How to eat carbs and still lose weight {Guest Post}

Dear readers. Despite receiving offers from dozens of aspiring writers each week, I rarely accept guest posts. When I do they are always fellow fitness professionals, to ensure that you guys continue to get well-researched, factual information from somebody who knows their stuff.

That’s why I’m thrilled that the author of this week’s post reached out to me and asked if he could share his knowledge about carbohydrates and weight loss with us. What’s more, he’s a specialist in women’s health and fitness AND has much experience (both personally and professionally 😉 ) with helping perimenopausal women figure out their weight loss issues. Please welcome Howard Standring!


Good old carbohydrates get a real bad deal these days.

In every magazine or new diet book, we hear – ditch the carbs and eat the fats and all your weight loss prayers will be answered.

But is this necessary to lose weight? Are we all doomed to be eating low carb for the rest of our days?

Certainly, a carbohydrate-restricted diet can result in a loss of body fat.

However, as effective as lower carb diets are for losing weights there is a payback.

We miss eating them because they taste good.

Our moods may suffer – Eating carbs can lift up your mood because they help produce the feel good chemical serotonin.

Stress levels can increase Limiting carbs for long periods may elevate the stress hormone cortisol. Increased levels of cortisol can lead to inflammation, reduced muscle mass and hunger cravings.

Less energy – if you are active then low carb dieting can diminish energy levels and affect your workouts and motivation levels.

Therefore, I believe that maintaining a certain level of carbs in your diet is important for our overall well-being and if you manage them right you can still get the fat loss results you want.

Carbohydrates and Insulin

As you probably know when you eat a meal, your blood sugar levels increase in relation to the type of foods you have just consumed.

In response, insulin releases from the pancreas to remove the blood sugar (glucose) and use it immediately for energy to function or store it in your muscles or fat cells for later use.

Insulin also tells the body to stop burning fat and use the new energy source that is readily available.

So large spikes of insulin on a regular basis is not ideal when trying to lose body fat, because not only is your ability to burn fat decreased but there is a greater potential for fat storage from the excess glucose in your blood stream.

This is why carbohydrates get such a hard time, because they are responsible for increasing blood sugars the most when eaten therefore increasing the release of insulin. The more insulin you release over time the more chance you have of becoming resistant to it. The more insulin resistant you become, the harder it becomes to manage body fat levels.

Insulin Resistance

Insulin resistance is a whole other topic and out of the scope of this article but it´s a problem we need to address.

Insulin resistance occurs when the regular cells in the body stop responding to insulin and won´t allow glucose to be absorbed into the cells. This forces the body to produce even more insulin and we have a viscous cycle of high insulin and high blood sugar that if left untreated can lead to diabetes.

Along with diet there a whole host of factors that can contribute to insulin resistance such as genetics, obesity, reduced muscle mass through lack of exercise or natural aging and for women the onset and beginning of menopause.

Approaching and going through menopause causes an imbalance of hormones and one result of this is less tolerance to carbohydrates. Many women complain about weight gain especially around the abdomen during this time and this resistance to carbohydrates is often the culprit.

The good news is controlling your carbohydrate intake can significantly help you overcome this issue.

How Many Carbs You Need To Eat

If you think that insulin resistance is a problem for you, then the first thing is to be tested. You can do this with your doctor or purchase a glucose testing kit.

You perform the test in a fasted state and an ideal reading is between 70-90mg/dl. If you are over 90 then you need work on improving your insulin sensitivity.

With regard to how many carbs to eat for improving insulin sensitivity and losing body fat I have put together a set of guidelines you can use.

These are by no means set in stone or backed up by some scientific research. These are just recommendations I make based on years of working with female clients.

Everybody is different with unique circumstances so I would recommend using this as a starting point then make adjustments based on result.

When talking about carbohydrates we often focus on the refined and starchy carbs such as breads, pasta, rice, potatoes, biscuits, cereals etc.

However, carbohydrates come in many different forms and they all count to your daily totals so it´s important to be aware of them.



Vegetables – most vegetables are low carb in nature and do not need to be restricted. The only vegetables to moderate are those classed as root vegetables and peas.

Fruit – Fruit is a carbohydrate that many people consumed without any real control because it is healthy and pretty low in calories. But because of its sugar content (fructose) restrict the fruits you eat to the low-carb variety until insulin sensitivity has improved.

Starch based vegetables and grains are high in carbs so track them carefully and maybe avoid altogether.

All processed, packaged carbs , like breads, cakes, biscuits, crackers are be severely restricted or avoided completely when trying to improve insulin sensitivity and lose weight. Save them for an occasional treat if you need one.

Liquid Carbohydrates – Avoid all liquid carbohydrates such as soda´s fruit juice and energy drinks.

Ok, here are my guidelines for how to eat carbs and still lose weight based on your situation now.

Scenario A – You are doing little or no exercise and need to lose quite a bit of weight.

If you are just starting out with a lot of weight to lose then insulin resistance is probably high. At this stage, severely restrict carbs to allow insulin sensitivity to improve.

Aim for 50 g per day. The bulk of your carbs will come from vegetable sources. Restrict fruit and only eat those with a low GI rating such as berries. All other carbs are to be avoided or eaten in a cheat meal once a week.

