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Want to Lose Weight? Honor Your Hormones. Here's Why.

"Gosh, I'm so fat. I need to lose weight!"

How many of you have muttered this phrase, either to yourself or someone else?

Over my years in the fitness industry, I've heard many people, men and women alike, wishing and working hard to "lose weight". These folks go on all kinds of calorie-reducing diets, from low-carb to the South Beach Diet to Atkins to low-fat to some celebrity-endorsed gobbledygook, while excitedly signing up for various fitness memberships, in the hope of losing that weight.

I know you've likely read many an article explaining how weight loss is dependent on preserving lean muscle mass through proper training and nutrition and paying attention to overall caloric intake, as well as the type of nutrients consumed. Yes, this works brilliantly for many people, and I've been down that path before as well, with great success. HOWEVER, as soon as one's life situation changes- be it a change of job, loss of a loved one, birth of a baby, family and relationship issues, relocation, a birthday, or health problems- weight loss using this simple approach has a way of... stopping completely. 

 

When I began my own fitness journey using this method to get in shape, I initially saw good results and was able to repeat those results consistently, as needed. Now that I'm in my 30s, however, I have to admit that my body is responding in quite a different manner than when I was in my 20s. Who can relate to this? Hello, 30s! The old "exercise more/eat less" and "train hard/eat clean" model no longer works for me as effectively. I instead observed that I more easily gained fat, specifically in the famous women's "trouble" spots: lower tummy, love handles, abdominal, thighs, back, and arms- in that order.

This sparked my natural curiosity to search for the truth behind what was going on with my body, despite following the calorie counting model. I eventually came to realize that after all these years, I'd been looking at weight loss from a faulty lens. 

The epiphany: Our hormones play a massive role in our body shape, and losing weight is different from losing fat! The latter is actually the ultimate aim of what most of us actually want, but we tend to overlook the difference. 

To lose fat, we have to first understand the impact that hormones have, and work towards keeping the hormonal system in harmony. When we keep our hormones in balance, the fat and weight loss journey becomes a breeze. Ok, maybe not a breeze, but you catch my drift!

Losing body fat, especially for women, is tricky. We have our menstrual cycle to consider. And, for some of us, we take the life-changing 9-month path of carrying another human being in pregnancy. Our bodies are constantly changing with our hormonal cycle. 

So what exactly is fat loss- what's the difference? And what do hormones have to do with it?

Weight loss is simply losing kilos measured on the weighing scale. However, that does not necessarily indicate a change in body shape and more importantly, body fat percentage. I hate to be crude, but it's like going from a bigger marshmallow to a smaller one- the weight may have dropped a bit, but the shape and contents are still pretty much the same. 

Fat loss, on the other hand, is a reduction in total body fat percentage. Some machines are able to measure the differences in visceral fat (fat near the organs which you cannot pinch) and subcutaneous fat  (fat under the skin which you can pinch). This is a healthier approach than just focusing on weight loss. However, sometimes you may notice that despite losing fat, you feel moody, lethargic, cranky, hungry and crave sweets all the time.

Hormonal fat loss, on the other hand, takes into account finding a unique plan that works specifically for your body, with the aim of balancing your hormones first, so that when a nutrition and training program come into play, the results you're dying to have actually happen for you.

How many times have you attempted to go on a diet, only to gain back what you've lost later, as it was not sustainable to maintain for life?

That is because these traditional programs are primarily looking at calorie-counting. Calories impact hormones, and hormones affect our mood, sleep, hunger, energy and cravings- and thus may take us off the track of a diet. 

The truth is, you do not have to feel trapped into counting exact calories or chasing a number on the scale in order to lose body fat. You can lose weight and still feel healthy and vibrant and free, instead of miserable. When your energy is at its peak and you're seeing your shape change, that is a good sign that your hormones are in harmony. This is when you've found an individualized lifestyle regimen that works for you to keep fat loss sustainable, long-lasting, and manageable.

A hormonally-based fat loss approach may take a bit of trial and error at first, like a crime detective at work, but when you look at the overall big picture and the "why" behind your goals, you have a far greater chance of sticking with your commitment.  Remember, when you treat your health right, the aesthetics will follow. It just takes time! 

 In love, health and wellness,

- Yan

 

Yan Huang is Tangram's Hormonal Nutrition Consultant and Metabolic Personal Trainer. Read more about Yan on our About page, or book an appointment with Yan through our Contact page. Do you have a question for Yan? Leave your thoughts in the comments section or reach out to us! Did you like this article? Please share the love!

