Archive for the ‘Nutrition’ Category

PostHeaderIcon Dieting Too Much? You Could Be Hurting More Than Your Metabolism

If you’ve ever dieted properly through the education of a dietitian, a support group such as weight watchers or through an online app that calculates your calories for you such as, you may already understand that there is a certain amount of calories you need to eat everyday in order to maintain your weight. There is also a certain amount of calories you need in order to fuel basic functions other than exercising such as digestion, hormonal activities, brain and neurological activity, blood circulation etc. For the average person, about 70% of the calories we burn goes to just keeping us alive and healthy. The rest we burn by doing everyday activities or exercise. We refer to this base caloric number as the resting metabolic rate (RMR)

You can calculate your RMR by going to this link below and entering your height and weight:

This calculates the amount of calories you need in order to maintain weight. If you cut out 300 to 500 of these calories per day or burn this amount through exercise, you can burn one to two lbs. a week. However, if you eat less than about 1200 calories a day for the average person, you may be taking away calories needed to keep you healthy. Of course, everyone is different and your doctor or dietitian should be able to determine what is best for you.

It’s important to note that the math used to calculate the average RMR for your height and weight is for most healthy people. It is not all together accurate. There are many people who’s RMRs are lower than this which means they have to eat even less and burn more calories in order to lose and maintain weight. These people will say they have “low metabolisms” and will say things like, “why is it some people can eat a sandwich and stay slim but if I so much as eat a slice of bread, I will gain weight?” This phenomenon usually happens to people who have dieted too often or incorrectly. They have restricted their caloric intake so much that their body slows down its use of energy. In order for them to maintain body weight, they have to eat even less than the average person.

A famous study done in 1994 by Donelly and colleagues illustrates this. Sedentary women were given only 520 kcal/day for a 12 week period. They were divided into a control group and different exercise groups. While they all lost weight, all of their RMR went down. The ones who exercised the most had the greatest decrease of RMR (down to 240 kcal/day, which represented a 13.5% decrease) This means that this group of women will now have to eat 240 less calories a day or burn 240 calories more with exercise just to maintain their weight than they did before this extreme diet.

This is the yo-yo dieter’s problem and why some people lose a lot of weight only to gain back more in the long run. This is also why most educated professionals will recommend reducing only 300-500 calories a day and no more than that. This is why we say that one to two pounds a week of weight loss is reasonable and why ethically minded professionals will not ask you to lose more weight or reduce more calories than this. But there is more.

After being starved for so long, the body will hold on to fat as a means of storage so when the starved subject does lose weight, much of it will be in the form of bone and muscle. This can lead to osteoporosis which is common in anorexic women. This also leads to more sports injuries and poor sports and exercise performance. So even though a person might lift weights, lack of enough protein and other nutrients fails to build the kind of muscle that raises our metabolism.

Furthermore, stress caused by over exercise and starvation can lead to amenorrhea or menstrual disorders which is a big problem in teenage athletic females. Without the proper hormonal balance needed from getting adequate nutritional intake, muscle and bone health weakens even more because the hormones are very important in regulating the functions that keep our bones and muscles strong.

Again, there are exceptions. If a person is severely obese, they may be able to lose more weight faster. But there comes a time when a person may keep losing fat, long after they have reached the state of having a healthy BMI. I have been in this situation. When I lost weight as a teen, I continued to do so and suffered from lowered metabolism and amenorrhea. This was partly due to incorrect education and body image. I made up for this later on in life, by getting educated and raising my metabolism by eating more healthy foods at the right times.

You can read more about my personal experiences with this in my blog:

How to Raise Your Metabolism (and keep the weight off for life)

As I study for my sports nutrition certification, I’m a saddened by the statistics of young female athletes who sabotage themselves with self starvation and it makes me wonder what we value as a society when our youth values deprivation over health. Realizing that I was once one of those unreported, malnourished kids makes me realize that these statistics are under reported and that there are more self starved people than that. I just want to say that if you are not menstruating properly, if you are not eating enough and wondering why you aren’t losing weight, if you are getting dizzy and nauseous during your workouts due to lack of nutrition, please get professional help. Beauty is more than just being skinny. Beauty comes from confidence, health and values that go beyond what we think we should look like. For this upcoming New Year, my wish is for people to aim for being stronger, more capable individuals who aren’t malnourished due to lack of education and poor body image.

PostHeaderIcon A Breakdown of Popular Diets from a Registered Dietician’s Perspective

Sona Donayan MS, RD is a registered dietitian who has been teaching at Glendale Community College and Calstate Northridge for last ten years while doing  outpatient nutrition consulting. She recently joined the food service management company Sodexo as a patient services manager at Huntington Memorial Hospital.

I interviewed her so that my followers can get expert advice on things to consider when starting a dieting plan. Sona’s knowledge is vital when considering what kind of diet program to use if you plan to lose weight, especially if you wish to make weight loss a permanent goal that doesn’t jeopardize your health.

