4 ways to conquer binge eating

Many people struggle with this and it ruins the best of intentions to lose weight or even just maintain your weight. You could be going along happily in your life and then boom, it hits. You know, that hard to ignore urge to binge until you’ve overdone it that ultimately ends in regret, guilt, and food restriction and/or self punishment. What if you could stop yourself before it even happens? It’s possible.

But first, let’s define what a binge truly is. Technically it’s when you are eating something that elicits the feeling of loss of control until you’ve eaten more than is a desired reasonable amount. The quantity and food varies from person to person. Person A could define a personal binge as eating 3 doughnuts while person B could define their personal binge as not until they’ve consumed the whole dozen of doughnuts. Person A could define a personal binge as consuming two servings of potato chips while person B could define their binge as eating the entire family size bag. Make sense? We all have different thresholds in this. No judgement for any quantity, it’s more about when you feel like you’ve lost your sense of self control that leads to feelings of guilt and self punishment. That’s no good for anyone.

So let’s talk about some ways to combat it:

  1. Know your triggers. Understand what sets you off in the first place and then avoid it or prepare for it when necessary. Does going to a party trigger you to binge on the chip bowl? Plan ahead of time and know that you simply can’t hang out around the food table. Does having a giant tub of ice cream in your freezer trigger you to indulge in the entire thing as soon as you’re home alone? Don’t buy it! Does having an argument with your spouse trigger you to run to the pantry and dive into the chocolate chip cookies? Put a post-it note on your pantry door that reminds you to stop and take a few deep breathes before you’re so quick to start eating when food is not what you really need at that moment.
    • Understand this, every habit we have is part of a chain that has multiple links. Each link is attached to the next that produces a result. The key is for you to break the link that results in a binge. It only takes one alteration, like a post-it note, to put a kink in that chain and direct you to a different activity.
  2. Exercise regularly. When we exercise on a regular basis, it keeps a steady stream of endorphins going in our system and helps keep our mood stabilized. It also helps us sleep better and thus, make better decisions throughout the day. Ever been sleep deprived for a few days? Remember how emotional and irrational you were? This is a high risk time for binging. In general, those who exercise just feel better about their health and body and have an easier time maintaining their weight overall.
  3. Start the day with a healthy breakfast. If you are going to skip any meal of the day, don’t let it be this one! Really work hard to eat within 2 hours of waking up and strive for 25-30 grams of protein at that meal. This helps stabilize blood sugars, control hunger later in the day, and thus keeps your mood more even making it less likely for a binge later on. Also, usually when we start our day off healthy, we are more likely to keep it going than when we started our day off not so great (say, with a sugary, high calorie breakfast).
  4. Avoid going more than 3-5 hours without eating. This one just makes sense. If you let yourself get too hungry and the setting is right, a binge is inevitable. Plan for high protein snacks such as cheese sticks, yogurt, deli meat, nuts or high fiber foods such as fresh fruits and veggies to fill in the gaps when meals are spread far apart. Find some other options here.

Lastly, this will be a work in progress for you if you have struggled with binge eating for a long time. The tips I’ve given you will help the person who struggles with occasional episodes of binge eating that they relate to either unhealthy emotions or certain situations that act as triggers for them. I am not referring to someone who has a recognized binge eating disorder which is characterized by behaviors far beyond what is described in this blog post. If you find yourself preplanning binge episodes, eating large quantities of food (in the multiple thousand calorie range) in very short periods of time, purposely eating alone out of embarrassment over the quantity of food eaten, and feelings of “zoning out” and even forgetting what food was consumed during these episodes, you may have an eating disorder and I encourage you to seek professional help from a licensed counselor.

P.S. If you’re looking for online support with like minded moms striving to live a healthier lifestyle, you may be interested in joining my free support group here.

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Jillian McMullen, RDN, CSOWM, LDN

How do I fit alcohol in during the holidays?

Can you believe it? It’s November and the holidays are just around the corner again. I am confident that many of you will have a plan this year and will stick to that plan well. But have you given any thought to alcohol?

Alcohol does a few things – of course it adds a gazillion calories, often unaccounted for. But more importantly, it lowers your inhibitions. So you know those Christmas cookies you swore you would limit to just one? Yeah, you need some self control to stick to that plan and alcohol is going to lower your ability to do that. Double whammy.

