Simple ways to burn more calories

Simple ways to burn more calories

Everyone who has tried to lose weight eventually hits a plateau. When it comes to dropping pounds, progress is far from being linear. 3 lbs down, 1 lb up, 2 lbs down and 1 lb up. That is why I tell my clients to weigh themselves once a month so they won’t be disappointed. And you will get a much more accurate feel for your progress. Don’t become one of those daily first-thing-in-the-morning scale steppers. That is a bipolar disorder waiting to happen.

If you’ve hit a snag and can’t seem to drop any more weight, you either need to eat a little less or burn more calories. For arguments sake, we will assume the latter. I am guessing you have cut back plenty on your daily intake. Besides, moving around and being active is a lot more enjoyable than further depriving yourself of food.

One of the simplest ways to burn more calories is to move more. Not exercise more, but move more. The human body is not designed to sit slouched over in a chair, day in and day out. Just making some small changes in your daily routine can have a great impact on your daily caloric expenditure. By implementing these small changes you can burn an extra couple of hundred calories daily. Over days, weeks and months that can add up to a lot of weight. Give some of these a try:

  1. Park at the far end of the parking lot so you are as far away as possible from the building entrance at work.
  2. Remove the word “elevator” from your vocabulary. It no longer exists. The stairs are your new mode of transportation.
  3. Lose the chair and stand up at your desk instead. Tell your boss you’d like to try out a stand up desk. Here are some examples.
  4. Dance. Find a bar where they have a live band. There is always a dance floor. Leave the bar stools to the barflys.
  5. Go on active vacations. Ski, snorkel or walk around all day and explore a new city. I have never seen anyone come back from Europe heavier than before they left.
  6. Have more sex.
  7. Walk to and from the supermarket. The weight of the groceries on the way back will require you to expend more energy.
  8. Go on active dates: walk around the city, go bowling, mini golfing.
  9. When you choose to attend a sporting event, go standing room only.
  10. Hit the mall. Go shopping and feel free to spend as much time there as you like. That’s hours on your feet.
Change is Hard – Part 2

Change is Hard – Part 2

Change is hard, but it is very doable with the right plan of attack. Last week I discussed some strategies to develop better habits; now I’d like to show you how to reinforce them.

It’s  better to start by developing a small replacement habit and then building on it, rather than trying to eliminate a bad habit all at once. For example, let’s say you eat too much chocolate. Eliminating chocolate would be difficult. It might be better to start by eating a few nuts and some dried fruit before the chocolate. Then slowly let the ratio of nuts and fruit increase until you don’t need the chocolate any more. These small habits become reinforced through practice. By repeating this habit over and over again you eventually seal it in.

It is much harder to develop smaller habits if your thoughts are negative. This is the keystone habit that will help form all the other important habits to get you where you want to be. Positive thinking will not make you the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, but it will certainly go a long way in motivating you do what is required.

Smoking is an extremely tough habit to break. I quit when I was 23 and it was a struggle. When I allowed myself to entertain negative thoughts for very long, I would give up and head right to the convenience store. When I learned how to minimize (not eliminate, they still come from time to time) the negative thoughts and think of positive ones instead, I eventually kicked the habit for good. The key is practicing this exercise over and over again until it becomes second nature. Ask any professional coach or athlete and they will tell you that practice and preparation is the key to their success, both physically and mentally. This leads to greater confidence and positive self-talk.

Work on becoming more aware of your negative self-talk. Take a mental note or keep track of your negative thoughts throughout the day by marking them down on a piece of paper when they pop up.  By recognizing negative self-talk and seeing where it comes from, you can minimize it greatly.

We are all a byproduct of our routines, and our routines consist of all those tiny habits and rituals that we perform throughout the course of the day. In order to get to where we ultimately want to be, our habits need to be congruent with our long term goals. It is a slow, steady process and by breaking everything down into fragments, your ability to prosper in all areas of your life will skyrocket.

