August 2017



    For every study on how to eat, work-out or think ourselves healthier, there is a counter study saying we should do the opposite.  The fact that science is constantly reviewing, reversing, and modifying such findings is a good thing.  But instead of a bunch of “breakthroughs” that might be debunked next week, the tried-and-true wisdom is the fact that it takes a lifetime of good habits to make you strong, fit, and healthy.  Not some magic powder sprinkled on your food.  What you’ll find here is gimmick-free advice that can change a body for the better and improve how you feel in (and about) it.

    First, fix your head.  Call it PMA.  Positive mental attitude.  Adopt it.  Inevitably you will fail at your first few attempts to quit smoking/drop pounds/get in shape.  Positive psychology studies, however, show that success is not born of willpower alone, but rather resilience and the ability to stay positive in the face of failure.  When you’re resilient, falling off of whatever wagon you’re on (food, sleep, and alcohol) is a momentary lapse on the way to future accomplishment.   The second part of PMA is motivation, or “knowing your why.”   Set an achievable goal that is meaningful, authentic, and only for yourself.  Starving for days to fit into that dress by Friday may work for one black tie, but the weight will inevitably come rushing back.  For every diet, you will cheat; for every workout streak, you’ll be slothful.  Breaks are, in fact, a necessary approach to getting fitter.  The 90/10 diet approach is the one I choose.  Succeeding 90 percent of the time and giving yourself permission to cheat 10 percent of the time is success.  The stress over punishing yourself is worse for your body than the offense itself.  Make the healthiest choice you can in every situation.  Adopt a PMA.  Drive on.
    Reset your bedtime.  I’m convinced that America’s weight problem is actually a sleep-deprivation problem.  Fact: Exhaustion causes the stomach to release the hunger-boosting hormone ghrelin.  Hence the direct inverse relationship between sleeping less and increased BMI.  Lack of sleep makes you “metabolically groggy”, making it more difficult to lose weight, and a sleep-starved brain will seek alternative energy, usually in the form of sugar.   There is a simple way to figure out the right amount of sleep for you: Go to bed an hour earlier, then see what time you naturally get up without an alarm.  When you can wake up before you actually need to get up, you have your optimal bedtime.  Also: if you lie awake at night, the best way to get back to sleep is to get up, do some light reading (of an actual physical book; reading a backlit device will keep you up) put yourself back to bed after 20 minutes.  Don’t force it.  A little brain activity seems to be useful to clear anxiety and calm the mind.
    Working out and not seeing results?  Get moving first thing.  Make it a habit.  It’s true that a 7 AM workout burns the same number of calories as the 7 PM workout, but the early-morning option keeps your engine burning for hours.  Better yet, work out before breakfast (after having a small snack).  After a night’s sleep, muscles’ available fuel (aka glycogen) is at its lowest, so your body is more likely to pull the energy it needs from stored fat. 
    Work out spiky; eat smooth.  Most people do the opposite: work out smooth and eat spiky.  What does ‘work out spiky’ mean?  It is gym-speak for HIIT (high intensity interval training).  When you work your muscles at maximum effort, even for one-two minutes, your body needs more fuel than is available in that moment.  Again, it must pull fat out of storage.  Once you turn up the burners, they keep roaring for up to 24 hours afterward, adding significantly to your total deficit as your body tries to get back to resting metabolism.  ‘Eat smooth’ means keep the glycemic index (essentially a measure of how certain foods impact blood-sugar levels) of what you eat low and steady by cutting concentrated carbohydrate consumption, increasing protein and complex carbohydrates along with healthy fat.  And most important: eat small portions throughout the day.  Eating sufficient protein (ideally, 15-20% of every meal/snack) keeps blood sugar from spiking, which means there is less insulin telling your body to cart off extra calories to be stored.  Beware of ‘sugar cravings’, which can be misfiring signals.  When your blood sugar drops, what you really need is protein to stabilize levels.  Greek yogurt, eggs or nut butters are all good choices.   Protein helps keep blood sugar levels stable, staving off late afternoon and evening cravings.
    Don’t be the fridge.  Chances are you’re never more than a few minutes from your next food source.  If you don’t want to store extra calories in your body, don’t eat more than what you need to fuel your next activity, or about the next 2.5-3 hours.  Your body needs only a small amount of fuel to keep going; that’s it.  Overeat, and you store the excess.  Under-eat, and you demolish the bread basket at your next meal.  So, anticipate your next three hours, and eat to fuel that level of activity.  And since it takes roughly 20 minutes from the moment you begin eating for your brain to sense satiety, slow down.
    Fiber: not just for oldsters. The hot topic du jour, anti-inflammatory foods, essentially refers to those that are rich in antioxidants, low in sugar, and packed with good, old-fashioned fiber.  Fiber may be the simplest diet-booster ever.  Most people need around 30 grams per day.  Hitting that magic number isn’t as difficult as it sounds.  Oatmeal, fruit, black beans, salad: all loaded with the good stuff.
    Vanity can be good for you.  There is a real connection between self-care and health, in that a regular routine can be a gateway to a more consistent health routine.  And hey, if your looks are your main motivation to make choices that will also make you healthier and fitter, so be it.   Women are more likely than men to delay health care when they need it; they tend to grin and bear it.  Regular appointments for so-called superficial concerns (hair, nails, skin) can sometimes lead to bigger revelations.  A dermatologist appointment is a great example: you go in for a minor skin concern and the doctor finds something that needs investigating, or a telltale sign of a hormonal disruption.
    Cleanses and weight loss.  There is NO clinical evidence that “detox” regimens help your body shed toxins, nor is there proof that extreme cleansing helps you lose weight.  Quite the opposite.  Since your body (when starving) burns fewer calories and goes on ‘dimmer’ mode, cleanses that reduce your calories below about 1,200 calories per day slow your metabolism.  You can drop pounds, but it’s mostly water weight, or worse: muscle (if you don’t eat protein), and temporary.  Once you revert to normal eating, your smart body (to help you with, you know, survival) will overrule you and store every morsel as fat.  So sure, if you want to slow your metabolism, cleanse.
    Breathe like a yogi.  We think of breathing as something our body does without conscious participation, a reflex, but you can control both the depth and frequency of your breathing, and this may be the easiest way to dial down your stress level.   Breathe rapidly, from your upper chest, and you get anxious, produce all sorts of negative stress hormones, and feel terrible; breathe slowly, fully, and deeply into your abdomen, and it instantly signals your cells to calm down: oxygen is on the way.  In yoga the mantra is always, “Breathe.”  Breathe in for a count of 5, pause, and let the air go for a count of 6.  Try it right now.
    The scale is not your friend.  Except on Friday mornings, apparently, when studies show most people are at their lightest.  Weight-loss research often indicates that daily weigh-ins can be an effective tool, but they can also be counterproductive.  When it says you’re down, that’s a “Good job!”  When it says you’re up, it’s a downer.  Either way, it can derail you.  Weigh yourself either weekly or monthly.  How your clothes fit, and how your body feels walking up a flight of stairs tell you all you need to know.   Keep track, but don’t obsess.  One side effect of training is that the number on the scale is less important than what your body can do, and how much fun you can have doing it.


    Well-being is a choice, yes, but also takes some effort and occasionally a little luck.  Every day, realize this and keep a PMA.  Rock on. 

    Edited from an article by Lucy Danziger