you can make Super Bowl favorites with all the flavor, but far less calories. When you have control of the ingredients, it’s easier to direct the fat and sodium content of your favorite dishes. Instead of ordering out this year, try my rehab of some of these Super Bowl classics.

Buffalo Chicken Wings

buffalo-chicken-wingsBuffalo chicken wings are a favorite appetizer for Super Bowl parties — so much so that last year they were worried the supermarkets would run out of chicken wings because of such high demand. Since the wings of the chicken contain a minimal amount of meat and are mostly skin and bones, I will replace them with chicken breast strips threaded on skewers and baked in a spicy buffalo sauce to keep them finger friendly while maximizing the protein and nutrition.

Ingredients:

  • 2 pounds chicken breast, sliced into thin strips
  • 3 tablespoons hot pepper sauce
  • 2 tablespoons white vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon corn starch
  • 2 teaspoons paprika
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Instructions:

1. Pour all the ingredients but the chicken in a small pot and heat on the stove top until thickened.

2. Tenderize the chicken with a fork in order for the sauce to sink further into the meat. Then thread the chicken onto skewers (if using wooden skewers make sure to soak them in water first, so they will not burn).

3. Brush the chicken with the thickened buffalo sauce. Place in a casserole dish and bake for 15 minutes at 350 degrees F. Brush the hot chicken with the remaining sauce. Turn and bake for another 5 – 10 minutes until the chicken is done.

Serves: 8

Nutrition Content (per serving): 194 calories, 4 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 2 g carbohydrates, 0 g fiber, 35 g protein, 217 mg sodium

Potato Skins

potato-skinsSince the skin of the potatoes is where most of the fiber is, the basis of this dish is very healthy. It’s the addition of bacon, cheese, and sour cream dip that packs on the calories and turns this dish into something to avoid. By changing the toppings, it doesn’t have to be this way. Simply spray the skins with a little olive oil, season them with cayenne pepper and a dash of salt and bake them until they are brown. Instead of bacon, I will use smoked salmon to add a little more flavor. Serve with my creamy blue cheese dip to complete the dish.

Ingredients:

  • 3 medium potatoes, baked
  • Olive oil spray
  • Dash cayenne pepper
  • Dash salt
  • 4 ounces smoked salmon

Instructions:

1. Scrub potatoes, prick with a fork and bake at 400 degrees F for 40-45 minutes until tender. 
2. When cool, slice each potato in half lengthwise and scoop out the inside leaving about a quarter-inch inch shell left. 
3. Spray the inside of the potatoes with olive oil and then sprinkle with the salt and pepper. 
4. Chop the salmon and top the potatoes with it.
5. Bake about 10 minutes more until the potato begins to brown.

Serves: 6

Nutrition Content (per serving): 81 calories, 1 g fat, 0 g saturated fat, 13 g carbohydrates, 2 g fiber, 5 g protein, 249 mg sodium

Blue Cheese Dip

blue-cheese-dipThis is a great dip pared with the buffalo chicken wings or potato skins listed above. Blue cheese is a good strong flavored cheese where a little goes a long way. It’s the creamy sauce of traditional blue cheese dips that is high in calories and saturated fat. I will make this dip with Greek yogurt, blue cheese crumbles, broccoli, and chives to lighten it up.

Ingredients:

1 cup fat-free Greek yogurt
2 oz. blue cheese crumbled (about a quarter cup)
1 clove crushed garlic
4 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
1/2 cup chopped broccoli florets 
1/4 tsp celery salt

Instructions:

1. Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl. Mix together and serve!

Serves: 6

Nutrition Content (per 1/4 cup serving): 56 calories, 3 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 2 g carbohydrates, 0 g fiber, 6 g protein, 243 mg sodium

Readers, I would love to hear from you! Please send me your most favorite fattening recipes that need a RECIPE MODIFICATION!

Dwight Freeney’s Superhuman Super Bowl Diet

Most elite athletes follow a fairly strict diet — after all, fueling their bodies properly is an important part of the job. But is it possible to take it too far?

dwight-freeneyDwight Freeney of the Super Bowl-bound Indianapolis Colts was recently profiled by “Sports Illustrated,” and writer Lee Jenkins holds nothing back when describing some of Freeney’s unorthodox practices. In addition to the hyperbaric chamber in his bedroom and the laser beams in his basement (used to treat sore muscles), Freeney follows a diet that, as Jenkins puts it, “makes supermodels look indulgent.”

The diet is called Sari Mellman’s Dietary Progression, and it’s based on blood, which is drawn every couple of months and analyzed to determine what foods will work best for your body, and which foods your body is likely to reject. For example, Freeney had suffered from head to toe cramping, and his coaches kept telling him to eat bananas. After having his blood analyzed, it was determined that bananas were actually part of the problem, according to “Sports Illustrated.”

So, what can he eat? Well, what he can eat and what he does eat are two very different things. Freeney’s body does better with tomatoes than with lettuce, and prefers pork to chicken. But the defensive end is stricter than that.

For example, Freeney ate nothing but beef and pinto beans from Wednesday morning until the Sunday afternoon kickoff against the Jets. He knows exactly what weight he wants to be — 262 pounds against a passing team, and 267 against a running team — and he won’t let anything stand in his way of achieving that weight. Even if he goes out to a restaurant for dinner, Jenkins wrote, “he brings his ingredients with him and instructs the chef on how he wants it prepared — no oil, no pepper, no garlic, no garnish, no powder and certainly no pan spray.” Even snacking on a sprig of parsley makes him feel guilty.

Before you start feeling too sorry for him, though, know this: Freeney does allow two cheat days, during which he can gain up to five pounds (which, of course, he loses by Thursday).

His teammates call him a lab rat because so many of the things he relies on to stay at the top of his game have yet to be scientifically proven. But, looking at his stats, it’s clear that something is working for him.

Do you think this extreme type of diet is dangerous, or just part of the job for a professional athlete?