The Single Best Way to Lose Weight (Psst...It Is Not a Diet).

It's scientifically proven: The key isn't just what you eat, it's what you write.

If you're anything like me, you have no idea how much food you inhale on a day-to-day basis. Thanks to multitasking, grabbing grub on the go, parking myself in front of the TV while munching, and various other weight-loss crimes, I often barely register that I'm eating. Take this weekend: I was totally oblivious that I was making birthday cupcakes for my mother-in law and am guilty of licking all the spoons, bowls, and every last drop of cake batter and frosting...ok Zabella helped, but just a little.  It's tough to watch every mouthful you eat, even if you're an expert. Researchers at Louisiana State University asked dietitians to estimate their daily caloric intake — and even the professionals lowballed the number by 10 percent. That may explain why it's so hard to shed pounds, no matter how good the plan is.

But there's a simple solution: Keep a food diary. Studies show that a journal doesn't just aid weight loss — it turbo-charges it. When researchers from Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research followed more than 2,000 dieters who were encouraged to record meals and snacks, they found that the single best predictor of whether a participant would drop weight was whether the person kept a food diary. It trumped exercise habits, age, and body mass index. The number of pounds people lost was directly related to the number of days they wrote in their log. (It's no coincidence that Weight Watchers, one of the most successful diet programs, asks participants to track what they eat.)

Here are five more reasons to start a journal today — even if you swore off diaries in middle school.

1. You'll get a reality check about how many calories you consume.

Americans typically underestimate their daily intake by about 25 percent, reports nutritionist Carrie Latt Wiatt, author of Portion Savvy. The situation gets even more complicated when you eat out. In a 2006 study led by Cornell University, 105 diners in fast-food restaurants were asked how many calories were in their orders. For the small items, almost everyone guessed correctly; for the larger orders, the diners underestimated the calories by a whopping 38 percent. It may be an issue of perception, says study author Brian Wansink, Ph.D. The larger the quantity, the harder it is to make an accurate guess — the same is true for distances and heights.

Even professionals can be tricked by hefty portion sizes. When an NYU researcher asked 200 dietitians to estimate the calorie count of four popular restaurant dishes, the experts lowballed the number for each by a whopping 250 to 700 calories.

So stop assuming and start calculating. A good manual, like the classic Calorie King Fat & Carbohydrate Counter, makes it easy by giving you the calorie counts and fat grams for a huge number of foods. Or try nutritiondata.com, which also lists the stats for many foods.

2. You'll cut back on between-meal munching.

Make a mental checklist of what you ate yesterday. Sure, you can probably remember breakfast, lunch, and dinner — but what about that mini Snickers you snatched from your coworker's stash? Or that spoonful of mashed potatoes you took off your husband's plate?

It's easy to overlook bites, licks, and tastes (known as "BLTs" to professionals). But that's a huge mistake — there are 25 calories, on average, in each mouthful. Translation: Six little bites a day add up to around 15 extra pounds a year.

"I remember one client who was keeping a diary and couldn't understand why she wasn't losing weight," says Bethany Thayer, R.D., spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. "We were discussing the problem when she took out a peppermint. I asked her how many she ate every day, and she said, ‘A bag.' They're nine calories each, but the whole bag is several hundred."

Writing everything down can also help you make smarter food choices. If you often order a Starbucks Grande Dulce de Leche Latte, entering the data will bring you face-to-face with the fact that your beloved drink packs 440 calories, versus 23 calories for the same-size regular coffee with milk.

3. You'll discover where your diet detours.

"I thought I ate a lot of vegetables — it seemed like I was constantly cooking spinach, broccoli, or Brussels sprouts," says Melissa Smith, a 32-year-old mom from Omaha who's been keeping a food diary for the past 18 months. "But looking back over a few weeks of my journal, I was surprised to realize that I was only eating veggies once or twice a week." So she made salads a regular part of dinner and noticed that it helped her eat less of her entrée. Her analysis and follow-up action paid off: She's lost more than 27 pounds.

A balanced diet is the key to weight loss, says Suzanne Farrell, R.D., who owns Cherry Creek Nutrition in Denver. "Whole grains, low-fat dairy, green vegetables, orange veggies, beans, nuts — science shows that we need to eat these regularly to reach a healthy body weight. So when I flip through my clients' journals, I always look for what I'm not seeing."

To find out how many servings of each food group you should be eating, go to mypyramid.gov. This tool will calculate the correct portions based on your age, gender, height, weight, and level of physical activity. It'll also tell you the number of calories you should aim for daily to lose weight.

