Posts filed under ‘Feel Better’

Should We All Be Gluten Free? (But It’s So Hard!!)

Yesterday I explained how Celiac is just the beginning of the gluten conversation, hardly the end. I also discussed how our conventional model of testing is barely skimming the surface of those of us with gluten issues as it’s catching only 1 in 8 people reacting to gluten. (More on better testing at www.cyrexlabs.com)

But let’s say you’ve done some gluten testing and you appear, on paper, to be in the clear. Whew!

Should you still avoid it? Maybe.

In this article I’ll explain why we all may want to at least minimize gluten, how tough is it to avoid, why you can’t really be “almost” gluten free and why you may be more reactive to gluten now than you were before.

First, our food supply is a mess. Wheat is one grain that is very “modified genetically” (although it does not meet the criteria to be considered genetically modified, aka GMO) in our country. (With most grains and all of our soy being modified, picture me now fist shaking in the air cursing, “Monsanto!”) While it’s not technically “GMO” our adulterated gluten has been genetically spliced and diced enough that it fires up our tummies and our T cells. Our immune system doesn’t like this new gluten much, so whether it’s GMO or not is sorta 6 of one, half dozen of the other….but at the end of the day, this modified gluten is largely to blame for the rash of gluten reactivity we’re seeing today.

The wheat/gluten we’re eating today is not what our parents ate and certainly not what our grandparents ate – and also not what our counterparts in Europe are eating. Our homegrown American gluten is a completely foreign molecule that our bodies, namely our immune systems, have never dealt with evolutionarily. Just like when we shake hands with our friend who has a cold and our immune system sees that virus and launches the attack, it does the same with our modern gluten.

This GMO issue makes gluten unarguably an inflammatory food in general, for us all, positive gluten testing or not.

And here’s a few more ways gluten is firing up our immune system, causing inflammation and generally being naughty:

In order to make gluten mix well with other ingredients, food manufacturers deaminate it. This chemical process makes the gluten molecules water soluble in order to make processed, packaged foods. However, this also creates a molecule that is much more reactive than plain gluten or gliadin (see my post yesterday for a graphic showing how wheat becomes gluten and gliadin, etc).

We grow and farm massive amounts of wheat and it’s stored in large bins for long periods of time, allowing mold to act on it and create little immune aggravators called enterotoxins.

Many of us have “intestinal permeability”, aka a “leaky gut”. A leaky gut is due to inflammation in the gut that has caused a bit of swelling in the cells of our intestines, damaging the junctions between the cells allowing larger proteins to get through. Normally only small things pass through such as a single amino acid, a vitamin, or a molecule of glucose. When these larger proteins end up in our blood stream, our immune system sees them, gets all wound up and here comes the inflammation baby!

We can get a leaky gut from years of a bad diet, various medications, having hypothyroidism, being under high stress, eating foods that we are sensitive to, taking antibiotics or doing anything that disrupts the delicate balance of bacteria in our gut. Many of us have poor digestion including low stomach acid production (either inherently or we take acid lowering medications such as TUMS or Zantac) or low enzyme output to digest our food (we need different enzymes to breakdown fats, proteins and carbohydrates). Any of these can disrupt the healthy gut bacteria in our intestines or cause inflammation (leading to the leaky gut issue) making us more intolerant to foods (think to back when we were young and could “eat anything” and now there are various foods that give us mild to significant digestive distress).

Ok, back to the question: if gluten is inflammatory and I could have any number of issues listed above, should I stop eating it? Is gluten inherently just bad?

Well inflammation is bad and we know this genetically modified Franken-Gluten is causing inflammation so yeah, it’s bad. Is it terribly bad for everyone? Not necessarily.

If your immune system is healthy and your gut is healthy and you don’t have a lot of other inflammation in your body, you’ll do OK vs. someone who is struggling with any of those things. For those of you lucky ones, I’d say going totally gluten free is probably not necessary but I’d still discourage anyone from eating several servings of gluten per day. Always focus on more vegetables and fruit vs. grain based carbohydrates. Think sweet potato, pumpkin, squash, fruits and legumes vs. breads, pastas, rice, etc.

