Sara loses 70 pounds in 6 months!

I have spent the last two summers teaching nutrition, culinary and fitness classes at Wellspring, an organization that specializes in weight loss. (for more info on Wellspring listen to this National Public Radio piece: )

Last summer I worked with Sara, a music teacher from Virginia who has spent years struggling to lose weight. Sara recently got in touch with me to share her continued success and was happy to have me share some of her story on this blog.

What a difference 6 months makes!

Of her transition Sara says, “I discovered how to conquer obstacles that seemed impossible before and was able to change my mindset on exercise, food, and body image.” Sara came to every nutrition workshop with an open mind and a ready pen. Her dedication paid off and by the end of her 6 week stay at Wellspring Sara had lost an astonishing 40 pounds. During the following 6 months Sara lost another 30 pounds for a total of 70 pounds. Sara also lost 55 inches from: bust: 9, waist: 17, hips 14.5 inch, thighs 8, arms 6.5.

Sara used no gimmicks, no pills, no juicing, and no fasting. Sara credits her success to monitoring her diet with daily journaling and following a strict low fat, high fiber,  diet. She plans to continue her weight loss and achieve her goal weight. Sara plans to celebrate her success by hiking in Yosemite with close friends.






Should fruits & veggies get a divorce?


We always talk about them together, they sit together in the store, they are practically married, so what’s the big difference?

“Eat your fruits and vegetables” “Two cups a day of fruits and vegetables” “Make half your plate fruits and vegetables” Public health officials, doctors and dietitians all repeat the same message. Since fruits are sweet and don’t require preparation time most people respond enthusiastically to upping their fruit intake but conveniently forget about the veggies. Well that’s ok, it’s one or the other, right? Unfortunately that’s not the case and for the overweight the difference is especially significant, fruits and veggies have entirely distinct effects on weight.

How do you define the difference?

Nutritional definitions: 1) Vegetables are low in sugars and calories, high in fiber and complex carbohydrates. 2) Fruits are high in simple carbohydrates (sugars) and contain moderate amounts of calories and fiber.

Fruits, Veggies and your Gut

Vegetables average four times the fiber per calorie as fruits. Whole grains, which are widely praised and advertised for their high fiber, average only 1/8 the fiber per calorie as vegetables. The high fiber of veggies combined with its complex carbohydrates give vegetables a unique role in digestion. Our small intestine needs time to breakdown the long chain carbohydrates and our large intestine works on the extensive fibers, as well as extracting the plentiful water out of the vegetables. When our intestines are busy, weight loss is easier because: 1) hard working intestines send signals to the brain saying we are full 2) the intestines are lined with muscles, which burn calories 3) the additional time it takes to digest veggies slows down the whole digestive process; our meals turn to energy slower and our blood sugars stabilize for longer which in turn delays and diminishes hunger. Meanwhile fruits, being mostly water, simple carbohydrates/sugars, and some fiber, digest rapidly.

Most importantly for weight loss, the divide in sugars and fiber impacts calories. Fruits average 60 calories per serving while vegetables average only 25 calories per serving. The following list shows calories content per 100 grams/3.5 ounces – equivalent to a small apple, 4-6 strawberries, an average sized carrot or a large bell pepper

Fruits Veggies
Watermelon 26 Mushroom 18
Orange 53 Bell Pepper 20
Apple 56 Lettuce 21
Plums 56 Broccoli 25
Cherries 70 Spinach 26
Mangoes 70 Cauliflower 30
Strawberries77 Cabbage 45
Banana 95 Carrot 48
Dates 281 Onion 50

In summary, vegetables are as close as there is to a magic pill for weight loss while fruits are fairly neutral. Raw fruits can be a useful player in a weight loss diet, particularly when used as a substitute for sweets. However fruit, when processed into juices, dried fruit, or in smoothies will contribute to weight gain, but that is topic for another blog.


Why you might be eating too much protein

One frequent concern I hear is “Am I eating enough protein?” Ironically, overconsumption of protein is far more common than deficiency. When I interview patients I notice that people overestimate their protein needs while, at the same time, underestimate how much protein is in their diet. Let’s look at both issues.

1)    How much protein do I need?

The American Heart Association and the National Institutes of Health recommend 50-60 grams of protein for most adults, which is about 10-12% of total calories. The WHO (World Health Organization) puts protein requirements as 5% of daily calories, for a 2000 calorie diet this is about 25 grams of protein. The US government advises .36g per pound, a smidge over 1/3 your weight, so for a 180 pound adult that is 65 grams of protein.

