6 tips for surviving Thanksgiving

I love Thanksgiving. It’s a time to spend with people we care about, pause to be grateful, and we don’t have to purchase any gifts (yet.) I also happen to enjoy cooking on these types of days where I get to pull out recipes that I only cook once or twice a year.

I realize for many of you, this may be stressful because you’ve worked hard all year to lose weight and get your health on a better path. Maybe past years have thrown you off track, led to unwanted weight gain, or worse, started the reversal process of hard work earlier in the year. So how about we not go through another yo yo this year?

Here are some tips that I think will help you out:

  1. Eat breakfast. Possibly it’s been tradition for you to skip all eating occasions prior to the big dinner on the big T day. But this is really a set up for overeating until discomfort. If youve been in the habit of eating a healthy breakfast every morning, wake up like you always do that morning and have your normal breakfast. If you have room for improvement int his area, focus on protein. I’ve talked about this a lot in the past, but it’s really important to start your day off with 25-30 grams of protein to keep from overeating later in the day. If you are needing ideas for what this looks like in a breakfast, click here to get my free list of 25 breakfast ideas with 25 grams of protein.
  2. Get moving. It’s a popular day to sit on the couch, watch football or whatever is on television and relax and eat if you aren’t the one doing the cooking. What if you made a resolve to go for a thirty minute walk or three -ten minute walks? Exercise also helps with energy levels and will help combat that tryptophan crash coming later on. If you want to incorporate it into the day, plan some fun outdoor activities with the family such as tossing the football, tag, hide and seek (with the kids), corn hole, sack races, etc. If you’re in the snow, do snowball fights, bobsledding, make snow angels – whatever it is you do this time of year! (I live in Florida, so it’s realistic to say we could get our bathing suites on a run around in sprinklers!)
  3. Avoid taste-testing a meals worth of calories. This one’s for the cooks. Ever cooked a meal that takes a while and by the time it’s done, you really aren’t hungry? Maybe you eat anyway, especially on a holiday because you’re with a bunch of family and you’d feel bad if you didn’t? If you haven’t sat down for an actual meal at a dinner table in well over three hours, you should feel hungry. If you aren’t, check yourself on the tasting spoons. If we’re being honest, we have prepared most of our traditional Thanksgiving dishes no less than ten times and having one taste test max (if any) is necessary. If you continue to pick at the turkey, grab a spoonful of stuffing, grab a roll, grab a slice of yams, you could end up with 500 calories under your belt (literally) before you’ve even made a plate for yourself.
    • Chew mint gum or metabolic gum (made with essential oils) to help curb cravings and appetite while you are cooking.
    • Keep some fresh raw veggies next to your cooking area like baby carrots, cut up bell peppers, and sugar snap peas to satisfy the need to “munch” while you’re preparing the meal for a fraction of the calories.
    • Limit yourself to one plastic tasting spoon per dish and throw it out after you’ve tried it.
    • Elicit help in the kitchen to keep you accountable or better yet, consider a pot luck style dinner this year.
  4. Slow down before you run for seconds. They aren’t going anywhere. When you’ve finished that first plate, there is a 99% change you’ve had more than enough food, especially on Thanskgiving Day. This year, I challenge you to wait it out 15-20 minutes before you decide if you truly need seconds to feel satisfied with the meal. You may just surprise yourself since it takes the brain that long to get triggered by your body that you’ve had enough to eat.
  5. Review your menu and decide now if anything can be modified. Usually, certain ingredients can be substituted without making any difference in the finished product. Some of my favorites include reducing the sugar by 25-30%, using low fat or fat free milk for whole or 2% milk, fat free half and half for the full fat version, greek yogurt for sour cream, fat free evaporated milk for the full fat version or heavy cream, powdered defatted peanut butter for traditional peanut butter, reducing the nuts by 25%, nuefchâtel cheese for regular cream cheese, and low sugar jelly for the regular stuff.
    • Note some ingredient items can not be changed but a good rule of thumb to remember is that “baking is a science and cooking is an art.” In scientific projects, there are going to be less items that can be modified if you want the final product to come out the same. When cooking, however, you have a lot more flexibility to experiment with and still end up with an excellent result.
  6. Don’t freak out. Just be cool about this. It’s one day. Too often people are off to a great start, wanting to get ahead of the new year’s resolution game only to disappoint themselves on turkey day and fall totally and completely off the wagon until January 1 when everyone else is waking up from their eating and shopping and televisioning slumber. If you do none of the tips I outline in this post but just put your efforts on maintaining your weight and staying on track on every day that ISN’T an actual holiday (so saying no to leftovers, over-eating at holiday parties, binging on christmas cookies at the office) then you will be just fine.

What do you struggle with most during the holidays around your diet? I’d like to know for future blog post topics so I can help you! Comment below!

