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 ūüėČ ) 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¬īs a problem we need to address.

Insulin resistance occurs when the regular cells in the body stop responding to insulin and won¬īt 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¬īs 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 ‚Äď 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¬īs 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 ‚Äď You are active and pretty lean ‚Äď (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:

  • ‚Ä®All the vegetables you want.‚Ä® 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.

10 Ways to Overcome Emotional Eating {Guest post}

I have a treat for you today, dear readers. A guest post written by my kind, generous, compassionate, insightful and very smart friend Evelyn Parham. Evelyn and I first met via our blogs. We read, shared and supported one another’s writing. She then joined my online women’s group training program, developed a passion for the emotional side of nutrition and recently obtained her certification as an Eating Psychology Coach. I know that you’ll love her as much as I do!

Have you ever felt sad, stressed, or angry?

What happened when you experienced the emotions? Many of you probably reached for comforting food. There is nothing wrong with eating food to feel good. But eating food for the sake of helping you deal with emotions is not the best way to deal with your emotions.

Emotional eating does not discriminate; it touches everyone. Overcoming emotional eating takes time. Even after learning how to overcome emotional eating, there will be times when emotional eating will pull you back in.

Why? Because you have emotions and you are an eater.

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Here are ten ways to overcome emotional eating.

Overcome Emotional Eating
  • Pay attention to your emotions. Oftentimes emotions get suppressed and suppression leads to you ignoring emotions that get stirred up within you. If you are sad, acknowledge the emotion and take time to deal with the emotion. Dealing with the emotion when you know it is present helps you control emotional eating.
  • Do not eat to fill a void. Emotional eating is when one eats to fill a void, but when you pay attention to your emotions, you are less likely to eat your feelings. A void means there is space for other things to fit in your life. Fill the void doing activities that take your mind off eating food.
  • Be mindful when eating. Take time to enjoy eating. Let your mind engage with the flavor, texture and aroma of the food you are eating. Eat when you feel hungry and stop eating when you feel satisfied. Do not surf the web, watch television or do any other activity besides eating. When you are pre-occupied with other actives besides eating, you will eat mindlessly which can lead to overeating.
  • Stop fighting food or trying to control yourself with food. You need food to fuel your body and when you fight against food, you usher in stress chemistry. Stress impacts your emotional heath and when you are stressed, you eat. Learn to embrace food for what it is, and for what it does for your body. Enjoy food without putting restrictions on yourself.
  • Write in a journal. Journaling is a good way to express yourself. Each time you put any food in your mouth, write it down in your journal. Write down any emotions you are feeling when you eat. Also, document how much food you consume. Journaling helps you pinpoint when you are most likely to eat your feelings.
  • Do not eat anything when you know you are emotional. If you know you are sad, upset, or stressed, do not put any food in your mouth. Do not try to bury your emotions, because eventually they will come out and express themselves in your food choices. Instead of reaching for comfort food, take a deeper look at the emotion you are feeling. Allow yourself time to feel the emotion and work through it without reaching for food to numb your feelings.
  • Slow down while eating and slow your breathing. Eating fast causes stress chemistry to rear its ugly head. Stress chemistry causes lots of things to go awry in your body. Do your best to slow down when you eat your food. One way you can slow down when eating is to slow your breathing. Slowing your breathing calms you down and it also decreases the stress chemistry that happens when you eat fast.
  • Exercise or do movement that you enjoy. Exercising is a good way to work through your emotions. The next time you feel emotional, go for a walk or do your favorite exercise or movement. Exercising or movement is relaxing and when your body is relaxed, your mind is also.
  • De-stress your mind, body and spirit. Take time to de-stress daily. Meditate or spend some quiet time alone. Spend a day getting pampered. Get out and enjoy nature. These are all ways of de-stressing, but the most important thing you can ever do is take time for yourself and be with yourself.
  • Talk to someone about your emotions. Holding in your emotions does more harm than good. It is always a good idea to work through the emotions you feel. Feelings and emotions oftentimes get expressed through food. Talk about your emotions with someone you trust. Opening up to someone helps you uncover and work through the emotions you feel. Never be ashamed to talk it out.
Final Words

It does not matter what emotion you feel, please whatever you do, let it out. Holding in emotions affects your mind, body and spirit. Working through your emotions decreases your need to reach for food to fill the void.