However, if you have an autoimmune disorder, a thyroid condition, PCOS, digestive trouble, depression, anxiety, mood issues, acne or are struggling to get pregnant, my advice is to avoid it.

Not sold? Give it up for 45 days at least. The skies may not part and the heavens may not open up, but many of your symptoms may clear up. If they don’t add it back in and see if you feel any different.

Is It Hard To Be Gluten Free?

At first, yes. But after you’ve done it for a while, at times, still yes. It can be tough if you don’t plan ahead , you will find yourself in restaurants   awkwardly ordering some off the menu concoction, you will have friends and family give you a hard time for eating “so weird”. But it does get easier and if you feel better, look better, have more energy, are less depressed and losing weight, then it’s worth it.

And the question on everyone’s mind: is Dr Brooke gluten free? Yes. I wouldn’t ask any of my patients to do something I was unwilling to do myself or didn’t think was that important. And knowing all of the info I’ve just shared with you in the past two blogs, how could I not be? And how could I feed this food to my family?

Do I like being gluten free? Well I like feeling better – gluten makes me tired, cranky, irritable and depressed – although my gut doesn’t react at all. But no, I don’t like it all of the time. I have been very hungry in an airport when I’ve forgotten to pack snacks for myself, I’ve been sad perusing a menu seeing how limited my options are and I’ve never tasted the delicious looking chocolate croissants at my favorite Park Slope coffee shop. I can live without bread or pasta but I do miss the occasional beer, but hey, that’s life! No sense dwelling on the downsides of it and feeling restricted, that just makes it all so exhausting and depressing. I’d rather focus on all the literally thousands of foods I can eat. Feeling badly and knowing I’m damaging my body just isn’t worth the few minutes of yum I’ll have from that buttery, flaky croissant. What’s more, most of the gluten containing foods are simple carbs that wreak havoc weight loss – one more reason to avoid them.

One of my patients put it best last week when asked if she felt deprived not being able to eat gluten.  She brilliantly replied, “No! I felt deprived before when I had lower energy, worse allergies and funky digestion.” It’s all in our perspective.

Can You Make Yourself Sensitive to Gluten?

How about this conundrum: I used to eat gluten with little ill effects, avoided it and now when I eat it I feel like a truck hit me! Did I make myself allergic to it?? No, not really.

If we eat a food that we are even mildly reactive to on a daily basis our immune system just plain gets tired and depleted. When we take it out for a while and the antibodies have time to replenish, they are ready to rock when they see that food again and your reaction is quicker and seems more severe. This will not get better, the longer you avoid something you are sensitive to more often the more significant your reaction will be. (Unless the issue was due solely to a leaky gut, in this case fixing the leaky gut issue should remedy the sensitivity…but there are often multiple factors at play.)

Does this mean, to save yourself a nasty reaction you should dose yourself every day? Definitely not! This just tells you that you’ve done the right thing by cutting this food out of your daily diet. And remember, even if your symptoms seem slight such as a “little tummy ache” or just a bit of bleeding gums when you have gluten, you are reacting and it is a stress on your body and your immune system.

Can’t commit? Can you go “almost gluten free”?
If you are not someone with an autoimmune disorder or the conditions I mentioned above, don’t have significant symptoms when you eat it but still are a bit warry of this ubiquitous protein, can you just eat it on occasion? Sure. But if you do have any autoimmunity, hypothyroidism, PCOS, etc then remember this scary fact: the inflammatory reaction created from a bite as small as a crouton lasts for 3-6 months . Having a bite here and there really doesn’t let your immune system recover. That said, less is better than more so if the best you can do is minimize it, then at least do that. Like I always say: if you can’t do everything, don’t not do anything….at least do something!

So for my final trick, I’ll answer the aggravating question: Why when I ditched the gluten, I didn’t lose any weight!! What gives????  Tune in tomorrow for 7 Reasons Why You Didn’t Lose Weight Going Gluten Free. See you soon!

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August 7, 2012 at 9:18 am 6 comments

The 9 Ways You Could Be Reacting To Gluten – None of Which Have Anything To Do With Celiac

With many a Hollywood starlet going gluten free as of late, including the stir caused by Miss Miley Cyrus’s gluten free fueled weight loss, this little grain based protein is grabbing everyone’s attention. Seems right now everyone from Paleo to Vegan is talking about gluten.