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

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

9 foods we feel guilty about loving

I thought it might be fun to highlight some foods that you may not be eating in an attempt to stay healthy or may be eating laced with guilt. And put a positive spin on them. I know I have gone through periods of my life where I’ve avoided just about all of these foods because at one time they were deemed “bad for you” and then later as “health foods.” I think it comes down to knowing that if it’s a whole food – as in something you can visualize growing in nature or at least close to it, it’s probably okay, at least in small amounts. Remember there is never going to be a cookie or a pizza tree. But you are always going to see the potato roots and the cows out grazing.

  1. Sugar: earlier this year, I hosted a 30 day “no sugar” challenge and the results were fantastic. Because truly, sugar can be addicting and I’m convinced the only way one can overcome that is through a period of elimination. However, if you are attempting to cut the bitter in your coffee, a packet of sugar is only going to add 15 calories. So don’t sweat it. If it’s someone’s birthday and you want to help them celebrate with a slice of cake, go ahead. If you love an occasional soda with your slice of pizza (they go great together), then have one. The research is strong that consuming drinks and foods made with artificial sweeteners do not help with weight loss.
  2. Whole Milk: for the longest time, fat free or low fat was where it was at. Until recently. In past posts, I’ve discussed how full fat dairy products are linked to decreased risk of diabetes and at best, not linked to increased heart disease risk. Certainly, it is well known milk is an excellent source of calcium and vitamin D, important for bone health.
  3. Bacon: if chosen wisely, bacon can be more than a hunk of fat. It can actually be a tasty source of protein. The natural, uncured, nitrite/nitrate free, center cuts will be higher in protein, less saturated fat and without the unnecessary additives that may be linked to increased cancer risk.
  4. Salt: if you have been diagnosed with heart or kidney disease, then you may have been told to reduce or avoid salt. Have you ever wondered why? It comes down to fluid retention – eat salty foods, get thirsty, drink more water. This isn’t good for someone who is collecting fluid around their heart or lungs or for someone who’s kidneys aren’t filtering the fluids out of their body correctly. For the rest of us, we probably aren’t that salt sensitive and can handle it. For table salt, I recommend pink himalayan salt for the added minerals. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying to go out and eat all the salty processed snacks you can find – they still aren’t considered health foods and contain a ton of additives and preservatives without the nutritional benefits you get from whole foods. But for those of us with normal functioning organs, we can probably handle it for the most part.
  5. Bread: it really depends on the how and why. Are you eating a sandwich? And what is on the sandwich? Usually in this manner, the bread is in two controlled slices and serving a purpose. Unfortunately though, the favorite way to eat bread is in the form of an endless loaf or basket of rolls and tub of butter. It’s really all in context.
  6. Potatoes: no, I’m not talking about sweet potatoes. I’m talking about the good ole white potatoes we all love to demonize. Sure, if you are eating chips or french fries, go ahead and continue to hate them. But what about a baked potato? They are actually rich in folate, niacin, potassium, and and phosphorous. Much of the time, we are eating processed cereals fortified with these minerals, but potatoes are natural sources, which means our bodies can absorb them better. Try a loaded baked potato and salad for lunch or dinner – add plain greek yogurt in place of sour cream for extra protein. And eat the skin for extra insoluble fiber.
  7. Pasta: okay, it’s hard to make this a health food, but hear me out. The problem is when we pile a giant heap of pasta on a plate with an ooey gooey cream sauce and a side of buttery garlic bread. Instead think of what is called the “plate method.” This means, you are filling your plate up with about 25-30% pasta, 50% non starchy vegetables, and 25-30% meat. This could be sectioned out or mixed together in a  pasta dish. Point is, your pasta dish has more vegetables than pasta and the side is a salad not a few slices of garlic bread. Make sense?
  8. Red meat: while I don’t necessarily recommend eating red meat every day, this is a good source of iron and B vitamins if consumed once a week. Remember that cuts like sirloin, round, and flank are considered lean. If choosing a higher fat option, just be sure to cut the visible fat off before consuming. Our bodies are able to absorb minerals easier from meat than plants or fortified sources so if you do eat meat and have trouble with iron, this is a better option. For those of you that are anemic and struggle with iron, you know that taking supplements is no pleasant task because of the side effects. Last week, I talked about choosing grass fed meat, which incidentally tends to be your leanest choice.
  9. Eggs: once thought to be a cause of heart disease, that is no longer true. Eggs are an excellent source of choline, which is important for supporting healthy brain function and liver function. Also an easy, cheap source of protein for not only breakfast, but snack time and lunch or dinner.

Did I give you permission to start eating any of these foods more often? Let me know in the comments.