Do not suppress your emotions. Allow yourself time to feel the emotion. Remember, you are an emotional being with feelings. If you feel sad, work through all that comes with feeling sad. Let the tears flow and do not hold back.

Screen Shot 2015-07-18 at 8.25.38 AMEvelyn Parham, M.S. is a Blogger and Eating Psychology Coach. She helps people live nourished, balanced and whole. Learn more about Evelyn at
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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 ūüėČ

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 saut√©ed 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?






10 ways to measure progress other than the bathroom scale

Ask a room full of 40 and 50 year-old¬†women what their number one health and fitness goal is and you’re bound to hear ‘lose weight’ more than a few times.

Given that weight loss requires a multi-pronged approach (strength training, cardio, attention to nutrition and of particular importance to those experiencing perimenopausal symptoms, improved¬†sleep and stress reduction), it’s surprising that one of the most preferred ways to measure progress¬†is still the number on the bathroom scale.

Especially when the pounds aren’t falling off as quickly as¬†they may have when you were younger…

While I can’t argue that seeing a smaller number on the scales isn’t indicative of weight loss, there are many other¬†ways to¬†measure progress along the way.

  • Metrics that encourage reflection and¬†celebration
  • Metrics that shift the focus¬†from how you look to how you feel
  • Metrics that emphasize¬†ability and performance

This week, I challenge you to substitute one of the following metrics¬†(brainstormed by me and some very smart members of my Facebook community; you’re welcome to join us!) for your daily (or weekly) weigh-in.

10 ways to measure progress other than the bathroom scale

1. Take circumference measurements; Losing weight via a combination of exercise and attention to nutrition often results in circumference measurements decreasing before pounds on the scale. Especially if your exercise plan includes lifting weights (as it should :-) ). If seeing numbers decrease is a big motivator for you, adding up those inches lost every month or so can be a great way to measure progress. Six inches sounds like way more than 2 pounds, doesn’t it? And because it takes a little more time and effort than simply stepping on the scales, you won’t be inclined to do it daily.

Wendy asks herself “Can I get into pants I could not get into last month, three months ago, last year? Can I zip a jacket/vest?”

2. Estimate your body fat;¬†For most people, losing weight is really about losing body fat (I can’t think of a single client who’s ever asked me to help them reduce their muscle mass…).¬†When fat loss is accompanied by muscle gain, body composition estimates gives us more information about our health than the number on the scale. There are many ways to estimate body fat, some of which require professional help (e.g., callipers, immersion) or specialized equipment (e.g., Skulpt Aim device, see photo below). But if you’re only looking for a ball-park estimate, a simple, online body fat calculator is good enough.

My front and back ‘muscle quotient’, as measured by Skulpt Aim


3. Try on your ‘thermometer’ jeans;¬†You know that pair of jeans (or other pants) that, when they fit well,¬†make you feel like the best version of yourself? Use them to measure progress (or to tell you when you’ve fallen off track). Note that these shouldn’t be a pair of pants you wore way back when, before you had three kids and had hours a day to devote to fitness and menu planning. We’re aiming for realistic, attainable goals here ;-).

Heat suggests that once you lose the weight you¬†“buy new, smaller clothes and get rid of the other ones. That’s just giving yourself permission to wear them again later.”

4. Tally up the ‘toonies’ in your workout rewards jar; I like to ‘pay’ myself for every workout I do, saving the money for one or two more extravagant rewards every year. Seeing the coins accumulate in my workout reward jar makes me feel successful and encourages me to get to the gym on those days where my motivation is low.

