Why Diets Don’t Work

After trying my share of fad diets I’ve learned they all have the same thing in common. You lose the weight and then crash and burn. In the past, these diets always consisted of cutting calories, constant hunger and a rollercoaster of numbers on the scale. This is exactly why not a single one worked, a fad is just that, an unsustainable trend. Although calorie restrictions can result in initial weight loss the majority of people who try to lose weight end up relapsing and gaining all or even more of their pounds back. Although our environment and food cultures have changed, our bodies’ physiology has not. During hunter gatherer days famines were a common occurrence. Our bodies’ physiology was driven by the ability to store fat as a protection mechanism during those times of food shortages. Placing yourself on a restricted calorie diet will result in rapid weight loss, tricking your body into thinking it is experiencing a famine. You may lose 10 pounds or so by nutritionally starving yourself, but when you stop dieting your body will need to eat, thus why most people end up gaining more weight and fat mass than they lost. ¹

A recent study published in the Obesity Journal looked at long-term sustainability of rapid weight loss of 14 Biggest Loser Contestants. The study found that 6 years after the show ended all but one participant had regained a significant amount of weight, on average ~42kg which equates to about 92 pounds. The study also found that at the 6 year follow-up, 5 out of 14 participants were already within 1% or heavier than their weight prior to being on the Biggest Loser competition. This was largely due to the effects on resting metabolic rate and hormone level changes that occur during periods of rapid weight loss.

Your resting metabolic rate (RMR) represents the amount of calories your body would burn if you were to do absolutely nothing for 24 hours, i.e. these are the calories burned by automatic body functions like keeping your heart beating and lungs breathing. When your body undergoes rapid weight loss over a short period of time your RMR slows, creating a thermogenesis adaptation response to the loss of reactive tissues. This adaptation occurs to try and counteract the sudden weight loss by reducing your energy expenditure and slowing your metabolism.  For the participants in the Biggest Loser follow-up study this meant an average RMR of 500 kcal/day lower than what is typically expected for their specific body compositions. The study also found that the participants who had the greatest weight loss in the shortest periods of time showed the greatest slowing of RMR.

Rapid weight loss due to caloric reduction dieting can also result in plummeting levels of leptin. Leptin is an adipocyte hormone that acts on the hypothalamus to control hunger and increase energy expenditure.  A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that during periods of caloric restriction fasting plasma levels of leptin dropped about 64%  from baseline. During the weight maintenance phase of weeks 10-62 plasma levels of leptin remained 35% below baseline. The study also found that there was a linear correlation between weight gain and leptin level increases. Meaning regain the weight, regain the leptin and that’s exactly what our bodies’ attempt to do. It is not just about falling back into bad habits, there is a physiological basis to weight gain. Rapid weight loss due to dieting can dramatically alter (or even damage!) your metabolism and make it nearly impossible for your body to burn enough calories too keep off the weight.

So does this mean that all hopes of weight loss are just that, lost? Absolutely not. The key is adding in safe and effective lifestyle changes to your diet and exercise habits. Successful weight management comes from sustainable approaches that counteract our bodies’ compensatory mechanisms to changes in things like RMR, leptin and hunger.  You can do this by approaching weight loss in steps. Studies have shown that small energy and calorie deficits over time will result in more sustainable and successful weight loss over the long-term. Permanent weight loss takes time and is a lifelong commitment, so it is crucial that we take our focus away from fast fad dieting and start focusing on lifestyle changes.

We can do this by looking at why our bodies are storing fat in the first place. Things like sleep deprivation, dehydration, stress, toxins, digestive issues, nutritional deficiencies can all cause our bodies to store fat as a protective mechanism for maintaining homeostasis. When your body wants to store fat it’s nearly impossible to lose the weight no matter what you do, so it is important to address and resolve any stressors you may have. Activities like yoga and meditation, eating healthy fats and protein, getting adequate optimal vitamin D intake and eliminating processed foods and toxins are all great examples to jump start your body into effectively losing and keeping off weight ¹.

When it comes to exercise people often see the gym as their savior from a bad diet. But the reality is spending endless hours doing cardio is not only hard on your body, but can actually hinder weight loss. Exercise smarter, not harder. Remember those lean hunter gatherers we discussed earlier? Their exercise consisted of running from predators, it was get thin or get eaten. High intensity interval training can trick your body into this “survival mode” and has been shown to be the most effective at burning fat. By also adding in resistance training to your workout regimen your body will start to gain muscle mass causing your metabolism to increase, i.e. you will burn more calories and fat overtime.