Sona is also my local hero of the month. If you want to learn how she won her battle with obesity and cancer, check out this link:

Rhea: What is the difference between going to a registered dietitian and nutritionist?

Sona: Anyone can call themselves a nutritionist. A registered dietitian (RD) has a minimum of bachelors, and often a master’s degree and a one year of internship and is registered with the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. RDs have to keep up their continuing education in medical nutrition therapy. They work with prevention or treatment of disease with nutrition intervention. For example: Diabetic patients, stroke patients etc… They work in hospitals and other health care settings.

Rhea: What are the pros and cons of most popular diets, such as Atkins, the Zone, etc?

Sona: These diets “demonize” a particular food group or nutrient such as carbohydrates. But the actual goal is to cut back on calories which translates into weight loss. Modern nutrition science believes that all food groups contribute to your nutritional health.

The Atkins diet believes in eliminating carbs and emphasizing protein. It tricks the body into using stored fat as fuel in the form of ketones. Ketones are byproducts of fat metabolism in the absence of carbohydrates.  On the first day on the diet, you might have some reserves of carbs which you use up. The next day, you start mobilizing fat from stores, turning it into ketones and using it as fuel. It works in the short term.

However, you are changing your metabolic reactions and messing with nature. You are not meant to burn calories this way. In the long term, if you keep your carb intake below a certain threshold, you remain in a state of ketosis. It is very much like being in starvation mode. At the same time, protein coming from your organs or muscles is sacrificed. Going on an Atkins diet while training is against medical advice because you weaken your muscle mass and a lack of carbs will ruin athletic performance. In the absence of carbs in your diet, you will quickly run out of fuel.

Rhea: I see that happen in my classes when someone is on a low carb diet. They have to stop because they get nauseous or dizzy. Can you explain what ketosis is?

Sona: There are three ketone bodies. Two are acids and they build up in your blood and are eventually cleared by the kidneys. The third ketone is acetone, the same chemical found in nail polish remover. Someone on a diet with very low carb intake is at risk of reaching a state of acidosis where the blood PH level shifts into an acid state. You can die from this or your kidneys can shut down. You can tell if someone is in ketosis when you smell acetone in their urine or in their breath. Most people get off the Atkins diet and they recover and restore kidney function but they start to gain the weight back. So they go back to it and it becomes an up and down cycle.  In the long term, people tend to go up and down and end up where they were in the beginning.

Rhea: I once heard that this diet is used by athletes or models that need to lose weight fast because it causes fast water loss

Sona: When you stop eating carbohydrates, you might see rapid weight loss which is from water in your muscles that is usually stored with the glycogen. After the first day, glycogen in muscle breaks down and turns into blood sugar. The water that is part of the glycogen is eliminated, thus the sudden weight drop. What you lost is not fat, just water.

Rhea: What do you think of popular cleanses that sell herbs and other supplements for people to take while they fast?

Sona: The food and drug administration (FDA) polices these practices. Unlike medications, FDA’s regulations on supplements are very “loose” and often do a disservice to consumers instead of protecting them.  Basically, it comes down to “If no one has died from a supplement or a non conventional therapy, FDA allows it to be on the market. They will investigate and possibly pull a product off the market if an adverse effect is reported. Proponents of supplements and therapies such as “colon cleansing”, etc claim that they are FDA approved just because FDA has not banned it yet.  The FDA is not endorsing it. It is not saying “do this. It works.” They are just saying that you are free to do it at your own risk.

The insides of your body are not dirty. Our body cleanses itself fine. If we eat enough fiber and water, our body will stay “clean”. If we eat junk, our gut will not perform well. That doesn’t mean we have to “cleanse”. We just have to fix our diet.

Rhea: What would you say to people who wish to go on a cleanse in order to lose weight?

Sona: If cleansing works and your large intestines empties your stool, it won’t make you lose fat. Fat is all over your body. It is not in your colon. You might lose some water weight or a pound of weight from your stools but that doesn’t mean you will take off the fat.

Drinking herbs and fasting has not been proven to kill you but it hasn’t been proven to work either.  If you do this today, what about tomorrow? In the long run, you will be severely malnourished.  If you can’t keep up what you have started, you will gain the weight back. Instead, have a long term plan for not just weight loss but, also, maintenance in the future.

Rhea: What about dieting programs such as Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig or Lindora?

Sona: Jenny Craig and Weight Watchers emphasize food groups with balance and variety. Indirectly, they teach you to eat better by using points or selling pre-packaged food. There is some merit in these programs but the question still remains, can you stay on this diet and keep it up in your own world? What happens when you run out of money? Can you keep it up on your own? If you go on a diet several times, you are probably wasting your money. If you have to go back on it, because after you stopped the diet you regained the weight,  then whatever you are doing IS NOT WORKING.

Lindora is similar to Atkins in terms of protein emphasis and carbohydrate reduction, but you are medically monitored.  I still don’t recommend it if you can’t sustain your way of eating over a lifetime. Can you be on Lindora for life? What happens when you get off of it?

Rhea: What advice would you give to anyone who wants to start a diet program?

