The Healthiest (and Leanest) I’ve Been Was When…

A few years ago I had a blog series called ‘Inactivity and Metabolic Health‘. It was an examination of the science of physical activity as treatment for metabolic issues caused by insulin resistance. Exercise improves insulin sensitivity. As far as I’m concerned, that is exercise’s most important effect on the human body. The reason I was interested (and continue to be) in the subject was my own experience – a long history of hormonal and metabolic issues that disappeared when I changed my habit of inactivity and became physically active.

I’ve written about it before, but to review: from my early teens I struggled with a constellation of symptoms that traced back to insulin resistance. Severe cystic acne, weight gain, irregular (and frequently absent) periods, ovarian cysts, fibrocystic breasts, elevated blood pressure as I got older, blood sugar dysregulation and panic attacks, depression, migraines. My doctor told me year after year after year to exercise, and I resisted and resisted. Went so far as to convince myself she was ‘blowing me off’ and just didn’t know what to do. I consulted natural health books and tried things like putting garlic suppositories in my vagina and drinking bentonite clay. Funny thing, those things never worked. I tried fad diet after fad diet, some worked temporarily, but most just made the problems worse.

At 35 (eight years ago), weary from the decades of being battered by the predatory winds of natural health mythology, I decided to finally do what my doctor had been admonishing me to do for so long – start exercising. And the rest is sort of history. It completely changed my life and my health. I lost weight I’d been unable to lose for years. Many of my health issues resolved. My depression and anxiety receded. It was pretty amazing. And flew in the face of the entire diet industry which ties weight and health almost solely to diet, and the fitness industry, which fixates myopically on the aesthetic results of exercise with very little attention to the health benefits (which are much more profound).

As I got more into fitness and began to lift weights, I became aware of the ‘cardio bunny’ meme, and noticed a certain disdain for cardio among the crossfire/strongman/dude bro element of the fitness industry. I read lots of blog posts about how ‘cardio makes you fat’ (hahahahahhhhaaahahhaahahahhhaah, yeah right), and how people who did cardio were all ‘skinny fat’, blah blah blah. If you’ve been around for a while, you are probably aware of the memes I’m talking about.

But I did enjoy cardio, especially the way it made me FEEL, and so I kept doing it even if it meant I would end up the dreaded skinny fat (PS, what the fuck is wrong with being skinny fat? Nothing.)

The more cardio I did, however, not only did I not get fat or even skinny fat, in fact I continued to get leaner. And I continued to get healthier. By 2012 I was training for a half ironman. I was doing as much as 4 hours of cardio a couple times a week. Don’t get me wrong, I was lifting too, but not nearly as much as I was doing cardio. I can look back at the time I was training for the half ironman and see that that was the leanest and healthiest I’ve been in my life. I had tons of energy. My depression was non-existence. My blood tests showed I was off-the-charts healthy. My period was like clockwork. And I was maintaining a body fat percentage of like 15% while eating as much as 4000 calories a day. See for yourself:

160-ish pounds. Training for a half-ironman. 1-4 hours of exercise a day, 4 days a week, including 2 strength trainign sessions a week. 4000+ calories a day.

I. Felt. Fucking. Awesome. I felt like I could take on the world, and win. I didn’t just feel physically awesome, I felt emotionally awesome. Confident. Strong. Outgoing. Optimistic. It was one of the best times of my life.

And so, I talked a lot on my blog about the benefits of exercise, especially for those with predispositions to insulin resistance (like me). Exercise did for me what no dietary intervention had ever been able to – normalize my blood sugar regulation, improve my insulin sensitivity, allow me to eat anything and my body metabolize it just fine and use it for fuel. Exercise made my body work right. And all of this was supported by decade upon decade of credible peer review research showing exercise – specifically cardio – is a primary intervention for metabolic syndrome and insulin resistance. Exercise improves insulin sensitivity, there is absolutely NO question of this in the scientific literature.

And when my body was working right, it was able to use the food I ate – WHATEVER food I ate – to build muscle and create energy. Energy I used to go out and live an awesome life. Write prolifically. Make huge waves in the fitness industry. Piss off the fad diet gurus ROYALLY.

Ah, but it was fun.

Things started to fall apart a little about a year and a half ago when my knee arthritis got really bad, bad enough to affect my ability to exercise the way I had been. The first thing to go was running. Then cycling. Then I had to cut down the amount of time I was spending on the elliptical, because it would make my knee swell and ache badly. I had surgery 9 months ago in an effort to increase my range of motion and pain levels. That sidelined me completely for a couple months, and then when I got back to exercising, it was more lifting than cardio. I like lifting, don’t get me wrong. And I’m glad I’ve been able to keep doing it! but it’s been a long slog through recovery and trying to get back to the amount and intensity of cardio that was so helpful for me. I’m still not there.

And the result has been that in spite of still lifting, I’ve seen my depression came back. BOY did it come back. I’m still really struggling with it, somedays I can’t even get myself out of the house. Recently my cystic acne has cropped back up. I recently had my first migraine in 6 or 7 years. My HDL is creeping downward. My period is no longer like clockwork. And my weight has crept up in spite of reducing my calorie intake (this is due in large part to some meds I’ve been taking, but I have a gut feeling that my weight gain would have been smaller if I’d been able to keep exercising the way I need to exercise). Creep may be an understatement, I gained 25+ pounds in 2015.

A year without the kind of cardio that my body needs has resulted in a lot of my health issues re-emerging.


Cardio, not lifting, completely turned my life around. And the more cardio I got, the better. My friend Sol (from did a guest post here a couple years ago addressing head on the ‘cardio makes you fat’ meme. In short, it’s bullshit. Cardio does not make you fat. And if you’re like me and prone to insulin resistance, it may even make you leaner and healthier than lifting alone. The research certainly bears out the value of cardio for metabolic health. Sure, ‘lifting weights faster’ may work for some young healthy people. Heck, it may work for some older healthy people.

For me? Older and predisposed to insulin resistance? I need the cardio. And lots of it. I get my hour a day of heart pumping cardio and I can eat pretty much anything and take it in stride, and THRIVE. Take away my ability and access to that level of cardio and my health deteriorates.

This is important. KEEP THIS IN MIND next time you start judging ‘lazy people’ for not ‘doing what it takes’ to get the exercise they need to be healthy.

Some people simply don’t have access. You know what I had that allowed me to get 1-4 hours of cardio a day? Lots of spare time. A gym membership. Safe spaces to exercise. Money to spend on equipment. Did I mention time? Lots of free time? Oh, and transportation to and from the gym. And different options at that gym. I can swim, well, because I had years of lessons as a child and access to a pool.

Do you know how many people don’t have any those things I just mentioned, let alone all of them? At times, I fell into thinking ‘if I can do it, anyone can’. But, not everyone can. Many, MANY people can’t, whether it be because they don’t have access to a gym, a safe space to exercise, money for equipment, or the ability to swim (or one of any number of other privileges that makes exercise a luxury).

For many people, exercise isn’t a matter of ‘priorities’. They are not ‘making excuses’. They simply do not have access.

