Category Archives: Weight Loss

Good Advice or Bullying?

I have relatives who live back in Wisconsin, so I read about this story yesterday.  I almost posted it last night, but I knew the story was going to go national today.  I thought it would be interesting to see how the reactions to this story here in Northern California differed from those back in the Midwest.  It certainly was revealing.

Here’s the link to the original story:  I went through several pages of comments and the support for her was almost universal.  That may be partly because many of them are familiar with her work and feel like they know her.  But without a doubt the  pervasive sentiment seems to be that it’s perfectly fine to be overweight and it’s nothing to worry about.

I figured the opinions around here would be a little bit more varied, and I wasn’t disappointed.  The comment section at SF Gate (always a bit unruly) certainly didn’t let her off nearly as easily:  While there was still plenty of support, there seemed to be about as many critical comments as positive ones.  It seems we Californians aren’t quite as willing to overlook a few extra pounds as the folks in the Midwest.

One of the most thought-provoking arguments went something like this.  There’s strong evidence that society is influenced by what they see on television.  That’s why images people smoking and advertising for hard alcohol have been scrubbed from the screen during family viewing hours.  So if being obese has the same negative health risks why shouldn’t it be treated the same way?  If you’re willing to accept an obese news anchor, would you be equally OK if the weatherman was shown smoking while he gave his report?


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An Amazing Success Story

It’s incredible what a powerful tool exercise can be when we have the proper motivation.  When I bumped into Viola one evening I hardly recognized her.  The transformation she had made in a few short months was stunning!    I asked her to share her story…I hope you find it as inspirational as I did:


My name is Viola DeHaro and I have been a member of the gym on and off for the past 20 years.  I can still remember Julie working at the desk and your sons were there at times.  I loved the different classes you offered; back then our favorite was the Step with Beth.  My kids are all grown now and I retired in November 2010.  I was already overweight and gained another 40 pounds after retirement.

I have high blood pressure and chronic kidney disease and an old knee injury that has a way of creeping up every once in a while.  This past September my blood work, which is checked every 3 months, came back positive for diabetes.  The doctor informed me I would have to start taking another pill which would only cause more kidney damage.  I was already taking 3 pills daily to control my BP and 1 pill for cholesterol.  I asked him to let me try to get a handle on my weight problem and I was going to start going to the gym on a regular basis.  So in October I started my journey.

At first I could only do 2-3 minutes on any machine and I was DYING.  I went almost every day for the first 2 months.  I did only cardio and most of it on machines you can sit down on and exercise.  My knee didn’t hurt like on the treadmill.  I now could last 30 minutes on the treadmill.  Hurrah!  I would not leave until I had burned 300 calories working out.  After 6 weeks of exercise and a daily intake of 1200 calories I was no longer a diabetic…I had lost 15 pounds and was back in the pre-diabetic zone. 

After four months of 4-6 workouts a week at your wonderful gym I was having trouble getting my heart rate up.  So after a visit to my Doctor he decided to take me off one of my blood pressure pills.  Hurrah, it worked–I was now able to get my heart rate up.  After six months of this program I had lost 40 pounds and was no longer pre-diabetic and my cholesterol reading had also dropped.  So the doctor took me off another BP pill and the cholesterol pill.

So to make a long story short, since October I have lost 52 pounds and have eliminated 2 BP pills and 1 cholesterol pill.  I was able to accomplish this with really just eating less and exercising.  After losing 40 pounds I started taking classes again.  I really enjoy the Cardio Dance class with Lana and the Baila Beats.  I love how you offer so many options for us older members.

Thank you HealthQuest and Tony for your vision.



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Weekend Wrap

Anyone who has been following this blog knows that nutritionists generally take a dim view of processed foods.   But one sector of this market has been given a free pass, and that’s products that are made with soy.  It seems as though it’s politically incorrect to criticize anything soy-based, because it’s the vegetarian protein source that’s going to feed the world.

But what could be more overly processed than a veggieburger?  What kind of manipulation do soybeans have to go through to make then look, feel, and taste like meat?  And can you expect a corporate food factory to put your health ahead of profits simply because they produce soy-based products?

If you eat soy-based products, I highly recommend you read this article from Mother Jones.  Perhaps this quote will whet your appetite: 

 If a non-organic product contains a soy protein isolate, soy protein concentrate, or texturized vegetable protein, you can be pretty sure it was made using soy beans that were made with hexane.

For you non-chemists out there, hexane is an EPA-registered air pollutant and neurotoxin.  Mmmm, tasty!

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Here’s more good news that’s sure to get your attention.  According to researchers, dieting can actually harm your health, leading to conditions such as…drumroll please… heart disease, diabetes and cancer. 