Sona: Any diet you get on, you have to get off in the end. That’s a bad idea. Instead, make small, incremental, radical but permanent changes in your food and activity habits. These changes have to be incorporated into your lifestyle. You have to like to do them and they have to become second nature to you.  Take small steps.

Plan ahead what you are going to eat. If you wake up in the morning but you have not shopped the day before for healthy foods and you only have junk food in your fridge, you can’t eat healthy. If you wait till you are starving, you will overeat or eat whatever you see.

Always eat breakfast. Always include some of the major nutrients: complex carbs, healthy fats, protein, vitamins and minerals. Breakfast will fuel you for the rest of your day. . Examples of a healthy breakfast: Egg whites, whole grain bread and yogurt, or a cup of fruit, yogurt, peanut butter on whole grain bread. These examples incorporate all food groups.

Want a permanent change?  Plan meals with a shopping list. Have snacks ready to go. Maybe cook some chicken breast over the weekend and have it ready to go so you aren’t stranded and left to resort to high calorie food. Write down what, when and how much y you eat in a food diary for a week, then look over your notes to get some clues about your own ways around food so you can fix your mistakes Use the USDA 2010 Dietary Guidelines and the “My Plate” system for guidance on proper food selections and portion sizes for a healthy diet. And, for expert advice, find a registered dietitian (RD). To find one in your area, or for additional reliable nutrition information, you can use, the official site of the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

If you have any questions for Sona, you can email her at:

PostHeaderIcon How Bloating can lead to a Large Belly, Part II of my series on what to do about belly bulge

The human gastrointestinal tract is over 30 feet long. When it is not functioning properly, along with your digestive organs, this can lead to swelling and bloating in the abdominal region.

Swelling can be caused by overeating, stress, food sensitivities or allergies, poor nutrition, gastrointestinal disorders; or eating too much salt, sugar or msg.

On overeating: When you gorge yourself with food, you are taking in more than your body has time to digest. This can throw your digestive system out of whack and lead to bloating. Remember to eat slowly, as it takes time for the body to realize when it is full. Once you are full, stop eating. Eating too fast can also cause air to build in the digestive organs which can lead to excess gas.

On Stress: As I mentioned in my earlier blog, “How Stress Leads to Belly Fat”  (  when we are under stress, we release certain hormones in our body to help us cope. One of these hormones is ephinephrine which relaxes your digestive organs so blood can go to other parts of the body in case you need to run or fight. If there is food in your body, it stops digesting and throws off your system. This can lead to bloating and other problems. So stress can lead to bloating as well as belly fat? That’s one round midsection! Also, the visceral fat that is stored in the belly section due to stress can slow down the digestive process, leading to more bloating.

Blog Update: Recent research on stress had shown that our attitude towards life’s stressors is more important in determining health. To read up on this new data, click here: Great News About Stress

Poor nutrition: This is the number one cause of belly bloating and belly fat. How do you know if you have poor nutrition? Check out the new USDA food plate here:

Notice that fruits and vegetables take up half of an entire plate. This means that half of the food that you eat should be whole fruits and vegetables. These foods contain fiber, enzymes, phytonutrients, vitamins and minerals that are necessary to aid in digestion. These nutrients help to maintain a healthy probiotic flora in the gut. Without these nutrients, your body will have a very hard time digesting. Lack of proper nutrition can lead to very serious gastrointestinal problems over time. Do you keep processed or white bread or rice in your home? Switch to whole grain. Processed grains have been stripped of fiber, vitamins and nutrients necessary for proper digestion. This is why people who eat an excess of processed foods tend towards bloating. Make sure you are drinking enough water. Water is a vital nutrient for health. It also plays a huge role in digestion. Dehydration can lead to water retention and even more bloating. Try to eat from all food groups in the right proportions as we need the nutrients from every group for a well functioning system.

On Gastrointestinal Disorders: Gastrointestinal disorders, usually a result of improper nutrition can include heartburn, reflux, and constipation. These can also be signs of more serious diseases such as crohn’s disease or cancer in the digestive organs, to name a few. The side effect of these diseases is bloating and swelling of the abdominal region.

Salt, sugar and MSG are solvents: Their molecular structure absorbs water. This leads to dehydration and more bloating. Avoid these chemicals in excess.

Food sensitivities such as lactose or gluten intolerance can lead to bloating: These sensitivities come from the body’s inability to digest components of a certain food such as the lactose in milk or the gluten in certain grains. You can usually tell if you are sensitive to these foods if eating them leads to bloating, constipation or diarrhea. Food allergies can also lead to bloating. If you suspect you might have this problem, but you are not sure which food ‘causes it, you can check with your doctor and get yourself tested.

Exercise can help relieve bloating: Take light walks after a meal to help stimulate the immune system and help the body circulate. Yoga poses, deep breathing and other movements help to massage the internal and digestive organs. This helps with detoxification and better functioning.

For more on how to prevent belly fat and exercises for a smooth midsection, check out this post:

By Rhea Morales