Change is Hard

Change is Hard

When I decided to write a blog, just the thought of it scared the crap out of me. What if I can’t write anything worthwhile? What if nobody reads it? But I decided to embrace change and the consequences that came with it, whatever they might be. What happened next? I built a modest audience of weekly readers, I’ve helped a few people along the way and I’ve learned a new skill. I’m not talking about writing either–I faced a fear. A number of years ago I read that the only way to be truly happy is to progress, and I’m always at my happiest when accomplishing things.

When I first began working with clients and I didn’t see the results I expected, I would get discouraged. The issue wasn’t their knee alignment during a lunge or the angle of descent on their push ups. At first I thought this might be the case, but eventually it dawned on me that change in itself is really hard. Most people don’t have the skills and strategies at their finger tips to bring about real change. These skills are not innate. They are learned, but only with practice.

In order to make real change, you need to develop new habits. There’s a lot of habit mythology out there. A common myth I hear from my clients is that he or she can only commit to one habit at a time and that it will take forever to develop. Neither one is accurate. You don’t need to perfect one habit before you work on another. And you can create a new habit relatively quickly.

First, figure out what a habit is. Perfecting your running technique or eating a high protein diet is very broad and these habits take an awful lot of motivation. I frequently hear “think big!”, but I’d rather think small. I mean really small. The biggest mistake I see people make is not starting tiny enough.

To make long lasting change in your life, start by adding something that takes almost no effort and little time. For example, if your original goal is to perform a half hour run 5 times a week, start by running around the block once. It may take all of 5 minutes, but that is enough.  For some people, just putting their shoes on and tying them up is a small victory. Each week you can add a couple of minutes to your run as your confidence and fitness increases.

It is important to find ways to celebrate your victories, and I don’t mean going out for pizza! I suggest that you do something physical to affirm what you have accomplished. Something as simple as a pat on the back or a “Way to go!” reinforces the habit you have just conquered. It might sound silly, but it actually works. The emotion of celebration glues in the habit.  Your brain wants to feel that elation, so when you perform that habit enough times, your brain starts drawing the parallel between the action and the positive reward which follows.

Next week I’ll discuss some more tricks I have found useful in helping my clients make continual changes on the road to a healthier lifestyle.

Do you look older than you are?

Do you look older than you are?

There is a rare set of people who are blessed with great genetics. It doesn’t matter what they do, they spend their lives with a thick full head of hair, their skin has minimal wrinkles/great elasticity and no matter what they eat, their blood work is always A1. These people often live well into their 80’s and 90’s.

But that is probably not you. Your bad habits have begun to catch up with you as you approach middle age.  The majority of us view aging as a slow and painful deterioration: weight gain, memory issues, tired all the time, less interest in sex and aches and pains all over. We just accept this as a part of getting older. But this doesn’t have to be the case. Your body is quite capable of staying slim and vigorous into your later years and your brain is more than able to stay clear and focused if you give it what it needs.

As you age, your body undergoes hormonal changes. This is quite normal. If you are eating properly and getting ample sleep and exercise you can ride out these hormonal ebbs and flows. The key is to achieve hormonal balance. All hormones work together in conjunction with one another. Insulin, thyroid, estrogen and progesterone each need to be pulling their weight in order to work efficiently as a unit. Here is how you can accomplish this.

Improve the quality and amount of sleep you are getting. Without it, your hormonal system cannot rest and recover. For your hormones to work efficiently you need a minimum of 7 to 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep every night. Taking a nap in the middle of the day to make up for the 2 hours you missed at night doesn’t cut it.

Improve your gut health. Start eating probiotics and fermented foods. Try kimchi, sauerkraut and healthy bacteria found in yogurt and kefir. This will keep your digestion system running efficiently inside and out and your hormones in check.

Eat more healthy fats. The nationwide fear of fat needs to be eliminated immediately. Our hormones are dependent on fat to reproduce.  Fat also keeps us fuller for longer reducing the likelihood of overeating. Avocados, almonds, walnuts, olive oil are great. Eat them daily.

