What to Keep in Mind When Adding Treats to a Weight Loss Diet

The Big Challenge:

It's very difficult to eat healthy and/or lose weight while eating treats.

Assumption: I need to eliminate everything I love (especially the biggest culprits: dairy, meat, grains, refined sugar, processed foods, and alcohol).

The Breakdown: Well, yes and no. Our bodies are adaptive systems that fight unruly environments, diseases, and relationships 😊 There’s always a perfect combination of factors, including dietary choices and type of movement, for a given point that helps it operate efficiently and effectively. The further I skew from this beautiful recipe the less efficient and effective my body operates (comparable to the different grades of gasoline and car performance). What does this mean for eating treats? The answer is simple and not always fun to recognize: I need to figure out what I can get away with, accept the consequences of going beyond my boundaries, and adapt appropriately. Here’s what I specifically consider when I’m in the mood for treats:

What I Keep in Minding When Eating Treats

Personal Trainer Wisdom: The first key to cheating in any diet (diet as in one’s eating regiment…weight loss or not) is establishing a consistent structure of habits. This is my foundation….my day-to-day approach, my go-to. A treat every once in a while is an outlier that won’t skew my results….as long as my every daily approach is consistent and nutrient dense. I define a treat as a choice that doesn’t provide whole nutritional value, and most often counters my health in one form or another. Examples of treats include bread, ice cream, braised beef, chocolate, alcohol, and pretty much everything I grew to love over a lifetime. Similar to many economic principles, random treats in my diet are just small dents in the vehicle of life. It won’t stop this car from moving! It is an outlier and won’t affect my health goals.

On the other hand, if I eat my treats 5-7 days per week, this behavior is now a habit-a part of my foundation. The difference is a hail storm pounding my car to a total wreck instead of Preston’s baseball accidentally dinging my bumper. Can I still drive my car after a hail storm? Most likely, yes (but maybe not well). My body is a machine that can withstand many illnesses, bone breaks, and Snickers bars. It’s important that I’m always mindful of my body so that I can be aware of its boundary lines, though. I can run when I have a headache, but should I run a marathon when I have a migraine? I can lift weights with a sore shoulder, but should I perform a chest fly with a torn rotator cuff? I can eat a Snickers bar every night, but should I eat a treat every night after eating tasty crackers, cheese, and meat all day?

Choosing to eat a treat isn’t an isolated experience. This choice must be evaluated with all of my dietary habits, physical boundaries (think: a diabetic and his relationship to blood sugar level spiking foods), and other choices in mind. My choices outside of that moment can determine whether or not I’m pushing past my dietary boundary line. Ideally, I will develop an autopilot system that unconsciously evaluates these decisions and helps me adhere to important nutritional guidelines, including the choice of non-inflammatory, nutrient-dense foods as well as the dedication to a consistent eating schedule. I feel lucky that my generation doesn’t need to think about survival every waking moment. My life usually isn’t threatened daily, and food will be on my table. I can’t imagine living life under that type of scrutiny! It’s a good reminder for me when I do need to increase the focus on myself, though. The scrutiny isn’t always fun, but it’s necessary.

I see the reasons why many people avoid this awareness. I’m often frustrated facing the change I need to make (especially if I don’t understand how to adapt the situation). I guess that’s what is often missing from my goals: Acceptance. Accepting that I sometimes need to think about what I’m doing, who I am, and why I am doing something. And accepting the answers I discover and the things and situations that I can’t change now (or ever).

It’s especially frustrating when I’ve made a great change, and the results are the same. For instance, I finally substituted that delicious Snickers bar for a bar half of the calories at 4 pm every day, and it still isn’t enough to lose weight or body fat. Or I continue this healthful exchange, and I find myself back to the Snickers bar after 4-6 weeks. Emotionally, this is tough to face. It feels like a failure. Is it a failure, though? Times likes these are important lessons of what I still may need to change. Maybe eating at the same time creates a craving. When my low calorie, low sugar option isn’t available I still pursue a sweet (or sweeter) alternative. This can often be a dangerous line to tip-toe on if it is a trigger food (like chocolate). No wonder I eventually went back to the Snickers bar!

