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Archive for June, 2009

Know the Facts Before You Cut Calories

June 30th, 2009 No comments

The ridiculous 1200-1600 calorie a day diets that I spoke about in my last post don't often take exercise into account, even though most of the diets can be found in the pages of fitness magazines. When exercise is added it can create a big problem for dieters. As an example, if you shave calories down to 1600 a day and cut 500 more through exercise, it actually brings you lower than the approximately 1200 a day needed just to keep your brain and body functioning properly. Try and build metabolism boosting muscle with that kind of lifestyle. Am I the only one thinking this sounds like a good way to slow down and not speed up your metabolism?

And that’s not a number I pulled out of my head. According to the American College of Sports Medicine, 1200 calories, or more accurately 10 calories for every pound of body weight on a woman and 11 for a man, is the number that your body requires just to keep internal organs functioning while you’re at rest. It is known as your resting metabolic rate (RMR). As soon as you get out of bed your caloric requirements increase.

I view those approximately 1200 calories as the end result, not the target. Say I eat 2100 calories a day. 400-500 go to my workouts, be they cardiovascular or strength. Several hundred more go to activity I engage in throughout the day, like when I walk to my kitchen, car or desk, tidy, water my plants, etc. And of course when I eat more I burn more calories through digestion. The point is at the end of the day I’ve used these calories up so I don’t store them as fat. What should remain is the 1200 calories that go to my body’s basic functions - although since I’ve been building muscle for over a year that base number has probably increased, because muscle requires more calories for maintenance than fat does. We should be trying to meet the goal of using up the calories we take in, not trying to create a deficit.

I should point out that I obviously don't know all the answers, I'm just tired of all the focus on cutting calories as the solution to every person's weight problems. I'd much rather see a "diet" that doesn't mention a calorie goal at all, but that encourages people to eat quality foods and eat small meals more often, which gives the body a steady supply of fuel so it doesn’t have to store unused energy as fat. What are your thoughts on weight maintenance?

Why We Should Be Done with Starvation Diets

June 30th, 2009 No comments

After coming across yet another diet prescribing 1200-1600 calories a day to lose weight safely, I've got to get something off my chest. There are a few things about these diets that really bother me. Since this rant is going to be a little long and scattered I'll continue it on the next post as well.

Most experts say it is safe to lose 1-2 pounds of fat per week, although we've all seen contestants on The Biggest Loser drop twice that amount in a day (that's another issue for another time). So if someone has become overweight by eating 3,000 calories a day, wouldn't it be safe to assume they'd still lose a healthy amount of weight by cutting that down to 2,000?

It  takes many years for people to become overweight, why make them feel like a failure by expecting them to take it all back off in a matter of months through something so torturous as starvation? Seriously...if the average moderately active woman requires about 2100 calories a day, why change that formula if you don’t have to (I understand that there are other factors for certain people to consider and they should follow the advice of healthcare professionals). It is just reinforcing the idea that weight maintenance is about sporadic dieting and not an overall healthy lifestyle.

In one very basic way a human body is like a car. It requires fuel to run. But it is obviously much more complicated. Without fuel a car simply won’t run, whereas the human body will continue to run using stored energy. It sounds good for people wanting to get rid of excess fat. Quit giving your body food and it will start to use stored fat for energy.

But using stored energy comes at a big cost. The body reacts to a limited supply of fuel by conserving it and burning fewer calories. And when the body doesn’t get the right amount of calories for maintenance it uses muscle as well as fat for fuel, which can decrease metabolism further. So when the day comes that you discontinue your diet, and it will, you’ll be eating the same as before but with a body that can no longer burn calories as efficiently as it once could. I hope that analogy makes sense and has you questioning the value of restrictive diets. If you're exercising while dieting, there's even more you should consider.

Make a Healthier Pasta Salad

June 23rd, 2009 No comments

Cold pasta salads are synonymous with summer, but so are the excessive amounts of fat and calories that come with the creamy varieties. Not so good if you are trying to lose weight. Before you pick up a premade pasta salad at the grocery store for your next family BBQ, ask yourself if you'd be making the same purchase if the salad was just for yourself.

Even though my personal grocery list would never feature a store bought pasta salad, I usually wouldn't hesitate to grab one for a potluck or take a few scoops at a friendly gathering. Funny thing is I don't even like the overly saucy salads that much...has anyone else noticed the weird aftertaste? Like many unhealthy things they are just convenient. But homemade pasta salad can actually be pretty convenient as well, and a whole lot healthier.

The first rule for making a nutritious pasta salad is cutting down on the mayonnaise dressing, or even better skipping it altogether. Opt for your favorite oil and vinegar based dressing, such as Italian or herb. Then simply chop up any veggies you have on hand. Celery, green, red and yellow peppers, onion, carrot, cucumber, tomato - the combinations are endless. Add in some olives and feta for a Greek version. Canned tuna is a great way to add healthy protein. And I shouldn't have to say it but whole wheat pasta is a must. Never pass up an opportunity to increase your fiber intake.