I get it. The holidays are a stressful time for a lot of us. Let’s face it, alcohol may be present at just the right time – that work party you didn’t really want to go to in the first place. Or that family gathering that usually ends up in some sort of nonsense argument that you’d rather not be a part of. Or yet again, you go home after a shopping trip you spent way too much money on and now you’re not sure how the electric bill is gonna get paid. Stress. Alcohol, like food, is a quick fix. But only temporary and ineffective long term.

Here are some tips to keep it real and sane this season:

  1. Incorporate alcohol into your plan if you usually indulge. One or two drinks max and then switch to a calorie free seltzer water. Social drinking can also get the best of us. If you continue to drink in a wine glass, but keep it alcohol free, you may surprise yourself how you really don’t notice. And if you don’t usually drink, well don’t start now!
  2. Be aware of calories. Light beer, non-dessert white wines, and liquor in calorie free or low calorie mixers are the lowest options. Dark beers, dessert wines, and fancy drinks can contain up to 800 calories a pop (mudslides, egg nog and rum, margaritas, etc). Know your serving sizes too. Once drink = 12 ounces beer, 4-6 ounces wine, 1 ounce liquor = 100 calories roughly
  3. Destress in other ways. Start with the source of your stress.
    • Lack of time? Find time weekly to do something fun or enjoyable. This may be off your normal routine since the holidays generally keep us busy. Whatever that is for you, just ten minutes of meditation, a few minutes set aside for daily devotions, reading a book, or getting your nails done can make a huge difference mentally.
    • Lack money? Trying a secret santa gift exchange among your extended family, cutting down on the amount of presents you normally buy your friends/family, and simply following a gift budget can all help. Try shopping ahead of time to space it out. It’s only early November and if we’d all start our gift shopping now, it would cut down on a lot of financial stress and keep us from battling the crowds later on. As Dave Ramsey says, Christmas is the same day every year, yet we all act like it’s a surprise emergency!
    • Exercise. We all know this helps with stress yet this will be the first to go when time is slim. Make it a priority this year to walk even if only 20-30 minutes a day. It will help you sleep better and handle any unknowns that come your way better. If you normally do your exercise in the evening, you may have to switch it up and do it in the morning during the holidays with a busier schedule. If you normally take the weekends off, you may need to go ahead and walk on the weekends to make up for missed time on the weekdays. Bottom line, be flexible when your schedule calls for it.
    • In the moment, try aromatherapy. When we are stuck in traffic or at the family dinner and a fight breaks out, it’s tempting to handle stress poorly. But don’t underestimate the power of aromatherapy from essential oils. Personal favorites include wild orange, lavender, and grounding blend. A drop or two can be worn on a diffuser necklace or rubbed between the palms of your hands and inhaled for a quick shot to the limbic brain – the center that controls our emotions.

Let me know what your strategy is going to be this holiday season. Do you have something to add or do you plan do use one of these tips?

P.S. If you’re looking for online support with like minded moms striving to live a healthier lifestyle, you may be interested in joining my free support group here.

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Jillian McMullen, RDN, CSOWM, LDN

My recovery from procrastination and perfectionism

Here we are again. Looking at the same weights I’ve owned for probably fifteen years. Back to the lowest numbers. Again. Another epiphany that I need to pick them up and use them to feel better, look better, have more energy, and everything in between.

Why do we do this to ourselves? I own everything from three pounds to ten pounds and then all of the resistance bands too. I work up to lifting and pulling the hardest strengths until something happens and I get out of the routine. For months. Years even.

This time it was a doctor’s appointment. I’ve had chronic pain issues since my first born was a year old. It stems from migraines, which I’ve had since my earliest memories, but the term “chronic” came into play seven years ago. Before then, I was pretty active – running half marathons, participating in power yoga several days a week, and pretty committed to cardiovascular exercise on a daily basis. We all know how it is though, life gets busy after kids, work, and compounding responsibilities and then there is no more time to fit in self care. Until you have no choice.

That’s where I’m at. I’m sure many of you are in the same boat. You need to do something, but you’re not sure where to start because the only time you remember feeling your best was when you actually had the time and energy to do the things you know you should be doing. Problem is, you have neither now. Life is different and you don’t know where to start.