I seem to be always saving for new shoes…


5. Celebrate weight-lifting¬†PR’s; My favourite numbers to keep track of? How many pounds I lift during my a workout. I use the app Strong to record my strength workouts. It has a fun, summary screen that tells you the total number of pounds lifted and reps performed during your workout. The best thing about these types of numbers? You celebrate when they go up!

Kudos to Shayna for “pushing … [her]self a little harder every week at the gym” (and noticing the corresponding changes in her body).

6. Complete a fitness test; Remember those fitness tests you had to take way back in high school? The gym teacher who recorded how many pushups and sit-ups you could do in a row? The stop watch she wore around her neck to time your planks and wall sits? Test yourself monthly and compare your results.¬†Even if your weight loss workout¬†doesn’t specifically include these four exercises,¬†consistent exercise will produce spill-over effects and¬†improvement over time. (Want to improve your pushups? Here are some tips for getting from knees to toes)

Try one of the follow pushup variations. Keep track of how many you can do.

7. Cut your 5K time; Pay attention to how much more quickly you can perform certain activities (and recover from performing them too). Time your runs or your metabolic finishers. Aim to shave a few seconds off each time out.
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In just a month, I shaved a 1.5 minutes off this metabolic finisher!


8.¬†Peruse your progress pics; You know what they say, a picture is worth a thousand words. When we’re smack dab in the middle of a weight loss goal it’s sometimes hard to see the forest for the trees. We focus on what’s not changing and fail to see what is. Taking photographs of yourself (or having someone you trust do it for you) is a great way to objectively see the changes in your body over time.

Try wearing the same, form-fitting clothing in each set of photos (one from the front, one from the side, one from the back); it makes it easier to see progress and you’ll have twice the proof when those clothes start to sag and bag…

ways to measure progress

9. Celebrate streaks; Do you wear a pedometer and count your daily steps? Log your food in MyFitnessPal? Attend 6:00 am Bootcamp Monday through Friday? Why not keep track of how many days in a row you hit your goal? Generating healthy habits is the first step towards weight loss and improved fitness. Focus on the small, day to day steps and the bigger goals will follow.

MyFitnessPal loves to announce streaks to your friends...

MyFitnessPal loves to announce streaks to your friends…


10. Focus on how you feel; When it comes right down to it, weight loss and fitness improvement goals are about feeling good. We all want to feel healthy, energetic, happy and light in our own bodies.

As Meg says “feeling good is my wellness scale” (see what she did there? ‘wellness SCALE’?).

What’s YOUR ‘wellness scale’? One of the metrics mentioned above? Or something entirely different?
Share your favourite ways to measure progress towards your fitness and weight loss goals in the comments section below.

Calories burned during exercise | should you include them when you track food?

Whenever I start working with a new client whose primary goal is weight loss, I assign her the task of food tracking. Before I can suggest changes to her diet, I need to know what she’s currently eating.

calories burned during exercise

An exemplary client ;-)


Most of my clients use online food tracking software,¬†with MyFitnessPal being the most popular choice, by far. Because MFP also allows users to ‚Äėearn‚Äô extra calories via exercise, the question ‚ÄėShould I track the calories burned during exercise?‚Äô inevitably arises.

The question is a good one because weight loss depends on creating a net caloric deficit; to lose weight, one must consume fewer calories than are expended during the day. (Typically, a 500 calorie a day calorie deficit will result in a one pound weekly weight loss).

In a perfect world, where accurate measures of caloric intake and expenditure are available to all, my answer would be;

Yes! Track your workouts with as much care as you track your food and adjust your daily net calorie intake in a way that’s sustainable, well above your basal metabolic rate and on track for a 1-2 pound per week weight loss.

Because we live in a world full of imprecise¬†estimates and frequently invalid¬†assumptions, however, ¬†I typically recommend that newcomers to food tracking focus solely on the¬†‚Äėcalories consumed‚Äô part of the equation¬†(at least until we‚Äôve obtained enough information to create a weight loss plan).