Going this low is tough especially if your diet now is high in carbs. My advice is eliminate all the refined and processed carbs from your diet. Once you have achieved this focus on reducing daily totals until you hit 50 gram per day.

Scenario B – You are exercising regularly but still overweight.

At this stage insulin sensitivity is improved but carb intake should remain low. Increase carb intake to between 50 g-100 g per day. You want to find the point where you are losing fat consistently and have good energy levels.

Carbs to include:

  • All the leafy greens and low carb vegetables you want
  • Low-carb fruit within reason
  • Introduce a serving or two of starch-based carbs such as sweet potatoes or wild rice.

If you are, eating this amount of carbs and exercising but not losing much weight then reconsider your fitness program. A program based around weight training and some higher intensity cardio will not only accelerate your results but also greatly improve your insulin sensitivity. It also means you can introduce more carbs into your diet.

Scenario C – You are active and pretty lean – (between 24-18% body fat)

If you very active and following a fitness program that includes resistance training and some high intensity work then you should be eating more carbs. At this stage you should find it easy to maintain your weight on between 100-150 g per day. In fact depending on your how insulin sensitive you have become and other factors such as your size, muscle mass and training regime you can still be losing body fat if that is your goal.

Carbs to include:

All the vegetables you want.
 All the low-carb fruit you want plus 1-2 pieces of high carb fruits
  • Starchy foods but measured out
  • Refined carbs as an occasional treat or in a cheat meal.
In summary
  • Going low carb is effective for losing weight and improving insulin sensitivity and depending on your situation is the best choice for you to take.
  • However, if your goal is to build muscle, strength and fitness levels then you can and should be eating more carbs in your diet.
  • Remember when cutting carbs you need to increase protein and fats to compensate for the reduction in calories, keep you satisfied and maintain lean muscle mass.


Howard Standring is Personal Trainer and Nutrition Coach with over 10 years professional experience.

He runs the female fitness site ThinkFitNotThin, aimed at helping and encouraging women
over 35 to get strong, fit and healthy.

High protein vegetarian mushroom and chickpea curry | A #MeatlessMondayNight recipe

Disclaimer: I created the recipe below as part of Silk’s #MeatlessMondayNight campaign. You can find more meatless recipes and enter for a chance to win at the website, If you follow me on Instagram, you’ll know that this campaign was a natural fit for me; I already had three cartons of various Silk milks in my fridge when I agreed to write this post :-).

When it comes to building lean muscles, protein is king. Not only does protein aid in muscle repair and recovery, it also keeps you feeling full longer between meals and helps to ameliorate the blood sugar elevation (and subsequent rise in insulin levels) caused by eating carbohydrates on their own.

While consuming adequate protein isn’t hard if you’re an omnivore, vegetarians and vegans often find it difficult to meet their daily protein requirements.

And frankly, I’m often at a loss when it comes to helping my non-meat-eating clients make adjustments to their diets that will support their fat-loss-muscle-building goals.

In order to better help my clients (as well as keeping my grocery bill down; two teenage boys can do some serious damage when it comes to chicken, fish and beef….), I agreed to participate in Silk’s #MeatlessMondayNight challenge and create a protein-rich vegetarian meal to share with my clients, readers (and family).

In order to ensure that the protein component of the meal was complete (read more about complete and incomplete proteins here), I served my Tofu, Chickpea and Mushroom Curry over brown rice, with whole wheat naan on the side, of course (my boys prefer naan bread to forks when it comes to spooning in Thai or Indian food…).

You probably have most of the ingredients for this super easy recipe already on hand; chickpeas, curry paste, onions, garlic, kale (everybody has kale in their fridge, right?).


The surprise addition? Silk Unsweetened Almond Milk in place of cream or coconut cream (my two usual ways of thickening one-pot curry-type meals).

While it failed to win over two of my picky eaters (which isn’t really saying much…foodies they are not 😉 )) my husband and oldest son were happy to have seconds and then to re-heat and eat it again the following night.

Left-overs are a bonus in this busy mom’s books!

Fitknitchick’s Tofu, Chickpea and Mushroom Curry | A #MeatlessMondayNight Recipe


Nutritional Info: Recipe makes 4 portions. When served over 1/2 cup cooked brown rice, each portion contains the following: Calories, 406; Carbohydrates, 57.6 g; Protein, 21.3 g; Fat, 11.8 g. Naan bread is optional and it’s nutritional contribution to the meal will depend on the brand and portion size consumed.

Does your family have a favourite meatless recipe? Please share it (or a link to it) below. I can see making this a regular occurrence at my house thanks, in part, to it’s effect on my grocery budget!

This conversation is sponsored by Silk. The opinions and text are all mine.

5 Reasons to swap Yonanas for ice cream

Disclosure: Yonanas sent me this ingenious tool for making ice cream-like desserts at home and compensated me for sharing my family’s enjoyment of it with you. As always, opinions and Pinterest-unworthy photos (other than the first, which was provided by Yonanas) are my own.

Ice cream is a summer staple at my house. Especially when the temperatures are hitting early-August highs before June is even over.