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

Food safety tips during and after a power outage

Many of us in Florida are dealing with power outages this hurricane season and that means our refrigerated and freezer items are at risk for developing bacteria.  The question that immediately comes up is, is it safe to eat? Perhaps it’s time for a refresher on a few food safety tips:

  1. Cold (refrigerated) foods should be kept at or below 40ºF. Your appliance will have a temperature setting to tell you where it’s at, but try to avoid opening it as much as possible so you don’t let the cool air out. A closed refrigerator that is full should keep the food cold enough for about four hours.  Once the temp drops below 40ºF, you have a two hour window before the food becomes an ideal environment to grow bacteria.
    • Hopefully you’ve stocked up on ice and coolers to start putting your important items in. Personally, I suggest consuming high risk items prior to reaching above 40º such as eggs, mayonnaise and mayonnaise based products such as tuna/potato/chicken salad and any leftovers.
    • Fruits and vegetables will last much longer than two hours and many are shelf stable, so don’t worry too much about these. An exception would be berries and grapes that tend to spoil quickly. Eat those first.
  2. Frozen items should be kept at or below 0ºF. Again, your freezer should tell you this, but don’t open it more than you have to. A full freezer will keep the temperature for approximately 48 hours (24 hours if it is half full).
    • It is best to keep the items close together so they keep each other cold. Once it rises above 0ºF, watch it as many of those items will be okay if cooked before reaching above 40ºF. Unfortunately if they go over that 40ºF past two hours, especially frozen meats, it’s time to throw them out. It’s just not worth the risk of getting sick.
    • Remember, you can put some of your refrigerated items in the freezer to keep them under their 40ºF for a longer period of time and you may be able to save them.
    • Having extra ice packs, even dry ice if you can get some, full tupperware of frozen water, and full frozen ice trays stocked in your freezer can help keep the food at ideal temperatures for as long as possible.
  3. Hopefully you stocked up on nonperishables. If you didn’t, there will likely be a next time and might as well plan sooner than later. These are some of my favorites:
    • Quest protein bars
    • Starbucks light double shots (gotta have coffee)
    • Trail mix or mixed nuts or any kind of nuts are great
    • Peanut butter or any kind of nut butter
    • Triscuits (for spreading nut butter on – better than just plain ol’ bread to me)
    • Bananas
    • Tangerines
    • Tomatoes (I could eat these like apples!)
    • Apples
    • Beef jerky
    • Pre-seasoned tuna pouches
    • 3 ounce chicken cans
    • Cracklin oat bran cereal (or granola is good too!)
    • Animal crackers (okay, not most nutritional, but gotta have a crunchy snack!)
    • Dried fruit (I got mini raisin boxes, mangos, and apricots this go around)
    • Pita bread
    • Avocados
    • 1 gallon water per person per day
  4. A sample menu for you using only shelf stable food:
    • Breakfast:
      • Quest bar + tangerine
      • Pita bread with peanut butter and banana sandwich
      • Cracklin oat bran + 1/4 cup dried fruit
      • All to include Starbucks light double shot of course!
    • Lunch/Dinner:
      • Tuna pouch + sliced tomato + 8 triscuits
      • Pita bread + sliced avocado + canned chicken + 10 animal crackers
      • Peanut butter spread on 8 triscuits + mini raisin box
      • Pita bread with peanut butter and banana sandwich + 1/4 cup trail mix
    • Snack tips:
      • No stress eating! This is a stressful time, but it’s not going to make you feel better. I’ve written lots of posts on this in the past explaining why.
      • Stick to the rule of eating every three hours as much as you can. Your meals are possibly going to be smaller, however, so eat to hunger if necessary. High protein, shelf stable snacks include: nuts, trail mix, beef jerky, canned chicken, and tuna pouches. When the power goes out, cheese sticks and yogurt are great to eat up first. I also recommend hard boiling your eggs beforehand so you have snacks and breakfast items to eat while they are still in the correct temperature zones. Remember, you are probably going to have to throw out these highly perishable items anyway- cook them while you can!
  5. What do you do when the power comes back on?
    • Do not, I repeat, do not rely on odor and appearance to determine if a food is safe to eat. You gotta rely on temperatures. Trust me when I say, a food borne illness in the aftermath of a hurricane is not something you want to be dealing with.
    • Throw anything out that has reached above 40ºF for longer than two hours. Period. Especially meats that started to defrost and any frozen items that no longer have ice crystals.
    • If a food has been determined safe to eat and is perishable, such as eggs, meat, etc – be sure to cook it all the way. No rare steak or sunny side up eggs just to be sure.
    • Lastly, when in doubt, just throw it out. You can always replace the food later. Be safe!

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 online support group here.

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Email: contact@jillianmcmullen.com

Jillian McMullen, RDN, CSOWM, LDN

Does intermittent fasting have health benefits?

Sigh….I know! I know! It’s confusing. Every other week, a new diet approach. Keto. Vegan. Paleo. Here we go again. Bottom line is, there is no one diet fits all and part of what I do for you is give you the most up to date research available. Intermittent fasting is a new buzz phrase going around the internet health circles and to my surprise, there is no shortage of research surrounding this method of meal planning. It has definitely sparked curiosity amongst the science and health communities, particularly about its effects on obesity, insulin resistance, sleep cycles, and fat metabolism.