The most important thing I’ve learned from my journey to health and wellness is you need to find balance. Sure I spend hours each week sweating through circuit workouts and prebaking chicken and broccoli, but I also enjoy a good burger and craft beer out with my friends. The journey to a healthier, happier you takes time. Don’t be afraid to try new things, to push yourself, to feel pain and strength. Remember to stay motivated, celebrate small victories and embrace new lifestyle changes. Be healthy, be strong, be happy.


Meditation Summit

As children we live each day being mindful and existing for the moment. Filling our days with sidewalk chalk and popsicles until one day we grow old and lose the same joy in the things that once brought us happiness. All too often, we passively watch our carefree childhoods fade into the future planning of education and careers. Finding ourselves searching for something to fill us with that compassion, freedom and comfort we once had.  Searching for something to make us feel as if we exist for the moment once again.

Whether you are looking to de-stress, conquer your emotions, advance your focus or improve your overall health and wellbeing, meditation is a great outlet for regaining your mindfulness. Meditation aides in the sense of wellbeing by promoting consciousness and relaxation and provides numerous health benefits for both the mind and body. By bringing one’s awareness to both internal and external experiences we can find ourselves truly being in the moment again. The Meditation Summit is a free online 10 day seminar that will provide loads of information on how to deepen your meditation skills as well as the numerous benefits meditating can provide.  The summit will cover everything ranging from guided imagery, health and happiness, to even yoga, inner strength and purpose. Check out this free summit to start living for the moment once again!

[Photo Credit: http://d1qsxla1p9s5sy.cloudfront.net/mandala/images/flexslider/2016/meditation-summit-flex-.jpg]

America’s Mental Breakdown

As the baby boomer generation ages, rates of neurodegenerative disorders like dementia and Alzheimer’s disease are on the rise, with the United States being the most impacted westernized nation in the world. It is believed that many factors play a role in the onset and development of neurodegenerative related disorders. These factors, including things like genetics, lifestyle, and the environment can impact the brain causing atrophy, neuronal damage, inflammation and mitochondrial dysfunction. These factors can also cause free radical production leading to oxidative stress and damage to our DNA, RNA, organs, lipids and proteins. This damage can lead to cognitive impairment ranging anywhere from mild dementia to Alzheimer’s disease. Death rates due to these brain disorders have increased 66% among men and 92% among women, affecting over 5,400,000 patients in the United States already in 2016. Dementia and Alzheimer’s are progressive diseases, meaning the majority of patients who will develop these disorders do not even know it yet, with projections of nearly 160,000,000 people globally by 2050.  ¹ The emotional and financial toll these disorders take is also great. According to the New England Journal of Medicine the average annual cost of care for a single dementia patient is $50,000  with total costs ranging from $159-$215 billion nationwide. ²  (some sources predicting up to $236 billion in 2016 alone!) According to David Perlmutter, author of New York Times bestselling book Grain Brain, today’s current treatment methods, like cholinersterase inhibitors, are just putting out the smoke and not dealing with the fire. With nearly every monotherapeutic clinical trial failing to provide effective pharmacological treatments, it’s time to start looking at integrative approaches to care.

We need to start considering treatment methods that are preventative, financially acceptable and have minimal side effects. Dr. Dale Bredesen, an expert in neurodegenerative diseases, describes Alzheimer’s as being a roof with 36 holes. A drug may be effective in plugging one of the holes, but we need to take a functional medicine approach to fill the remaining 35 holes. His most recent research is some of the first to show that we have the potential to reverse the effects of cognitive decline through personalized therapeutic approaches to care. Bredesen discusses the metabolic enhancement for neurodegeneration protocol (MEND) which factors in multiple aspects which could be contributing to the underlying pathogenesis of Alzheimer’s disease. The MEND protocol takes dozens of different interventional approaches to the molecular mechanisms of cognitive decline and incorporates the necessary changes based off of personalized therapeutic programs. These integrative interventions include many aspects like low-carbohydrate/gluten free dietary changes, stress reduction via yoga and meditation, addressing hormonal imbalances, nutrient supplementation, methylation improvements, herbs and spices, brain stimulation, drugs, etc. This approach helps to identify all of the factors contributing to the plasticity network imbalance on an individual level and aims to achieve optimization, not just normalization. You can read more about the amazing outcomes of this study here.