The studies showed that women who were put on a restrictive diet (1200 calories daily) produced higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol.  Many of the subjects also experienced high levels of psychological stress because they were forced to count calories and constantly monitor what they ate.

Conclusion—yeah, you’ve heard it before—eating wholesome foods and exercising is the best way to stay healthy.

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Something else that you’ve probably heard before, but it’s worth repeating:

Want a better workout? Don\’t stretch before.

And finally, an interesting article from AlterNet that questions whether the multinational food industry can help alleviate global nutrition problems.  As you might expect, public health leaders are a little bit skeptical.  Lots of links are provided for extended weekend reading.

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Food Revolution???

Just Like Oprah!

I’ll apologize up front..this may not be the most cohesive thing I’ve ever posted.  My head is spinning and I could take it in a dozen different directions.  But I’m just going to start writing and hit a few of the high points.  There will be plenty of links if you care to explore things further.

A few weeks ago I saw an advertisement for a new TV show, “Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution”.  The premise looked interesting…a celebrity chef from Britain goes into “the unhealthiest community in America” and tries to improve their eating habits.  I made a mental note to tune in…and then promptly forgot all about it.

Then a couple of days ago I spotted a headline in my news feed—Kids to Jamie Oliver: Bag your healthy lunches.  It went on to explain that Jamie’s “revolution” wasn’t getting a lot of traction with school children.  They much preferred their chicken nuggets, pizza and chocolate milk to the healthier fare he was providing.

Reading that article made me even more interested in seeing the show.  A quick online search turned up a link that allows you to watch the the two episodes that have already aired.   If you’re into reality TV, this program takes the genre to a whole new level.

The executive producer is Ryan Seacrest, the American Idol guy.  He shares production duties with Oliver and some of the same people who bring us “Extreme Makeover Home Edition”.  Let’s just say there’s no shortage of contrived drama and conflict, and it’s all pasted together with a mixture of hair gel and tears.  

Prior to watching the show I didn’t know anything about Jamie Oliver.  Born to working-class parents in England, he dropped out of high school, went to cooking school, and then enjoyed a meteoric rise to the top of celebrity chefdom.  In 1999 his show The Naked Chef debuted and his cookbook became a number one best-seller in the UK.

He has subsequently become the head of his own multinational company, with 12 TV shows and 10 cookbooks to his credit.  He owns scores of restaurants, sells cookware, and even produces a namesake magazine Jamie.  His wife is a former model, and though only in his mid 30s, his personal empire is reportedly in excess of $60 million dollars.  Life is obviously pretty good for Mr. Oliver. 

He has used his wealth and fame to champion the causes he supports.  He led a campaign to get unhealthy foods removed from British schools.  This brought on radical changes and led to the British government contributing an additional billion dollars to fund school lunches.  He definitely knows how to get things done.

But if the first two episodes are any indication, Oliver may have bit off more than he can chew.   Here in the USA things are bad—very, very bad.  On his first morning in the school cafeteria he is introduced to “breakfast pizza” and sees children eating sugared cereals bathed in a luminous strawberry flavored sugary milk.  For lunch it’s chicken nuggets and a chemistry experiment that somehow turns into something resembling mashed potatoes.  While a little bit of real food like fruit and fresh-baked bread does make it onto the childen’s plates,  it appears that the majority of it gets scraped into the trash can.  

Then Oliver gets his big chance to cook his food for the kids.   This is not without its fair share of drama, as the school’s “lunch ladies” would much prefer to stick to the status quo.  Despite his efforts to build excitement for his healthy offerings (he visits classrooms dressed up as a pea!) the children are unimpressed.   We get to watch as they spit out his food and then dump it in the trash.  Jaime doesn’t quite understand this; in Britain he say’s he’d tell them to go back and finish. 

Jaime also visits a local family, all of whom are overweight.  It is here that we see exactly where the children develop their taste for unhealthy fare.  He piles the kitchen table with all of the foods they’ve consumed over the past week–a monotone mountain of brown and tan—pizzas, corn dogs, hamburgers, with nary a vegetable in sight.  Every meal comes out of the microwave or the deep fryer.

Needless to say “mom” is a little embarrassed by this (and a freezer crammed with about 40 cheap pizzas).  Jamie lets her know that she is contributing to her children’s obesity and shortening their lives.    You would think that seeing her 300 lb. 12 year-old son on a daily basis might have given her a hint something was wrong—but apparently this news must come as quite a shock to her, because she cries.

Jaime whips up a healthy meal for them, and also goes out in the yard and helps them bury the fryer.  That’s some good TV!  He also has a heart-to-heart with the obese 12 year-old, who admits the other kids tease him about his weight.   Jaime offers to give him cooking lessons and tells him the girls are going to really be impressed when he can whip up a nice meal.

