Thursday, March 10, 2011

Going Raw

A diet where I can eat what I want (for the most part, anyhow), workout when I have time, and lose weight? Yup.
As a former strength & conditioning coach, personal trainer, and weight loss management specialist, I have tried every diet there is. After all, I would never recommend something to my clients that I myself had not tried.  While there are many diets that I am vehemently against (the Master Cleanse/Lemonade Diet and the Atkins Diet especially), there is one diet that has worked quite well for me – particularly now that I no longer treat the gym as my second home, love food, and have less time to work out – and that is The Raw Diet.
While there are many variants of The Raw Diet, the basic principle is to eliminate all the additives (chemicals, artificial sugars, processed foods, etc) in your diet. That is, consume only foods that are natural.  Additionally, it is best to consume the foods raw and not cooked; cooking alters the chemical structure of food, inactivating many vitamins and minerals, and also destroys the enzymes that facilitate digestion.
Demi Moore, looking unreasonaly good
well into her 40s, has been going raw for
over 10 years now!
 With regard to digestion – this is, in fact, the key here. The science is relatively easy: Fat is essentially waste, and “Waste = Weight” (see Natalia Rose’s The Raw Food Detox Diet ) – “Get the waste out and you get the weight off.” And yes, it is that easy. In other words, the more easily you can digest your food (getting rid of whatever you body cannot use), the less energy your body will use trying to process and inevitably store much of the waste. When waste matter from synthetic foods (and overeating) gets stuck in your cells (because your body cannot process it), it results in illness and excess fat.
Many people choose to count calories, with the underlying principal being less calories in, more calories out (burned) = weight loss. Here is the problem with the “calories IN/calories OUT” approach (counting calories, fat, sugar, and carb grams): Say, for example, that you have the choice between a weight loss shake that is around 200 calories OR an avocado, cup of oatmeal, or a bag of nuts – all of which are around 350 calories. The calorie-counter would naturally go for the weight loss shake with less calories, but also with many different ingredients that your body has trouble processing. Take the Slim Fast shake, for example, which contains, among other things, maltodextrin, acesulfame potassium, and a cocktail of artificial sugars (with 25g of real sugar!). Instead, the bag of nuts and the avocado are both natural foods that the body can easily process, convert into energy, and digest easily. This is key to weight loss. If your body can digest it – convert what it needs from food in terms of energy and get rid of the rest – it will not be likely to store it on, say, your love handles.
I, myself, was not always a believer. After all, I had managed to achieve 5% body fat, a six pack, and a size 0, all while consuming splenda (and various other fake sugars), diet coke, coffee, low-fat this, sugar-free that, etc. But years later, when I no longer had time for full body lifts twice a week and hours of cardio, I had to find a diet that worked with an ad hoc training schedule, a boyfriend who loves pizza, and friends that frequently enjoy dinner parties and Sunday brunches. After stumbling upon The Raw Food Detox Diet by Natalia Rose, I liked what I read: A diet where I can eat most of all the things I love, workout when I can (if I can), and still lose weight.

The only diet book you will
ever need (recipes included).
 So a month before I left for a vacation to New York City, I decided to give The Raw Diet a try – and it worked! I lost about 6.5 kilos (about 15 pounds) in four weeks (and I wasn’t overweight to begin with). I exercised, followed the Raw Diet rules closely, and not only lost weight, but began sleeping better, had better digestion, and had more energy. It took about a week or so for my body to detox, adjust to my new regiment, and then the weight really started to come off. As a result, not only do I recommend giving this diet a try, but I myself am going to do another month of “going raw” myself!
Raw Diet Rules:
1) You can eat whatever you want, as long as you stay away from chemicals and processed foods/drinks.  For example, don't use fake sugars, diet drinks, sugar-free candy/foods, etc.  This is going to be difficult for you diet coke lovers, but speaking from experience, it only takes a week or so, and you don’t really miss it anymore.