Let me tell you about how things are for me now. I am semi-disabled. There are a lot of physical things I can’t do. Yet, at least. My knee is healing very slowly. And, I am depressed. There are days I can’t make it out of my house. This isn’t a matter of not being motivated. This is a real medical condition. I know that getting more active will help with the depression, but sometimes the depression is so bad it keeps me from being active. And when I CAN be active, I am not strong enough yet to exercise as long and as intensely as I could when things were going so well for me physically.

I have lost several of the privileges I enjoyed 3-4 years ago that gave me the option of getting the exercise I needed to thrive. I will probably get them back – and I still have several other privileges that increase my likelihood of getting them back. I still have the gym membership. I still have transportation. I still have a safe space to exercise. I still have enough money to afford equipment. As my knee (and head) heals, I’ll be able to continue building my activity back up.

But there are many people out there that are far more trapped than I am. Who may not have ANY of the privileges I enjoy. People for whom the fight to be active isn’t currently winnable. Judging those people as lazy and unmotivated isn’t fair. The answer isn’t to judge and ridicule them. It is to create safe spaces. Make facilities accessible. Provide reliable transportation. Provide fair and equal medical treatment (I will be writing about this in the near future). Taking mental illness seriously. No, it’s not laziness or lack of motivation. Depression is REAL, and debilitating. Mental illness deserves compassion and treatment. NOT ridicule. And that’s just the invisible disability. Many people are visibly disabled, and they need access to safe fitness options as well.

Why? Because fitness isn’t about APPEARANCE. It’s about health. It’s about quality of life. It’s about saving our country billions of dollars in medical costs. It’s about guaranteeing everyone the same quality of medical care, fitness accessibility and compassion.

We need to do a couple things.

  1. Reframe fitness from ‘aesthetics’ to health.
  2. Improve accessibility. The Y is on the frontline of this massive endeavor, and has been for decades. Look into what your local Y is doing in your community. Volunteer, donate.
  3. Stop judging and ridiculing people for not exercising (if you do). You don’t know what barriers they may have, and just because YOU have been able to overcome barriers doesn’t mean everyone has the same barriers and abilities to overcome them. Welcome people of all shapes and sizes and colors and ages and abilities to your gym. Fitness can and should be for everyone. Not just the already fit and able.
  4. Stop spreading the elitist and misguided meme that cardio makes you fat. It can be LIFESAVING for people with insulin resistance. It can also be more accessible than lifting for many people without access to a gym and equipment. And it doesn’t need to be an either/or question either – both are beneficial and it’s perfectly fine to combine them. And EVEN IF CARDIO DID MAKE YOU FAT, there are worse things to be than fat. Like, an elitist asshole.
  5. Stop, also, spreading the myth that exercise is for aesthetics and isn’t important for health. IT IS VITAL for health. VITAL. An exercising body doesn’t need fad diets. An exercising body can metabolize carbs and fat and protein and use it all for fuel. People with medical conditions may need special diets, but those diets should be prescribed and administered by medical professionals, not diet books and internet gurus. Fad diets serve NO ONE, except the bank account of the fad diet book authors. They are also generally quite elitist, time consuming and rely on expensive, and hard to find foods that most people simply don’t have access to. OR NEED.

Cardio is awesome (especially for people with a predisposition to insulin resistance). Lifting is awesome too. Fad diets SUCK and no one should be using them. People with medical conditions that require dietary intervention need to work with a medical professional to administer that dietary intervention. Fad diets offer false and misleading hope that all our problems can be solved with diet. NOPE. The research suggests that if there is anything close to a magic pill, it is EXERCISE. Not magic diets.


Got something to say about this post? Join the discussion on Facebook!

I mentioned that it was the habit of inactivity that kept me from improving my health. In order to make long-term changes, I needed to change my habits to support regular and sufficient exercise. I did it by focusing on making one small change at a time, and practicing those changes consistently over time. It worked. It worked so well that it’s the approach I take with my coaching clients. And it’s the foundation of the group coaching program I created with my coaching partner Sean Flanagan (The Habit Project'). We’ll be enrolling our next session of the Habit Project on April 5th. If you’re interested in learning more about this approach to behavior change that we’ve seen work for hundreds of clients over the years, get on our pre-enrollment list here. Only people on the list will be getting the invitation to enroll in the program! Putting your name on the list does NOT obligate you to join the program.



Fast Weight Loss VS Easy Weight Loss

Guest post by my coaching partner, Sean Flanagan


Everywhere you look there are products that promise fast and easy weight loss.'? “Just drink this drink and the pounds will just melt off! 30 lbs in 30 days”! Obviously as a reader of this site, you know that there are no such thing as sustainable 'magic bullets' and that EXTREME weight loss can be ripe with a multitude of problems'. But is it possible to have fast or easy weight loss in a psychologically and physically healthy way that won't set you up for long term failure and disappointment?

I think the answer is 'yes', but with 2 caveats.

1) Relatively speaking. 'Easy' will always require some work and 'fast' has an upper limit ' generally the guideline of 'no more than 1 percent of bodyweight lost per week' is a good line to draw.

And 2) You have to pick one ' fast OR easy.

The strategies for each are significantly different.

  • The 'easy' path will generally consist of behaviors close to the form and degree that you will maintain for the long-term.
  • The 'fast' path shouldn't consist of behaviors that are absolutely unsustainable, but will likely need to be modified as time goes on.


We can do this the easy way or the hard way!

The Easy Way'

*Props for the Back to the Future II reference? No? Well okay'moving on'


The easy way consists of making changes that are completely sustainable or pretty damn close to it. For example, you may be able to walk 20 minutes a day every day for the rest of your life' but while you have extra time this summer and have a couple pounds you want to lose, you may walk a whole extra 10 minutes each day! See what I mean? No dramatic difference.

An easy version of a 'be mindful of portions' habit could simply be using a measuring cup when you have ice cream at home so you don't accidentally eat more than you mean to ' this could save you hundreds of calories per week. Using a measuring cup for one thing isn't too much of a pain in the ass, and if you do this long enough you'll be much better at estimating portion size anyway. Okay cool ' keeping dessert calories in check to make it easier to be in a slight deficit ' easy enough.

So we have ease of implementation and sustainability. What DON'T we have?

With the easy way, we don't have a promise of timeline. Maybe you'll lose a pound a week ' maybe you'll lose 3 lbs in a month ' and maybe those first 2 lbs just won't budge for a month or two.

But when you do get on the scale or test your body fat and see the change, you'll think to yourself 'well that was easy!'

And even more important, you will have gotten there purely by focusing on long term health supporting strategies.


The Fast(er) Way

The fast way, if used at all, should always be built on a foundation of sustainable habits. If you're just getting off of the fad diet wagon, you've got some ground work to lay before you can have a reasonable expectation for fast fat loss that is anywhere close to sustainable.

To come back to our 'be mindful of portions' habit we talked about before, an example of the fast way version of this would be weighing and measuring of just about everything to achieve that 1 percent of weight lost (or less) per week. If you're around 200 lbs, this would translate to a 1,000 calorie deficit per day. Now one caveat to get out of the way ' how doable-in-a-healthy-way this is depends on how many calories you need for maintenance.

If you're sedentary and only burn 2,500 calories per day, eating 1,500 calories will likely leave you hungry and miserable. But if you're somewhat more active and burn 3,000 calories per day, then 2,000 of course is a bit more tolerable. So in no way am I saying 'a 1,000 calorie deficit is doable and healthy for everyone' ' there's a difference between on paper and in real life with this stuff.'? Always test the waters first with a smaller calorie deficit.

