I’m not quite certain as to whether this story will ultimately become a bubble worth bursting but today, researchers believe that bacteria that make up the environment (i.e. the flora) of your gut may actually play a role in weight gain. This is based on previous studies in laboratory animals and humans that suggest that obesity is connected with a certain type of bacteria in the gut that is able boost the conversion of undigested carbohydrates into energy and favor weight and fat gain. On the flip side? Leaner animals don’t appear to have this bacteria.
Nutrition experts from the University of Copenhagen’s Faculty of Life Sciences believe that specific probiotics not only influence the flora of the gut, but also may trigger a feeling of fullness. They say that this could mean that a person would feel fuller sooner and as a result, eat less food. According to the University’s press release, which cites an analysis of 57 studies, even moderate obesity can slice life expectancy by as much as three years.
While they are not yet certain how probiotics can cause a person to feel fuller, they say that it may be linked to their ability to trigger hormones from the gut that induce this feeling.
It’s truly too early to make any predictions. However, do you recall the Dannon Activia commercials and weight loss claims? The company may have been slapped by the FTC for an inability to provide evidence but who knows, perhaps a link will be found (although not necessarily between weight maintenance and the specific probiotic in Activia).
Meanwhile, accumulating data suggest potential health benefits for probiotics e.g., protection against liver disease. Maybe they will eventually prove to be good for staying fit and optimizing your weight too.
Stay tuned!Read More
I’m kicking this week off with a piece of provocative news: UK researchers are reporting that the best way to win the battle of the bulge and lose fat is to exercise on an empty stomach.
Mind you, the study (which appears in the online in the British Journal of Nutrition) is small. But, researchers say that by omitting breakfast before exercise, you might be more inclined to eat a more optimal balance of food throughout the day. In fact, when twelve physically active men participated in one of four scenarios — rest without breakfast, exercise without breakfast, breakfast followed by rest, or breakfast followed by exercise –that is actually what they found.
A bit of detail is in order here:
Men who exercised had a moderately intense run on a treadmill, during which time they expended approximately 700 calories. (Note that for the men assigned rest, an equivalent time was spent resting as on the treadmill). After exercising or resting, all the groups had a protein drink comprising approximately 444 calories. Ninety minutes later, they had lunch (pasta) and advised to eat as much as they wanted until they felt comfortably full. Then, the researchers measured energy and fat levels in the blood.
Interestingly, exercising in the morning (around 10 am) appeared to help balance out the day in terms of food and no attempts appeared to be made to compensate for the earlier activity in terms of caloric intake; appetite was also unaffected. But, here’s the critical piece: exercising in a fasted state appeared to increase the amount of fat burned by as much as 20%. And, while eating breakfast appeared to improve overall appetite throughout the day (helping to insure that it remained more balanced and did not lead to additional consumption), it tended to cancel out any appetite-suppressive benefits offered by exercise.
The bottom line is that by fasting before exercising, you may be able to accelerate fat loss. The question remains as to whether or not the same results can found in women and among larger numbers of individuals. And if these fat loss remains over time.
I’d love to hear from some RDs and fitness folks out there. What do you think?
Have you heard of VaginaCon? If not, you need to click your way over to the site, which as co-founded by the amazing Nina Perez. VaginaCon is a safe place for women to connect with one another and build relationships. Sort of like Flashfree but on a broader scale. But I digress because this post is really about Nina. I was fortunate to meet Nina via the Interwebz when were were members of the same Facebook group. She is an astonishingly creative, intelligent go-getter who is redefining the meaning of ‘hawt.’ More importantly, however, is that last week, Nina posted a raw and honest piece about her weight loss journey and self-acceptance. Frankly, the post resonated so deeply that I asked if I could repost it here.
The next time you start criticizing yourself about your weight, beating yourself up about falling short of impossible goals or creating a standard that is a bit out of the realm of possibilities, step back. Carve those goals into smaller pieces. And take a look back in the mirror. Bet you’ll see what others are seeing; the beauty that is you.