First, what exactly does intermittent fasting mean? Well, it’s what it sounds like….most commonly it involves a period of 2 days per week, every week, of no food whatsoever. However, some alternate days of fasting where every other day they eat and drink what they want and the opposite days they consume zero calories. And then there are some methods that specify time periods of each day where food is allowed and food is not. Usually you are allowed calorie-free fluids, but that’s it. The theory is that our body needs a “break” from food on a regular basis to produce health benefits. But what does the research actually say? These are the questions I’m going to attempt to answer.

1. Does it help with weight loss? This is really the million dollar question in my mind. I preach not to go more than 5-6 hours without eating because, after all, it actually slows your metabolism down and our bodies are designed to hoard calories when we don’t eat. Think of your body as if it were a car: food to the body is like gas is to a car. Without it, the body has no energy to move, which means the body is like a car that has run out of gas, parked on the side of the road….no fuel, nothing to burn. I’ve worked with so many clients who did not start losing weight until they started eating more often. Most drastic example I can think of is a woman who weighed more than 500 pounds and consumed only one meal per day that probably totaled to about 800 calories. She could not, for anything, lose weight. A month later, after eating double the calories, three meals a day with some snacks in between, she LOST weight. But that’s just my story, let’s look at some scientific studies.

In this small study of sixteen non-obese individuals, they lost an average of 2.5% of their starting weight after twenty-two days, so just three weeks, of alternate day fasting. However, they were HUNGRY. And that hunger never subsided. Do you think they kept at it after the study? A 5’5″ woman is technically overweight, but not obese, at 165 pounds….so if you lost four pounds in three weeks and you were starving, would you keep it at? Or find another diet, like the keto diet that is known to reduce hunger? It should be noted however that fat oxidation was increased during the study period, which means they were losing mostly fat mass and not muscle mass, this is a really good thing considering you want to keep your muscle mass when losing weight. These people did not maintain their losses, regrettably.

Here is a review highlighting several studies on alternate day fasting and comparing them to normal, calorie restricted diets (you know, the traditional method of weight loss you’ve probably tried a gazillion times.) They concluded that indeed, fasting is superior to producing weight loss and particularly, loss of fat mass. Pretty neat, huh? I’ve talked about the importance of this for preserving your metabolic rate in the past.

This last study compared individuals following an alternate day fast vs. combining it with exercise vs. exercise alone vs. a control group. These particular subjects were allowed a controlled, prepared meal that was provided for them around lunch time on the fast days. The meal was restricted to 450 calories and otherwise, calorie free beverages only. Feed days they could eat what they wanted, but they were given dietary counseling by a dietitian. Sounds pretty good, right? You may guess by now that the combo and alternate day fast group lost the most weight after twelve weeks at six and three kilograms (13.2 and 6.6 pounds), respectively. Again, most of the weight they lost was fat mass, not muscle. Awesome, right? It needs to be pointed out here though that they measured body fat using bio-impedance, which I’m not a fan of for accuracy….it’s the same kind you might use on your bathroom scale. Regardless, people are apparently losing the good kinda weight with intermittent fasting.

2. Does intermittent fasting improves insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes risk? I found lots about this one, too. The caution here if you have type 2 diabetes is that if you are taking medications that lower your blood sugar intentionally, many of the medications will not work without food OR they will work too well and cause hypoglycemia. So I’m going to begin this with an up front warning that what I’m about to say is not to be started without speaking to your doctor first if you are taking medications for diabetes. Okay?

In this pilot study (so just preliminary) on ten obese individuals, they experienced a reduction in their weight, body mass index, and fasting blood sugars after only two weeks. They fasted daily and only ate during a window of about six hours during mid-afternoon. Apparently they didn’t gorge themselves, because the article did say there was a spontaneous reduction in calorie intake measured from pictures they were required to take of all meals and food they consumed (talk about accountability!). At two weeks, this study really wasn’t long enough to say much, but six out of the ten said they would do it again.

In this study done on a small group twenty-four obese male war veterans, they did not see a significant change in fasting blood glucose or fasting lipids after six months of intermittent fasting (two nonconsecutive days a week.) Interestingly enough, their systolic blood pressures lowered and they did lose an average of twelve pounds…pretty good!

Lastly, in this review of several studies on the effects of intermittent fasting and insulin resistance, primarily reduction of type 2 diabetes risk, they concluded that the findings are showing promise for the use of alternate day fasting as an alternative to the traditional calorie restricted diets, but more research is required before solid conclusions can be reached.  I perused some of their reference articles and the theme seems to be that the results are more profound in mice than humans so far. There was another review I thought gave some really good insight and from what I gather, if you are going to try intermittent fasting for the purposes of improving your blood sugars and/or insulin resistance, focus on fasting during the evening times specifically. 

3. Does intermittent fasting help you sleep better? I bring this one up because we know that poor sleep habits lead to weight gain. So wouldn’t it be cool if there was a diet that could help you sleep better? I found two studies that looked at this. The first one was on eight volunteers who honored Ramadan, a religious period of fasting between dawn and sunset celebrated by the Islamic culture. They measured their melatonin levels via blood tests at baseline, during, and after. Unfortunately, they did not find any differences related to fasting. However, in this study, eight overweight individuals self reported better sleep when participating in time restricted fasting (food allowed <12 hours daily) for sixteen weeks. Subjective measurements are not usually as reliable, but these people obviously felt more refreshed waking up.