This “gluten free craze”, as its being called, is not new although it’s been gaining popularity the past few years. Gluten has been on the radar of natural health practitioners and nutritionists for a long time. So, why now all the fuss?

I’ve been meaning to write an article on this subject for awhile but due to my practice growing so quickly and of course my new job as mommy, my blogging has sadly gone by the wayside. But with both the mainstream media and many of my most revered nutrition and fitness peeps lately saying the gluten free lifestyle is nothing but “trendy”, I wanted to lay this out in greater detail so you can see it’s anything but a fad.

The gluten talk often turns to whether or not you have Celiac Disease (an autoimmune condition where you attack the enzyme that digests gluten in your intestines and can have antibodies to the alpha gliadin component of wheat causing destruction of the microvilli – hairlike projections on the intestines where absorption of nutrients takes place).

But let’s look closer at gluten and how it’s broken down and how Celiac disease is actually just one small facet of the gluten problem. Gluten (from the Latin word for “glue”) is the composite of two proteins called gliadin and glutenin. These exist, joined with starch, notably in wheat, rye, and barley – and most of our packaged foods, sauces, and the list goes on. Here’s how we go from wheat to gluten to gliadin and several other nasties that I’ll explain in a bit:

Not so simple as alpha gliadin huh? Here’s where the advice we hear from Dr Oz to the top fitness magazines to many a blog leads us astray. That advice being: if you do not have Celiac then you don’t need to worry about gluten. Oh my word! This is this not even the beginning of the story, let alone the end.

What’s worse, our current screening for Celiac and gluten reactivity misses 1 in 8 people with gluten issues. Surprised? Confused?

Let’s first talk about the many, many flaws with our conventional testing for gluten allergies and sensitivities (among the tests that deem you Celiac or not) and then I’ll get to how those various breakdown products of gluten cause problems for so many people – yes, even those without Celiac. Bear with me here comes some science…

To be screened for Celiac, the first testing your doc will do includes a couple of antibody tests: alpha gliadin (which is just one form of gliadin) and tissue transglutaminase (an enzyme you make in your intestines that digests gluten). Sometimes an antibody called anti-endomysium is included as well. A positive on any one of these will likely yield an “avoid gluten” recommendation from your MD, however this is not in and of itself diagnostic of Celiac. An intestinal biopsy that shows erosion and flattening of your “villi” is the gold standard for diagnosis of Celiac Disease. So literally, your tissue needs to be damage to a certain extent before we label it “Celiac”.

There are a couple major issues with this blood testing we use to say yah or nah to gluten. First, you MUST be eating gluten/wheat in order for these tests to be accurate. If the antigen, the protein (in this case alpha gliadin), is not around, the antibodies we’re looking for in your blood might not be there in high enough numbers to catch on testing. If you’ve been avoiding wheat and gluten for a while you could geat a false negative. Furthermore, you have to have a healthy immune system for these tests to be really accurate and if you have autoimmune disease (most of which have some level of gluten intolerance as a component) such as Hashimoto’s Hypothyroidism, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Lupus, etc, or are under a lot of stress, your immune system may not have the strength to show enough of these antibodies for us to pick it up. And perhaps the biggest issue is that our conventional testing screens for reactions to alpha gliadin only, but here’s the bigger picture one more time:

There are alpha, beta, gamma and omega gliadins…and you could be reactive to any of the four forms.

Or you could be reactive to deaminated gliadin. Deamination is something that’s done to make the protein water soluble so it can be mixed with other components to make packaged foods. The reaction to deaminated gliaden is much stronger than regular gliadin. There are three of types of deaminated gliadin (15, 17 and 33) and you guessed it, you could react to any of them.

Or you could be reactive to gluteomorphins (a byproduct of us digesting the gluten protein). Morphin like morphine, reacts on opioid receptors in your brain and literally gives you a high. The people reacting in this fashion are those that tear up in my office when we discuss going off gluten – they are truly addicted. This group also can feel worse when they come off gluten because their brain is missing that fix, more on this later. (FYI: there are caseomorphins found in dairy as well. Tough for you to lose the milk moustache? This mechanism may be at play.)