Alas, screaming for ice cream too frequently isn’t part of my midlife fitness and nutrition plan; mix too much refined sugar with declining estrogen and progesterone and you’ve stumbled upon the perfect recipe for ‘menopot’.

Nor it is good for my children‘s waistlines and already-high energy levels :-)

What if you could enjoy the taste of regular ice cream without the refined sugar (and without having to leave home to buy it)? Would you make room on your already-crammed counter for this device? Would you invite your family to join you in creating new favourite flavours?

swap Yonanas for ice cream

Clearly, when Yonanas reached out to me and asked the above questions I said “yes, yes and YES”.

5 Reasons to Swap Yonanas for Ice Cream

  • All the taste and ‘mouth-feel’ of Italian ice cream without the added sugar, fat and calories. A serving (1/2 cup) of my favourite grocery store ice cream brand typically contains 15 g of refined sugar (in the form of granulated sugar and glucose solids), 7 g of fat and 190 calories. While a one-half cup serving of Yonanas Banana and Blackberry ‘ice cream’ contains a similar amount of sugar (14 g, in the form of natural fruit sugars), 0.75 g of fat and 120 calories. For those of you trying to further reduce your natural sugar intake, Yonanas has several recipes for ‘no-banana’ gelatos in the accompanying recipe guide.
  • A fun way to increase your daily fruit intake. Canada’s Food Guide recommends that midlife women consume 7-8 servings of fruit and vegetables daily. Not getting enough? Combine one frozen banana with 1/2 cup of your favourite frozen berries and you’ve got two servings worth of fruit (and all the associated vitamins, minerals and fibre). Note that it’s still best for blood sugar regulation to get most of your fruit and vegetable servings from veggies… (maybe we can add some frozen kale to the mix?)
  • It’s infinitely variable. My family has difficulty agreeing on a single flavour of ice cream. Three are chocolate lovers. One prefers fruit and vanilla varieties. The fifth is never satisfied and always ends up searching the pantry for extra ingredients to top his with (go hubby go!). With Yonanas, you’re only limited by your imagination. We’ve tried half a dozen different fruit combinations and love that the recipe guide includes suggestions for peanut butter and chocolate, cookies and cream and pumpkin (of course, these last three contain refined sugar, making them more similar to daily ice cream than the fruit-only versions). I’ll be sticking to nuts and coconut flakes as my preferred toppings!
swap Yonanas for ice cream

Banana and FREE blackberries

  • A fast, easy way to use up over-ripe bananas. I always over-buy bananas. In part because they are only the perfect ripeness for about 15 minutes (I’m fussy about the texture of my food :-) ), but also because I tend to over-purchase fruit in general (especially this time of the year, when local fruits are in season). Yonanas works best when bananas are ‘cheetah-spotted’; just peel, slice in half and toss in the freezer for 24 hours.
swap Yonanas for ice cream

Alas, this won’t help me use up the 30+ black skinned bananas in my freezer…

  • Much less expensive than ice cream. Our favourite grocery store brand of ice cream costs a whopping $8.99 for a 2 L container (we only buy it when it’s on sale; 2 L doesn’t last very long in a family of 5). Contrast that with the cost of a bunch or two of bananas and a pint of local, in season fruit. Even better if you use the free blackberries and huckleberries your husband collected (for FREE) and froze last summer…(with the oldest child heading off to university in a little over a year, frugality is a must in my household!)

What’s your favourite flavour of ice cream? 

How could you replicate it with the Yonanas frozen dessert maker?

Why healthy eating doesn’t necessarily lead to weight loss

I eat fairly healthily.

I try and ‘eat clean’.

I follow the 80/20 rule.

And yet, I can’t seem to lose any weight.

I bet the above sounds familiar. We all know somebody whose body never changes despite their claims of watching their diet and eating ‘healthily’. Heck, you may have even found yourself uttering one of the statements above; I certainly have 😉

In my experience as a personal trainer and healthy living coach, it often comes down to semantics (and of course, implementation…).

One person’s definition of ‘healthy eating’ isn’t the same as another’s. I have healthy (and unhealthy) weight friends who are Paleo. Some who eat low-carb. And others who’ve adopted the ‘Mediterranean’ diet.

The 80/20 rule can be interpreted in so many ways (80% of calories from ‘healthy’ foods, making ‘healthy’ choices 80% of the time, 80% of each meal coming from lean protein and veggies…) as to be almost useless as a guideline to eating for ‘health’, much less fat loss.

And don’t even get me started on ‘clean eating’. While it used to be a useful phrase (back in the day when it was primarily used by people who read and adopted the principals of Clean Eating Magazine), the word ‘clean’ is now fraught with judgement (“if my food’s not ‘clean’, does that mean it’s ‘dirty’?”) and widely applied to anything that’s not processed, regardless of how it’s raised or farmed.

In my opinion, many of us grab onto these terms and use them to identify our nutritional strategy because it makes us feel like we’re doing the right thing. Even if we never force ourselves to specifically define the approach or adhere to it on a daily basis.

Below are five reasons I commonly see ‘clean’ and ‘healthy’ eaters stall in their weight loss attempts. Feel free to add your own in the comments section at the bottom of the post.