If you are like me then you probably have a tendency to push yourself until you just can’t anymore. You have multiple responsibilities and if something is going to go, it’s probably exercising and eating healthy. Until you’re crashing and sitting in a doctor’s office or your bed wondering how you ended up that way. You’ve heard the airplane analogy, so you know you’re supposed to put your oxygen mask on first, but you haven’t. Until you’re forced to. Read on. This is for you.

Here are a few strategies I’ve learned along the way that I believe will help you (like they do for me, when I implement them):

  1. The days of perfection are over. Did you know procrastination is the most common form of perfectionism? We hold off until “just the right time” to get started until we are pushed with our backs against the wall. And then we use the excuse” if i had more time, I would of had better results.” Ironic, huh? Remember this, moving forward in imperfection is ALWAYS better than not moving forward at all.
  2. Decide the goals you are working towards and write them down. With pen and paper. It’s a psychological thing when we do this that scientifically makes it more likely we will follow through with our goals (even more so than typing them.) And include realistic deadlines to avoid procrastination. Be sure to break your larger goals down to smaller, more manageable ones.
  3. Plan ahead in a realistic manner. Go ahead and pick out the days you plan to exercise. What meals you’re going to have. Grocery shop for the week. And then realize it may all go down the tubes anyway. Refer to #1. You may have decided to wake up thirty minutes early every morning to get in some exercise, but there will be days that you oversleep the alarm clock anyway. So what? You can always settle for a fifteen minute walk on your lunch break at work instead. Something is better than nothing.
  4. Go tell someone. I know that being accountable is no fun. It means you’re being really real about it this time. Pick someone that will actually hold you accountable though. Not just someone that will be a cheerleader and pat you on the back when you had a bad day. We all need that, but even more so, we need someone that isn’t afraid to call us out when we aren’t doing what we said we’d do. Your word is your integrity.
  5. Avoid catastrophizing. This is perhaps the biggest tip that has helped me over the years. It means you are using your energy productively rather than by viewing things worse than they actually are. Believe me, I know when situations look dire that it’s tempting to set giant goals that you know would turn your life completely around for the better. Unfortunately that usually leads to failure or procrastination and ultimately, more defeat. If you want to lose 100 pounds, break it down into ten pound increments. If you want to be fit enough to run a half marathon, pick one scheduled six months or more from now and get to training, one mile at a time.

We are nearly eight weeks away from the holidays. What is it that you’ve been procrastinating on? Let me know in the comments!

P.S. If you are up to beginning this journey with me starting Monday, October 2, head over here for the details and how to join my support group where we will be having weekly live chats and goal setting sessions.

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Jillian McMullen, RDN, CSOWM, LDN

5 Excuses why we don’t exercise (and how to bust through them)

We all have that one friend who loves to exercise. They swear by it and if they miss a day, everyone knows about it because they claim to feel terrible. You wanna be like them. Well maybe not just like them, but you want to at least want to exercise.But as of this post, you can’t remember the last time you actually did exercise. I’m gonna help you out and just lay all of the most common excuses for why exercise is so easy to justify not doing and then tell you why they are totally false. Sound good? If you read on, you may no longer use these excuses. Fair warning.

Excuse #1: I don’t have enough time. Well join the club. I’m gonna give you a little eye-opener though – think of the last really good book you read. Like, Hunger Games/Fifty Shades Trilogy good (whatever you thing is). How long did it take you to read all 3 books? Be honest. How did you make the time? Stay up all night? Make the kids cook their own dinner? Skip a tv show or two? Here’s the deal- we make time for what we want. It comes down to priorities. I’m not telling you to stop scrolling on Facebook (although we all could probably benefit from less time spent there), but I am telling you to evaluate how you spend your time if this is the excuse you hold near and dear.

Tips to bust through it: Wear a pedometer. I highly recommend the Omron HJ325. It doesn’t cost much and is one of the more accurate step counters I have used it for years. Could be a FitBit if you want to get more fancy and track your heart rate, sleep quality, and time. Exercise is great, but it’s more about being physically active throughout the day. I talk about step goals here. Break it up if you are really that strapped for time. Say, two to three fifteen walk breaks daily instead of one 45 minute walk around the neighborhood. Most of us can find an extra ten or fifteen minutes here and there throughout our day where we are wasting time and could be walking. Step counters make you more aware of how you can fit in “accidental” activity as well (i.e. stairs, parking farther away, walking allll the way over to your colleague’s cubicle instead of sending an email, etc). If you need to sneak in resistance training, keep a set of hand weights by your couch to do while watching television, bring resistance bands to work and learn exercises that are easy to do between phone calls. Multitask!