[If food tracking makes you crazy or you aren’t sure how to get started, click through to read last week’s post “Food Tracking Tips: Lose Weight Without Losing Your Sanity”]

Why? People have a tendency to underestimate the number of calories they consume (think that was really just a tablespoon of peanut butter? did you measure it? if not, I bet it was more…) and over-estimate the number of calories burned¬†during exercise (especially if they use the estimates displayed on most cardio machines or reported in standard ‘calories burned during exercise’ tables).

Once food tracking is well-established (and¬†perhaps only used periodically to ‚Äėcheck-in‚Äô) and exercise has become a regular part of a client‚Äôs day, the question of whether to measure and¬†incorporate calories burned during exercise into the daily energy plan becomes¬†relevant for two reasons;

  • to ensure¬†that she‚Äôs not eating fewer calories than required by her body for daily maintenance (known as ‚Äėbasal metabolic rate‚Äô or BMR) and
  • to determine how many calories can actually be consumed while still losing weight.

The first is important because long-term under-eating tends to undermine weight loss via it’s lowering of the body’s rate of calorie burn. Eating below BMR¬†teaches the body to conserve energy and be all-too-eager to store excess calories as fat (when one inevitably returns to a more ‘normal’ pattern of eating).

The second is important because cutting calories is challenging enough without feeling ‘hangry’. If exercise allows you to consume an extra 200 calories a day and still lose weight in a safe and sustained manner, why deprive yourself?

calories burned through exercise

Tell me that I’m not the only one who’s felt this way…


The challenge now? To actually figure out how many extra calories you can eat in a day, as a consequence of exercise.

Many users of online trackers simply use the options provided to them by the tool itself. For example, MyFitnessPal allows you to choose from a list of exercise activities (both strength and cardiovascular), indicate how long you performed the activity and provide details about reps, sets and loads (for strength workouts) before giving you an estimate of calories burned during exercise.

tracking calories burned during exercise

Just a few of the options MyFitnessPal provides for tracking your workouts


There are several difficulties with this approach:

  • estimates are just estimates and may not apply to you.¬†Online calorie trackers typically¬†¬†consider only your weight and the duration of an activity to generate an estimate of caloric expenditure. This estimate is based on the average¬†number of calories burned by thousands of other similar-weight people performing the same activity for the same duration. Without knowing the error of the estimate (a statistical term that should be provided for all averages…), you can’t know how wildly your actual calorie expenditure might differ from the published value.
  • Exercise intensity is rarely¬†considered ¬†and when it is, it’s measured subjectively.¬†Most of the activities included have generic, intensity-free labels; ‘Running’, ‘Yoga’, ‘Spinning’ (and my personal favourite, ‘Wii Bowling’). When intensity-modifiers are included, it’s up to the user to decide whether their activity was ‘moderate’ or ‘vigorous’. As a Bootcamp instructor, I know that one person’s ‘vigorous’ is another person’s ‘light’ (especially when it comes to Burpees and Box jumps…). And I bet that my definition of ‘light housekeeping’ is substantially ‘lighter’ than yours ūüėČ
  • calories burned during strength training depend on more than just sets, reps and load. Depending on the amount of rest time between sets, the tempo of the lifts and whether the workout has triggered an ‘afterburn’¬†effect¬†(that is, whether they‚Äôll continue to burn calories at a rate higher than usual for the remainder of the day), strength training can be more or less energetically costly than indicated by published tables and online calculators.

Rather than have my clients (inaccurately) estimate the number of calories they burn during each and every workout (and potentially undermine their weight loss goals), I prefer to individually tailor their daily recommended calorie intake to their weekly workout frequency and intensity.

I do this by;

1. calculating BMR (you can calculate your own here >> MyFitnessPal’s BMR calculator;¬†MFP uses¬†the Mifflin-St. Jeor equations to estimate BMR which is believed to be more accurate than the more commonly used Harris-Benedict equation)

2. calculating daily caloric needs based on weekly workout frequency and intensity (you can calculate your own here >> ACE’s Daily Caloric Requirement calculator. I typically generate two values for this number; one using the client’s reported weekly workout frequency and intensity and the second using the multiplier for a slightly less intense workout week, just in case ūüėČ ¬†).