4. You'll learn why you pig out.

Experts suggest that, to help break bad habits, you record not only what you eat, but the circumstances that prompt you to eat. For example, maybe you indulge in more sweets at work because you sit close to the vending machine. Maybe you have a milkshake several times a week because you pass Wendy's on the way home. Or maybe every time you worry about money, you retreat into the kitchen for chips.

When you begin to notice these patterns, you can figure out ways to change them. If the vending machine is a constant temptation, stock your desk drawers with fruit and granola bars. If you can't resist a fast-food sign, MapQuest a new route to work. If you eat when you're under pressure, steer clear of snacks and take a short walk instead (it's a scientifically proven stress buster).

Another bonus: "When you increase awareness of what's going into your mouth," says Thayer, "you'll feel fuller sooner than if you were just mindlessly munching."

5. You'll see real results — quickly.

Your food diary can be as revealing as the one you kept in fifth grade. For example, to get a glimpse into how much you've improved your diet, compare the entries in week one (Twinkie-filled) to week four or five (ideally, veggie-filled). You can also discover which decisions translated into pounds lost — for instance, that week you had fish for dinner twice might've helped you lose weight.

Food journals also let you give yourself credit where credit is due (personally, I reward myself with a gold star each day I resist eating candy). And that positive reinforcement is essential for shedding pounds.

How to Write Off Pounds: A Cheat Sheet to Get Your Food Diary Started

Choose Your Medium

If you're using pen and paper, buy a regular spiral notebook. Or go for a pre-organized book like the DietMinder. Computer addicts should check out journal apps, such as myfitnesspal. 

Start Recording

The crucial info to write down: the time you ate, what you ate, and how much you ate. Make a habit of jotting notes right after you eat. "If you wait until the end of the day, it's too easy to leave things out," warns Suzanne Farrell, R.D. Tracking your diet online? Remember to take paper with you to restaurants, so you can write down every ingredient and calculate its nutritional content afterward.

You may also want to invest in measuring cups — they'll help you learn what a one-and-a-half-cup portion looks like (it's a lot less than you think) — as well as a calorie-counter book and a calculator. Armed with these tools, you can track your calories like a nutritionist would.

Get Personal

Customize your diary so it reflects the info that's most useful to you. For example, if you're someone who eats whenever food is in front of you, create columns in your journal to rate how hungry you were before and afterward. If you snack your way through hard days, add a column to describe how you were feeling when you ate. Trying to figure out when you're most drawn to junk food? Record where you were when you indulged and what was going on at the time. Also, if you're trying to break a specific habit, like scarfing down ice cream at night, create a column for that, so you can give yourself a star for each day you resist the urge.

Be Honest

Include every single bite, lick, and taste (anything larger than a crumb counts). And don't forget to keep track of your sips. Even the most diligent diarists often forget to include the glass of white wine they had at dinner (120 calories) and their 3 p.m. can of Coke (155 calories).

Find Your Favorites

Counting calories is easier for creatures of habit: If you have a bowl of cereal for breakfast almost every morning or a turkey sandwich three times a week, you won't have to look up the number each time.

Keep Your Diary Close

"I'm forgetful, so I always need to put the journal where I can see it — on my kitchen table, on my desk at work. I carry it a lot in my hand, too, as a reminder," says Melissa Smith, 32, of Omaha, who lost 25 pounds keeping a food diary.

You can also try this trick from Maryellen Mealey, 42, of Chicago, who lost big (188 pounds) keeping a journal: "I made a deal with myself that I wouldn't eat anything unless I wrote it down first. It's obsessive, but I'm a mindless snacker and putting everything in the book really helped me be more conscious," she says.

Examine the Evidence

No matter how diligent you are, a food log won't help in the behavior-changing department if you don't analyze it. At night, sit down and calculate how many calories you consumed. Tally up what food groups you're eating, and make adjustments. (A big plus of online tools is that they do a lot of the analysis for you, totaling everything with a click of a button and often giving you charts to show what you can improve.)

You may also want to consult a registered dietitian. A professional may see things in your diary that you don't (cost: usually $50 to $300 for an initial consultation). A two-year study from Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle showed that participants who consulted a dietitian had better success keeping off weight than those who followed their usual diet.

Reward Yourself

"I read that it takes 28 days to build a habit," says Mealey. "So when I have a new goal — like eating veggies more often — I do it for a month, then treat myself by shopping or going to a movie with a friend. Rewards give me an incentive to keep going."

