Tag Archives: Weight Gain

The Top 4 Reasons Why Diets Fail

At any given time, 66% of Americans are trying to lose weight or are on a diet — and yet almost the same percentage is either overweight or obese. And with so many different types of diets — from going vegan to the Paleo Diet — why are the majority of Americans failing to lose or maintain weight? According to Dr. Jessica Bartfield, M.D., who specializes in nutrition and weight management at the Loyola Center for Metabolic Surgery & Bariatric Care, there are four main reasons why dieters don’t lose weight. Read on to find out what they are — and the ways to sidestep each problem.

1. Underestimating Calories Consumed
The roadblock: According to numerous studies, humans tend to underestimate how many calories their meals and snacks have as well as the amount of calories they consume in one day. Experts speculate that Americans typically underestimate their caloric intake by 30% and sometimes as much as 45%. For the average male, that’s an excess of 720 calories per day — which, by conventional wisdom, could result in a gain of more than one pound per week. And unfortunately, restaurants are no better at estimating their meal’s calorie counts: a study from Tufts University found that one out of five restaurant dishes contains more than 100 calories than what’s listed in their nutritional information.

The fix: To reconcile the amount of calories you actually consume with the amount you think you consume, begin by measuring out your servings. That morning bowl of cereal — of which a serving clocks in at 120 foodjournalcalories — might actually be three servings, upping your calorie count to 360. Measure out the given serving (usually ¾ – 1 cup) until you can eyeball a correct serving size. Keeping a food diary and writing down every single food you eat and drink (every last morsel!) will also help: in a study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, participants who kept a food journal lost 6 more pounds than those who didn’t. Don’t forget to record drinks (the average American consumes between 140 and 180 calories per day from sugary drinks) and the bites and tastes you might get at a grocery store.

2. Overestimating Activity and Calories Burned
The roadblock: That elliptical that says you just burned 450 calories? It’s a gross overestimation. The University of California at San Francisco used VO2 testing to ellipticaltrack fat burning and found that the calorie trackers on ellipticals overestimated calories burnt by 42%; the overestimation was less so on other machines (13% on treadmills, 7% on the stationary bike, and 12% on the stairclimber), but still enough to make a dent in your calorie output. The reason? Most exercise machines are calibrated for a 150 pound female; if you weigh less than that, you’ll burn fewer calories. They also don’t accurately measure your heart rate, which plays a role in the amount of calories you burn. Compounding this issue is the fact that many exercisers tend to reward themselves with food following a tough workout, believing that they “earned” those calories in that Jamba Juice Peanut Butter Moo’d or Grand Slam breakfast. So even if you just spent an hour burning 250-400 calories, that work can all be undone — and then some — in five minutes.

The fix: First, calculate your Basal Metabolic Rate: this is the amount of energy, or calories, your body requires to function at rest, and varies according to genetics, gender, age, weight, body surface area, body fat percentage, diet, exercise, and a number of other factors. To determine how many calories you need a day while taking into account your activity level (from sedentary to extreme), use the Harris Benedict Equation; this will leave you with the amount of calories you need to maintain your weight with your current activity level. Indirect calorimetry, which measures carbon dioxide production and oxygen consumption during rest and steady-state exercise, is the gold standard for measuring energy expenditure, but it’s too time-consuming and expensive to use on an individual basis. Several body monitors (like the BodyMedia Fit Link and FitBit) measure your calorie output, but even they can be inconsistent and inaccurate; online calculators measure the calories burned according to weight and activity. Your best bet may be to simply eat when you truly feel hungry and not according to how many calories you may have burned working out.