3. comparing both numbers and choosing a value somewhere between the client’s BMR and Daily Caloric requirement that’s in line with their weight loss goals. I have my client enter this number in MFP (or whatever tracker they’re using), over-riding the program’s calculated daily calorie goal (not sure how to do this? see the imbedded video at the bottom of the post for a quick tutorial). We then work towards this target for a few weeks, paying attention to energy levels, feelings of hunger and satiety, quality of sleep and measurable weight loss. If need be, we alter¬†it by 100 calories or so and repeat.

While this approach isn’t error-free, it fits nicely with my general approach to fitness and nutrition;

Figure out the smallest possible change you can make and still see results.

Not to mention all the time it’ll free up by saving you from having to enter your daily workouts in your food tracking software!

Do you account for calories burned during exercise in your food tracker?

Do you find that knowing how many calories you burned during exercise¬†tempts you to ‘eat back your calories plus more’?

Not sure how to change your daily goals in MyFitnessPal? Watch the short clip below (and note that I’ve also indicated a way to change macronutrients too), then ‘Subscribe’ to my YouTube channel to stay up-to-date on my video offerings!

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.

‚ÄúEasy as pie‚ÄĚ** is a review paper¬†written¬†by psychologist Brian Wansink (the director of Cornell University‚Äôs 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‚Äôt¬†(which is great for ‚Äėcalories in‚Äô, 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 ‚Äėfamily style‚Äô 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‚Äôre looking to score a larger drink at the bar, ask for a tumbler rather than a highball glass ūüėČ ); 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.

Make your own meal plan | benefits of a boring diet

Back when I started paying attention to nutrition I craved structure.

A meal plan that I could follow as I learned the in’s and out’s of fuelling my body so that it performed well,¬†looked¬†good and felt¬†great.

For a couple of months, I swore by Clean Eating Magazine’s bi-weekly plan. I posted it on my fridge, used it as a guide to grocery shopping and ate (mostly) the three prescribed meals and snacks.

benefits of a boring diet

But as I started to lift heavier in the gym and read more widely about sports nutrition, I came to realize that it wasn’t the plan for me.

  • Too few calories (my body needs more than the 1400-1600 most days’ menus provided).
  • Too many grain-based carbs (I tend to gain weight around my mid-section if my diet includes too many starchy carbs).
  • Too many processed foods (even ‘healthier’ versions of bars, cereals and crackers typically have too much sugar).
  • Too many different ingredients required to prepare the varied menu (the more ingredients required, the less likely I am to follow the recipe).
  • And not enough protein (protein has been a game-changer for me, helping me put on muscle, reduce body fat and feel satiated between meals).

[Note, that the very first sentence of the last paragraph included the words ‘for me‘. It might be a great meal plan for you. The only way you’ll know is if you follow it and pay attention to how your body responds. ‘Be your own detective’]

Over time, I’ve developed my own, personalized meal plan.

It consists of¬†a handful of options for each of the mail meals of the day. I have three standard breakfast meals that I choose from. Lunch is always a giant salad; 3-5 servings of veggies plus lean protein. Dinner is a bit more varied (but the variation mainly comes from the way the way the meal is prepared, rather than the ingredients). And I have a dozen or so between-meal snacks that I rotate among¬†depending on how many days it’s been since I’ve been to the grocery store.

It’s really very boring. And it totally works for me.

benefits of a boring diet

Nobody ever said boring couldn’t be delicious!


4 benefits of a boring diet

1. You always know what you’ll be eating. For many of us, paying attention to how we’re fuelling our bodies can lead to food anxiety. Stressing over how much of what to eat when. Trying to come up with new, creative ways to put food on the table for our families. Worrying about hidden ingredients that might be undermining our health and fitness goals. Having a list of ‘pre-approved’ go-to meals ¬†means that you’ll only need to decide between a small number of¬†options at any given meal.

