Saturday, June 30, 2012

Rice and Lentil Pilaf

This is one of my favorite healthy side dishes. It goes great with salmon or chicken. Adapted from


  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup chopped carrots
  • 1 cup chopped celery
  • 3 cloves garlic minced
  • 1 large onion- chopped
  • 1/2 cup dry lentils
  • 1/2 cup uncooked brown rice
  • 2-2.5 cups chicken broth (or vegetable)
  • 2 tablespoons fresh parsley
  • 2 medium tomatoes- seeded and chopped


  1. Heat oil over medium heat. Add onion, garlic, carrots and celery. Cook until veggies are tender.
  2. Add broth, lentils, and rice. Heat until boiling. Cover, reduce heat and cook for ~40 minutes.
  3. Stir in tomatoes and parsley.
  4. Enjoy!

Body Weight Simulator

Check out this body weight simulator. It's a really neat weight loss model. Enter your height, weight, age gender and activity level get all kinds of information. Put in a weight goal it will show you how many calories you need to eat per day to reach your goal. It also gives you your predicted daily weight and body fat, so you can see how it will change over time.

How will changes in exercise or diet alter the speed of your weights loss? A feature let's you do just that. And, it can be set it to make immediate or gradual changes. The results of the simulation are presented in a table and in interactive graphs.

For those of you who are more scientifically minded. Here are two papers describing the mathematical model used in the simulator.
Quantification of the effect of energy imbalance on bodyweight
Dynamic mathematical model of body weight change in adults

*Note: I am in no way affiliated with this simulator. I just think it's really cool!

Friday, June 29, 2012

Is a low carb diet best for weight maintenance?

An interesting study published in JAMA a couple days ago looks at the effect of 3 different diets (low-fat, low-glycemic index, and very low carb) on energy expenditure during weight maintenance. Why is this important?

The basic tenet of weight loss is that if you burn more calories than you eat you will lose weight (1lb for every 3,500 calories), and if you eat more calories than you burn you will gain weight. Burning the same number of calories that you eat is the magic formula for weight maintenance. As far as weight loss is concerned it doesn't matter where these calories come from. Fat, carbohydrate, or protein- a calorie is a calorie. However, the results of this study suggest that it may not be quite so simple.

One of the things that makes weight loss so difficult is that as you lose weight you need fewer calories to power your new smaller body. This means that when you are trying to maintain weight loss you must eat less than before you began your diet, to account for your reduced energy expenditure. Wouldn't it be wonderful if you could diet, but limit this reduction in energy expenditure? That's what this paper addresses.

The Research Question
  • In obese people trying to maintain a 10-15% weight loss: Does varying the amount of fat, carbohydrate, and protein in a calorie controlled diet affect their total energy expenditure?

What they did
  • Weight monitoring phase: For 4 weeks obese study participants were monitored while they ate their normal diet.
  • Weight loss phase: Study participants were put on a Run-in Diet designed for them to lose 12.5% of their body weight in 12 weeks.
  • Weight stabilization phase: Participants were fed pre-prepared diets designed for weight maintenance for 4 weeks.
  • Weight loss maintenance testing phase: Participants were fed 3 different calorie-controlled test diets for 4 weeks at a time in a random order. The percent of calories coming from carbs, far, and protein are shown in the table below.

Diet Carbohydrate Fat Protein
Low Fat
60% 20% 20%
Low Glycemic Index 40% 40% 20%
Very Low Carbohydrate 10% 60% 30%
          All 3 diets had the same number of calories (details of the diets are shown in the table below).
          In this testing phase they measured total energy expenditure (TEE) and resting energy expenditure                 
          (REE). TEE is the total number of calories burned per day. REE is the TEE minus the calories burned           
          during activity. They also measured hormone levels, insulin sensitivity, metabolic syndrome  
          components, and ratings of hunger and well-being.         

Image not available.

The Results
  • As expected, since the participants lost weight, the energy expenditure (TEE and REE) decreased in all groups. The values are shown in the table below.

Diet Decrease in Total Energy Expenditure (TEE) Decrease in Resting Energy Expenditure (REE)
Low Fat ~400 211
Low Glycemic Index ~300 167
Very Low Carbohydrate ~150 138
  • The very low carb diet had the smallest reduction in energy expenditure (both TEE and REE), the low glycemic index diet was intermediate, and the low fat diet had the largest decrease in energy expenditure.
  • These findings suggest that it would be easier to maintain weight loss on a very low carb diet than on a low fat diet (assuming you are eating the same number of calories). However, there are some caveats (see "What does this mean?" below.
  • There was no difference in self-rated hunger or well-being between the diets.
  • Cortisol levels were higher on the very low carb diet. This is a hormonal measure of increased stress. This is bad. It is associated with insulin resistance and cardiovascular disease
  • The low fat diet produced changes in serum leptin (a hunger-related hormone) that would predict weight re-gain. It is worth noting that this diet represents typical US government recommendation for weight loss. But, it had the largest decrease in energy expenditure.