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A NEAT Way to Burn Calories

Forget the bus- bike to work!  

Forget the bus- bike to work!  


 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
With 2014 less than twelve weeks away, I’ve been getting an increasing number of emails and phone calls requesting assistance in body transformation to ring in the new year. As you already know, losing weight and keeping it off requires a lot of dedication, hard work, and at times, discomfort. Changing habits, sweating regularly, and carving out five to ten hours per week for fitness can be a real challenge in the first few months, when these behaviors are still new and thus, intimidating. While some people are ready to take the transformation plunge and fully commit to a new way of living, many others just aren’t prepared to do so yet. There are additional strategies that you can incorporate into your daily routine which will still help you get to your goals while easing you into a more physical lifestyle. One of those strategies I’m going to address today is NEAT, otherwise known as non-exercise activity thermogenesis.

Non-exercise activity thermogenesis is defined by Dr. James Levine, an expert on obesity and pioneering researcher on NEAT, as the energy we expend for everything we do that isn’t sleeping, eating or sports-like activity. NEAT could be anything from walking or cycling to work, shopping, cooking, taking the stairs instead of the escalator, folding the laundry, walking while chatting on the phone, or even fidgeting. In fact, new research shows that fidgeters – people who restlessly move their hands, feet, arms or legs—expend an average of 352 additional calories each day! And, those who actively incorporate NEAT can burn an average of 269 to 477 calories per day, and up to 1,000 calories per day by some estimates. Research also shows that obese people are far more sedentary than lean people, sitting an average of 150 minutes more per day. Mounting evidence shows that there is a strong and direct correlation between levels of NEAT and body fat composition.

While there’s no substitute for a challenging, heart-pumping workout, adding more NEAT into your routine is proven to be beneficial for weight loss and overall health. Here are thirty ideas for daily NEAT activities that you can incorporate into your life to move more and burn more:

Out and about:
1. Shift your weight from one foot to the other while waiting in line at the store
2. Take the stairs instead of the escalator or elevator
3. Take a longer route to walk to your destination
4. Perform calf raises while waiting for your coffee or tea at the café
5. Pace while waiting for the MRT
6. Run with your dog
7. Jog from errand to errand
8. Speed walk through the airport while waiting for your flight
9. Don’t just window shop- try on lots of clothes!
10. Perform arm curls with your grocery bags or water bottle

At the office:
11. Walk to work
12. Jog in place while at the water cooler
13. Walk to the bathroom furthest from your desk, instead of using the closest one
14. Walk to a coworker’s desk instead of calling or texting 
15. Walk around the office for 10 minutes each hour
16. Squat over your chair ten times every hour
17. Walk while on your coffee break
18. Use a Standing Desk
19. Perform walking lunges when traveling between conference rooms
20. Jog or bike home from work

At home:
21. Get up and walking around every time a commercial comes on TV
22. Do squats as you change the channels on the remote control
23. Play fetch or tug of war with your dog
24. Cook at home- slice lots of veggies!
25. Wash dishes by hand
26. Sweep and mop the floor
27. Tend to an herb garden
28. Wash your own car by hand
29. Dance in the shower (just don’t slip!)
30. Waltz with your baby

How NEAT is that? What types of daily activities do you do that increase your NEAT levels? Are you paying more attention to how much time you spend sitting vs. moving? Leave your thoughts in the comments section- I’d love to hear from you! 

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Losing Weight Without Food Logs and Calorie Counting

Healthy eating doesn't need to be complicated. Explore to see what works for you!

Healthy eating doesn't need to be complicated. Explore to see what works for you!


Q: I am trying to lose weight and clean up my eating habits, but I dislike counting calories and keeping a food log. What can I do instead? 

A: Many health and fitness professionals, including myself, advise some of their clients who are trying to lose weight to track their eating habits and macronutrient intake for at least the first few weeks of a program. With so many iPhone apps and software packages available to log daily nutritional intake on the go, keeping a food diary has never been easier. One app I recommend checking out is MyFitnessPal, which lists a lot of local dishes, including many hawker food favorites. That said, it can be complicated to figure out exact portion size and to have to scroll through a slew of food options every time you sit down to have a meal or snack. Some people just don’t have the patience for it and if it’s not a habit that you feel you can adopt for the long haul, there’s really no point in trying to force yourself. Fortunately, you can still lose weight without counting calories. Here are five alternative strategies that will help you slim down and shape up without the food journal:

Adopt a Low Energy-Dense Diet: Studies show that people who adopt a diet comprised of low energy-dense foods (foods high in micronutrients and water, higher in fiber, and low in fat) are able to lose weight successfully without having to keep tabs on the caloric content of their meals. Low energy-dense foods include unprocessed carbohydrates (fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and beans) and lean protein sources (lean meats, fish, poultry, eggs and egg whites, low-fat dairy). A low energy-dense diet is typically more satiating and higher in total volume of foods consumed due to the high water and fiber content. Increased bulk leads to a greater feeling of fullness after eating, which prevents overeating.