5 Reasons Why Healthy Eating Doesn’t Necessarily Lead to Weight Loss
  • Too much of a good thing; Just because you fill your plate with lean protein, minimally dressed veggies and heart-healthy fats doesn’t mean you’ll lose weight. Weight loss depends on energy balance; if you consume more calories than your body expends in a day, you’ll gain weight. Regardless of whether those calories come from a grilled chicken breast or a piece of chocolate cake. Sure avocado and flax seed and coconut oil are all ‘healthy fats’, but add them all to your daily protein smoothie and you’re likely to end up with a super-sized meal rather than a post-workout snack. If you’ve truly managed to eliminate processed food and added sugar from your diet, take a good hard look at your daily caloric intake as compared to your daily metabolic rate (the number of calories your body burns in 24 hours). The easiest way to do this? MyFitnessPal. Food tracking may be a bore, but it’s always insightful and a great place to start if you truly want to understand why you’re not losing weight.
  • The devil is in the preparation; What types of methods do you use to prepare your meals? Steaming? Frying? Grilling? Marinading? Do you add dressings and sauces during the cooking process or at the table? It’s all too easy to forget about the tablespoon of oil you sautĂŠed the veggies in. Or the half a can of coconut milk you added to the brown rice. Or the bottled salad dressing you used to coat the romaine lettuce with. Just because these ingredients don’t seem like ‘food’, doesn’t mean they don’t add calories to your meal. Make sure you’re including these extras when you track your food. You may find that they add up to a few hundred calories a day; the calories that make all the difference between losing a 1/2 a pound a week and maintaining your weight.
healthy eating doesn't necessarily lead to weight loss

All I had for lunch was a salad….

  • Out-of-whack macros; Our bodies require three types of macronutrients to function; carbohydrates, protein and fat. According to government nutritionist guidelines, a ‘healthy’ diet will have 45-65% of the day’s calories coming from carbs (preferably complex, like veggies and grains), 10-35% from protein (the leaner the better) and 20-35% from fat (unsaturated are better than saturated and trans are to be avoided altogether). Many midlife women find that aiming for the lower end of the carb range and upping their protein intake accordingly can jump-start a weight loss plateau. Again you’ll need to track what you’re eating now in order to decide how to proceed. And then pay attention and re-evaluate depending on how your body responds to the changes.
  • ‘Treats’*** are no longer treats; I’m all for including occasional ‘treats’ or indulgences in your meal plan. The operative word being ‘plan’. If you know that you’ll be going out for dinner on Saturday night and are likely to join in a glass of wine or a piece of dessert (I always choose one over the other; that’s why you’ll find me looking at the dessert menu before the waiter comes to take our drink order…), plan the rest of your day accordingly. Maybe you eat more veggies for lunch. Or pass up on the afternoon cookie-with-tea. The thing about ‘treats’ is, once they become a mainstay of your diet, they’re no longer ‘treats’. I’ve found that those who self-identify as 80/20-eaters often grossly underestimate their ‘treat’ intake.
healthy eating doesn't necessarily lead to weight loss

Definitely a ‘beer over dessert’ night out…

*** I know that some of you don’t like the word ‘treat’. Or ‘indulgence’. Or ‘cheat’. But whatever you call it, we all know that we’re talking about the same thing; foods that shouldn’t be part of our daily nutrition plan because they don’t meet our health and fitness goals. The end.***

  • You’re easily swayed by product labels; When I asked the members of my Facebook page for their definitions of ‘healthy’ eating, nearly every single response included reference to reducing one’s reliance on packaged and processed foods. Even the ones whose labels include the words ‘healthy’, ‘low-fat’, ‘no added sugar’ and ‘whole grain’. Especially the ones whose labels include the words ‘healthy’, ‘low-fat’, ‘no added sugar’ and ‘whole grain’. Almost all the respondents emphasized the importance of eating foods that still resembled the way they’re found in nature. Food companies are in the business of selling food. They understand that consumers care about their health. They’ve found ways to package and market their products to make them appear more health-giving than they actually are. Cereal and yogurt companies are particularly clever in this regard. Pay attention to the ingredient lists and the nutrition information, not the large font superlatives on the packaging.

Do you follow any of the nutrition approaches mentioned above? Clean eater? Healthy eating? 80/20 advocate? 

Has your approach helped you lose weight (or maintain significant weight loss)?

If so, why? If not, why not?






Fitness and nutrition rules can simplify healthy living



Some people swear by it and claim that structure is the reason they’re able to consistently exercise and eat well.

Others find that too much regimentation makes them crazy and increases the chance that they’ll fall off the wagon.

Personally, I’m a fan of structure, just not too much 😉

(I’m kind of like Goldilocks; not too much, not too little, it’s gotta be just the right amount).

I find that having a few, key ‘rules’ around fitness and nutrition helps me stay the course when I’m tired, feeling rushed or just plain low on willpower.

My rules are personal to me; there’s a reason for each of them. And when I recite them to myself, they instantly remind me of why I’ve chosen them and how I’ll feel when I honour them.

fitness and nutrition rules

I feel strong, confident and ready to take on the world!


Kind of like my reasons for exercising and eating well; linking the behaviour and the feeling that the behaviour gives me is a powerful tool for both creating new habits and sticking to old ones.