So what’s the verdict? Would you participate in fasting for a day or two per week or pick several hours each day to fast based on the evidence available? Seems like the information is promising, but the studies are small and preliminary. As for me, I’m not sure if I’m personally jumping on this bandwagon quite yet knowing there are other diets that are much easier to follow than this one.

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 online support group here.

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Jillian McMullen, RDN, CSOWM, LDN

Does your stomach really shrink when you eat less?

As a specialist in weight loss, I hear this phrase a lot, “I just need to shrink my stomach so I can get used to eating less.”

In reality, throughout life, the adult stomach stays about the same, which is the size of a football. However, the stomach is a muscle that can be stretched temporarily to fit more in should the occasion occur. How much we eat tends to be more dictated by habit and hormones rather than size, however.

A little anatomy for you. (I promise, just a little.) There are three very basic parts of the stomach: the top (the fundus), the middle (the body), and the bottom (the pylorus), which is where food empties out into your intestines. The the fundus, is the stretchy part that can expand a bit to allow more food to fit if necessary. It is not likely that the entire body of the stomach is going to expand to allow more food. Back to the football, if you can visualize how much chewed up food that would really mean, it’s quite a lot. However, our body regulates our appetite with hormones that send signals to our brain to tell us whether we’ve eaten enough or not – this is independent of how full the stomach is. Those hormones play a very big role in weight regulation and can be easily over-ridden by outside cues (i.e. the food tastes really good, it’s Thanksgiving, etc.)

Now back to the fundus. This upper muscle is why there’s always room for dessert, but maybe not another immediate meal. It takes about two full hours for the meal to completely empty down to the lower  stomach, out and travel into the small intestine. If you overdo it by eating too much too fast or adding some dessert at the end, that fundus is going to allow for some extra room. For those that habitually overdo it, the tolerance is going to grow over time for allowance. For those that don’t, it’s gonna be more uncomfortable and you’ll be less likely to keep doing it. When you go on a diet and purposely under eat for a couple of weeks, that fundus will become less stretchy and you’ll feel like your stomach has “shrunk.” But it really hasn’t. Weird, huh?

Competitive eaters use this to their advantage and train that muscle over time to allow them to eat a lot in one sitting without puking. I’m not suggesting you do that since I’m assuming you read my blog for help with weight loss, not competitive eating.

In someone who has had weight loss surgery, the body and possibly the pylorus of the stomach has been removed or bypassed, leaving about the size of an egg left. That’s not a lot and it creates some massive restriction. Because this part of the stomach is a muscle and can still stretch, it doesn’t stay that restricted for good. However, the tolerance for over-eating is much less, so the individual usually never gets back to having a football size stomach and still experiences permanent food restriction. If you know someone who had weight loss surgery and regained all or some of their weight because they “stretched their stomach back out,” this may be what’s going on. That’s for another blog post, though.

Hope you found this helpful and enjoyed a little weird science today!

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

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Jillian McMullen, RDN, CSOWM, LDN

Back to school tips for a healthy family (and your sanity!)

This is a crazy time of year. Lazy days of summer are over and routines are back in full force. I relish the summer because of slow mornings and relaxed evenings without homework. Movie nights any night we want, lunch at 3 o’clock in the afternoon, and leisurely mid-week breakfasts are over.

I once read that August is kinda like the Sunday of the year. It represents a new start and recommitment to improving what hasn’t worked in the previous months. Some of you may have children transitioning into middle or high school this year and if you’re like me, you might have a child just entering the school world. Change is here! But that doesn’t mean you have to feel like you’re drowning in after school sports schedules, reading logs, and math homework that you live on pizza and fast food for the next 9 months.

Tips for maintaining sanity and a healthy family during the school year:

