Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Why Diets Don't Work

According to recent studies, approximately 40% of American adults are obese with that number approaching 47% for Hispanic and African Americans. Even for those people who are not classified as "obese," losing weight is a common goal. So, it is not surprising that dieting and weight loss is a $66 billion industry in the US.

Unfortunately, while every year millions of Americans will try various diets or weight loss programs, most will not succeed in the long term. Over the years, many will become stuck in the cycle of weight loss and gain known as "yo-yo dieting." There are important scientific reasons why fad diets and rapid weight loss does not work in the long run. I would like to examine the three main reasons why diets don't work.

Reason 1: Deprivation of Macronutrients

Most fad diets or weight loss programs that promise rapid weight loss rely on the reduction of one of the three macronutrients: fat, protein, or carbohydrates. Over the past decade or two, "low-carb" diets such as Atkins or Keto diet have gained popularity. In the 1960s, fat was vilified as the cause of obesity and chronic disease lading to many low-fat or fat-free diets. Fortunately, there are very few diets that want to restrict protein, as the limiting of protein could be very dangerous.

The problem with long term restriction of any of the macronutrients is that you are using willpower to overcome the body's natural desire for a balance of protein, fat, and carbs. If you deprive yourself of carbs long enough, you will crave carbs more and more. If you keep yourself from having any fat, you will end up craving fats. Rather than depriving yourself of a particular macronutrient, I would suggest improving the quality instead. Rather than having two slices of white bread, try having some brown rice. Instead of using vegetable oils or margarine, try using coconut or olive oil. Avocadoes also provide a healthy fat.

Reason 2: Leptin

Basically, leptin is the hormone that tells your brain and your body that you have had enough to eat, so you feel full and do not want to eat anymore. We also have known for some time that when you lose weight rapidly, your body will suppress the production of leptin as part of the starvation response. This is a survival mechanism designed to get you to eat more calories to replace the weight that you are losing when you are "starving."

Now, when you lose weight rapidly, the body goes into starvation mode and suppresses leptin production. As you begin to gain weight back, your body will typically resume normal production of leptin. However, there are indications that when you gain and lose weight repeatedly (yo-yo dieting) or lose a really large amount of weight rapidly, leptin production can remain lo or suppressed, even when you are gaining weight.

Reason 3: Persistent Metabolic Adaptation

When I was in college, I lived close to my aunt. One day, she found a stray cat on her doorstep emaciated and near death from starvation. She decided to take the cat in and the cat survived under her care. Six months later, the cat went from being a walking skeleton to a rather chubby cat. A year later, the cat was obese and I used to joke that it looked like it ate a watermelon. That cat would be obese for the rest of its life. Why? Persistent metabolic adaptation. When your body thinks it is starving, it slows down your metabolism to conserve energy, sometimes permanently.

Since scientists cannot starve people and then study them, research on this has been sparse. In 2016, however, a study was conducted on 14 former contestants of the TV show The Biggest Loser.  They found 13 of the 14 had gained back a significant amount of the weight and 4 out of 14 actually now weighted more than their original starting weight (gained back more than they lost). In their study, researchers found that the common denominator was lower metabolism for the former contestants. Even the one contestant that had kept the weight off had a lower metabolism. Interestingly, this lower metabolism persisted even six years after the initial weight loss.

New York Times discussion of the study. Business Insider discussion of the study.

As with leptin resistance discussed above, metabolic adaptation is a survival mechanism from the feast or famine days from which we evolved. When you lose weight rapidly by severely restricting calories or macronutrients, you body "thinks" you are starving to death and survival mechanisms kick in. Even if you are obese and have plenty of fat reserves, if you lose weight too fast,your body goes into starvation mode and it lowers your metabolism to try to conserve calories and keep you alive. When this state persists for weeks instead of a few days, your body makes a permanent adaptation. Your body "assumes" that you are not in a condition where you can reliably provide enough calories, so it stays in starvation mode permanently in an effort to keep you alive in what it perceives as a persistent famine state.

Thus, you body is 1) lowering your metabolism, and 2) sending out signals saying "whenever you get a chance to eat, consume as many calories as possible." You can see how this makes it nearly impossible to be successful long term. This method relies completely on willpower and there are very few people who can maintain that level of willpower, going against their own biology, for the remainder of their lives.