If you’re a science nerd like me here are some additional studies looking at the effects of lifestyle and dietary changes on overall brain function and health.

A study published in the Journal of Neurology showed that having elevated blood sugar levels of above 105 mg/dL can lead to an increased risk for dementia development by actually shrinking the hippocampus, the region of our brains responsible for memory and learning. The study found that patients with higher hemoglobin A1c levels (hemoglobin proteins binded by sugars) had higher risk of inflammation and oxidative stress and showed decreased recall and learning ability. These patients also showed a 0.5% shrinkage in the brain over those with lower blood sugar levels.

A study done at the Mayo Clinic and published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, found that the risk of developing neurodegenerative disorders increased by 89% when eating a high carbohydrate diet. The study also found that patients who ate a diet high in unsaturated healthy fats, one rich in omega-3’s, decreased their risk of dementia development by 42%.  Additional studies have found that low carbohydrate and high fat diets also lowered fasting insulin levels, decreased LDL, increased HDL, lowered C-reactive protein levels (inflammation marker) and reduced overall risk of cardiovascular disease.


A Sugary Situation

With documentaries like Fed Up and That Sugar Film gaining views by the thousands, sugar seems to be the newest craze. All too often we find ourselves falling into the diet trap of categorizing foods as either good or bad for us, especially when looking at sugar content, but there is much more to it than that.  There are various forms of sugar we consume, including simple sugars or “monosaccharides” made up of glucose, fructose and galactose as well as granulated table sugars known as sucrose or “disaccharides”. Our bodies process these varying sugar forms differently. When we consume glucose it becomes broken down by our stomach causing insulin levels to spike in our bloodstream for proper metabolization. Fructose however is broken down by the liver, where it is digested much slower, thus preventing such an insulin response.

Although fruits have very similar sugar ratios to that of our favorite sweets and sodas, they have a much different effect on our overall health. Whole fresh and frozen fruits are high in many vitamins and minerals, including vitamin C, potassium, folate, antioxidants and phytonutrients. They also contain high levels of soluble fiber, which helps in reducing cholesterol levels, increasing satiety and contributes to weight loss. (¹) Also, the high fiber and water content of most fresh and frozen fruits drastically slows the digestion time, making it nearly impossible to consume enough fructose to cause any harm. Studies have also found that people who consume at least the recommended amount of 5 servings of fruits and vegetables daily are at lower risk of developing diseases like diabetes, coronary heart disease and strokes (²)(³) (4).

That being said as with most things in life, fruit should be consumed at a sensible level if you are watching your weight. When trying to cut back on your sugar intake it’s important to consider the source of the sugar. Is your sugar consumption of fruit natural or refined? i.e. are you eating real raw fruits or are they canned or dried ? Canned and dried fruits are preserved by adding syrups, chemicals, and sometimes even pure table sugar, making them comparable to wolfing down a bag of gummy worms. It is also important to consider if your fruit intake is adding empty calories to your diet. If you’re consuming your fruit through a smoothie make sure to avoid things like fruit juices, low-fat milk or yogurt, ice-cream/sherbet or store bought honey/agave nectar.  These products are often high in refined sugars and add empty calories which can result in insulin spikes, taking away from the nutritional benefits of the raw and natural fruits.

90 Days to a Lifestyle Change

Eight months ago my weight was up (a lot) and my energy and self-esteem were down. Stress from my family moving across the country and my future career planning was causing my body to be physically inflamed and my health was suffering too. I started getting daily debilitating headaches and had absolutely no energy. I felt as if I was stuck in a fog, watching my day’s pass by; counting down the hours until I could go home, Netflix binge and nap. As westernized medicine usually calls for they ran countless blood tests, a brain scan and even had me see a sleep specialist. After three months of testing and a few massive hospital bills later, I had left with nothing more than a script for Imitrex, meant to control not solve my problems.