  1. Pre-make freezer meals. These can be precooked or not. I’ve done both. If you decide to precook I recommend making enough for at least two meals – one for that evening and one to freeze. It’s much easier to make two at once while you already have the stuff out. Raw meats can be put in large freezer bags with chopped veggies and sauces then frozen for later cooking (baked, pressure or slow cooked.)
  2. Plan ahead. Duh. You’ll have a routine. You’re gonna know when football practice is and when the games are. There’s gonna be late nights that cooking isn’t going to happen. Will those nights be the night you save Monday’s leftovers for? Or the night you decide your family will eat out? It’s okay to eat out 1-2 times a week. It’s not okay to just decide you’re gonna be a fast food family every night during the week.
  3. Plan quick meals. Thirty minute meals sound great. But let’s face it, sometimes that’s too long when it’s late and you’ve got starving kids whining at you. Some of my favorite fifteen minute meals to make include: cheese omelets with fruit and whole wheat toast, deli sandwiches and salad, salad (using pre-made salad bags) with pre-cooked chicken, deli meat, or canned tuna, etc. Nothing wrong with a protein shake or protein bar and yogurt/fruit either. Not all kids will enjoy that last option so I may boil them a hot dog and add raw veggies with ranch if that’s what I go for. Just be flexible! Meals are probably not always going to be your traditional family style meat and two sides.
  4. Establish a bed time and routine. I’ve been guilty in the past about not doing this. You know what happens? There isn’t one and every night turns into a circus, ending with sweat and tears. (I’m not talking about my kids!)  If you don’t want this to happen, decide now when bed time will be and then reverse engineer. That’s will determine what time dinner is going to be. It’s not always going to work out perfectly, but establishing this will make life much easier for you and help you make decisions about what responsibilities and activities you participate later on in the school year.
  5. Take a good multivitamin. Yes, I’m advising your whole family do this. It’s important to fill in the nutritional gaps with a high quality vitamin. This can really help with immunity, focus, and sleep quality. Germs and common childhood illnesses are frequent throughout the school year! Lessen your chances with this simple step. I’d love to tell you if you eat a diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables, lean meats, dairy, and whole grains that you’ll be set. But I’m not that confident in today’s food supply or our ability to consistently eat a perfect diet in today’s busy lifestyle. If you would like recommendations for brands, feel free to contact me. Not all are created equal.
  6. Stock up on fresh fruits and vegetables. And make them convenient to eat. This means they are cut up, washed, and stored in clear containers in the front of the refrigerator. Consider storing apples, oranges, and bananas in a fruit bowl on the kitchen counter. Research shows that this really increases the chances they will be consumed by your family first and more often throughout the week. These will make for much healthier after school snacks over the bag of chips in the pantry! We eat what’s convenient.
  7. If you plan to pre-pack lunches, try to make them for 2-3 days ahead of time. Again, when you’ve got the stuff out already, it saves time. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches last up to three days without going soggy. I’ve tested it myself. And be okay with allowing your kids to eat at school some of the time. I learned a while ago that it’s not healthy for me to be up all hours losing sleep in the kitchen trying to pack everyone the perfect lunch.
  8. Grocery shop once a week. Pick a day and time you’re gonna do it consistently. If possible, not a weekend day in the afternoon. This is the busiest and most stressful time and it will take you the longest. Make a list before you go and get it done. No food in the kitchen = no meals made at home. Some grocery stores are now offering curb side pick up. Do your shopping online, they get it together for you, and you just pick it up at the door. Genius! I have a previous post  if you need help with budgeting.
  9. Eat breakfast. As moms, we are pretty good about making sure our children eat a healthy breakfast before rushing off to school. And then we get to work or go on about our day and never get beyond the cup of coffee for ourselves. Don’t do that. Everyone needs breakfast to maintain a healthy weight, perform better, focus throughout the day, and to prevent unhealthy snacking. While you’re making your children breakfast, take the extra two minutes to make yourself one too. If that’s really a no go, consider a meal replacement. I offer insights and suggestions here. Popular kid’s breakfast options include peanut butter on waffles, peanut butter and jelly (I like uncrustables for a fast fix), oatmeal with brown sugar and raisins, cereal and milk with strawberries or bananas, cheese omelet with fruit, cinnamon raisin toast and a banana, yogurt and cheerios, hard boiled eggs and toast.
  10. Be flexible. The biggest reason people fail at their health goals is because they get stuck in the mentality that their plans needs to be perfect. As soon as something unexpected happens (a child failed their test, you get asked to volunteer for the halloween party, you get a flat tire on the way to school, etc), they throw in the towel. I call this “Plan A,” perfectionism, which really only happens 5% of the time. Plan B is your reality, so flexibility is key because these things are going to come up, 90% of the time. That’s just life. What’s the other 5%? Plan C….reserved for those days when you’re probably gonna stay home, order a pizza, and call it a day. Luckily they only happen occasionally!

    Most important thing is, you make a plan, allow for flexibility, fall off course sometimes, and consistently get back on track. 

Good luck this year, I wish you a year of success and fun filled memories!

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 online support group here.

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Jillian McMullen, RDN, CSOWM, LDN

The real reason to go vegan (hint: it’s not because meat causes cancer)

I want to start with a disclaimer, I don’t have Netflix. I know. But I rarely watch tv these days and when I do, it’s in the form of a Friday night animated movie with my kids. You’ll understand in a minute why this matters to the topic of vegan diets.

But first, let’s clarify what a vegan diet really is. It’s not the same thing as going vegetarian which is simply cutting out some or all animal products. Vegans are hard core. They don’t eat animal containing products of any kind including beef, poultry, seafood, dairy products, eggs, honey and any products containing such ingredients (i.e. whey, casein, lactose, egg white albumen, gelatin, cochineal or carmine, shellac, L-cysteine, animal-derived vitamin D3 and fish-derived omega-3 fatty acids.) Most vegans I have known rely on whole, plant based foods to compose their diets. The bulk of their diet comes from nuts, seeds, beans, fresh fruits and vegetables, rice, potatoes, and occasional dairy substitutes. They typically do not consume processed meat substitutes (that would be a flexitarian), processed junk food, added oils, and sugary drinks/sweets. These are health conscious people that often care about the environment too.