So in the context of healthy (relatively) fast fat loss, how is that an example of 'a behavior isn't absolutely unsustainable, but will likely need to be modified as time goes on'?

Being mindful of portion sizes is TOTALLY a habit that is sustainable. Measuring some things is sustainable. But depending on your current weight and your goal weight, maybe you wouldn't use the same calorie target forever and you probably won't want to spend as much time and energy weighing and measuring forever.

Now, maybe the calorie target you choose for weight loss WILL be the number of calories that will maintain your target weight. So it's possible that you start with a calorie target and just keep using it until you reach true maintenance (the more weight you lose, the slower this process will become thus creating the illusion of plateaus).

But for others, you may use a given calorie target just long enough to get some initial relatively fast success so you can feel more comfortable increasing your activity, decrease some health risk factors, increase your energy, etc. You may want (and tolerate) that steady 1 ' 2.5 pounds or so of weight lost per week until you get to a point where you're okay with where you're at' or to switch back to the easy path.


Choosing Your Path

The path towards lasting fat loss should always be process focused, should minimize excessive wasting of willpower, and have an eye on long term sustainable behaviors.

By no means do I suggest approaching the weight loss journey as a series of sprints ' I don't care what Vin Diesel says, you should not try to live your life one quarter-mile at a time. That stop-go stop-go pattern is a recipe for frustration, disappointment, and the failure to learn sustainable behaviors that allow you to maintain success.

On the other hand, there will be times in your long journey where you press down on the accelerator *a little bit more*. The easy way should be your foundation ' and it's perfectly fine to ONLY use the easy way. But there may be times where you want to be a little bit more precise or ambitious with your calorie intake or do a little bit more exercise. In addition to the prerequisite of having strong habits already in place, you'll also need to make sure you monitor your psychological response. Because, if you're pushing the throttle a little bit more with the faster approach, we need to be careful not to drain willpower or cause excessive stress that leads you to wanting to never do any health-related stuff ever again.

Regardless of which approach you take, I always suggest using the self-assessment of 'Am I 90-100 percent confident I can do this for the time frame I am aiming for'?

If the answer is 'no' and you're aiming for the easy way, you need to make it easier. If the answer is 'no' and you're aiming for a period of time with the fast way, you either need to make it easier OR shorten the time frame (since you're probably not going to do it forever, anyway).

I hope this post helped to clarify for you the two ends of the spectrum for the pursuit of lasting fat loss ' and what 'easy' and 'fast' means in the context of approaching your fat loss responsibly, protecting your relationship with food, and keeping the entire journey sustainable.

Oh yeah, and for 21 examples of ways of approaching fat loss the easy way, check out the 21 Habits for Lasting Fat Loss guide that I co-wrote with Amber.


Talk soon,

Sean Flanagan

Sean Flanagan is a fitness and nutrition coach specializing in sustainable and totally-not-extreme weight loss. He offers personal training in Oakland, CA (and surrounding areas) and online coaching programs alongside Amber. You can learn more at

Animal VS. Plant Protein: Which Is Better?

Screen Shot 2013-12-05 at 7.26.08 PMSorry kids, it was a trick question. Neither is better. Everything is contextual. Animal protein is better for some people, and in some situations, and vegetable protein is better for some people and in some situations. And in other situations, it’s a wash.

Researchers at the University of Tampa compared the effects of either whey or rice protein on muscle recovery, body composition and strength increases in 24 men (matched for age, body mass, strength, and resistance training experience) over an 8 week resistance training protocol. Each subject consumed 48 grams of either rice or whey protein post workout (this is a large dose, which is relevant. I will explain below.). Their diets were matched for macronutrient ratio and appropriate calorie intake, and were supervised by a registered dietician.

The results showed no statistical difference in body composition, recovery, or strength improvement between the two groups at 8 weeks. From the study:

“Rice protein isolate consumption post resistance exercise decreases fat-mass and increases lean body mass, skeletal muscle hypertrophy, power and strength comparable to whey protein isolate.”

I mentioned above that the large dose was important and here’s why: previous research has shown that at lower doses, animal protein produces superior body composition and strength improvements to plant protein. It has been speculated that it might be due to levels of certain amino acids, specifically leucine, which are proportionally higher in animal protein. This study sought to answer the question ‘If the subject is getting an adequate dose of leucine, does the source of protein matter?’ The answer, according to this study, is no. As long as the subject is getting adequate leucine (2-3 grams), the source of the protein doesn’t matter for body composition and strength improvements. A 48 gram dose of rice protein post workout provides adequate leucine. It is only at smaller doses that source matters.

The take home message here is that if you are using plant protein to support your training, make sure you’re getting enough total protein to meet that 2-3 grams of leucine benchmark. On average it will take about 35-45 grams of plant protein to get 2-3 grams of leucine, with some variation depending on what specific plant source it’s from. In theory, you could also supplement with leucine, although I have never tried this. Don’t worry, the claim that the body can only assimilate 30 grams of protein at a time is a myth.

From personal experience, the more you rely on plant protein, the more you need to pay attention to making sure you’re getting an ample amount. This doesn’t make plant protein inferior, it just means you need a little more of it to meet all your needs. I get most of my protein from plants (I like plant foods better), and I haven’t had any trouble with recovery or building lean mass. I do pay attention to protein intake, and aim for about 150 grams a day (which works out to a bit less than 1 gram per pound of bodyweight) from a combination of whole food sources and a protein supplement (this is the one I use). I have never gone to the trouble of counting specific amino acids, I just aim for an adequate total protein intake. I don’t think it’s necessary to get this granular unless you enjoy geeking out on your diet. Just get enough protein over the course of the day and you’ll do fine!

If you’re curious, this is the whey protein used in the study, and this is the rice protein.

Fitbit Aria

How to Determine the Nutrient Profile of Home Made Meals

Screen Shot 2013-11-25 at 2.21.16 PMOne of the questions I get pretty regularly is “How can I determine the nutrition information of recipes I make at home?” When you’re trying to lose weight or build muscle, or working to ensure you’re giving your body the protein and vitamins and minerals it needs to thrive, knowing the protein, nutrient and calorie content of your meals can be super helpful. But cooking at home using whole foods can make it trickier, as whole foods don’t come with a nutrition label! There is a way to figure out all these values, and with the right tools and tricks it’s not too complicated.

The first few times you do this will be a learning process – expect imperfection. But you’ll get the hang of it quickly. Hang in there!

You’ll need two tools to get an accurate idea of the nutrient profile of your recipes. First, you’ll need to find a recipe analyzer you feel comfortable with. There are dozens available online. I would say they’re all pretty comparable, so check out a few and get a feel for which one seems most user friendly to you. I use this one at Calorie Count. Many of my clients use this one at MyFitnessPal. Spark People has a good one, as does Self Magazine. Here’s one from Fit Watch. Dieticians of Canada also has a good one. Some of these analyzers require you to create an account, but the accounts are free. The benefit of creating an account, though, is that you can save your recipes for future reference and only need to analyze them once.

You’ll also need a decent food scale (I like this one, although there are many to choose from at different price points).