Eliminate Packaged and Processed Foods: One tip I pass on to all my clients is to skip the middle aisles of the grocery store- where all the processed food hangs out- and only shop at the perimeter. Processed foods typically contain many harmful ingredients and are filled with empty calories that will do little for your body other than expanding your waistline. Trans fats contained in many processed foods like cakes and crackers contribute to tens of thousands of premature heart disease deaths each year.  Additionally, processed foods do not require as much energy to digest as compared to whole foods, and do not stimulate the metabolism in the same manner. A recent study found that people burned 50 percent more calories eating whole foods than they did processed foods. Processed food is bad news- skip it!

Increase Protein and Decrease Carbohydrate Intake: It is well established that a high protein, low fat diet increases thermogenesis (creation of heat in the body, which burns calories), promoting greater weight loss than a more typical high carbohydrate diet. High protein diets (30% protein, 40% carbohydrates, 30% fat) are shown to increase energy expenditure by 80-100 calories per day when compared to a normal diet (10% protein, 60% carbohydrates, 30% fat). Many people simply don’t eat as much protein as their body needs. Additionally, protein will make people feel fuller for a longer period of time by triggering glucose production in the small intestine. Protein is also known to reduce appetite overall.

Read Food Labels: Ask yourself this: on a daily basis, do you have any idea what you’re actually putting into your body? Do you eat food items that have ingredients you can’t pronounce?  Reading food labels and doing the homework to research the items you’re not familiar with will encourage a greater awareness about the relationship between food and your body, as well as tipping you off to items that may not be so healthy after all. For instance, are you eating BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene), a very common additive found in nearly every packaged food item? It’s linked to cancer and can cause liver damage, as well as being used to make jet fuels and embalming fluid. How about high fructose corn syrup, a sweetener found on many food labels? Studies show that it contributes to weight gain, obesity, and diabetes. Getting to know your food will lead you to make healthier choices.

Develop Meal Mindfulness: When we sit down to eat, we often don’t take the time to enjoy our food; to consider its origin, production and nutrition quality; or to pay attention to how it feels on our tongue and in our bellies. Mindful eating is the practice of being fully and deliberately aware of the experience of eating, from the very first thought about food (“I think I’m hungry. I want something salty”), to the sensation of chewing, to ruminating about the journey that particular meal or food item had to take in order to arrive on your plate. Mindful eating is paying close attention to the textures, smells, sights, sounds and flavors of your food.  A growing body of research shows that mindful eating can assist in weight loss, reduce emotional or “stress” eating, and help people make better food choices over time.

Do you count your calories on a regular basis? If not, have you adopted one or more of the strategies listed above? What has your weight loss experience been like so far? As always, I’d love to hear from you! If you have a fitness or wellness-related question, or would like direct weight loss assistance, email me at aimee@tangramfitness.com.

Be well,
Aimee

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Are You Dieting Yourself Toward Disaster?

Stick with fresh, whole and natural foods. Skip the processed and packaged stuff! 

Stick with fresh, whole and natural foods. Skip the processed and packaged stuff! 

As a health coach and fitness trainer, I hear all sorts of dieting stories, most of which involve calorie consumption far below a person’s resting metabolic rate (RMR) over an extended period of time, which is generally a recipe for disaster. The scenario is always the same; a person reaches a point of desperation regarding weight and/or body image, and clings onto the latest diet fad as their saving grace without actually researching how weight loss works and whether or not what they’re signing up for is effective or safe over the long term. The Master Cleanse. The Hollywood Diet. The HCG Diet. The Cabbage Soup Diet. The Baby Food Diet. The Five Bite Diet. Extended Juice Cleanses. Pills and Cigarettes. The protocols and promises may be different, but they share a common result: rapid weight loss over a short period of time followed by weight gain, depression and a disordered pattern of eating as soon as the individual inevitably veers off a plan that was unsustainable in the first place. I know this all too well not only because of what my clients share with me, but because I ran on this hamster wheel myself, desperate to stay model-thin in my teens and twenties at all costs, even if it meant counting each little pea on my plate or subsisting solely on liquids for weeks on end (I did both, and the end result was not cute).