A certain movie on Netflix has been circulating recently about how healthy vegan diets are, suggesting if you follow them, you won’t get cancer, Type 2 diabetes, or heart disease. And highlights how unhealthy eating meat, poultry, processed meat, even fish, and all forms of dairy is. Cancer in a patty with melted diabetes on top, shall we?

As a reader of my stuff, you probably know by now, I have an opinion. But you should also know my opinions are based on quality evidence. I’ve read a thorough review of the movie but my post really isn’t to bash the movie. What I’d prefer to do is shed some light on the real reason you’d want to consider following a vegan diet instead of a bunch of bias and poorly backed reasons of why you shouldn’t eat meat. In the world of nutrition and scientific research, there are very little absolutes. When it comes down to it, nobody really has the answer. If they did, they would be extremely wealthy and these diseases that have become such epidemics would be eradicated by now. One little movie just doesn’t have the miracle answer. Sorry.

So let’s outline some great reasons why a vegan diet would be a great option, sprinkled with a few reasons why it might not be a fit for you:

  1. Vegan diets are nutritious: this really is a no brainer. They are naturally higher in fiber, folic acid, vitamins C and E, potassium, magnesium, and many phytochemical than the typical western diet (aka standard American diet aka SAD). The fat content is also more unsaturated since there is no allowance for the primary sources it comes from like butter, beef, processed goods and poultry skin. However, there are going to be a few nutrients that will present a challenge and concerted effort to obtain adequate amounts is required. Vitamin B-12 to start with because the best source in the SAD comes from eggs and animal products. There is a product that you may have never heard of unless you circulate in the vegan communities called nutritional yeast, which can be fortified with B-12 (think parmesan cheese). Most solid vegans I know take daily sublingual supplements or bi-weekly injections. Really no way of getting around that one, a B12 deficiency can lead to all kinds of issues including permanent neurological damage, so don’t mess with it. Next ones are vitamin D, calcium, and long-chain omega-3 fatty acids. These three power house nutrients typically come from canned seafood and dairy products, both off the vegan menu. If flax seed, flax seed oil, and walnuts are a regular part of the diet, omega 3 fatty acids should not be a problem. And there are always vegan omega 3 supplements. It should be noted that the vegan supplements are not as bioavailable as the fish supplements, however. Some green leafy vegetables will provide plenty of calcium if eaten regularly especially kale, broccoli, and watercress. Almonds are also a great source of calcium all things considered. Plant-based dairy alternatives can be a good option too if fortified with vitamin D, B12, and calcium. I talk more about them in this recent post.
  2. There is possibility that vegans are at lower risk of heart disease, certain types of cancer, and type 2 diabetes. The research isn’t clear, folks. The movie which shall remain anonymous, gave studies, which to the average person unfamiliar with how research works, might sound compelling, if not downright terrifying. But much of what they cited was based off of dietary recalls and food frequency questionnaires. I did some of my own digging, that’s what I found too here, here, and here. As a dietitian, I’ve completed both myself and obtained thousands of dietary recalls. Can you give me an account of everything you’ve eaten for the past seven days including snacks, drinks, and meals? How about a month? I can’t either. That’s what they are basing their research on and then saying the amount of meat these people ate is linked to their cause of cancer. You can’t buy that. I will note, if these people are professing to be vegans and in two of the studies I linked to, the subjects are seventh day adventists as well, I’m guessing the researchers are taking their word that they don’t smoke, drink alcohol, or consume animal products. So over the 6 and 8 year follow up period these two studies took place, these people never messed up. Not once. Not ever. I’ll let you decide how likely that is. And how truthful people are about that. Especially when it comes to their religion.
  3. You could be thinner. True. Could be. I’m a weight loss expert. I’ve been working with people on weight loss for over ten years. I’ve never been able to adequately help someone lose weight without reducing their carbohydrate intake and increasing their protein intake. Quite opposite of a vegan diet. But certainly, the carbohydrate choices I recommend are fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and beans/legumes. Really, I’m tired of of the 100-calorie snack packs and 1-point snack cakes filling up the grocery aisles advertised as weight loss foods. They aren’t. And they aren’t part of a vegan diet, that’s a win.

Obesity is the second leading cause of preventable death in the United States. Smoking is number one. My mission is to help you lose weight effectively and for good. I don’t buy for one second that eating a piece of bacon or any processed meat is like smoking five cigarettes. This study compared various types of cancer risks relative to habits like smoking history, processed meat, and red meat intake. However, they based their conclusions on food frequency questionnaires and did not take into account BMI or family history of cancer (although they gathered the information.) They did survey close to 500,000 individuals. So I will give it to them that they have numbers on their side. If you’ve ever talked to me about processed meat, you know I don’t like nitrites and nitrates because I do believe that there is strong evidence that they are linked to cancer and there are too many great nitrite-free options to risk it. But that doesn’t mean eliminate them altogether nor does that make a strong case to go vegan. In fact, this study found a reduction in all cause mortality when individuals replaced red meat with unprocessed white meat (chicken, fish, etc). But again, they obtained their evidence from questionnaires. So who really knows.