Ø     Here is where I personally make exceptions to the rule – and only in emergency situations: Technically, you shouldn't have protein shakes/bars as they are full of un-natural chemicals and additives. However, I do believe it is better to eat/drink something rather than go a long time without food.
o   When you go for more than 3-4 hours with food, you are in effect encouraging your metabolism to slow down. Additionally, the more hungry you get, the more you will begin to crave sugars and carbs (it is a natural chemical process in your brain, no avoiding it), while also setting yourself up for eating much more than you should when you finally do get a chance to eat.  

2) Avoid dairy (milk, yogurt, cheese, etc).

Ø     The idea that a glass of milk a day will help you lose weight is a myth, and since the goal here is to facilitate digestion – thus, getting rid of dairy is essential.
Ø     While this may be hard for many of you (especially my fellow Danes living in a dairy country), it is not actually as hard as it sounds. Weaning yourself off of dairy is much like weaning yourself off of coffee and sugar – the first week or so is difficult, and then it becomes much easier and you don’t think about it, much less miss it. As hard as it is, it is a vital component of this diet.

Now I will introduce the four food groups:

Nuts/Seeds/Dried Fruit
Fresh Fruit
Whole grain breads
Raw nuts**
Citrus fruits
Brown rice
Raw seeds
Sweet potatoes
Meat (beef, lamb, pork, etc)
Dried fruit (no sugar added)
Legumes (beans)

Cooked corn

Whole-grain pasta


*The avocado is technically a fruit, although it is treated as a vegetable in most kitchens. Even so, it digests as if it is a carbohydrate.
**NO peanutbutter! Peanutbutter is mucus forming, making it difficult for your body to process and really setting you back in terms of working towards the quick and easy digestion of foods.
Sorry, but no more peanuts or peanut butter!
3) Foods in the different categories above should not be mixed.
Ø     This is the second cornerstone of the diet (aside from eliminating all unnatural and processed foods). For example, you should not have a chicken sandwich (because this entails mixing a protein and a starch), but you can have a veggie sandwich.
Ø     Vegetables can be mixed with any category except fruit.

4) If you eat fruit, you eat only fruit. Do not mix fruit with any of the other food groups. When fruit mixes with other foods in the stomach, it has a tendency to ferment, hindering the digestive process.
Ø     Fruit takes approximately 30 minutes to digest, with the exception of bananas, which take 45 minutes to digest. So, you can eat something from another category 30-45 minutes after you have consumed fruit.

5) You should wait 3 hours before eating something from a different category, so that you have time to digest (the exception here is fruit, of course).
Ø     For example, if you have a veggie sandwich at 1200pm, you should try to wait until at least 3pm to eat a protein, fruit, or nuts/dried fruit.
Ø     As mentioned above, this does not apply for fruit because it digests much faster. For example, 30 minutes after having an apple, you are free to eat a chicken salad or veggie pasta or a mixed bag of nuts, etc.
Ø     While you should wait 3 hours until eating again from another food group (allowing your last meal to have digested), you should not wait more than 4 hours to eat again – this is very important for keeping a high metabolic rate (and having more energy!).

6) Try to eat your vegetables raw, but of course cooked vegetables are not off limits.

7) If you feel very hungry, it is better to eat more within the same food group.  For example, it is better to have two pieces of fish OR two servings of whole grain pasta with vegetables, instead of eating one bowl of pasta with fish together.

8) If you "mis-combine" a meal (eat from different food groups together – a tuna sandwich for example), then it is best to do it at dinner, so that your body has all night to digest.

9) Condiments (ketchup, mustard, oil, vinegar, etc) can be eaten with every meal - EXCEPT fruit.

10) Dark chocolate (70+%) can be consumed after every meal!
Ø     Some Raw Foodies attest that it should be raw chocolate, but I don’t believe this is necessary (it is expensive and a bit more difficult to find).

Yes, there is such a thing as "raw chocolate cake"...
...and it's delicious.