I knew I had to do something, so I started rummaging through my integrative resources looking for ways I could get to the bottom of what was really causing my unbearable headaches. I was determined to take better care of my mind, my body and to take back control of my health. Like many others, I decided to start out 2016 with a new year new you resolution, except this year I was determined to my change my lifestyle to one of sustainable health and wellness. I began to slowly incorporate nutritional changes into my diet by eating more protein, anti-inflammatory foods and healthy fats with every meal. I started to see an acupuncturist and took daily supplements for brain, heart and gut health.  In February I joined the 90 Day Transformation Challenge at my local Lifetime Fitness and placed third at my clubs location! Five months into my health and wellness journey and I am down 21 pounds and had a 14% change in body fat. I still have a long way to go on my health journey, but the most important thing for me is I got my health back. It has been four months since I’ve had a headache, medicine free, and my body is no longer inflamed on the inside or out. I wanted to share my story (and embarrassing before photos) to show you that I am proof that you are in control of your own wellbeing. Whether your health is declining, you want to lose weight or just become an overall healthier person food is medicine. All you need is the right knowledge, resources and discipline to take control of your health and make the necessary and amazing lifestyle changes.

Cholesterol is not the enemy

Foods, specifically animal products, within our diet only contribute to about 10% of our blood cholesterol levels; the remaining ~90% is actually made in the liver. When examining heart disease risk total cholesterol levels are not the issue. Cholesterol actually plays a major role in proper body function including cellular membrane construction, hormone production and bile salts, which are used in digestion and assimilation of fat. When looking at risk it is key to understand the type of lipoprotein that is transporting the cholesterol from the liver and throughout the bloodstream. When cholesterol is carried by LDL or VLDL (low density lipoproteins) risk of cardiovascular disease increases, however if it is carried by HDL (high density lipoproteins) risk decreases (Bland, 192). How could this be?

LDL is considered the “bad cholesterol” because it is transported from the liver and delivered to the artery walls, resulting in plaque buildup and atherosclerosis.  HDL on the other hand is what can be considered the “good cholesterol” because it is transported from the liver with the primary job to remove the LDL cholesterol buildup from the artery walls. Our bodies need both LDL and HDL to function properly so it is crucial that we have a proper balance of this cycle. ¹

I’ll save my anti-statin rant for another time and stick to the integrative and lifestyle changes you can do to lower LDL and raise your HDL cholesterol levels. In his book Disease Delusion, Dr. Jeffrey Bland recommends consumption of flavonoid and polyphenol rich foods like nuts, berries, garlic, onions, grapes, cocoa and citrus to prevent inflammation. He also discusses the benefits of phytonutrient rich foods like virgin olive oil, flaxseeds, green tea and turmeric. Studies have also shown that supplementation with vitamin B3, niacin and fish oil (specifically “clean” cod liver oil) at appropriate doses of 2-3 grams daily can beneficially alter cholesterol transport. Lastly, exercise is also very important in proper cholesterol balance because it decreases LDL and increases HDL levels in your blood. Exercising also helps to reduce stress, which has been shown to elevate levels of LDL as well (Bland, 200).

Environmental toxins and your health

The old saying you are what you eat goes beyond just the food you are putting in your body. At any given moment we are surrounded by toxins, both externally and internally. Not only are these environmental toxins a major contributor to chronic illnesses world-wide they also play a role in the ability to lose weight ¹. Many environmental toxins are fat soluble and because the fat cells within our bodies are a very neutral environment they become perfect storage centers for these toxins.  These fat cells then act as the “buffer” that protects our bodies from various toxins. When we are exposed to these toxins our bodies tend to keep and store fat because it is a major protective mechanism against toxic exposure ². These toxins can come from numerous sources like water, pesticides, plastic containers, processed foods, artificial sweeteners, household and personal cleaning products, etc! For those of you who are interested in what you can do to lower your exposure to these toxins here are a few recommendations. First off stick to the Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen list when it comes to choosing organic foods. This is a list of the dozen foods you should avoid or only eat organic because of their high levels of pesticide and chemical contamination.  Secondly, make the switch to glass bottles and Tupperware. Plastic containers can release endocrine disrupting chemicals into your water and food leading to developmental, reproductive, neurological and immune dysfunction ³. Lastly I recommend checking out the Honest Company. They offer great natural, chemical free cleaning, personal and baby products at really affordable monthly rates.

