Artificial Sweeteners & Weight Loss

Trying to lose weight?  You may be damaging your efforts with sugar-free products and diet soda.  Evidence shows that the use of no-calorie sweeteners may actually make it harder for people to control their food intake and inevitably sabotage your weight loss goals.

Research done by Davidson and Swithers, members of the Ingestive Behavior Research department at Purdue University, shows that the use of saccharin actually changes the body's ability to regulate food intake. Very early in life, we learn that sweet flavors signal high calories. "The body's natural ability to regulate food intake and body weight may be weakened when this natural relationship is impaired by artificial sweeteners," said Davidson, who is an expert in behavioral neuroscience.

When we prepare to eat under normal circumstances, our metabolic rate begins to speed up. According to the experiments conducted by Davidson and Swithers, rats that had been consuming saccharin (a no-calorie sweetener) showed a smaller rise in their core body temperature after eating a sweet-tasting, high calorie meal relative to rats consuming glucose (the simplest form of regular sugar). The researchers attribute that the slower metabolic response led to overeating and made it harder for the saccharin rats to burn off excess calories. The conclusion of their research indicated that consuming food sweetened with a no-calorie sugar substitute can lead to greater body-weight gain and the increased production of fat tissue than simply consuming food sweetened with regular sugar. (Journal article: "A Role for Sweet Taste: Calorie Predictive Relations in Energy Regulation by Rats," Susan E. Swithers, Ph.D. and Terry L. Davidson, Ph.D.; Purdue University; Behavioral Neuroscience, Vol. 122, No. 1.)

Yikes! Although this research was done on rats and not on humans it’s hard to deny that their evidence matches emerging reports that show people who consume diet drinks are at a higher risk for obesity and a collection of other medical problems such as increased abdominal fat, high blood pressure and insulin resistance which contributes to the onset of diabetes.

The bottom line is this. If you are trying to lose weight, you should be trying to trade your bad eating habits for good ones. If you want to live a healthy lifestyle, water should be your #1 source for liquid. This is can seem a bit unrealistic if you are used to consuming everything "but" when you grab a drink, so instead of swapping your regular soda for diet, just start by cutting back. Instead of having a soda every day, try knocking it back to 3 cans per week and keep a large bottle of water with you at all times to keep you quenched.

I always advocate starting with easy wins when trying to make changes, no matter what your goal may be. You are less likely to give up when you can achieve results quickly. Just remember to give yourself time, and for goodness sake…stay away from the diet soda!

Exercise: Myth vs. Fact

When it comes to talking about healthy living, the topic of exercise always comes up.  If you’re doing it, it’s all you want to talk about.  If you’re not, it never comes up in conversation.  The bottom line is this, as human beings we need to keep moving.  Our bodies were designed to work and without some kind of regular physical exertion we don’t function properly, much like a car that just sits in a garage.  The trouble with exercise is that there are a lot of myths about how often you need to break a sweat and how strenuous your workouts need to be.  Today I’d like to clear up some of the common misconceptions and let you know that incorporating regular exercise into your lifestyle is not as daunting as it may seem.

Myth #1: It’s hard to exercise when you are trying to lose weight because exercising increases your appetite.
The opposite is actually true.  Studies have shown that regular exercise actually works to reduce your appetite and can help to keep you more focused on a healthy eating plan.  It is easier to stick with a healthy eating plan when you combine it with even moderate exercise.  And although you can still be successful losing fat without a rigorous fitness routine, regular exercise will excelerate your progress.  

Myth #2: To effectively lose weight you need to engage in a vigorous exercise routine.   
The fact is that any form of exercise, whether vigorous or not, will support your weight loss goals.  Walking is the single most effective form of exercise you can participate in.  The reason the health club won’t tell you this is because it could put them out of business.  Why do you think Europeans and New Yorkers are so slim?  They walk everywhere.  Instead of succumbing to the couch every night after dinner, download a new playlist to your ipod and take a walk around the neighborhood. Do this 5 days a week and you’ll notice an improvement in how you feel, both physically and mentally.