And now that we’ve got the tools, here’s how you do it:

1. Enter all the ingredients of your recipe into the recipe analyzer of your choice, and tell the analyzer how many servings the finished product will produce. The analyzer will give you the nutrient profile for a serving of your recipe.

2. Prepare the recipe.

3. Weigh the entire finished recipe. Make sure to subtract the weight of the container you’re using to weigh the recipe. You can do this by weighing the empty container before weighing the recipe, or if your scale has a tare function, simply place the container on the scale and press the tare button to zero out the weight reading, then add the finished recipe to the container and the scale will read only the weight of the food.

4. Divide the finished product into servings by weight.

Here’s an example:

Our imaginary example dish is going to be beans and rice. Enter all the ingredients into the analyzer, in this case we’ll enter 2 cups uncooked rice, 1 cup dry beans, 3 carrots, 3 stalks of celery, 2 large tomatoes, a tablespoon of olive oil and a teaspoon of salt (we’re going for simple here). Then we tell the analyzer this recipe makes 4 servings. The analyzer will make it’s calculations and spit out the nutrient profile for one serving. Then, we prepare the recipe. When the recipe is finished, we place the entire dish on the food scale. After figuring out and subtracting the weight of the container the food is in, we determine the finished recipe weighs 36 ounces. We then divide the recipe into 4 equal 9 ounce servings, and either serve and eat, or package up for later. Viola! Home made meal, accurately profiled and divided. You now know your home made meal’s macronutrient, micronutrient and calorie profile.

One benefit of determining the nutrient profile of your recipes is that you can see if they are balanced to meet your goals, and if not, you can alter them. For instance, this beans and rice recipe may be too low in protein for someone on a fat loss diet, so seeing where the protein is coming from can give them ideas for improving the protein balance (perhaps by increasing the bean to rice ratio, or adding another protein dense ingredient). You can also determine if your recipe is calorie dense enough to meet your energy needs, or if it lacks micronutrients you may need to increase your consumption of. Remember, being aware of the nutrient profile of your diet IS NOT and SHOULD NOT be about restriction, it should be about ensuring you are meeting your nutrient and energy (calorie) needs adequately. Spending some time learning about the way your diet balances out over time can help you create new eating habits. Once those habits are in place, you can leave the tracking behind.

Related blog posts:

Calorie Primer
Habit: the Real Key to Weight Loss Success
Body Composition

eMeals Meal Plans

What to Expect When You Stop Dieting Part 2: How Do I Do This

This blog series is an exerpt from my eBook ‘Taking Up Space: a Guide to Escaping the Diet Maze’.
Screen Shot 2013-08-16 at 10.16.52 AM
I really like Ellyn Satter‘s definition of ‘Normal Eating’:


Normal eating is going to the table hungry and eating until you are satisfied. It is being able to choose food you like and eat it and truly get enough of it -not just stop eating because you think you should. Normal eating is being able to give some thought to your food selection so you get nutritious food, but not being so wary and restrictive that you miss out on enjoyable food. Normal eating is giving yourself permission to eat sometimes because you are happy, sad or bored, or just because it feels good. Normal eating is mostly three meals a day, or four or five, or it can be choosing to munch along the way. It is leaving some cookies on the plate because you know you can have some again tomorrow, or it is eating more now because they taste so wonderful. Normal eating is overeating at times, feeling stuffed and uncomfortable. And it can be undereating at times and wishing you had more. Normal eating is trusting your body to make up for your mistakes in eating. Normal eating takes up some of your time and attention, but keeps its place as only one important area of your life.

In short, normal eating is flexible. It varies in response to your hunger, your schedule, your proximity to food and your feelings.

Some of the things I interpret from Satter’s description:

  • normal eating is being aware of hunger and satiety signals
  • eating foods you enjoy without guilt and shame
  • eating mostly nutritious food but having flexibility to include foods purely for pleasure
  • being aware of the emotional drives to eat, and allowing for them without guilt or shame
  • there is no one ‘right’ meal pattern – eat when works for YOU and your needs
  • being able to indulge without the compulsion to binge
  • eating to support your energy needs over time – with flexibility to eat more some days and less other days as your appetite and activity dictate
  • not obsessing over ‘slip-ups, cheats and mistakes’
  • not fixating on food and eating to the degree that it impacts your quality of life

Getting from here to there can seem like an insurmountable task though, especially when your ‘normal’ is following arbitrary, restrictive rules that someone else made up. Many very wise people have written about working toward Intuitive Eating (I linked to Ellyn Satter above, there is also Geneen Roth, Gwyneth Olwyn (who’s website I link to fairly regularly), the good people at Eat More to Weigh Less and others, all of whom bring very valuable insight to the table. The recommendations I make here echo many of the recommendations of these other people, and I encourage you to explore their websites and publications.

I’d like to begin by referring you BACK to the first installment of this series, and reiterate the importance of seeking medical treatment if you have symptoms of disordered eating or malnutrition. Refeeding can be dangerous, even life-threatening, if your body is in a state of starvation. Medical supervision is necessary.

Many people, however, are not starving, they simply have a history of unnecessary restriction and unstable eating patterns. The goal here is to get out of the restriction mindset and stabilize your eating habits. I’m going to give you some guildelines to do that. The first order of business is stabilization. You may or may not lose weight here, you may even gain a little. I’ll discuss some of the normal stages of recovery in the next installment of this series. Weight change is not our initial focus, stabilization is. Once your eating and weight are stable, we can begin making small changes, if you want to change your weight. Again, our first task is stabilization. Some people stabilize in a few weeks, others take months, much is dependent on your history and health. The more extreme your dieting history, and the more unstable your health, the more likely it is that you need to be working with a treatment team.

So, here are some guidelines:

  • Acknowledge that there is an appropriate number of calories that your body needs to support your activity and a healthy weight. I talked about the fatal flaw in the ‘calories don’t matter’ paradigm so common in the fad diet world, and the very serious consequences of eating too few calories in my Adrenal Fatigue post here. Your body needs calories, and probably more than you realize, to support a healthy weight. Many fad diets short change you in the calorie department. A calculator that factors in your activity will give you a more realistic idea of your calorie needs than many of the calculators on dieting websites. Some of the best I’ve found are this one at Fat Secret, the Health-Calc here, and Scooby’s calculator here. If you’ve been dieting all your life, the numbers you see here will probably surprise you. Determine your calorie requirements, and eat to support them. It doesn’t have to be exact every day, but aim for a window near the figure the calculators give you. That way you will be supplying your body the energy it needs to meet the demands of day to day life. While eating intuitively is a goal, many people have lost touch with their hunger and satiety signals. Being aware of calorie intake can be a stepping stone toward reconnecting with those signals, by guiding proper portion sizes and ensuring adequate nutrient intake.
  • If you’ve been restricting for a long time, ease your calories up. Many ED professionals recommend adding 200-300 calories every 3 days or so until you reach your required intake. I’ve known people who’ve added calories as slowly as 25 calories per day per week, which I think is unnecessarily slow. I think it’s important to get to an adequate intake as soon as possible. 100 calories per day per week seems to be a good half-way point. So for example, you’d eat 1600 per day for a week, then 1700 per day for a week, then 1800 for a week, etc, until you get to your target. If you’re in treatment, follow your treatment team’s advice. Some people begin eating to their requirements right away, and I think this is probably best if you haven’t been highly restrictive.
  • Eat foods you want to eat*. Yes, seriously. Lift arbitrary restrictions. Some people believe that if they allow themselves to eat what they want, they will eat nothing but junk food. Some people DO eat nothing but junk food for a little while. The vast majority of people very quickly realize that eating nothing but junk food gets tedious, and their energy flails, and they begin to crave more nutritious foods. Every now and then a person comes along who really can eat nothing but junk food indefinitely – I believe that these people are dealing with disordered eating issues that require professional treatment. Most people enjoy a wide variety of foods including many that are very nutritious. Eat what you enjoy! Nutritious and indulgent, there is a place in a healthy diet for both. *If you are allergic to a food, that would qualify as a medical reason not to eat it. Avoiding foods that make you sick is obviously a reasonable ‘restriction’.Likewise, if you have a medical condition (such as Diabetes) that necessitates a specific dietary approach, work with your doctor and a Registered Dietician to implement that diet. Do NOT rely on ‘nutritionists’, diet books or bloggers for medical treatments.
  • Pay attention to how your body responds to the food you eat. This is really the only way to evolve into a way of eating that supports your unique goals and needs. Does it fill you up? Does it give you energy? Does it make you feel good? Bad? Do you LIKE it? Diet Culture has created many food villains, but there are very few foods that are inherently bad regardless of context. Even refined sugar and processed foods can be beneficial under some circumstances, such as recovery from starvation and malabsorption issues stemming from GI conditions, and as fuel for intense physical activity.
  • Get enough protein. This is really the only ‘food rule’ I follow, as it seems to be generally true across the board. If you are physically active, if you are recovering from restrictive dieting, if you are trying to lose weight…any of these conditions and more will increase your protein needs. The current DRI recommendation is quite modest, only .66 – .8 grams of protein per kg of bodyweight per day, but there is some indication that this is inadequate, and sports physiologists have long made higher recommendations. 1.3 – 1.8 grams per kg of bodyweight per day is probably a more realistic goal, and if you are engaging in strenuous activity or losing weight, increasing to 1.8+ grams per kilogram of bodyweight per day will probably be beneficial. I simplify this for my American clients by giving them a target of 1 gram per pound of bodyweight per day; this is more than they absolutely need, but few people actually meet that target, and aiming that high tends to ensure that they do meet their minimum requirements. Get your protein from protein rich foods you enjoy. If you eat mostly plant protein, you will need to eat a little more to ensure your body is able to get what it needs as plant protein is slightly less bioavailable. This doesn’t make it inferior, it just raises your intake requirements. There is nothing wrong with using a protein supplement if you’re having trouble getting enough from food alone. I give some tips for choosing a good protein supplement here.
  • Be patient. Changing your habits takes time, and there will be starts and stops and plateaus and mistakes along the way. These are all part of the process. It can take months, even a year, to see major changes, especially if you’ve been very restrictive in the past. Work toward consistency, balance and stability. That is the goal in the beginning: consistency, balance and stability. Weight change will come later, and it will be easier when you’re consistent, balanced and stable.
  • Move away from guilt and shame. They have not served you in the past. They serve no purpose now. Allow for mistakes and setbacks, not as things to avoid, but as things to learn from.
  • Find a supportive community. Knowing that you are not alone, and that what you are going through is normal, is one of the most profoundly empowering gifts you can give yourself. And later, down the road, you can be there for others beginning their journey.

Escaping dieting is not easy, and it’s not always pleasant. It’s probably one of the hardest things you will ever do. In my next installment, I’ll discuss some of the normal physiological responses to refeeding. Some are wonderful, others can be downright awful. You don’t have to go through it alone. Many of us have been through it and can offer perspective and support.

Up Next: Part 3


Related Posts:

How I Lost 80 Pounds

Picture 66I’ve posted numerous times here on my blog about how I lost weight. Here and here, for instance. My stalkers STILL accuse me of lying. All. The. Time.

I lost weight by eating fewer calories than I burned.

Swear to God.

I tried a few different diets. I tried veganism, I actually did pretty well on it, because I was getting plenty of carbs (which gave me lots of energy to exercise), and because I really enjoyed the food. Veganism didn’t make me lose weight though. Eating fewer calories than I burned made me lose weight.

I tried paleo. I didn’t do very well on it, I wasn’t getting enough carbs and my energy was in the toilet. I didn’t recover well from workouts, and I didn’t WANT to workout because I had no energy. I didn’t really like the food. I actually gained a few pounds on paleo. Paleo didn’t make me gain weight though. Eating more calories than I burned made me gain weight.

I tried the USDA’s MyPlate dietary recommendations. I did well, because the plan allowed me to eat foods I enjoyed, and because it gave me a realistic and sustainable calorie target (2600 a day). I lost weight on MyPlate. But MyPlate didn’t make me lose weight. Eating fewer calories than I burned made me lose weight.

Most of the time, though, I didn’t follow any specific plan. Most of the time, I just ate what I wanted. Sometimes I wanted to eat lots of salads and green smoothies. Other times I wanted to eat ice cream and scones. Still other times I wanted to eat fish and yogurt. Usually, I ate a little bit of everything. I kept track of my calories, and I made sure to get enough protein every day. I aimed for roughly 2800 calories a day, because that is the number of calories that support a weight of about 160 pounds at my current activity level. And I aimed for 100-150 grams of protein a day, to support muscle retention and recovery.

Other than that, I ate what I wanted. Sometimes salad, sometimes ice cream.

Swear to God.

The diet gurus tell us that we have to give ourselves eating disorders in order to lose weight. We do not. My stalkers tell me that I can’t possibly be as lean and fit as I am without being obsessive and strict with my diet. They are wrong. I am not obsessive and strict with my diet, beyond making sure I’m eating the appropriate number of calories to support my weight and activity (2800-3000 calories on an average day) and an adequate amount of protein to support my training. If I want ice cream, I eat ice cream. If I want fish and yogurt, I eat fish and yogurt. If I want salad, I eat salad (I like salad and eat it pretty often). I eat a wide variety of mostly healthy foods, but I am not obsessive, I am not ‘strict’, and I don’t spend my life fixated on food. You do not have to either.

Swear to God.

I Am Overweight.

Just over a year ago I published my most shared blog post to date: I’m Calling for a New Paradigm. My experience during what I now refer to as my ‘Fitness Model Diet’ fundamentally changed my approach to weight loss and fitness. I’d like to share some of the internal shifts I’ve made in the last year, and relate them to the trends I observe in the Fitness Industry.

First a brief review of my Fitness Model Diet. Over the course of 12 weeks, I dropped from a weight of 160 to 148 (at my lowest) and a body fat percentage of 12%. I hovered between 148 and 152 for about 2 months, and began to experience some symptoms of underweight and undereating, in spite of being at a scale weight that qualified as healthy and consuming 2200-2400 calories a day, which most people would consider not only adequate but probably quite indulgent. Perhaps more concerning, I also began to develop symptoms of body dysmorphia, a sign of disordered eating. I recognized what was happening to me and ended my experiment. To read a more in depth account of my experiences, click on the post I linked above, as well as this one, the follow up I wrote a couple months later.