2. Daily food tracking becomes less important. While keeping a food journal is a great way to learn how best to fuel your body, most of us don’t want to have to do it every day for the rest of our lives. Although¬†I’ve used MyFitnessPal on and off for years, I use it mainly as a menu planner and a way of calculating the calorie and macronutrient content of my go-to meals. Once I know that a breakfast of a spinach and pepper omelette, with avocado and strawberries supports my goals for the day, I don’t need to input it day after day.

[Note: If food journalling works for you, by all means continue to do it. Adopting a boring diet just makes it easier ūüėČ ]

3. A boring diet makes grocery shopping a snap. Just like my diet, my route through the grocery store is boring and predictable. I¬†buy the same items (and the same quantity of those items) week in, week out. I’m much less likely to forget an important recipe ingredient and less tempted to travel down the supermarket’s ‘danger’ aisles. And I can be in and out of Superstore (having easily spent $300…) in less than an hour.

benefits of a boring diet

Yes, we eat bacon. And a LOT of eggs…

4. Restaurant meals are¬†more fun. Most of us have difficulty sticking with our healthy eating plans when dining out.¬†Portions are typically larger than we’d serve ourselves at home. Multiple courses are the norm. Even the healthiest options can contain hidden sugar, salt and fat. And there’s so much choice! Following a boring diet has helped me wade through the minefield of restaurant menus. I simply look for a meal that’s close to what I’d be eating at home and ask my server for modifications, if need be. Dressing on the side, extra veggies instead of potatoes, grilled instead of fried.

Plus, choosing wisely with my main course lets me enjoy a glass of wine or dessert if I’m in the mood ūüėČ

Screen Shot 2013-06-06 at 7.02.03 AM

Are you a boring eater too?

What are your favourite benefits of a boring diet?

Learning how to create¬†healthy meal plans is¬†only one of the many lessons I’ll be teaching¬†in my upcoming online group training program for over-40 women. Make sure you add your name to my email list so as not to miss the registration¬†announcement!



Hormones and weight gain after 40 | why nutrition matters even more now

Several weeks ago, I initiated a conversation about hormones and weight gain after 40.

In that post, I highlighted the physical changes women can typically expect to face during peri-menopause and the menopause transition itself. The picture I painted wasn’t pretty and many of you wrote to say that you’ve experienced the changes I described, including muscle loss, weight gain, insatiable food cravings and¬†a belly or ‘muffin top’ that won’t go away.

hormones and weight gain

I promised to do some research and come back and share what I discovered¬†about the effects of exercise, nutrition and overall lifestyle on the challenges we’re all facing.

Today’s post will focus on nutrition, which means we’ll be once again talking about the hormones estrogen and insulin. (And just a head’s up, they’re just as important to the upcoming posts on exercise and lifestyle change, so pay attention :) ).

Many (if not all) of my 40+ female clients lament the fact that they can no longer eat the way they did in their 20’s and 30’s and zip up their favourite jeans. Gone are the days when a weekend of pizza, chips and beer had no effect on your body come Monday morning.

We’ve already touched on the primary reasons why people (both men and women) tend to gain weight as they age, but decreased physical activity and loss of muscle mass are only part of the story.

For women entering their peri-menopausal years, the frequently-observed increase in ‘middle of the body adiposity’ is directly tied to lower estrogen levels.

Estrogen is a most interesting hormone. In our reproductive years, it initiates breast development and helps to maintain pregnancy and kickstart the development of fetal organs.