Directions: Cook the pasta el dente so your salad isn't soggy and mix it all together. No really, that's all you have to do.

As with most foods, no matter how much you alter pasta salad it still won't be lacking in the calories department. So control your portions. Take a small scoop of a few and load the rest of your plate with veggies and some lean protein. And because we all like variety, let us know how you make your pasta salad.

How to Jump Rope

June 19th, 2009 No comments

Before I get into this post I should let you know that I am no jump rope expert, just someone who recently researched the art of skipping so I could apply the correct technique to my practise and to group fitness classes I will occasionally be leading. What I learned is this - you don't have to be perfect to get benefits from skipping, but you should be aware of your form and try to improve it so you can reduce joint impact and make it safer and more enjoyable - the same rule that applies to any fitness activity you take up.

Warm-up

Before jumping right in it's a must to warm up the muscles and get some lubrication flowing to the joints. Otherwise you may end up tired achy after just a few minutes. A good warm-up involves dynamic movements for the upper and lower body. Marching in place, side step taps and the boxer's shuffle will do the job for your legs. Prepare the upper body by doing shoulder shrugs, arm circles and making the arm movements without a rope. About five minutes of progressive warming-up should do it.

Jump in

Prepare by jumping lightly, with one foot touching down a split second before the other (like the boxer's shuffle) or with both feet landing softly at the same time. You should feel springy on your feet. If you start skipping from a dead stop it can be harder to get into a rhythm. Practise jumping into the rope for a few minutes, even if you get it on your first attempt. Swing the rope from one side of your body to the other, bringing it wide when it's in front of your body so you'll have lots of space to jump in. Once you can jump in and out of the rope consistently, try to jump in while your arms are crossed.

Technique

  • Jumping - Big, klunky jumps are best to be avoided. To ensure skipping is somthing you'll want to do and be able to keep doing, strive for maintaining soft knees and performing low jumps, with the rope close to the top of your head and no slack in it. Land on the balls of your feet and let your entire foot absorb the impact.
  • Speed - To begin with focus on form instead of speed or length of time you can skip. Play it like you did as a kid and try to make it to 20 jumps. When you reach that number try to make it to 30, 40 and so on. You won’t feel as pressured to do more than your cardiovascular system can handle. Before you know it you’ll have reached the one minute mark and beyond. On the other hand, once you get the hang of it, skipping too slowly can cause the rope to catch on your feet. Try to work up to a good beginner pace of 60 to 70 turns per minute. Often choosing the right jump rope can make it easier to get up to speed.
  • Torso - Keep your back straight and don't bend forward from the waist.
  • Wrists, Arms and shoulders - Turn the rope with your wrists and keep your elbows close to the sides of your body. Power should come from your forearms, not your shoulders.

There you have it. Everything I know about skipping. If you want to know more check out pros like Buddy Lee, who have created instructional DVDs and jump rope workouts. Or you can try this simple 10 minute routine (link coming soon). Now get out there and try it already.

Quit Compartmentalizing My Fitness Routine

June 18th, 2009 No comments

I receive emails from fitness websites and organizations on a daily basis. Prevention Magazine, Women's Health ACE, Can-Fit-Pro... I like to get the latest information and check out new and improved workout programs and exercises.

But one thing has been bothing me. And it's not the fact that most of the emails I get are trying to sell me books about some new diet or weight loss program subscription. It's also not the fact that some of these companies (I'm not mentioning any names) don't find it at all ironic that many of the emails they've sent me in the past few years have been for the "last" or "only" workout or diet plan I'll ever need. Then why do they keep creating new ones I wonder? But I digress.

The thing that bothers me is workout routines that target only one or two muscle groups. Who doesn't want tanktop arms, a bodacious booty or awesome abs? The exercises in and of themselves aren't bad. In fact I get a lot of my own moves and ideas from these types of emails. But if I'm spending 30 minutes, two to three times a week working my abdominals, when am I going to have time to work the rest of my muscles.

I know these exercises are a small part of a much bigger fitness routine, so I pick and choose the ones I like and add them to my reperetoire. But some people are so focussed on spot reduction, like getting rid of arm fat for example, that they forget about everything else and think doing eight exercises for their biceps, triceps and shoulders is all it's going to take to lose fat in that area.

I get why these emails are sent out. If someone is stressing about the state of their stomach an email that screams "banish ab flab for good", especially if it also specifies there is no exercise required (don't even get me started on that), is what's going to entice them to go to the website it came from.

For someone who is inactive and possibly overweight the promise of muscle definition and flat abs in a matter of weeks sounds too good to be true, and it is. If you read the fine print these spot training plans require healthy eating, cardiovascualr activity and even more strength training to be effective. Even then it often takes months to see results, unless you're starving yourself and working out excessively, which isn't a great way to make lasting lifestyle chanegs.

So ifyou want to send me emails with exercises suggestions that's great, but be upfront about what is involved and what results are realistic.