In my experience, the best types of fitness and nutrition rules are specific, concise and use positive language.

Those of you who follow me on Facebook or have participated in one of my online training groups will be able to recite these verbatim (perhaps you’ve even adopted one or more of them as your own?).


For the rest of you, here are the fitness and nutrition rules that help me re-commit daily to healthy living. There are three of each because, honestly? I couldn’t manage to consistently follow any more :-)

Fitknitchick’s Fitness and Nutrition Rules to Live By

  • Never miss a Monday; I consider Monday to be the start of my exercise week. Getting a great workout in, first thing Monday morning, sets the tone for the next seven days. If Monday was great (and it almost always is, thanks to my dedicated and enthusiastic Monday morning Step class…), I’m more inclined to hit the gym Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Note that I don’t train the same way (or with the same intensity) each and every day; doing so would certainly result in injury or over-training for this almost 48-year old woman.
  • Never take more than two days off in a row; I find that two days of rest and recovery is adequate for my fitness goals. Unless I’m sick (or on vacation), missing a third day makes getting back to the gym a chore. And a fourth? I’m likely write off the rest of the week (I’m still working on my all-or-none mindset…). And I personally find that de-conditioning happens much more quickly now than when I was even five years younger.
  • Just commit to 15 minutes; On days where my motivation is lagging, but I know that a workout is truly what I need to feel better, I tell myself to commit to just 15 minutes. If I’m not feeling it by the end, I’m free to leave and try again tomorrow. Most of the time 15 minutes turns into 30 or 45. And I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I’ve hung up my running shoes early and headed to the coffee shop, knowing that at least 15 minutes was better than nothing.
  • Always eat breakfast; Many years ago, way back when I was in grad school studying animal ecology, I’d head into the lab on an empty stomach. Working long hours with nothing but cafeteria coffee in your belly was a badge of industriousness and honour. Now that my work day is full of movement, fuelling first thing is mandatory. Not only am I not tempted by coffee shop pastries mid-day (okay, I am tempted by them, but I don’t CRAVE them, there’s a difference), my lunch and dinner choices are much healthier than they used to be; proof that positive habits beget more positive habits!
  • Eat protein with every meal; While gram for gram, carbohydrates have the same calorie content as protein, they aren’t nearly as satiating. In part because they are processed more quickly by the body, but also because they trigger an insulin response. Depending on your body’s sensitivity to sugar, that can result in a ‘sugar crash’ and a fairly rapid craving for sweet and starchy foods. And if you’re trying to build muscle (or preserve that which you already have), if you’re not eating protein with every meal, you’re probably not getting enough. Nutritionists recommend that we consume a minimum of 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight (0.36 grams per pound) per day, although there is much argument in the fitness community about whether this is actually enough. I personally, aim for about twice that; it seems to be the best approach to managing midlife weight gain and muscle loss for me. (And I’ve had clients who’ve been extremely successful with this approach as well…)
  • Fuel first, treats second. I love sweets as much as the next person. And if I let myself get too hungry, it’s all too easy to grab a cookie or muffin or protein bar (yes, I consider commercially-prepared protein bars a treat; or an emergency food for times when you’re caught without a healthy, home-prepared snack). I remind myself that sugary-foods rarely satiate and satisfy for long and that if I’m still hankering for one AFTER I’ve eaten my protein-filled meal or snack, I’m welcome to it. When it comes to eating, I don’t believe in deprivation. Making a food off limits only makes me want it more. Moderation is much easier to practice when I fuel first.

Do you follow any of my fitness and nutrition rules?

If so, does it help you maintaing consistency with exercise and healthy living?

Any other fitness and nutrition rules that you’ve adopted? I’d love to hear yours!

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Food tracking tips | lose weight without losing your mind

Let’s be honest, food tracking is a chore.

food tracking


Weighing, measuring and documenting everything you put in your mouth isn’t any fun.

It’s tedious and time-consuming. It tethers you to your phone or computer and can trigger anxiety and obsessive behaviour in people who get overly hung up on numbers.

Yet research repeatedly demonstrates that people who keep food journals are more successful at weight loss and weight loss maintenance than those who don’t.

Is there a way to track your food without losing your mind?

I think so. Below, I share my food tracking philosophy; why it’s important, how to get started, what to do with what you learn, and best practices for losing pounds while preserving your sanity.

Why food tracking is important
  • it’s an objective way to show you what your diet really looks like; calories, fats, sugar, carbs, proteins, warts and all 😉
  • it allows you to identify areas for improvement; often tweaking just one or two components of your diet can result in measurable change
  • it creates a sense of accountability; knowing that you have to log those Girl Scout cookies may make you think twice about whether they’re truly helping you move toward your goals
  • it forces you to become more knowledgable about what you’re putting in your body; newbies to food tracking are often shocked by how many grams of sugar their favourite flavoured yogurt has or how little protein a purportedly ‘high protein’ breakfast cereal actually has
  • it facilitates the creation of new nutrition habits; long-time food-trackers typically report that they eat the same basic meals from one day to the next. Food tracking has helped them identify their best nutrition plan; a plan that’s sustainable over the long term.
Getting started with food tracking
  • pick an online food tracker and create an account; it doesn’t really matter which program you use, they all count calories and break your daily intake down according to carbohydrates, proteins and fats. I prefer MyFitnessPal (just because I’ve been using it forever..) but have clients that love CoachCalorie and FitDay.
food tracking

Hooray me! A 9-day food tracking streak!