The Dangers of Sitting All Day and 5 Things To Do About It

by Alishah Merchant

The vast majority of us spend hours at a desk in front of a computer every day. Even after the workday is complete, many of us go on to sit more while in a car, bus, or the subway and then again at the dinner table, and in front of the television. Even if we take time out of our busy day to engage in physical activity such as walking, biking, running or weight training, the proportion of this time is minimal compared to the hours and hours of sitting we log.

Research studies indicate that too much time spent sitting and being sedentary can lead to very negative health outcomes including increased risks of heart disease, diabetes, and certain cancers, not to mention the higher rates of obesity, depression and hypertension.

There are many reasons for the negative health consequences related to prolonged sitting. The most clear and straightforward relationship is that sitting burns fewer calories than standing or walking. This is because sitting is quite passive especially if you are sitting with poor posture. Your muscles don't need to do much to hold you up and you expend very little energy because you are being supported by a chair. While standing, your leg muscles, core muscles and back muscles have to work harder in order to hold you erect against gravity. Fewer calories burned can lead to obesity which can lead to increased risk of heart disease, diabetes and cancer.

There are other metabolic effects that occur at the cellular level that can also explain the harmful consequences of sitting all day. From an evolutionary perspective, we are meant to be moving creatures and our muscles and muscle cells have been built and specifically designed to manage higher levels of activity than modern man typically engages in these days. It has been shown that muscle cells that are idle do not react to insulin (a hormone that carries glucose to cells for energy) as easily and thus the pancreas has to produce more and more of the insulin hormone for the same response (also known as insulin resistance). Long-term changes in blood insulin levels can lead to diabetes, heart disease and other chronic conditions. In addition, excess insulin in the blood encourages cell growth, which can explain the rapid cell growth of cancerous cells. It is also believed that the expression of certain genes that work to suppress inflammation are decreased in sedentary individuals. This can explain many conditions that are related to inflammation such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes.

Obviously this is some serious stuff so here are some ideas to get you moving more throughout the day:

1. Walk part way or all the way to work! If you drive, park further away. In some cases parking further away is cheaper but regardless you are forced to walk before you start your work day as well as at the end of the day on your way home. If you take the subway or bus, get off a stop or two earlier and walk the rest of the way. If you live close by, think about riding your bike or walking to work.

2. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Consider taking the stairs up to your office at the beginning of the day, at lunch and at the end of the day. Stair climbing adds resistance to your legs and forces your leg and core muscle to work even harder than walking alone. It can also help to increase your heart rate. You will notice that this task becomes easier and easier as you do it more because your muscles will become stronger and your cardiovascular system will become more efficient.

3. Drink lots of water throughout the day by always keeping a bottle of water on your desk. Water can help to cleanse your body of toxins and keep your cells hydrated. In addition, you will need to use the restroom more often and this will force you to get up from your desk more often.

4. Go for a walk at lunch. Force yourself to take a break at lunch and incorporate movement during this break. Do not go directly from your desk to the lunch-room or cafeteria only to sit more. Eat quickly and then spend the rest of your lunch break walking outdoors. This will help clear your mind, get your blood flowing, increase your metabolism and prepare you for the rest of your day at work. You will notice that your work productivity will actually increase if you make the time to do this.

5. Stand up at work whenever possible. There are standing desks available and many other opportunities to stand up while you are on the phone or when you are brainstorming ideas. Consider walking over to a fellow colleague's desk instead of just sending them an email or calling them. The ideas are endless if you actually consider all the times at work that you can actually stand up and move around.

The Most Dangerous Fat Is the Easiest to Lose

It’s every weight loss enthusiast’s dream to zap belly fat but, far from pure vanity, there’s actually a reason why having a lot of fat in the abdominal region can be dangerous. Fat is stored all over our body, but how does an expanding waistline grow your risk for chronic illness?

  • Location, Location, Location: Your body’s fat impacts your health differently depending on where it’s stored. While most fat found on other parts of our bodies (think arms, legs, buttocks) are considered “subcutaneous fat,” belly fat is more likely to be “visceral.”
  • Pinchable versus Pressable: “Subcutaneous fat” is the pinchable, squishy fat right between your skin and muscle that helps keep you warm, cushions you against shock, and stores extra calories. “Visceral fat” stores calories too, but isn’t as pinchable because it is located in and around your organs. It’s hidden deep within the belly region, which is what makes it firm (rather than squishy) when you press it.
  • Proximity: Fat doesn’t just store calories—it’s a living tissue capable of producing and releasing hormones that affect your other organs. Because visceral fat sits near our organs, its release of these chemicals is poorly situated. Having more visceral fat can raise your LDL (a.k.a. “bad” cholesterol) and blood pressure. Visceral fat can also make you less sensitive to insulin, which increases your risk for Type 2 Diabetes.