So far, maybe I haven’t given much compelling reason to go all out vegan. I’m really not anti-vegan at all. In fact, I’ve considered it myself but I live with two meat-lovers  and one-dairy lover so I prefer to keep the peace for now. At first glance, there is some compelling evidence that it’s the miracle diet we’ve been looking for. But then again, other diets are out there showing similar promises. Fact is, we don’t know enough about any of them and I’m not sure if we ever will. I don’t know anyone that has gained weight, could blame their cancer, heart disease, or diabetes on following a vegan diet. Quite opposite in all of the personal encounters I’ve experienced myself. If it’s something you are considering, have a plan, allow for a little flexibility, and incorporate supplements if necessary.

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

Dieting hacks: optical illusions & outta sight, outta mind

A lot of what we eat, sizes we choose, and amounts we serve ourselves are just an illusion. What do I mean by this?

Studies have shown that the most popular drink serving size is medium. However, “medium” is varies from restaurant to restaurant. For example, did you know Starbucks has a “short” size? It’s true. But they don’t advertise it because if they did, they know they would sell mostly “tall” drinks instead of “grande” which in most people’s eyes is considered their “medium” size. Why? Because they advertise tall-grande-venti. If they advertised short-tall-grande, we would all want tall. Interesting, huh?

To drive home this point, the first time I went to my local movie theater, I got a medium soda. However, what they considered medium was about 42 ounces!!! I took my kids yesterday and remembered this, so I ordered a “small” 32 ounces. Still gigantic, but imagine how many people are ordering the 42 ounce sodas simply because of the “medium” label? In a gas station, we call those “big gulps.”

I haven’t been to a bar in a long time….make that about 8 years (about the age of my oldest plus 9 months.) But in study found that experienced bartenders will pour about 20% more alcohol into a short glass versus the same size tall glass if not pre-measured while the average person will pour around 30% more. You think restaurants and bars have more tall glasses because of this? Of course they do! Or at least they are required to use their jiggers! Try this concept with your children for fun: show them 1/2 cup candy in a tall glass and a short glass (clear, see through) and give them a choice. They will choose the tall glass even though its the same amount. Why? Because the tall, slender glass looks like more candy.

How can you apply the optical illusion concept to your life?

  1. Use smaller bowls, plates, and cups so that it appears as if you are eating more than you are. As referenced in my last post, those portions will get lost in large plates and it’s been proven over and over, you will eat more if you eat on large serving dishes.
  2. Divide your snacks into smaller portions. The same researcher mentioned above, found that using visual indicators significantly reduces the amount that we eat. Check out this study where just adding a different color every seventh or fourteenth chip resulted in a 250 calorie difference!! It really can be that easy, folks! This is why single serving and 100 calorie packs are so effective! Get yourself some snack-sized plastic baggies and pre-portion out your snacks or before you sit down to watch television with a bag of chips, put a handful in a bowl first so you can see what you are eating. Do not rely on estimates when you are eating directly from the bag. Take that extra step if you are serious about losing weight.
  3. Make it inconvenient to overeat and put foods you should be limiting out of sight. Remove the candy dish off your desk and put it somewhere you can’t see it (like, in the trash. No really, in the pantry). Get the bag of chips off the top of your refrigerator and put it behind closed cabinet doors. Store your leftovers in an opaque container, in the back of your refrigerator (I don’t care if you forget about them, that’s the kind of the point!) And please, stop storing that ice cream in the freezer in case your grandkids come visit! It’s not good for them, either!
  4. Keep healthy foods convenient and visible. Store fresh fruits and vegetables in clear containers, in the front of your refrigerator, already cut up and ready to eat. Purchase cheese sticks already portioned out and make sure they aren’t buried under stuff in the deli drawer. Boil eggs in advance and peel them so that they are ready for a snack when you’re hungry, again stored in a clear container where you can see them. Replace the cookie jar on the counter with a bowl of fresh fruit. Put some single serve trail mix packages on top of your fridge in place of the chips. Need proof this stuff works? Here’s another study for you on how out of sight, out of mind reduces over-eating- office workers ate 5.6 more chocolates each day when dishes were visible but inconvenient, and 2.9 more chocolates when dishes were convenient but not visible. I’m suggesting you do both (make the food inconvenient and invisible), but according to this study, it’s the visibility that really counts.

Even if you pick one or two of these hacks to try, I think you will see some results in your life. Let me know in the comments what you try and how it’s helping you. Remember, it’s not willpower, it’s skill-power. I’m going to keep emphasizing that point because I want you to understand that you have the power within yourself to see the results that you desire.

P.S. Love to eat out but not sure how to fit it in with your health and wellness goals? Get these tips  sent to your inbox and master the dieting hacks even when you’re at restaurants!

P.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