I encourage anyone who wants to lose weight quickly, while still having the opportunity to eat the foods they love, to try this diet. It also works well with those who have limited time for the gym. While I advocate working out while on this diet, you can still be sure to drop the weight even if you don’t have a chance to get to the gym. If you want to see even fast results, I recommend the following:
  • Eat breakfast within the first 45 minutes of waking up
    • This is essential for jump-starting your metabolism every day. (In my next post, I will outline tips on the best ways to rev up your metabolism for faster weight loss and more energy).
  • Eat your last meal an hour and half before going to bed.
      10 O'clock at night...
      look familiar?
    • This is actually one of the hardest things for people to do – many many people (including myself), have a tendency to snack late at night. This usually occurs not because the person is hungry, but because they have not consumed enough calories during the day and/or their body is accustomed to being fed late at night.
    • This habit is one of the most difficult to break, and as such, will be the topic of a future post. The motivator here should be better sleep. If your body is not working overdrive to digest the food you have just consumed, you will inevitably fall into a deeper and more relaxing sleep.

  • Drink lots of water – all the time.
    • This is key for helping your body digest the foods you are consuming faster and more easily. Although you may not feel very thirsty throughout the day given that you are eating more fruits and vegetables (all containing water), it is important that you are constantly drinking water.
    • Remember: Thirst is often mistake for hunger.
  • Sleep
    • Get as much sleep as possible. And while this concept is hard for many people who have jobs and a decent social life, it is important to avoid over-eating. When you get tired, your body is triggered to want more calories (you feel hungry and have the urge to snack) in order to stay awake and sustain energy. This is also a motivator for late-night snacking.
    • Remember: If you are sleeping, you cannot be snacking!

So now the only thing left to do is Go Raw! In the past I have found that writing down what you eat and when is very helpful for not only staying on track, but also seeing where you tendencies are (when you feel hungry, how much you are exercising, etc.), and then making smaller changes based on the trends you see. Many of my clients have found that writing a food/exercise journal also holds them accountable and forces them to be honest with themselves and their diet.
If you can Go Raw for a week or two, you will most definitely become a believer!

If you are asking yourself: "Is it worth it?", then you should
also ask yourself: "Do I like bikinis?"
(Next time: “A Higher Metabolism, Puhleeez!”)

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Two Cookies or No Cookies

The question I always wonder is: Who actually eats the 1/2 cup serving size of ice cream? (For my metric system friends out there, this is about 70g). Who is it out there that has a craving for ice cream, goes to the store, buys a carton of creamy sin, and then eats only 1/2 a cup? (I am, of course, excluding those members of the ice-cream eating population aged 65 and older – I don’t know how, but the grandparents of the world seem to have an amazing amount of self-control).

This is a half-cup of ice cream.
What a tease, eh?
Let’s break this down for a minute: In a half-gallon (1.8 liter) carton of ice cream, there are roughly eight cups of ice cream - which means that there are precisely 16 of those little 1/2 cup servings. So, even if you ate one serving of ice cream everyday, a half-gallon of ice cream would last over two weeks! Let’s be honest here, I have never known ice cream to last longer than three days in my freezer (with the exception of the mistaken rum-raisin ice cream purchase which lasted months in my freezer until I needed more room and threw it away). Like many people, I follow a “two cookies or no cookies” other words, mastering moderation may well be my greatest failure in life thus far.

Lack of moderation has always been a problem for me; throughout university and in the years that followed, I lived in a “no cookie” world, characterized by excessive exercise and copious amounts of lettuce. I battled with anorexia and ran myself into a wheelchair by my sophomore year, and it wasn’t until the subsequent years of physical therapy that I became tuned in to 'proper' diet and exercise. Soon after, I had my personal training license, was a strength and conditioning coach, and even became a certified Weight-Loss Management Specialist. I was, once again, training like crazy, but this time following a very strict diet, eating every three hours - still in the “no-cookie” world, but at least I was eating this time.