Evidence from animal models tells us that estrogen also plays a role in

  • feeding behaviour (estrogen-depleted mice consume significantly more food than their ‘normal estrogen profile’ counterparts)
  • the uptake of lipids from the circulation (lower estrogen levels result in greater lipid uptake and ‘middle of the body’ fat storage)
  • the development of insulin resistance (recall that insulin’s function is to remove excess sugar from the blood; when you become resistant to the effects of insulin, your body stores that excess sugar as fat)
  • physical activity and energy expenditure during physical activity (estrogen-depleted mice move less and burn fewer calories while engaged in ‘exercise’ than ‘normal estrogen profile’ mice)

“Eat more, move less” is almost always a recipe for weight gain, regardless of whether you’re “mice or (wo)man”!

So, what does this all have to do with nutrition? How can we take this information about hormones and turn it into a plan for counteracting their effects on mid-life weight gain?

The following list will be familiar to you if you’ve been reading my blog for awhile :) (And if you haven’t, take a minute and enter your email in the box at the top right to get an alert every time I publish a new post. Alternatively, you can also follow my blog on Bloglovin’; click on the ‘Follow this Blog on Bloglovin’ box, midway down the right sidebar)

It’s based on the premise of clean eating. With a little tough love. If you’re serious about losing or maintaining weight through the menopause years you can’t keep eating the way you have been and expect to see any changes in your body.

  • eliminate processed foods and added sugar. Without estrogen around to help you out, excess dietary sugar will be transformed into fat, in particular, belly fat. The high sodium count in most processed foods will also lead to water retention which only contributes to that puffy look.
  • pay attention to serving size. Educate yourself about what a serving of lean protein looks like. Do the same for grains and healthy fats. Weigh or measure portions until you can do it on your own. Given that energy expenditure during exercise can decline with estrogen levels, keeping your calorie count in check is more important now than ever.
  • notice how you feel before, during and after a meal. Keeping a food journal is always helpful when trying to lose weight, but even more helpful when you’re experiencing food craving and lack-of-estrogen feedback about satiation. Pay attention to your trigger foods and learn about your body’s response to carbohydrates.
  • re-think that drink. Alcohol is a sugar and your body metabolizes it as such. Still can’t give up your weekend wine binge? Don’t expect to lose your belly bulge.
  • experiment with reducing grains and dairy. I’m not suggesting that you ‘go paleo‘ here or jump on the gluten free bandwagon. However, many women find that reducing their consumption of these two food groups helps with both overall weight loss and abdominal fat loss. Grains, in particular, will raise blood sugars and trigger an insulin response. Remember to journal your ‘experiment’; it’s the only true way you’ll have of knowing whether this strategy works for you.
  • embrace vegetables. They’ll fill you up (dietary fibre for the win!) and help ensure that you get the calcium and magnesium you need to help offset age-related losses in bone density. In order to meet your daily requirement of 7 to 10 servings, make sure you’re adding a veggie or two to every single meal.

[Here’s where I remind you that¬†I’m NOT a registered dietician¬†or nutritionist, so my suggestions are¬†based on MY OWN research¬†and the strategies that I’ve found to work for MYSELF and MY clients. Remember that¬†there is no single diet that is better than all others¬†for losing weight or maintaining weight loss;¬†finding something that works for you¬†and sticking with it over the long haul is key.]

To read the first part in this series go here >>> Hormones and Weight Gain after 40: the biology of aging

To read the third part in this series go here >>> Hormones and Weight Gain after 40: exercise for hormonal balance


Watch for parts 4 and 5; the effects of stress and lack of sleep on weight gain after 40…

Now it’s your turn. Share YOUR nutrition tips and tricks for dealing with weight gain after 40.

Anything that hasn’t worked? I’d love to hear about YOUR experiences!¬†

Not afraid of technical terms? Want to read more on the subject? Check out the article Understanding Weight Gain at Menopause. And my own personal ‘menopause bible’, “The Menopause Book” (2009), by Pat Wingert and Barbara Kantrowitz.

Weight gain and prescription drugs: a common dilemma

Weight loss and weight loss maintenance are difficult at the best of times. Finding the right balance of exercise, nutrition and sleep isn’t always easy and sticking with it for the long term can be challenging for many.