Telling Bad Belly Fat Apart

Even if you’re thin, you can still have visceral fat around the abdominal region—being “skinny” doesn’t necessarily mean you’re healthy. There’s no sure-fire way to tell visceral from subcutaneous fat short of an expensive CT scan, but it’s important for you to get a rough idea of what your visceral stores are. Here are a few tricks to figure out where your belly stands:

  1. Apples and Pears: You’re probably wondering, “What does fruit have to do with it?” These two fruits give a quick visual of where most of your fat is stored on the body. Pears tend to store fat in the lower extremities (hips, thighs, buttocks) as subcutaneous fat while apples tend to store fat in the upper region (belly, chest) as visceral fat. It takes a quick inspection, but this is an imperfect way to tell these two fats apart.
  2. Waist circumference (WC): Feel for the top of your hip bone (it’s at the same level as the top of your belly button) and circle a tape measure around this point. Remember to relax and don’t suck in your gut (be honest!). Take 2-3 measurements and figure out the average. Men should have a WC of less than 40 inches (102 cm) and women should have a WC of less than 35 inches (89 cm).
  3. Waist-to-Hip Ratio: The waist-to-hip ratio (WHR) takes the circumference of your waist (see above) and divides it by the circumference of your hips. To measure your hips, stand in front of a mirror then figure out the widest part of your butt and measure that circumference. Then use this formula:
    WHR = (Waist circumference) / (Hip circumference).
    Men should have a WHR of less than 1 while women should have a WHR of less than 0.8.
  4. Know Your Family Healthy History: If your parents or siblings have insulin resistance, heart disease or non-alcoholic fatty liver, you may be at a greater risk for storing visceral fat. Keeping an eye on your visceral fat may be beneficial, but know that the causes of these chronic diseases are complex. If you’re in doubt, it’s best to speak with your healthcare provider.

Banishing Visceral Fat

If you fall in the normal range for WC and WHR, that’s great! Keep working at your weight goals as you see fit. If you’re not there, don’t despair. Because of its proximity to the liver, visceral fat is usually the easier fat to burn. It’s the less risky subcutaneous fat that likes to stick around.

Unfortunately, you can’t forcefully spot reduce fat around your belly no matter how many crunches you do. The next best thing is to live a healthy lifestyle:

  • Go beyond weight tracking. You can track your waist, hip and even neck circumference in the app. Use this feature to see how your measurements change over time as you lose weight.
  • Sweat for 30-60 minutes each day. Visceral fat responds well to regular endurance exercises, such as running, biking, rowing, swimming, that elevate your heart rate. As your body uses fat to fuel exercise, it’ll start using up your visceral stores.
  • Eat a well-balanced diet. Eat a diet high in whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, and lean protein with calories set for gradual weight loss (e.g. about 1-2 pounds per week). Cut way back on added sugars and alcohol since these nutrients will more likely end up as visceral fat.
  • Sleep more, stress less. It’s easier said than done, but in order to take care of your physical body, you have to take care of your mental state. Sleep loss and stress can sabotage your health and fitness goals, so learn more about getting a quality night’s rest and usemeditation or yoga to calm your mind. Remember, it’s not just about your health; it’s about your happiness, too.

Insulin Resistance: One Reason Why You Can't Lose Weight

By Caroline J. Cederquist, M.D.

Many people have weight loss as one of their key resolutions. Sadly, 35 percent of people also give up on that goal before the month even ends. It's not necessarily lack of time or willpower that causes you to struggle with weight loss year after year. The real reason that you may have struggled to lose weight is insulin resistance, or a condition I call metabolism dysfunction.

So you may be thinking, "Why is it so hard for me to lose weight?" I'm doing "everything right," and yet still weight loss is difficult. Perhaps (like many of my patients) you're already following a strict diet and working out several times a week, but to no avail. The weight still won't come off -- or, worse, you are gaining weight for seemingly no reason at all! You have become resigned to being overweight.