If women knew how ineffective these diets are over the long term and how they actually contribute to stubborn weight gain down the road, many would think twice about even trying them in the first place. Unfortunately, aggressive diet marketing taps into our fears and vulnerability; before we know it, we’re telling ourselves that maybe this new fad will be the answer. Here’s the fact: when you decrease your food intake well below your resting metabolic rate over a period of weeks or months, you are robbing your body of the essential nutrients it needs to function properly and supplying it with very little energy, which can lead to myriad unpleasant conditions and side effects. Much of the initial weight lost on these diets is not from fat, but from water. Because of this quick shift in water and electrolyte balance, potentially fatal heart disturbances can occur. Cardiac arrhythmias due to catabolism of cardiac tissue during low calorie consumption periods have also resulted in widely documented fatalities. Additionally, major protein loss from muscle and organ tissues is also common, as well as blood sugar instability- that’s almost guaranteed. Is fitting into that dress really worth putting your body through this torture while setting yourself up for failure down the road?

If you’re looking to lose weight safely through dieting and exercise and keep it off over the long term, you must mentally prepare yourself to be patient with the process. We all know that quick fixes usually spell DANGER in the long run. Not sure if the diet you’re considering is legitimate? Here are some things to watch out for:

  • Marketing buzz words like “celebrity,” “endorsed,” “detox,” “cleanse,” “new,” “miracle,” “magic,” or “recently discovered” should trigger warning bells. If there’s no legitimate scientific data from a respected and accredited organization proving effectiveness, it’s probably not worth it.
     
  • Rapid weight loss claims of more than 0.9kg (2 lbs) per week. In these cases, much of the weight lost is usually muscle and water weight, which can lead to medical complications. It’s also important to note that the number on the scale is just one measurement of weight loss- and not a very good one at that. You are better off setting weight loss goals based on losing inches and body fat percentage, not weight. As a personal example, I can tell you that I lost nearly 11% body fat and dropped two dress sizes… but I also gained five pounds. 
     
  • A strict menu or plan with very limited choices that must be followed daily with little or no wiggle room. Are you really going to do this for the rest of your life? What types of nutrients might you be missing out on?
     
  • Reliance on meal supplementation (shakes or bars, for instance) and/or nutrient supplementation (pills, powders) in order for the diet to be effective. These types of diets can be extremely hard on your kidneys, and prohibitively expensive over the long term. What’s worse, regulation of supplement content is lax at best- do you really know what you’re putting inside of your body?

 

  • A diet that promises fantastic results without any exercise. People who exercise regularly- incorporating both cardiovascular activity and strength training- are more successful at keeping off the weight than dieting alone. Perhaps more importantly, exercise boosts self-esteem and self-care, which appears to be the springboard to success in any life shift.

So, what does an effective diet and nutrition program look like? Here’s my ten-point checklist:

1. You should be able to maintain the NUTRITION PLAN over the long-term. Let’s scratch the word “diet” right here, since it generally implies a short-term solution or quick fix. 

2. The nutrition plan should be affordable and all foods should be easily accessible.

3. The nutrition plan should be proven effective through scientific data by credible sources that are not mainly profit-driven. 

4. The nutrition plan focuses on the incorporation of whole, natural foods rather than processed, engineered foods.

5. The nutrition plan does not require you to maintain a caloric intake well below your resting metabolic rate over a long period of time.

6. The nutrition plan does not involve juicing or fasting over more than a few days (and even then, think twice. Fasting and juicing can both have major drawbacks). 

7. The nutrition plan is interesting and keeps your taste buds stimulated. You’re not bored to death with it.

8. You’re able to maintain the nutrition plan on a daily basis, which means that it accounts for the times that you may eat out at a restaurant or have a meal prepared by someone else at a function or party.

9. The nutrition plan is tailored for your life, your body, your preferences and your goals. There’s no “one size fits all” solution.

10. You feel great when you're following it- healthy, vibrant and strong! 

When you embark on any new journey requiring behavior change, remember to be patient with the process and gentle with yourself. There are no miracle cures or insta-fixes worth your time or effort. The process is where you’ll find the greatest rewards, like increased self-efficacy and self-esteem. Take it one step (or bite) at a time, and don’t forget to breathe!

 

Be well!
- Aimee

 

 

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