But what about when you have a medical condition that requires you to take medications that hinder weight loss efforts? Or worse, cause you to gain even more? Sadly, weight gain and prescription drugs often go hand in hand.

weight gain and prescription drugs

A long time personal training client of mine has recently put on a lot of weight, despite following the exercise routine and nutrition plan I’ve created for her.

We’ve had great success in the past; during the first six months of our training relationship she lost 25 pounds, many inches and made incredible gains in the gym. Clearly, her body is capable of responding positively to weight training and clean eating.

What then has changed over the past year and a half?

Turns out that this client is bi-polar (I knew this, but it hadn’t previously been an issue). She had been stable on her medication for many, many years, but suffered a breakdown last year after the death of her father. Her doctors decided to switch meds in an effort to stabilize her. Over the next six months, they slowly increased her Lithium levels and introduced a new anti-psychotic drug, Olanzapine. While her mood gradually improved and she began to returned to her usual self, she also began to re-gain the weight that she’d previously lost (and more).

Initially it was because the Lithium was making her ravenous. She was eating many more calories than required for maintenance but seemed unable to control the cravings and mindless eating. Her doctors introduced Olanzapine, which helped to control her appetite, but still she continued to gain weight.

A little bit of online research revealed that both drugs have well known weight gain effects; effects that appear to over-ride lifestyle approaches to weight loss and weight loss maintenance. Olanzapine in particular, changes the body’s sensitivity to insulin, and over time, can actually lead to the development of Type 2 diabetes.

Talk about frustrating! Either you take the drugs to control a serious medical condition and live with weight gain and potentially a second serious medical condition or you forsake your mood and sanity in order to keep your body at a healthy weight.

My client are I are currently focusing on the myriad other benefits of exercise and proper nutrition; in particular those related to risk of osteoporosis (she’s menopausal and has had several broken bones in her lifetime), improved sleep (often a challenge for those suffering from mental illness) and mood enhancement (we all need more ‘happy’).

In addition, we’ve done some research and discovered that there’s another drug she might be able to take in place of the Olanzapine.

There are many other classes of prescription drugs that can hinder weight loss and even cause substantial weight gain, including;

  • anti-histamines (including over-the-counter varieties) that increase appetite
  • anti-hypertensives (‘beta blockers’) that cause fatigue and a concomitant reduction in daily activity
  • corticosteroids (used to treat asthma and arthritis) affect metabolism and increase hunger
  • anti-depressants that increase food cravings
  • anti-psychotics that ‘flatten’ your mood, sap your energy and affect your body’s sensitivity to insulin (eventually resulting in Type 2 Diabetes…)
  • anti-seizure and mood disorder drugs can cause as much as a 10 pound weight gain in just a few weeks

Given that many of my readers are likely to have taken, or are currently taking one of the above medications, I thought I’d share some tips for researching the side effects of common prescription medications.

  • start by reading the literature that came with your prescription; sounds simple, but many people don’t bother. Either because they trust their doctor and pharmacist to make the right choice for their health OR they simply can’t read the small print on the accompanying pamphlets (definitely a problem for those of us in our 40’s and beyond…)
  • do some online research; beware of doing a generic Google search. All you’re likely to turn up are anecdotes, message boards and watered-down information, at best. Instead, try a Google Scholar search. You don’t need to be able to read the articles yourself (some scientific writing is hard for even other scientists to comprehend…) ; just scan the summaries and see whether there’s likely to be anything useful in the article.¬†Click on the video below to see how I use Google to find fact-based sources of information.
  • take the results of your online search to your doctor;¬†We always assume that our doctors are apprised of the most recent research, yet the sheer volume of research generated on a weekly basis makes this next to impossible (unless your doctor spends more of their time reading journals, than seeing patients…).

Have you ever experienced weight gain while taking prescription medication?

How did you deal with it?


Disclaimer: While I am a certified Personal Trainer, I am NOT a medical professional. Please see you doctor or pharmacist to discuss concerns about any side effects your medications may be causing.