Weight problems aren't a permanent and immovable fixture for the rest of your life. If you're finding that weight is easy to gain and hard to lose, it's not your fault! Weight problems aren't just about overeating or under exercising -- they're about metabolic changes (The MD Factor Diet, 2015) that are collectively known as insulin resistance. Lab tests conducted in my practice have confirmed that over 89 percent of my patients have this real and often undiagnosed issue. So the good news is that the right combination of diet, exercise, and will to succeed you can reverse your MD factor and finally find success in losing weight and keeping it off for good.

In a nutshell, insulin resistance is the inability of your body to properly convert the food that you eat into energy to fuel your cells. People with the MD Factor have difficulty regulating their blood sugar, which is often due to insulin resistance or evendiabetes. In both instances, their bodies are unable to pull glucose into the cells, which means that excess levels of glucose build up in the blood. With nowhere else to go, the body turns this extra energy into fat and stores it for later.

This infographic outlines the symptoms and causes of insulin resistance, or metabolism dysfunction.

Surprisingly, you don't have to be overweight for your cells to be insulin-resistant. Even if your weight is perfectly normal, you can still suffer from its effects. Metabolism dysfunction doesn't develop overnight and could be caused by one or more triggers including: aging and menopause, genetics, belly/visceral fat, medications, and nutritional deficiencies. We'll cover all these in subsequent posts. But for now, we'll cover the two reasons you have no control over -- genetic predisposition and aging.

DNA has a big impact on your weight (The MD Factor Diet, 2015). When I was in medical school I read an article that made a lasting impression. It said that if both parents were obese, the child had an 80 percent likelihood of becoming obese. This struck me not only because it's a staggering statistic, but because my family has always suffered with our weight, I have to be very mindful of my own diet and exercise because I'm genetically predisposed to gain and retain weight.

You may have been born with cells that don't respond well to insulin. If your family has a history of diabetes (particularly from your parents) you're at high risk of developing a dysfunctional metabolism. Your genes also determine how your body stores fat (e.g., if you're apple-shaped, you'll carry fat in your abdominal area and be at risk of having two contributing factors -- genetics and belly fat -- to your Insulin Resistance).

Just like we can't control the genes we were born with, we all grow older. As this occurs, our hormones gradually decline. Declining hormone levels affect muscle mass causing it to be lost first while your body holds onto its fat stores. As you age, you need to be more mindful of what you eat and your physical lifestyle. After all, few of us can eat the same at 50 as we did at 30.

There are several examples of correlation of aging and weight. Pre-menopausal women typically gain 10-15 pounds (though I've had patients with up to 30-pound weight gain) around menopause (Women's Health Research Program, Department of Epidemiology and Preventive Medicine, Monash University, Melbourne, Australia). It's not just hormones like testosterone and estrogen that shift to affect your weight. The body's ability to use insulin does gradually decline, though it can be slowed by diet and regular physical activity. Type 2 diabetes has been shown to get more prevalent as you age, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Currently, half of all Americans aged 65 years and older have prediabetes. Without lifestyle changes to improve their health and manage Insulin Resistance, up to 30 percent of people with prediabetes will develop Type 2 diabetes within five years.

In order to avoid weight gain, diabetes, and other medical problems (like heart disease) as you age, you need to eat and exercise to minimize the effects of insulin resistance.

Do you have a dysfunctional metabolism? 
My patients feel a lot better about their weight struggles once they realize that they're overweight not because they ate too much or are lazy. Body weight and weight regulation are highly complex and influenced by many different genes. You may have been born with factors out of your control, but you can put that control back in your capable hands.

Take this free quiz to see if you have sensitivities to insulin, and get an action plan featuring what steps you can take to start correcting your metabolism dysfunction:
Take the Quiz!

Where do we go from here?
Insulin resistance is caused by changes in how your body is able to use the nutrients in your food. It's very common, but not often recognized by those who have it -- or their physicians.

If you've tried to lose weight and haven't made any real progress, one thing is certain: Your metabolism has changed. Your old metabolism has been replaced by one that likes storing fat.

Healthy lifestyle and diet is important and can help regulate insulin levels. Exercise can also help the body regulate blood glucose and keep excess weight off.

You may have been born with genetic predisposition to gain and retain weight, but by making a few lifestyle changes, you can reverse the impact of the MD factor. By adjusting your diet and lifestyle, you can eat better, sleep better, have more energy, be sharper and more focused and lower your risk for heart disease, some cancers, stroke and dementia (The MD Factor Diet 2015).

Originally Posted on the Huffinton Post