Excuse #2: I’m exhausted. I get it. I have two kids, church commitments, a part-time job, and I own a business. My day usually starts at 5:30 a.m. and ends around 10:30 p.m. I’m sure you have lots of your own stuff that wears you out. Thing is, being exhausted is often a symptom of physical inactivity. Ouch. Energetic people are in motion.

Tips to bust through it: If you need to get up and go first thing when you wake up, before you have time to talk yourself out of it, then put your shoes by the door and clothes by the bathroom sink where you go to brush your teeth. Make it a habit. When I used to work full time, I would bring my clothes with me to work and go for a long walk or run in the neighborhood behind our building before I got in the car to go home. I knew myself and once I got in the door, not only would the day catch up, but the evening responsibilities would swallow me up too. Other days I would take two or three short walk breaks to total 20-30 minutes a day just to stay awake! Working at a desk job with no windows will zap your energy alone.

Excuse #3: I hurt too much. This is possibly one of the more difficult challenges to bust through. Little known fact: I’m a chronic pain sufferer myself. So again, I get it. Here’s what I know about chronic pain – the more you sit around and think about it, the worse it gets. The less you move, the worse it gets. If you have pain, it is MORE of a reason to move, NOT less. If you’re complaining because of common post exercise muscle soreness, well that’s supposed to happen and it’s a good thing. If you work muscles that aren’t used to moving, they’re naturally gonna revolt on you. Over time, this won’t happen so much as you get stronger. To some degree, you always want to feel some soreness as a sign that you are challenging yourself a bit, but not to a point that it’s painful.

Tips to bust through it: Modify. Not everyone was meant to run cross country or train for triathlons. That’s okay. In fact, one of the best exercises you can do is walk. If you are going for general health, thirty minutes most days is the goal. If you are aiming to lose and maintain weight loss, you’ll need to go for 45-60 minutes most days. If you have an injury that keeps you from walking that much, try bicycling, swimming, or even seeing a physical therapist if you need to. Point is, you can always find something that will work for you if you seek and ask for help. In the long run, you may even experience less pain. Win-win!

Excuse #4: I really don’t like to exercise. This is my favorite! Saying this is like saying “I don’t like food, so I won’t eat.” There are just way too many choices to say that kind of statement. What you are really saying is “I don’t have any reason not to exercise, I just don’t want to.” Sorry, this just isn’t an excuse.

Tips to bust through it: Be willing to try new things. Walking sound boring? Get a partner to pass the time. Try group classes. Change it up and alternate activities. If you like sports, remember that counts as activity, so find a local team that meets for fun. Is the gym intimidating? Go during off hours when not many people are there. You could always skip the gym altogether and stay home and do videos on YouTube, purchase exercise DVDs, or walk outdoors. There are just too many options to try to say you don’t like any of it.

Excuse #5: It’s too hot, too cold, raining, snowing outside. It’s always one of these things outside. Where I live, we get about two weeks of Fall weather (so, when it’s none of those things), another two weeks of semi-cold, and the other 48 weeks are hot and/or raining. So this excuse can be made a lot.

Tips to bust through it: Go early before the elements kick in. Go later in the evening after the sun has gone down. When it’s colder, go mid-day when the sun is at peak. If it’s raining or during the summer when temperatures reach heat-stroke warning highs, be flexible and go indoors. I’ve given you lots of options already of what to do inside. Some gyms offer month to month memberships. If you live by a mall, most of them open early enough before the shops so that you can go walking inside. Don’t worry about looking silly, everyone else is in there doing the same thing!

This just about covers the main excuses for why people don’t exercise. I’ve used them all. You’ve probably used some, too. In addition to the tips I’ve given you to bust through them, I’ve also been able to lessen my pain and increase my energy by using the right vitamins and nutritional supplements. So many of us walk around with vague symptoms like fatigue, achy joints, and daily headaches and don’t realized it can be linked to a simple nutrient deficiency. Our food supply and many of the vitamins on the market today are stripped of the vital nutrients our bodies need to feel our best. If you’d like to know more about the brand I use and trust, feel free to contact me.