Losing weight. Focusing on myself. It’s a frustrating process that I was never prepared for by school. By becoming a human scientist as an adult now, though, I will finally receive the anatomy, nutrition, and behavioral lessons that have been missing from my life. I will finally learn about “Me.” With an objective and curious mind throughout this process, I will truly figure out what I need as well as what I can get away with.


The Questions I Wish I Asked my Grandfather Before He Died

In 2009, my grandfather passed after a long bout with diabetes and heart disease. While preparing to launch my podcast, I can't help to think of the one interview I never did. Ironically, the time was there to do it. I called him every day for over three years with the exception of four days (until two months before his passing....not an exaggeration). I guess I saw the writing on the wall. Despite those phone conversations, I never took the chance to ask him the questions that still keep me wondering.

The Questions I Didn’t Ask

-When you were seventeen, your mother passed, and then your father nearly one year later. Tragic losses at such an early age. How did those moments shape your perspective in life, and how do you believe they steered your path? How have those experiences changed your interactions with new people? What was the greatest lesson from each of your parents that still resonates today?

-You married my grandmother, and you were drafted for the Korean War shortly after. Describe the day you found out that you were drafted. Did you receive a letter or phone call? Where were you standing? What were the first thoughts that crossed your mind upon learning this new fate?

-Lying on your cot at night while stationed in Germany during the Korean War. The unofficial Korean War officially ended three months earlier, but you were still serving in the army. What thoughts passed through your head while trying to sleep? Did you believe that the war truly ended? What uncertainties did you fear?

-People were shocked to hear that the president JFK was shot. In that period of US history, the deaths of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. added to an unsettling spirit. What was your perspective of such a time? Where does that period fit into your life span that started in the 1930’s?

-What was your morning ritual? Did you wake up the same time each day? Did you have breakfast with all five kids? Did you follow the same regiment daily? When you were operating at your best, how did you structure the days of your weeks? What were the rituals or routines that helped you to create your best self and best performance? What is one habit everyone should begin today?

-Tell me a story about one of your most memorable rejections in the beginning days.

-As a 7th grader, you mentioned in a church bulletin that you wanted to become an engineer when you “grow up”. Fast forward nearly a decade, and that was, indeed, what you became. What sparked your interest in the industry, and who was your mentor? Did you consider pivoting towards another career at any point? If so, what were you considering? Do you ever wonder what it would’ve been like to be in that career instead?

-How did you choose a personal or professional project, and how did this approach change over the years? What were the highlights of your career? If you did an autopsy, what are the takeaways?

-Is there a line or passage in a book you’ve read over a lifetime that still resonates today? Has there ever been a moment in your life that led you to say, “Something has to change”? If so, how did you respond?

-You have met many interesting people and checked off several impressive career milestones while working as an engineer at Santa Fe Railroad, and then for the city. What valuable lesson would you share with my two-year-old son, your great-grandson, Preston, and why?

Personal Trainer Wisdom: In our pursuit for wisdom, we often overlook the resources in front of us. My grandfather was an incredible person that certainly shaped who I am and my approach today. Although I can’t ask him these questions, I will do my best to no longer overlook the lessons that surround me daily.


1 Life Lesson I Wish I Would’ve Listened to as a Child

I try to live without regrets, but I often wonder how different my path would’ve been if I followed all of the important “life lessons” taught to me. Although I absorbed quite a bit as a child (and teenager), here is one lesson I would pay more attention to if given a round two.

Hug everyone.

Personal Trainer Wisdom: As I mention this lesson, I now fear that my neighbors will think Ill chase them down the block for a hug. Why not? Everyone deserves a hug! I’m not sure every stranger would welcome my open arms. A hug isn’t always welcomed, and I’m mindful of that. Nevertheless, I know that the root of being is interaction and hugging is an emotional manifestation of this philosophy.

Although I’ve always realized the importance of physical interaction, I’ve been guilty of isolating myself at times. Call it insecurity or a simple way of protecting myself. It minimized my intimacy with people in all types of relationships-friendships, romantic relationships, family relationships, etc. Should I blame myself? My family didn’t hug much (although the love was apparent) and I didn’t see many examples of this affection growing up (known by me as “Eastern European Love”: a stoic emotional exhibit of love but present in its own way).

