Tag Archives: protein

Be a Bombshell in a Bikini: Part 2 – Eat More to Slim Down

Food.  Ah food.  How I love it.  I love to cook it.  I love to share it.

I especially love to eat it.

I love trying new restaurants and recipes.  I like giving new ingredients a chance and old favorites new flavors.  For me, food is a source of pleasure.  And it plays a big part of my life and I’m guessing it might in yours too.

Food is also an incredibly powerful tool for body change.  Why?  Because it can drastically affect the body’s hormonal environment.  And the hormonal environment is key to determining the body’s composition (how much of your body weight is fat or muscle).

One Meal Away from Fat Loss

Do you know what this means??  This means that just by changing up what we eat, we can change how much fat we carry on our body.  We can change how we look.

We can get our athletic body back (or get beach ready) if we eat MORE of the RIGHT foods to turn on our fat burning metabolism.

Yep you heard me right – to change your body and lean out, you probably need to eat MORE food.

[The food lover in me is doing a happy dance right now]

This shocks most people because in our society the eat less, exercise more mantra is the foundation of most weight loss programs.  But notice above I said more of the RIGHT foods.

This is key because not all calories are created equal.   Here’s an example that really cleared this up for me….

Say you have a generic donut and a medium-sized chicken breast.  They both have approximately the same number of calories (around 200).  So if calories are all that matters, then it doesn’t matter whether you choose the chicken breast or the donut.

BUT let’s think about this a little more…

If calories really were the only important thing, then the donut and the chicken breast should keep you satisfied for the same amount of time, give you the same energy levels in the hours that follow and have the same impact on cravings later in the day.   (Is anyone else giggling a little at the thought of NOT crashing after a donut???)

Calories aren't created equal

If you’re completely honest with yourself, you’ll probably see that the donut and the chicken breast affect you in very different ways.

For me, about 45 min after I eat a donut (assuming I’m able to eat only one), my head starts feeling fuzzy and my energy tanks.  If I’m tracking cravings, then I’d probably notice that later that day, I’m wanting more sugary or fatty foods.  Also, if by some miracle I managed to eat only 1 donut, I probably never stopped being hungry.

Now let’s pretend I ate the chicken breast instead (a delicious one of course).  After eating the chicken breast, I don’t have any noticeable drop in energy 45 min later.  Also, I’m not hungry for another few hours, and there are no noticeable cravings later on in the day.  Plus, I don’t really see myself eating more than 1 or maybe 1 1/2 chicken breasts in one sitting…

But how is this possible if they both have the same number of calories?  Something about them has to be different because their effects on me are different.

The answer?  They are influencing my hormones in unique ways.  It’s the only way to explain differences in satiety, energy levels, cravings and hunger.

Why are they affecting hormones differently?  Because the macronutrient profiles of the foods that are different.

[Don't freak out on me... All I mean by macronutrient profile is what the food is made of - what percent of the food is fat, carbohydrates, and protein?]

In the chicken, it’s mostly protein, whereas the donut is mostly carbohydrates.  The donut signals hormones that say “Store fat!!” where the chicken breast signals “Burn fat!!”

See how just by changing what we eat, we can tell the body to do different things via our hormones?  We won’t get into the nitty gritty of the hormone world today, but it’s important to realize that body change just isn’t about calories.

Yes, you do need a caloric deficit to lose weight, but you need the right hormonal environment to make sure that weight is fat, not muscle.  (We talked last week about why we want to save our muscle.  You can read about that here.)  Plus, with the right hormonal environment, you won’t constantly be hungry, exhausted and craving junk food.

This is actually the way Metabolic Effect suggests monitoring whether or not you’re priming your body to burn fat — monitor your HEC (pronounced “heck”).
Hunger, Energy, Cravings.

If these are balanced (meaning you’re not hungry, you have high energy and you’re not craving crap food) and you’re losing fat, you’re in a longterm, fat-burning zone.  If they’re not balanced, you’re likely NOT burning fat.  Or if you are, it’s probably not sustainable for longer than a few weeks.

Alright let’s get practical now.  How can you eat to get your HEC in check?
Follow these tips below…

1.  Eat 4-6 small meals per day — Eating several smaller meals allows you to eat more frequently and never get ravenously hungry between meals since that often leads to overeating junk food.  If you choose the right foods for these meals, you can help keep your energy balanced throughout the day, too.  But a big part of frequent meals is to keep yourself from getting crazy hungry.

2.  Eat lean proteins and fibrous veggies — We want to increase our food volume without increasing the number of calories we consume (this helps keep our hunger down).  To do that choose foods high in water, fiber and protein content.  These will help you stay satisfied for longer, so include these at each small meal.  (see this post for approximate protein serving sizes)

A good way to think of it?  Eat your protein at the meal plus as many fibrous veggies as you want.

3.  Drink LOTS of water — Being dehydrated can negatively effect your energy and brain function, and by the time you’re feeling thirsty, you’re already dehydrated.  Keep a water bottle with you and drink as much as possible…. even up to 3-4L a day.  Don’t worry, your body WILL adapt to the increased fluid intake and the number of trips to the bathroom will decrease, I promise! :)

4.  Limit foods that tend to trigger cravings and hunger — I love my coffee but my early morning 2-3 cup habit tends to trigger cravings in the evening for me.  So I’ve had to reduce that a little…  Other culprits?  Artificial sweeteners and sweet snacks can do the same thing.  Limit these guys as much as possible.