Lose the sugar. Too much sugar will send your insulin production sky high. If you are finding that you are tired all the time and have minimal energy to get through the day, it could be that you are consuming too much sugar. Cut out the starches and simple sugars for a while and replace them with cruciferous vegetables and thin skin berries and you will notice an improvement in your energy levels.

Stop eating chemical-laden foods. Begin by eliminating aspartame, acesulfame potassium, sucralose and food dyes. A good rule of thumb is that if you can’t pronounce the ingredients listed on the container, don’t eat it. Studies have made claims citing anything from headaches to premature aging to cancer. Whether this is true or not is up for debate. Your best bet is to always read food labels and avoid chemicals as much as possible. By sticking to the perimeter of the grocery store you will avoid highly processed/packaged foods.

Eating late and gaining weight

Eating late and gaining weight

There are more rules governing nutrition now than ever before. For people who are desperately trying to lose weight it can be extremely confusing. What should I eat? How much should I eat? And when should I eat it?

For someone with little nutritional knowledge, it is very easy to fall into these traps. You start to read up on some of the latest diet crazes and decide to follow one. It works for a week or two, you drop 3 or 4 pounds and eventually you come to the conclusion that you are miserable. It is way too restrictive. You are hungry all the time and all you are thinking about is food during the waking hours. What that eventually does is foster an unhealthy relationship with food. Sound familiar?

The one fat loss question I get asked more often than not, concerns late night eating. Can I eat after dinner or do I need to cut myself off at 7pm? The answer is, it depends. I have read studies that show late night eating has zero effect on weight gain and I have read other studies that show the exact opposite.

What neither study discussed was what the subjects were actually eating. If you are going into the fridge and grabbing an apple and a small handful of almonds, then have at it.  Late night eating is pretty mindless. In my experience, people are much more likely to reach for chips, cookies and ice cream which are all potentially higher calorie foods. This is where the problem stems from.

I would be much more concerned with the total calories you are consuming over the course of the day. The body isn’t programmed to stockpile calories and turn them into fat after the clock strikes 7pm. Nor is it programmed to know what time it is.

Some people prefer to eat their calories spread evenly throughout the day, while others like to front or back load them. It really doesn’t matter. It is the quality and quantity of calories you  are ingesting which is the determining factor. So when the clock strikes 9pm and the hunger pangs are starting to kick in, don’t be afraid to eat because of what the clock says. If you are not quite sure how many calories you need in order to reach your goals, try using an app like “My Fitness Pal”.  It takes out all the guesswork. I highly recommend it.

Stop sabotaging your muscle gains!!!

Stop sabotaging your muscle gains!!!

I want you to add more muscle this year. That is why I post exercise videos daily and send out a regular blog post each week. If you decide to use my services, that is great and if you don’t, I hope I’ve made a positive contribution to your journey on the road to a healthier you.

I’ve trained in my fair share of gyms over the years. Regardless of what gym I am in,  I see people sabotaging potential muscle gains. They’re diligent day after day, they work hard, but they are doing it all wrong. I want that to change this year.  Below, I’ve outlined some crucial mistakes I’ve witnessed in the gym first hand in 2017 and provided you with a much more effective alternative.

You need to place a sufficient amount of stress on your joints and soft tissue structures to help them grow. That means training heavy. Relatively speaking of course.  However, when you train too heavy all the time, it places a tremendous impact on your joints, ligaments and tendons. This leads to injury and over-training, which inhibits your body’s ability to build muscle. You need to add some lighter days to your training where you are lifting in the 12 to 20 rep range.  You will target different muscle fibres (slow twitch) that don’t get as much action, build new muscle, and you will give those over-stressed joints and soft tissue structures a much needed rest. Research shows more and more that lighter loads produce similar increases in muscle mass compared to heavier loads. That is how you stay in the game long term.