3. Poor Timing of Meals
The roadblock: Skipping breakfast, powering through the day without lunch, and late night snacking might all be the reasons you’re not losing weight. According to the National Weight Control Registry, eating breakfast is a shared characteristic of successful dieters (78% of those who lost and maintained a 30 pound weight loss regularly ate breakfast). Experts believe that eating a fiber- and protein-rich meal first thing in the morning stimulates your metabolism and keeps you from bingeing later on in the day. Regular snacks and a balanced lunch do the same thing; plus, they keep your mood and energy elevated so you don’t reach for comfort foods like chips and candy later in the day. And researchers now believe that late-night eating may, in fact, play a role in weight gain and loss: in a study from Northwestern University, rats who ate during their normal sleeping phase, as compared to those who ate during normal daily activity, experienced a 48% boost to their body weight, despite similar levels of activity and calorie consumption. Lead researcher Dr. Fred Turek and Deanna Arble theorize that our bodies, which run on circadian rhythms, are primed to burn calories more efficiently at certain times.

The fix: Start with breakfast: aim to eat a fiber- and protein-rich meal within one hour of waking. Eating a balanced breakfast jumpstarts your Breakfast, Lunch and Dinnerbody’s metabolism, maintains steady blood sugar and energy levels, and helps stave off mid-morning cravings. Eat lunch about 4 ½ hours after breakfast, and dinner a few hours after that; waiting longer in between meals will only intensify your hunger and lead you to make less healthy food choices. Plan 150- to 200-calorie snacks (think an apple with almond butter or hummus and veggies) in between meals to keep hunger at bay. Plan to eat dinner no less than three hours before sleep: it may not only lead to weight gain, but the increased circulating insulin prevents the release of melatonin, a hormone that regulates the sleep-wake cycle. In terms of other mealtime planning, sandwich weight lifting or intense exercise with complex carbohydrates and protein.

4. Inadequate Sleep
The roadblock: According to Dr. Bartfield, “studies have shown that people who get fewer than six hours of sleep have higher levels of ghrelin, which is a hormone that stimulates appetite, particularly for high-carbohydrate/high-calorie foods.” One study, specifically, found that sleep-deprived subjects ate an extra 549 calories a day–enough to make you gain an extra pound every week. Sleep deprivation is also linked to leptin, the hormone that signals satiety; plus, lack of sleep lowers willpower, increases cravings for high-calorie foods, and raises levels of cortisol, a stress hormone linked to weight gain. All of these factors combined make inadequate sleep a powerful precursor to weight gain.

The fix: To get more sleep, you need to to identify what is preventing you from getting enough sleep–and that could be any number of reasons, from drinking too much caffeine to poor time management. But no matter what your reason is, there are a number of simple fixes you can make to add more hours of sleep to your day. Begin by setting a bedtime: count back seven to eight hours before you have to wake up. Keep track of this time so that when 11PM rolls around, you’re in bed (not starting to get ready for bed). Shut off electronics about an hour before this time: TVs, computers, and cellphones emit blue light, which disrupts our circadian rhythms and melatonin production, tricking our bodies into believing it’s still daytime. And finally, exercise in the morning. And finally, avoid caffeine and alcohol before bed.

How To Put on Muscle (In a Healthy Way)

With the year coming to a close and most Americans making resolutions to become fitter and leaner in the new year, gaining weight is most likely at the top of people’s what-not-to-do lists. But putting on muscle can be a real challenge — and it’s just as big of a nutrition concern as losing weight can be. And unfortunately for those trying to gain weight, it’s not as simple as eating double cheeseburgers for dinner and scarfing down pints of ice cream. Quality and nutrient-dense calories are just as important as they are for those trying to lose weight — especially when it comes to building muscle, optimizing health, and reducing the risk of diseases like cardiovascular disease. To gain lean muscle mass and improve health at the same time, try following these general rules:

1. Load up on healthy but calorie-dense foods
Not all calorie-dense foods are unhealthy: nuts (and nut butters), seeds, and avocados are high in monounsaturated fats, which reduce cholesterol levels, reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke, and cancer and help your body absorb nutrients from other foods. But because fats contribute 9 calories per gram (as opposed to protein and carbohydrate’s 4 calories), they’re an extremely efficient and timely way to consume large amounts of calories. One tablespoon of peanut butter contains 94 calories, and just 14 walnuts have 185 calories. Flaxseed oil, which boasts heart-healthy omega-3s, offers up 119 calories per tablespoon. Dried fruit is another healthy option, as long as it doesn’t contained added sweeteners or preservatives. Since fruits are largely water by volume and weight, and dried fruits are devoid of water, their serving sizes are drastically reduced — but they still contain the same amount of calories as well as fiber, vitamins and minerals. At mealtime, try quinoa and salmon, which are surprisingly high in calories. Quinoa contains 220 calories per cup, which is the same as one cup of white pasta — but with far more nutrients like fiber, protein and iron. Salmon packs almost twice as many calories as chicken — but with more protein and far more omega-3 fatty acids.

Calorie- and nutrient-dense foods
2. Drink your calories
Nutritionists often advise against drinking your calories because liquids aren’t as satiating as solid foods and because we tend to disregard the calories they do contain. Plus, sodas, smoothies and coffee beverages are often far too high in refined sugars. But it’s a different game for those trying to gain weight: because they don’t fill us up, it’s easy to down a 300-calorie drink next to a 500-calorie lunch. Just make sure your drink of choice is filled with nutrient-dense ingredients and is low in sugar. Milk or chocolate milk are good choices, as they contain an ideal ratio of protein to carbs. Fruit juices contain about 100 calories per glass; just balance the sugars with protein or healthy fats to avoid shaky blood sugar levels. Smoothies are even better, because you can add more calorie-dense ingredients like yogurt, milk, peanut butter, wheat germ, chia seeds and protein powder.

3. Eat at least every three hours
Feeding your body with a consistent stream of calories is key if you want to gain weight, especially if you’re already having trouble with weight gain. Skipping meals, or even waiting the five or six hours between breakfast and lunch or lunch and dinner, means that your body will begin to draw energy from your energy stores. Without eating, your body is in a catabolic state, which means that after glycogen (the unused form of carbohydrates that we store) is used up, muscle is the next form of fuel. This is why eating a healthy breakfast shortly after you wake up is just as key, since you’ve been fasting all night. And don’t forget to time your meals and snacks with your workout: experts believe that there’s a window of opportunity after working out during which your muscles are most receptive to protein and calories, resulting in the most efficient muscle mass gain.

Calorie- and Nutrient-Dense Foods
4. Speaking of strength training…do it!
Even though strength training is touted as a method for weight loss, it’s still important for weight gain. To gain muscle mass, your body requires protein. But your body already uses up the majority of the protein you eat for regular physiological processes like hormone synthesis and metabolic processes. This means that you need to take in and store more protein than your body uses. If you’re strength training and not taking in more protein, your muscles will lack the amino acids they need to repair and rebuild more muscle — which means you’re actually burning muscle. Supplement your post-workout protein consumption with carbohydrates, which slow the rate of protein breakdown.

5. Eat before bed
According to a study from Maastricht University Medical Center in the Netherlands, muscle protein synthesis is relatively low during sleep; this is most likely attributable to the fact that there aren’t as many amino acids available for building muscle, says lead researcher Luc J.C. van Loon, Ph.D. But eating a snack high in protein along with some carbs may lead to gains in muscle mass: in another study, men who downed a protein shake before sleep increased muscle protein synthesis by 22%. Men’s Health advises eating a snack with about 25 grams of high-quality protein like cottage cheese and fruit, Greek yogurt, or three ounces of turkey.

6. Indulge with healthy desserts
Gaining weight doesn’t give you free reign to eat cookies, cakes, donuts and candy, but it does give you a little extra wiggle room when it comes to dessert. Truly healthy desserts take some creativity: energy bites, which are similar in taste and texture to cookie dough balls, are made with nutrient-rich ingredients like peanut or almond butter, dates, coconut flakes, flaxseed, dark chocolate and oatmeal. Or finish a meal with cookie dough dip, a stealthy concoction of chickpeas or white beans, nut butter, oats, and chocolate chips. For the purists, ice cream is also a good choice: according to a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, ice cream triggers an increase in insulin, which hinders protein breakdown.

Healthier Desserts