All protein estimates, including our government’s recommendation, are calculated with lean body mass in mind. It is our muscles and our organs which need protein, any excess fat we carry does not increase our protein needs. (However excess weight that is from muscle, such as a heavily muscled athlete, does increase protein needs but that is a topic for another day.) For instance, if when you were at a healthy weight (appropriate to your height and build, neither under or overweight) of 180 pounds during your college years but gained 20 or even 50 pounds of fat since then, your protein needs remain the same.

If these protein recommendations sound low consider that in infancy we consume only breast milk, which is a mere 10% protein. Our protein needs are never higher than during this time of frenzied muscle growth,  and organ development. We can get away with lower protein than one might think because, unlike fat and carbohydrates, protein is only burned for energy as a last resort. Protein is constantly recycled, worn out proteins are reassembled by the liver to be used over and over again.

2)    Why we underestimate how much protein we eat

Protein is not only available in what we traditionally consider protein foods (animal flesh, diary, legumes, nuts/seeds), both starches and vegetables also have protein. There is even a little bit of protein in some fruits, particularly those with edible seeds such as strawberries and blackberries.

Protein grams per 100 calories: Spinach 13g, Broccoli 6.8g, steak (depending of the cut) 5-10g,, 2oz Roasted Skinless Chicken Breast 20g

Take a look at two days worth of Food Sobriety style meals (1/4 protein, ¼ starch, ½ veggies) with the protein grams (g) listed. To keep things simple I left out menu-style descriptions/condiments/herbs etc… Despite the small, by American standards, portions of protein both days easily exceed recommendations, and this is without counting snacks.

Breakfast: 2 egg omelete (14g) with 1 cup peppers (3g) and 1 cup asparagus (4g) 1 cup rice (5g)

Lunch:  3 oz turkey burger with bun (28 g) lettuce, tomato, onion (1g) and a cup of vinegar style coleslaw (1g)

Dinner: 3oz of baked chicken (28g) with 1 c. of steamed broccoli (4g) and 1c. of corn (4.5g)

Total Protein: 92.5 grams

Vegetarian version

Breakfast: 1 c. oatmeal (6g) with ½ c. strawberries (.5g), 1.5 c. of steamed peas and carrots (10g) with a ½ cup yogurt dressing/sauce (4g)

Lunch: 1 c. cooked spinach (6g), medium bowl of lentil soup (12g), 1c. rice (5g)

Dinner: 1 c. of mushrooms (3.5), 1 c. of cauliflower (3g), 1 c. beans (16g), baked potato (9g)

Total Protein: 76 grams


Our plan for weight loss: The Sober Plate Part 1

Thank you to my friend Kristy Simmons, who took my chicken scratch sketches and made them shine.

The Taoist philosophy of yin-yang is founded on the belief that darkness and light exist in a balance. Neither is good, nor bad; instead, both exist to bring out contrast in the other and to provide balance. Borrowing this philosophy for a diet design I divided food into two main categories: those that are heavy/weight promoting (proteins/starches) and those that are light/promote weight loss (non starchy vegetables). Again, neither is good or bad, it is only the relative proportion that dictates the meaning. Continuing with this reasoning I assigned the most potent weight promoting elements, the fats and sugars, to the smallest circles.

If you want to lose weight, eat accordingly, half the plate veggies, a quarter protein, a quarter starch. If you are happy with your weight you can divide the plate into three even parts and/or add fat. If you need to gain weight, well, let us just say there are a lot of options out there.

I was inspired to create this plate design from my experience with the plate method. The plate method was developed by the American Dietetic Association, as a blood sugar management tool for diabetics. I began using this diet years ago because it was so simple that I could teach it to the illiterate Latino populations that I often worked with. As I tracked patients’ diets and weight I noticed a variety of trends that correlated with both weight loss and weight gain. That information inspired me to research ways to overhaul the Plate Method to maximize weight loss.

A real life example – 1/4 plate protein (beans), 1/4 plate starch (rice, brown would be better but its hard to get in Latin America) and 1/2 plate of veggie, both stewed and as salad, lime juice dressing

Although the Plate Method is great for managing blood sugars there are several aspects of it that make weight loss difficult: 1) the lack of distinction between starchy and fibrous vegetables 2) the inclusion of generous amounts of dairy products (I count dairy as a protein or a fat, depending on the product) 3) the lack of any visual guideline on fats or sugars. Additionally the Plate Method does not discuss the degree of processing in the food, the water content, or the fiber content. I have made all these and more modifications. In the coming weeks I will post details about the diet and each of the seven categories: Proteins, starches, vegetables, fats, sugars, fruits, and beverages.

For now consider as a final thought: Our plate is both a mirror and a crystal ball, what we see on our plate reflects who we are now and who we will become in the future.