Myth #3: You can eat as much as you want as long as you exercise on a regular basis.
WRONG!  If you are eating healthy and exercising regularly you will require more nutrition than someone who sits on their butt all day.  But, no amount of exercise is going to protect you from a pot belly if you’re drinking beer and eating a bag of Cheetos every night before bed.  If the energy you consume outweighs the energy you expend you can’t realistically expect to lose weight…that’s just basic math. 

The benefits of regular exercise go beyond helping you to lose extra pounds and look better.  The trick is to find something that you enjoy doing and just stick with it!

5 "Super" Foods You MUST Eat to Live Healthy

Incorporating the following "super foods" into your day-to-day meals provides an easy way to create a healthy lifestyle.  Th
ese super foods are full of health promoting benefits and incorporating them into your eating plan makes it easier to lose and manage your weight.

1.  Leafy Green Vegetables

These super foods consist of broccoli, spinach, bok choy and kale.  Green vegetables are packed with vitamins A, C, and K, folate, potassium, magnesium and iron. You can eat most of these vegetables raw, but they work into meal planning best by preparing them steamed or stir-fried.

2.  Berries
I'm talking about strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries. These fruits are loaded with antioxidants and are high in fibre. Blueberries are the best source for antioxidants. Berries are easy to incorporate into your eating habits because you can usually find them fresh, frozen or dried. They can be used as an easy addition to salads, cereals, protein shakes and yogurt.

3. Citrus Fruit
Grapefruit, oranges, lemons and limes.  
Most people know about the benefits of Vitamin C and how it helps to maintain a healthy immune system.  Citrus fruits are also a good source of fiber, which will help keep blood sugar levels under control as well as keep you feeling full longer for easier weight management.  Grapefruit and oranges are great options to incorporate into breakfast meals, but try and eat them fresh as often as possible to maximize the nutritional benefits.

4.  Kefir
Kefir is relatively new on the scene, but has been rapidly gaining popularity over the past couple years.  You may have to find it in a recognized health food store, but most "big box" grocery chains will carry it in their organic section.  It has been documented that kefir has the ability to stimulate the immune system, enhance the digestion of  lactose, and combat the bacteria that causes most ulcers.  My favorite way to consume kefir is on its own as a morning drink, but you can add to smoothies, shakes or juices to mix things up.

5.  Fish
Salmon, tuna and mackerel are among the three most popular cold-water fish that contain oils rich in omega-3 fatty acid. This "good fat" protects your arteries against plaque build up and is effective in lowering the "bad" cholesterol. Fish is also high in protein which makes it an excellent source for creating healthy meals for effective weight loss.

For additional information on even more "super" foods I recommend picking up "The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth" by Jonny Bowden (PH.D.).  It's packed with tons of great information on making educated food choices.

Our Biggest Enemy...Sugar

We are fatter than we’ve ever been.  The United States is facing an epidemic with respect to the level of obesity in our country.  Based on data from the National Centre for Health Statistics, 34% of American adults over the age of 20 are obese (2007-2008).  Today, the average American consumes approximately 180 pounds of sugar annually compared to the 1800’s when that number was only about 18 pounds a year.  It's pretty scary to think where we are, but it's even scarier to think what this will mean for the future if we don't get educated on the dangers of this potent provision.

Over the years I've come to understand that sugar is the most misunderstood food item we consume.  Most of the struggles we encounter in trying to lose weight and maintain a healthy lifestyle have to do with this misconception about sugar. Most people associate sugar with highly sweet food products.  Donuts, ice cream, candy bars and chocolate chip cookies are obvious examples of food products that contain sugar, but what if I told you that your body doesn't know the difference between that donut you had for breakfast or the baked potato you had with dinner.  In fact, whether you consume a couple slices of whole wheat bread, a bowl of pasta or a chocolate bar your body breaks it down to the exact same substance.  Sugar can take many forms in the food we eat (sucrose, fructose, and maltose to name a few), but through our body's digestion and absorption process it all breaks down to the same thing…glucose.  Glucose is the simplest form of sugar and it’s what our body needs to ensure we receive the energy we require to go about our day.  Glucose is an important nutrient when it comes to fueling our bodies, but once your body has processed all the sugar it needs to function it stores the extra as fat.  By eating a balanced diet from natural sources such as meat, vegetables, fruit and dairy you are getting more than enough of the glucose your body needs to function at its best.  It's important to realize that your body has a limited capacity to store excess sugar after it converts to glucose, but it can easily convert it into excess body fat. 