Or you could be reacting to glutenin (remember that gluten is made up of gliadin and glutenin) and this isn’t tested for conventionally either.

Or finally you could be reacting to wheat germ agglutinin, which is not a gluten reaction but more of a “wheat sensitivity” to the lectin portion of wheat germ.

So when we focus on “Celiac” and we look at testing for alpha gliadin and tissue transmaminase, can you see just how much we’re missing? And how a negative test from our doc can give us a false sense of security as we continue to eat gluten?

And want to know how we’re missing even more people who are reactive to gluten? Usually what gets you tested is complaining to your doc about some sort of digestive trouble (although some autoimmune patients are screened, as well as those having immediate family relatives with Celiac). However, gluten reactivity in the scientific literature is being categorized, not as a digestive issue but as a neurological one. Huh??

Consider this 2002 article from the Journal of Neurology Neurosurgery and Psychiatry: patients with enteropathy (erosion of the small intestines due to gluten) represent only 1/3 of patients with neurological manifestations of gluten sensitivity.

Yikes! That means 2/3 of us – over half – that have some sort of reactivity to gluten do not have digestive symptoms! We’re getting missed entirely. Reactions can be depression, neuropathies, brain fog, fatigue, insomnia, anxiety, infertility, female hormone imbalances, acne, etc. The gluten issue extends well beyond the gut, so notion that we are in the clear if we don’t have Celiac is simply not accurate.

This isn’t just the ramblings of gluten-phobic Dr Brooke – who by the way, is descendant of a long line of wheat farmers! (I doubt they are reading this blog though. My grandfather’s response to

The road leading to my Grandpa Steve’s farm in Montana.

a computer is “I don’t watch that thing.”) For at least 15 years, medical journals have been talking about how we’re missing the boat by focusing on Celiac, alpha gliadin and digestion symptoms only.

In 1999, the British Medical Journal stated that we are catching only about 12.5% of reactive gluten patients by diagnosing those with overt Celiac – the teeny, tiny, tip of the ice berg, so to speak. The journal Gut in 2006 said that, “For every symptomatic patient with Celiac disease there are 8 patients with no gastrointestinal symptoms”. This means we’re missing 7 of 8 people reacting somehow to gluten with our current model of testing.

If you’ve lost all confidence that you’ll get any sort of reliable gluten testing, rest assured there is now a test that will screen for reactions to all of the gluten reactivity I’ve discussed. Visit http://www.cyrexlabs.com and inquire about Array 3.

Not able to get adequate testing – or don’t want to? You have another option: you can always eliminate gluten and see if you feel better. But note that you have to eliminate it completely and usually for 4-6 weeks or until your symptoms are gone. Then you introduce it back and see how you do. If you feel better off gluten, listen to that! You’re body doesn’t lie. Most of us ignore the signals our body sends us every day, if your body does better off this inflammatory food go with it – testing or not!

But let’s face it, even with a positive test on the Cadillac of panels from Cyrex Labs, many people simply do not want to give up gluten. It’s in most of our favorite comfort foods and nearly all of our packaged, widely available, convenience foods.

I had a patient that I saw off and on for nearly a year and her weight just wouldn’t budge. She had horrible acid reflux that even with Nexxium, was so bad it affected her sleep and her workouts. When in a prone positions (face down), like for a push up, she had so much reflux she couldn’t finish a set. She had eczema, a few bouts of skin cancer, her stomach ached every time she put food in it, and no matter what we did the scale just wouldn’t budge.

Her doc had tested her for alpha gliadin and assured her that gluten wasn’t a problem for her. My suggestion to skip her beloved morning bagel was a very hard sell. Finally she agreed to a 30 day trail elimination. In that month she lost 15 pounds, eczema was gone, had zero heartburn and no reflux. She had no pain with eating and more energy than she’d had in years. At the end of the 30 days she said, “Yeah this has really worked wonders and I’ve never felt better…but it’s just too hard to avoid. I can’t do this forever.” So she’s back on bagels, back to being overweight and back to burning pain every time she eats. She’s also had another bout of skin cancer – and she was only 30 years old. Ay yi yi…..