Total Wellness Summit

Achieving health and wellness requires dedication and lifestyle changes that aren’t always easy. Check out this free Total Wellness Summit by Food Matters which features ten days worth of health expert interviews, recipes, meditation tips and more! Learn how to detoxify your body, heal your gut, reduce stress and find purpose within your life.

Getting your daily dose of sunshine

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After spending the past five days in a beach chair in San Juan I figured the importance of optimal vitamin D intake, aka the sunshine vitamin, would be the perfect thing to blog about.

Most everyone knows that vitamin D plays a key role in bone health, but did you know that vitamin D deficiencies have also been present in many chronic and life threatening conditions? A research team at the University of Kentucky just recently found that rats fed vitamin D deficient diets showed significant decreases in learning and memory (5) and in 2009 the Dermato-Endocrinology Journal published an article stating that optimal levels of vitamin D could reduce the rates of cancer by 35%, type 2 diabetes by 33%, and all cause mortality by 7% (¹)(²). Vitamin D deficiencies have also been associated with depression, heart disease, fibromyalgia, immune system imbalances and autoimmune disorders (³).

Vitamin D regulates over 150 genes within our bodies and plays key roles in calcium absorption and blocking the parathyroid hormone, a hormone that makes bones brittle and thin. Once vitamin D is ingested or absorbed in our bodies it is converted by the liver and kidneys into the only active form, vitamin D3. From there vitamin D goes on to interact with the receptors on nearly every tissue type in our body; regulating genes, cell growth and development, immune system function and metabolic controls (³). Isn’t science fun?

But I’m taking the recommended daily amount of 600 IUs (~30 ng/ml) of vitamin D, so I should be good right? Wrong, over 40% of Americans are considered to be vitamin D deficient. Even though the RDA for vitamin D was updated in 2010, it does not take into account a person’s unique make up of genetics, dietary intakes, sunlight exposure, metabolism etc. Studies have shown that increasing intakes of vitamin D, even up to 4,000 IUs daily, is an acceptable and safe amount, showing no adverse effects on healthy individuals. In fact, summer sunlight exposure in some areas can generate between 10,000-20,000 IUs of vitamin D per hour and fatty fish consumption has been shown to produce up to 10,000 IUs of vitamin D per day (4).

The amount needed to achieve optimal blood levels of 45-60 ng/ml varies depending on individualistic factors like age, where you live, how much time you spend outdoors and the time of year. Your doctor can perform a simple 25-hydroxyvitamin D blood test to measure how much vitamin D is present in your body. If your levels are less than optimal talk with your doctor about upping intake (multiple sources indicate 2,000 IUs daily), eating vitamin D rich foods and spending about 15 minutes a day in the sun, weather permitting; all of these factors can help reduce the physical and economic burdens of vitamin D deficiency.

Medical Technology

In 2007 integrative approaches to healthcare, including alternative/complementary therapies and nutrient supplementation, were used among 40% of American adults and 12% of children. The number of US hospitals incorporating these therapies has also increased from 8% in 1998 to 42% in 2010. The future of medicine is now and the paradigm shift is integrative and functional medicine. ¹

The technology age has even had its pushes for electronic integrative medicine approaches to patient centered care. Apps, like Sharecare, are great resources for electronically tracking your health and wellness. Sharecare goes through a series of questions related to your overall health, ranging from physical and mental health to personal relationships, diet and exercise habits. You can follow experts, view health tools and even join groups and challenges for many topics, including fitness, current health issues and healthy living habits!

Along with promoting health and wellness, medical related apps are keeping emergency professionals updated and even saving lives! With technology today it is common practice to keep an emergency contact listed in your phone, but did you know that there is an app that comes factory installed on your Apple iPhone that can potentially save peoples lives by allowing users to list more than just a name and number?

When emergencies occur often times phones are locked, making it difficult for first responders to get any health or personal related information on the patient. But Apple has made efforts to improve this by creating the Medical ID app. It is an app that comes factory installed on your phone, which is white with a pink heart. This app allows you to add as much or as little information as you’d like, including things like your birthday, allergies, medications, medical conditions, etc. This information is then now available under the emergency setting when your phone is locked with a pass-code. This app not only makes it easier for medical professionals to respond actively and effectively, but could potentially save your life in the event of a medical emergency.

I encourage you to check these out and as always, never stop exploring.