The major challenge in controlling our sugar intake today is that excess refined sugar is hiding in most pre-packaged foods on the market.  Advertising labels on processed foods makes it difficult for the average consumer to know what they are actually buying.  Messaging on food packages such as “fat-free” and “less than 200 calories” are misleading if you aren’t aware of the dangers of sugar.  Processed foods are loaded with sugar and other chemicals that work to prolong the shelf-life of the product and make it taste appealing after the manufacturer has removed most of the essential nutrients.
So how do you start to eliminate, or at the very least, reduce the amount of sugar you are consuming on a daily basis?  

It’s really just about getting back to the basics.  Getting away from packaged food products and frozen entrees and introducing real, whole foods back into your diet is the only way to be successful.

Now it’s important to note that sugar is a drug and as with any drug if you have been consuming a lot of it over an extended period of time, your body has most likely become addicted to it.  That being said, getting off sugar is not an easy feat.  If it were, we could jump into just about any commercial diet plan on the market and see lasting weight loss results. But, if you’ve ever been on a diet you know that is simply not the case.  If you think of sugar the same as nicotine, caffeine or dare I say even narcotics, you will be better equipped to understand this process will not happen overnight.

A good place to start is to try and eliminate something from your diet that contains refined sugar about once a week and replace it with something natural, but enjoyable.  For example, if you regularly eat frozen dinners, stop!  Fresh or even frozen fish fillets are easy to prepare. There are tons of varieties to choose from so ask the guy behind the seafood counter to recommend something that’s not too “fishy”.  Couple that with some fresh or frozen cooked veggies.  If that's all you change for the next 3 months...congratulations!  You’ve just cut about 3 inches from your waistline.  How "sweet" is that!

Great Tips for Reducing & Eliminating Debt

Late or missing debt payments can result in a negative credit history. This decreases your credit worthiness with financial institutions and eventually your ability to borrow money.  Access to credit is essential if you want to develop and keep your financial independence.

Balance Transfers
Balance transfers are only a good option if you have discipline.  This is essentially moving your existing high-interest credit card debt to a new credit card provider or line of credit facility with a lower interest rate. Many financial institutions will offer promotions which feature anywhere from 0%-5% interest on balance transfers of existing debt for a limited period of time. If used correctly, this is option can save you tons of interest considering the average credit card charges upwards of 20% on existing balances. Just remember to NEVER make a purchase with the card if you are using it to pay off a balance under a promotional interest rate.  Any purchase made during the promotional period will incurr interest at the regular rate until the balance is paid off in full.  The trick is to ensure you can pay off the balance before the 0% interest period expires.

Refinance Your Home
Another way of saying "refinance" is actually "remortgage".  It entails either changing your mortgage terms with your existing provider or swapping your mortgage from one lender to another. The objective is to use increased equity from your home to pay off debts and get a lower interest rate than what you are currently paying. When negotiating this type of debt restructuring its important to make sure to check if there are any charges or additional fees for switching which can eat up the benefit of this strategy. Remortgaging to pay off unsecured debt is only a good option if you have borrowed the money for things like home renovations and repairs.  Refinancing your home to pay out consumer debt is usually a bad idea unless you are planning to cut up your credit cards and change your spending habits!

Fixed Loan Consolidation
If you are having difficulty keeping up with your monthly debt repayment obligations, consolidation is the usually a viable option to consider.  By consoldating lines of credit and/or credit card balances into a fixed loan you will not only reduce the amount on your monthly payments, but you will also have an amortization term that will tell you when your debt will be paid off in full.