A Better Way 

If dieting does not work, then what does? My recommendation is lifestyle change, combined with gradual weight loss. While it may not be as flashy or grab headlines in the tabloids, eating a healthy, balanced diet with proper food portions, will help you lose weight sustainably and permanently. The first step that I would take is replacement rather than deprivation. Rather than saying, "I am not going to eat any sweets for dessert," say, "I am going to have a piece of fresh fruit for dessert." If you can make this a habit, in a few weeks, you won't miss the cake or ice cram any more and will welcome the sweetness of an apple or pear. In addition, whenever possible, replace processed or pre-packaged foods with natural foods. For example, have some natural dark chocolate instead of an oreo cookie.

If you are struggling with weight loss, I would be happy to put together a plan of action for you to achieve your goals once and for all. You can sign up for a free strategy session and together we can take the first step to weight loss mastery.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

The Garden of Vegan

First of all, I do not consider myself a Christian, nor do I practice any specific religion. However, I do like to read spiritual books. I often read The Bible as a source of wisdom and inspiration rather than the literal and only word of God.

However, I am very interested in the creation story in Genesis. In the Book of Genesis, I read the creation story to indicate that God commands man (Adam) that he should only eat fruit and vegetables. I find this interesting that in the Bible, humans are originally supposed to eat plant-based food.

Genesis 1:29 (New International Version):

Then God said, "I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food."

Granted, this is before the fall where Adam and Eve eats the forbidden fruits from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. However, even after the fall, Adam is commanded to till the soil. This first stage can correspond to the "hunter-gatherer" times before agriculture when humans foraged for food and probably gathered, much more than hunted.

Genesis 3:17-19, 23 (New International Version):

To Adam he said, "Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, 'You must not eat from it,' "Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return." ... So the LORD God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken.

So while man is not relegated to manual labor, he is still ordered to till the soil to grow crops; not to eat animals. It is only after God floods the earth and Noah and his family are saved, that God allows man to eat animals.

Genesis 9:2-3 (New International Version):

The fear and dread of you will fall on all the beasts of the earth, and on all the birds in the sky, on every creature that moves along the ground, and on all the fish in the sea; they are given into your hands. Everything that lives and moves about will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything.

I should note, however, that even though God allows humans to eat meat, rules were set up to ensure that animals be killed in a humane way. This is the origin of the concept of eating kosher in the Jewish faith and halal in Islam. God is basically saying, "OK, you can kill animals and eat meat, but you have to do it according to these rules."

So here is my conclusion in all of this. I think The Bible points to three different levels of diet.

  • Fruits, leafy vegetables, nuts and seeds. This is the ideal diet that we ate in the Garden of Eden and is the ideal diet for humans. In this case, man forages for available foods readily available.
  • Grains and other plant-based foods in addition to fruits and vegetables. This requires more effort as we have to till the soil, plant seeds, and eventually harvest the food.
  • Animal products. This is the diet of those who have "evil in their heart." In line 8:21 God says "every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood."

And so, to all my Christian fiends, I ask you, which diet sounds like God's preferred diet to you?

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

A Couple Sweet Recipes

Eating healthy means giving up processed sugar and unhealthy treats like doughnuts, candy bars, and junk food. However, sometimes you really want something sweet and satisfying. So, I thought I would share a couple of my favorite summer sweets. They are both sweet, delicious, and naturally healthy. By using fruit to provide the sweetness, we can these enjoy guilt-free treats.

If you try one of these recipes, I would love to hear your reaction, positive or negative, in the comments below.

My Simple "Chocolate Bar

Instead of reaching for a candy bar, this is a super simple, yet healthy way to enjoy chocolate. You get all the wonderful anti-oxidants and polyphenols of dark chocolate and the natural sweetness and fiber of the dates. Try to find 100% cacao chocolate. If you eat it as is, it is quite bitter, but eating it with the date makes it a nice treat.


2 dates (I prefer organic pitted deglet dates)
2 small chunks of 100% cacao chocolate


Step 1: If the dates have pits, remove the pits and break open the dates length-wise

Step 2:  Add a small chunk of pure chocolate for each date

Step 3: Enjoy!


Chocolate Fruit Parfait Recipe

This recipe is for a delicious vegan chocolate chia pudding parfait. You can use it with the fruit of your choice. I love it with bananas, raspberries, or blueberries.


1 cup of almond milk (I recommend Califa Farms Toasted Coconut Almondmilk)
1/4 cup of chia seeds
1 tablespoon of cocoa powder (I recommend Navitas Organic Cacao Power)
Fruit of your choice (banana, raspberries, blueberries, etc.)


Step 1: Thoroughly mix the chia seeds and almond milk in a bowl. Cover and refrigerate overnight or at least 3 hours. If possible, stir again after 1 hour.