  • enter your current weight and, if asked, your current activity level; note that this is usually an assessment of how you spend the majority of your day NOT how frequently or intensely you work out.
  • don’t enter a weight loss goal; the first week or 10 days of tracking are to be used to figure out what you’re currently eating and identify areas for improvement.
  • accept the program’s default settings for daily calorie intake and diet (macronutrient) composition; again, making changes before you know what you’re already doing is simply shooting in the dark.
  • diligently track everything you put in your mouth for 7 to 10 days; this includes water, tea, coffee, condiments and cooking oils. The more accurate your input, the easier it is to determine what needs to be changed. Don’t worry, you won’t be doing this forever (see below).
  • don’t track exercise; since we’re not trying to meet any particular calorie requirements during this initial phase, tracking caloric expenditure is overkill (plus, it’s way too easy to overestimate calories burned during exercise…).
Using the data to make change
  • once you’ve established 7 to 10 days’ worth of baseline data, analyze it; compare your daily calorie intake to the recommendations made by the program. If you’re consistently well-above your target, focus on reducing food intake by no more than 500 calories per day; small changes tend to be easier to maintain than drastic ones.
food tracking

A day where I was fairly close to ‘plan’


  • if your daily intake is close to the program’s recommendations, compare your daily macronutrient intake to the program’s targets; focus on tweaking your macronutrient intake to better reflect your goals. Most people tend to over-shoot on carbohydrates and under-shoot on protein. Simply swapping a serving of lean protein for a serving of starchy carbs may be all you need to move things in the right direction.
  • if your daily intake is consistently below your target you’re going to need to eat more; chronic low calorie intake (especially if you’re eating fewer calories than your body needs for basic maintenance and day-to-day functioning) tends to result in metabolic slow down. Because your body is used to having to save energy, it’s in perpetual fat storage mode. The thought of eating more may scare you. You’ll need to adjust your intake slowly, perhaps by as little as 100 calories per day every week or two.
  • commit to following this ‘new’ program and continue tracking food for another 7 to 10 days; pay attention to how your body responds to the changes you’ve made, keeping track of energy levels, hunger and cravings in the comments section of your food tracking app.
  • repeat the above steps in another 7 to 10 days’ time; figuring out your ‘best nutrition plan’ is an iterative process.
  • continue avoiding the temptation to track exercise; most trackers only provide calorie burn estimates for cardiovascular exercise and, unless they integrate heart rate, are likely to be wrong. For a discussion of the challenges of estimating caloric expenditure during exercise, read the follow-up post to this article.
Food tracking for weight loss and sanity maintenance
  • once you’ve created a baseline, used it to generate a plan and have followed the plan consistently for a week or two, take a break; religiously tracking food can lead to anxiety over eating and an obsession with numbers. Listen to your body and trust yourself to continue fuelling yourself in a way that makes you feel good.
  • return to food tracking, periodically, as a way of ‘checking in’; birthday months, holidays and stressful times at work are typical reasons for going ‘off plan’. Return to tracking for a week or so after any life event that’s left you eating differently than you usually do. Right yourself and get back to living.
  • simplify your food tracker’s ease of use; have a tendency to eat the same meals over and over again? Most tracking software allows you to create and save favourite recipes or meals. I do this with my protein pancakes and veggie omelettes. Then all I need to do is enter one food item, rather than enumerate all the ingredients every time I eat it.
  • link up with friends who are using the same food tracking system; just knowing that somebody will notice that you’ve logged in and lost a pound makes food tracking less isolating (it’s also a great way to increase the accountability factor of the tool).
  • use your food tracker as a menu planner; rather than logging after you’ve eaten, input your planned meals and snacks for the next day, examine the daily nutrient summary and tweak your menu to optimize calorie and macronutrient intake.

Next week….some thoughts on the challenges of including exercise expenditure in your daily food tracking routine.

Do you track your food? If so, which program do you use and why?

The psychology of eating | small behavioural changes add up to big results

I am a student of the human brain. Honestly, I love learning about what goes on inside my own head, especially when I’m not even aware there’s anything happening :-)

Humans are exposed to hundreds of thousands of pieces of information about their surroundings each and every day. Even though we pick up on fewer than 5% of them (okay, if we’re really observant, perhaps it’s as high as 10%…), they’re all processed by the brain and together, effect the way we behave and the choices that we make.

psychology of eating

Nowhere is this truer than when it comes to food.

Last week, my husband (who’s also a student of the human brain) dropped a journal article on my desk. He knew I’d be fascinated and (unlike most of the articles he shares with me), due to the topic, would actually read it.

“Easy as pie”** is a review paper written by psychologist Brian Wansink (the director of Cornell University’s Food and Brand Lab).

It describes the fascinating results of a number of studies linking dining behaviours with over-eating. He argues that by making subtle changes in our surroundings, we need no longer rely on willpower to keep us from mindless eating.