My “two cookies or no cookies” tendency really stems back to my childhood. As a health-conscious single father, who also felt a fervent need to protect my dental hygiene from the evils of sugar, my dad would offer me a cookie every now and then. Like any half-way clever child, I would proceed by negotiating for two cookies. When the ultimatum came – “one cookie or no cookies” – I would obstinately opt for no cookies. For a stubborn child (like I was), the “two cookies or no cookies” concept is tolerable - attention spans are short, and if the child walks away stubbornly with no cookies (as I often did), the thought has passed five minutes later. As an adult, though, the concept is dangerous territory -- when we enter the “two cookies or no cookies” world, nobody else is deciding for us. Rather, we can indeed decide to buy the package of cookies with the possibility of indulging in two (or three, or four, or...), and once the package has in fact been bought, then comes the distasteful realm of self-restraint.

But why is moderation so hard? Why is it so difficult to eat just one cookie and put the rest away? I imagine it is because most of us live in the excessive 'two-cookie' world anyhow - when we do something we shouldn't, indulging in what we know is bad, why do it half-way? For example, when my boyfriend and I go out for a nice dinner, we want to “do it right” - if we’re ordering steak and a bottle of wine, what difference does it make adding an appetizer to the bill (and if you still have room at the end of it all, a dessert)? Quite simply, two cookies (or three, or four, or...) in one go is – for some (many?) - more fun than all those cookies spread out over time.

Essentially, the question is this: Would I prefer to go to two or three less expensive, more health-conscious, no-frills dinners OR one big, all-out, maybe a bit more memorable dinner? In other words, would you prefer to eat ½ cup of ice cream three times a week, or curl up on a Friday night with a movie and a bowl of ice cream once a week? For me, it's the latter on both. I would actually rather be strict and focused with my diet during the week, and have one “cheat night” rather than a number of small “cheat moments.” And I’m quite sure I’m not alone in this boat.

While I recommend this...
The point? Moderation may, in fact, be a bit overrated. Why should we try and master eating one cookie when the real enjoyment is in the “two cookies” world? My advice when it comes to the constant struggle with lack of moderation: Admit it and work with it. You can make yourself crazy trying to eat ½ cup of ice cream and then not spend the rest of the night thinking about what’s in the freezer, or you can be healthy – and yes, strict with yourself – most of the time, and then get a nice big bowl of ice cream, whipped cream and sprinkles (or pizza or happy hour margaritas – whatever your poison) when the occasion calls for it. Now, that said, if you’re indulging in a potato chip feast every other day, then you’re living in a “two packs of cookies” world, and my advice is to admit it and quit it (and I’ll tell you how later).
...I do not recommend this!

The reality is, once I’ve indulged in my fix of ice cream/chips/cocktails/[enter favorite edible misdemeanour here], I’m satisfied and motivated to spend the next week being über-healthy. It is far easier to exercise the power of choice (e.g. happy hour or movie popcorn) than it is to comply with moderation (one drink and one cup of popcorn? Really?). Is it really that healthy to spend so much time trying to live our lives according to moderation, only to fail, feel guilty, and then start all over again? We live in a world full of limits and excess, and rarely is the choice just one cookie.

If you have mastered moderation – and I know some of you out there that have – congratulations, you were probably one of the children out there that when offered two cookies only took one. But for the rest of us, I am living proof that you can be fit, healthy, in shape, and yes, terrible when it comes to moderation. Would I like to be better? Maybe not, actually. I am more focused on my diet and exercise most of the time, because I know that I don’t have to ration out the good things in life, but rather, just save up for them. My self-restraint during the week, for example, is actually stronger because I know that the candy and movies on Friday night will be that much more enjoyable. My objective is to work for my two cookies, and then enjoy them without guilt!

So, I guess the key is this: exercise lack of moderation in moderation. That is, don’t have your cheat nights three times a week – but work for them. You will certainly enjoy them more – not least when you stop stressing about just having one drink or measuring out ½ cup of sin. Life is too short for this kind of stress. If you can teach yourself moderation, great – but if you have tried and failed many times, then perhaps you should just embrace the “two cookie” world we live in. Set reasonable limits for yourself most of the time, and then enjoy the occasions that are limitless.

Moderation in moderation…or not at all!