Step 2: Add cocoa powder and mix thoroughly under the powder is no longer dry.

Step 3: Chop your choice of fruit into small pieces.

Step 4: In a small glass, add a layer of chia pudding, a layer of fruit, another layer of chia pudding, and a final layer of fruit.

Optional: Garnish as desired. Chopped walnuts are great for banana parfait. A small mint leaf works well for raspberry parfait.


With raspberries

With bananas

Before adding cocoa powder

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

What Is the Keto Diet?

In 2018, the "Keto" diet or ketogenic diet is the diet craze of the year with celebrities like Halle Berry, Megan Fox, Gwenyth Paltrow, and several Kardasians all jumping on the bandwagon. However, what exactly is it and why would you want to try it?

What is the Ketogenic Diet?

The "Keto" diet is a high fat, medium protein, and very low carbohydrate diet (70% fats, 25% protein, and 5% carbohydrates) that is designed to put the body into a state of "ketosis." This dietary protocol has actually been around sine the early 1920s as a treatment for epilepsy. Even after the development of anti-convulsion drugs to treat epilepsy, the protocol was still used to treat patients who did not have success with medications. By limiting carbohydrate intake to around 20 grams per day, the body is not able to produce enough glucose for use in the body, especially in the brain. As a result, the body converts fat into "ketones" which the brain can use as an alternate energy source. The theory behind using this for weight loss is that you train the body to burn fat instead of sugar (glucose) as fuel.

What is Ketosis?

When a person's body is producing ketones and using them for fuel rather than glucose, this state is known as ketosis. Because ketones are acidic and human blood is alkaline, a possibly dangerous condition called ketoacidosis can occur, but it is usually associated with starvation, diabetes, or alcoholism, rather than just following a ketogenic diet. However, there is a slight risk.

When you start a ketogenic diet, it usually takes a few days to get into the state of ketosis. You can test this by using Ketostix to test for ketonuria. Ketonuria simply means that there are ketones present in the urine. Thus, if you are trying to achieve a state of ketosis through diet, you want to be sure that it is actually working by testing your urine. If you are consuming a lot of fat, but your body is not in ketosis, you end up just consuming a lot of extra calories.

An "Easy Way" to Get into Ketosis

Another way to get into a state of ketosis is to fast (i.e., eat no food, only consume water). After a few days of not eating, once the glucose in your system is exhausted, your body will begin to convert existing body fat into ketones. This is a way to put your body into a state of ketosis for a short period of time as obviously fasting is not sustainable long term.

Recently, especially in Europe, there is significant research on fasting as a treatment for cancer; the theory behind it being that cancer cells can only feed on glucose. So if you create a state of ketosis, you can starve the cancer cells to shrink malignant tumors.

What is Ketosis Good for?

As mentioned above, the ketongenic diet was originally used to treat epilepsy, especially in cases where anti-seizure medicines did not work. Since this diet is known to help with epilepsy, beginning in the 1990s, researchers started looking at using the diet to treat other brain and nervous system related disorders. Recently, research is being done on the use of this diet to help treat the following diseases:

  • Alzheimer's disease
  • Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)
  • Autism
  • Parkinson's disease
  • Multiple sclerosis (MS)

In addition, there is promising research on the use of the diet to help treat many types of cancers as mentioned above. There is still research to be done, but now scientists are looking at a keto diet as opposed to fasting as a more sustainable treatment plan for cancer.

My Opinion

If you have been diagnosed by a physician to have any of the above maladies (epilepsy, cancer, Alzheimer's, ALS, MS, or autism), then I definitely think it is worth looking into the ketogenic diet as a possible method of treatment. I would work closely with your doctor and/or licensed dietitian. In particular, I would recommend finding a medical doctor who practices functional medicine. These doctors have taken additional training in nutrition that your typical family doctor has not.

If you have not been diagnosed these diseases, and especially it you are mainly interested in weight loss, then I would be very cautious about using the keto diet. It might be fine in the short term, but long term effects of this diet are not well known. In addition, any diets that promise rapid weight loss are likely setting you up for failure in the long run.

Either way, should you decide that the ketogenic diet is worth trying, I would strongly recommend that you work with a nutritionist or dietitian who has experience with this diet. There are known side effects such as ketoacidosis and a lower of the immune system commonly known as "keto flu." This is one case where you definitely want to consult your doctor before proceeding. Finally, since it is a high fat diet, you want to be sure that you are consuming healthy fats that will not cause heart or blood problems later.