So tell me, are you ready to bust through these excuses? If you are, you may want some accountability. I’m beginning a 30 day Fitness Challenge on Monday, July 17, to take us through the rest of summer. If you want in, click here to join and for directions to get in.

P.S. If you’ve been looking for support, you’ve come to the right place, request to join my online support group for all things nutrition and weight loss support.

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Jillian McMullen, RDN, CSOWM, LDN

Keto diet- is it everything and more?

Several weeks ago, I began a diet review series and I did a brief synopsis of the Keto Diet. I admit it wasn’t very thorough and because I keep seeing it pop up and another friend starting it, another friend losing weight with it, and another person swearing by it for their increased energy, I’m gonna do a more thorough review here. I especially see my friends in the holistic communities doing it- and it’s spreading faster than the Whole 30 diet once was.

Is this the newest fad that will be replaced by something better in a couple of years? Or is it here to stay and in several years we are going to see evidenced based research popping up at how it’s the best diet that we never knew existed and if we just figured out how healthy fat was for us earlier, maybe we wouldn’t be seeing the rise of heart disease, obesity, cancer, and other related diseases that we do today?

Well, let’s start with what it even is. Roughly 70-75% fats (you read right), 5-10% carbohydrate, and 20-25% protein. As you can see this is not your normal low carb diet that typically replaces the missing carbs with protein. It’s all about the fat. Why? Because the purpose of this diet is to put your body into ketosis, aka a fat burning machine. Just to give you a little science lesson here, our bodies preferred source of fuel is glucose (what carbs are converted to after we eat them). Now if you are eating a diet high in carbs, that is what you will burn first for energy. And everything requires energy in our bodies to function properly, including our brains. When the body runs out of glucose (will happen if you aren’t eating very many carbs), the liver is great at producing a back up, called ketones. Ketones come from broken down fat. Make sense?

So why do people do this? I dunno about you, but while a high fat diet sounds pretty fun to me, a diet made of mostly fat doesn’t. But there are lots of anecdotal reports of promising results when one follows this kind of diet. I’ll start with two that have evidenced-based research backing the claims up (because you know me, that’s what I’m about.)

Note: it was very difficult for me to find any studies published prior to 2017 (soooo….6 months ago) that called a ketogenic diet low carb high fat. Be aware of that because any other “ketogenic” diet before that in the research was defined as “low carb, high protein.” There is a huge difference and that’s not what we are talking about here. I worked with patients and personally participated in 2 published studies on very low calorie high protein, low carb diets for 7 years.

Weight loss: this article  published in 2013 reviewed 12 different studies and found in 1415 subjects, the average weight loss after 6 months on a high fat, low carb diet was 2 pounds vs. 1.6 pounds for those following a low fat diet. After a 6 month follow up it was difficult to assess because compliance was not so great and they consumed more carbs than allowed. Another study published in 2009 was done for a full year on 106 obese individuals and compared weight loss of those on a keto diet vs a low fat, high carb diet. They found that their average weight loss was the same between groups, both losing an average of 30 pounds. Pretty good, but neither diet was superior to the other. It just showed that following a reduced calorie diet yields weight loss.

I will add here that I’ve always said, I’ve failed at what I do if I helped you lose weight but you regained it all back. I don’t think we know enough about this diet for the purposes of weight loss to know if it’s not just another yo yo plan. Sorry.

Lipid levels: In the same 2013 review, they analyzed 1258 subjects and found their triglycerides decreased significantly, and their HDL levels increased significantly. Both good things. I like that and the amount of subjects is enough to say it’s valid.

Other indicators of Metabolic Syndrome: The 2013 review noted there was no significant difference between treatment groups in changes in systolic blood pressure (11 trials), fasting blood glucose (eight trials), insulin (six trials), HbA1c – average blood glucose over three months (four trials) and C-reactive protein (four trials).