Is gluten inherently evil? No, but our modern genetically modified gluten has proven to be a trouble maker for a whole lot of folks and there is mounting evidence that it makes a host of conditions worse – such as autoimmune disease like Hashimoto’s Hypothyroidism. And I don’t want to downplay Celiac Disease – it is a very real condition and an obvious reason to avoid gluten containing foods. But hopefully I’ve illustrated that Celiac patients are not the only ones that should consider living the gluten free life.

Who else should give up gluten? Tune in tomorrow for the answer! And up next after that: 7 reasons why, unlike Miley, you didn’t lose weight when you went gluten free.

Questions? Post them here or email me at drbrooke@betterbydrbrooke.com. Looking for tasty, you’ll-never-miss-it, gluten free recipes? Keep up with me on my Facebook page!

August 6, 2012 at 9:18 am 10 comments

Your Body Is A Chemistry Lab – Today’s Lesson: Methylation

Standing in the aisles of your local health food store or shopping on a any number of websites, it’s easy to be daunted by what supplements you should take. Next to fish oil, methylating nutrients make the top of my list for good health on many levels. But what the heck does it mean to be methylating?

Technically, methylation is the subtracting or adding of a “methyl group” (one carbon and three hydrogen atoms) to some other molecule – like a protein or DNA.  This process is going on all the time in your body and it’s crucial to you staying in optimal health. It’s often been said in functional medicine circles that “if you don’t methylate well, you aren’t well”.

Serotonin, for example needs to be methylated in order become active – without this process your serotonin will be low and you may feel depressed or have trouble sleeping. A compound called homocystine needs to be methylated in order to regenerate the important amino acid methionine – failure to do so is dangerous for cardiovascular health.  Adrenaline must be methylated in order to get out of your system so that you can “wind down” – lacking methylation here could leave you anxious or wide awake come bed time.  These are just a few of the scads of methylation reactions happening right now that are keeping inflammation down, detoxification running smoothly, hormone metabolism up to par and your mood on even keel. Know this: if you support methylation your entire body will benefit.

With nearly every system in your body affected by this chemical reaction, your mood, PMS, sleep quality and mood will all be better when it’s clipping along smoothly. Consider supporting this system with:  B vitamins (particularly B12, B6, and folic acid), trimethyl-glycine (also known as betaine) and SAMe.

Wondering how your metylation stacks up? You can see homocystine levels on a simple blood test or you can have various alternative testing done to see markers of methylation (see www.metametrix.com for more information or find a functional medicine practitioner).

B vitamin status is seen in a common CBC, aka a complete blood count, and more specifically B12 levels are checked with a test called methylmalonic acid. (Note: blood levels of folic acid or B12 are not accurate for B vitamin status, but rather reflect recent vitamin intake from food and supplements. Methylmalonic acid and homocysteine are not routinely run, so you’ll need to ask your doctor.)  There is also a genetic marker for methylation called the MTFR gene that can be tested for as well.

When looking for a supplement, I recommend using a combination product of several B vitamins and in light of recent damming evidence on synthetic folic acid, look for a product containing a particular form of folic acid: L-5-methyl tetrahydrofolate, to ensure efficacy and safety.

December 28, 2010 at 11:00 am Leave a comment

The Coffee Conundrum – Does Coffee Help You Burn Fat?

Keep your morning cup of coffee – it’s loaded with antioxidants and you’ll lose more weight when hopped up on caffeine. No wait – all that caffeine might cause diabetes and is bad for weight loss. What should you do? Opinions on both sides are strong – strong like a piping hot cup of French Roast, and there is research backing both sides of this argument. And it’s an argument indeed – take away a cup of Starbucks from a java junkie and you might not live to tell the tale.

When it comes to weight loss, popular advice based on interpretation of current research poses several problems. First, like any other plant ‘medicine” coffee seems to behave differently that caffeine alone – meaning that’s its other constituents and antioxidants play a role in how one responds (Translation: studies done on caffeine alone shouldn’t be directly applied to coffee and often times caffeine dosed in these studies is well in excess of what the average coffee drinker consumes). Next, studies pertaining to insulin sensitivity and diabetes are done on so called healthy subjects – ignoring the fact that there may be subtle derangements in their insulin function but they are not overtly diabetic or full blown insulin resistant.