Conflict, drama, contrived for TV stunts, predictable tears, this show has it all.  Oliver hopes the show leads to a “food revolution” across America’s school cafeterias.  He’s also angling to arrange a meeting with Michelle Obama so they can join forces and end childhood obesity.  He has a petition on his website that he hopes to deliver to the White House.

But if the results of his efforts in his home country are any example, Oliver is up for some fierce resistance.    When the British government implemented his school-lunch recommendations the negative reaction was dramatic.  Parents pulled 400,000 children from the school-lunch program, and many opted to hand food to their kids through the gates of school yards.  Vendors set up outside schools to sell food, and enterprising students began selling junk food to peers in schools, which led to kids getting suspended for  “dealing” potato chips. 

A less-than-flattering view of Oliver and his efforts to influence the way people eat and how much the government should pay for it can be found in this article from   With over 300 comments and counting, it’s clear that “making school lunches healthier” is more controversial than you might think. 

 Civil liberties aside, many people are less than convinced that any government program is going to change the way people eat.   On a recent episodeof his late-night show David Letterman let Oliver know that his efforts were noble but futile.  The comedian turned serious, saying that in our food culture it was virtually impossible to lose weight.  He said that in the future he expects everyone to weigh 400 to 500 lbs and that science will have found a way to keep us healthy at that weight.

I could continue, but I would like to get this up and posted before tonight’s episode airs (9pm ABC).  Tune in and see what happens.  Like it or not, it will certainly make you think a little bit more about the way we feed our children.

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Bang, You’re Fat!

Want to make sure your research project gets plenty of notoriety?  Just ignore the most obvious (albeit boring) conclusion and instead “speculate” that there’s a mysterious “switch”  that you can flip that makes you fat.

That seems to be working for this group of Australian researchers; their study was featured on television this morning, and I just ran across it again on Yahoo’s health news.  You can see the article by clicking this link.

What they found is actually very interesting and was previously unknown-that the human tongue can detect fatty acids in food.  It was previously thought that there were only five tastes–sweet, salty, sour, bitter and umami (a savoury, protein-rich taste contained in foods such as soy sauce and chicken stock).

Everyone that they tested was able to identify the fatty acids, however some needed higher concentrations than others.  They also found that the people who were most sensitive to fat, those who could taste very low concentrations, had lower BMIs (body mass indexes) and consumed less fat than the people who were insensitive.

Then the speculation about the “mystery switch” starts.  They suggest that some people, the ones who don’t detect fat as easily, don’t have a “trigger” that tells them to stop eating these fatty foods, which of course leads to weight gain.

 So if we can just discover a way to re-arm this hidden mechanism, out obesity problems will be solved.  All we need to do is fund a lot more research, and then maybe the pharmaceutical companies will be able to develop a pill that will make it all better.  Yeah, right… 

Answer me this, oh enlightened researchers…aren’t people on low-sodium diets more sensitive to the taste of salt?  Isn’t a can of cola sickeningly sweet to anyone who doesn’t drink it regularly?  So if fat is also a taste, wouldn’t the same principles apply? 

Could it be possible that the overweight people have become desensitized to the taste of fats because they consume them so regularly?  That the people who choose to limit their fat intake have lower BMIs because they make better decisions?  No, no, that’s not going to make anyone any money, it must be something else.  We better fund some more research.

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Weekend Reading Material

Bacon ice cream, bacon potato chips, bacon is everywhere it seems.  Celebrity chef  Tim Love says he’s had enough in his blog post Stop the Bacon Insanity.

Ladies, do you ever get frustrated by how easily men can shed pounds?   Here are 7 Ways to Lose Weight Like a Guy

Lastly, a subject that’s been getting a lot of publicity this week, but not much respect from the scientific community.  It’s the study that claims gene test can help determine what kind of diet will work best for you.

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The Contemporary Caveman

There are cavemen living amongst us today, and their numbers are growing. They are scattered throughout society, young and old, male and female. But unlike those guys in the Geico commercials, they aren’t readily identifiable by a heavy brow and excessive body hair. Their appearance is in fact undistinguishable from our own. Usually the only way you can spot them is through behavioral observation.

Sometimes it takes a trained eye to spot the subtle differences between their pre-historic ways are our own. But if you know what to look for it’s easy to identify them. One of the most telling ways to spot these contemporary cavemen is to watch what they eat. Initially you might not notice the difference, because it’s really more about what they’re not eating that sets them apart.

They will only consume the foods that were available to their ancient ancestors, items that were around prior to agriculture and the domestication of animals. They avoid many of the major components of the modern American diet like dairy foods, fatty meats, grains, salt, processed oils, and refined sugars.  The foods that they will eat consist mainly of lean meats (preferably from grass-fed animals), eggs, fruits, nuts, and vegetables.