And that learning a bit about the psychology of eating may result, over time, in big changes in behaviour and weight.

His philosophies about weight loss, weight loss maintenance and habit formation echo my own;

My favourite actionable items from the post?

  • Simply serving food on plates that contrast in colour with your food can reduce calorie consumption by up to 18%; apparently white food gets lost on white plates and our brains have difficulty determining how much is actually there. Creating more visual contrast highlights portion size and results in us eating less!
  • Women who store packaged foods (especially breakfast cereals and potato chips) behind closed doors weigh (on average) 9.5 kilograms less than those who leave them on the counter top; out of sight definitely means out of mind when it comes to food. Turn this subconscious behaviour to your advantage by leaving a bowl of fruits and veggies out, in plain sight.
  • Families whose meals are served from the stove or counter eat 19% fewer calories than those serving themselves at the table; when we have to walk to the kitchen for a second helping, most of us don’t (which is great for ‘calories in’, but rather sad when you realize it reflects our general attitude about daily movement…). As a corollary, the author suggests that serving salad at the table is a great way to increase your intake of greens.
  • Big plates result in bigger portions. Same thing goes for serving spoons, especially when food is served ‘family style’ at the dinner table; purchasing smaller dinner plates (25-cm rather than the standard 30-cm) will not only shrink your waistline, it’ll also shrink your grocery bill.
  • People pour 12% less liquid into tall, thin glasses than they do into short, squat glasses. (Bartenders do this too, so if you’re looking to score a larger drink at the bar, ask for a tumbler rather than a highball glass 😉 ); Why? People tend to focus on the height of the glass when pouring, rather than its width. Want to reduce your serving size by another 12%? Either pour standing, or place your glass on the table; looking down at a glass makes it appear fuller so we stop pouring sooner.

I love that none of the above suggestions require any exertion of willpower at meal time. Just committing to a different way of storing and serving the foods you already eat. I’m always happy for an excuse to purchase new tableware!

Did you know about any of the above patterns?

Which of the above will you put into practice today?

** You can find the entire article in the January 10-16th, 2015, issue of NewScientist magazine. Volume 225 No. 3003.

#SilkCreamyCashew | a Silk Cashew review (and a pumpkin recipe too)

Disclaimer: This post was sponsored by Silk Canada. They provided me with coupons to purchase the product and compensated me for writing this post. Faithful readers of this blog will know that I don’t write sponsored posts very often. And that when I do, the reviews are always balanced and the opinions entirely my own.

When it comes to food, I’m a fairly boring eater.

I like what I like and I eat pretty much the same thing day in, day out.

My desert island foods haven’t changed much in the past 8 or 9 years.

I’m always late to the new-food-trend-party. And I’m okay with that.

Having a consistent set of go-to meals supports my workouts, saves time in the kitchen and keeps me from needing to buy new jeans (unless of course, I want to buy new jeans :) ).

I do, however, like to keep things interesting by making little tweaks to my favourite recipes.

Like subbing pumpkin for bananas in baking. Flax seed for whole wheat flour in pancakes. Cacao nibs for dried fruit in yogurt. And Silk Cashew for almond or coconut milk in smoothies, oatmeal, grain-free cereal bowls, pasta, curries and baking.

Silk Cashew

Like almond milk, cashew milk is a great non-dairy alternative for those who can’t, or choose not to drink cow’s milk.

With as much calcium as dairy milk (30% of your recommended daily allowance) and only 60 calories per serving (that’s 35% fewer calories than skim milk), it’s also an efficient way for us sun-deprived northerners to get a little extra Vitamin D (45% RDA) and Vitamin B12 (50% RDA).

Like coconut milk, cashew milk is a great thickener for curries and pasta sauces, but with less fat and a more subtle flavour (my children are particularly sensitive to the smell and taste of coconut 😉 ).

It’s creamy texture (much creamier than almond milk) was a welcome addition to my morning oats and made my post-workout smoothies thicker and more milkshake-like (yum!).

I did, however, find it to be sweeter than the unsweetened almond milk I usually buy.

While Silk Cashew only contains 8 g of sugar per 1 cup serving, I needed to dilute it 1:1 with water to keep my palate happy and my daily sugar intake where I like it to be (that just means the carton lasts longer 😉 ).

I’d love to see them come out with a no-sugar-added option for those of us trying to tame a sweet-tooth.

Since we’re still smack-dab in the middle of pumpkin season, I thought I’d try adding it to one of my favourite savoury dessert recipes; a 2-serving, pumpkin mug cake. Enjoy!

Silk Cashew

Fitknitchick’s Creamy Cashew Pumpkin Mug Cake

  • 2 Tbsp Almond flour
  • 1 Tbsp Coconut flour
  • 1 egg (or 2 egg whites, slightly beaten)
  • 1 tsp pumpkin spice mix
  • 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 cup cooked pumpkin (not pumpkin pie mix)
  • 1/4 cup Cashew Silk
  • 1 Tbsp chocolate chips or cacao nibs (optional)
  1. Lightly grease a large mug (or small bowl) with coconut oil or butter.
  2. Combine all ingredients (except chocolate) and mix well.
  3. Pour into greased mug and microwave on med-high for 2 1/2 to 3 minutes (or until firm but not crispy).
  4. Remove from microwave and sprinkle chocolate on top.
  5. Return to microwave and cook for an addition 30 s.
  6. Let cool completely before sharing with a friend.