5.  Get your healthy fats in — Certain dietary fats are actually required to burn fat!  So don’t be afraid of the good ones like Omega-3 fats (6 and 9 are good too!) :) Have a few servings each day of healthy fats – 1/4c nuts, 1/2 an avocado, 6oz fish,  or 2 Tbs olive oil or coconut oil are each 1 serving.  Also, consider a fish oil supplement.

{This next one is a big one….}

6.  Limit starchy carbohydrates — Things like pasta, potatoes, cookies, bread, rice, crackers, etc (while very delicious) are considered starchy carbs and should be consumed in limited amounts.  Starchy carbs in general can wreak havoc on your body in the hormonal sense if you eat too many too often. Carbs aren’t to be avoided at all cost because you do need them, but you gotta be aware of how much of them you’re eating.

In general, I personally like to avoid the ones I just listed above and stick to mostly starchy vegetables like sweet potatoes, carrots, corn, all different kinds of squash (spaghetti squash is my fav), and eggplant.  If you want, you can also do oat bran, oatmeal, brown rice or quinoa.

Oh, because of how fruit breaks down in the body, I also consider fruit as starchy carbs in my diet.  They usually make an appearance in my breakfasts and “desserts”.

Anyway how much to eat?  I like to measure starchy carbs by bites.  It’s far better than weighing or measuring out your food.

Most people do well with 5-10 bites of starchy carbs at each meal.  However, everyone is different so you may do better with more at each meal or less.  This amount of carbs where your energy is high enough for a good workout and you’re burning fat is called your carbohydrate tipping point.  It takes a while to find this usually, but it’s important for shedding body fat.  You can learn more about it here (a Metabolic Effect blog on the subject).

Alright that’s probably enough for now :) As with anything, implement changes in small steps first.

It might be way too much to change your eating frequency AND what you’re eating all at once.  So consider changing 1 meal this week.  Then change up another meal next week.  Then add in a 4th to your typical 3 meals and decrease the size of all the meals slightly.

Example – maybe this week instead of cereal and orange juice, go for scrambled eggs with onions/peppers/spinach in it and your 5-10 bites of oatmeal at breakfast.  Then next week, keep those changes and change up your lunch to a big old salad with chicken breast and balsamic vinaigrette dressing.  Get the idea?

Keep an eye on your HEC as you make changes, and if you have questions let me know!  Ask away here in the comments or find me on Facebook or Twitter :)

How will you get your HEC in check this week to get bikini ready?

<3 Lauren

Be a Bombshell in a Bikini: Part 1 – Save your Muscle!

There are a few times each year when people get especially motivated to lose weight or lean out a little (New Year’s resolutions, anyone?).  Well with temperatures rising, the official start of spring, and vacation plans in the works, another one of those times is upon us. 

Brace yourself.  Swimsuit season is just around the corner. 

If you are like me, as the details of your beach vacation are starting to come together (I’ll be off to Gulf Shores in May!  yay!), you realize with slight panic that, um, you aren’t necessarily feeling ready to peel off your cover-up at the beach and reveal your somewhat soft and pale self (ok maybe pale is just me).  If you’re hoping to rock a bombshell-esque bod in that bikini, what can you do?

Well as I see it, there are a couple different options.  You can choose a crash diet that, if you really stick to it, will likely work to get you basically beach ready.  But guuurl, trust me!!  You do NOT want to do that. 

Crash diets are an eat less/exercise more approach that are unstainable longterm, meaning you eventually quit the diet, and the worst part – they result in INDISCRIMINATE weight loss.  This means that the weight lost can be water, fat or muscle, and if you’re eating less and doing lots of steady state cardio it’s likely the lost weight is mostly muscle.  Not good.

Why save your muscle?

First, muscle is responsible for giving you those shapely, goddess-like curves that many gals crave.  When you starve away your muscle, you significantly decrease the potential of sculpting a tight tush or shapely shoulders precisely because there is no muscle to sculpt

Remember, you can’t “tone” muscle that you don’t have.

Second, muscle is metabolically active tissue – this just means that it uses resources (calories) even when it’s at rest – like when you’re watching TV or sleeping. The more muscle you have, the more calories you burn without doing a thing.  Uh, sounds like a pretty good deal to me!

Third, when you inevitably come off the diet that probably had you exercising exorbadent amounts of willpower in order to stay on track, binging and rebound weight gain is in your future.  You will likely eat everything “bad” that you craved while on the diet and probably lots of it.  Couple this with LESS metabolically active muscle tissue and it’s a recipe for disaster.  In fact, research shows that a large percentage of people who go on crash diets are fatter than when they started 2 years after the diet ends.

[Are you starting to understand why I want you to avoid crash diets like the plague??] 

Fourth, indiscriminate weight loss will not change your body shape.  You will become a smaller version of your current shape.  But if you want to decrease the width of your hips in relation to the rest of your body, crash diets won’t do it. 