Caffeine’s effect on insulin is where coffee plays into fat loss. Here’s what you need to know:

* Caffeine appears to acutely lower insulin sensitivity, but the effect is not chronic. Meaning that in the healthy, exercising individual, coffee drinking does not lead to diabetes . However, it does lower your insulin sensitivity in the short term so avoid drinking it with starches (optimal or allowable and for sure skip the muffin at your coffee break). If you have insulin resistance, diabetes or are not following a lower carb diet, caffeine can make insulin matters worse.

* Raising epinephrine is one mechanism by which caffeine perks you up, a preworkout coffee or tea will allow you to perform better, exercise harder and burn more fat at the gym. Avoid post workout caffeine to avoid thwarting the effects of your Recovery Shake. And  if you have anxiety, insomnia or are at all aggravated from caffeine it’s wise to avoid coffee and caffeinated beverages in general.

* The fat in cream or Half & Half will slow caffeine release into your system making it a better fat burner. But keep it light as to not pile on the calories and saturated fat. 1 tbsp or less is fine.

* Finally, caffeine appears to be less of a diuretic than once thought – meaning it isn’t as significant of a factor in dehydration.

December 14, 2010 at 8:51 pm 1 comment

Can You Sleep Your Way Slim?

Western society is characterized by high stress, lack of exercise, lack of sleep and overeating – but that’s not all of us. Some of us regularly hit the gym and try to eat well – but who isn’t guilty of getting too stressed out from time to time? How about missing a few hours of sleep when we’re having a week like this:  trying to work, get the kids to soccer, cook dinner and grocery shop for a big Thanksgiving meal?

Last week I discussed a study on how even small amounts of light in our sleep environment can pack on the pounds, and it turns out if we miss sleep several nights in a row – that’s not helping either.

A study in the Journal Of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism looked at 11 middle aged subjects (6 females and 5 males) who prior to the study averaged about 7.5 hours of sleep per night.  For 14 days they slept prescribed amounts (either 8.5 hours or 5.5 hours), didn’t exercise and had ample food available – in effort to mimic typical Western lifestyle of sitting at a desk, vending machine down the hall, and stress keeping us up at night.

Previous research has shown that you had to pull and all-nighter to see changes in insulin sensitivity, but this small study showed that repeated nights that were simply short on sleep also decreased insulin sensitivity.  Past data illustrates that those who sleep at least 7 hours per night are at decreased risk for developing metabolic diseases such as Metabolic Syndrome and Diabetes, and those that sleep less than 6 are at increased risk for these diseases. This more recent study, shows that only 2 weeks of not getting enough sleep shifts our metabolism towards a less insulin sensitive state.

What this means for your health is increased risk for heart and kidney disease as longer term complications of Diabetes. But what it means for your physique is more fat storage.  Insulin shuttles nutrients, including glucose, out of your blood and into your cells for use.  When your fuel stores are full or glucose simply can’t get in, which is the case with insulin resistance, that extra glucose goes to fat storage. 

This is why I tell my clients, that at each meal they have the opportunity to create a fat burning or a fat storing environment in their body by choosing the right foods. A high fiber, protein rich, managed starchy carb meal with some healthy fat encourages fat burning – whereas a high carb meal in the average person (athletes excluded of course, performance nutrition is very different from fat loss nutrition) promotes fat storage.

Turns out, missing just a few nights of shut-eye, also creates a fat storing environment. So do what you can to get at 7-9 hours of quality sleep each night.  Eat balanced meals of fiber, protein, healthy fat and a manageable carb load (see last week’s post for details).

Stress is the #1 reason I hear from my patients as to why they can’t sleep.  They lay in bed at night stressing over work, finances, etc. With Thanksgiving just a few days away, de-stress and sleep sounder by making a list before you hit the hay of 5 things you are grateful for. It will help assure you that no matter what you’re stressing over, there’s a lot in life to feel good about.

November 23, 2010 at 3:38 pm 1 comment

Is Your Alarm Clock Making You Fat?

Is there a digital clock on your nightstand? Do you fall asleep to the TV? How about the flashing light on a wireless modem? Or like me, is there the light from the City That Never Sleeps streaming through your window? New research shows that even if you can fall asleep with the lights or TV on, if you’re trying to lose weight – you probably shouldn’t. 