Yeah, sounds cheesy but Nina has shared a journey that demonstrates that it’s really true. And by the way Nina? You are one hot gorgeous woman inside and out.
Show some love, eh?
When I started my weight loss journey on January 2, 2012, I was 238lbs. The healthy weight for my height falls between 143lbs and 179lbs.
Even if I were aiming for the high end, 179lbs seemed far, far away and losing 59lbs seemed like something that would take a long ass time. I gave myself a year. But still, a year? Holy hell.
Like most people fed up with being overweight, I wanted the pounds to melt away. I knew almost immediately that I’d have to set mini-goals to keep my head in the game. Luckily, Weight Watchers sets your first two goals for you: First, you strive to lose 5% of your starting weight. For me, that was 11.5lbs. I hit that by January 25th. Next, it was 10%.
But to keep it interesting, and to keep myself motivated, I gave myself goals that had nothing to do with the number on the scale along with a few that did. For instance:
- I wanted to be 214lbs by March 23rd when I had the first VaginaCon at my house. (Did it.)
- I wanted to be less than 200lbs by my birthday, August 18th. (Done.)
- I wanted to fit into a size 16 jeans. (Been there, did that.)
- I wanted to fit into a size 14 jeans. (In them now.)
- I wanted to wear my sexy shoes again without feeling like I was asking way too much of my impossibly high heels – they have their limits, too.
- I wanted smaller panties.
- I wanted to stop wearing XL t-shirts.
There was one mini-goal I didn’t give much thought to, until I hit it, and it was the first one I achieved. One day, after losing about 8-11lbs, I was walking down the stairs wearing nothing but a short nightgown. As I hit the first floor, I realized something was different. To test that it wasn’t a fluke, I began to briskly pace in my kitchen. My husband came downstairs and asked, “What the hell are you doing?”
“My thighs aren’t rubbing together!”
I was thrilled.
But what about my overall goal? What should I shoot for between 143-179? I’m not very good at looking at someone and judging their height and weight. I couldn’t tell you what 175lbs looks like on a person who is 6-feet-tall or someone who’s 5’5″. In that picture above, I wouldn’t be able to guess that was 204lbs.
After some thought, I decided that 180lbs would be my look-and-see weight. I’ll get to 180 and then look and see if I like it.
How do I look in my jeans? Can I wear a bathing suit again without wanting to cry in shame? For as much as this is about being healthy and making sure I’m around to see my kids grow up, it’s also about, for me, how I look. I don’t want fat hanging over the waistline of my jeans, and I like my ass to look firm in them. I had a vague memory of what 180 looked like on me (see above), but more importantly, I know how I want to look and feel in my clothes.
I’m always looking at other women who are my height and (in my opinion) in great shape, wondering how much they weigh. While I want to be thinner, I don’t want to lose curves. So, that’s why when Donny and I went to see Prometheus - a horrible movie despite starring two of my Freebie Five: Michael Fassbender and Idris Elba – back in June, and I saw Charlize Theron, I whispered to my husband, “New goal weight: Charlize Theron!”
I went home and did a Google search: How much does Charlize Theron weigh? Granted, I’m not sure this information is entirely accurate, but word on the internet streets is that she is my height and weighs 135lbs.
I am never going to be 135lbs again. That’s just not happening. That’s below my supposed healthy weight range! If I were younger, and perhaps easily swayed by what celebrities do, I might try to hit 135lbs, but thankfully I am neither of those things. While I still feel like I would love to look like this in my clothes:
… I’m just gonna have to rock that at about 170′ish…and with a little more curve.
What is your ultimate weight goal? Do you have mini-goals that are not determined by the scale? What about weight loss milestones like an upcoming party or other special event?
About Nina Perez…
Nina Perez is the author of The Twin Prophecies: Rebirth, Blog It Out, B*tch, and The Twin Prophecies: Origins (Summer 2012). She is co-founder of VaginaCon.com, a contributor to Milk & Ink: A Mosaic of Motherhood, Choose or Die, Elephant Words and one of the merry band of independent authors rocking it hard at the Literary Underground. Her short story, Amongst the Tulips, was published in Foliate Oaks online literary magazine and their editors voted it one of the best short stories of 2009. She also runs the book review site for independent authors, Nina’s Nightstand.