Athletic performance: In this 2017 review, they concluded that long-term low carb, high fat diets appear to be safe and may even improve several metabolic risk factors for chronic diseases in the general population. They may even provide a promising way to help control body weight and fat mass while maintaining lean body mass in athletes who are participating in sports like tae kwan do, wrestling, lightweight rowing, cycling, and running. Additionally, there is some emerging evidence that a keto diet could improve the performance in ultra-endurance sports as well as those sports with repeated high intensity activities. If you aren’t an athlete, this could still be a good thing if you’re hitting up the gym and wanna try out that new cycling class.

Focus and Mood: this has been one result that many believers love the most. And why I believe they stick with it. Who wouldn’t when you feel great, you’re losing weight, and you’re better able to focus? Who doesn’t need that? Here’s what the available research says: in a 2009 study, they found that after 8 weeks, those following both low carb, high fat diet and a low fat diet had significant improvements in their mood and cognitive functions. However, after a year, the low carb, high fat diet returned to their baseline mood and cognitive functions while those on the low-fat diet continued with their marked improvements. You read that right. The low-fat diet group continued with the better mood, NOT the keto group. This study here in 1998 reported similar results on women eating a high carb diet. I’m just the messenger, don’t hate me! Now, I’m not recommending you go eat a bunch of carbs to feel better. Okay?

Here’s the thing, the concept of following a keto diet for weight loss is fairly new in the research world. So you’re not gonna find a whole lot out there to prove it does a whole lot for health yet. You will find a bunch out there to show the benefits of what it does for those with epilepsy unresponsive to medication. It works.

And don’t expect overnight results. It takes time for the body to adapt to ketogenesis. Some sources I’ve read say two weeks, others say up to a couple of months – assuming you don’t go off plan, not even once. So no cheat days allowed. This diet is for the type A strict meal planning types. Those who are willing to keep a food record and count their carbs, fats, and proteins will do best.

I’m a weight loss expert. And here’s what I know about long term, sustainable weight loss. It’s hard. Like, really hard. If you’re looking for a study that proves ANY diet to work and be the ending answer to our obesity epidemic, well good luck. You will surely find that one person who followed a high carb diet and lost 167 pounds and now has kept it off for 13 years. There’s gonna be that person following the Atkins diet since it’s introduction to the dieting world and it’s changed their life forever. And then there’s the rest of the dieting world still looking for what works for them. I did not find anything that said following the ketogenic diet was harmful, not even long term. In fact, quite opposite. So if you wanna try it because you know someone or more than a few someones who are following it and now they look and feel great and you think it’s something that could help you, well let me know! I’m always looking to be inspired by someone’s dieting success story.

P.S. If you’re looking for online support with like minded moms striving to live a healthier lifestyle, you may be interested in joining my free support group here.

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Jillian McMullen, RDN, CSOWM, LDN

Is a very low calorie diet right for me?

Have you ever considered going on a very low calorie diet, aka VLCD, to lose weight? Maybe you don’t even know what it is – rest assured, you probably have heard of them just not by this term. Some of you remember (or at least heard about) when Oprah melted before her audience’s eyes in the 80s after following the Optifast plan. More recently, you or someone you know is probably following the HCG diet plan. Both of these are VCLD plans. So let’s review them.

There are several types in existence on the market today – some with fancy names like the ones mentioned, but they all have one thing in common – they involve consuming 800 calories per day or less. Their means to achieve this intake vary from consuming meal replacements to following strict meal plans and some include taking supplements, injections, and/or appetite suppressants. Their calorie ranges typically go from 500 to 800 per day. The goal is to create rapid weight loss in a short period of time. As you can imagine, these types of diets can be very effective.

I am very familiar with the concept as I personally worked with clients in group and individual settings following a VLCDs for seven years. Our chosen modality was Optifast meal replacements because it is a product that can only be purchased at a clinical facility and a diet like this really needs to be followed under medical supervision. On this program, dieters get a choice of high protein shakes, bars, and soups totaling 800 calories per day. Some required appetite suppressants, but that was determined on an individual basis.

I will mention the HCG diet here too because it is the most common VLCD that I hear about in recent days. Simply put, it’s a 500 calorie strict meal plan paired with injections of human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG), a natural hormone that the body produces during pregnancy. Yea, sounds weird to be used for a weight loss diet, huh? Well, according to the website, “HCG releases stored fat to ensure the growing fetus during pregnancy receives the nutrients it needs to grow and develop normally. When HCG is taken in non-pregnant women and men, the body still releases the stored fat. Because there is no fetus present, however, the body uses the stores for energy or eliminates the rest. This enables the body to release stored toxins and fat. Abnormal fat is lost, leaving normal or structural fat and muscle tissue. This means you lose weight in those stubborn areas–hips, thighs, buttocks and upper arms!” 