Words of love are enough, right? Not sure anymore. Something is missing: Vulnerability. The alternative to hugging, lying on our backs like a dog, isn’t the socially acceptable exhibit of this intention for humans. Hugs are the next best thing. It is a statement of: “I trust you,” “I’m letting down my guard,” and “I accept you”….and who doesn’t want that love? My verbal language of love was useful but not complete for many years. My new hugs truly represent a new level of comfort with the people I love or don’t know very much, and my life is enriched as a result. I'm not a perfect hugger, and I still draw the line on hugs with complete strangers, people who don't show signs that they're interested in hugs, or hugs extending beyond a minute (and, yes, I did just say that). It's a work in progress, and I look forward to reaching new (and longer) hugging heights in the next decade!

Photo Credit: Indy 100 .com: Could hugging a person be the life lesson most of us have overlooked?


4 Healthy Substitutes for the Foods I Crave the Most

In a healthy diet, you most likely need to steer away from your favorite foods including pasta and ice cream. Is there a way to still indulge without feeling guilty? You bet! Here are my top four substitutes that will convince you that they’re the real thing!

You no longer have to stare at pictures of ice cream.

You no longer have to stare at pictures of ice cream.

Luna and Larry’s Organic Coconut Bliss Ice Cream

Ingredients: Coconut Milk (Water, Coconut, Guar Gum), Agave Syrup, Coconut Cream, Dried Coconut, Coconut Extract, Vanilla Extract. 

Personal Trainer Wisdom: Why I like it: It’s a non-dairy product with all of its fat coming from coconuts. While you still need to be mindful of your serving size since it has 22g of fat and 16g of sugar, it will satisfy your craving for a milk-based product (which is more inflammatory). Alternative to the alternative: Any all-fruit sorbet with no added sugar. 



Frank’s RedHot Buffalo Wing Sauce

Ingredients: Distilled Vinegar, Aged Cayenne Red Peppers, Salt, Water, Canola Oil, Paprika, Xanthan Gum, Natural Butter Type Flavor And Garlic Powder.

Personal Trainer Wisdom: I love buffalo sauce but it’s typically 1 part butter, 1 part hot sauce….a no, no for an ideal diet. Frank’s Buffalo Wing Sauce is the best tasting alternative on the market. You can add it to anything. Be mindful of your amount. It packs 460mg of sodium per serving. That’s a big chunk of the recommended 1500 mg of sodium per day in a healthy diet. Photo Credit: Live kindly. co

Bringing pasta back to the healthy table!

Bringing pasta back to the healthy table!

Banza Elbows Made From Chickpeas

Ingredients: Chickpeas, Tapioca, Pea Protein, Xanthan Gum.

Personal Trainer Wisdom: No way around it: All pasta is highly processed and loses some of its nutritional value through the heating process. The Banza pasta noodles give you a higher dose of the valuable fiber and protein (14g) than the white AND wheat noodle options. It also contains only four ingredients and avoids toxic additives and preservatives in other boxed foods. Cooking tip: Boil the noodles until they’re al dente and then quickly rinse them under cold water to stop the cooking process (otherwise they’ll soften too much). 

Time for sausage!

Time for sausage!

Beyond Meat Beyond Sausage

Ingredients: Water, Pea Protein Isolate, Refined Coconut Oil, Sunflower Oil, Natural Flavor, Contains 2% or less of: Rice Protein, Faba Bean Protein, Potato Starch, Salt, Fruit Juice (For Color), Vegetable Juice (For Color), Apple Fiber, Methylcellulose, Citrus Extract (To Protect Quality), Calcium Alginate Casing. 

Personal Trainer Wisdom: My Lithuanian and German ancestors may scoff at the idea of a sausage substitute but Beyond Meat has magically found the recipe to convince you it could be the real thing. If your focus is a diet with less inflammation and cholesterol, this may still satisfy part of your sausage craving. Disclaimer: Like the pasta recommendation, it’s still a highly processed product, and it contains 500mg of sodium and 12g of fat. Photo Credit: The Happy Pear on Twitter


A Simple 10 Phase Progression for Weight Loss

Here is a simple progression to weight loss. You can start at Phase 1 and add the next phase (each in 1-2 week increments) until you reach your goal or separately test each phase until you determine what affects your weight the most. Although I prefer a primary focus on nutrient-dense options, a caloric deficit seems to be the most desired first step for many clients. No matter how you approach this progression, try to seek a sustainable combination of efforts based on your needs (and it doesn’t need to be perfect).