We’re taking a break from our regular Wednesday Bubble and talking with three amazing women, Shonali Burke, Kami Watson Huyse and Julie Pippert. These women are graciously sharing their stories about the turn that their lives have taken with regard to health and fitness. Change is never easy, but neither is aging. That’s why I have been so intrigued by the upsurge I’m witnessing in the number of women in their 40s who seem to be committed to changing bad habits before those bad habits change them.
Last Thursday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report outlining a trend among the medical community to increase its efforts to recommend that adults participate in exercise and other forms of physical activity. Since 2000, there has been a 40% increase in the number of adults who have been advised to incorporate exercise into their routines. Importantly, however, at each time point measured in the National Health Interview Survey, women were much more likely than men to have been advised to exercise. While this aspect of the Survey doesn’t elaborate on these data, studies have shown that gender does influence obesity rates and that worldwide, more women than men are obese. Not only are women challenged to run household and care for children, but many also work outside the home. This doesn’t leave a lot of time for meal planning and even less, for exercise. Nevertheless, both are essential for good health and wellbeing.
A few years ago, my friend, cookbook author Mollie Katzen suggested to me during our interview that even if women do nothing differently, as they age their bodies become less efficient metabolic machines, adding that one of the most consistent things she’s observed amongst her friends is the “oh my god, what happened to my body” moment. The ‘I’m minding my business, doing the same things I’ve always done and all of a sudden, I’ve got this spare tire, I’ve got the fat” epiphany. The answer?
Trial and Error
Health is trial and error. What works for one woman might not be exactly what works for another. We all need to forge our dietary paths and strategies that work for both our individual metabolism and our bodies. And if it isn’t working? Change it up and aim higher. Or differently.
Shonali explains that her trainer introduced her to two dietary strategies: The Primal Blueprint (aka, the Paleo diet, which focuses on balancing insulin levels in your body) and Gary Taubes’ Why We Get Fat‘ (again, focusing on insulin regulation). She says that while “there have been lapses,” I typically eat no grains, legumes or processed foods/foods high in sugar.” What strikes me as the most important thing in Shonali’s incorporation of a new way of eating into her life is that she tries to cook a meal every day consisting of a healthy salad and an entree that is protein-rich but also, she is “careful not to let myself feel hungry; if I am hungry, I eat…I just eat the foods I know are good for me.”
Kami says that while she may eventually go on a specific plan, like Body for Life , she prefers easing “into any dietary restrictions slowly. So far, I am just trying to back off on portions,” she explains, adding that “I have always eaten lots of vegetables and fruits but I am upping that.” Julie is also relying on portion control and is “eating very little meat, mostly fish,” and “as much fresh food as I can instead of processed food.” As a working mom of two and with a husband who has a long commute, Julie says that it can be hard to do regular family dinners but that she worked with a nutritionist who helped her “identify ‘eat this/not that’ convenience type [healthy] foods, such as flash frozen veggies and fruit but not packaged meals.” She adds that she ‘also attends free cooking classes at Williams-Sonoma to get easy and quick recipe ideas.
In Part 1 of this series, we discussed accountability and how answering to another person, e.g. a trainer, can help you get into a groove. However, it’s important that that groove is yours’ and your’s alone. Moreover, setting goals is part of that accountability but rigidity is not the aim; instead, goals need to be fluid and evolutionary.
Julie says that her “initial goal was to lose weight and get out of the overweight category. I wanted to eat right and get active. Once I achieved that, I wanted to work out a long-term health maintenance plan.” She adds that that entails tweaking portions and working on body toning. Kami’s goal is more specific: she wants to lose 10 to 15 pounds (minimum) to improve the pressure on her bad knee. After that, however, she says that “it would be great to reduce my waistline by 2 to 3 inches to get off some of the belly fat, which is, by far, worst for your health.” Shonali also says that her goals had to do with “losing a certain amount of weight and fitting into a particular dress size,” but now, she’s considering aiming even higher and is considering running and possibly training for a 5K.