Take a look at the photo below from Metabolic Effect that illustrates just this.  If you’re a pear and lose “weight” on a crash diet you will only shrink to be a smaller pear (green to green).  This is why you can train for a half marathon hoping to make your saddlebags disappear and all you do is shrink everything – so proportionally, the saddlebags look no smaller.  But if your focus is on fat loss, you can change your body’s shape (green to red).

Weight Loss vs Fat Loss

Alright, now that we are clear on why it’s good to keep muscle around (and dare I say, build some??), we still need to figure out how to get rid of excess fat while holding onto our muscle so we look friggin’ hot in our bikinis this summer, and the next, and the next…

Fat loss with muscle retention happens when you approach body change with a “hormones first, calories second” perspective.  And there are 4 big themes to think about here – nutrition, exercise, sleep and stress.

You might wonder -  How many calories do stress or sleep have??  As you’d expect, they don’t “contain” any number of calories BUT the hormones associated with sleep and stress can drastically affect whether your body decides to store fat or burn it.  The same goes for the types of foods you eat (and how much and when) and the type of exercise you engage in.

The next few posts, I want to take the time to dive deeper into each of these 4 aspects.  But since we’re on the subject of muscle right now, I want to share some ideas for what you can do to hold onto your muscle as you prep for summer.

How to save your muscle

1.  Eat plenty of lean protein.  It keeps you full and satisfied much longer than say donuts would (not to mention you won’t have the same type of sugar crash!). 

Also, the energy required to process lean proteins is pretty high too (this is known as the thermic effect of food).  The thermic effect is why something like celery is essentially negative calories – it takes more calories to break it down than the celery contains. 

Another thing is that when you’re in a lower caloric state, you don’t want your body to break down your muscles for energy.  If you make sure you’re eating enough protein, the amount of muscle chewed up will be minimal. 

How much is enough?  A generally accepted amount for women is 0.8-1g of protein per pound of bodyweight.  So if you weigh 150lb, your goal should be to consume 150g of protein throughout the day.  Now, I know this seems like a TON of protein, and compared to the standard Western diet (and even to what you ate in your college athlete days), IT IS a lot of protein.  But don’t fret.  When you break up that amount over several small meals through the day, it’s definitely doable. 

We’ll talk more about the why/how of meal frequency next time, but for now, think of it this way. 

All of these things have 20-30g protein per serving – 5 egg whites, 1 scoop protein powder, 1 medium chicken breast, 6oz white fish, 4oz lean beef cut.  If you have egg whites at breakfast, a salad with chicken at lunch, a protein shake in the afternoon and fish or steak for dinner, you’ve EASILY consumed at least 100g protein and probably more. 

At the minimum, include a serving of lean protein at each meal.

2.  Lift heavy weights.  And try it rest-based style.  I talked about the importance of efficeint exercise already, but it’s important enough to repeat.  As you may have experienced since you finished your college career, if you don’t use muscle you will lose it.  Thus the importance of consistently lifting heavy weights. 

In all honesty, getting to the gym regularly is something I struggle with.  It’s an easy routine for me to get out of and a tough one to get back in to, but I notice huge differences in my strength, lung capacity, and general feelings of self-confidence when I have been at the gym regularly.  

If you struggle with getting to the gym, try this Jedi mind trick that I use on myself…

Tell yourself you just have to walk into the gym and do 5 minutes of a circuit then you can leave.  Usually by the time I get myself there, warm up and get going, I’m mentally ready to do a whole 20 minute workout.  Voila!  I just worked out!

3.  Lower cortisol.  This is key because cortisol can signal to your body to eat up stored muscle for energy.  And yeah… we don’t want that.  So we need to make sure that we are not constantly in a high cortisol state. But a constant environment in the body of high cortisol can drastically impair your fat loss results, and one of those reasons is because you can end up losing muscle. 

How to control cortisol? 

Walk – leisurely (no power walking). 

Take a hot bath with delicious smelling bath soak (I love the Sleep Lavendar Vanilla scent from Bath and BodyWorks) and light some candles around the tub.  This is my go-to stress relief option.  I take at least 1 bath a week, more when I’m really stressed by work stuff (like now). 

You could also spend quality time with friends who make you laugh, get it on with your partner, read a good book, do a restorative yoga class, or journal.  Find something that relaxes you then engage in it consistently.

My Favorite Addition to a Hot Bath

4.  Sleep more!  More on this later but it is SO critically important that you sleep enough (8-10 is ideal but even 7-9 hrs is better than what most people get).  I know it’s difficult to make time for this, but sleep is prime recover/rebuild time for your muscles.  Getting enough sack time is critical to keeping your muscle around.

So this week please please PLEASE avoid the temptation to drastically cut your calories and do hours of steady state cardio.  It is bad for your muscles, your physique and your health in the long run.  Instead, show your muscles some love.  A role model of mine is bodybuilder Tom Venuto and I love his approach to body change.  He says that you want to “burn the fat” and “feed the muscle”.  LOVE that visual.   So let’s all ditch the crash diets and feed our sexy muscles!  Who’s with me??