You are not training hard enough. I am not suggesting that you need to train to the point of physical and mental exhaustion, but if you’re frequently stopping 5 or 6 reps short of failure, then you’re just going through the motions. The reason your muscles grow is because you are giving them a challenge that is beyond their present capacity. If you’re not training hard enough, then you are not challenging your body beyond its present capacity. Hence your muscles have no reason to keep growing and getting stronger.

You perform WAY TOO MUCH cardio.  People who are eager to get lean have a tendency to slave away on the treadmill for several hours a week. Initially, there won’t be much interference combining cardio and strength training sessions when adding muscle. If you are new to strength training, cardio can actually be beneficial for muscle growth, but as you get stronger and are lifting heavier and heavier loads, intense cardio sessions will effect your body’s ability to recover from your lifting sessions. This is a crucial mistake if you’re trying to gain muscle. Start by limiting the frequency, intensity, and duration of your cardio sessions. Limit steady state cardio to no more than three to four weekly bouts lasting 30 to 40 minutes at the absolute most. If you prefer to perform high-intensity interval training, shoot for 2 to 3 sessions a week at 20 minutes per. Any more than this is counterproductive.

You are skipping the basics. Basic compound movements (exercises that require more than one joint) such as bench presses, rows, squats and deadlift variations force several muscle groups to work together. Your body reacts to all this stress by having the anterior pituitary gland issue more growth hormone to compensate for that extra effort these movements require. This added stress leads to greater muscle gains. Isolation exercises (exercises that require only one joint) like chest flyes, biceps curls and leg extensions have their place, but they don’t provide the same growth hormone surge. Compound movements should be the foundation and make up a bare minimum of 60 percent of your exercises in any given session.  Anything less and you are doing too many isolation movements.

Can junk food and a healthy diet co-exist?

Can junk food and a healthy diet co-exist?

Everything in moderation. The only problem with a phrase like this is that the definition of moderation varies from person to person. Moderation for me is a small scoop of ice cream after dinner. Moderation to a buddy of mine is eating half a box of pepperoni pizza and leaving the other half in the fridge for lunch the next day. For the majority of the population, eating is one of the great joys in life. Then there are a small few who see stopping to eat a meal as an annoyance or just a necessary timeout to fuel the engine. If you are reading this, I am going to assume that you don’t fall into the latter category.

There has been a lot of research done on junk food and how much of it we can safely eat without putting on weight. The evidence suggests that it can be done. For active men, a safe range is 10 to 20% of your total daily intake. That leaves you with somewhere between 280 to 560 calories a day depending on your weight.  For women, you are looking at a bit less. To err on the safe side you should keep it between 150 to 325 calories per day. That could be a can of soda, a couple of handfuls of potato chips or a scoop of ice cream.

If these guidelines are too strict for you, try thinking of foods as “everyday” foods and “occasional” foods. That way, nothing is “bad” or off limits. You don’t want to restrict yourself entirely from any food unless you have a legitimate allergy to that specific food. Research suggests that this mindset may actually cause weight gain. Everyday foods are ones that you want to eat every single day. Vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, whole grains, lean cuts of protein and dairy (if you can tolerate it). These foods need to be the backbone of your diet and then you can fill in your remaining calories with small indulgences.

What about alcohol? One to two drinks can range anywhere between 300 to 600 calories depending on what you are drinking. If you are trying to lose weight, drinking alcohol even in moderation can work against you. Without getting too sciency, the by-product of alcohol metabolism, acetate, is toxic. So when you drink, fat burning stops until you burn those calories off. Drinking can easily push us over our calorie budget for the day. So you will probably want to curb your alcohol indulgences until you have reached your desired weight goal.

Is it possible to lose weight while on vacation?

Is it possible to lose weight while on vacation?

Have you ever noticed the tendency to add copious amounts of blubber to your midsection in mere days while on vacation? It’s the kind of girth one would expect to add over weeks of overeating, but certainly not days. I am talking about 5 and even 10 lbs in a week or less. I have done it and I know you have too. Many people take vacation time in the winter months to hot destinations. Now is the time to prepare and plan ahead.