Please note that I haven’t mentioned anything about fitness. Based on fourteen years of experience, I haven’t found a positive correlation between sustainable weight loss and killing yourself in the gym (unfortunately and fortunately). Many factors affect the caloric exchange between nutrition and fitness-making it very difficult to determine real numbers (e.g., the machine claims you burned 600 calories when you only burned 325 calories for reasons related to YOUR body). Although the answer to weight loss is simple, it doesn't mean it's easy. I hope this structured approach will minimize any frustration. Good luck! Be diet strong!

Phase 1: Cut your total caloric amount by 25% without changing the substance (the type of foods that you’re eating).

Personal Trainer Wisdom: Unfortunately, a caloric deficit isn’t scientifically enough to lose weight….but it can help initially if you’re overconsuming. Your body could only process so much food at once, and the rest is converted into fats, triglycerides, and more. Sidenote: You’re only creating a deficit based on your current habits. Most people tend to consume far more calories necessary (1300-1700) for a sedentary lifestyle. By cutting 25% of your current calorie load, you are simply getting closer to this mark.

Phase 2: Cut down your caloric intake until you reach a range of 1300-1700 calories per day.

Phase 3: Cut down your caloric intake until you reach a range of 1300-1700 calories without exceeding 300-500 calories per meal.

Phase 4: Eat 3-4 meals per day with 3-5 hours in between each meal.

Personal Trainer Wisdom: Timing is everything, and it usually takes 3-5 for proper digestion and absorption. You want to avoid eating more food than your body can process at a given time (you know what happens then). At the same time, you want to limit any nutritional deficiency (who knows how your body will compensate). Do you ever feel stuffed or starved? Do you typically take more or less than 3-5 hours in-between meals?

Phase 5: Eat 3-4 meals at the same time each day.

Personal Trainer Wisdom: Your body wants to be an efficient machine that operates on autopilot. Most of the time it depends on its biological clock - a blend of natural and reinforced forces. With this being said, you can train your body to efficiently release a flood of hormones to help you utilize the fuel you feed it at the same times each day. You already did this in grade school when you ate lunch at 11:37 every day and still felt the hunger pangs at the same time over your summer break. The principle also applies to your efficient recovery while you sleep each night. Your body will naturally wake you slowly over the course of 3 hours prior to your waking time. Going to bed at the same time every night will reinforce this habit and wake you without an alarm clock at the same time as well!

Phase 6: Substitute half of every meal and snack with vegetables (anything plant-based).

Phase 7: Minimize one of the big five weight gain culprits by 25%, then 50%, and finally 75% over two weeks. If weight loss begins, continue. If not, try a second item from the list until you’ve attempted them all.

Personal Trainer Wisdom: Our bodies are equipped to handle quite a bit. Like the rest of nature, the human body has boundaries, too. The following items have been scientifically proven to cause weight gain, inflammation, and more. Determine your sensitivity to each of the items and figure out what you can truly get away with.

· Grains including whole grains or all-bran products (breads, crackers, rice, cereals, etc.)
· Processed foods (products with additives and preservatives; genetically modified foods; or anything else not in its whole, natural form)
· Dairy (butter, milk, and cheese processed from animals)
· Alcohol, refined sugar, and artificial sweeteners
· Animal protein with high levels of saturated fat (red meat, pork, wild game, etc.)

Phase 8: If minimizing each of the weight gain culprits separately up to 75% hasn’t led to weight loss, it may be time to make a similar effort with 2 or 3 of your most common choices on this list.

Phase 9: Try a perfect diet with all of the phases over two weeks.

Phase 10: Discuss your efforts with your doctor and test for deficiencies, diseases, or disorders.

Photo Credit: Deco Healthy Living .com-Will the inches drop off with the use of your fork and knife?