In the months following, I increased my calories to where they’d been before my experiment and regained weight to 160 pounds. My symptoms resolved very quickly and my health and weight have been stable ever since. (More recently I’ve decided to purposely gain more weight in order to add some lean mass and hopefully see strength gains in the gym, I’ll discuss this further down).

My biggest takeaway from this whole experience was a new understanding of body fat; not only it’s role in maintaining metabolic health, but the disordered view our culture has of it. While it’s clear that in great excess body fat can impact health negatively, what is less commonly understood is that a certain amount of body fat is essential for health, particularly in women. Body fat is not an inert substance. In addition to insulating internal organs and storing energy, it plays a role in the production of hormones (including leptin, estrogen and resistin), and regulation of endocrine function. Just as too much body fat can throw hormonal regulation out of balance, so also can too little.

In the last year, I’ve taken a step back from the pursuit of fat loss that had been my primary focus for several years. I’ve begun to evaluate the messages the Fitness Industry sends with a more critical eye. What I see really disturbs me.

Fat Loss at All Costs

A simple Google search of the terms ‘diet’ and ‘fitness’ reveals that fat loss is THE defining goal of virtually every fitness and diet program. Try to find a ‘success story’ that doesn’t hinge on the visible reduction of body fat. Fat loss is, quite simply, THE barometer of success in this world. When fat loss is achieved, the program is deemed successful. Most programs are marketed specifically as fat loss plans. We are, as a culture, myopically obsessed with fat loss.

The human body requires a certain degree of ‘fatness’ for proper endocrine function. Women need more fat than men, and some women need more fat than others. As the body approaches that lower limit of adequate fat reserves, it initiates endocrine adaptations that inhibit further loss (downregulation of metabolism, loss of reproductive function, catabolism of lean mass, etc), such that the leaner a person is, the more extreme the measures they will need to engage in in order to see continued fat loss. The fitness and diet industry are ready with products to sell! Programs that place extreme restrictions on calories and macronutrients, and exercise routines that require extreme degrees of intensity or duration, usually combined. And it works! These extreme diets force the body to drop even more fat, with spectacular aesthetic results that are illustrated in dramatic before and after photos.

A clear message emerges from these dramatic images: Fat loss is good! Weight loss is success! Fat is bad! Weight gain is failure!

The end result is that healthy people at healthy weights internalize the message that they need to lose weight, because they don’t look like the bodies in the after pictures, so clearly they aren’t successfully managing their weight! They engage in increasingly extreme dietary restriction. Enough is never enough. There is always more fat to lose, another diet that promises fat loss success. Smaller and smaller we get.

I’ve experienced this mentality over and over during the last year as my weight has steadily increased. Every time I post on my facebook page about my weight gain, I get advice about how to turn it around. Even when I say specifically that I am gaining weight on purpose, I still get advice about how to lose weight. It’s like my words don’t even register beyond the weight gain. If I’ve gained weight it must be bad, and I must want to change it. The concept of a person, especially a woman, intentionally gaining weight is completely foreign. Even when I say ‘I am gaining weight on purpose’, a few people always seem to hear ‘help me figure out how to lose weight’. It is surreal. One person posted elsewhere that my diet ‘clearly isn’t working for her, since she’s gained 10-15 pounds recently’. See that? Weight gain = failure. End of story.

Obviously there are many people for whom fat loss is a healthy goal. When weight and body fat become a threat to a person’s health, weight and fat loss is important. But there comes a point at which the hyperfocus on fat loss becomes unhealthy. When a person is at a healthy weight, pursuing fat loss is no longer a health-promoting goal, it is at best an aesthetic pursuit, and at worst a risk to long-term health. The body will resist losing those last pounds of essential fat, and forcing the issue can set up a metabolic state that leads to adverse health outcomes and potentially even trigger eating disorders. Fat loss isn’t always good.

So, over the last year I’ve shifted my own goals, and I’ve also reevaluated the approach to weight loss I use with clients. I’ve been eating at a small calorie surplus and am now hovering right around 170 pounds. I have, essentially, gained 20 pounds in the last year. My current weight puts me just over the ‘healthy weight’ cut off on the BMI scale, I am officially overweight. In the last year, the primary focus of my training and diet has been strength and mass gains. I have gained some lean mass, and I’ve also gained some fat. This is not a failure. I am not planning to ‘cut’ after some arbitrarily approved ‘bulking’ period. In fact, as of right now, I have no plans to lose weight or fat, ever again. I do not wish that all my gains had been muscle. There is nothing wrong with gaining some fat. It does not make me inadequate or undesirable or unhealthy. Even having a BMI that qualifies as overweight doesn’t make me any of those things. My weight is just a number. A data point. It is not a value judgement. Do you want to see the body that a year of eating lots of food and focus on GAINS has produced?

Screen Shot 2013-10-16 at 8.47.47 AM

By the numbers, this body is overweight. I am part of that ‘70% of Americans are overweight or obese’ statistic. Maybe we need to re-evaluate the numbers and statistics.

For reference, here is the body that restriction and focus on fat loss produced:

148 pounds, 12% body fat.

148 pounds, 12% body fat.

Neither body is ‘better’. Some people will find my current body more attractive, others will find my leaner body more attractive, others still will find both hideously unattractive. It’s ok. I’m not here to tell you one body type is better than another, or fish for compliments, or try to garner anyone’s approval for the choices I make for my own body.

What I AM here to tell you is that there is another way. That fat loss doesn’t HAVE to be your goal. That all different body types can be healthy and beautiful. That you can be more if you want to. That less isn’t the only acceptable option. That if the endless pursuit of fat loss isn’t making you happy, isn’t improving the quality of your life, isn’t working…you can choose another approach. Choosing another approach isn’t failure. It is simply different, and there is a place in this world for different. We are not all shaped the same.

These days when clients approach me for weight management coaching, the first thing I have them do is really evaluate where they are. Many, many people who believe they need to lose weight are actually, objectively, already at a healthy weight. Trying to force their body to shed more weight, more fat, may not be the most health- and quality of life- affirming option. Taking an approach of building a stronger foundation may be a more sustainable, and ultimately more enjoyable, choice. Choosing to end the relentless pursuit of fat loss is not an admission of defeat, it is not a failure. It can be a very healthy, very positive statement of self-respect.

I can’t tell you which body you should like better, but I CAN tell you which one eats ice cream, kills workouts and has more sex. The ‘overweight’ one.

To lean more about my approach to eating to support a healthy weight, check out my ebook Taking Up Space: A Guide to Escaping the Diet Maze, and check out my other blog posts on the subject:

Adrenal Fatigue as a Cover for Starvation
Healthy Diet or Disordered Thinking?
Body Composition: That 'Last Five Pounds', and How to Deal With 'Problem Areas'


Join the conversation on my Facebook page!

For more information on some of the topics discussed here:

Body Fat
Minnesota Starvation Experiment
Endocrine Response to Anorexia
Endocrine Response to Typical Dieting


Guest Post: Kaleolani’s Story

I ‘met’ Kaleolani about a year ago via my facebook page. She continues to inspire me every day with her positive, life-affirming approach to her life and her health. When confronted with serious medical issues, she took a thoughtful and long-term approach to healing, by paying attention to how her own unique body responded to different treatments. Formerly diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes, Kaleolani has made long-term lifestyle changes that support her metabolic health. She’s now off her diabetes medication and has normal metabolic function. Like my last Guest Blogger Jennifer, I find Kaleolani’s story inspiring and hopeful.