Vacations are supposed to be fun, no restrictions, no limits, just all out debauchery. Unfortunately, as you age, your body no longer has the ability to bounce back from night after night of beer pong, jello shots and triple helpings at the buffet table. You end up feeling like crap and looking even worse on the beach the next morning. That is if you can muster the strength to drag yourself out of bed before noon. These types of vacations are a thing of the past for me and I hope they are for you too. If you are one of those people who still struggles to find the balance between indulging a little bit and having an all out free for all, then these tips are a must read:

  1. Don’t drink your calories. Avoid those fruity alcoholic drinks that they serve by the pool or the docks. They are loaded with sugar. Have 3 or 4 of them and you are looking at 2 to 3 meals worth of calories right there. Instead, opt for a vodka on the rocks or some sparkling water with a twist of lemon or lime. Still refreshing and palatable and nowhere near the calorie content.
  2. Stay active and busy in between meals. That way you are burning calories and you have much less time to eat and think about eating. I typically lose weight on holiday, because I am always on my feet. Try going for long walks and explore the new place you’re visiting. If it is a beach or pool holiday, get active. Start a game of water polo or chase your kids around in the pool. Avoid laying or sitting for more than 30 minutes at a time. That’s when you get into trouble.
  3.  When you sit down to eat at the buffet table, eat your meat and vegetables first before you reach for the starchy carbohydrates. Protein and fibre are satiating, making you less likely to crave starches and sugars. Another trick I learned from a colleague is to drink a tall glass of water before you take a bite of your meal and have another one as soon as you have finished. Chances are you will be full by then. Quite often we confuse thirst with hunger. Don’t make that mistake. If you are still legitimately hungry after your second glass, then go for another helping.
  4. Bring snacks in your suitcase. I find having some nuts, a piece of fruit or a high quality protein bar to be life savers for me on any trip. I need to eat something every 2 to 3 hours or else I turn into the devil incarnate. Snacks keep your blood sugar stable and they avoid binges at meal time. If I go 5 or 6 hours without food, you can bet I will be eating enough for a family of five at dinner time. So plan ahead and make sure you have enough snacks to keep you going for each day that you are away.
Why your friends are making you fat

Why your friends are making you fat

I know what you are thinking. How on earth could my friends be making me fat? They don’t force me to eat donuts at night. They don’t keep me pinned to the couch all weekend.  They didn’t chase down that pasta dinner with a bottle of red. I did all that. Now if you subscribe to the idea that we all run on our own free will, then it is hard to point the finger at anyone else but yourself. Fair enough.

Just last week, I got an email from an old client saying that she had been keeping up with the exercise programs I had given her and was training intensely 3 to 4 days a week, but her weight had started going up again. The first thing I asked was if there was anything she was doing differently in the past 2 months since we had last gotten together. She told me that she had a new job and had made a lot of new friends there. There was a rather large social aspect to this job which meant a number of late night dinners and cocktails.

You can see where this going. Nobody trains intensely 3 to 4 times a week and puts weight on. It had to be her diet. It came out that she was eating super rich foods and drinking expensive wine with her co-workers most nights after work. Her colleagues had remarked on her workout regimen. One in particular noted that he used to lift weights after work a few times a week, but that work had just become too hectic. So he had given up on getting back into shape. Exercise was way down on the “priority list”.

That can be hard to hear for someone who is trying to get into shape. When you are subjected to that type of rhetoric day in and day out,  it can’t help but get into your psyche. You start to believe that that type of thinking is acceptable.  There is an old expression that says, “You are the average of the 5 people you hang around with the most.” That goes right across the board; not just for exercise. If you are hanging around with people who are generally overweight, your chances of gaining weight increases. The same goes with smoking and drinking. On the other hand, if you spend time with people who exercise and eat healthy, the chances are quite good that you will end up doing the same.