To thine own self, be true
Guess what? It’s all about you. I’m serious. Don’t believe me?
All three of these women say that the primary outcome of the changes that they’ve made in their lives is that not only do they feel better, but they also feel better about themselves. Wow! Since Shonali has started last August, she has lost almost 20 pounds and 15″, reduced her BMI from 25.3 to 22.4 and lowered her body fat percentage from 31.6% to 24.3%. She’s also come down one dress size. However, here’s the rub: she says that “the numbers are great but what I really love is that I have more energy and stamina. I am much stronger than I used to be; I sleep better, I’m more focused with my work and my confidence has increased greatly.”
Kami’s journey has just begun (or as she describes it “just restarted”) and yet, her primary outcome echoes Shonali’s. “I feel better about myself and that is priceless.”
Julie, too, expresses a similar experience. “I lost 50 lbs initally,” she says, although this is at the low end of the weight range for her size and she’s not been able [rightly so] to maintain that. Still, She is at a healthy weight and at an average BMI. And most importantly, she explains “I have a lot more energy, huge improvements on stress and mood and I look better. That’s led me to dress better, feel better and achieve more.”
The lessons inherent in these outcomes are essential: aging can be bumpy and sometimes, our bodies don’t behave quite as we expect them to. Dress size, body fat, weight loss are simply keys that help to unlock the door to the most important outcome we can achieve: self-love. And when you feel good, that radiates out in unbelievably beautiful, gorgeous ways. I know it sounds cheesy but it’s true. Honestly? Be kind to yourself and to thine own self, be true. Like Kami says, the gift is priceless.
I hope that you’ll stay the course and tune in again on Friday for Part 3.Read More
The next time you place blame on hormones as the reason for things not going so well in your life, you may want to step back and move. I’m not talking about locale, but rather, moving your body. And researchers are saying that physical activity may actually be one of the most important things you can do to maintain or improve the quality of your life when hormones are wreaking havoc on your body, your mood and your outlook.
Granted, part of the reason for the improved life quality may have to do with amelioration of symptoms as a result of exercise. Indeed, you may recall a post from last month discussing the value of setting aside a precious hour for yourself for some sort of brisk activity. This new study adds fodder to the discussion, and suggests that even moderate increases in physical activity can improve overall life quality.
Importantly, this study, which involved over 1,100 women who were followed via questionnaire over 8 years, showed that a change in menopausal status acted as prompter to increase physical activity, and these women tended to experience greater improvements in their life quality than their peers who didn’t exercise or whose physical activity decreased over the time period. What’s more, as a side note, women in the study who never used hormone replacement therapy reported having a better quality of life than women who did use it, and even had 1.26 greater odds for improved life quality.
While the reasons for this are unclear, the researchers say that exercise may increase the production of endorphins, which in turn, work on symptoms, stabilize the body’s temperature regulation system and smooth out the flashes, sweats and other symptoms. However, most important is the point that the implications are far greater than feeling good: menopause may actually be a ‘window of opportunity’ to start improving your life by making healthier lifestyle choices.
But what do they mean by “exercise?” In this particular research, participants were asked to characterize their activity levels by:
- The time spent on heavy physical activity on the days they exercise at least 10 minutes
- The time spent on moderate physical activity on days they exercise for at least 10 minutes
- Time spent on brisk walking on days they walk for at least 10 minutes
This information was then translated into metabolic equivalent (MET) hours per week, which measures basal metabolism and the amount of oxygen the body uses during exercise. You can find more information on MET as it relates to specific activities here.
The sum of all parts equals one thing: move. It’s important for symptoms, it’s critical for weight and it’s essential for health. And it appears to be the gold ring when it comes to life quality.
What are you waiting for?
Okay, so it doesn’t quite rhyme. But brown fat is rearing it’s head again and this time, it’s the New York Times. I love the New York Times, don’t get me wrong. But the headline of a piece on brown fat, coupled with the information that follows, is a perfect example of raising hopes before dashing them.
