Archive for March, 2009

Do I Need to Exercise to Lose Weight?

While I mainly focus on advising clients on their diets, recently I have been repeatedly asked the question “do I need to exercise to lose weight” by my friends, family and clients. Since diet and exercise are inexplicably intertwined, I decided it was time to address it. Sure, there are some who stay lean and mean without exercise, but for most people one of the easiest, most expedient ways to lose weight and make a difference is to start an exercise program!

Many of us know skinny people who look fabulous and who do not exercise at all, while we know others who spend hours and hours at the gym and cannot seem to get the weight off. Or, how about the skinny people who eat mounds and mounds of unhealthy junk food and do not workout while others who eat salads and healthier foods and go to the gym are heavier. Is it fair? No! But, the answer is more complicated than what is on the surface. Some of those “skinny” people may develop a degenerate disease down the road while the heavier one soars through old age.

Some of my clients get understandably frustrated when they can’t seem to get the weight off and they feel like they are doing “all the right things.” Fair or not, though, some people have a slower metabolism than others. What this basically means is that one person burns calories at a slower pace while the other burns them at a quicker pace. And, if you eat more than you burn off then the excess will be stored as fat!

It is constantly debated by scientists, doctors and health professionals whether some people are born this way or whether their food choices over the years have determined it. Whether it is genetics or poor food choice that has gotten people to a place where their metabolism burns more slowly than others, the truth remains that they must eat fewer calories to stay at the same weight. If this is where you are, I am sorry and I know it is frustrating!

The first recommendation I make is to accept the fact that you may have to eat less or work to raise your metabolism through changing your diet or workout routine!

The calculation for gaining weight is very simple. Eat more calories than you burn off and you will gain weight. What is not simple comes next. Calories do not equal calories. What do I mean by this? Three hundred calories of salad or another vegetable or fruit or even a complex carbohydrate do NOT equal three hundred calories of a grande mocha latte with whip cream (which, by the way, has 360 calories.) What is equally or even more important than the number of calories you consume is the quality of calories you are consuming. You will not get fat eating fresh fruits and vegetables!!! I have had many clients who have balked at a green juice saying that they do not like it or will not eat an entire green salad to “save the calories.” What they do not realize is that this same green juice or salad helps us fill up, regulate our cravings for the day and get our metabolism moving.

Exercise is perhaps the most important thing that you can do to lose weight. While of course it is important to change your diet, exercise in conjunction with a healthy diet will make you lose weight faster and improve strength, immunity, and overall mental and physical well-being. Exercising not only burns calories but it also builds strength, defines muscles, improves circulation, regulates digestion, regulates blood sugar, reduces stress and detoxes the body through sweat. When we exercise, we also release endorphins that boost our mood and make us feel alive. And, when we feel-and look- great, we tend to make better food choices!

On a more serious level, exercise is said to prevent or reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, hypertension, diabetes, depression, dementia, osteoporosis, gallstones, diverticulitis, asthma and cancer. Exercise is also said to help relieve hot flashes and with PMS!

If you want to lose weight and have had this weight on for more than a few years or if you are eating all the right things and not losing weight, your body needs a “jump start!” And, there is NO better way to take the weight off than to do 30-45 minutes of high cardiovascular exercise! Doing weight bearing exercise is important for our health and having more muscle will lead to more calories burned throughout the day but first thing I always recommend is to start getting your metabolism revved up with exercise that raises your heart rate and gets you sweating!

This cardiovascular exercise could include running, walking, biking or doing the elliptical trainer 4 times a week with 2 days of weight bearing work such as yoga, pilates, or weight training. Start slow and work your way up! For those in good shape, I suggest 5 days of cardio with 2 days of weight bearing work. Find what balance works for you and your body type and stick with it. Also try working out in the morning. When we workout we elevate our heart rates and our bodies go into a fat burning mode that can last throughout the day.

Please do not get on the stairmaster and count calories that you can burn while exercising! Not only are the calories that are claimed to be burned debatable but everyone burns calories at a different rate and each food is burned at a different rate. I find calorie counting self-defeating!

Lastly, don’t over exercise and recognize when you need a break! Over exercising can cause dehydration and injuries and can disrupt our menstrual and reproductive cycles. Additionally, over exercising can actually make your body keep on weight! When we run ourselves ragged through our intense work and workout schedules, family commitments and the like, we begin to suffer from exhaustion and adrenal fatigue. If we have a high level of stress or are exhausted then a high level of cortisol, which is the hormone that provides energy during our “fight or flight” response, will be secreted by our adrenal glands and lead to a high level of glucose in our blood. This not only makes it difficult for our body to break down fat but also lowers our metabolism.

While most of us do not truly have the problem of over exercising, if you are going to the gym every day and are not losing weight (and even gaining it,) it may be worth it to take a break or at least cut down the number of workouts you are doing. I have had a few clients who packed in too many exercise workouts into their week and actually lost weight when they cut down their schedule. Even elite athletes value the importance of rest! Equally important to a rigorous workout schedule is rest, stretching, massage and time to spend with family or read a book. The key is balance!