What does this mean?
  • I will start by saying that I think this is a very well done study, with good controls, and statistical analysis of the data. The authors do not over-state their findings, or make medical recommendations that their data can't support.
  • The author's state that the results "challenge the notion that a calorie is a calorie from a metabolic perspective". I agree. But, they don't provide all the answers yet. I think this study has a few limitations, and leaves  unanswered questions that need to be addressed before these results can be translated to recommendations for a weight maintenance diet.
  • While the very low calorie diet has the smallest decrease in energy expenditure (a good thing), it also is associated with increased levels of cortisol (a bad thing). Based on these findings, the low glycemic index diet may be the best option. The authors note that the important factor may be lowering the glycemic index (the very low carb diet has the lowest glycemic index), and that this diet is likely easier to stick to long term.
  • Limitations:
    • Short time frame of test diets. We can not assume that the effects on energy expenditure seen in the first few weeks of a new diet will continue long term. Would the very low carb diet have negative health effects in the long term?
    • Calorie controlled setting. It is hard to say how these results would translate to weight maintenance outside of the controlled setting. Would you really eat the same number of calories on any of these 3 diets? Perhaps those on the low fat diet would eat less to compensate for the reduction in energy expenditure.
    • The author's note that although the very low carb diet had the smallest effect on energy expenditure, the severe carb restriction may not be feasible in the long term. Therefore, outside of the calorie controlled setting, this diet may not perform as well.
    • It is still unknown why the very low carbohydrate diet performed better in maintaining energy expenditure. As this becomes better understood, it may be possible to modify the diet so that it becomes more appealing. Perhaps some carbs have a different effect than others. This seems to be partially true since the low-glycemic index diet did much better than the low fat diet. However, the low glycemic index diet does have fewer carbs than the low fat diet. It would be interesting to compare two diets with identical macronutrient breakdowns (fat, protein, and carb), but a different glycemic index.

The take home message
  • Metabolism is complicated.  The notion that "a calorie is a calorie" may not be entirely correct.
  • There are no easy answers, and this study doesn't tell us which diet is the best for weight maintenance in the long term.
  • My best advice for weight maintenance: continue to adjust your calorie intake until you find what works for you (I would have had the same advice before reading this paper).
*Update: I later wrote about a New York Times interview with obesity expert Dr. Jules Hirsch in which he discussed this article. Check it out if you want another perspective.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Healthier Spinach Artichoke Dip

I'm bringing this wonderful dip to a party this weekend. I make it frequently and everyone loves it. It's healthier than many other versions (which often have mayonaise). And, it only takes about 15 min to make. I think I originally got the recipe here:

Spinach Artichoke Dip


  • 15oz can artichoke heart (chopped)
  • 3/4 cups frozen chopped spinach (use more if fresh)
  • 8oz cream cheese (I usually use low fat or fat free)
  • 1/2 cup parmesan cheese (shredded)
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
  • salt and pepper to taste (I don't usually add any salt, and just a bit of pepper)
  • bread or crackers


  1. Boil chopped artichoke heart and spinach until tender (~10min).
  2. Microwave cream cheese on high for 1 min.
  3. Drain spinach and artichoke and add to cream cheese. Stir.
  4. Mix in parmesan cheese.
  5. Stir in remaining ingredients.
  6. Serve hot. Great with crackers or toasted bread.

Pizza and Doughnuts

As soon as I commit to eating healthy food, and dropping some weight, it seems like incredibly unhealthy (and delicious) food appears everywhere for the taking. And, as expected, it happened today. I'm a couple days into my new healthy self plan and doughnuts appear at my morning meeting. I'm trying to practice moderation without completely depriving myself of sweets (and really, who can resist free doughnuts). So, I ate half of a wonderful doughnut. Then, a couple hours later a lunch hour seminar with pizza, cookies, and soda. I took a slice of veggie (not particularly healthy, but not so bad either), and drank my water. Fast forward a couple hours, and birthday cake appears (I passed on the cake). It's no wonder the pounds have been creeping on with such an overabundance of free food. The day is not over yet, but at least today I think I hit on a good balance of enjoying some treats without totally blowing my diet. We'll see what tomorrow brings.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Fauxtisserie Chicken

This is one of my favorite quick, easy, and healthy dinners. Basically, it tastes like a rotisserie chicken, but is cooked in a crock-pot. Perfect! Have dinner waiting when you get home. A quick web search will turn up numerous variations of this recipe. But, however you season it, you get juicy, tender, fall off the bone meat, that requires about 10 minutes of work. Delicious! Adapted from Yummy in My Tummy.

You will need:

  • Crock-pot (large enough to hold a whole chicken)
  • 1 whole chicken (~5lbs is perfect for my pot)
  • Aluminum foil
  • Garlic
  • Salt
  • Seasoning of choice (any flavor you like)
  • Fresh herbs (optional- such as rosemary or oregano)
  1. Make 3-4 balls of aluminum foil (~2in diameter) and place them in the bottom of the crock-pot. The chicken will sit on these so it's not stewing in its own juices.
  2. Rub chicken with you choice of seasoning and salt. Lift the skin up and get the seasoning between the chicken and the meat.
  3. Put garlic under the skin, along with any fresh herbs you desire.
  4. Place the chicken in the crock-pot breast side up.
  5. Cook on low for ~8hours. All crock-pots cook a bit differently, so you may want to check with a meat thermometer that your bird is up to 165 degrees.
That's it! Super easy. Enjoy! Keep the juices and chicken carcass to make chicken stock.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Goal: lose weight, get fit, stay happy and healthy


Welcome! You have stumbled upon the chronicle of my one year journey. Goal: lose 30lbs, get fit, and stay happy and healthy. I'm doing this the old-fashioned way- no gimmicks, no diet food, and no crash diets. The plan is simple: eat less, be more active, and practice patience. Take a look around, comment, and feel free to join me!