Paying off Debt With Savings
This is my least favorite option, but in some cases it is the only one that works.  If you've gotten yourself in over your head you will never get out of debt if you can only make the minimum payments on your credit cards.  Under these circumstances you will be better off to use your savings to pay off debt, especially since the interest on savings accounts is always much less than the interest you pay on unsecured debt.  If you are able to pay out all your consumer debt using your savings you can always set up a monthly auto-savings plan in the amount you were paying to your credit cards.  By having it come out of your bank account automatically, you can replenish your savings over time.

The above four strategies are my suggestions on ways to maximize credit and manage your debt.  Remember, debt is not your's either over-spending, over-borrowing, under-saving or all three that gets you into trouble!

It's important for me to say that taking on new debt to pay off old debt is a strategy for people that are ready to take responsibility for their financial situation. Trying to borrow your way out of debt without making a decision to discipline yourself could possibly lead to even greater financial difficulties down the road.  You need to change your habits around borrowing, spending, saving and investing to truly get on top of your finances and live free from financial worry and anxiety.

In closing, here's a great quote to inspire you:

"We must all suffer from one of two pains: the pain of discipline or the pain of regret.
The difference is discipline weighs ounces while regret weighs tons."  ~ Jim Rohn

3 Secrets to Eating More and Dieting Less

Unhealthy hang-ups over food are most common among women.  Yo-yo dieting, calorie obsession and overexercising are just to name a few.  The worst part is these food-relating habits are ultimately considered socially acceptable in our culture today.

The trouble with our relationship to food is that media sends a lot of mixed messaging. 
We are lead to believe that convenience can be healthy when in fact the fusion of cheap, quick-to-prepare meals often translates into over-processed, empty calories that creates a prescription for gradual weight gain.  We become trapped in a never ending cycle of compulsive self-control, followed by deprived overindulgence and  finally a day-to-day sense of guilt over what we can and cannot not eat.

So what can you do to break the cycle?

Get back to the basics.  Our relationship with food is actually over-complicated because many companies make meals too simple.  If you tend to gravitate to ready-to-serve food choices, chances are it is full of preservatives and additives that eventually pack on the pounds.  Processed foods remove nutrients and replace them with sugar, salt and other chemical additives to help to increase shelf-life. Good for the grocer, bad for the consumer.  An easy rule of thumb is to do all your meal shopping around the perimeter of the grocery store.  Processed foods tend to be found down the aisles, so if you stick to the borders you will be able to create meals from healthy sources (meat, veggies, eggs and dairy) and prevent adding extra sugar and salt to your diet which are key contributors to weight gain and other related health problems.

Eat breakfast.  This one sounds simple, but its not always easy.  What's important to remember is that eating breakfast is a habit that pays off.  We burn more calories early in the day and eating a well-balanced breakfast prevents unhealthy snacking throughout the day.  You are also more likely to make better food choices later in the day if you haven't deprived yourself within the first few hours upon waking up.

Stop dieting!  Healthy happy women are far less likely to go on diets.  It seems so funny to me that there is more than enough evidence to show how calorie-restricting diets never result in lasting weight loss and yet dieting is a multi-million dollar industry!  But then again we also know that smoking cigarettes causes cancer and tobacco companies are still making money so perhaps we never learn....
The bottom line is this, if you want to stay slim for life you don't need another diet, you need to change your lifestyle.  Weight loss should be the result of smart food choices everyday, not a goal you set for yourself every couple of months.  Adopting healthy eating habits won't transform your body overnight, but the lasting results are worth the pun intended :)

How to permanently de-stress your life

In today's fast-paced world, we all experience stress. We are constantly challenged to get more done, faster and with fewer resources. The harm stress can cause in our lives reaches far deeper than what we can see and feel. Although our bodies are built to defend against anything that causes us harm, stress triggers physiological changes in our bodies which can manifest into lasting physical damage.