Researchers at Ohio State University looked at how light exposure during sleep affected  food intake, glucose tolerance (how well insulin clears glucose, getting it  into cells for use) and body mass increases in mice – and what they found might have us all reaching for the eye masks.

In the study, the mice were housed in one of three conditions: 24 hours of constant light, a standard light-dark cycle (16 hours of light and eight hours of darkness) or 16 hours of light and eight hours low light. The results showed that, compared with mice in the normal cycle of light-dark, those in the dim light had a significantly greater increase in body mass.

The researchers found that mice exposed to a dim light at night for eight weeks had a weight gain of 12g, which was about 50 percent more than mice that lived in a standard light and dark period. This dim light scenario is most like the seemingly negligible light in our bedrooms which may be thwarting our weight loss efforts.

Interestingly, even with no difference in activity or food consumption, the mice exposed to dim light ate more at night and gained more weight. This illuminates the notion that a big dinner or late night snacks is not ideal for leaning up.

The mice that were in exposed in constant bright light also gained more than the mice under normal light dark cycle, which shows us how metabolism is affected by abnormal sleep schedules like shift work, for example.

The link between sleep and body fat is slowly unraveling as we understand more about the body’s internal clock (known as circadian rhythm) and the actions of hormones like leptin and human growth hormone (both of which rise during sleep) and known light sensitive hormones like melatonin. 

While we learn more, note that light leaking into your sleep environment could be causing:

Increased appetite at night

Difficulty regulating meal timing during the day

Difficulty losing weight in general

Excessive cravings or overeating

Block out any light leaks and get leaner by:

Replacing  or covering up digital clocks

Turn off electric devices with lights such as computers, stereo systems, cell phones, etc

Consider black out shades, particularly if you have street light coming in your bedroom windows

Use an eye mask

Don’t sleep with the TV on

Try candlelight only during the evening, or at least 1 hour before bed turn off electric lights

And finally, unless your blood sugar dips too low during the night (causing you to wake frequently) then aim to have your last meal  2-3 hours before bedtime to allow leptin and growth hormone to rise.  Healthy hormone patterns and a good night sleep are essential to a healthy, fit body – so lights out!

November 16, 2010 at 4:16 pm 3 comments

Black and White, Meet Gray

This perhaps doesn’t  apply to us all….but it applies to nearly every woman that sits across the desk from me at my office. Black or white. On or off. All or nothing. I want results and I want them now.

Much of the time we are either turned on 110%, giving our all on a plan or we are feeling out of control and way off track. We go, go, go; restrict, restrict, restrict; exercise, exercise, exercise – this usually gives some quick results, which we love! But then….then we hit the wall, often landing head first in a pint of ice cream.

This radical on and off mentality sets us up for the dreaded – yet oh so popular – yo-yo dieting. We work our tails off – literally – and lose 10 pounds only to gain back 15.  By the time we come to and realize we’ve not only hit the wall, but bounced back off it farther than where we started in the first place, the guilt sets in, followed by a bit of panic.

We rush out to buy a new workout DVD, hire a new trainer, or end up at Barnes and Noble rifling through the heaped table of weight loss books – all promising the latest and greatest in fat loss. We’re feeling anxious, even a little desperate to get back on track – usually blaming the last regimen we tried, thinking it failed us.

Perhaps it’s not a flawed nutrition plan or an ineffective workout regimen, but maybe it’s our harsh black and white palette that’s messing us up. Rather than on and off like a light bulb, think of your health and fitness as being on a dimmer switch. A dimmer can be turned up or down depending on your goals and state of mind, and it doesn’t ever have to be ON or OFF.  This is the gray between black and white.

Some of you may have mastered the art of gray and know how to use your dimmer switch. You’ve found a middle ground that keeps you on track to your body comp goals over the long haul – for the rest of us, life is colored starkly in black or white and we swing abruptly between them.

When we are on, we are way on – but when we are off, we can get way off. We over exercise and end up injured or exhausted. We restrict our “treat foods” so much that we end up binging on them.  We view a single cookie as a sin, but end up eating the whole bag eventually. And then comes the guilt…which can bring on even more binges or just more bad feelings.