For those who are not overweight and are happy to stay at their same weight then exercise is not a necessity. Many can regulate their weight through a healthy diet full of fresh fruits and vegetables and also through a lifestyle where exercise is naturally integrated in their lives. However, because of the added benefits of exercise I do recommend that everyone add at least some form of movement into their lives.

To read more about metabolism and how to speed yours up through diet, please go to my Metabolism article. Every individual is different but for anyone who would like specific recommendations, they can contact me

Plagued with PMS Every Month?

If you are a man, do yourself a favor and do not read on because I am about to talk about the dreaded PMS! Although I used to have the occasional month of cramps as a young adult, and even as a young mother, PMS thankfully never plagued me until I hit my late 30s. Now being almost 40, I have intense cramps, mind-blowing mood swings enough to make my sweet husband avoid me, heavy bleeding and terrible night sweats. I am personally on the journey of trying to improve my own PMS and would love to be able to help others with this as well.

Have you ever wondered why you get so cranky and crampy before (and sometimes during) your period? I sure have! Well, every month our body produces extra estrogen in case of pregnancy. When we do not get pregnant, our estrogen levels plunge, which triggers bloating, cramps, cavings and mood swings.

The good news is we can do something about it! Food choices, supplements, a few behavior modifications and perhaps even going to a good chiropractor or acupuncturist can help us balance these estrogen levels and improve our mood.

Here are the recommendations that I give to my clients (and what I personally have found helpful.) Strictly follow them 2 weeks before and during your period and I assure you that they will help:

1 ) Eliminate all animal products such as eggs, milk, cheese, butter and meat and all fried foods 2 weeks before and during your period. A study by the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology found that women who take animal fats out of their diets experience less cramping and bloating than those who eat them, and these symptoms can decrease from 2-4 days.

Additionally, fatty foods have been shown to increase estrogen levels while fibrous foods decrease them. This is one reason that women who do not eat and accumulate adequate fats will stop having their periods. Unfortunately, when many of us feel terrible, we reach for something laden with fat. Much like having a glass of wine after a hang-over, this may make us feel better for the moment, but we will end up feeling much worse in the long-run.

So, you may ask, what is wrong with dairy? Dairy is thought to intensify PMS not only because of natural growth hormones but also because of the fatty content of the milk. I was sceptical at first, however, for the past several months I have been eating an entirely vegan diet with lots of vegetable and fruit juices and no dairy and I can attest to the fact, that I have had literally no PMS symptoms and the terrible bleeding and night sweats have gone away!

2 ) Eliminate salt from your diet. Salt has also been known to increase fluid retention thus increase cramping. Salt can be found in many products so look at the labels and avoid soy sauce, which is high in sodium. An alternative to soy sauce is Bragg’s Liquid Amino Acids or the all-natural fermented soy sauce Nam Soyu. The one exception I have found to the no salt rule is sea salt, which is high in vital minerals. To learn more about sea salt, please read my article on Sea Salt.

3 ) Eat at least one green salad per day. Try to eat more fibrous vegetables such as green leafy kale, spinach and broccoli. Not only will fibrous foods help decrease estrogen levels as stated above but they will also help you increase your iron levels which will be depleted by your period and help you metabolize fats.

4 ) Drink 8-16 oz of green juice per day. Again, green leafy vegetables not only help decrease estrogen levels but they also help you increase your iron levels which will be depleted by your period and help you metabolize fats. Green juices can be made very palatable. One of my favorites is cucumber, celery, romaine, and apple. Another favorite is a carrot and green juice. Please see my article on juicing to learn more about integrating juices into your life.

5 ) Take an Omega 3 supplement daily, add more Omega 3’s in your diet and explore the possibility of taking natural herbs. Studies have shown that Omega 3s help boost mood and decrease symptoms of PMS. Omega 3 fatty acids are contained in flax seed oil, evening primrose oil, and borage oil. Black current seed oil is aso known to help combat PMS and St. John’s Wart is especially recommended to calm nerves and regulate mood swings. Please read more about Omega 3’s and how to integrate them into your diet in my Omega 3 article.

6 ) Detox by taking lots of steams and hot baths and exercising vigorously 2 weeks prior to your period to detox your body and regulate your hormones. This can not be under-estimated in its importance. During your period, though, if you are feeling weak or crampy do not push through the pain but rest.

7 ) Get lots of sleep and rest this week so that your body can heal and restore. If you feel up for it, go to a yoga class to relax and get your energy flowing. Click here to read my article on the importance of sleep and rest.

8 ) Make an appointment to see a chiropractor or acupuncturist. In a March 2008 study published in the Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics it showed that going to a chiropractor helped alleviate the symptons of a woman’s period and PMS. Additional studies show that going to a chiropractor prior to conception helps promote a more regular cycle and helps the body carry the baby healthily during the pregnancy. Studies in acupuncture are said to show similar results. Whether you choose to go see a chiropractor or an acupunturist, seeing one will help you alleviate your systems of PMS, stregthen your organs and get the energy flowing properly through the body!

Dr. Daryl Gioffre is a well-respected, knowledgeable chiropractor on the Upper East Side who I would highly recommend! To learn more about his approach and services, please visit his website or contact him directly

The bottom line, though, is to listen to your body and honor what it is trying to tell you. This is the time of the month to take time to rest and to take care of yourself.