Unfortunately, this just isn’t true and there is zero scientific backing that it actually works. In fact, if you look at the fine print directly on the website, you will find this little gem of an FDA statement: 

“HCG has no known effects on fat mobilization, appetite or sense of hunger, or body fat distribution. HCG has not been demonstrated to be effective adjunctive therapy in the treatment of obesity. There is no substantial evidence that it increases weight loss beyond that resulting from caloric restriction, that it causes a more attractive or “normal” distribution of fat, or that it decreases the hunger and discomfort associated with calorie restricted diets.”

I don’t like to be the bearer of bad news, but I will tell the truth, even when it hurts. So why do people lose weight on this diet? Because it’s only 500 calories.

During my seven year tenure with the Optfast program, I had the privilege of being a part of some fantastic success stories. People losing 50-100 pounds or more in just twelve short weeks. It was amazing and a true honor to see such transformation in the lives of people who would start the program feeling totally defeated from a lifelong history of yo yo dieting and failed attempts at exercise programs, demoralized by what they saw in the mirror, the number they saw on the scale, and horrified by the clothes they had to wear. Some of them would come because it was their one last big try before considering anything permanent like weight loss surgery. And I would watch them literally melt away before my eyes and go out and do things they never thought they could do again – tandem skydiving, mule rides in the grand canyon, mountain hiking, cross their legs, and tie their shoes.

But after seven years, the program needed to be ended because more than 75% of the success stories became another yo yo story. Almost every single person regained all of their weight back and then often more. It wasn’t for a lack of guidance to a gradual transition back to real food. That was provided along with weekly support. But they had to choose to participate and most didn’t.

Why is this? Because while you are in the weight loss phase, it’s fun, exciting, and you feel on top of the world. The maintenance part is where the real work begins. On a VLCD there is no planning or thinking involved – “eat this/drink this, move on with life and watch the pounds melt off.” In maintenance, you have to deal with real food choices and decisions between fried and grilled chicken, an extra bite of birthday cake, running through the drive through on a busy day, pre-packing lunch for work, and the normal weight fluctuations that come along with it. Exercise is more important than ever, something that is restricted while on the plan. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends those maintaining significant weight loss exercise 45-60 minutes most days.

So in summary, do I recommend VLCD as viable method of weight loss? Yes and no. They are extremely effective when safely monitored by a trained health care professional for getting the weight off and doing it quickly. If someone requires this for a lifesaving surgical operation, say they need to lose weight to repair a life-threatening hernia, remove a cancerous tumor, or it is a precursor to weight loss surgery itself – then it is a fantastic option. Nevertheless, I’ve seen some people have massive success and maintain it off in the long term. But those are the exception and are the rare, dedicated types that follow all of the rules. They calorie count, rarely go off their meal plan, exercise the recommend 60 minutes daily, live an active lifestyle overall, and eat breakfast daily, drink plenty of water, and keep themselves accountable with the scale on a daily basis. They also see their health care providers regularly for outside accountability.

Lifelong weight management is just that – it’s lifelong. No matter how you get it off, it is something that will always have to be at the forefront of your mind. Unfortunately, VLCD plans are too much of a “on the diet, off the diet” approach to create those necessary habits for sustained success.

P.S. If you’re looking for online support with like minded moms striving to live a healthier lifestyle and lose weight, you may be interested in joining my free support group here.

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Jillian McMullen, CSOWM, RDN, LDN

Why you need to do more than just go to the gym

Have you ever gotten on a gym kick and decided you were gettin’ that membership, signing up for that personal trainer, and committing to going daily? And then after a week or two got on the scale expecting to see the pounds just melt off? I mean, you’ve been working your tail off and you can barely open a pickle jar these days because your arms hurt so bad. It’s only fair that the scale should be at least ten pounds down. At least.

But that’s not what happens. In fact, you gained weight.

