Tips to Stay in Shape Through the Most Fattening Months
By Dr. Seema Bonney
At the Anti-Aging & Longevity Center of Philadelphia, we specialize in helping people lose weight and keeping it off. Since excess weight causes inflammation and is the source of many chronic diseases, it is a major focus of our practice. We have several programs we utilize to help our patients have successful weight loss. However, keeping the weight off during “food season” can prove to be challenging for some of our patients. “Food season” starts with Halloween and ends with the winter holidays. Given all the treats around the office, holiday parties, and heavy foods that we eat during “food season,” we do need to be mindful about what we should and shouldn’t be eating and doing. Here are some tips to keep unnecessary and unwanted weight gain to a minimum.
If you think you’re more likely to gain weight this year than you were during the last, you would be correct. Here are some fun facts about our metabolic rates: Every year, our metabolic rates slow down by 3 percent. Ladies, men’s metabolic rates are 30 percent higher so they will on average gain less weight. People who live in warmer climates have slower metabolic rates.
So, what are some of the things we can do to improve metabolic rates? The first would be to build muscle via strength training, and it’s good to start this now. Keep in mind that a pound of muscle burns six times more energy than a pound of fat. In our modern-day, super-busy society, only 35 percent of adults above the age of 18 exercise regularly. We wake up, sit down for breakfast, sit in our car to go to work, sit for many more hours at work, come home and sit down for dinner, and go to bed a few hours later. Sitting has become the new smoking, folks.
We recommend at least 30 minutes of moderate intense cardio three times a week, and strength training for 30-45 minutes twice a week. Strength training can also come in the form of Pilates and yoga when done regularly and seriously. The benefits of exercise extend much beyond just looking good. It strengthens your immune system, reduces depression/anxiety/stress, and reduces aches and pains in the musculoskeletal system. As we share with our patients, studies have shown that the one factor most highly correlated with longevity is strength training, as it improves balance and mobility.
So how many calories do you have to burn to lose 1 pound? It’s estimated that you need to burn 3,500 calories. Think about that fact when out and about over the next few months. You can also prepare for “food season” by decreasing 500-1,000 calories a day from your typical diet, and lose 1-2 pounds per week. We have designed a 23-day weight-loss program in our practice where patients lose a half-pound to a pound daily, and part of it is based on caloric restriction. It really works.
Let’s talk fiber. Optimal fiber intake is 30-50 grams daily. We get fiber from complex carbohydrates such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and legumes. Ingesting fiber does not give you extra calories, as it is not digested or absorbed by the body. There are two types of fiber: soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber absorbs water and slow absorption of fats, sugars and cholesterol, whereas insoluble fiber cleans intestines and helps to feed the gut bacteria, known as the microbiome.
Most of us with our Standard American Diets (SAD) get a fraction of the fiber that our bodies need. When we eat foods rich in fiber, we are taking in fewer calories. Fiber-rich foods prevent overeating and also help to balance insulin levels. When you don’t get enough fiber, you have higher insulin levels and often end up ingesting more sugary foods. A great way to increase your fiber intake is to replace refined grains with whole grains and add servings of fruits and veggies to your meals.
Food addiction is a very common problem and a lot more common that people realize. For men and women suffering from a food addiction, highly palatable foods (which are often rich in fat, sugar, and/or salt) trigger chemical reactions in the brain that induce feelings of pleasure and satisfaction. These foods actually trigger the brain’s reward center. In order to understand this better, we need to know about two very important hormones named ghrelin and leptin.
Ghrelin is made in the stomach. Its levels rise when people are hungry, and go down after a meal. This is what tells a person that it’s time to eat. When the stomach growls, that is ghrelin at play. It’s the most powerful appetite stimulant – and makes food more appealing.
Leptin on the other hand, is a hormone made up mostly by fat cells, that tells the brain that we have enough energy stored in our fat cells. In other words, when leptin levels are at a certain threshold, and for each person there is some genetic component, and when leptin levels go above that threshold, the brain tells us to stop eating. Leptin is opposed by the actions of ghrelin, the “hunger hormone.” We do check leptin levels in our practice, as many of our patients with leptin deficiency tend to overeat.
A study conducted at McGill University in Montreal tested volunteers after they received a dose of a natural hunger-inducing hormone called ghrelin, their brains responded to pictures of food in the same way that addicted people’s brains do to cigarettes or drugs. From an evolutionary standpoint, this mechanism probably helped humans load up on life-saving calories when food was scarce. However, with today’s well-stocked supermarkets and fast food on every corner, these brain signals can make food addicts of most of us, if we were to allow this.
Knowing that certain foods – especially the more “appealing” and addictive foods – can alter our brain chemistry by increasing serotonin and dopamine and that chocolate/sugary foods give us an opiate-like high, we need to have our guards up when we know these foods will be around us. If you know you’re going to a holiday party, determine ahead of time what you will and won’t allow yourself. Now you’re already well on your way to combatting food addiction. We have many patients who will eat a healthful meal like a salad before going to a holiday party.
When eating out, please be mindful that the deck is stacked unfairly against the consumer – did you know that Panera, Starbucks, burger joints and the like routinely pump artificial scents that increase sales? The aroma of a food can be responsible for as much as 90 percent of its flavor. So, when going in for a coffee, don’t grab a pastry to go as well.
So, here are some good tips for the kinds of foods we should eat during food season: Eat mostly whole, unprocessed foods. Eat home-cooked foods. Don’t be afraid to use healthy fats. Drink mostly water. Be aware of what happens physiologically when looking at fatty and sugary foods and have a plan of action ahead of time.
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