If you have negative people in your life who put the kibosh on your goals and aspirations, get rid of them. Replace them with positive people who have the same goals as you do. They are out there and they are easy to find. Reach out to people. Find a mentor—someone who has done it before you. You will be amazed to find out just how many people there are who would be more than willing to guide you in the right direction.

The Best Damn Fat Loss Research

The Best Damn Fat Loss Research

I spend a lot of my free time reviewing research articles about fat loss on the Internet. I always make a point of jotting down the key notes/takeaways from each one. If they are exceptional, I share them with my social network.

Of the many questions that I am asked, the majority concern fat loss. Many of us are obsessed with being lean. We have been programmed to believe that having excess adipose tissue on our bodies is detrimental to our health and well being. And with good reason.

Being obese or even marginally overweight, dramatically increases your chances of developing just about every common cause of early mortality that exists, such as heart disease, cancer, stroke and diabetes. If you have aspirations of inhabiting this planet for an extended period of time, it’s in your best interest to start getting lean. Some of us have an easier time staying lean, while others must be more diligent with their diet and exercise to stay in the healthy range. That is a given, but it is not an excuse. With the right behaviours, there is no reason we can’t all get leaner.

People run for a number of reasons. They love to challenge themselves and compete with others. Running is great for anxiety and stress relief, but if your sole purpose for running is to achieve fat loss and improve body composition, the research suggests otherwise.

The majority of your training should be anaerobic (strength training/interval training), as opposed to aerobic (traditional lengthy and low-level) in nature. Attempting to alter your physique goes beyond simple calories in versus calories out. The key is to elevate your resting metabolic rate (via anaerobic work) to promote better post-workout fat burning and muscle building. Strength training, high-intensity interval training (HIIT), and anaerobic-based circuit training are much better options than long-distance running or plodding away on a treadmill for an hour. After 40 minutes of long steady-state aerobic training, your body will start to use a greater percentage of protein stores (your muscle) to fuel your activity which is counter to what you are trying to accomplish.

A more controversial issue is fat consumption: How much fat should you be eating and where should it come from? The following is the latest thinking.

Since we began reducing our intake of animal fat and cholesterol, numerous diseases have increased dramatically: metabolic syndrome (heart attack, stroke and high blood pressure), type 2 diabetes, obesity. Study after study has conclusively shown that the culprit of heart disease is neither saturated fat nor dietary cholesterol. Low-fat recommendations were based on a small group of studies that have been proven wrong over and over again. More recent studies1 have found there is no significant evidence for concluding that dietary saturated fat is associated with an increased risk. If we look to our friends across the pond, Europeans who are consuming the most saturated fats have the lowest risk of heart disease.

The obesity epidemic started in the mid 1970’s and it was followed by the diabetes epidemic in the early 1990’s. These diseases have increased even more as animal fats have been replaced with vegetable oils and trans fats. When saturated fat began getting a bad rap in relation to heart disease, high-fat dairy products such as butter were considered evil. It turns out that saturated fat is not damaging and trans fat is more dangerous. These diseases have increased even more as animal fats have been replaced with vegetable oils and trans fats. In a large study2 that was conducted with women who ate a high-fat and low-carbohydrate diet, the subjects actually lost twice as much weight as compared to those who ate a restricted low-fat diet. Additionally, all major risk factors for heart disease and diabetes declined exponentially.

While I realize that these recommendations are counterintuitive to everything we have been raised to believe, they are legit. The studies that I have referenced have been replicated over and over again and the people who follow these recommendations see dramatic changes for the better in both their internal markers and their outward appearances. The two generally go hand in hand.

1 – Siri-Tarino, PW. et al., “Meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies evaluating the association of saturated fat with cardiovascular disease.” American Society for Nutrition

2 – Brehm BJ. et al., “A Randomized Trial Comparing a Very Low Carbohydrate Diet and a Calorie-Restricted Low Fat Diet on Body Weight and Cardiovascular Risk Factors in Women