Your personal trainer tells you some line about muscle gains. But deep down you know it’s unlikely. You hurt but not enough to justify two pounds of muscle in seven days for God’s sake. So why did this happen?

Here are some possible reasons:

  1. You didn’t change your diet to coincide with this newfound lease on exercise. And more often than not, people increase their caloric intake because naturally, you feel hungrier with the extra calorie burn and you eat to match that hunger. Or, feelings of “earning” that extra slice of pizza creep in- I mean seriously, your personal trainer was pretty hard on you today.
  2. You did change your diet, but you’ve cut your calories way too low and now your body has gone into starvation mode (i.e. storage factory for calories because you’re burning them and cutting them and your metabolism doesn’t know what to do with that.) Side note: this is usually not the case, but it’s worth mentioning for anyone who has cut their calories <1000. Our bodies are better at protection from famine than we given it credit for.
  3. You’ve increased your carb intake either with protein shakes from the gym’s ultra fancy smoothie bar or any extra post-work out snack full of carbs and now your body is storing it all with water because that’s what carbs cozy up with and leave you feeling bloated.
  4. The most likely cause: you’ve given yourself permission to sit on the couch for the rest of the day and you aren’t living a physically active lifestyle. Did you know people who live a physically active lifestyle are actually healthier than those who just go to the gym and do nothing else? Were gyms even a “thing” for non-athletes twenty or thirty years ago?

So let’s talk about getting physically active. Because prior to the computer age, desk jobs weren’t so common. But now that we are spending most of our lives sitting down, at a computer, we have to be more aware of what many health professionals call “the sitting disease.” If you are spending seven hours or more sitting (watching television, reading a book/newspaper, playing/working on your phone or tablet, or at your computer), you are at risk. Recent studies have suggested that is is just as bad for our health as smoking. Smoking!!

Let’s be clear – being physically active is not the same as exercise. And this can be good news for those of us that don’t particularly care for planned exercise. A study done at Mayo Clinic compared something they called non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT) between self proclaimed “couch potatoes”  and people who were more physically active. NEAT includes activities like laughing, fidgeting, standing, walking, and talking. Both sets of groups wore underwear that measured their every move, day and night.

What they found was that the people who were able to turn on their NEAT did NOT gain fat when they were overfed by 1000 calories daily. People who didn’t turn on their NEAT gained TEN TIMES more fat. Can you believe that??

So how can you apply this to your life?

I suggest getting yourself a good pedometer so that you can track your daily steps. I really like the Omron HJ325. You will quickly find that you probably walk less than 3000 steps per day and that’s not good. It’s easier than you think to increase this though. Just ten minutes at a time is enough to count as a walking activity. So, plan for three, ten minute walks a day and you are doing the same thing as if you decided to do a thirty minute walk all at once. But, you are more likely to stay consistent with this routine.

Why? Because let’s say you always walk for thirty minutes after work. Inevitably something is going to happen after work every so often – you get a flat tire, the kids have a ball game, you’re too tired, you get caught at work late, etc. However, if you split it up, you still at least got twenty minutes in and you’re only out those ten minutes after work. Make sense? So commit to splitting it up. The other benefit of this is, most of us won’t have to get on any special work out clothes or take a shower after a ten minute walk.

So how many steps are enough? Your first goal will be to work your way up to 5000 to get out of the sedentary zone. Then, keeping in mind if you have been a total couch potato, work yourself up without beating yourself up using the below chart. Another way to look at is, if the amount of steps you are walking is meeting your weight goals (i.e. you are maintaining or losing), then it’s enough. If it’s not (so, you’re gaining weight), well then you need to add steps or cut back on your calorie intake.

Also, think of your typical day now. Are there times when you could be standing rather than sitting? For example, could you move that piece of exercise equipment that is holding up your clothes to a place in front of your tv? Could you stand while taking phone calls at work instead of sitting? Can you take the stairs rather than an elevator? Park a little further away? This stuff adds up.

Whether you like going to the gym or not, it’s important to remember that it’s about our lifestyle as a whole when it comes to weight loss and weight maintenance. Set some daily goals starting now and you’ll be surprised how far you can go over the next six months.

P.S. If you’ve been looking for support, you’ve come to the right place, request to join my online support group for all things nutrition and weight loss support.

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Jillian McMullen, CSOWM, RDN, LDN