Let’s start with the headline:
Feel a Chill? Brown Fat’s Busy Slimming You Down
And the second paragraph:
“It is brown fat, actually brown in color, and its great appeal is that it burns calories like a furnace. A new study finds that one form of it, which is turned on when people get cold, sucks fat out from the rest of the body to fuel itself. Another new study finds that a second form of brown fat can be created from ordinary white fat by exercise.”
Let’s step back and take a look at brown fat. And then I can share the details of the research that the writer is referring to, and where her reporting is a wee bit misleading.
As I wrote about a year or so ago:
In mammals, fat (known among the medical set as “adipose tissue”) comes in two varieties: white and brown.
* White adipose tissue (or “WAT”) is used for energy storage and to provide warmth. It also protects the organs by acting as a cushion. Most of the fat in our bodies is white.
* Brown adipose tissue (or “BAT”), is mostly found in newborns and tends to diminish as a person ages. Brown fat is used by the body to regulate temperature and quickly burns sugar to keep infants warm, meaning that exposure to cold activates brown fat cells. This last point may be important when it comes to weight loss.
For decades, brown fat was believed to significantly decline as we grew older, mainly because as we become more able to regulate our body temperatures, we no longer solely rely on biology. However, PET scanning has shown that healthy adults actually have stores of brown fat scattered throughout the front and back of the neck and chest areas.
So, is brown fat an equal opportunist? NO!
* Women with lean body mass have at least twice the ratio of brown fat compared to men.
* Exposure to temperatures of around 61º F appears to kick off brown fat cell activity, at least in leaner people.
* The higher your body mass index (BMI), the lower the amount of brown fat in your body.
Turning down the thermostat can help lose weight, right? Well yes. And no.
In controlled situations, volunteers left “chilling” for at least two hours were shown to have a surge in brown fat activity. However, keep in mind that the body is fine-tuned to maintain equilibrium, so, what goes out often goes right back in. In other words, expend more energy, eat more food. And the “chill factor” hasn’t been extensively tested in people under normal, everyday conditions. Still, based on what researchers are able to learn from animal studies, they believe that having as little as 1 to 2 ounces of brown fat in your body could potentially burn about 20% of the average daily caloric intake, that is, if brown fat cells were properly activated.
In the current study (published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation and referred to by New York Times writer Gina Kolata), researchers exposed six men between the ages of 23 to 42 of normal weight, to simulated cold conditions (using a thermal conditioned suit that enabled them to perfuse chilled, 32 degree F water, through it). The men were exposed to the room temperatures for 120 minutes and then cold temperatures for 180 minutes, cold enough to lower skin temperature but not cold enough to induce shivering, which burns calories. During these conditions, the researchers measured the metabolism of the fat using a PET scan. The results? They were able to show for the first time that while metabolism increased by as much as 80% (which is equivalent to around 250 calories burned during exposure to cold for three hours), there were clear differences in results between the men; this suggests that there are individual distinctions in brown fat volume. They also mention in the published study that they cannot exclude how or if other tissues might contribute, tissues that are not captured during the PET scan of this nature, such as the heart and other deep internal organs.
In the second study, which appears in Nature journal, researchers identified a protein in mice that enhances particular gene expression in muscle. In turn, this releases a hormone – iricin – that appears to convert white fat cells into brown cells. If the same were proven true in humans, it might mean that calories burned during exercise was due, at least in part, to this phenomenon. And if there was a way to enhance it, it might lead to more effective fat burning during exercise.
Notice that there area lot of ‘ifs’ in that sentence.
So, let’s go back to the original statement:
“…brown fat burns calories like a furnace. A new study finds that one form of it, which is turned on when people get cold, sucks fat out from the rest of the body to fuel itself. Another new study finds that a second form of brown fat can be created from ordinary white fat by exercise.”
Yeah, not so fast. When it comes to brown fat, you may want to consider all the facts before you turn down that thermostat and turn up the internal furnace., such as, there’s not enough data…yet.
Not for naught, or nothing.