Kaleolani’s Story

kaleolanithumbWhen I was asked by Amber to write a piece, I was giddy, and honored and scared to death. '? Where would I start? What was I going to talk about? So I decided, very simply, to start at the beginning. I was born and raised in Hawai’i (hence my first name). I could say I was a surfing beach bunny, sitting around eating fish and poi, and laying in the sun getting my tan. The fact is, I don’t surf, deep ocean water scares me, I love poi but not so much the fish and I find laying out boring. Somewhere along the way between childhood and today, I also developed an eating disorder. I have compulsive eating disorder or binge eating. When most people think of an eating disorder they think of someone who is starving themselves or binging and purging. An eating disorder doesn’t always fit that mold. For me it was the coping skill I used for my feelings, for my emotional protection, and to make it through my daily life.

I met a wonderful man, we got married and due to his job, I moved away from home. Through other ups and downs of life, I know I suffered a few times from depression, including depression brought on by the C-section I had with my first daughter. It wasn’t what you’d call an ideal pregnancy and her birth was far from the fairy dust sprinkled, birth miracle of your favorite movies or TV show. We moved again. I had a second baby; got sick and things took a down hill turn. We moved again, and I didn’t realize that the bottom was so very far down or that I’d end up sinking down there and hitting rock bottom.

One day I went to the doctor’s for a check up, something I avoided because I was told all of my ills were due to my weight. At this particular visit, my new to me doctor, informed me I was pre-diabetic. No! Only one person in my family had been diabetic. This does not run in my family. We had other diseases, cancer, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, but not diabetes. What was I supposed to do with this? Well the very same thing I did with everything else. I ran the other way and ate to push it down.

My doctor did talk to me about my weight. I am 5’2″ and I had gotten up to about 360 lbs. '? That’s pretty short and round like. When she approached it, it was not in the same way that others had done before, but she really listened. She heard me when I said I’d tried every single diet, when I said I always came out of it feeling like I was the biggest failure in the world, when I said I had been listening to a couple of friends talk about compulsive eating and it seemed to fit every thing I was feeling and doing. She listened to me when I said I’d bought a book and cried as I read because it felt like I had written it myself. She then put me in touch with a totally awesome therapist. I was only able to spend 6 months with my therapist until we had to move again.

When we moved I decided it was time to live my best life right now. No more waiting for that magic miracle diet to help me shed all the pounds and make me a perfect size 2. By now I’d have been happy with the perfect size 20. I got a seat belt extender for my car, donated all of my clothes that didn’t fit and threw away the last scale in the house. I also found a new doctor in our new home. I needed help because I was tired all the time and couldn’t drive without falling asleep. I couldn’t stay up for more then 2 hours. I also had my first ambulance ride to the ER one morning, scared to death I was having a heart attack because I couldn’t breath and the pain in my chest was unbearable.

My totally new, totally awesome doctor sent me for blood tests, did a physical and sent me to a pulmonologist for a sleep study. Turns out, I have severe sleep apnea. The blood tests came back and, oh, by the way, I’ve now got full-blown diabetes. No time to panic as I was already panicking thinking I would die while sleeping with my daughters would be the ones to find me dead in the morning. I didn’t know what to do so I dumped all the things that could possibly cause me an issue with my blood sugar. I dumped all grains, all starchy vegetables, all fruits, and nearly all sugar. I got set up with my CPAP machine, took my Metformin and then I set about figuring out what to do with this disease I knew nothing about.

Insurance wouldn’t pay for a visit to a nutritionist. I did a better thing. I asked a diabetic friend, well, more like I cried all over my computer and begged my diabetic friend for any help. I can’t begin to tell you what my angel of a friend did for my peace of mind. She gave me wonderful advice and tips. I took them to heart. I wasn’t prescribed a glucometer, but I went out and got one from CVS. The great staff there was so helpful, showed me how to use it, and told me I didn’t need the latest and greatest one with bells and whistles. I needed the simplest one, with the cheapest test strips and off I went. I found myself a chiropractor and an acupuncturist. I wanted all of my bases covered. They were going to help me with all other physical and emotional aspects and most importantly, try to help my body heal my pancreatic function.

I tested everything I ate. I ran through testing strips like they were water. I began to exercise, which was not easy. After 2 C-sections and my illness my back was out of whack. I was in pain all the time and dealing with a second round of plantar fasciitis. My right knee would not bear any weight by itself. I walked, or tried to. I could make it maybe 1 1/2 minutes before I hurt so much I had to stop. I walked a small path behind our condo. It would take me about 20 minutes to walk something that should have taken 3. I saw a video for DDP Yoga and I got the tapes. I did the things my friend told me to do. Her most wonderful advice ever was to walk. She said if I ate something that spiked my blood sugar, which happened a lot at the beginning, to walk. If you move the big muscles in your body, it would move the sugar floating around in there, instead of sitting there making me feel high.

I had been getting horrible headaches before and the Metformin helped with that. I could visually see and physically feel when my blood sugar was going up too high and too fast. My walking was getting better. Finally, after a couple of months, I got rid of the last bit of sugar in my diet. I gave up chocolate. I knew it wouldn’t be a lifetime move, but I had to give it up for the time being to let my body heal.

Two weeks before my 3-month appointment with my doctor, I started to get headaches again when I took the Metformin. I decided to stop taking it. I got another blood test. My blood sugar numbers were dropping. My doctor was looking for my A1C numbers. According to A1C is: “A test that gives you a picture of your average blood glucose control for the past 2-3 months. The results give you a good idea of how well your diabetes plan is working.” She agreed when I told her I didn’t want to take the Metformin and try to control things with diet and exercise. Did I say yet how awesome she is?

I slowly started to add back in some whole starches like potatoes and some black and brown rice. I was sleeping so much better with my CPAP and life was amazingly different already. I found new recipes to help with my cravings as I still was dealing with my eating disorder. There’s a fine line to balance with making sure I’m doing what’s needed for health and balancing it out emotionally. I do not restrict my eating because for me, that is a sure way of creating a need for a binge. Paleo and primal web sites helped me tremendously. I still ate dairy and still had starches but I needed to learn a different way of baking to avoid wheat. I had a NEED for cookies.

I saw my doctor every three months. I got a blood test each time to check my A1C levels and various other things. I kept seeing my chiropractor and acupuncturist. My levels kept going to down closer to the normal range. I kept doing what I was doing.

My physical changes were phenomenal. I thought I wasn’t an outdoors person. I really was. I love walking in nature. I just don’t want to sit in nature or eat in nature (:-) I am not an al fresco diner), but moving through nature, I could do. My daughters and I found some trails to walk and we did as often as we could. I walked a bigger loop near our condo. I noticed, as I was doing my DDP, and standing in a lunge position, my right knee was able to go lower then it had before. I was taking pictures to track progress, and there was a visible difference in how I looked, how my clothes fit. I still didn’t use a scale and had to stop taking measurements. It wasn’t working for me emotionally to do this. I got derailed a bit by a weight loss challenge that I shouldn’t have joined, but it did teach me that restricting or surrounding myself with people who do, does not work for my peace of mind.