Cortisol is a hormone that is often referred to as the "stress hormone". Our body secretes it at high levels when we react with a "fight or flight" response to our environment. High and prolonged levels of cortisol in the bloodstream has been shown to be related to many negative effects in our bodies. When I talk about stress I generally hear people relate it to feelings of anxiety, headaches, muscle tension and irritability, but stress actually takes on many more forms and they are not always what you would think. Symptoms such as depression, indigestion, lack of motivation, increased abdominal fat, and decreased muscle tissue are just to name a few.
It's hard to pinpoint what causes stress as it is different for everyone. Some people may experience sporadic stress through a challenging period in their life, while others may experience ongoing stress due to troubled relationships or circumstances involving their spouse or children.

The best test to tell if stress is negatively impacting your life is to take inventory on your emotional state of mind. Stress is not always obvious, but if you are living day-to-day in a negative mindset, chances are you are allowing stress right in through the front door. Negative emotions create an inability to cope with the demands of our environment. You just can't think bad thoughts and achieve positive results in your day-to-day life. As the saying goes…where the mind goes the man follows.  Personal development is not something that we work on for a short period of time.  It is an ongoing process.

If negative emotions cause us harm, it stands to reason that positive emotions should do the opposite. Scientific studies have actually shown that positive emotions result in the production of DHEA (the anti-aging hormone) and it's interesting to note that DHEA and cortisol are made from the same place in our body. Your emotions dictate which of these hormones is produced at the expense of the other! Responding to a stressful situation by transforming negative emotions into positive ones actually results in the production of more DHEA and significantly less cortisol. Anti-aging serum over fat stomach serum? I think the choice is obvious.

Now you may be be thinking to yourself…."Well that's all well and good, but you don't know what I'm up against. My husband is having an affair, my kid is getting expelled from school and I'm 40 lbs overweight. How do you expect me to think positively?!" Under these circumstances it would seem having stress in your life is simply inevitable. If you can't change your circumstances, how can you can your negative thinking? And if you can't change your negative thinking, how are you ever going to get the stress out of your life?  This is where I would like to provide some perspective with a single word.


Peace of mind is single most important thing to your life. By actively seeking peace you can achieve freedom from negative thinking.  This, of course, will translate into even greater freedoms.  Freedom from physical pain, emotional eating and mental anxiety. Freedom from wanting what you do not have.  When you have peace, it doesn't matter what's going on around you and when it doesn't matter what's going on around you, you are free to enjoy your life.

As is true with attaining anything of value, achieving peace will require some effort. The cost will be continual and consistent maintenance of positive thoughts. If you are willing to pay this price, the benefits are far reaching. 
 Here is some advice to get you started:

Stop talking down to yourself. Eliminate the following thoughts as soon as you hear them creeping into your head - "I never do anything right", "People think I'm stupid", "I'm always going to be fat". Would you say these things to your best friend? Then don't say them to yourself. Replace negative self-talk with positive self-talk and you will start to feel the difference.

Don't let your mind wander. If you catch yourself thinking about how your husband never helps out around the house or your boss is so condescending, stop yourself immediately. It's easy to let our minds wander down the path of least resistance when we are driving to work or taking the dog for a walk.  Positive thinking requires effort. Don't ask me why, but as human beings we seem predisposed to negativity. Think about the last time you saw a good news story on the front page of the newspaper. Thinking positively means you have to make the effort to renew your mind everyday to keep negative thoughts at bay.

Start your day with a smile. I currently live in the north and its hard to feel positive when you wake up to cold dark mornings from October until April. Getting out of bed can be a challenge when you are going through a tough time in your life, but you can make your day a whole lot easier just by taking some time first thing in the morning to set yourself in a positive state of mind. Think about plans you are looking forward to or someone special you can't wait to talk to. Think about how cute your baby is. Remind yourself how it felt when you were first dating your husband. Life doesn't stop just because we want to have a bad day.

If you've spent most of your life complaining about everything that is wrong, keeping a positive attitude will feel like a full time job in the beginning.  Peace is not easy to find and it can be hard to hold onto.  The good news is that once you've found it, you'll be willing to do everything in your power to keep it.  Peace be with you....

"Everything will ok in the end. If it's not ok, it's not the end." ~ unknown

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