This black and white attitude is not only bad for us emotionally, it seriously wreaks havoc on our hormones. Strict dieting, especially followed by a binge, sends a very mixed message to hormones like leptin that regulate hunger, and hormones like insulin that regulate fat storage. And let’s not forget our sex hormones – progesterone often wanes during strict dieting causing our periods to get light or stop all together.

Cortisol is yet another hormone that gets perturbed when we strictly diet or over-exercise. A rising cortisol can cause us to stall or “hit a plateau”. If you’re already burnt out from stress or a past history of yo-yo dieting, a very restrictive phase can really affect blood sugar causing you to have serious carb cravings or it can give a wicked case of insomnia (Remember, cortisol breaks down stored fuel to raise blood sugar between meal and during the night. When your adrenals are sluggish your cortisol reserves can be low, meaning you have to rely on adrenaline to keep your blood sugar stable while you sleep. If you need a burst of adrenaline during the night guess what? You wake up and have a hard time going back to sleep.)  

Shades of Gray

Gray is a mix of black and white.  Gray means better hormonal balance, less anxiety, less feelings of restriction and less guilt from falling off the wagon –  what it doesn’t mean is no results.  When I first meet with a patient and we discuss their goals I often ask them how important this is to them, what their level of commitment is and how soon they want results.  They typically respond with: “It’s a 10 of 10 – or even a 12 or 10! I want all you’ve got – diet, exercise, supplements – everything and I want results NOW!”

How many times have we jumped on board with a new book or a new plan and did great for a few months? Seriously, how many times???? If it’s more than once then what you did wasn’t sustainable and didn’t  give you lasting results.  It’s not to say that that particular plan was full of poor advice or that it didn’t work – but perhaps you went into the plan 110% and “blacked out”, so to say, and next ended up all “white washed” and totally off the wagon and most likely back to many of your old habits.

You’re not alone. Even my youngest patients, even 20 year old women, have tried at least one diet in the past and yet here we all are again – looking for the next, best way to shed pounds.

Learn to Use Your Dimmer Switch

Don’t black out. Pick a plan and incorporate 1-3 habits per week. Master them and then move on – trying to do everything at once is usually too overwhelming. For example, start eating a protein based breakfast everyday or figure out how to order out a healthy lunch. Or even drink more water.

Don’t white wash. When you get off track it doesn’t have to be a total disaster! You are one meal away, one workout away, even one positive thought about your body away from being back on plan. So you ate the bagel, don’t have it with a side of guilt and self defeat – have it with some lox to balance out the insulin response and get right back on track.

Guilt is optional in the gray zone.  Life will happen, you won’t be perfect everyday – but self correcting and not letting the guilt set in will help keep a bad meal or even a bad day from turning to weeks or months off plan.

Sometimes your gray will be darker than other times, you’ll be move motivated and supported and find it easier to make progress. When it lightens up, don’t panic and don’t feel guilty – if you are ready to get back on track, go for it. If you aren’t, find the gray zone that feels maintainable for now rather than holding on so tight to the idea that you have to be perfectly on plan that you lose your grip and drift away.

Know when you have the stamina to turn up the heat.  When you are ready for a big push towards your goal, be sure you are feeling healthy, injury free and supported before you jump in.

If you struggle with stamina on a plan, know when it’s a good time to start. Maybe planning to lose 20 pounds between Halloween and Christmas isn’t feasible for you, but losing 10 pounds and having 12 new habits by the New Year might be. 

BETTER Body Thoughts:

Ugh! I ate ______ , I might as well just start again next week!

BETTER: Ok, I ate _____ and that was a temptation for me because _______.  One off plan food doesn’t make or break anything – a week of plan will so I’m recommitted as of RIGHT NOW.

I wasn’t perfect this week, I missed workouts and didn’t eat well; this will never work so why bother.

BETTER: I did do _______ and _______ this week and I’ll continue to do those and include ______ next week. Doing something for my health is better than nothing – good habits build upon themselves. 

For example: I did get 3 workouts (but aimed for 6) and I got plenty of sleep this week. Next week I will schedule my workouts in like appointments to be sure they happen and I will drink more water.

October 13, 2010 at 11:33 pm 2 comments

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