I then decided I wanted to try running. After getting the ok from all my medical people, I followed my intuition and got myself a pair of Vibram 5 Finger shoes and started to try to jog. I had read somewhere something about John Bingham and how he said he waddled when he jogged. That so fit. My friend told me she called it wogging. I loved it. I got some new wogging pants, sewed some skirts to wear over the pants and tried to see what I could do. I started very slowly and I’m still slow, but low and behold, the person who thought she hated running, LOVES it. Turns out, I just hated running for PE.

Today, I had my 1-year check up. My A1C numbers have me in the normal range. Not diabetic, not pre-diabetic but the normal range. I eat sprouted wheat bread when I want, I have some maple syrup on sprouted wheat pancakes, I have some sugar, and I still have my rice, my potatoes and everything else, including my chocolate. I have lost about 60 lbs. In the process I finally was able to lose my fear of what the food would do to my body. I still deal with my eating disorder one day at a time. I am living every day, and eating the chocolate, and wogging because I love it. I can walk a flight of stairs, I can run a few sprints, I can do actual squats without holding onto anything. I still have a ways to go physically, emotionally and mentally, but it’s no longer a race against a disease but a way to a better life. It’s always been about putting one foot in front of the other and finding a solution to the problem at hand. Now though, I look forward to seeing what new thing I’ll be able to do tomorrow, living my best life now.

Kaleolani Garcia
Homeschooling, stay at home mom of 2 and Coast Guard spouse.

HCG, Intermittent Fasting and Ketosis: the Unholy Trinity of Metabolic Downregulation

Today, for a change, I’m not going to hit you with a bunch of studies. I’m just going to tell you what I’ve learned through experience with my clients and readers. Then I give you a couple links to check out if you want to read some more sciency stuff.

My client base is made up largely of women who’ve already run the diet gauntlet. By the time they get to me, most of these women have essentially been on one diet or another for years, or even decades. They’ve done it all. They’re experts at losing weight. Trouble is, the weight always comes back. With each successive diet, they ultimately find themselves fatter and sicker. I don’t put my clients on diets: they’ve already been, to a one, on all the diets. I get my clients off diets. Get them eating a humane, sustainable amount of food, with a focus on supporting their activity and honoring their personal tastes and cultural traditions. The vast majority of my clients stabilize fairly quickly and begin making forward progress, once they wrap their minds around eating to support their metabolic health.

There are a few clients, though, who have a much harder time stabilizing. Their weight won’t budge, or it fluctuates wildly. They don’t seem to be able to build muscle mass as effectively. They begin to store more fat around their belly than they have in the past. They experience edema. They deal with anxiety and insomnia and other symptoms of starvation, even when their calorie intake is adequate. It is as if their bodies refuse to emerge from the starvation response (see my Adrenal Fatigue post for more info on the starvation response). This goes on for months, even when calories and macronutrients are all adequate and consistent. I’ve had several clients who’ve experienced this, and every single one of them had a history of one or more of the three diet philosophies that I’ve taken to calling the ‘Metabolic Downregulators’. Those three diet philosophies are: HCG, Intermittent Fasting, and Ketosis.

All three of the Metabolic Downregulators appear to provoke the starvation response by design. The first symptom of the starvation response is rapid weight loss. Subsequent symptoms are endocrine adaptations that slow the body’s metabolic processes and insure against famine by shoring up fat reserves, stopping reproductive function and reducing metabolically expensive lean mass. IF and ketosis seem to be able to do this even in the absence of a caloric deficit. HCG, of course, simply relies on extreme calorie deprivation. That initial rapid weight loss is what the dieter fixates on, and when the weight loss stalls out they wonder what they are ‘doing wrong’, and double down on the diet in an effort to get the weight dropping again. This only compounds the metabolic downregulation, and the dieter ends up exhibiting all the symptoms of starvation AND excess fat stores.

Like I said, I’m not going to throw studies at you today (I’ll let Alan Aragon, Anthony Colpo, Stephanie Ruper and others do that). I’m simply sharing the observations I’ve made amongst my clients and readers.

My clients who’ve succeeded in downregulating their metabolic function need much more time to repair and stabilize than others who’ve followed less extreme diet philosophies. 6 months is not uncommon. Some women need a year or more. The longer a person’s body has been in the starvation response, the longer it’s going to take to recover. This is a frustrating reality. The temptation to return to extreme dieting can be great. I encourage those of you who are experiencing this to remember that the diets ultimately failed, and it is exactly those diets that brought you to where you are today. There is a better way. Consistently and dependably giving your body the nutrition and energy it needs to be healthy and active will allow it to emerge from the starvation response and heal from the damage the diets have done. But it takes time. Be patient! The long-term benefits are worth it.

If you’ve gone through this, please share your experiences in the comments so that people just beginning the healing process know they are not alone. There is a vast support network out there for those ready to start on the path out of the restriction maze. Please reach out, from wherever you are, to support each other and to find the help you need.

I will add to this list as I find additional resources.

Calorie Shaming

As if it weren’t bad enough that we are shamed from every direction for having normal, healthy human bodies, as soon as we decide to take back the power over our health and well being, and begin the process of learning to nourish ourselves properly to support our activity, so begins the calorie shaming.

What am I talking about? I cover several main themes on my facebook page, and the last week or so I’ve been focusing on eating enough calories. Here are a few of the comments people have left on my posts just in the last day, these are directed at me and my food choices:

“Ask yourself why you must defend your need to have [sugar]?” (left in response to my post about sugar being an awesome fuel for my workouts)

“Uh, hello? 3000 calories a day is not normal or healthy intake! Unless you are running a marathon every day.” (in response to my post that 3000 calories a day is not unreasonable for an active healthy adult – it’s about how much I eat. Not everyone needs quite that much, but many do.)

“3000 calories is a large amount of food if you are a healthy eater. Fresh fruits and veggies and lean proteins do not have many calories. What to you do? Eat a cheese burger on a big bun and than go running and call yourself healthy?” (same post as above)

The message here is that eating this much food is undesirable, unhealthy, bad.

How someone can look at my pictures and then criticize my eating philosophy as unhealthy and ineffective is beyond me. Well, I’ll take that back, we’ve seen very clearly that people who don’t want to hear the truth can make up some pretty amazing stories to rationalize away my success and ease their cognitive dissonance. These comments make me shake my head. Some have said to just ignore them, but I think it’s really important to highlight them and TALK about them. Disordered thinking is so deeply ingrained in or culture, I think that a lot of people reading comments like these won’t recognize the disorder, and will internalize it. That’s how our culture has conditioned us.

The good news is that the vast majority of responses my posts about this topic get are positive. Comment after comment from people who’ve increased their calorie intake to a more sustainable level and seen fitness, body composition and even weight loss progress where before they were frustrated. But these negative comments can be powerfully subversive, and have the potential to derail a person just beginning the recovery process. So I am talking about it. As you begin to emerge from the dark of the diet maze, you will be subjected to calorie shaming. It will come from all directions: the media, your friends, your SELF. Recognize it for what it is. It is not healthy.

You deserve a healthy strong body, and you can not starve yourself healthy and strong.