Currently, Silk Cashew is only available for purchase in Canada. Follow Silk Canada on Facebook for more delicious ways to incorporate it in your family’s healthy meal plan.

This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of Silk. The opinions and text are all mine.

What I read on my summer vacation | fitness book reviews

Disclaimer: Ulysses Press sent me a free copy of Special Forces Fitness Training to review here. No other compensation was provided, and as always, the thoughts and opinions expressed here are all mine.

Way back at the beginning of the summer I shared my summer fitness reading list. The fitness books that I planned on reading over the holidays. Books that might introduce me to new exercises and ideas to share with my clients and readers.


I didn’t manage to get through them all.

Alas, the overwhelming urge to re-read the entire Outlander series before the television show debuted got in my way (I managed to get through 4 of the 8 books; well, 5 really, as I read the final book before I started my do-over…).

In my defence, reading about Jamie and Claire’s exploits did make me think a lot about exercise (or at least the strong, lean, muscular body that a “born and bred” Highlander must have given all of the horse-back riding and sword-fighting and caber-tossing and other forms of ‘physical exertion’ they perform…) 😉

But I digress…

Never one to beat myself up for what I didn’t accomplish, I’m sharing my thoughts about the titles that I did manage to finish reading; two are from my original list of five, the third is a bonus.

What I read on my summer vacation: fitness book reviews

1. Fitness After 40: How to Stay Strong at Any Age by Vonda Wright.

Of all the books I unearthed when researching the pitch for my own book on fitness after 40, this one seemed the most promising. Fitness After 40 is written by a female, over-40, orthaepedic surgeon with a specialization in sports medicine and a proven track record with over-40 athletes. Her approach focuses primarily on four components of fitness; flexibility, cardiovascular training, resistance training and equilibrium or balance training. While I found the sections on flexibility and balance training to be universally applicable (and I found several new exercises to share with my clients), the recommendations for resistance training were more ‘gentle’ in nature than those I give even my beginner clients.

Although the book states that it’s written for individuals of all fitness levels, I couldn’t help but feel that much of the book was aimed at ‘elite’ or ‘masters’ athletes. Individuals who have trained hard for years, often at the national level, and required rehabilitation for exercise-related injuries. While a focus on injury prevention is wise when it comes to training middle-aged and older adults, it seems a bit off-putting if one’s goals are to simply increase activity levels in the general population.

Recommendation: Unless you’re an over-40 elite or masters athlete who needs specific information about continuing with your training, borrow this one from the library.

2. Special Forces Fitness Training: Gym-free Workouts to Build Muscle and Get in Elite Shape by Augusta Dejuan Hathaway.

Members of the military’s most elite units need to be in incredible shape. Often times, though, they don’t have access to full service gyms, thereby requiring a strength and conditioning program that relies on minimal equipment and body weight exercises. In Special Forces Fitness Training you’ll find 30 such programs, including whole body workouts (‘King of the Jungle’), workouts that target the upper body (‘Get a Grip’), core workouts (creatively named ‘Core Workout I, II and III) and cardio workouts. They can be performed in isolation, or combined, depending on the time you have available for exercise and your fitness level.

While most of the programs offer direction for multiple levels (Levels 1, 2 and 3), a few differentiate the workload and duration by sex. A minor criticism (and perhaps one that simply reflects different performance standards in the military for men and women), but slightly off-putting when one notes that the recommendation for reps/sets/duration of many exercises is dramatically different for men and women. I have many women clients who are capable of doing the “men’s” workouts… #justsayin

With illustrations for every exercise (including those described in the warmup and stretch sections of the book), Special Forces Fitness Training makes a great resource book for the moderately-fit to advanced exerciser (regardless of whether they’re in the military or not). In particular, for those who work out at home and have limited access to equipment.

Recommendation: If you’re a group fitness or personal trainer looking for bootcamp-style training ideas, buy yourself a copy. It’s great value for the price point.

3. Lose It Right: A Brutally Honest 3-Stage Program to Help You Get Fit and Lose Weight Without Losing Your Mind by James Fell.

Let me start by saying ‘I love James Fell’. He has the very rare ability to read, digest and transform the results of scientific studies for the non-scientific reader all while being witty, self-deprecating, irreverent and ENTERTAINING. He’s not a fan of ‘pseudo-science’, celebrity trainers or magic fixes. In an industry plagued by fear-mongering and false promises, he’s brave enough to admit that weight loss is a long, slow process and that most who try, will ultimately fail. That being said, his approach is sound and easily accessible to anyone who truly wants to improve their health and is willing to do the ‘mindset’ work required to get there. Interested in understanding how brain chemistry, human evolution, cognitive behavioural change therapy and the food industry all conspire to make weight loss hard? This is the book for you.

Recommendation: If you’re tired of dieting, like knowing how your body and brain work and are ready to make a longterm investment in your health, download a copy right now.

Have you read any of the books I reviewed? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Any titles I should add to my fall fitness reading list?