This quest to eat as our cave-dwelling relatives did is growing in popularity. It goes by several different names, such as the Paleolithic Diet, Paleo diet, Cave Man Diet, Stone Age Diet, Neaderthin, Pre-agricultural Diet, and Hunter-Gatherer Diet. The common theme running through all these plans is simple—if your early ancestors didn’t eat it – you shouldn’t either.

 Although these diets are promoted as a way to lose weight, the paleo movement is really more of a lifestyle choice, similar to vegetarianism. And while the two philosophies are radically different in terms of food choices, they both promise the same end result: an improvement in overall health and vitality.

At their core, these diets are all based on the theory that after millions of years of evolving as hunter gatherers, the radical change in the human diet brought on by farming has been detrimental to our health. Prehistoric diets were almost entirely free of saturated fat, sodium and sugar – factors that have a direct impact on the rising levels of obesity, heart disease and diabetes commonplace in current times.

The paleo movement was initiated following the publication of research and writings about the diet of our human ancestors. Loren Cordain, a professor at Colorado State University and the author of The Paleo Diet, says the genesis was a 1985 New England Journal of Medicine article which proclaimed that the “diet of our remote ancestors may be a reference standard for modern human nutrition”.  Although these writings were somewhat speculative and not in total agreement as to what that diet was, they did agree that it was radically different from the way we eat today.

The advent of agriculture and the domestication of animals radically altered the foods that we eat. Dairy products, grains, beans, and starchy vegetables were introduced, and our meats became fattier. Supporters of the paleo movement argue that our bodies weren’t ready for this wholesale change, and science may back this up. In many areas the archeological record shows that this shift to an agrarian based society was associated with a decrease in stature and a general decline in health.

Proponents of the paleo diet believe that the introduction of new foods and elemental changes to many existing foods have accelerated this process. The Industrial Revolution led to the large scale development of mechanized food processing techniques and intensive livestock farming methods. It enabled the production of refined cereals, refined sugars and refined vegetable oils, as well as fattier domestic meats, all of which have become major components in Western diets.

The Paleolithic (stone–age) era began approximately 2.5 million years ago when ancient man first learned how to make stone tools. It ended with the introduction of agriculture 12,000 years ago. If you include the several million years our hominid ancestors walked the earth without tools, we were hunting and gathering for upwards of 200,000 generations.

Those who follow the paleo principles argue that the human body hasn’t had time to adapt to the changes agriculture brought to our diet. To put things in context, agriculture was invented 500 generations ago, and 10 generations have lived since the start of the industrial age.  Only two generations have grown up with highly processed fast foods.

They point out that that even today, 12,000 years after we moved to an agrarian based society, our bodies seem to be ill-equipped to handle some of the foods we consume. Research shows that the human genome has changed less than 1/10th of one-percent since the introduction of agriculture. So while we are almost genetically identical to our cave-dwelling ancestors, more than 70% of the calories we consume in the U.S. come from foods (dairy products, cereals, refined sugars, refined vegetable oils and alcohol) that weren’t available to our Paleolithic ancestors.

The effect of these “unfamiliar” foods on our paleo digestive system can vary widely. Excess alcohol can poison us, and many of the most common food allergies (dairy, wheat, soy, and peanuts) are foods that would be unfamiliar to prehistoric man. While the symptoms of these  problems  show up immediately and it’s relatively easy to determine what brought them on, there are a host of other maladies and “lifestyle” diseases that sometimes take months or years to appear.  And although it is harder to pinpoint their cause, many seem to be related to the foods that we eat.

Weight gain, heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes are all common ailments that have been brought on by our modern diet.  Proponents say that the paleo lifestyle has been used successfully in the treatment of all of those, plus systemic lupus, irritable bowel syndrome, allergies, acne, menopause, asthma, inflammation, arthritis, joint pains, food addictions, carbohydrate cravings, binge eating, mood disorders, and other health conditions.

So should we all return to our roots and go paleo?  There’s really no chance of that happening— the earth’s six billion people couldn’t survive without agriculture.  And very few of us have the will-power to make such a drastic change to our eating habits.  Many of the paleo principles are controversial and not accepted by most in the scientific and nutrition fields.  Even so, adopting even a few aspects of the Paleolithic diet could prove to be extremely beneficial.

Reducing the fatty meats, processed oils, the milk products, the refined grains, the salt and all the added sugar from our diets would have a dramatic effect on our bodies and our health.  And replacing those foods with high fiber, nutrient rich fruits and vegetables couldn’t hurt either.  So if you’re unhappy with your weight or simply seeking to obtain optimal health, returning to a diet that is closer to your stone-age roots is something you might want to consider.

For more information on the Paleo diet you can follow the links embedded in this article.    There is also an even-handed Wikipedia article with more details here.

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